Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Artisan Cheese, What is it anyway and why should I care?

*This post is being brought to you by my last trip to the supermarket. Why do I even go near the dairy section? I just get frustrated*

It seems like every Tom, Dick and Sargento is trying to get in on the Artisan, Handmade and Homemade bandwagon. But what is Artisan cheese? Sargento has a pre-packaged shredded cheese that they call "Artisan Blends" but what does that mean?

It means that the business people at Sargento realized a great marketing campaign, ran with it and are now making money off of it. It means that Sargento isn't going to stop making bulk, industrial flavorless cheese, but they still want a share of the artisan market. I'm going to stop myself now before I go off on some nutty, wenchy rant.

So what is artisan cheese? It means that someone has taken the time to do things slowly, with care and respect for the product. It means that the cheesemaker cares about tradition. It means that hands were laid on the cheese, milk, curds and animals. It means that smaller batches of cheese are made because it's all about quality, not quantity. It means that the milk came from farms in the area, not a huge truck going cross country. It means that the maker, in addition to being a scientist (if you think cheesemaking isn't a science, think again) is also a creative artist.

Farmstead Cheese is another limb on the artisan cheese tree. Wow, that's a horrible metaphor. It's another teet on the udder? I dunno. Okay, back to farmstead cheese. This means that the animals were raised on the farm where they were milked, which is the same farm that their milk was turned into cheese. Take for example, Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese. The cheese is made seasonally when the cows are able to graze on lush fields of clover, wildflowers and grasses. You can taste that in the cheese. If the milk doesn't meet Mike Gingrich's exacting standards it is not made into cheese. Some wheels are hand selected for further aging and become Pleasant Ridge Extra Reserve. Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Pleasant Ridge Extra Reserve are great examples of what artisan cheese is.

Quality is the reason you should buy artisan products including but not limited to cheese, bread, and meat. You have choices. You can either buy some Pleasant Ridge Reserve from a reputable cheese shop, farmers market, or cheese counter and grate it yourself, or you can choose the pre-packaged, mostly industrial, flavor-free, blend cheese. Your choice.

This post feels a little bit angrier, snarkier and dare I say wenchier than normal. I don't want to leave a bad taste in your mouth, so I'll leave you with positive thoughts instead.



Cheese from farms that have healthy animals raised by good caring people who care about the land, animals, and product.

Ahhhh. Now that's better.


Ursula said...

OK, question: if Sargento and the rest *aren't* selling artisan cheese, how can they get away with claiming that they are? Does the FDA not regulate the use of the word "Artisan" or what? Inquiring minds want to know!


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