Friday, February 27, 2009

Sometimes being the UPS man is HARD job.

When we get our cheeses shipped it's usually through UPS or Fedex. I mean, do you want to trust the USPS with something perishable? Really? Well, the other day the UPS man came by to bring us some lovely cheese. Some lovely stinky cheese. It seems that this cheese is so stinky that it comes with it's own disclaimer and warning for the UPS man.

What is this cheese? This monster fromaggio whose smell would have the UPS man think "something here has gone horribly wrong". It's Grayson from Meadow Creek Dairy in Virginia, and it's really not that scary.

This cheese was the second place best in show winner at last year's ACS competition. Grayson, (a Taleggio inspired American original) is a creamy dream come true. Yes, it has a hoof. The last batch we had smelled like a whole bunch of hooves. But once again, the paste isn't as strong as the rind. When I taste this cheese I get a milky, slightly sour, beefy (it is a raw cow cheese after all), green flavor profile. When I say green, what I'm trying to say is that it tastes like the animals were eating in the pasture and that milk was used for the cheese. It does not taste like a Shamrock Shake.

I love to cook with cheese. When I first encountered this cheese way back when, my thought was to make a mac n' cheese. I like Taleggio in the mac n' cheese, why not Grayson? It was scrumptious. The only thing was, my brother and sister-in-law could smell the meal for a few days after. This cheese will try to defeat you. Don't let it. You'll be missing out on a tasty treat. Here's how I would eat this cheese:
  1. Store it wrapped in wax paper or cheese paper. Then into the crisper. This cheese should be eaten within a few days. If you don't, eventually the Grayson will remind you that it's still in your ice box.
  2. If you are going to turn the Grayson into a hot dish and you live in a tiny studio apartment, go to your brother's house and offer to cook something. People love it when you cook for them, and no one ever thinks to ask if what you're cooking will smell like hoof two days later.
  3. When your brother says "Whoa. What's that smell?" tell him to shut up or you'll tell ma that he's bothering you.
  4. Sit around the dinner table enjoying the creamy, ooey, melty, creamy tasty goodness.
If you do not have a brother, a close friend will do. Although, #3 is not going to make as much sense.

I'm so well acquainted with the smell, that I don't always notice it. I grabbed a chunk on my way out of the cheese shop today. I forgot that I took the bus to work. Even though the bus was full, near bursting to capacity, I had a whole two seat row to myself. Behold the smelly power of Grayson!

I wish we had smell-o-net. You guys would love it right about now.

I love this cheese. The creamy texture, the cow-y smells and tastes. This is scientific proof that good things come from VA.

Oh Yum! Ooey Gooey Yum.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cheese Mites....I mean Mimolette

If you love Mimolette don't read this post. If you've never had Mimolette read this post, but remember that my posts are only one wench's opinion. Try this cheese. Try all cheese.

OK, I've gotten my disclaimer out of the way.

The background of this cheese is that in the 1600's the French minister forbade the import of foreign goods and so the French started making a French version of Edam. The bright orange of the cheese comes from our lovely friend annatto seed.

Mimolette is shaped a bit like a cantaloupe except instead of being completely round it has a flat part on top and bottom. It is said to have been the favorite cheese of Charles de Gaulle. Of course it was. I totally believe that in all of France, with all of the hundreds of cheeses to choose from, he would pick Mimolette. The blandest cheese in all the land.

According to all of the books I have, my belief that the cheese is boring puts me in the minority. People speak about the caramel, butterscotchy and deep flavors. Hu? Mimolette? Really? On the best of days, this cheese tastes like a orange cheddar. The rest of the time it's a bland, waxy, dare I say boring cheese.

The most interesting part of the Mimolette story is that this cheese is inhabited by cheese mites. Little microscopic critters that like to burrow their way through the rind and help the cheese to breathe. The mites which are microscopic look like dust on the cheese. Mitey dust.

Steven Jenkins' describes this cheese in the book Cheese Primer better than I ever could,
"Mimolette is one of the blandest cheeses you'll ever taste-though one particular aged version is passably tasty"

I love Steven Jenkins. Mimolette? Not so much. Pleh.

*This was a post that I was working on last night. I thought that the next time we opened up a Mimolette I'd take pictures and finish the post. Well, I went into work and we needed to open up a wheel, so lucky day, I have some photos to go along with the post. Thus proving in no scientific way that this post was meant to be.*

I will admit, that when freshly 'cracked' this cheese has a lovely aroma. Upon tasting it is good. It tastes like a good orange cheddar; milky, creamy, even a bit tart. Lovely. After a few minutes it becomes muted. Here's the thing, truthfully speaking, all cheese tastes ridiculously awesome when you first cut into them. After being open for a while, they all lose that initial 'kick'. Most of the cheeses in my experience don't go completely flat though. Mimolette goes flat in a big big way.

I hate to say anything bad about real cheese. It's not the cheese's fault. It is what it is and who am I to demand more from it? Birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim. Mimolette is what it is. Nothing more.

A whole wheel of Mimolette

This is not the moon. It's the work of the mites on the cheese. Maybe this is one of the reasons people thought the moon was made of cheese. Maybe this is really CHEESE FROM SPAAAAAAACE! I know I'm a dork, no comments needed.

The paste of Mimolette is a deep orange. Very creamy and smooth.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fleur du Maquis AKA Brin D'Amour

For years I knew this cheese as Brin D'Amour (breath of love). It is also known as Fleur du Maquis (flower of the Maquis). This sheep's milk cheese from Corsica is coated in rosemary, juniper berries, and some chili peppers.

As I've said before, I don't like my cheese filled or coated with stuff. But, just as I have made exceptions for the Shepherd's Logue and the Bourbon Chocolate Torta, I make an exception for Brin D'Amour. The rind is completely edible, but I usually brush off some of the woodier pieces of dried herb when I eat the rind.

This cheese can be eaten at any stage of aging. When young, the cheese is milky, creamy and slightly herby, but as it ages, the paste becomes firmer, and the herbiness kicks into high gear.

The young cheese comes in. Yes, it's supposed to look like this. The mold on the rind is fluffy, soft and fragile. Kind of like if you were holding freshly made cotton candy in your hand.

A slightly older wheel.

The paste is creamy white. Depending on age it can be dry and crumbly, or soft and almost springy or fluffy in texture.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

This post is silly. It is completely uninformative and uneducational. Just silly.

For the longest time I have credited Humbolt Fog by Cypress Grove as the thing that started me on this cheesy path. After all, it was the first cheese that I'd ever tasted that made me think "Wow! Cheese can be really really good!"

Well, this morning as I started thinking about maybe possibly getting up I came to a realization. Humbolt Fog helped, but as a child I had a greater influence. Every Saturday while watching cartoons this ad would pop up periodically.

This, is the true origin of Cheesewench.

Friday, February 20, 2009

In this post, cheese thinks it's butter.

When people come into the shop looking for a triple creme cheese, I suggest Delice de Bourgogne. DdB is a bloomy rind cow's milk cheese from France. It has some straw, mushroomy earthy qualities to it and is a rather salty cheese.

Of course, when you go to serve any cheese, it should be done at room temperature so you can get the full flavor experience and the DdB is no exception. If this cheese is not tempered it will be like eating salted butter. That's fine if you like eating butter, for those of us who aren't crazy, temper your cheese.

A couple of things you should know about triple creme cheeses:

1. In order to be a triple creme the cheese has to contain at least 75% butterfat. mmmmm butterfat In order to get to 75% cheesemakers add cream, sour cream, or creme fraiche to their recipe. Triple creme cheeses tend to have a bit of a tang to them because of this.

2. Ounce for ounce (or gram for gram as a nod to my readers abroad) DdB has less fat per serving than a cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano. How is that possible? Butterfat is measured by looking at the solids in the cheese. A cheese like DdB has a lot of moisture in it, so while the solids have more fat to them, since there's so much moisture in the same size serving of a harder cheese, you are consuming more fat.

I do not tell you these things to make you become butterfat obsessed. I've had people come into the shop who tell me they're on a diet and then ask about hard aged cheeses. I always tell them just what I've shared with you. There is no diet cheese except perhaps cottage cheese technically there is lowfat cheese, but the one's I've tried taste horrific. Cheese, like anything else good and tasty in this world should be consumed in moderation.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Putting together a cheese plate- part 2

So, now that you've got an idea about accouterments it's time to pick your cheese. This is the super fun part. There are different ways to go about this. You can go with a theme like country, milk, texture or type. You can also look your cheesy fate right in the eye and have no theme other than "yum".

I picked a number of different cheeses for my plate today using with the yum theme. I've got different milks, different countries, different textures and a double in one case.

  • Picolo is a triple creme cows milk cheese made by the always delicious Andante Dairy in California.
  • Robiola Rochetta is a mixed milk cheese (cow, sheep and goat) from Northern Italy. This is one of my favorite cheeses. It has a creamy consistency but has a big of a tanginess due to the goat and sheep milk
  • Marisa is a sheeps milk cheese from Carr Valley in Wisconsin. This is a lovely cheese that has slight grassy and lemony flavors to it. Although a sheeps milk cheese, it doesn't have any barnyard flavors to it making it a very agreable cheese for company
  • Mahon is a Spanish cow milk cheese. Rubbed in paprika this cheese has a slightly smoky and nutty flavor.
  • Mahon Curado is also a Spanish cow's milk cheese. This is a cheese controlled by the D.O. This cheese has a much bigger creamy, salty flavor.
  • Montgomerys English Farmhouse Cheddar. This is THE CHEDDAR. Raw milk, clothbound, grassy, salty, creamy, big brash, dense and lovely. This is what all other Cheddars aspire to. Lovely, yummy goodness.
  • Hooligan is a raw cow's milk cheese from Cato Corner Farm Colchester, CT. A washed rind cheese that's pretty mild considering the big foot on that cheese.
  • Golden Goat Gouda is an aged goat's milk cheese (big revalation I know) made in the Netherlands. Caramel, salt, goaty goodness.
  • Gorgonzola Naturale cow's milk from Italy. Not as creamy or sweet as Gorgonzola Dolce (what did you think Dolce meant) this aged blue is well balanced and delicious.
  • Covadonga is a cow/sheep blend from Spain. I cant explain it, but the finish on this cheese is a little bit beefy to me. I love it.
When you're putting your cheeses out you should crumble or slice the cheese according to what the cheese wants to do. The Golden Goat Gouda is very hard, and has little moisture. This cheese wanted to crumble. The two Mahons cut very differently. I cut them into similar sizes, and left the rinds on to help eliminate any confusion.

Now I have written down the cheeses in what I think will be mildest to strongest. That is how you want to arrange your cheese plate. If you start with the Covadonga how will you be able to get all the nuances of the Picolo? Usually I have 3 to 5 cheeses for my cheese plate (although sometimes a Langres is all you need). As you can see, I don't have a lot or accoutrements for this plate. A bit of dried fruit, some crackers (just because I don't really like them doesn't mean other people don't) and some bread. Delicious!

The cheese tray spirals out from the Picolo in the center and ends with the Covadonga.

And then like animals, we destroyed the cheeses.

Usually I do a smaller cheese plate like this one. Here we have the Picolo (triple creme), the Mahon Curado (semi-hard) and the Covadonga. A few dried fruits, some crackers, and you have a lovely cheese plate.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Putting together a cheese plate- part 1

Well, now you know all about cheese categories, but how do you put it to use when it's time to make a cheese plate for showing off and consumption? People often ask me if they should use bread or crackers, nuts or olives, fruit or honey. I tell them all the same thing, "it's your preference". I'm not being a smarty pants, I mean it. With a few exceptions, you're not going to make any drastic mistakes, and honestly if it tastes good to you, it's not a mistake.

I'll tell you some of my preferences. I am NOT telling you what to do on your plate, just what I do and don't like on mine. My preferences change based on day, time, season, and what's in my pantry or fridge, but this is a pretty accurate list.

Olives: Unless I'm having a Blue, Spanish or Italian plate, I don't like olives with my cheese. I find that the brininess of the olives-something I normally love-I just don't appreciate with most cheese plates I make.

Nuts: I am anti-nut. No, it's not an allergy, I just don't care for most of them. Walnuts (unless candied or blanched) always have a bitter taste to them that I don't appreciate. Nuts are a great snack on their own, but on a cheese plate? No thanks.

Fruit: Yes Please! I love dates, figs, and chutneys on my cheese plate. Fresh fruit, dried fruit, homemade jam, I love them all. A little goes a long way though so be careful when adding these to your plate.

Honey: Sure. I like honey. If you have a favorite honey please, use it. Sparingly. There are a vast number of honeys out there. Some are incredibly fragrant, like flowers, while some are dark and have a molasses quality to them. Taste a few and see what you think.

Remember that you've spent good money to get quality cheese, don't skimp on the accompaniments. PUT AWAY THE HONEY BEAR!

Now when it comes to bread vs. crackers, I almost always want homemade bread. Especially made by either my best friend, or my pa. The yeastiness of the bread seems to be a natural for cheese. Crackers, even good crackers can't match the full flavor or texture of a hunk of bread.

If you want to use crackers I would advise you to use a good quality cracker with not a lot of flavoring to it. Rye, charcoal, and even rosemary can be really tasty. Carr's Water Crackers are fine, try Potter's Artisan Crackers, or if you're feeling zany, make your own. It's really not that hard.

Sometimes I just like eating cheese unadorned. Feta, blues and Cheddar are all delicious for just breaking into pieces and nibbling.

You should try different combos (no, I'm not talking about the pretzel and cheez snack) and find the pairing that works for you. Maybe it's a triple creme with a fruit and nut toast point. Maybe you like blue cheese with olive crackers or endive. Experiment. Try the same cheese with different fruits, nuts or olives. How does each of these things impact the tasting experience for you? The key here as it is with most things cheesy is TASTE.

Monday, February 16, 2009

How many types of cheese are there?

There are about a bajillion slight exaggeration different types of cheeses that we know of. Of course this doesn't take into consideration the people who are making homemade cheese, or cheesemakers who make illegal experiments (fresh raw milk cheese shouldn't be illegal, but that's a different post). At the ACS show last year 1149 cheeses were entered into competition. Cheesemakers are continually tinkering with and coming up with new cheeses that don't always make it to market. I think that saying that there are over 2000 different cheeses in shops and markets in the world would not be an exaggeration.

Cheese, like many things in life falls into a number of categories. Those categories are:

  • Fresh cheese: These cheeses have not been aged. Due to laws in this country, since these cheeses aren't aged longer than 60 days, they are all pasteurized. Fresh goat cheese, ricotta, and mascarpone all fit into this category.
  • Semi-soft cheese: These cheeses are high in moisture and are fairly young. Colby, Fontina and Raclette.
  • Soft Ripened cheese: These are the "bloomy rind" cheeses. The rind is white and usually soft to the touch, almost fluffy in texture. These cheeses ripen from the outside in. Humbolt Fog, Brie and Camembert are good examples.
  • Pasta Filata cheese: the name translates to spun pasta in Italian. These cheeses are cooked, and then kneaded, spun or pulled. Think Mozzerella and Provolone.
  • Washed rind cheese: One my favorite categories. These cheeses are washed with either a brine, cider, wine, or beer in addition to a controlled bacteria while ripening. These cheeses also ripen from the outside in, but are not mild. They are also known as the "stinky" cheeses. Epoisses, Winnimere and Red Hawk are all good examples.
  • Semi-hard cheese: due to how these cheeses are made (cooking, washing, draining, pressing) theses cheeses are firmer. Due to pressing and aging these cheeses have less moisture. Think of Vermont Shepherd, Montgomery's Cheddar or Pleasant Ridge Reserve
  • Hard cheese: These cheeses have less moisture than any other category. Usually the curds are cut into smaller pieces which helps to expel more whey. That coupled with the aging process gives these cheeses complexity and depth of flavor in addition to a drier crumbly texture. Parmigiano-Reggiano, various Pecorino cheeses and five year Gouda all fit into this category.
  • Blue cheese: This is a pretty big category. While all of these cheeses have been injected with mold, they can range from the creamy spreadable St. Agur to the crumbly dry Big Woods Blue.
Okay, so now you've got this great bit of information, but how will you use it at the cheese shop? Well, this is going to give you a great jumping off point.

If you know that you love Brie, you can tell by looking at the Camembert, or the Little Bloom on the Prairie that you're going to have a lot of the same characteristics. Ripening from the outside in, a bloomy soft rind, some mushroomy milky straw qualities.

If you see a cheese with an orange rind that's not paprika you know it's a washed rind cheese and that you can expect a certain level of barnyard, mustiness, funk. Or as it's known in my family either a "foot", "feet" or in very strong cases a "hoof".

Of course each category has mild and strong examples in it. Fromage d'Affinois is one of the mildest bloomy rind cheeses I've ever tried. True French Brie is a mushroomy, musty, foresty big cheese. Edel de Cleron is somewhere in the middle.

So go out there, and start eating some cheese already!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Revisiting a Cheese

So this past December I made a post about the Bourbon Chocolate Torta from Capriole in Indiana. Don't remember it? Here it is again.

When I was in culinary school I would often pick products to use that I didn't care for. Why? Because you have to think outside of yourself when you talk about food. Just because I think that shrimp is the work of the devil doesn't mean that everyone thinks that.

Well, I took my culinary training, and combined it with my love of cheese, and my desire to make more dirty dishes and voila! I present to you Bourbon Chocolate Torta Cheesecake!

For the topping I made a little mascarpone icing. Now this blog is NOT a recipe blog, but when I come across something cheesy and delicious I feel it it would be reckless for me not to tell you about it. So, if you want to make this here's a recipe for you. You should be able to get one 9" springform pan cheesecake:

For the Crust:

The go to is usually graham crackers, but I like experimenting with different crusts. Sometime I use grahams, sometimes ginger snaps, sometimes no crust at all. If you are going crustless you're going to have to do this in a waterbath. For all your crust needs I would recommend looking in the Joy of Cooking. They're experts. I'm just a wench. I'll tell you that I looked through my cupboards, and all I had were chocolate wafer cookies, and that's what I used (sans butter). It added a fudgey consistency that I really like.

The Filling:

You should have an oven at about 350 F. Now, only you know if your oven is calibrated. If your oven runs hot use 325 F or so, if your oven runs cold raise your temperature a bit.

  • 1# cream cheese
  • 3/4 # Bourbon Chocolate Torta-purchased from your local cheese shop of course!
  • 1/2t vanilla extract
  • 1 c sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  1. Take the cream cheese and goat cheese and using your paddle attachment on your mixer combine the two cheeses until you have a homogeneous mixture.
  2. Add the vanilla extract
  3. Scrape down the edges of the mixing bowl
  4. Add your sugar slowly while the mixer is going
  5. Scrape down the edges of the mixing bowl
  6. Add your eggs one at a time until well incorporated
  7. Scrape down the edges of the mixing bowl. If you have any lumps (that aren't pecans or raisins) run the mixer a little bit more until the mixture is smooth.
  8. Do Not Clean the Mixing Bowl-yet

Pour this into your crust and bake this in your 350F oven for about 50 minutes. I have a bit of a wonky oven, so I rotate my cheesecake 180 degrees halfway through baking time.

When is the cheesecake done?/How long will this take?

I will give you the answer made famous by my first culinary instructor: "It's going to take as long as it takes until it's done"*. 50 minutes is a ballpark. Not etched in stone.

Now, even though it has an end tag of "cake" cheesecake is really more of a pudding. Putting a toothpick in the middle is not going to give you an accurate description of where you're at in the baking process. Instead, tap the pan a bit. The edges should be firm and the center should be a little jiggly like jello. Your cheesecake is now done.

Turn the oven off and let it hang out in the residual heat for 10 minutes or so. Then, take it out and put in on a cooling rack until completely cool. Once cool, cover it up and put it in the fridge. Ideally you want to have that delicious dessert sit for 24 hours, but if you're impatient like me, 6 hours or so will be enough.


Do what you want. Ice it, don't ice it. It's your decision. Here's what I did for mine

Using the same mixing bowl that probably has a little bit of cheesecake batter left on it, I(using a rubber spatula) mixed everything together until it tasted 'just right'. and then when the cheesecake was cooled I put the icing on, covered it up and refrigerated it.

I find I must now say that while I find the Bourbon Chocolate Torta a bit too sweet on it's own and filled with malarkey, it is a great cheese to bake with. It makes a ridiculously good cheesecake. Yum!

*Chef Bob Long was my first chef instructor at NECI. He always pushed me to do my best and whenever I got stressed out or frustrated would be quick to remind me that what we do, while important, is food not brain surgery. Chef Bob died last year and while I am sad at his passing, I feel joy in knowing that I'm the type of person I am today, both on a culinary level and a personal one in part to the teachings of Chef Bob.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Cheese Regulations

*Today's post is being brought to you by the letter 'U'*

Since it's a very popular topic today, let's take a look at Roquefort. Soapbox break: The most recent President Bush imposed a 300% tax increase on this cheese which will go into effect in March unless President Obama does something about it. While I appreciate the concern of the people that they won't have Roquefort access, we have a serious economical catastrophe on our hands and while I love and respect all cheeses both domestic and foreign, not bringing in Roquefort is not at the top of my list of concerns, and it shouldn't be on the presidents either. It will be a shame if we can't get Roquefort in the States anymore, but not as big a calamity as the unemployment rate, or home foreclosures or any of the other gajillion things that are causing our economical plight.

Okay, I'm done now. Sometimes even though I don't want it to, you can't separate cheese from politics. Today's post is one of those times.

Roquefort is a controlled cheese. It as governed by the Appellation d' Origine Controlee or the A.O.C. In order to be an A.O.C. cheese the cheese must follow the following rules:

1. Not just the type of animal used, but the breed as well
2. The region that the milk comes from and where the cheese is made
3. How the cheese is made
4. The cheese components which include fat content and rind type
5. The physical characteristics of the cheese including size, shape and weight
6. Specific attributes of the cheese including color flavor and aroma

Parmigiano-Reggiano another cheese that is controlled. Being an Italian cheese, it is a different organization called the D.O.C., Denominazione di Origine Controllata.

Switzerland has controls on a more regional basis. The cheese factories are owned b the regional cooperative which control the cheese name, recipe and cheesemaking process.

In Spain it's called Quesos con Denominacion de Origen aka D.O.

The British Isles had control, and then didn't and kind of do and are going to be mentioned in another post at another time.

The United States has no cheese regulations to protect it. Okay, that's sort of a lie. Let me explain. Or better yet, let Hilary Clinton circa 2007 explain. During the fall of 2007 Hilary Clinton made a statement that if you have an open faced ham and cheese sandwich it's regulated by the USDA, but put that sandwich between two pieces of bread and it's under the jurisdiction of the FDA.

This is a fundamental problem with our food in this country. We have two different agencies who are supposed to look at different things based on pulling a topic out of a hat. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. I'll give you a cheese example and this is from the FDA website:

Sec. 133.102 Asiago fresh and asiago soft cheese.

(a) Asiago fresh cheese, asiago soft cheese, is the food prepared
from milk and other ingredients specified in this section, by the
procedure set forth in paragraph (b) of this section, or by another
procedure which produces a finished cheese having the same physical and
chemical properties as the cheese produced when the procedure set forth
in paragraph (b) of this section is used. It contains not more than 45
percent of moisture, and its solids contain not less than 50 percent of
milkfat, as determined by the methods prescribed in Sec. 133.5 (a), (b),
and (d). It is cured for not less than 60 days.
(b) Milk which may be pasteurized or clarified or both, and which
may be warmed, is subjected to the action of harmless lactic-acid
producing bacteria, present in such milk or added thereto. Harmless
artificial blue or green coloring in a quantity which neutralizes any
natural yellow coloring in the curd may be added. Sufficient rennet, or
other safe and suitable milk-clotting enzyme that produces equivalent
curd formation, or both, with or without purified calcium chloride in a
quantity not more than 0.02 percent (calculated as anhydrous calcium
chloride) of the weight of the milk, is added to set the milk to a
semisolid mass. The mass is cut, stirred, and heated to promote and
regulate separation of the whey from the curd. The whey is drained off.
When the curd is sufficiently firm it is removed from the kettle or vat,
further drained for a short time, packed into hoops, and pressed. The
pressed curd is salted in brine and cured in a well-ventilated room.
During curing the surface of the cheese is occasionally rubbed with a
vegetable oil. A harmless preparation of enzymes of animal or plant
origin capable of aiding in the curing or development of flavor of
asiago fresh cheese may be added during the procedure in such quantity
that the weight of the solids of such preparation is not more than 0.1
percent of the weight of the milk used.
(c)(1) For the purposes of this section, the word "milk" means
cow's milk, which may be adjusted by separating part of the fat
therefrom or by adding thereto one or more of the following: Cream, skim
milk, concentrated skim milk, nonfat dry milk, water in a quantity
sufficient to reconstitute any concentrated skim milk or nonfat dry milk
(2) Such milk may be bleached by the use of benzoyl peroxide or a
mixture of benzoyl peroxide with potassium alum, calcium sulfate, and
magnesium carbonate; but the weight of the benzoyl peroxide is not more
than 0.002 percent of the weight of the milk bleached, and the weight of
the potassium alum, calcium sulfate, and magnesium carbonate, singly or
combined, is not more than six times the weight of the benzoyl peroxide
used. If milk is bleached in this manner, sufficient vitamin A is added
to the curd to compensate for

[[Page 311]]

the vitamin A or its precursors destroyed in the bleaching process, and
artificial coloring is not used.
(d) Safe and suitable antimycotic agent(s), the cumulative levels of
which shall not exceed current good manufacturing practice, may be added
to the surface of the cheese.
(e) Label declaration: Each of the ingredients used in the food
shall be declared on the label as required by the applicable sections of
parts 101 and 130 of this chapter, except that enzymes of animal, plant,
or microbial origin may be declared as "enzymes"}

Awesome! So, as long as I follow the rules, I, Cheesewench extraordinaire can make Asiago Fresco in Chicago and label and market it as such. It will have no flavor or character, but it will be cheese. You won't get that nice creamy milky slightly sour tang, or the slight sweet and yet herbaceous quality. But, it will be Asiaso Fresco.

American cheese has a legal definition. It is legal for it to have as little as 51% cheese . The rest is emulsifiers, enzymes, coloring, pixie dust , eye of newt and a wee pinch of despair. Velveeta is less than 51% cheese. I don't know what's in Velveeta. My guess is unadulterated evil and the tears of the innocent, but I could be wrong.

Velveeta had a commercial where they claimed that Velveeta was better than Cheddar. Velveeta was better because it melted uniformly and didn't "break" when heated (if you've ever made mac n' cheese you know what I'm talking about). They lauded it's ability to melt uniformly without turning into an oily mass like Cheddar. This ad made me perturbed as you might imagine. Yes the cheese that's made of less than 51% cheese doesn't break. You know why? Because it's not cheese! It's cheese-like with other non cheesy bits emulsified into it.

Another commercial made reference to how cheap Velveeta is. Of course it's cheap. IT'S NOT CHEESE! They are comparing additives to natural ingredients and it's a sneaky thing to do. Poo on them!

Ok, back to the matter at hand. The bottom line is, yes oh faithful cheese blog reader, there are regulations on cheese. Just not what we'd hoped. I looked high and low but could not get a straight answer from Sargento, the FDA or USDA about what the percentage is of artisan cheese that allows you to put it on the packaging. My answer to the first question I ever get on the blog is "I don't know-for certain".

What I do know is this: artisan cheese is handmade, and made in small batches. Sargento is a huge Megatron cheese maker (Transformers reference intended). An small artisan cheesemaker would not be able to keep up with Sargento's cheesy demands. I can't imagine that the artisan cheese to shredded industrial cheese ratio is very high.

The American Cheese Society and it's cheesemaking and cheese loving members are trying to get our government to get some regulations out there that will protect quality cheese, and their makers. Wouldn't it be great knowing that if you want to call a cheese artisan that it actually has to be made from artisan cheese, not just tidbits and percentages?

I am intrigued by Ursula's question and plan on investigating a little bit more. If anyone out there can give a more concrete answer, let me know. Thanks for the question, and if you guys have any questions for me, send me an email. I'll do my best to answer any and all questions.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kaas by Cass

*I am working on a post answering Ursula's question. I just had to share this cheese find with you all first*

I just got the chance to experience a new cheese from VT! Kaas by Cass is a a soft-ripened cheese from Weybridge, VT. This cheese is an organic, pasteurized cow's milk farmstead cheese. It's no bigger in diameter than a St. Felician, and the flavor is just......WOW!

As soon as you open the cheese wrapping your senses are hit with a mushroomy, woodsy type of smell. The rind on this cheese is fluffy and soft, kind of like a baby chick's feathers.

This picture was taking about 20 minutes after unwrapping. This cheese was ripe. Visually, we're looking at something that is unctuous, creamy, smooth, and begging to be eaten right away.

And so, with crusts of homemade bread this cheese was devoured. The paste is mild. There are some mushroomy, straw and musty qualities to it. Everyone at the table (every one of us spent quality years in VT and NH) agreed that it felt as though we were taking a walk through the woods when eating this cheese. A bit poetic sure, but it's true.The rind had just the right amount of bitterness and tang to make this a really well balanced cheese. I'm going to have a hard time not buying another round today.

The Scholten family is a great example of artisan cheese. From their website:

"This organic cow's milk is all produced by the Scholten Organic Dairy, owned by Roger and Patty Scholten. The whole family is involved in running the farm. The Scholtens promote farming in a manner that improves and sustains the environment, practices good animal husbandry, and upholds personal values where family comes first."

Product made with loving care tastes better. It just does.

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.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Goat Cheese

I am on a quest. My mission is to change the minds of those who don't like goat cheese.

More often than not when people come into the shop they're not quite sure what they want. I ask them what kind of cheese they like and then I'm sure to ask them which cheeses they don't. That's just as important in the fragile cheesemonger/cheese buyer relationship.

"I don't like goat cheese"

It is after hearing this declarative that I find I have to remind myself that "he didn't like goat cheese" is not a valid defense in a trial. At least not yet.

Upon inquiry I find that what they mean is that they don't like fresh goat cheese. Now that I can work with. I love all kinds of goat cheese, but the fresh goat cheese market has some good quality stuff, and some cheese that could turn me off from all things cheesy if I let it. While I love it, fresh goat cheese is not the end all be all to what goats' milk can become.

You can find goat cheese in every part of the cheese world. You can make bloomy rind cheese, cheddar, gouda, aged cheeses, washed rind stinkers and blues. Snow White Goat Cheddar from Carr Valley Cheese Company won first place at the ACS competition last year. They also make one of my favorite blue cheeses, Billy Blue. Humbolt Fog, the cheese that started my love affair with cheese is a goaty delicacy.

Try the triple creme from Coach Farm in upstate NY and then try to tell me you don't love goat cheese. Oh, you're still not convinced? Fine, how about some lovely Mad River Roll from Cypress Grove? No? You're still determined to not let happiness into your soul and goodness into your mouth? How about some Elk Mountain from Pholia Farm? Still no? I am determined. I will find that cheese. cue the dramatic music I will convert you and then you'll never go hungry for a lack of goat cheese again.

Friday, February 6, 2009

BaaBaa Jersey

I'm a New Yorker. Specifically Queens. I know that given my place of birth I am required to hate New Jersey. I can't. How can I hate the place that gives us such wonderful people as my own ma, "the boss", and Jon Stewart? Plus everyone knows that Staten Island is worse.

Well, I have experienced a new cheese from New Jersey that could convince anyone to visit the garden state. It's a raw sheep's milk cheese called Shepherd's Logue and it's from Valley Shepherd Creamery.

The logue is a pretty young cheese at about 4 months of aging, but has such a wonderful flavor to it. It's rubbed with herbs de Provence which only add to the flavor of the paste instead of detracting from it. I'm usually not an herby cheese lass. I find that the herbs (usually rosemary in particular) are too course and I usually end up with twiggery in between my teeth. This cheese is an exception to the rule however. A delightful, milky, nutty sheepy exception.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Goats are Great

I am a biased Cheesewench. While I love cheese made from cow, sheep or water buffalo my heart lies with the goat. When I take cheese home from the shop there is almost always a goat involved. Aged, blue, fresh I don't care. Loves the goat. It is my precious.

This past September I went on a field trip to Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign, IL. Leslie Cooperband and Wes Jarrell make yummy yummy cheesy, goaty goodies. They also have a chef on-site who prepares farm dinners. They use organic produce grown right there on the farm, and meat from their neighbors down the road. If you can get reservations for the farm dinners you're a lucky s.o.b. and should consider yourself blessed.

We did a tour of the cheesemaking facility, the farm, ate some lunch and met the goats. Goats are friendly. They also want to nibble on boots. And pants, and your fingers, and feed and grass and your bottom.

Lunch was incredible and the goats were fun and sweet. Leslie has an enthusiasm and nurturing attitude that translates to having happy healthy goats and yummy cheese.

This was my first visit to a cheesemaker. I am trying to decide who I want to visit next. Of course being a Vermonter in flatlander clothing I want to go to VT, but honestly, how do you choose? There are too many artisan cheesemakers to choose from. Isn't that great?!

What a gourdgeous veggie!

The cheese course was wonderful with organic fruit grown right there on the farm.

Goats are silly. And hungry.

My personal favorite goat was the bellwether.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Bad Poetry About a Good Cheese

I love this cheese sir
Say once, "Winnimere" and smile
Do I smell peanuts?

Belted in spruce bark
Northeast Kingdom great treasure
I DO smell peanuts

Creamy, gooey joy
I do not want to share this
But karma commands

I am horrible at poetry and not much better with the art of Haiku either. I don't care though. This cheese is so glorious it makes me wish I had paid more attention during Junior High School English so I would know how to best compose a sonnet to this lovely example of why cheese is good.

I am not alone in my lustful longings for this cheese. The Winnimere cheese, Jasper Hill Farm and the Kehler brothers Mateo and Andy were the centerfold of the premiere issue of Culture the word on cheese

The Winnimere was also the cheesy centerfold. Encompassing 2 full pages. She told us about her turn-ons with include "Belgian-style ale...crisp, spicy fragrant wine such as Gewurztraminer." Her turn-offs include most red wines. Especially hefty reds that contain a lot of tannin.

The paste is soft, creamy, and slightly pungent as you'd expect with a washed rind cheese although for this one in particular her bark is worse than her bite. intentional bad pun If I haven't mentioned it before, I get a slightly peanutty aroma and very faint taste from this cheese which is unique, unexpected and lovely.

How much do we love this cheese? Two of my co-workers bought an entire wheel to age themselves. I, being an impatient girl who wanted the cheese NOW bought 1/4 wheel to eat immediately.

Winnimere is proving once again that great things come out of Vermont.