In this column, I will be writing about real cheese. I do not care much for the processed, factory made “cheese food”. My passion is for authentic cheese made with fresh milk using traditional techniques. This kind of cheese is described as artisanal, meaning it is made by a skilled artisan. It is a fascinating subject that I know you will enjoy, too.
Cheese, simply put, is a food made from the coagulated proteins of
milk. Tasty and nutritious pressed curds, basically. Throughout this
column, I will show you that cheese is also more than that. Cheese is
now a science, an art form, and an important culture. Every cheese is
unique and every cheese tells a story.
Cheese was not invented by mankind, it was discovered. Milk is our
first food but babies do not simply digest the milk; newborn stomachs
actually turn that liquid nutrition into a more substantial form by
coagulating the proteins and creating a semi-solid food. This food is
digested slower and nutrients are absorbed better, increasing the baby’s
chance of survival. This is also the case with the ruminant mammals we
domesticated, which is how we discovered cheese.
Stomachs of young farm animals were once used for transporting milk
long-distances. Enzymes within the stomach (chymosin, pepsin, and
lipase) coagulated the milk during its journey and upon arrival, a wet,
chunky mass was discovered. That is one theory of how we discovered
cheese. Another possibility is that harvested milk was left by the fire
one night and the warmth slowly coagulated the milk. The milk in both of
those cases was most likely consumed, despite its odd appearance, and
we realized that those chunky or gel-like forms seemed to keep us full
for a longer period of time. Notably, it was also recognized as much
gentler on our stomachs, as the people of the Neolithic times were most
likely lactose intolerant and cheese contains very little lactose.
Cheese became an important part of many early cultures, as it provided a
long lasting form of vital nutrition.
Cheese has evolved since those early days of domestication. We now
have thousands of varieties, yet the basic process of cheesemaking is
the same today. We still coagulate milk using either enzymes, acid, or
heat. Once the milk has coagulated and is in a gel-like state, it is cut
or drained to release the liquid that is trapped in the protein matrix.
This liquid is called whey, the solid pieces remaining are called
curds. The curds are compacted together in a form and salt is applied in
various ways. The cheese is aged for some time or consumed soon after
production. It’s a simple craft that has spawned, over millennia,
countless types and endless variations. Styles produced today include
fresh, soft ripened (bloomy rind), washed rind, pasta filata, semi-soft,
firm, blue, and flavored. Cheesemakers utilize the milk from goats,
sheep, cows, water buffalo, donkeys, yak, moose, and even camels.
Cheese is constantly evolving. Right now, we are seeing a great
revival in the cheese world. Traditional recipes lost to mass production
are being rediscovered and innovation and creativity are blossoming.
Cheese production and appreciation are growing even where cheese has
never been a part of traditional diet, such as Japan and China. It is a
great time to be a cheese lover! In this column, I will show you how to
build a perfect cheese plate, tips on how to serve and store, and what
to pair with your cheese. We’ll also get into the fun and geeky details
of all sorts of cheese subjects- from the raw milk debate to the latest
in cheese trends.
Until then, why not prepare a cheese plate at home? The following are
some options that are tasting great this week. Keep in mind that cheese
is alive, seasonal, and changes from batch to batch depending on
various factors, such as the animals’ diet, time of milking, or the
weather. That’s what makes artisanal cheese so special. Also, every
palate is unique so you may not taste, for example, the “nuttiness” I
describe. But that’s why cheese is fun, nobody is wrong in what they
taste. Feel free to discuss the particular flavors and opinions of any
cheese in the comments section.
Robiola Due Latte
A soft ripened cheese made with pasteurized sheep and cow’s milk from
Piedmont, Italy. This is great option if you’re looking to move beyond
typical Brie. The small, square shaped cheese is covered with a thin
layer of bloom (edible white penicillium mold) that encases a very soft,
elastic paste. It has a slightly earthy aroma and hints of a dairy
farm. The flavor is mild, rich, and milky with just a bit of mushrooms.
This unpasteurized (raw) goat’s milk cheese hails from the Valle
D’Aspe in the French Pyrenees. The rind is a pretty pink hue, due to the
frequent washings of the cheese, which encourages the growth of a
specific (and completely edible) bacteria. The paste is firm with
occasional holes. This a goat cheese for those who are skeptical of
goat’s milk cheeses. While it does have a very slight flavor of goat’s
milk, it is more herbaceous and nutty than anything else.
Made from unpasteurized sheep’s milk on a small farm in West
Midlands, England, this aged, firm cheese is made in the style of the
classic sheep’s milk cheeses of the Pyrenees. The aromas are biscuity
and slightly lanolin-like, while the flavor is rich and nutty with a
slight sweetness. It’s appearance is unique; the final cheese looks like
a flying saucer due it being formed in colanders.
This is my all-time favorite blue cheese. This modern beauty is made
with unpasteurized Jersey cow’s milk by a very skilled and innovative
cheesemaker, Willi Schmid. It is handcrafted in a small village in
Switzerland, about an hour from Zurich. The organic milk is from a tiny
herd of pampered cows that graze happily on very diverse and lush
pasture. The cheesemaker uses a special technique to create this blue —
it is not pierced as most blue cheeses are; this cheese is literally
ripped apart in order to aerate the interior to allow the mold to grow.
The resulting cheese has a gorgeous marbled pattern. Rather than
overpowering it, the blue penicillium roqueforti mold compliments the
rich and creamy cheese.
What are your favorite cheeses right now? Share in the comments section!