Why Good Cheese Doesn't Come Cheap: The Sneaky Multipliers of Cheesemaking
In late January, Saturday Night Live guest Kevin Hart completed the trio of "Bushwick Boys" whose four-minute corner chat about changing neighborhood dynamics included, among other things, gluten-free muffins, $8 artisan mayonnaise, and cheese and wine pairings. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and give it a watch.
I was pleased, if somewhat surprised, to note that mayo has become the new reference point for overpriced "gourmet" food. For the last decade it's been "artisan cheese." Read More.
Everyone knows about "goat cheese," a.k.a. "chèvre." It's white, it's crumbly, and it's always showing up on beet salad thanks to northern California cooks in the '80s.
Good fresh goat cheese is a special and important thing. It should be moist and creamy, without a hint of graininess. Its flavor should be clean and fresh, mouthwateringly tangy but not astringent, lemony but also milky and balanced. An unaged cheese has nowhere to hide its faults. Read more here.
When you're just getting into something like cheese, you need a place to start to start. Those looking for a good general entry point should see my picks of 10 essential cheeses to know and love, a starter pack of incredible cheeses across a wide range of dairy types and styles.
Now it's time to dig a little deeper and explore one of the fundamental building blocks of cheese: the milk that goes into it, and how that milk effects a cheese's taste, texture, and color. For many of us, cow milk is the default cheese dairy, but consider the sheep. Read More Here.
The story of early American history is also the story of its cheese. And we have the English to thank (or blame) for both.
Read more here . Photo by Vicky Wasik
As a Northeasterner, I spent many years laboring under the mistaken notion that dairying, and cheesemaking, was an exclusively East Coast and Midwest thing...In truth, northern California has been a cornerstone of the American cheese scene since the 1920s. Read more here.
We're digging into the best craft cheese from all over America. Today: the Midwest.
"This is where the Prairie meets the Big Woods. Back in the 1800s, a squirrel could run from here to the East Coast without touching the ground—if he could get across the Mississippi River." So says Jeff Jirik as I sit huddled outside the Caves of Faribault, watching a mid-November snowstorm flutter down on the Minnesota sandstone cliffs.
Photograph: Vicky Wasik]
Over the next few weeks we'll be profiling the best of regional American cheese. First up: the South.
Though the South is home to many delicacies, a longstanding cheese-making tradition isn't among them. But that's starting to change, and while cheesemakers are following all kinds of roads to cheese, the region's particular climate makes for some interesting commonalities among its increasingly delicious cheeses.
photo credit: Vicky Wasik
When I was first teaching people about cheese, I learned about wine pairing at the side of Josh Wesson, founder of the brilliant Best Cellars in New York City. For Wesson, there are two ways to pair flavors. The first: likes with likes (put two sour ingredients—or people—together, and their similar flavors may cancel each other out, letting other qualities come to the fore. The second approach, perhaps the more common-sense: opposites attract.
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Photography by Vicky Wasik
Left to their own natural birthing cycles, all farm animal milk is seasonal, but this is especially true for sheep. They have the shortest lactation cycle, meaning they produce milk for only five to seven months after giving birth. Daylight impacts their milk production, and as the days get shorter in the fall and winter, the animals' milk production shuts down. In order to produce milk year-round, cheesemakers have to maintain two separate flocks and use light exposure to offset the natural proclivity to cease lactation in colder months. Sheep also produce less milk than cows or goats (half a gallon a day versus eight gallons a day from the average Holstein cow). Point being: you don't get much milk for much time from a sheep.
Photo Credit: Vicky Wasik
There's something initially distressing about the phrase "fresh cheeses." The wording suggests the alternative can only be un-fresh — old, compromised, dried out, maybe spoiled cheese. But in Cheeseland, age matters. The passage of time is one of the defining influences on a cheese's final flavor and texture, so for a cheese to be called "fresh" merely refers to its lack of age.
Photo: Robyn Lee
Cheese folk often speak dreamily of bloomy rind or soft-ripened cheese, while your friends at the cocktail party chatter on about good old Brie. But in truth, they're speaking the same language — what binds these cheeses together is their downy, edible white rind. In cheese techni-speak, it's called a bloomy rind (or sometimes a soft-ripened, or even a surface-ripened cheese), and they're some of the most delicious cheeses out there.
Photo: Rabi Abonour
A few years after I started working in the cheese business, my phone rang. On the other end, somewhat confused, was my mother. "I bought that cheese you said you like. E-poss-ay? I think something's wrong with it. It stinks. How do I scrape off all the orange slime?" It's a testament to my mother that she didn't just toss it. For me, it was a reminder of how bizarre, to burgeoning cheese explorers, this type of cheese really is.
Photo: Vicky Wasik
Many of the best known cheeses in the world—Cheddar, Parmigiano Reggiano, "Swiss" (aka Emmenthaler) are firm to hard in texture. But their flavors can be radically different. So how do hard cheeses wind up this way—different from the limpid Bries, but also from one another?
Photo: Vicky Wasik
I recently sat down with a group of cheese industry friends to get their input for some book research I'm doing. For these tastings I rarely tell people what the plan is until we all sit down, so when I whipped out a bag of blue cheeses, a palpable ambivalence filled the air. My friends offered to help with tastings, but I could tell they weren't thrilled.
Photo: Vicky Wasik
After reading about hard cheeses, many of you wrote in wanting to know where Cheese X, Y, or Z (Pecorino, Asiago, and Manchego to name a few) fit into my broad strokes overview.
So let's delve a bit more into cheese-making fundamentals to see how four simple ingredients (milk, cultures, rennet/coagulant, and salt) can produce a seemingly infinite number of cheeses.
Photo: VIcky Wasik
If you're anything like me, you grew up understanding Swiss cheese to mean a plastic block full of holes, to be sliced at the deli counter alongside that quarter pound of ham. If you're really like me, you kind of hated Swiss cheese, because it had a sweet, oddly nutty flavor, like milk boiled too long in a pot.
Photo: Vicky Wasik