We have hosted two high school groups over the past few weeks, teenagers interested in learning more about cheese. This is encouraging to witness; they appear to be especially curious about this beloved food: why do they enjoy it, what makes it taste so good, and is it as bad as some people make it out to be?
We began those sessions with a little bit about the basics: cheese history, how different cheese types are made (while they tasted several different cheeses), what differentiates them one from another (both aesthetically and technically), and how to describe them. The questions they asked included: how does one store it, what fruits work best with cheese, what to do about mold on cheese, etc. Instead of writing off this fermented food, they want to know more about what may be reviving it.
I believe cheese should be part of every person’s diet, from the early years to the later ones. And for those teenagers it provides a generous helping of calcium to help build strong bones.
Cheese is something I missed out on from age 5 to nearly 12, growing up in Brazil. My parents were advised to skip them, or to parboil the milk, not that there were many cheeses available anyway. I would probably be a little taller today had I enjoyed cheese during those formative years.
I have been trying to catch up on cheese ever since we moved back to the States. We may be able to increase our per capita consumption (possibly enough to someday surpass the French) if young people are beginning to appreciate cheese.
I believe that goal is within reach.
When I was in Paris last year I saw a group of young people enjoying charcuterie, not a single piece of cheese in sight. Sad youths, whereas the high school students leaving here were all smiling, all of them except for one guy who didn’t touch his cheeses.
Our Cheese & Wine 101 event on Wednesday, March 28th will feature four recent releases from Washington’s Mercer Estate wines: a 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, a 2010 Chardonnay and a 2008 Merlot, all from Columbia Valley; and a 2010 Riesling from Yakima Valley. I will be joined by wine expert Gerard Nastasi who will speak about the winery, winemaking in Washington state, as well as the four wines themselves. This session will be especially interesting: tasting four different wines from the same wine maker, three of which are produced from grapes grown in the same valley. To better distinguish each of these wines we will select seven different perfectly ripened cheeses to compare with them. As you taste the different cheeses you will hear how those differences arise from different milk types, different methods of production, and different aging.
The differences in each of these wines will be illuminated by the mix of cheeses. In all, we will taste all 28 combinations to see how each of the matches rate. Some will be better than others; some will be exceptional. This interactive “exercise” will give you a greater appreciation for each of these varietals and how they express themselves differently when you taste them with different cheeses. You can expect to experience some cheese and wine “marriages-made-in-heaven.”
With these great cheeses and wines, there will likely be few clashes.
Our friends at Huffington Post are recommending “rare” cheeses! Most of them are produced right here in the U.S.! We have witnessed dramatic improvements in artisan cheese making here, especially within the past decade. As we have been saying – this is where the excitement in the cheese world is occurring, right here within our shores.
There was a time not that many years ago when superior domestic cheeses were harder to find; they simply were not that many! I recall thinking that I could skip the American Cheese Society’s annual conference every other year; the cheeses were all pretty much the same: some excellent cheeses could be found but the dramatic improvements in cheese making were just beginning to take hold.
Just a few of these phenomenal cheeses were around over a decade ago. Can you identify which ones?
This is a select group of some of the best cheeses in the world today, and they are all produced here in the United States. Some of these cheeses’ recipes are based on old world styles, yet they are unique, inimitable, and outstanding. Since they have not been around that long, some of these names may be unfamiliar. With the way things are going, expect to see many more “rare” cheeses in the near future.
This year’s American Cheese Society conference will be in early August in Raleigh, North Carolina. We expect to see a new record number of entries; my forecast is 1,900. Even if we see 2,000 entries in the competition, there will be many more that do not enter. You will find hundreds of “rare” cheeses at the conference’s Saturday Festival of Cheeses, and on Thursday evening’s Meet the Cheesemaker session.
This is a conference that cannot be missed every other year any more. Along with a grand selection of cheeses, the conference will include several informative seminars, including one that I will moderate on cheese nutrition.
The first exam for Certified Cheese Professionals will be held at the conference too, a certification the ACS has endorsed and one that we have been developing for nearly a decade. The interest in the certification effort exceeded expectations; the first year’s exam seating has sold out. If you are interested in taking the exam in 2013 you should apply soon!
In the meantime, should you want to prepare for the exam, this year’s or next year’s, you should sign up for the Master Series here.
An article written by a cheese guy would uncover more facets of the mysteries of affinage than one written by someone outside the industry. The recent article in the NY Times made for interesting reading: the pitting of the affinage naysayers and those who are strong proponents of the practice(s). The article concluded with evidence the cheeses that were given extra care were superior to those that had not; one of the cheeses in the latter group was inedible. Whether it was admitted or not there are plenty of things that happen to cheese once it is formed; some of those things are beneficial while many others can be seriously detrimental. Simple aging involves a number of processes that occur on their own, yet careful monitoring of these processes is critical.
An immature cheese has less character than a mature cheese. To bring that young cheese to where it reaches its optimal level of ripeness includes several skill sets, several beyond what the cheese maker generally provides.
While some established cheese mongers claim their cheese-handling task is simple: to avoid screwing up a good cheese, this alone involves far more than temperature and humidity-controlled storage. It is no wonder that many people don’t like cheese. Lazy and imprecise cheese handling (or simple neglect) can yield a lame gustatory experience.
When I call the Artisanal Cheese Center a “day school” for cheese it barely scratches the surface of what we aim to accomplish in nurturing our cheeses. The critical first few hours and days of a cheese are almost always left to the cheese maker. After that the “finishing” is left up to the retailer who then sells it to the end-consumer. Perhaps a better analogy is to call our enterprise a “finishing school.”
To “elevate” a cheese is not rocket science. Some people who handle cheeses seem to have the knack. Under the tutelage of one of those experts a cheese can reach its optimal peak. Without those skills and talent a cheese can easily succumb to the catacombs.
Whether we care to admit it or not, affinage is practiced by a growing number of Americans. Along with the growing appreciation for cheese here, there is a greater need for this expertise. This is one reason the American Cheese Society has endorsed a certification effort for cheese handlers. By this time next year we expect there will be several individuals who have attained this certification. A big part of this will include knowledge of good cheese-handling practices.
Cheese is a living food, a near-perfect food, but it is also a perishable food. The affineur must include safe handling in their cheese studies. Fortunately cheese has some built-in qualities which make it a safe food, safer than most other foods.
For the person who said Portugal and Ireland were newcomers in the cheese world, they should be advised that cheese has been a food staple in both those regions for almost as long as it has been in Italy and Spain, since well before any of those countries were known by those names. What is now called France is as much a newcomer as is Portugal.
What is happening with affinage here in the US is encouraging. With these developments I expect artisan cheeses to taste better and better. Good affinage speaks for itself.
Everywhere you turn now people seem to be talking about pairing foods and beverages, especially the cheese and beverage pairings. This could be partly because we started digging into this study almost twenty years ago and now it seems like everyone’s doing it. Our pairings began with the focus on cheese and wine. The beer lovers hopped on the pairing bandwagon, then spirits aficionados, sakes cognoscenti, tea drinkers, coffee lovers, etc.
Cheese has been enjoyed with beers and wines for many centuries, the other ones are more recent studies. Yet Americans seem to have a near-obsession with the pairings, whatever the food and beverage, as though if we get it wrong we have made an egregious error. The pairing principles are good tools to use to master pairings but the variables are limitless, and we have to admit that it is a little subjective.
Our preferences for certain cheeses or wines (or other beverages) likely has a big say in our pairing assessments. For example, if we are particularly fond of Pinot Noir we might find more successful pairings with that grape than with a wine we avoid. The same goes for the cheeses. In our Cheese & Wine 101 class we dissect the pairings of several cheese types with a range of wines.
This “laboratory” is probably not the way most people experience cheeses and wines–by mixing them in the mouth and noting what happens as the mixture crosses the palate. It is normally a less formal or academic exercise, one that is more leisurely. We have a sip of wine then we have a nibble of cheese a little later. Most people do not consciously force the two together simultaneously. Even though the “forced” pairing is not taking place in these casual situations the results can be very much the same. If the cheese and wine were not good mates to begin with, they probably eventually leave a disappointing finish.
More often than not, cheeses and wines (or beers) do work well together. Again, we all have our personal preferences and sometimes the confluence of flavors and aromas between the cheeses and beverages can bring out new flavors and aromas which some of us may enjoy while others do not. Those aromatics are what “seals-the-deal” in pairings not just with cheese but with all foods.
The balancing relationships between cheeses and wines have several parallels: the “fruit” in the wine (or beer or other beverage) balances the salty or savory characteristics in the cheese. The saltier cheeses pair better with the fruitier wines, generally even better with the so-called “dessert” wines. Those wines with higher levels of residual sugar should be called “cheese” wines. When you already have sweet in your dessert why would you want to top it off with a little more sugar in the wine? One of the classic matches between a cheese and wine is the one between a salty Roquefort and a sweet Sauternes.
Another balancing act between cheeses and beverages is how they relate to overall “size” of flavor. The bigger flavored cheeses can annihilate a milder wine. It is usually better to have the cheese and wine find a matching fullness of flavor otherwise the cheese can change the wine into water, so to speak. The gentle wine may wash the big cheese down nicely but the subtleties in the wine may be lost.
We have found that the more acid cheeses generally work better with the more acid wines. All wines are more acid than all cheeses. If the cheeses had those low pH levels they would be intolerable. This is more a relationship of harmony than an actual see-saw balance. This is perhaps one reason why beers and cheeses can mate so well, the pH levels in beers are rarely as acid as those in wines.
Speaking of beers, the texture of each partner plays a not insignificant role. The effervescence in beers helps to lift up the butter fats and acids in cheeses so that they swirl around in the mouth like Balanchine. Wines have their textures too; it is not just “advantageous” sparkling wines and still wines. The mouth feel of still wines can be notably different. One varietal such as a Chardonnay has a round texture compared to a Sauvignon Blanc. This overall mouth feel is drawn from a number of qualities: acid, astringent (as those presented in tannic wines), trace minerals, barrel influence, and any effervescence.
Cheeses obviously have their own textures. Some are liquid like water while others are nearly as hard as granite. This is a relationship between cheeses and beverages that may be a little less important than others yet we have found that the firmer the cheese the better the mating with the beverage. This could be partly because the flavors in the cheese become more focused as they harden and age; the salts become more pronounced – those salts which play off the liquid partner so well, especially a liquid partner on the sweeter side. The softer cheeses often work best with the more effervescent beverages. The flavors in a younger softer cheese can be a bit scattered and unfocused compared to the harder cheeses. The bubbles provide a little texture to the duet.
Again, in more cases than not, cheeses and wines or other beverages do work well together. There are the occasional bad marriages but they are much less frequent than the successes. It should be noted that the hungrier and thirstier you are the more likely they pairings will be pleasing.
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Cheese Connoisseur Announces Book Signing Tour in St. Louis Author Max McCalman will be making appearances at five Schnucks locations
NEW YORK (July 20, 2011) â€“ Artisanal Brands, Inc. (OTCQB:AHFP) today announced that Max McCalman, Dean of Curriculum and MaÃ®tre Fromager at Artisanal Premium Cheese Center, will hold a book signing in St. Louis, Missouri on July 29 and 30 to promote his third book, Mastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurship from a MaÃ®tre Fromager. McCalman will appear at the following St. Louis locations:
Friday, July 29, 2011:
11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Schnucks Arsenal, 5505 Arsenal Road
1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Schnucks Richmond Center, 6600 Clayton Road
4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Schnucks Ladue, 8867 Ladue Road
Saturday, July 30, 2011:
11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Schnucks Lindbergh, 10275 Clayton Road
1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Schnucks Des Peres, 12332 Manchester Road
â€œMax is one of the cheese worldâ€™s most respected authorities on artisan cheeses and he has been a highly visible advocate for artisan cheesemakers around the world,â€ said Daniel W. Dowe, president and CEO of Artisanal. â€œMastering Cheese is the first of Maxâ€™s books to include extensive information on the artisan cheese revolution in the United States. We are all very appreciative of the work Max has done for our company and the entire industry.â€
McCalman is America’s first restaurant-based MaÃ®tre Fromager, and Garde et Jure as designated by France’s Guilde des Fromagers. He joined New York City-based restaurant Picholine in 1994 where he created the restaurant’s fabled cheese program with Chef-Proprietor Terrance Brennan. McCalman later established the critically acclaimed cheese programs at Artisanal Brasserie & Fromagerie restaurant, followed by the Artisanal Cheese Center, both in New York City.
In Mastering Cheese, McCalman condenses his vast knowledge into a single, one-of-a-kind volume that is the ultimate masterâ€™s class on cheese. The book presents in-depth information on everything from production methods and the laws that govern cheese naming, to choosing what cheese to buy at the grocery store and what wines or beers to pair with it. Organized into twenty-two distinct lessons, each lesson focuses on eight to 15 cheeses and ends with how-to information on creating a tasting plate from the knowledge garnered, bringing the experience to delectable life.
Mastering Cheese won “Best in the World Book on Cheese” for 2011 from the esteemed Gourmand International World Cook Book Awards, and was a finalist in the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Food & Beverage Reference/Technical category for 2011.
Artisanal Premium Cheese recently launched its products in St. Louis area Schnuck Markets along with its four-color cheese selection and wine and beer pairing system called the CheeseClock by Artisanalâ„¢. The CheeseClock by Artisanalâ„¢ gives consumers the guidance they need to confidently purchase cheeses and pair them with wines and beers in the very same fashion as a professional chef would present them in fine dining from mild to strong. Cheeses available include: (mild) Laurier, Rocky Sage, Brillat Savarin, Geit-in-Stad; (medium) Camembert, Pecorino Sardo, Tarraluna, Stella Royale; (bold) Uplands Pleasant Ridge, Artisanal 2-year Cheddar, Tomme Fermiere Dâ€™Alsace; (strong) Gouda Aged 4-years, North Country Blue, La Peral, Artisanal Roquefort.
About Artisanal Premium Cheese
Artisanal Brands, Inc. markets and distributes a line of specialty, artisanal and farmstead cheese products, as well as other related specialty food products under its own brand to food wholesalers and retailers, as well as directly to consumers through its catalogue and Web site, artisanalcheese.com. The company is based in New York, New York. For more information about Artisanal, visit www.artisanalcheese.com.
This may not sound like much of a concern: how does one taste cheese? However there are some methods that we should mention that can help you better taste cheese. The look of a cheese helps to form our assessment, whether we admit or not. The nose gives an even stronger impression, while the tongue can pick up altogether different sensations, and the texture of a cheese figures as well. As we point out in our Cheese & Wine 101 sessions, what seals the deal in tasting is what you have to wait for â€“ the â€œfinish.â€ This is when the aromatic esters in the cheese move up the retronasal canal, leaving the final impression and taste of the cheese.
One of the first things to consider is that you not wear strong cologne or other scents. Because cheeses can be very aromatic, to have other aromas competing with those in the cheese can present conflicting assessments. It is also helpful to have a more neutral palate. Avoiding strong foods and beverages before you taste the cheeses is recommended. Cheese judges are advised to avoid drinking coffee before tasting the competition cheeses.
Drinking plenty of water helps to keep your palate more â€œneutral.â€ Water is a great universal cleanser. Allowing a little time between tasting cheeses gives your palate a little rest so that it come back to a more neutral state. A little bit of a plain baguette or unflavored cracker can pick up the acids and fats left behind by a cheese.
Another tip we offer that may not be so apparent is to taste the cheese a second time, or just a little later. Remarkable differences can be recognized in the flavor of a cheese if you first â€œtemperâ€ your palate with the first bite, then go back for seconds. This is something that Kevin Zraly suggests you do when tasting wine: you have the first sip then have a second. Whatever residual may have resided in your mouth beforehand is smoothed over by the introductory taste followed by the actual assessing taste.
Wine or beer can serve as a â€œplatformâ€ for tasting cheese. Nuances in the cheese may be highlighted with one of these beverages underneath. This may not be considered fair, since the flavors and aromas may be altered by the commingling characteristics in the beverage. Yet they can also help bring out those subtleties that might otherwise be missed. Any alcoholic beverage should be consumed in moderation, otherwise your assessing skills may suffer.
The fine team at Rene Furterer offered a “Champagne and Cheese Master Class” to key editors last week offering a sneak peek at the new Kerite hair care line: Kerite Intense Nourishing Oil, Kerite Intense Nourishing Shampoo and Kerite Intense Nourishing Mask.
Although I left a little “buzzed” from the champagne, I just had to check out the products. It was a beautiful and luxurious experience as I cleansed and conditioned my hair. Launching in November, 2011, these products are something for every salon professional to look forward to!