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Posts Filed Under The ‘Cheese Health’ Category

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Goats Rule

Goats Rule

A “rule” of goat cheeses use to be that they were not so great in the winter months. When we factor in the northern hemisphere lactation cycles and the relatively short durations of aging for this family of cheeses, they would come into their primes late spring then they would fade in the early winter. Many of the younger goat cheeses were best avoided in winter, like tomatoes. Around most of the country it is easy to tell that we are in deep winter now yet there are many lovely goat cheeses available today.

Part of the success of goat milk cheeses is what fresh goat milk brings to the table on its own. The fresh clean flavor of good goat milk is best enjoyed if it is not compromised by too many other competing influences. The rarity of blue cheeses crafted from goat milk should serve as a reminder: the lovely flavors goat milk can offer can be overwhelmed. Some excellent blue goat cheeses exist but they are rare.

Perhaps it is better to wait past winter and early spring for the fresher goat cheeses. In the meantime, a light bloom of Candidum can help preserve that fresh goat milk flavor so long as the milk is good milk to begin with and the cheeses are carefully made, ripened and stored. The Geotrichum rinded goat cheeses can help preserve that fresh goat milk flavor too.

For many goat cheese lovers the light yeasty note added by that mold species makes these cheeses more desirable than those coated in Candidum. An advantage the Geotrichum has over the Candidum is its permeability; the goat milk within the rinds respires more easily. Goat milk does not like suffocation. This enhanced respiration can expedite draining and drying too, which is nice only up to a point. A dry goat cheese is not to everyone’s liking, even if the flavor remains fresh and creamy.

Interestingly, those fresh and creamy goat milk flavors are sometimes more noticeable in a drier aged goat cheese than in a younger one.

Max McCalman

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

NASFT Winter Fancy Food Show, the floral components


Back to San Francisco for the annual Fancy Food Show; it is a nice town to visit any day of the year but for those of us living in the northeast it also gives us a chance to thaw out a little. We have several more weeks to go before we’ll see any daffodils around here so the Golden State will be a welcome sight. About the only living flowers we are seeing here in New York now are the ones that are growing on the rinds of our cheeses and sausages. Maybe not quite as colorful as an English garden but they look gorgeous nonetheless, at least to some of us.

Recently we had a customer call who was concerned about the molds (read: flowers) growing on a perfectly ripened Sainte Maure, and another concerned about the white mold growing on one of our Country Sausages. These concerns would not be voiced in most parts of the world, yet here in the States we have been cautioned to reject that that does not look uniform, perfectly cylindrical, and free of any blemishes, even barnyard aromas. How far we have gotten away from the farm!

It is apparent that our high school biology classes have skirted around the diversity-of-life studies and have instead taught us that anti-bacterials, cleanliness-is-next-to-godliness regimens, and near-sterile environments are the choices we should make. The recent research on our biomes is, to put it mildly, a little difficult to swallow, especially after having received the fear-mongering assaults on biodiversity received in basic Biology. Sadly, the same hysteria lingers into higher education. The first clue some people receive regarding biomes comes in undergraduate Symbiosis classes. Maybe it is not as bad with some of today’s Biology intro courses but the overarching fear of other living forms does seem to persist. Anti-bacterial soaps are ubiquitous, almost impossible to avoid.

You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Given a choice between a cheese that is perfectly cylindrical and white, and one that looks a bit misshapen and dotted with molds, I will go for the latter. The former cheese may be perfectly  edible but I invariably prefer the ones that appear to have some life in them. Better to have a cheese that is supporting a “garden” than one that is barely breathing.

Max McCalman

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

How do you like your chèvres?

How do you like your chèvres?

There was a time about a decade ago when we were able to acquire some young unpasteurized goat cheeses from France, some of the AOC varieties. And of course, no one became ill from consuming them, though their legality here was lacking. It was kind of like “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Back then we would recommend that customers follow the seasonal fluctuations: those chèvres being much better during the second half of the year, actually some of them beginning to show well as early as May.

With the implementation of more stringent adherence to the outdated FDA regulations, those young goat cheeses were summarily banned. Seems that we are due for updated immigration reform. What French goat cheeses were available from then on were mostly insipid and banal. This descent has been taking place for many decades anyway, even within the French borders themselves. Fortunately, the overall quality of the Loire Valley chèvres has remained relatively high, if nuances and depth in flavors have been missing.

These imitations of the original AOC cheeses have continued to enjoy popularity here, to the point that most of them are routinely called by their cherished names such as Valençay, Sainte Maure, and Selles-sur-Cher. The newish “substitute” cheeses don’t dare use those names when they depart France but we use those names here anyway. The names practically roll off the tongue. Considering what I have tasted in France recently, these replacement Loire Valley cheeses are not that different. Some of the goat cheeses without AOC status produced in other parts of the country are closer in flavor profile to what our Loire selections use to be!

The affineur has a few tricks he can apply to help those cheeses reach their greatest potential. As in the old days: a little sechage in the haloir is invariably part of the process (drying in a dry environment). These cheeses arrive in plastic wrapping and dripping wet, and virtually flavorless. Not to be too much of a cheese snob here, I try those “fake” cheeses from time to time, curious as to why their popularity seems not to have diminished, but only after they have dried a little and after they have acquired some of their beautiful multi-colored mold coating. It could be partly that they don’t offend, either mold-covered (though the appearance seems to bother some) or the younger ones (with no mold coating) with far less character. Sadly, this is what many consumers expect from cheeses – that they be flat-flavored, bland and lifeless. With a little careful ripening these pitiful things can become more interesting.

Think of those molds as the “flowers” growing on the cheese surface. Some “flowers” blossom in the interior of cheeses! Almost all of these mold species are beneficial. They contribute flavors to the paste within and also enhance drying. Those “flowers” themselves may not be particularly tasty but the cheese’s flavor will be enhanced. For those that do want flavorless cheeses they may want to specify this via a phone call. We may have some fresh arrivals pre-affinage we can send along.

I fear that the assumption from some consumers is that if the cheese comes from France, it must be great. And our obsessive hysteria regarding mold, well, don’t get me started!

A recent shipment of “Sainte Maure” (cheese-on-a-stick) came in so fragile that one of the logs broke the day we took it out of its packaging. We set the poor thing in with its sisters anyway and I took a little taste after its few days of drying, ripening and molding. It was very nice, mold included.You may want to try some of these now, even though it’s January. A little TLC goes a long way with the chèvres.

Let it grow!

Max McCalman

Friday, November 1st, 2013

Calcium Discussions

800px Coulommiers lait cru e1383328676847 Calcium Discussions

It should be no surprise that the National Dairy Council would tout the calcium contents and other benefits in dairy. At the same time we might expect the council would be very selective about which sources it references: the randomized clinical trials, the observational studies, the animal and in vitro studies, the research reviews, and the studies of children and adolescents. Yet it is clear that the studies cited come from a diverse mix of credible researchers, and with no conflicts of interest in sight. It is gratifying to read through the works that the council has summarized.

We would expect that an entity such as WebMD would have no vested interest in recommending dairy so reading through some of their reports might make for a little less pleasurable read. Yet in a summary of various studies on calcium intake and body fat the evidence suggests a strong inverse correlation, i.e. the high-calcium diet can reduce body fat.

According to Michael Zemel, PhD, Director of the Nutrition Institute, studies have shown that the more calcium there is in a fat cell, the more fat it will burn. In their research various trials were conducted, some with calcium supplements and others with dairy. According to Dr. Zemel, “The magnitude of the findings was shocking.” Body fat storage was markedly reduced by all high-calcium diets…however calcium from dairy products produced the best results.

My favorite line from the WebMD article was this one: Too many dieters tend to immediately jettison dairy foods from their diet, because they’re just sure they’re going to make them fat. In fact, they’re shooting themselves in the foot, because they subject themselves to more empty-calorie sources.

This goes to the point: cheese is a “near-complete” food.

One of least favorite lines immediately follows: They would be better off if they would substitute high-fat dairy products with low-fat fairy.

This is a point with which I disagree, even without my own PhD to back me up.

Later in the same article, Pamela Meyers, PhD, a clinical nutritionist and assistant professor at Kennesaw State University states: “Also, there are people who are lactose intolerant who can’t consume dairy products. That’s why we need to look at other food sources…using calcium supplements, it’s important to choose those with added vitamin D, zinc, and magnesium, which help the body to better absorb calcium…”

A couple points here: Dr. Meyers, like so many other health professionals, seems not to know that cheese is lactose-reduced; up to 90% of lactose is eliminated in cheese making, and in most aged cheeses that reduction is even greater. One reason why the dairy products were more effective than supplements in reducing body fat storage is because dairy already contains the vitamin D, zinc, magnesium, as well as many other components which work synergistically to enhance the calcium absorption and overall well-being.

You may be familiar with the little graph in DK Publishing’s French Cheese that compares some of the nutritive values in an egg with those in different types of cheeses. The most dramatic difference in relative values is the calcium amounts. Nearly twenty times the calcium is offered in a cooked pressed cow milk cheese than is offered in an egg of equivalent weight.

The best source of bio-available calcium is cheese, especially those that are crafted from uncompromised milk (not pasteurized) for they have their full complement of vitamin D, zinc, and other nutrients.

- Max McCalman

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Ewe’s Milk Cheeses: Why We Love Them

sheep Ewe’s Milk Cheeses:  Why We Love Them

We do not usually call them “ewe’s milk cheeses” because of the way that sounds. “You’s” is heard around these parts a little too often. Calling them “ewe milk cheeses” does not sound much better. Calling them “sheep milk cheeses” is commonly accepted, as is “goat milk cheeses.” Neither the sheep nor the goat (the guys) produce the milk but the female names, ewes and does, are both problematic. Think of “does milk cheeses.”

How would you read that?

So much for “you’s milk cheese.”

I have seen many people completely enthralled by sheep milk cheeses. People seem to love them, or most do. There are only a handful of people who cannot tolerate sheep cheeses, including, surprisingly, a judge in a recent national cheese competition. For her it had to be cow and cow only.

Cheese suffers in so many ways.

The different species’ milks are a little less distinctive. Yet when you convert those milks into cheese, their different aromas, flavors and textures begin to diverge.

If there were only one adjective that defines goat cheeses from sheep or cow it would be “chalky.” If there were only one for cow cheeses it would be “buttery.” For sheep cheeses I would say “olive.” Maybe not an adjective but it conveys a distinction. Not that each of those milks does not at times have the other qualities – these are only the main descriptors.

Everything may be better with a little butter on it, but chalk? This could be one of the challenges goat cheese face with some people. Chalk is not so easy to swallow. Olive oil may be the easiest to appreciate. That olive oil note comes partly from the higher butterfats in sheep milk. The butterfat contents can be nearly twice as high as those in goat or cow. Some Spanish sheep milk cheese labels promote the cheeses underneath as “Extra Graso,” as in “extra greasy.” Yum!

No wonder we love them.

Sheep milk also contains more protein, another source of some of the wonderful aromas (wonderful for most of us) that sheep milk cheeses can offer.

When the milk is converted into cheeses and the cheeses are allowed to age, the relative protein and fat contents can be more closely lined up. The water content in cow milk averages about 87% of total weight, similar in goat, while sheep milk typically averages around 80%. Simply stated, sheep milk has more solids.

While this does not fully explain why we love sheep milk cheeses, all those butterfats and proteins do play a big role in the way sheep milk cheeses taste and smell, as well as in how they feel. During the fermentation processes of cheese making the proteins and fats break down into distinct flavors and more volatile aromatics. The lively aromas that arise from sheep milk cheeses are appealing to most people. The extra fat is appealing, though many people consider this to be an indulgence.

I would argue that this extra fat is not at all an indulgence but a wholesome attribute.

The fat works well with many wines too. I have found fewer wine “challengers” from among different sheep milk cheeses than I have for goat or cow. This is a broad generalization but considering how the acids in wines, beers or hard ciders work with fats, it should be little surprise that sheep milk cheeses enjoy so many tremendous synergies with those fermented beverages. Looking at three recent cheese and wine score sheets, the sheep milk cheeses all paired well with each of the wines. This is not to say that there can’t be outstanding matches with cow or goat, or with water buffalo cheeses.

Plus, those extra solids in sheep milk indicate higher overall nutritive values, including those derived from those wholesome butterfats. I firmly believe that our bodies know a good food when we eat it, which is one reason why we keep going back for more cheese, and why sheep cheeses in particular are often chosen to be favorites from within a mix.

Some cheese experts insist on calling them “ewe’s milk cheeses” but wouldn’t this have read a little silly if “ewe” was substituted for “sheep” all the way through?

If you was…?

- Max McCalman

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Silver Linings

USCapitolbw e1380833348413 Silver Linings

A friend just forwarded me a report from the Department of Health and Human Services regarding contingency staffing plans during the federal government shutdown. He was able draw a sliver of positive news from the report.

The report states that more half of the HHS staff will be furloughed, from departments that are deemed to be less important, such as the department which funds the Senior Nutrition programs, Native American Nutrition and Supportive Services, Prevention of Elder Abuse and Neglect, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, and Protection and Advocacy for persons with developmental disabilities. This is obviously not the positive news that he gleaned from the report; instead it brings into focus some of the good things the federal government does on behalf of its citizenry, the most vulnerable included.

If there were ever a department whose value to our general population’s vulnerabilities I questioned, it was the department that conducted random inspections of cheese importers. That is not to say that problems do not arise from time to time but with cheese those problems are scant compared to the problems with other foods. Previous to this week’s government meltdown, with already limited resources, I thought the FDA spent a little too much time and effort looking for something that was not really a problem, like a cheese mite on a Mimolette. Please!

By the way, no one has ever been hospitalized from the consumption of cheese mites.

If that was all those guys had to worry about then I want my tax dollars spent elsewhere, as on the other agencies cited above. Among the departments that will be furloughed the memo included this statement:

FDA will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities. FDA will also have to cease safety activities such as routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs (e.g., food contact substances, infant formula), and the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making.

When I think of the random FDA inspections we have experienced over the years, I know that our cheeses have been evaluated, sometimes hundreds of pounds quarantined until well after their sell-by dates, then to be determined as “safe.” I recall one instance just a couple years ago when a shipment of high moisture cheese was held up nearly a month before it was released so that we could sell it. The cheese came back “clean” and safe for consumption. The cheese may have been safe when it was quarantined but by the time we were able to sell it, it was over-the-hill. I recall that the cheese was still edible but it was past its sell-by date, and the cheese looked like it had not enjoyed a pleasant sojourn during its examinations.

I got along well with every FDA inspector I ever met and I hope their furloughs are brief, but then again, maybe some prioritization of tasks may be in order.

- Max McCalman

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

What About the Underweight People?

8 e1379522265765 What About the Underweight People?

It seems that most of the spam I receive is intended for the overweight. In case you have never seen me in person, being overweight is not one of my concerns. Obesity is a national problem and it does merit attention but all the claims you find on how to lose weight are, in my estimation, flawed. There are many ways one can shed a pound or two, and including cheese on a regular basis can help make that happen. If you have a hard time believing that one, I have some lovely real estate in Florida. No, seriously, cheese can be part of a wholesome and weight reducing diet plan.

That is not my topic here. Instead, for many of us, including yours truly – the cheese-devouring Maître Fromager, trying to keep weight on is a bit of a problem. I understand that it may be better to be underweight than over, but I would prefer not to have to shop in the boys’ departments when I shop for clothes. Genetics plays its role. As my doctor insists, some people will gain a pound just by looking at a piece of cheese. Yet as much cheese as I eat, it is simply not adding on the poundage. At times I think I ought to cut back on cheese so that I can get my weight up a bit, perhaps make up the difference with some other foods.

Naw. Ain’t gonna happen.

Cheese does have some qualities that can help you put on weight, I am told. Hint: it is not the fat. Fat does provide calories, as does the protein in cheese, yet the fat yields a feeling of satiety, thus reducing the desire to overeat. More on that later.

The weight one may put on by consuming extra cheese is lean body mass. No one I know has a problem with lean body mass, at least up to a point. So where might we pick up some of the rounding pounds?

You might include a glass of wine or a beer with your cheese. That may help. Or if you do not drink alcohol you can pick up those extra calories with juices, or a little extra whole grain bread.

Bottom line: if you are trying to add weight, cheese may not be the way to go, unless you are willing to pick up extra carbohydrates from other foods and beverages.

- Max McCalman

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Burning Fat

Emmentaler e1377722980399 Burning Fat

I am always on the lookout for articles making claims of benefits for foods. Just as interesting are the articles on the negatives in foods.

Will cheese appear on either of these lists: the good or the bad?

Yesterday morning’s Newsmax article started off: “When it comes to weight loss, the hard truth is that there are no miracles: If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight…But nutritional experts know that all calories are not created equal.”

Fair enough. I agree with this part.

The article goes on to state that the fat-burning foods are those that require more energy to digest, such as lean meat, foods that are high in fiber, and those containing “good” fats. Knowing that cheese has two of those three components: the protein found in lean meat and the “good” fats gave me hope that I would find cheese among their list of these fat-burning foods.

Along with the fat-burning potential of lean meat the writer brings up the satiety angle: the satiety levels are increased. This satiety happens with cheese for similar reasons. The protein-rich foods such as cheese and lean meat make you feel full longer so you snack less.

“Protein-rich meat requires a lot of energy to digest…”

The cheese may not require as much energy to digest as the lean meat does but are we really looking for foods that require extra energy to digest? Seems wasteful. Cheese requires less energy to digest because it is already pre-digested. Cheese is a fermented food that has undergone some metabolism. This metabolism continues after the cheese crosses our lips. As for the satiety angle: cheese has those proteins (a full complement of the proteins’ building blocks, the amino acids) along with the “good” fats (some of us would say that the fats found in cheese are at least as good as those found in meat) as well as vitamins and minerals. All these nutrients, including the “good” fats provide that feeling of satiety. Which makes me ask: Why lean meat?

Avocados are mentioned in the article for their monounsaturated fats and fiber. I love avocados and I am pleased to hear that they are a source of fiber, but the monounsaturated fats? They’re nice too. It is the fiber that requires a little extra energy to digest. Since cheese has no fiber I am happy to make room in my shopping cart for an avocado.

Raw almonds? Why not? Not only almonds; different nuts have different nutritive values. They all contain some proteins, fats and fiber. It is the relative amounts of those nutrients that differ: for example, some may have a little more selenium than others. I will include almonds on my shopping list, as well as other tree nuts.

Hot peppers? Sure, but in moderation. The article claims that the capsaicin in peppers boosts metabolism. The peppers also contain some vitamin C, which cheese lacks.

Then another favorite food is listed: coffee. The writer says that one or two cups of coffee will jump-start lipolysis, the breakdown of fats. Green tea is recommended in the article for its fat-burning potential. I have a cup of it every once in awhile but I already enjoy four of the other foods much more: coffee, almonds, avocados, and peppers. I may have meat occasionally – but lean?

So where was the cheese in this article? I suppose we might say that it does not require the extra energy to digest, and that it does not trigger lipolysis dramatically. Yet it does enhance metabolism of the foods we may have eaten, the cheese itself included.

I want to see cheese celebrated for its powerful nutritional benefits including its weight-reducing potential, not only for the gustatory pleasures it offers.

- Max McCalman

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Stick to the Cheese

np5002 1 Stick to the Cheese

It is heartening to read the results on food safety as it relates to cheese. As I often say: If you are unsure about the other foods available, go for the cheese.

We often promote the marvelous nutritive values of cheese but it is also nice to know how safe a food it is. Of the food-borne illness outbreaks reported to the FDA, the CDC, and the USDA, between 2001 and 2010, cheese ranks safer than fruits and vegetables, far safer. Adjusted for consumption, vegetables are responsible for more than twice as many food-borne illnesses as cheese is. The incredible edible egg can be blamed for more than six times the number of illnesses. Seafood is responsible for nearly twenty times as many illnesses, again, adjusted for consumption.

Since 2010 there has been only one food-borne illness outbreak attributed to dairy in the U.S. – milk from a dairy in Pennsylvania in 2012. Cheese is even safer than milk! As of this writing there have been no reports of food-borne illnesses attributed to any U.S. dairy product this year.

No other food group comes close to the stellar track record that cheese enjoys, except for beverages. Even beverages are not without blame. But when you consider the nutritive values of beverages, cheese is incomparable.

- Max McCalman

Monday, June 17th, 2013

brown white cows 300x200

My good friend Mary Falk once referred to raw milk as “manna from heaven.” Today’s Wall Street Journal issued this press release: “New Studies Confirm: Raw Milk a Low-Risk Food”. Drawing from a Journal of Food Protection publication, three quantitative microbial risk assessments (QMRAs) demonstrate that unpasteurized milk is a low-risk food, contrary to previous, inappropriately-evidenced claims suggesting a high-risk profile.

Today, even (if not especially) within the dairy industry itself, raw milk is regarded as a dangerous food, whereas cheese is considered to be comparatively safe. That cheese may be safer could take into consideration the fermented nature of cheese with its lower pH level (the more acid environment tending to thwart pathogenic contamination) as well as the salt in cheese – salt being the great preservative that it is. The myths surrounding raw milk abound, which could have something to do with the word “raw.”

The peer-reviewed QMRAs demonstrate a low risk of illness from unpasteurized milk consumption for each of the main pathogens attributed to dairy: Campylobacter, Shiga-toxin inducing E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes and Staphylococcus aureus. This low risk profile of raw milk is attributed to immunologically-susceptible groups as well as to healthy adults.

Anecdotally, in my two decades as a cheese guy the cheeses crafted from raw milk have enjoyed far longer shelf lives than their compromised milk counterparts.

- Max McCalman