Posts Filed Under The ‘cheese industry’ Category

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

Monday, January 13th, 2014

Master Series

The first Master Series of 2014 will be offered here at our new facilities in Long Island City, February 23rd & 24th. The series will be intensive, covering various aspects of the cheese world, all the way from cheese making to pairing with wines. This series promises to be a special one, as students will witness some of the final stages of assembly of our new facilities.
Back when we opened our old plant on Manhattan’s west side we were at the cutting edge in the industry: with our five cheese-maturing caves, production facilities, and our lovely events & education room. The industry has evolved and what was state-of-the-art in 2003 is now only sufficient, at least as far as affinage (cheese maturing) is concerned. Our production area was suitable too, yet only for the first couple of years after opening. It soon became apparent that we would require more space to work with our cheeses, larger caves, in order to keep up with the rising demand for our high-quality cheeses.
I often recommend that tight spaces are best for cheeses, up to a point. It is far easier to maintain cheeses in smaller spaces than larger one: the proper humidity, temperature, air exchange and microflora. I recall seeing the cheese caves in restaurants around the US in the early aughts; almost all of them were too large for the sizes of those operations. It is valuable to keep in mind that a little bit of cheese goes a long way. So our own fully packed cheese caves worked relatively well, the biggest problems were their ventilations. Certain parts of each cave had excessive air exchange while others were practically “dead.” The area outside those caves, the production area, was a little tight too, especially during busier weeks.
Bottom line: Now that we have been at it for over a decade, added to the years working out of the restaurants Picholine and the Artisanal Bistro, we have learned a lot about how to operate a cheese facility of this type. How to get the right product mix, find the top quality in each category, cure the cheeses to their optimal levels of ripeness, wrap them expertly, ship to our customers in good packaging, and provide the best customer service possible (which includes education).
It seems that there are a myriad of facets to the cheese industry so we will do our best to cover the essentials in this two-day series. We will also be eating quite a lot of cheese. Yum!
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

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Calling all Fromagers!

photo 2 e1384293166957 Calling all Fromagers!

The American Cheese Society is accepting applications for its third Certified Cheese Professional exam but you had better apply soon because the application deadline is coming up. That exam will be administered at their annual conference in Sacramento next summer.

Before you get too excited about becoming a CCP let me caution you that there are some eligibility requirements that must be met. This is not a certification for everyone, as great a cheese lover as you may be. In some ways however it is for everyone, at least everyone who has been in the cheese business and still is. In other words, the test is broad-based – it is not only about cheese making.

There are many facets to the wide world of cheese, so if you have been in the business for a while you have probably had at least a little exposure to other areas outside your day-to-day tasks. This is precisely why the certification is so broad. A CCP should have knowledge of other domains within the cheese world, for if she does she will have a better understanding of her product, inside and out.

This is a fundamental goal of the certification: to ensure that cheese is better understood, better cared for, more accurately described, better transported and packaged, more safely handled, more successfully marketed, and that those who work in the industry are more knowledgeable about the new challenges cheese will be facing in the near-future with the full implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Better understanding of all these points will help serve the cheese industry well.

This is not an exam for which you can simply pick up a book, read it through, retain all that you read, then pass the exam. Not even my Mastering Cheese will give you everything you need to know, not even close. No one book will be the one study guide you will need to pass. Hands-on experience counts toward eligibility, both paid and unpaid: work at dairies, creameries and retailers; as well as attending cheese classes and the ACS conferences; writing about cheese; etc.

Many people have applied to take the exam, paid the $35.00 application fee, then fail to take the process seriously. It is a tough exam, very thorough, 150 multiple choice questions, with three hours to take it, yet it is not overly difficult. Just don’t expect to be spoon-fed the entire content of the exam. It is up to the individual to prepare herself for the test. Many applicants have formed study groups and have reported that the process was satisfying and enjoyable.

By the way, once you become certified this does not make you an ACS CCP permanently. You will need to re-certify after three years. Not too difficult to do, so long as you maintain regular involvement in the industry.

Just make sure that you have your eligibility requirements first, then sign up, start studying, and then we’ll see you in Sacramento!

- Max McCalman

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Colorado Cheese Festival

max w goats e1383596155889 Colorado Cheese Festival

The appetite for cheese in Colorado appears to be rising faster than ever. Little surprise then that artisan cheese making is enjoying an uptick to satisfy that growing demand. Artisanal cheese production has been in existence for decades here but now the industry is booming. Craft beers are a big thing in Colorado too, which helps to grow the cheese appreciation.

The fifth annual Colorado Cheese Festival was held in Longmont this year, about an hour north of Denver. The festival enjoyed record-breaking attendance even though it was not in Denver itself. Several Denver denizens made the drive up, but there were other participants from all over the state as well as a number from out of state.

John Scaggs of Haystack Creamery brought four of his goats to the festival this year, two Nubians and two La Manchas, beautiful and gregarious animals. They stayed out in the parking lot munching on hay and taking in all the attention. When a small plane flew overhead all four of them looked up to see what it was. Curious, too. They held their gaze on the plane until it was out of sight.

Inside the convention center hundreds of cheese lovers were milling about, visiting cheese makers’ kiosks and attending sessions. I was asked to conduct a pairing session on cheese and beer. Turned out to be a big hit. Along with the Oskar Blues beers a local gin and coffee liqueur were thrown into the mix from Spirit Hound. My word of caution to the assembly was to know one’s capacity.

It appeared that everyone in attendance was being careful though. No one falling down. If there was anyone who might have fallen down it would have to be the festival’s organizer, Jackie Rebideau. Jackie had been up most of the night before putting the final touches on the event. She met us a few years ago when she attended one of our Master Series. She has gone on to make quite a cheese career for herself, along with hosting the Colorado Cheese Festival she also hosts a radio program, A Fermented Affair, and she just rolled out her first food truck in Denver, Mobile Meltz.

The festival will be back in Longmont again next year and I look forward to being a part of it again, helping Jackie spread the curd.

- Max McCalman

Friday, October 18th, 2013

How It All Began…

Max Cheese Cart How It All Began...

Terrance Brennan opened Picholine restaurant in October of 1993, one block east of Lincoln Center. At the time there was a dearth of fine restaurants in the neighborhood: some nice ones here and there but few that were truly exceptional. Terrance honed his culinary skills in southern Europe where cheese is a part of everyday life and “celebrated” as a stand-alone course: the cheese plate. He believed that a superior cheese course should be offered here in New York City as good as the ones he experienced while a young chef in Europe. Terrance wanted to replicate that cheese course experience at Picholine but not until he was assured that the restaurant would survive its first critical year in existence – the one in which nine out of ten restaurants usually close.

Fortunately Terrance is a great chef with a palate that can detect the one missing grain of salt in a Paella or discern the potential of the addition of lemon thyme in a sauce. It was also the “theatre” that attracted his attention to the cheese course. The days of tableside Crêpes Suzettes and Bananas Flambées had long passed and tableside carving of meats or filleting of fish was becoming a little worn out too. A grand presentation of cheeses had enjoyed modest success in New York, and what tableside presentations there were did not qualify as especially “grand.” We rolled out our chariot des fromages with a selection of fourteen cheeses on day one. Within a few weeks that number had nearly doubled.

I was able to hold down both jobs at the start: Fromager and Maître d’Hotel. The cheese program was a near-overnight success however so I was not able to give either of those jobs the full attention required. Naturally, I gave up the Hotel and kept the fromage. It was something new; I had loved cheese all my life anyway, and the Maître d’Hotel job (though well-paying) was far less challenging. That challenge is what caused the selection to grow quickly, and also what ensured the program’s ultimate success.

Well-traveled guests would come in and ask for other cheeses, or they might come in the very next night and say something like: “That selection you had last night was magnificent; what do you have this evening?” or “Do you have Stilton, my favorite?” So it was customer demand that grew the selection. As Terrance would expect with every other menu item, I was entrusted with knowing each of the cheeses. With the many gourmands that Picholine attracted, it behooved me to become as expert as possible, as quickly as possible. Thus began my cheese education.

Within a few months we had guests coming in for the cheese course having read about it in a European newspaper. The food media in New York was enthralled. Terrance is a great chef, no doubt, but there were already more than a handful around town yet none of them was taking the cheese course that seriously. Picholine became a destination for cheese. The New York Times came back in to review the restaurant within a year after the launch of the cheese program and gave the restaurant three stars, highlighting the cheese course in the review. Other restaurants got on the cheese bandwagon eventually, today, the cheese course can be found in most fine dining establishments throughout North America.

As the cheese trolley began to fill up with more and more exquisite cheeses, Terrance decided to install a cheese “cave” based on the expert guidance we received regarding cheese storage. A small walk-in closet was retrofitted into a cheese cave – the first of its kind in a North American restaurant. The installation of the cheese cave was a second “first” for Picholine. The restaurant could claim the first full-time Fromager in the United States, and the first cheese “cave.”

The cave’s tile walls were easy to clean and they helped maintain the proper temperature and humidity levels. This was a single-unit cave set to 50º F and 85% relative humidity, hence similar conditions to what one might find in an actual cave, ideal for storing most cheese types. We did have some concerns about cross-contamination: what if the blue crept into non-blue cheeses?

Fortunately this was not a problem whatsoever; the cheeses moved through this cave at a brisk pace. As the number of cheeses on the trolley increased, so did the excitement, and the check averages in the restaurant increased dramatically. Part of the increase was the cheese but a larger part of it could be attributed to the concomitant beverage sales. Some guests would opt for high-end dessert wines to accompany their cheeses, such as an aged Château d’Yquem. Instead of having one fixed price for a cheese plate (especially with so many to choose from) the prices were set on a scale, depending on how many cheeses the guest desired, from only one to as many as ten.

A three-fold cheese menu was designed so that the guests could follow along with their cheeses set in a progression on their plates. The menu listed as many as eighty cheeses – the ones that were typically available for the season as well as “special appearance” cheeses – with a space to write in tasting notes. The cheese menu was updated every season as the program evolved and as cheeses would come and go. The cheese menu also served as a marketing tool for the restaurant. Many regulars collected these menus from each visit and some claimed to have a wall full of cheese menus. Guests could return and request cheeses that were favorites from their previous visits.

Some guests wanted to purchase extra cheese to take home with them. The cheeses were still priced the same as if they had had them served in the restaurant. There were times when this placed an extra burden on the Fromager, and sometimes the sheer demand for cheese courses in the bustling restaurant would cause a lag time to receive the presentation. A “dance card” was devised for the cheese trolley wherein the captain would write in the table number waiting for cheese service, with a space to make a notation about whatever wine they might be enjoying – this to give the fromager some guidance in the cheese selection recommended. Terrance noted the demand for purchasing cheese to take home and eventually this led to the inclusion of a retail counter at the second restaurant in the group – Artisanal Brasserie et Fromagerie. The additional demand for the high-end top quality cheeses put pressure on the small walk-in cheese cave.

Not long after this first cheese cave in a restaurant was up and running, we had a visit from a literary agent – Angela Miller. Terrance said that I would be the guy to write a book on cheese. Steve Jenkins’ Cheese Primer had been out for a couple of years and since its publication no other books on cheese for the wider market had come out. I worked with Angela on a proposal for a book and within a few months a contract was signed with Clarkson Potter for a book to be entitled The Cheese Plate.

In the meantime, Terrance found a space for a second restaurant on 32nd street off Park Avenue. This new restaurant would be, as its name implies, a cheese-centric restaurant. The Artisanal Brasserie et Fromagerie would be a little less formal than Picholine, and just a little less expensive, with that retail counter included. Instead of the labor-intensive classical cheese trolley service the guests could simply go up to the cheese counter and confer with the fromagers, or the fromager could come to the table and discuss cheese options with the guests, or the guests could simply refer to a cheese menu.

The Artisanal Brasserie et Fromagerie opened in early 2001 to wide acclaim. The interior was designed by Adam Tihany to look like a brasserie in Paris, and indeed it did. The restaurant also had more seating than Picholine, quite a bit more – another reason why the cheese trolley service might be problematic. Having learned from the successes as well as the limitations of the Picholine program, it was evident that one well-functioning cheese cave is good but it would be better to have multiple caves, with each set to specific temperatures and humidity levels for different families of cheeses.

As it turned out, we could have made the space one large cheese depot with much larger caves. We had chefs, restaurateurs, caterers, airlines and others coming into the restaurant just for the cheeses. The restaurant itself was busy too, in a neighborhood that seemed a little tired and where the sidewalks seemed to roll up after dusk. With a growing residential population in the area the opening of the restaurant was welcomed with open arms, and the offices above it and surrounding it made Artisanal their preferred dining room. Of course it made no sense to convert this new and popular restaurant into that cheese depot; instead the idea of a cheese “center” was conceived, with much larger and more state-of-the-art cheese maturing caves, as well as a classroom for teaching classes and for hosting private cheese-themed events.

Within a year of the restaurant’s opening The Cheese Plate was published with a book launch party held on premises. The book became a standard introduction to the world of cheese and a best-seller in the category. Picholine continued to be the cheese destination that it had been, but it catered to a more upscale clientele, Lincoln Center fans and the surrounding neighborhood. Having been the first, Picholine became more of a cheese “shrine” whereas the Artisanal Brasserie & Fromagerie became more of a “cathedral.” If it was the cathedral, there needed to be another unit to manage the aging, distribution and the education component. The need for a classroom was indicated by the popularity of cheese classes in the Big Apple. New Yorkers, as well as many out-of-towners, were becoming increasingly curious about cheese, so the need for a classroom was indicated as another revenue stream.

Daphne Zepos was hired to assist me with this little cheese empire. Picholine’s program often required two fromagers to manage its demand, and on busier nights a third person would be required: the lead fromager would make the initial presentation (following the waiting list on the “dance card”) and a second would then receive the order from the presenter, then the third person would deliver the cheese selections to the guests and go over its contents, and suggest suitable wine partners. The brasserie usually had the same number of fromagers: two at lunch, and three during dinner service. Daphne’s hiring helped grow the program at both restaurants, and she would be called upon to assist with the opening of the center.

The space for the center was acquired in 2002, just one year after the opening of the brasserie. It was a raw space on the second floor of an office building, just one block east of the Jacob Javits Convention Center. At the time the space was acquired the neighborhood was still a little derelict and much-deserving of its name – “Hell’s Kitchen.” Architects and refrigeration experts were brought in to get this new center up and running quickly. The center opened it doors May 3rd, 2003, less than nine months after the space was acquired.

The southwest corner of the facility was dedicated to the storage and deliveries, with the five cheese caves along the south wall, each one with its own temperature and humidity. The production area adjoined these caves, and the customer service and sales offices filled out the southeast side of the center. The offices for accounting, web management, marketing and senior management were positioned along the eastern perimeter, with Terrance’s office in the northeast corner. The classroom was placed along the northern side. There had never been anything quite like it in the United States – a “center” with cheese caves, production facilities, offices for the entire company, and a classroom with a working kitchen for demos. Between the hallway and the classroom there was a reception area for classes and events which also doubled as a conference room for the company.

In addition to the architects, refrigeration experts, and our own team of cheese experts, Terrance retained the talents of a Paris “affineur” as a special consultant on the design, construction, and setup of the cheese caves. Terrance took Daphne with him to see the cheese caves at Alléose in Paris, the fromager and affineur he hired as consultant. They observed the working of their caves as well as their retail space. The process of affinage, the proper ripening of cheese, had been a part of the successes of the restaurants’ cheese programs; with the new center opening it became a much bigger concern.

Daphne also assisted in the design of the class curriculum and taught several classes during her tenure with the company. The classroom remained fairly busy with classes and private events over the ten years Artisanal was based at that location. The Master Series was a course that Daphne and I developed for industry professionals and for persons considering entering the world of cheese. Originally the series was offered on six consecutive Wednesdays; later it was consolidated to three in a row. Compressing the series this way made it easier for people from out of town to attend. The Master Series was offered once a quarter and drew in students from other countries as well as from across North America.

Not long after its opening I was given a contract for a second book, one that would be more of an atlas. Cheese: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best was published in 2005 and won a James Beard Award for Special Subjects. The cheeses included in that book all came from the caves at Artisanal and all the photographs were taken in the classroom. This book went to the top of the category, surpassing the success of The Cheese Plate. Not long after the second book was published, the publisher suggested a third book to be titled Mastering Cheese. This book was to be based on the contents of the Master Series. The publisher budgeted only three hundred thousand words for this book so I had to add a clause after Mastering Cheese – “Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager.” That book was published in 2009 and became a textbook for the Master Series; it later went on to win Best Cheese Book in the World at Paris’ Gourmand Cookbook Awards.

The company continued to expand into markets outside of New York City, all across the United States, with a few international customers in countries without restrictions on this type of overnight cheese shipping. In the early years this was less problematic – shipping cheeses to international addresses – though the cost of shipping cheeses overseas usually exceeded the cost of the cheese itself. Artisanal supplied airlines with fine cheeses that were served in their first class cabins for Europe-bound flights and in their domestic lounges. One customer in Beijing informed us that this was the only way she was able to acquire some of the outstanding cheeses we offered.

As Artisanal’s sales grew steadily from year to year, it became apparent that it would one day outgrow its Hell’s Kitchen facilities. The first indication of growing pains was noted during the first Christmas season after opening. The production team took over the classroom to help manage the flow. From that first year on the classroom would be closed early each December to help manage the heavy volumes.

After the ten year run in that location, it was evident that a new space would be required to manage the growing business with even better state-of-the-art cheese maturing caves. As of this writing, the new Artisanal Cheese Center is being constructed.

- 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 4th, 2013

ACS CCP™ Second Exam Exit Survey

ACS CCP logo Final e1378319056183 ACS CCP™ Second Exam Exit Survey

The second exam for the American Cheese Society’s Certified Cheese Professionals was administered July 31st in Madison. 172 applicants sat for the exam this year. As of this writing our Subject Matter Experts team is determining the passing score for the exam. Many test-takers have asked why it takes so long to know whether or not they passed. The short answer to that question is simply not that short. Our SME team wants to make sure the exam is tough enough but not overly difficult. This takes careful analysis of each and every question of the 150 on the exam. How did each question fare? What was the highest score and what was the lowest? What was the median score and what was the mean?

If one question fared poorly (as in less than half answered the question correctly) then is the question flawed in some way, or is there more than one defensible answer? We also put the overall performance on the exam into some historical context by comparing how the exam-takers did this year compared to the first year.

Analyzing how each question fares is not only dependent upon how many people answered the question correctly but also dependent on the consensus among the SME’s. Was the answer to a particular question something that the CCP™ should be able to answer correctly, and if so, what percentage of the test-takers would get it right?

Tomorrow the persons that passed the exam should be receiving their notifications that they are now ACS CCP’s. Based on our post-exam analysis it looks like we will have many more added to the 121 who passed last year. This is great! We expect to welcome even more CCP’s after the third exam at the 2014 conference in Sacramento.

A big “Thank You” to the team of Subject Matter Experts who volunteered many hours to this important endeavor, and to Jerry Rosen and Michelle de los Santos at Knapp Associates, and to our own Jane Bauer, as well as all the many people who have lent their support over the past decade. A tremendous amount of work went into this process. I know it seems like it has taken a long time to get the results but to maintain the standards I believe it is worth the wait. This certification is too important for the entire cheese industry.

- Max McCalman
ACS CCP™ Committee Chair

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Vive la France, Oui Oui!

800px Cheese shop window Paris e1374515476622 Vive la France, Oui Oui!

The excitement occurring in the cheese world today is occurring right here within our shores. However there are some cheeses that simply will not be successfully replicated outside their original provenances. Actually, no cheeses can be recreated identically if produced in different places. There are too many variables that come into play. The French have elevated the importance of terroir, as well they should. For a country about the size of Texas there are many distinct soils, climates, topographies and cultural/historical influences. These qualities which define terroir shape the profiles of cheeses dramatically. The same cheesemaker will not be able to make the same cheese in a different locale. Even if she has the same milk to work with, and the same recipe, the locations where the cheeses are produced and cured will have their own influences on the cheesemaker’s cheese.

The French were not the first to make cheese, nor do they produce the most cheese, nor do they eat more cheese than anyone else, yet the cheeses of France are widely considered to be the best. Many people feel the same way about French wines – that they are the best. We are finding as many distinctions among French wines as we are among French cheeses. It is rather mind-boggling, this array of quality in French cheeses and wines.

French cheeses have found an important export market in the United States – a good thing since per capita consumption in France has been leveling off. While American cheeses continue to improve, these imported French cheeses are finding unexpected competition with our own artisan cheeses. There are many French cheeses that will never find their way onto our cheese shop’s shelves; the young cheeses made from unpasteurized milk find homes within France or in other less paranoid nations than ours. It is difficult for me to avoid this topic: the young cheeses crafted from uncompromised milk that are prohibited here. Many of these cheeses are becoming “luxury” cheeses within France itself. Cheeses that were recently humble peasant foods are now finding their way onto cheese trolleys of the most exclusive restaurants in the world. Sadly, some of these cheeses are barely hanging on; the economics simply don’t add up, even with the appreciation among well-healed turophiles.

The denial of young raw milk cheeses here has served to shape our cheese choices toward the more aged varieties, and fortunately with a little uptick in the raw milk cheeses too. This means that we do not have those young delicacies, most of which are as close as we can get to that fresh wholesome milk without destabilizing heat treatments. This is not to say that aged cheeses cannot be fabulous, both aesthetically and nutritionally, but it does mean we are missing out on a dizzying array of magnificent curds.

So what can we do to preserve these old cheesemaking traditions, many of which are very much endangered? I am afraid it is highly doubtful we will see any revisions to our regulations but we can go to France and eat them while there, or wherever they may be produced: England, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, etc. I have no problem with that: venturing to Europe to taste cheeses that are illegal here. It is easier for me to fly to Paris than it is to get to Burlington, Vermont. I missed the Vermont Cheese Festival again this year, partly for that reason. Another thing we can do is eat as much artisan cheese as we possibly can, from wherever, young or aged, pasteurized or not. If we eat more cheese it will help keep all cheesemakers in business and future generations will see the industry as one that is viable.

The only problem with eating all this extra cheese is that we will have to purchase new wardrobes; our waistlines will slim down dramatically. Seriously!

I’ll tell you all about it at the next Cheese & Wine 201, with a few tidbits thrown in at the next Cheeses & Wines of France.

Ever wonder why French women don’t get fat?

It’s the cheese!

- Max McCalman