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.
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.
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!
The weather we’re experiencing around here these days suggests fondue. For other parts of the country even more so! Nothing warms you better than melted cheese and currently there are several specimens here that dissolve beautifully into simmering white wines. One of the original fondue cheeses is Fontina d’Aosta, always crafted from raw cow milk, as they have been for over a thousand years. The so-called “mountain” cheeses are the ones to seek out, especially the cow milk varieties.
It seems that cow milk cheeses are better at melting into a fondue than sheep, and certainly better than goat cheeses. Many of these mountain cheeses are delicious on their own at room temperatures, yet Fontina (though delicious at room temperature) simply does not hold up so well when left out. A wedge of Fontina will start to slump, the butter fats will leach out, and the wedge will dry out quickly. The cheese seems to demand that it be melted down, which is one reason why it makes an excellent cooking cheese.
A similar cheese from across the border in eastern France is Morbier, more of a smear-ripened cheese than Fontina but equally nice at melting. The Morbier has the same disposition when set out at room temperature as the Fontina d’Aosta. The harder cheeses that are closely related to these stand up better when left out, such as Comté, Gruyère, Uplands Pleasant Ridge and Tarentaise. When I first started snacking on these types at room temperature I was admonished, as though that was the only way to fully enjoy them, melted.
Maybe that is true for today’s weather but when it warms up in a few months, I would prefer to leave the fondue pot in storage and instead shave off several thin slices of these marvelous cheeses, invariably some of the most popular in cheese competitions.
It makes a difference which cheeses you cut first, and which cheeses you save to cut last, whether you use a cheese wire or a knife.
The primary reason it makes a difference is, if you follow the order outlined below, it is less messy, and secondly, the probability of cross-contamination is reduced. I usually avoid the “contamination” word when I speak about cheese, as cheese is already undeservedly feared. The contamination referenced here is more about the commingling of flavors that can occur. Unless after cutting each cheese you are diligent in cleaning your cutter: knife, wire or otherwise. Cheese flavors can spread from one cheese to another.
I recommend cleaning your cutter anyway, if only with the quick wipe of a cloth. With the harder cheeses the cuts are cleaner and fewer residues will remain on the cutter, which can end up in the next cheese that is cut. Softer cheeses do not cut as clean as the harder ones—one reason to save those for later. A soft cheese may ooze – this can be problematic.
There is no substitute for fresh cut cheese, by the way. Yet if you must cut cheeses a little ahead of time, the harder cheeses will hold up longer than the softer ones. Once cut, a softer cheese may end up spreading across the plate, sometimes onto other cheeses. This commingling of flavors is the more serious type of “contamination” I mentioned above. Maybe not a serious problem but for the purist, a cheese is better appreciated on its own or with an accompaniment besides another cheese.
The blue cheeses should be cut last. Most of them are moist, if not soft. And once you have blue on your knife, the flavor of blue cheeses being as persistent as it is, it can easily overwhelm the subtleties of the milder cheeses. If the blue cheese is cut before a non-blue, the blade should definitely be wiped clean beforehand.
So the recommended order of cutting is not necessarily the same as the recommended order of eating. The harder cheese should be cut first, the softer cheeses next, saving the blue cheeses for last. One point to keep in mind here: just because a cheese is soft does not mean it will be a mild cheese, not at all.
Although perhaps not the most frequently asked questions, those centered on how best to store cheese come up often. The short answer to the storage question is: store you cheese in your stomach; and that you purchase the cheese you will consume within a day or two, the same way you purchase fish; leave the long-term storage for the professionals. The way most Americans buy food for home consumption these days, buying only what you need for a couple of days is not an option. We simply don’t have the time to go shopping for our cheese every other day, though you can do that easily using our website. The firmer the cheese, the longer you can store it. The softer cheeses can be considered to be more “luxury” cheeses, or cheeses for special occasions. With the softer cheeses not only do you have shorter shelf lives, you are paying for more water, hence the shortened shelf lives.
So what if you do have leftover cheese, soft or hard? We ship our cheeses in cheese-friendly paper, which allows the cheese to breathe while in transit. This paper is also good for rewrapping leftover cheese, at least while it’s clean. If the cheese paper becomes too wet, or if too much rind remains on the paper, or if it becomes soiled in another way, the paper should not be reused. If it is a larger piece of cheese (say about a half pound) you can wrap it in some other similar paper (parchment or waxed) but this may not be worth the extra effort, or the paper.
I typically drop leftover cheeses into reusable plastic containers. If it is a firmer cheese I often drop them directly into ziplock bags, sometimes more than one type of cheese. Cross-contamination is not a significant concern with the harder cheeses. It would not be a concern for the softer cheeses either except they can ooze into their neighbors. Actually, this might lead to some interesting blends.
If the concern with storage is whether or not the cheese is safe to eat after extended storage, the probability is very high that it is. I would not say that there is a 100% guarantee that the cheese will still be safe to eat after many moons but when a cheese is not really safe, a little nibble will be enough to let you know.
Notice how I did not mention refrigeration? There are advantages and disadvantages to this recent addition to food storage systems. The advantage is that refrigeration preserves cheese in a relatively static state. Retarded degradation and spoilage occurs at lower temperatures. The cooler temperature helps to keep the moisture within a cheese, so long as the cheese is well wrapped. If a piece of cheese is left out it can sweat, then dry out. Butterfats will leach out leaving a relatively tasteless (and less nutritious) cheese behind. The primary disadvantage to cold storage is similar to the problem just cited. Most refrigerated units are relatively dry. The drier environment will draw moisture from the cheese; this can occur even when the cheese is well wrapped. To that point: well wrapped is one thing but cheese needs a little air exchange. Without it the cheese will eventually spoil. Cheese, being a fermented food, requires air to survive. This is why cheese will better survive longer transport and storage if it is wrapped in breathable paper, or some other semi-permeable wrap.
To recap for home or restaurant storage:
Buy less but buy often. (Remember to eat cheese every day!)
Wrapping cheese in cheese paper (such as the paper we send your cheese in) is the ideal but it is not absolutely necessary. Wrapping leftover cheese in parchment or waxed paper is fine, or it can be dropped into a small Tupperware type container, or into a ziplock bag.
It is fine to store cheese in your refrigerator, so long as you leave it out to rise to room temperature before you eat it. Do not store cheese in your freezer!
Cheese can keep for extended periods: the firmer the cheese, the longer the shelf life. If a cheese is too far gone to safely consume a little nibble will confirm this – a little nibble you may choose to spit out.