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Posts Filed Under The ‘Cheese’ Category

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

New Year’s Resolution: Eat more Cheese!

New Year’s Resolution: Eat more Cheese!

During the first part of the year we make plans to take better care of ourselves: we try to go to the gym on a regular basis, we write ambitious to-do lists, we aim to get more sleep, we cut back on sugar and other carbs, we walk up stairs instead of taking the elevator, we schedule that overdue dentist appointment, and many people try to quit smoking. We all mean well but we can easily fall back into old patterns.

One of the easier resolutions to keep is to eat more cheese. By doing so you will be taking better care of yourself, you may even sleep better, you will likely cut back on other emptier calories. You may feel more like walking up the stairs, your dentist will notice your healthier teeth and gums, if you are unable to quit smoking it should offer some comfort knowing that the CLA derived from cheese has been shown to be an effective cancer fighter, and if you do head to the gym you will be a little more energized going in and you will recognize better results coming out. All this because you are eating a little more cheese!

However not just any old cheese.

When I update my picks for Max’s Especially Healthy Plate I make sure that each cheese in the collection is crafted from milk that has not been compromised by excessive heat treatment, as in pasteurization. There are plenty of good nutrients in the pasteurized varieties but not quite as many as you will get from the raw versions. Some of the nutrients are destroyed by pasteurization while others are far less bio-available. The fat soluble vitamins are reduced  significantly. According to recent studies conducted in Barcelona up to 80% of the vitamins A and D are lost in heat treatment. Whatever vitamin C may have been in the milk is zapped, the B vitamins are reduced, and some of the minerals that would have been chelated to the milk proteins are no longer available; the proteins that would enable their transport having been denatured by the high heat of pasteurization.

Again, there are plenty of nutrients in the pasteurized cheeses too, just not quite enough to hold up to the standards of my Especially Healthy Plate.

Do yourself some good and eat more cheese in 2014.

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

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Do you remember the first time you tasted Scharfe Maxx?

Do you remember the first time you tasted Scharfe Maxx?  Or the first time you tasted Sharpham Rustic? Those “first-dates” with great cheeses are memorable. I recall the first time I tasted Tarentaise, and Roncal, Ocooch Mountain, and many others. I admit that my first impressions with some cheeses were less “impressive” yet they were no less memorable. For some that I did not fully appreciate the first time I would later fall head-over-heels with them; I just needed to give them a second chance.
Fine cheeses may have qualities that may be a little confusing at first. They’re simply unfamiliar, like the way some people approach sheep or goat cheeses; their flavors may seem a little gamy compared to cow.
This is not to say that cow cheeses cannot have their own barnyard aromas and flavors.
We may be tempted to write off disappointing first impressions or perhaps blame them on the cheeses: “That was not one of its best specimens.”  With artisan cheeses we do well to recognize that each wheel will be a little different from all the others. Expect the unexpected. So long as cheeses are not wildly different. Of course there will be those occasional outliers – a wheel that was not a good specimen. This is one reason why it is better to sample another wheel, especially if the cheese has been recommended.
Each time I taste one of the cheeses mentioned above, as well as hundreds of others, I am reminded of those first tastes. If I haven’t had one for awhile I may think that I was not all that enthralled with it to begin with. However I usually find that I had simply forgotten how nice it was; I had only forgotten, or perhaps it was one of those lesser specimens.
This phenomenon can be a challenge for a cheese judge. We aim to give every cheese the benefit of the doubt and be open-minded. When a judge tastes dozens of cheeses in one sitting it can be a bit more difficult to taste multiple samples from the same producer. After all, cheese deserves contemplation. If you go through the process of tasting too quickly it is difficult to take in all that a fine cheese can offer.
Give cheese a chance! And then give it another!
Max McCalman

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Fondue Weather

 

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.

Why cow?

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.

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

Friday, September 27th, 2013

How’s the Commute?

R68A G Train e1380304297803 How’s the Commute?

Outside our windows I can usually see cars backed up for miles, or at least as far as the eye can see. The same crowded scene prevails every weekday morning. One of my colleagues is even suffering from extra commuting delays due to a power outage on his train line. Around these parts I would estimate that the average commute is well over an hour. Mine is. This means that one has to get up earlier to make it to work on time; no problem there if you don’t mind getting to bed a little earlier as well.

If there is one thing that can lessen the stress of your commute, it is cheese. Consider getting to bed a little earlier: cheese contains tryptophan, as well as opioid peptides, both of which can help you relax. That’s great for the end of the day. But what about those groggy mornings preceding the rush to work? If like me you require a little caffeine jump-start each morning, leaping right out of bed and onto the subway platform is not an option. I cannot say that it is a particularly leisurely start of the day but I do enjoy savoring my coffee at the breakfast table.

As I often recommend, a little cheese at the start of the day can sustain you for many hours. Yet we have this empty feeling (especially Americans) if we do not fill up every few hours, regardless of all the great sustenance the cheese may have delivered hours earlier. These hungry moments often emerge during the hustle and bustle of that overlong commute; this is precisely when a slight nibble of cheese can help you soldier on.

And as for road-rage (in case your commute involves driving), cheese’s stress-reducing potential will ensure a much calmer drive.

As always, slip a little cheese in the pocket and it will be okay.

- Max McCalman

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Skip Breakfast?

breakfast with beans e1379701588371 Skip Breakfast?

The New York Times printed an article recently debating the value of skipping breakfast with regard to weight loss. Sadly, it seemed like there was no specific conclusion on this point. I was reminded of an early afternoon a few years ago: I was sitting on the 1 train and could not help but hear a conversation between two young women sitting across from me.

One said to the other “I just had lunch less than an hour ago and I am already starving!”

I wondered what it was she had for lunch. I assumed it must have been a low-fat lunch, likely accompanied by a diet soda. I had not eaten since breakfast (which I rarely skip) and I was still sated. My breakfast that morning consisted of fruit, a handful of nuts, a 30-weight espresso to which a little honey had been added, and a small wedge of firm sheep cheese.

There is nothing quite like a little cheese to keep you going for hours.

If your day is rather sedentary I suppose skipping breakfast may be an option, though I do not see how one’s work performance can be adequately sustained without some sort of nutrient.

So, if nothing else, at least have a little cheese. Or if you are inclined to skip breakfast for whatever reason, make sure you have a chunk of cheese in your pocket.

- Max McCalman

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Probiotics in Dairy

10969 Large e1378238386784 Probiotics in Dairy

It seemed like it might be a nice piece at the start: someone accidentally left milk outside and it fermented. When did humans first recognize that this was a healthful product?

I had to read this one: an article on probiotics, and not for the fact that it came from a doctor.

Instead this online article concludes with a list of five things one can do to make sure they have great digestive health, avoiding all dairy products being at the top of the list. What went wrong with this article? How did we get from a healthful product to one that should be avoided? The good doctor does mention the negative effects of pasteurization: that it may destroy the lactase in the milk? He also points to the lactose in dairy, as though it is found in all dairy products, including aged cheeses.

If the probiotics are the key to the improved digestive systems and the enhanced immune systems, why not direct the reader to those cheeses that are full of probiotics, the uncompromised (raw) milk cheeses?

Interesting points are made throughout the piece, including the notion that about 85% of the bacteria in our gut is of the friendly variety, the rest being non-beneficial yet less problematic because they are outnumbered so greatly. This has been widely accepted as a given, that there are far more of the good guys than the bad, otherwise we would not be here.

But do not try and confuse the reader with all this hysteria-inducing talk, all for the sake of selling a lifetime supply of factory-made probiotics. You can get the more natural types directly from your raw milk cheeses, without the lactose, and in an incredibly effective and delicious form.

As I have noted before: they do not teach cheese in medical school. These guys had better watch out. Was it not the father of western medicine who said: Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food?

- Max McCalman

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

L’après-midi d’un fromage

10683 Le Moulis e1375380575372 L’après midi d’un fromage

I can’t seem to get enough of this one particular cheese – Le Moulis. I have loved it for many years. It is a cheese without a P.D.O. – a Protected Designation of Origin, which would guarantee its production in the unique region where it originated, in this case the Moulis region of the Pyrénées – but it has been a cheese of exceedingly high quality for many years. There are many similar tommes produced in this corner of France so they could be lumped together under one P.D.O. umbrella, though this may not be necessary, or advantageous. I love all those fermier cheeses dearly: partly for their simple elaboration, but also for their correspondingly complex flavors. How this can be so: simple crafting leading to profound profiles?

This is precisely the point. Milk is, or should be, a nutrient-dense fluid. When it is fermented and made into cheese the goal is to preserve those nutrients and to possibly enhance or elaborate those nutrients as well. The fermentation helps reach both of these goals: preservation and enhancement. The many nutrients themselves give depth to the overall profile of cheese.

Le Moulis does not receive complicated secondary treatments; it is a basic farmer cheese. No bloomy white coating, no smelly orange rind, no blue veining, and no superfluous floral adornments, just cheese: pure and simple. Definitely uncompromised milk.

The flavors upload onto the palate without a lot of fanfare; they open up gradually but finish authoritatively. Most everyone loves Le Moulis at the start because it reminds them of their first food – mother’s milk. The flavors evolve across the palate, highlighting all the variegated plant species those cows enjoyed that afternoon in southwest France. The balanced simplicity makes Le Moulis an ideal marriage candidate for many wines; its lingering complexity leaves the shy wines to themselves.

- Max McCalman