Posts Filed Under The ‘Cheese’ Category

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Caring for Cheese

cheese wrapped pre shipment e1374607692106 Caring for Cheese

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.

- 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

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Countdown to a Cheese Phenomenon

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What if we were to tell you that there is an exciting initiative underway that will create new jobs, promote local foods, and fuel small business growth? Sounds like the sort of project America needs, right? And guess what: we need YOU to make it happen! And there’s only a few days left!

Our epic endeavor is called The Great American Cheese Project, Artisanal Premium Cheese’s new crowdfunding initiative on the RocketHub platform that will generate revenues for hundreds of American cheesemakers and their milk suppliers. And what makes this endeavor “epic,” you ask? Just how is this project “great”? Well, ladies and gentlemen, consider for a moment that last year there were over 500 American cheesemakers producing more than 1,900 cheeses, many of them with no markets to sell to – same goes for their milk suppliers. And now Artisanal Premium Cheese is in the process of assembling the largest line of more than 300 American artisan cheeses from six defined regions covering the entire nation. We age these cheeses and handle the marketing for cheesemakers in the food service and retail sectors. The Great American Cheese Project will enable Artisanal Premium Cheese to enlarge its inventory, which will not only give struggling dairy farmers and cheesemakers the opportunity to extend the reach of their great products but will simultaneously expand the range of great options available to our customers.

Over the past year, we’ve added to our inventory a number of cheeses produced by a diverse array of cheesemakers across the country: Vermont’s Consider Bardwell Farm and Vermont Farmstead; Texas’s Brazos Valley Cheese; Pennsylvania’s Doe Run Dairy; Maryland’s Firefly Farms; New York’s Twin Maple Farm, 5 Spoke Creamery, and Old Chatham Sheepherding Company; and Idaho’s Lark’s Meadow Farms.

Keeping in mind all the great cheeses America produces, it is imperative to realize that the dairy industry across the country faces an array of challenges and needs our help. For example, dairy farmers in California (which produces almost one-fifth of America’s milk) are struggling with the rising cost of livestock feed caused by the current drought in the Midwest. “It’s darn serious,” according to Sacramento dairyman Case van Steyn, quoted in a Sacramento Bee article that warns of a rising tide of bankruptcies across the state’s dairies, while The Hanford Sentinel just announced that “twenty California legislators have joined with Western United Dairymen in calling for emergency price relief for floundering dairy operations.” And the situation is darn serious in New York, too, where the new federal farm bill threatens to reduce milk production, according to The Watertown Daily News.

The time to support America’s dairy industry is NOW. One of the most rewarding ways to do so is by pledging your support for The Great American Cheese Project. We need your pledges and there’s only a few days left! A host of benefits awaits you! Your participation in our RocketHub campaign will grant you UP TO 46% OFF on our cheeses and other products, including signed copies of “Mastering Cheese,” by our Dean of Curriculum, Max McCalman; in addition, we will ship our new Artisanal CheeseClock platters, plates and knives to you to help you enjoy cheeses in your home, just as if you took a class at Artisanal in New York City.

Tell us, friends, will you join us in the new American Cheese Revolution? Not only will you get the opportunity to enjoy some sumptuous cheeses and other goodies – you’ll be doing so for a good cause that you’ll find deliciously worthwhile.

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Comté, s’il vous plaît

The Comté Cheese Association has invited me to come by for a visit. This will be my first visit to this land of cheese royalty so I am particularly excited; this mountainous region is home to heavenly cheese. The name is virtually synonymous with “fromage;” Comté is what many Frenchmen think of when they think of cheese. Were we that lucky!

Edward Behr, publisher of the excellent the Art of Eating called me down for not including Comté in Cheese, a Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best. This was a gross oversight of course. Maybe I took Comté for granted; the flavors may be quite familiar if it is a cheese that has been widely imitated. Yet if you close your eyes and take in all that a morsel of Comté can deliver, those flavors and aromas can resonate distinctly, delicious all the way through to the “finish.” Each wheel is unique, which is part of the beauty of this cheese – it would be difficult to ignore the differences among wheels of Comté, some more subtle than others. These variations make it a little difficult to generalize about what kinds of wines work with Comté; then again it also makes it a little easier to recommend a wine: try any of your favorite wines and see what happens when you pair it with Comté.

I recall experiencing more successes with white wines, more than reds, with Comté. I believe this is due to the many flavor/aroma dimensions of Comté; elevated tannins in the red wines can be a bit fussy with all that complexity. The white wines can be a little more tolerant of those layers of flavor; the tannins do not get in the way.

Comté is used extensively in cooking, able to add a profound accent on many dishes. The cheese can be enjoyed on its own, which is the way I have had Comté most every time. I recall seeing an older woman walking up to a cheese stall in a market in Nice. The fromagère knew exactly what her customer wanted – 100 grams of a young Comté. Today, many cheese lovers have acquired a taste for the more aged versions; the younger cheeses may seem to lack that “wow” factor.

On another occasion I witnessed a couple of Bordeaux wine makers snacking on Comté and fresh baguette. They were not having a glass of their lovely red Bordeaux with the cheese and bread; these two young ladies were having a soft drink instead. I thought it would have been lovely to see how the cheese and wine paired, right there by the vineyard. Then again it was early afternoon.

The A.O.C. rules define Comté rather strictly; the production rules are some of the strictest ones of France. You might think that they would all taste the same. It is precisely those rules that help give wheels of Comté their uncompromised and rather individual signatures.

Max McCalman

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Fans of Scotch and Cheese are Rewarded

When we first contemplated the idea of pairing Scotch whisky and cheese we were optimistic that it might succeed, though I admit we had reservations. It was not some zany new idea that had never been experienced before; after all, when the purity of water available was questionable, Scotch would serve us well. Or adding a little Scotch to that water might kill off some of the pathogens.

Eating savory cheese elevates thirst. Be careful slaking thirst with Scotch. Know your capacity! However, if you have a hard time appreciating Scotch you may want to try a little artisan cheese alongside it. Cheese has a special way of softening the jolt.

In a recent Single & Blended Scotch with Cheese class, we were impressed with the pairings: not a bad match among the 28 combinations, and several of them were remarkably delicious. The quality of the whiskeys had something to with this of course, and the selection of cheeses had at least as much to do with the many good matches.

The Isle of Arran 10 y.o. Single Malt was the leadoff Scotch – pairing well with Royale, Laguiole, Prima Donna, Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddar, and exceptionally well with Sbrinz.

For anyone who insists that it be single malt, the blended 12 y.o. Isle of Skye was a little better with the Royale, and very nice with the Laguiole, Prima Donna, Sbrinz and the bold Prattigauer.

We were able to detect nuances in the cheeses by taking small sips with each of the whiskeys. Adding just a little water to each Scotch helped open up the flavors. It seemed that everyone in the class was in agreement about the relative successes, more so than in most wine or beer classes.

The star Scotch of the evening was Chieftain’s Glen Moray 18 y.o. from Speyside, which scored exceptionally well with most all of the cheeses including the Berkshire Blue. Only the Laguiole fell a little flat, not bad, but not nearly as thrilling as all the others. The Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddarwas a little dominating with this beautiful blend.

The Islay Smokehead single did not disappoint with any of the cheeses, and showed best with the two strongest cheeses in the group: Prattigauerand Berkshire Blue.

Conversely, the cheese standout partners for these various whiskeys were Royale and Sbrinz. These two cheeses have proven to be reliable partners for just about any beverage we have thrown their way, often yielding those elusive “marriages-made-in-heaven.”

The first time you try pairing Scotch with cheese you may miss some of the finer points of the exercise, especially if you guzzle the whisky. Having more than one Scotch helps to distinguish the cheeses one from another, just as having more than one cheese helps distinguish the whiskeys.

Max McCalman

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Sangiovese, Nice and Easy

Sangiovese is a varietal we often overlook; it could be partly because there were many inferior wines produced from this grape in the past, or because it is often blended with other high-pedigree varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, diluting its own characteristics. It has been blended with other varietals to yield some delicious wines. However part of the appeal of Sangiovese is its easy-drinking character, its graceful acceptance of other varietals in the mix, and its harmony with many foods, cheeses included.

Some Sangiovese successes have been noted recently in Napa yet the grape does not seem to grow quite as successfully much of anywhere else outside Tuscany, so it may also suffer from a lack of recognition on the worldwide stage. We are offering Sangiovese wines in more classes here at the Artisanal Cheese Center, not only the classes focused on Italian cheeses and wines, but in other classes too. This will allow us to pair our cheeses produced outside Italy with several Sangiovese wines. As the weather warms up, Sangiovese is sounding rather appealing, like a nice bottle for a picnic, accompanied by a little cheese and a crusty baguette.

Fortunately, some of the many cheeses that happen to pair well with Sangiovese make good picnic cheeses: goat, sheep, cow and mixed milk cheeses; from the lighter styles all the way up to and including some blues. These are some cheeses we have enjoyed with this varietal recently:

Abbaye de Belloc, Barely Buzzed, Cantalet, Cremont, Garrotxa, Gorgonzola Piccante, 4 y.o. Gouda, Gruyère, Hittisau, Hoja Santa, Ibores, Manchego, Le Moulis, Pecorino Foglie di Noce, Pecorino Sardo, Roncal, Roquefort, Scharfe Maxx, Terraluna, and Vacherin Fribourgeois.

Considering how easy Sangiovese is on the pocket book you may want to add an extra wedge of cheese to your picnic basket. There is a good chance that it will make a nice match.

Max McCalman

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Valpolicella: Unusual and Versatile

I recall enjoying a Valpolicella at a northern Italian style restaurant several years ago. What is northern Italian style food, you may ask? Whether you are speaking of the cuisine of the Veneto where Valpolicella is produced, or you are speaking of the cuisine of the Piemonte, or the Val d’Aosta; whichever region: you will find a broad mix of locally produced agricultural products, cheeses and wines included.

The “king” of Italian wine varietals is Nebbiolo, the noble grape whose juice goes into the production of Barolos and Barbarescos. This “king” status for Nebbiolo (Barolo in particular) makes these wines a little pricey. For a more “every-day red,” the more affordable Chianti Classico (made from Sangiovese) makes for a familiar style of red wine – nice, though technically not “northern” Italian. Somehow I knew that the Valpolicella would make a more suitable wine for the delicious food we selected; or was that the waiter’s suggestion?

The first sip of Valpolicella may catch you off guard, especially if it is a little aged. The more aged ones such as Ripasso della Valpolicella offer more depth than the “nouveau” styles, though they are not nearly as massive as the Amarones. The lighter Valpolicelli are easy-drinking and are relatively low in alcohol. In the production of Ripasso the wine maker adds the leftover grape skins and seeds for extra maceration. This makes for a “bigger” wine, a type that can hold up to many of the more assertive cheeses.

A large part of the success of Valpolicella must be credited to the winemakers, whose blends of the grapes (Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara) shape the flavors of their wines. The blended wines often succeed as partners for cheeses, more often than the 100% varietal wines. Kind of like the “best-of-both-worlds” in cheese making: cheeses crafted from mixed milks are usually successful with a broader variety of wine types.

We found several lovely matches for a Valpolicella Ripasso recently: Formaggio Capra, Pecorino Sardo D.O.P., Fontina Val d’Aosta, Capra Ubriaco al Traminer, Ubriaco Prosecco, Piave, and Gorgonzola Piccante.

Max McCalman

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Riesling, the Sommelier’s White

Many people dismiss Riesling, some people refuse the noble grape. It reminds me of how some people feel about goat cheeses, the number one no-no I hear from people contemplating a selection of cheese. They will accept any type except for goat. Not that some people may have an aversion to Riesling the way some people have an aversion to goat cheeses, yet many people skip right over the Riesling section of a wine list and choose any other white wine instead. This aversion could be partly due to the many inferior versions produced from this grape; most of them produced in the past, thankfully.

One reason Riesling is often called a sommelier’s grape is because of its versatility with many foods, cheeses included. When few other wines make suitable matches for the different courses served to a party of four, Riesling may be the right call.

As with other varietals, it is a grape that can yield different styles, though in the case of Riesling especially, they will be recognizably “Riesling.” Rarely found in blends, it is aged in stainless steel more often than oak barrels. This gives a more recognizably “Riesling” aroma and flavor to the wines. The leaner vinifications will have their successes with lighter cheeses, while the bigger and botrytized versions will pair better with the bolder cheeses. Regardless, Riesling will come through for you more often than not.

Some recent cheese successes include Alp Drackloch, Appenzeller, Beaufort, Beermat, Comté, Fontina Val d’Aosta, Gruyère, Hittisau, Hoch Ybrig, La Peral, Le Moulis, Manchego, Morbier, Mousseron Jurassien, Pawlet, Piave, Pecorino Foglie Noce, Swiss Raclette, Sainte-Maure, Sbrinz, Scharfe Maxx, Selles sur Cher, Stanser Rotelli, Tarentaise, Thomasville Tomme, Toma Maccagno, Tomme Fermier d’Alsace, Tomme de Savoie and Vacherin Fribourgeois.

By the way, if you happen to be someone who is not so fond of Riesling, try one of those stinky wash-rind cheeses with the orange rinds. No other varietal will match this family of cheeses nearly as well. You may become a new fan for Riesling.

Max McCalman

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Zinfandel, an Easy Cheese Partner: Many Successes, Few Misses

Picholine restaurant’s guests who were considering a cheese course usually wanted to try a variety of cheese types (with my encouragement) and they usually wanted to try several (ditto); the average number being about five. Some people would have as many as nine or more cheeses, while a few guests wanted only one or two. Once the selection was determined the question arose, which wine to have with their cheese course. I recommended certain cheese types if they had wine in their glasses, or if they indicated a preference for a particular wine type. Usually however the focus was on the cheese selections, with wine as an after-thought. This was how most people approached this course – with the cheese selection preceding that of the wine.

This happens in other situations: the wine “person” counterpart asks me which cheeses I want to use at an event so they can select the wines around my choices. I let them know that the wines should be chosen first, as diplomatically as I can, that the wines should “drive the bus.” Besides, the cheeses tend to show up when they want to, whereas you can secure the wines well in advance.

A few Picholine diners asked for an appropriate “dessert” wine: port, Sauternes, Madeira sweeter Muscat, etc. Most people chose to stick with table wines, and if they did not already have a glass of something else they would usually ask for a red. Whenever this happened (which was very often) I would look over the several cheese types and think: that cheese pairs well with most Pinot Noirs, that one is better with Merlot, that cheese is nice with Cabernet Sauvignon, and that one does not work with any red, except maybe a Zinfandel. Ah yes, a Zinfandel, which would actually hold up well with all of those cheeses!

Zinfandel became the default red wine partner for those mixed groupings of cheeses. As I looked over my catalog of cheese and wine pairings, I found successful matches with a full range of cheese types: fresh cheeses, aged cheeses, goat, sheep, wash-rinds, bloomy rinds, Goudas, and blues. Several pairings were outstanding and only a very few disappointed.

Its twin sister, the Primitivo of southern Italy, has similar successes with cheeses, though not nearly as many as the California Zinfandels. This follows the relative successes for other varietals, those of the New World and those of the Old. The more austere styles of the Old World are just that, a little more austere compared to the more gregarious wines of the New.

Some recent successes we have enjoyed with our Zinfandels include Manchego, Idiazábal, Appenzeller, Gorgonzola Piccante, Gruyère, Mahón, Le Moulis, La Peral, Parmigiano Reggiano, Piave, Prattigauer, Quicke’s Cheddar, Stanser Rotelli, Taleggio. The Gamay grape is another red varietal that marries well with many cheeses, though most people seem to prefer reds with a little more backbone, like a Zinfandel.

Max McCalman

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

On the Bubble

Champagnes and sparkling wines have advantages over still wines in pairing with cheeses – their effervescence. The juice of hundreds of different varietals can go into crafting sparkling wines but true Champagnes are limited to three: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Each of these is planted in roughly the same amounts in the Champagne region. For sparkling wines produced outside that area just about every other grape known to man has had a go at sparkling wine production. I enjoy a good Cava every now and then, a chilled glass of Prosecco can be spectacular, but the sparkling wines that are made with Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir (maybe with a little Pinot Meunier mixed in) are my favorites. There are some spectacular sparkling wines made with these varietals that rival some of the better known Champagnes, and they are usually available at a much lower price.

Champagnes (and their facsimiles) are noted by their acidity, which helps carry the sweetness across the palate. The effervescence, the acidity and the fruity qualities of these wines makes them especially refreshing. If it were left up to those qualities alone, the ideal cheese partners would be easier to predict – cheeses that had a balancing level of salt, a harmonious level of acidity, and textures that can meld with these sparklers. As with any wine, the aromatics ultimately come into play. For example, the Chardonnay-dominant Champagnes fare better with cheeses that pair best with still wines made from that varietal. This may sound like a given yet there are some people that will forego a glass of Chardonnay but will gladly accept a Blanc de Blanc made solely from this grape. The other major player in Champagne is Pinot Noir – a varietal everyone seems to enjoy. The Champagnes and sparkling wines made primarily with this varietal will be a little different than those made primarily or solely with Chardonnay. The most recognizable difference is in the aroma.

The Champagnes and sparkling wines that are 100% Chardonnay favor cheeses such as the especially pungent Beermat (a.k.a. Aarauer Bierdeckel) and Försterkäse (a.k.a. Bergfichte), the more modest Langres (from Champagne country itself) and Pont l’Evêque. The ones that are mostly Pinot Noir pair better with some related but more aged cheeses such as Beaufort, Gruyère, Hoch Ybrig, Val Bagner and Sbrinz. The bubblies that are blended with both varietals successfully pair with more cheese types, most of the above as well as Tomme de Savoie, Vacherin Fribourgeois, Terraluna and Brazos Cheddar. The less-Brut styles, the ones with a little extra residual sugar, will pair very well with the broadest range of cheese types.

You might try pouring a little Blanc de Blanc into the crater on top of a Langres and allow the Champagne to seep into the interior of the cheese. This is more than mere theatrics; it softens the texture of the paste making the cheese that much more delectable. Keep in mind that it is the Chardonnay-dominant Champagnes that work best with Langres .

Max McCalman