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Posts Filed Under The ‘Artisanal Cheese News’ Category

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Day 6

Port of Livorno pilot boat LI 10143 03 e1372708474767 Day 6

Dateline: Livorno, Italy
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

When we sailed into the old port of Livorno early in the morning, the evidence of extensive bombing during World War II remained, even after extensive rebuilding. Yet Livorno is still a major port so whatever restoration took place may not be so evident today. The region surrounding Livorno was relatively untouched, including some of Italy’s favorite destinations: Pisa, Florence, Siena, and the Tuscan countryside. Like Sardegna, the region has more sheep than people.

The Bon Appétit chef on board, Kathryn Kelly, invited us to join her on an excursion to the main market in Livorno, then to a Tuscan winery where we would make pizza, focaccia and biscotti in a wood-burning oven. The idea was to stock up on all the ingredients at the market, and to pick up picnic snacks for the bus ride.

The market had also been mostly destroyed during the war (couldn’t we spare the market?) but was rebuilt almost exactly to its original design in the fifties. Each member of our group was assigned a food to buy. Naturally I got the cheese shopping task. There were at least a dozen stalls focused entirely on cheese, each one specializing on one variety or several. I was only shopping for about twelve people but I couldn’t help myself; I bought enough to cheese to last for days.

I found that young Sardinian goat cheese in Livorno, the one I meant to buy in Olbia. This was the first cheese we shared on the bus ride, and it was sublime. The first taste was faint, but it opened up in the mid-palate, then lingered beautifully creamy in the finish. The other picnic items simply did not measure up. My compatriots helped me finish nearly a kilo of this rustic farmhouse cheese, all of it – including the rind.

I saved the Mozzarella di Bufala for after we got off the bus, just a little too messy for consumption on a fast-moving vehicle. It had just been made earlier that morning, the way we use to receive at Picholine years ago, and just the way it is meant to be eaten. The cheese would have been made outside Naples that morning, then it would be flown to JFK, then we had it to serve to our restaurant’s patrons the same evening.

- Max McCalman

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

Day 5

olbia e1372556905798 Day 5

Dateline: Olbia, Italy
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

We docked at Olbia’s port midday after the longish overnight voyage from Marseilles. This was my first visit to the island – the island from which I have tasted many excellent sheep milk cheeses. The Pecorino Sardo has been one of my all-time favorites; something like it has been produced all around the Mediterranean for millennia. The Fiore Sardo is a one-of-a-kind itself, another outstanding cheese from the island.

Sardegna also supports some goats, their cheeses are by nearly as well known. I was determined to find an artisan goat cheese during our short visit on the island. I asked the land agent where I might find some of the best cheeses of Sardegna. At first she suggested supermarkets but I let her know this what not what I had in mind – shopping for cheese in a supermarket. She said she agreed that those were not her favorites either. She pulled out a map of Olbia and drew paths to three different destinations.

Finding an open cheese shop in Europe in the early afternoon is nearly impossible so we waited until later to go ashore on our expedition. The closest shop to where our shuttle dropped us off was more of a tourist restaurant so we kept walking up the old town’s main street, barely wide enough for a single lane of traffic. The town was more tropical than I expected, with palm trees here and there, and very warm sun. The gentle sea breeze made the direct sun tolerable. By 4:00 pm the town seemed to be gradually awakening from its siesta.

When we located the second location recommended it was immediately apparent that this was where we needed to be. The shop’s owner greeted us warmly and offered us samples of whatever cheeses we wanted to taste, as well as a few others I was less interested in trying. All his products were from Sardegna: the cheeses, the honeys, the breads, the nougats, the cork sandals, the wines, and everything else. He told the story of how his grandfather had opened the shop in 1919 in a different building around the corner, and how he had received visitors from around the globe, always offering samples of everything.

My intention was to have a small selection of Sardinian cheese with a little Sardinian wine while in Olbia. (We had already filled up our stateroom’s refrigerator with leftover cheese and wine from previous stops so there was little extra room there.) Serving a little degustation of cheese and wine was not what Pietro was set up to do but this was Sardegna and everything seemed possible, no trouble at all. I picked out the smallest pre-cut piece of a young raw sheep milk cheese I could find, weighing about half a kilo, and a light crisp Vermentino wine. He did not have wine glasses but he did have small plastic cups. He did not have a table either but he did have a couple chairs on the sidewalk in front of the store. Pietro told the men sitting in them to surrender the chairs to his new NYC cheese friends. I was uncomfortable asking these older men to give up their seats but there was no stopping Pietro and they seemed to take it all in stride. When I asked Pietro if the police might give him trouble for serving cheese and wine outside by the street he gave me a look as if to say: are you serious?

He could not sell us just a small chunk of cheese and a couple glasses of Vermentino so we stuffed the remainder in our fridge.

I am sure they will taste fine when we finish them later but probably no where nearly as nice as they did when we had them at Pietro’s shop.

No goat cheese there but I still had a couple more ports to check.

- Max McCalman

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

Day 4

marseilles e1372537696263 Day 4

Dateline: Port of Marseilles, France
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

Our ship sailed into Marseilles early yesterday, accompanied by excellent weather.

Marseilles seems to lack the charm of our first ports though: Monte Carlo, Cannes and St. Tropez. This could be due in part to its relative size, with a population approaching one million. Yet the city does have an ancient heritage, founded by the Greeks around 600 BC.

With less time docked here we decided to take a taxi into the old town rather than wait for a slow shuttle bus. This ride initiated our exposure to the Marseilles personality quickly. The Russian couple we had met earlier suggested we share a cab. The first couple in the taxi line before us had asked the driver if they might share a cab with other passengers, and we four being the next passengers to arrive were asked if we minded sharing. (The taxi was an SUV which could accommodate all of us comfortably.)

When the next driver in line saw this he flew into a rage, accosted our driver for taking all the business for himself, when actually our man was simply trying to comply with all our requests. He asked our party if we would mind sharing with the first couple, and of course we were fine with the idea. No matter how many rode in the taxi the charge was going to be a flat twenty euros. When the next driver saw all of us start to amble into the first car he became apoplectic, cursing our driver, who returned the favor with his own caustic fusillade. The first couple had by then decided to wait for another pair. The argument went on for over a minute before we got on our way. Our Russian friend sharing with us was becoming a little annoyed with the theatrics; I was more amused. The heated exchange continued even as we were pulling away.

So once on our way into the old town we asked the driver where he would go for Marseilles’ classic Bouillabaisse dish, which is essentially a poor man’s fish stew. He summed it up that they were all pretty much the same though you could pay less than twenty euros or as much as nearly sixty. I kept an eye out for the lesser priced menus once we got out of the cab but did not quite have the appetite for the dish this early in the day, no matter the price.

By the way, speaking of prices: yesterday I had quoted an absurd price for apples noted in St. Tropez. I stand corrected; they are not four euros each. The four euros was a price for a kilo of apples. Even at that price, not a bargain.

My hunt today in Marseilles was for cheese shops however. Sadly, although Marseilles is surrounded by agriculture, cheese does not have the focus it has in others parts of the country. This city is much more maritime – fish is the thing. As France’s busiest port you might suspect that cheese has been an important export commodity. Most of the cheese exportation leaves France from Rungis, north of Paris. The menus I read around Marseilles did not mention fromage.

This was okay, since I still had a little cheese in my stateroom left over from Cannes and St. Tropez. Nonetheless, I would have liked to have found a few more young raw milk cheeses in Marseilles knowing it would be my last stop on French soil this trip.

We returned to the ship in the early afternoon, with our sailing for Sardega scheduled late afternoon instead of late night – the overnight voyage being longer than the previous ones. We were able to catch a free shuttle bus back to our pier and as soon as we pulled away from the platform our bus driver displayed the same confrontational attitude we had seen in our taxi driver earlier in the day, though at the command of a large bus he exhibited an even more aggressive demeanor. When making tight turns around the narrow Marseilles streets he launched a tirade against any car driver who got in his way. This tough attitude among drivers appeared to simply be the way it is here.

I have no doubt that they would be calmer if they included more cheese in their diets.

Sailing east that evening we watched the sun set over the sea from the ship’s main dining room. The sun appeared to descent into the sea while the stars began to appear one by one. I finished my meal with a cheese plate that included a raw milk Camembert, an aged Manchego, and a Gorgonzola Cremificato.

There were no fights getting on the elevator.

- Max McCalman

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Day 3: Afternoon & Evening

fromageriesttropez e1372362958198 Day 3: Afternoon & Evening

Dateline: St. Tropez, France
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

The cheese shop has a simple name, Fromagerie du Marché, which translates to Cheese Shop of the Market. The Var region of Provence is known for its goat milk cheeses, the leaf-wrapped Banon and Rocamadour especially. With all the leftovers from yesterday’s cheese-shopping excursions in Cannes I restricted my purchasing to just those two today, and again, both of them raw milk.

The French Cheese and Wine Tasting taking place back on board mid-afternoon so I had to head back early. That warning of high-priced restaurants was accurate, my warm goat cheese salad was 14.50 euros, excellent of course but still, a salad costing $20.00? Just as well that I did not have time for a main course.

My French tasting took place in the ship’s signature restaurant, Jacques, named after our New York friend, Jacques Pepin. Lovely dining room; the ship’s Executive Chef assembled a beautiful cheese display for the event. The featured cheeses were some of the iconic French cheeses: Valençay, Camembert, Pont l’Eveque, Cantal, Beaufort and Roquefort. The wines were both from Bordeaux: a lovely Côtes de Blaye white, and an easy-drinking St. Emilion red.

I instructed the guests to taste the wines: first the white, then the red. Then I invited them try the cheeses by themselves, then with the white wine, then with the red. The focus of the seminar was on the cheeses but as is always the case, the wines provided a platform to uncover the nuances in each of the cheeses.

With such gorgeous weather, and while anchored near St. Tropez, I feared we might not have anyone attend this tasting. Apparently all you have to do is mention French cheeses and wines and people will show up.

We will bring a little part of France to our summer venue at Manhattan’s Alison Eighteen Thursday, July 25th. I hope to see you there; it’ll be delish!

- Max McCalman

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Day 2

le suquet e1372279674871 Day 2

Dateline: Cannes, France
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

Our ship anchored at Cannes yesterday and remained until midnight. The city did not appear to be nearly as dramatic as Monte Carlo, but that is only what you think you see from the ship. Cannes is flatter than Monte Carlo, less densely populated and has far fewer tall buildings. Once you step onto the dock it is immediately apparent that Cannes is lively, less staid, and more artsy. This is not to say that Cannes lacks its old European characteristics. The narrow cobble stone streets in the older part of the city are the types that have been here for millennia and its Marché Forville is one of those open-stall markets found only in the older European cities.

Cannes also has a few excellent fromageries outside of the market. Knowing how those old markets and cheese shops keep the hours of operation, I knew we had to either arrive early in the day or risk being shut out until after 4:00 for the shops, or until the following morning for the market stalls.

On our way to the old market we visited some historic sights in Cannes: Musée de la Castre and the Nôtre-Dame de l’Espérance, the old museum and church at the top of the hill in Le Suquet, the oldest quarter in Cannes. Once we finally arrived the vendors were nearing the end of their day, yet the diverse aromas of June fare were still pungent. The fishmongers were mostly wrapped up (thankfully) and the butchers were long gone. What remained in the building were ripe fruits, vegetables of every color of the rainbow, fresh eggs, some cured meats, whole grain breads, nuts, olives and olive oils, and many luxurious cheeses.

I wanted so many of those cheeses, types that cannot be found US. Fortunately I had a limited amount of euros in my pocket; I would have purchased far more than I could have eaten during the remainder of this cruise. As great as all these rare cheeses are, they are not the only great cheeses in the world. (Tell the French this!)

Not that many years ago we use to be able to bring many of these Provençal cheeses into the US. No one was becoming ill from those cheeses but the regulations were not enforced as doggedly as they are today.

Provence is known for these young raw milk cheeses, the goat varieties especially. Also known for their light low-alcohol white wines and rosés, the pairing opportunities are exquisite in late June. Those young chèvres have reached their peaks, the warm weather directs our tastes to these lighter creamy cheeses and their lighter wine accompaniments.

We found an inexpensive Rosé made from Cinsault that was delightful with some of those chèvres of the region, also a surprisingly nice match for Salers, the sister cheese to Cantal in central France, and the grandmother of British cheddars. Come to think of it, this summer you might try pairing one of those Rosés from Provence with a British or American cheddar. I can’t see how it could go wrong.

The one disappointment with the Cinsault wine was a Lingot made with sheep milk. Excellent cheese but it had no synergy with this wine. Not that we have to worry about experiencing this clash, the cheese is made from raw sheep milk and aged far less than sixty days, so it is available in the US anyway.

- Max McCalman

Monday, June 24th, 2013

Day 1

Whole Monaco e1372100803231 Day 1

Dateline: Monte Carlo, Monaco
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

There is a little cloud cover this afternoon, not what was forecasted. We are anchored close to shore but the swells remind me of those you experience when out at sea. Time to get a little more cheese in the tummy. That’ll make it all better.

I am still getting my bearings on board, finding the locations for my seminars; getting acquainted with the crew and a few passengers; looking at the various restaurants’ menus and wine lists; and planning side trips at some of the ports. The first fromageries we are going to visit are in Cannes…we dock there tomorrow. Stay Tuned!

The cheese selection at the Terrace Café on board last night clearly indicated a recent stop in Spain; likely Barcelona. The pressed sheep milk cheeses similar to our own one year old Manchego and Royale were all delicious of course. The Spanish pressed sheep cheeses are some of my favorite styles. These types of cheeses have found their way on board ships sailing around the world for many centuries. They are quite seaworthy; they hold up, even without refrigeration for extended periods. It was heartening to see how popular this part of the buffet seemed to be all evening long. I myself went back for seconds.

This cruise highlights the cheeses and wines of the region. The cheeses and wines aboard this ship are incomparable, which I suppose is why they asked me to be a guest lecturer.

- Max McCalman

Monday, February 11th, 2013

We Need More Certified Cheese Professionals!

max teaching 300x196 We Need More Certified Cheese Professionals!

A friend told me about a recent cheese shop visit when the cheesemonger told her that the crystals in an aged Parmigiano Reggiano were salt. Alors! Not that there is no salt in Parm but this does not make the cheese sound especially desirable, and more importantly, this is inaccurate information. Had the retailer provided the correct information (that those are tyrosine amino acid crystals) the cheese would have been far more attractive to the would-be buyer.

I like to drop in unannounced at cheese shops from time to time, just to hear what cheese people are saying. Actually, it is a little disturbing, especially when these people try to give recommendations regarding nutritive values and the safety of cheese. I’m sure they mean well. They are often excited to pontificate about their cheese knowledge. Fortunately, cheese tends to bring out the humility in people, especially once you’ve been in the industry long enough to discover how amazingly complex this food group is.

Yet I am concerned. Cheese has suffered quite enough: through mishandling, sloppy packaging, temperature abuses, too little or too much ventilation, abandonment for weeks in hostile storage conditions, left exposed to hungry pests, left on one side for weeks on end to the point that they develop “soggy bottom,” or outright physical abuse.

I welcome the enthusiasm but get the information correct, please. You never know when a customer may be better informed about a product than you are. There are so many facets to cheese that it is impossible to have a full knowledge of the entire lactic universe. We would expect that one would want to know how to convey accurate information. Or if the answer is unknown, that one would admit it, maybe come back to the topic later in the day and study up.

Then there are the “perfect-pairing” suggestions. There are some reliable principles of pairing cheeses with wines, or other beverages. These food and beverage pairing principles can be applied but they should not be stated as dogma. Classic pairings exist, such as Roquefort and Sauternes. On the “pairing” point, it is best to recognize that this is a little subjective.

We expect that the Certified Cheese Professional™ will help the entire industry. American and European cheesemakers are embracing the endeavor, and are applauding our efforts. Some of us are Cheese Educators, so how do we earn that title? As Chairman of the American Cheese Society’s Certified Cheese Professional Committee, I may not be able to take the exam ever. That’s okay though: I believe I may be “grandfathered” in.

I want as many applicants as possible to pass the next exam July 31st at the ACS conference in Madison, which is why in our Master Series we teach everything we believe one should need to know to be a good cheesemonger, whether or not the topics are on the exam itself. It’s the right thing to do.

Again, we need more Certified Cheese Professionals!

- Max McCalman

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Fondue Wars:  The French Win This Round

Cheesefondue 300x297 Fondue Wars:  The French Win This Round

The fun and friendly crew who signed up for Artisanal’s fondue class last Friday night were rewarded with some ridiculously good eats.

The stage was set to make and consume four different fondues, topped off by a chocolate fondue for dessert.

The popular vote went to the French team of fondue makers who prepared their decadent creation using a pound of Raclette and a pound of Comté. A little taste of heaven on a piece of crusty bread.

An extremely close second place ribbon was awarded to the Swiss – the country credited with the creation of fondue in the 18th century. The cheese blend in this fondue was Appenzeller and Gruyère – a time-honored classic.

America made its debut in the fondue pot with a blend of Fortsonia, a firm, nutty, sweet and dense cheese that was inspired by classic Alpine style cheeses like Gruyère and Comté and Uplands Pleasant Ridge – rock star of the American Artisanal cheese scene, garnering three “Best in Show” awards at the American Cheese Society conference…kinda like the Oscars, but with cheese.

This fondue was the quite delicious and I hear that Fortsonia was named best cheese in the South by a local magazine. Last year Fortsonia also took third place in the hard cheese category from the American Cheese Society and earned a gold medal from the World Jersey Cheese Awards in the United Kingdom.

Rounding out our melted cheese contest were the Italians. The two cheeses blended together for a palate-pleasing experience. They were the Toma Maccagno (a washed-rind tomme) and Toma Piemontese (one of the oldest styles of cheeses made in Italy). As the team began grating these aromatic wedges they were surprised at how silky and mild the blend tasted when the fondue was done. It was amazingly good.

If you want to try your hand at some fondue olympics…please sign up for the next round of play.  Your taste buds and your tummy will be very happy.

Erin Hedley
Fromagère, APC

[image source]

Friday, January 11th, 2013

American Cheese

13973 Large 300x236 American Cheese

So what does that bring to mind?

Hopefully you are in the cheese cognoscenti – those that recognize that the excitement occurring in the cheese world today is happening right here within our shores. Few American-made cheeses inspired us just over a decade ago but today it is eye-popping, or rather, tastebuds-thrilling.

In addition to some of our long-time favorite American cheeses such as Uplands Pleasant Ridge, Tarentaise, Grayson, Rogue River Blue and Wabash Cannonball, we have some that are aging in our caves right now that will be made available in the coming weeks. You will find many outstanding cheeses from across the country, a full range from the younger milder types like Grassias to the boldest of blues, like the Smokey Oregon Blue.

We will continue to bring in and ripen many of the best of Europe but with the way things are going on this side of the pond, we will have to add more space. In the past we offered classes here featuring American Artisan cheeses but there was surprisingly little interest, or maybe not that surprising considering their general reputation. Many fine cheeses have been crafted here for decades, now there are hundreds, with more coming along every month.

Makes you proud, don’t it? Drop us a line and let us know if you might reconsider attending a class on American cheeses only. In the meantime you will find many of them making appearances in our classes such as our Cheese and Wine 101 class, the 201, Matchmaking, Microbrews, Scotch, and Best-in-Show among others. Likely our entire American line of cheeses will make an appearance in our Master Series.

Watch for many more domestics coming into their primes over the next few weeks.

Max McCalman

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Feeling a Little Stressed These Days?

Hair pulling stress 300x200 Feeling a Little Stressed These Days?

Take two pieces of cheese and call me in the morning.

Cheese has components that help alleviate stress. The casein in cheese is a precursor to opioid peptides, which along with helping to moderate our appetites (think: weight loss) can also ameliorate stress and pain. The amino acid Tyrosine (a lot of it in cheese, like those little crystals in your aged Gouda or Gruyère) is a precursor to norepinephrine, known as the stress hormone. This building block amino acid is found in high concentration in cheese. When it was discovered in the nineteenth century it got its name; the root word for Tyrosine is “tyros,” a Greek word for “cheese.”

Cheese offers the full complement of amino acids. For a food that seems to be quite simple, cheese actually offers near-complete nutrition. The “simplicity” of cheese is part of its success as a near-perfect food. Cheese undergoes proteolysis, breaking the complex proteins into their constituent peptides and amino acids, making it easier for our digestive systems to absorb those elemental nutrients and then to use those to build all the protein chains of which we are composed.

Another amino acid derived from cheese is Taurine. It is used to treat anxiety, hyperactivity and poor brain function. I would become stressed if I did not get some cheese-sourced Taurine in my belly.

Cheese also contains the stress reducer Tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin which is responsible for normal sleep. Tryptophan also combats depression, stabilizes moods, relieves migraine headaches, and helps control hyperactivity in children – a stress producing activity in itself.

There are many things cheese has going for it, beyond what it can do to reduce stress. During these holiday times when we can become a little gluttonous, isn’t it good to know that cheese can help metabolize the foods we consume, and that it can help reduce weight? Some studies have found that cheese can help reduce our waist lines!

I suppose some people may become a little stressed just thinking about cheese. They may love it. Those addictive opioid peptides may make them feel a little guilty about consuming this much-maligned food, as though eating it is an indulgence! Cheese should be considered for its marvelous life-sustaining and life-enhancing qualities.

Max McCalman

[image source]