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Posts Filed Under The ‘Artisanal Cheese News’ Category

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Merlot: What’s not to Love?

396726 10151133326188015 290032495 n 300x272 Merlot: What’s not to Love?
Merlot (pronounced mehr-LOT, as in “like-it-a-lot”) was featured at our “Meet the Winemakers” session recently. Special guest producers included Roman Roth of Wölffer Estate, Gilles Martin – winemaker for McCall Wines & Sherwood House, Russel Hearn of T’Jara, and John Cleo of Clovis Point. Each winemaker (German, French, Australian and American) had their own styles of wine making. Along with those four wineries we also tasted Raphael’s 2005 First Label Merlot, and the group effort 2010 Merliance.

When I made the cheese selections for this class I looked at my database for Merlot-friendly cheeses. I also referenced Mastering Cheese, in which I recommended sheep and cow cheeses, pressed and/or cooked, and blues usually. Based on these recommendations I chose Chaource (cow, but not pressed or cooked, but with noting Merlot successes in the database), Roncal, Seven Sisters, Gruyère (Beeler’s of course), Roomano, and Shaker Blue. Of the seven wines we sampled, two were 100% Merlot. Looking at those two, the cheese pairing scores were not quite identical but close. The McCall 2008 Reserve has a little better synergy with the Shaker Blue than the 2010 Merliance. Apparently the extra aging helped tackle the blue.

The other five wines were blended with as little as 3% Cabernet Sauvignon in the Wölffer Estate 2010 Lambardo, to as much as 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Petit Verdot in the Sherwood House 2007 Sherwood Manor. The T’Jara Vineyards 2007 Merlot had the biggest mash-up of varietals: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and the grape Australians can’t seem to resist – Syrah. And with all that was going on in the T’Jara, it was the most successful wine partner for all the cheeses, delicious, though not my favorite wine in the group.

It would have been more instructive had a I selected at least one cheese type which can clash with Merlot. Instead, I chose cheeses that “like” Merlot. As it turned out, there were several cheeses in the lineup that liked the Merlots a lot. The standout successes were with the Roncal, the Seven Sisters, the Beeler Gruyère and the Roomano. The Chaource fared well with all of seven of the wines and the Shaker Blue came up just a little short with three of the wines, though it was delicious on its own. And interesting to note: the Shaker Blue was the one cheese produced in the same state as the wines. I did not choose any goat cheeses because I had recorded very few successes with Merlot.

You might try some of these cheeses with your favorite Merlot. You will likely enjoy the experience a lot.

Max McCalman

Monday, November 26th, 2012

My Latest Pairing Discovery

I recently put together a wine and cheese club selection for a local wine retailer in New Canaan, Connecticut. The concept is to offer clients a nice bottle of wine that is perfectly paired with an artisan cheese, a condiment and some sort of cracker, crostini, or cookie.

One of my favorite party cheeses is Vermont Butter and Cheese Company’s “Cremont” which is a delicate, creamy, goat and cow’s milk creation that, if one were not practicing the art of moderation one could easily devour this 6- ounce pillow of decadence in one sitting.

I paired this great little cheese with Mitica’s Spanish Fig Jam and some Austrailian crispbread crackers. The wine selection was a Bodegas Valserrano Rioja Blanco “En Barrica” 2009. This lovely wine hints of floral and sweet fruits, pear, grapefruit peel, with soft toasty and sweet spices such as vanilla.

The very next day I received several “thumbs up” accolades in my email in-box from the satisfied people who tried the selections. Seems they loved everything. So if you’re looking for a sure-fire culinary sampling to serve your family, friends and guests, this medley is sure to please.

Erin Hedley, Fromagere and Instructor for Artisanal Premium Cheese

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Cold Weather Defenses

cheese with fresh fruit nuts 300x300 Cold Weather Defenses

A recent “GoodEats” online article offers advice on foods that can help defend us from the cooler season’s coughs, colds and the flu. I had to check to make sure that dairy was included in the short list. The entire onion family is recommended for its antioxidant called allicin, reported to fight bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections.

The article also recommends mushrooms for the elevated levels of zinc – which stimulates the production of infection-fighting white blood cells. Zinc also happens to be found in milk, especially cow milk that has not been subjected to excessive heat treatment.

Wait! Why would pasteurization reduce the zinc levels in milk? It is because zinc is chelated (attached) to proteins, proteins that can be denatured by heat. Fortunately we carry many cow milk cheeses uncompromised by pasteurization.

The incredible edible egg is also recommended for its choline (in the B vitamin group, and also found in cheese), the anti-oxidant selenium (a varying though small amount in different cheeses too), and zinc. (See above.)

The beta carotene in orange colored vegetables is recommended for its ability to keep bacteria out of the blood stream. Goat milk, as well as the cheeses produced from goat milk, is another source of beta carotene. Sheep milk generally supplies a little less, depending the breed and the fodder, ditto for the cows.

Finally, the article recommends grapefruit, not only for the vitamin C content (sorry, virtually zero in cheese) and for the bioflavonoids (also lacking in cheese). All in all however, the cheese is looking like an excellent source for most of the other defenses against those cold weather challenges. A recipe in the article that follows the mention of eggs includes cheese as an ingredient. But does cheese get any credit?

Another nutrient the article could have mentioned is one that I have mentioned here before – lauric acid – which has been shown to be an effective bacteria killer and a virus killer, two causes for colds and flu. Coconut is a great source for lauric acid, dairy too.

There are combinations of nutrients in foods which can help keep us healthy, of course. A generous amount and variety of them are offered in cheese. If my job did not demand it I probably would not eat quite as much cheese as I do. I can’t recall when I last had a cold or the flu. There could be something about cheese (or many things) that is helping. Fortunately, I just love the stuff.

Max McCalman

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Providence

I usually recommend that you buy less cheese but that you make sure to buy it often. The ideal is to have cheese on hand for today or possibly a few days’ consumption. This is certainly true for the softer, wetter cheeses. Those types reach their peaks and then fade quickly. Hurricane Sandy reminds me that it is better to be prepared for emergencies, so that you have a good amount to sustain you, should you not be able to count on your regular cheese procurement channels.

We were fortunate here at the Artisanal Cheese Center. We did not lose power on our block so our cheese caves kept working just fine. Our cheeses came through the brunt of Sandy in fine form, though we were unable to ship them out for a couple of days.

Hopefully you were well stocked with cheese over the past several days. If you did happen to lose power in your neighborhood, or worse, if you are still without power, the firm cheeses can survive without refrigeration, almost indefinitely. Likely you have a cooler area in your residence where your cheeses can be kept until the power comes back on. Even the softer cheeses can hold up above 38° F for a few days. For centuries many Old World styles of cheeses never saw temperatures that low anyway. Refrigeration simply slows down ripening to extend the life of the cheese.

The advantages to stocking up on cheese are numerous. It does not have to be cooked. Cheese has an excellent track record for food safety and it supplies near-complete nutrition. It does not require refrigeration so long as it is protected from pests, drafts, too much sunlight and excessively dry environments.

So I suppose I have to take my words back and advise you to stock up on the harder cheeses to be better prepared for life’s unwanted surprises.

- Max McCalman

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Mitey Castelmagno

11 e1350674124498 224x300 Mitey Castelmagno

I had not tasted one of these rare beauties in several moons. Castelmagno is one of the rarest cheeses produced in Italy. It is a good thing that the cheese has been awarded DOP status. This should help sustain it, and for what little is produced, that it will continue to be unique and inimitable.

When I spotted these new arrivals in our caves they appeared to be completely infested with cheese mites. They looked a little haggard and unkempt; the mites seemed to have made quite a feast for themselves. I suppose one could say that a mite knows a good cheese when it sees it.

I took a picture of the wounded soldier and sent it back to our supplier asking that, sadly, it be returned. The mites had eaten their way almost a centimeter in some parts of the rind. Within a couple of hours I received a call from our friends urging me to cut into it and try it. I am so glad that I did! The paste of the cheese was absolutely beautiful: creamy-colored, moist and crumbly, a little splotch of blue here and there. The taste was piquant, savory, just a little salty, a little tart, and resplendent. The flavors are still lingering across my taste buds.

The first time you taste a Castelmagno it may be a little more than you expected, or something a little unusual. The goal of these cheesemakers is to preserve the rich alpine milk – milk from some very lucky cows grazing on the upper elevations of Italy’s Piemonte. The blue gradually finds it way into the paste, uninvited, not added. The blue (just like the mites) knows a good cheese when it sees it. The blue does not overwhelm the flavor; it only adds a little accent.

As for the mites, they add little to the flavor of the paste, very little if anything. Whereas the taste of the mites themselves (perfectly safe to eat, though an acquired taste) is a little like curry. Some aficionados rather enjoy a few mites with their cheeses. Having seen cheese mites under an electron microscope, I would rather skip them entirely.

I have found mites on many other magnificent cheeses, some of the finest in the world, such as Vacherin Fribourgeois. (Only the best Vacherins Fribourgeois appeal to the mites!) I remember now that this is not necessarily a bad thing—a heavy coating of mites on the surface of a cheese. Had we returned those Castelmagni I know they would have perished. Instead we will have a few days worth of these very rare and fine cheeses available, only for the Castelmagno cognoscenti.

Max McCalman

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

American Cheese Month

Autumn on the Hudson Frederic Edwin Church 300x197 American Cheese Month

There was a time not too long ago that if you put those first two words together – American Cheese – it suggested something else: processed cheese. Today, however, we can take great pride in artisan cheeses produced in the United States. The quality of American cheeses has grown rapidly, to the point that American Cheese suggests something else entirely today. In some ways it was the processed cheeses themselves that helped improve overall quality of our cheeses. They improved because Americans demanded better. With regard to processed cheeses, I have often stated that there are far worse foods you can choose.

As the weather turns cooler and we snuggle together a little more closely, cheese becomes especially appealing. I know of no other food that typifies romance better than cheese. Some would say chocolate perhaps, which has its place too. Yet cheese is the food that is more closely associated with the fall than any other. October is the month when there is a greater diversity of cheese types available in top form. I have written about this before. Should you need a refresher please read on.

Why October?

For the cheeses that require less aging, the best would have been produced during the warmer months, which in case you forgot, September is one of those. For the cheeses which require a little more aging the ones produced at the beginning of the northern hemisphere’s natural lactation cycles – late winter, these would have received sufficient aging so that they are now coming into their primes. The more aged cheeses requiring over a year of curing, those that were produced this time in 2011, have reached their optimal levels of ripeness.

There is only a minor drop-off of diversity available in November. Some of those very young and tender cheeses become a little scarce. Kind of like fresh tomatoes, you can still find them but fewer of the best. Up until mid-September many people in the northern hemisphere simply do not have the bigger appetites that come along with the arrival of chillier nights. Cheesemakers look forward to this time of year; last October was a long time ago.

Along with our fall cheeses, many of us better appreciate beers or Scotch, even Cider. Through the remainder of this month we have three classes focused on those and the cheeses that pair best with those beverages: Cider, with Eleanor Leger – owner/cider maker for Eden with our Fromagère Erin Hedley; Scotch and Microbrews, with Candela Prol, our expert on most every type of beverage, as well as an expert on October cheeses.

Max McCalman

Friday, October 5th, 2012

“Throwing the Sidra” (Cider) in Northern Spain

272357062 58236a96c4 o 300x300 “Throwing the Sidra” (Cider) in Northern Spain

When I learned that I would have an opportunity to teach alongside Eleanor Leger of Eden Ice Cider Company, combining hard ciders and artisanal cheese, it immediately brought to mind my first taste of this elixir while traveling in the mountains of northern Spain.

Hard cider and cheese make a naturally great pairing. When combined, they form a panoply of complex earthy aromas and flavors. Regions of the world known for hard cider production include the Normandy region of France, the West Country of England (the UK has the highest per capita consumption) and the Northeastern United States. In Spain, the production of natural “hard” ciders takes place mostly in the north: Asturias, Galicia and Basque country. The climate here is ideal for apple growing; mild, wet summers and mild winters.

It was in this very locale that I experienced the wonder that visiting a new land, a new culture and new culinary encounter can bring. The location was Asturias, part of the gorgeous, green and rugged terrain of the Picos de Europa mountain range in northern Spain.

Our family had embarked on a Cabrales cheese making tour in a little town called Asiegu, about 20 miles from our Parador in Ovieda. We set out early in the morning, our car ambling slowly up the high mountain pass with our tour guide and translator, Juan. A single-lane dirt road, dotted with a mule cart or two on the way up the steep, winding mountain road seemed to head straight up into the clouds.

At the top of the mountain was a tiny village replete with breath-taking vistas from every angle. We spent the whole day learning about the village culture and their way of life. We also learned about one of their other great native treats—hard apple cider. Plentiful apple, chestnut and sycamore trees populate the valleys all around. These apples make for some good drinking…if you know what I mean. The chestnut makes for great honey and the sycamore leaves are used in the creation of another famous blue cheese, Valdeón.

At day’s end we sat down to an enormous, lengthy and traditional Spanish lunch, complete with local cheeses, fabada, salmon with cider Asturian style, sopapillas, honey, blood sausage, apple tarts and fizzy, dry apple cider.

The cider was the theatrical star of the feast. But the cider isn’t simply poured into your glass. Here, it shoots out of the ceiling from a maze of specially designed tubes that lead from their stainless steel cider storage tanks. On the way through the tubes, the cider is activated with carbonation. The cider bursts into your tiny glass with the guidance of the pourer who seems to be very nonchalant about making sure that the cider actually fills your glass, not your lap. It can also be poured, with great finesse, from a bottle, or spewed from a giant chestnut barrel. The act of serving or pouring the cider is called “throwing”.

Cider is produced in all the principality of Asturias from several varieties of acid, sweet and bitter apples harvested in September and solely used for this purpose. After six months’ fermentation in chestnut vats, the apple juice with a low-alcohol content and possessing its own carbonic gas is bottled and sold: “new cider” is therefore delivered in spring. The inhabitants of Asturias not only claim the historic invention of cider (which nevertheless already existed among the Hebrews, Persians and Arabs who called it sicera ?”the beverage that intoxicates”) but also consider their cider to be the “world’s best.”

When paired with the cheese, especially the Cabrales, we were awestruck. Terroir never tasted so good. The sharp, salty, yet creamy curds were tempered by the earthy flavor and effervescent bubbles in the cider – both contrasting and complementing the flavors inherent in the cheese and the apple cider alike.

I can’t wait to hear Eleanor Ledger educate the class on the art of cider making while we taste some great matches with several artisan cheeses. Hope you’ll join us on October 15th at Artisanal.

Erin Hedley

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Cheese Politics

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During this election year it is important to remember that there are several political components to the cheese world. It would be great to hear a few choice cheese questions posed to the candidates during the debates, such as: where do you stand on raw milk cheeses?

For many of us this is an important question. Many livelihoods depend on this one: the raw milk cheese producers, and many retailers and distributors.

Case in point: our federal regulations regarding raw milk cheeses have not been updated since the 1940’s; it is high time they be revisited in an unbiased and scholarly way. It’s kind of like we are living in another silly but extended Prohibition. When will the regulations be aligned with reason?

I heard about a recent Boardwalk Empire episode that had a woman sickened by raw milk. Interesting to note: it was a New Jersey physician, Dr. Henry L. Coit who began a serious effort in the late nineteenth century to control the cleanliness of milk by instituting a certification process for the milk industry. This was well before the booze Prohibition, and several decades before cheese suffered its own prohibition, which is still in effect today and may never be repealed.

Cheese is not the same thing as milk. Just because it is derived from milk does not mean that the risks are the same. People have rarely been sickened by cheese yet less rarely they have been sickened by milk. With regards to safety, cheese has its advantages over milk.

Milk is fermented to produce cheese; this more acid environment is less attractive to pathogenic contamination. Cheese has salt added, salt being the great preservative that it is. Milk has no salt added. Cheese has less water than milk, and with less water available for breeding, bad bugs have a tougher time in cheese. Of course some cheeses are wet, but any cheese worth its salt (no pun intended) has that lower pH, a little extra salt, and a little less moisture. Three strikes against contamination.

There was a time when American-made cheese was a valuable export commodity. We even sold cheddar cheeses to the country from where it originated. Our cheese exports today comprise a miniscule fraction of our export market.

It is a good thing that we are eating more cheese than ever, not only because our domestic demand helps keep our cheesemakers in business, but also because we will all be better off with a little more cheese in our diets.

Which brings up the nutritional angle. This election the education topic is near the top of the list. We cheese educators believe that cheese education is at least as important as any other field of study, granting that cheese study has so many branches.

What we would like to hear in the debates is how cheese is actually a good food we should celebrate and promote – one that not only tastes good but is also especially nutritious. We may help solve our nation’s obesity epidemic with a diet that includes a little more cheese, and we could put a small dent in our trade deficit eventually.

There are other cheese studies, including: religion, philosophy, history, economics, chemistry, physics, biology, geology and soil science, climatology, art, politics, and others. For some people, cheese study includes its astrological component. Cheese study is endlessly challenging. Whatever your particular interest may be, cheese will offer its tangents. Cheese alone could make a core course curriculum for a liberal arts college.

Now all we need to do is repeal the cheese Prohibition that denies us the right to enjoy young uncompromised milk cheeses throughout our fair land.

It brings out the tea party in me. Interesting to note that there are blue cheeses and red cheeses.

- Max McCalman

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Harvest Moon

R z   So where s the cheese by 300x225 Harvest Moon

Starting this Saturday, September 29th, residents of the northern hemisphere will be treated to the sight of a full moon. And not just any full moon – a harvest moon, so named because its light allows farmers to work in the fields later into the evening than usual. Since we’re all cheese fanatics here at Artisanal, whenever we hear anything about the moon we cannot help but think of that famous tongue-in-cheek line collected in John Heywood’s 1546 Proverbes: “You set circumstances to make me believe/Or think, that the moon is made of green cheese,” green in this case denoting not color but newness. Although only the credulous will swallow such a claim, the notion of a large celestial body made entirely of cheese is a rather tantalizing thought for some of us.

This moon-made-out-of-cheese fancy saw an imaginative realization in Nick Park’s 1989 animated short, “A Grand Day Out,” starring Wallace (perhaps cinema’s greatest turophile) and his canine pal Gromit. The claymation duo want to go “somewhere where there’s cheese” – what better place than that pockmarked hunk of deliciousness orbiting the earth? Click here for a glimpse of their enviable excursion.

The ancients recognized the moon-cheese resemblance long before either Heywood or Wallace and Gromit. One of the first-ever cheese brand names was “La Luna,” developed by the Romans around 300AD. This was a highly popular precursor to modern-day Parmesan.

Enjoy the moonlight this weekend, folks – and if you feel a craving for cheese, Artisanal’s got your back.

Monday, September 10th, 2012

A Classic McCalman Cheese Progression

The question arises, what is a cheese “progression”? What is it exactly and why does it matter?

The fundamental principle of a cheese progression refers to tasting cheeses in a particular order, from mild to strong. It does not refer to the progress of a cheese itself: from the time that is made to the point when it is consumed, with all that transpires along that path – the influences of the rennets and cultures, the influences of the curing environments, the various treatments the ripener (affineur) can apply to the cheese, and the influences in the milk components themselves. All those factors certainly affect the strength of a cheese; the commonly accepted understanding of cheese “progression” refers to the order in which cheeses are tasted, after the cheese has reached its optimal level of ripeness.

Quite simply, tasting a mild cheese before a strongly flavored cheese should make more sense than vice versa. To fully detect the nuances in a mildly flavored cheese it would be better not to taste a stronger cheese before it. What makes one cheese stronger than another may be a little subjective, yet there are some empirical qualities to consider. One of the easiest to detect is the salt intensity. The saltier the cheese, the more assertive it would be, all else being equal. A smoked cheese would be stronger than a non-smoked version. A highly aromatic cheese might be considered stronger than one that is less so.

When I looked at the cheese selections for this Friday’s Cheese & Wine 101 class (sorry, it’s sold out!) I thought: this is a classic progression. We will begin with a mild goat cheese – Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery’s Bonne Bouche. This multiple award-winning cheese is made with pasteurized milk, which helps keep it mellow. The Bonne Bouche has plenty of flavor but it is milder than the next cheese in the lineup, Pierre Robert – a triple-crème cow cheese that is also young and pasteurized. The cow milk cheeses generally follow the goat cheeses better than they precede them. The extra butterfats in Pierre Robert melt into the palate so that the fresh flavors of the Bonne Bouche would go unnoticed if it was tasted after the Pierre Robert.

A good follow-up to a triple crème is a firm pressed sheep milk cheese, and this time of year the Idiazábal is in great form. A couple of things this old-world cheese can boast of enables it to follow the decadent Pierre Robert, besides the fact that it is a type with a much more ancient history. The pressed sheep milk cheeses usually have a nice “bite” to them which closes down the lingering butterfats of a triple-crème cow cheese. The more aged, firm texture helps, and oily butterfats in the sheep milk hold their own just fine; their delightful nutty olive oil aromas linger. The Idiazábal is also gently smoked, not so much for the sake of the smoked flavor as it is for the traditional methods of curing the cheese.

A good follow-up to the pressed sheep milk cheeses is one of the “stinky” cheeses, and at this time the Taleggio is looking better than ever. Full aroma for a pasteurized version, with a very buttery flavor, resplendent, a bit salty, savory and chock full of umami.

A medium aged Comté makes a good successor, not especially “stinky” but with plenty of aroma and layers of flavor. Back to this firm cheese, after the unctuous Taleggio; this makes a nice break. In a sense, the Comté is related to Taleggio, with similar surface washings, cow’s milk, produced not too far from one another. The Comté is made with uncompromised milk however, as is mandated by law.

If this were a well-aged Comté, and the next cheese – Parmigiano Reggiano – were a younger version, these two could be flip-flopped in the progression. As with most Parmigiani Reggiano there is that little bitter note, which gives them a little more depth compared to the brighter flavored Comté.

Then you have Shaker Blue. Once you have a blue cheese it is much more difficult to detect the subtleties in most other cheese types. There are the occasional “blue” cheeses where the blue is applied externally instead of veined in the paste. These can be relatively mild. In most cases the blue is a dominant note for a cheese. They are generally a little saltier than other cheeses, the extra salt is required to keep competing bacteria and molds from thwarting the blue.

So there you have it – a classic cheese progression. Now, to choose the corresponding wines; they have their progressions too. With four contrasting wines we hope to find some unexpected marriages-made-in-heaven.

Max McCalman