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Posts Filed Under The ‘cheesemaking’ Category

Monday, January 13th, 2014

Master Series

The first Master Series of 2014 will be offered here at our new facilities in Long Island City, February 23rd & 24th. The series will be intensive, covering various aspects of the cheese world, all the way from cheese making to pairing with wines. This series promises to be a special one, as students will witness some of the final stages of assembly of our new facilities.
Back when we opened our old plant on Manhattan’s west side we were at the cutting edge in the industry: with our five cheese-maturing caves, production facilities, and our lovely events & education room. The industry has evolved and what was state-of-the-art in 2003 is now only sufficient, at least as far as affinage (cheese maturing) is concerned. Our production area was suitable too, yet only for the first couple of years after opening. It soon became apparent that we would require more space to work with our cheeses, larger caves, in order to keep up with the rising demand for our high-quality cheeses.
I often recommend that tight spaces are best for cheeses, up to a point. It is far easier to maintain cheeses in smaller spaces than larger one: the proper humidity, temperature, air exchange and microflora. I recall seeing the cheese caves in restaurants around the US in the early aughts; almost all of them were too large for the sizes of those operations. It is valuable to keep in mind that a little bit of cheese goes a long way. So our own fully packed cheese caves worked relatively well, the biggest problems were their ventilations. Certain parts of each cave had excessive air exchange while others were practically “dead.” The area outside those caves, the production area, was a little tight too, especially during busier weeks.
Bottom line: Now that we have been at it for over a decade, added to the years working out of the restaurants Picholine and the Artisanal Bistro, we have learned a lot about how to operate a cheese facility of this type. How to get the right product mix, find the top quality in each category, cure the cheeses to their optimal levels of ripeness, wrap them expertly, ship to our customers in good packaging, and provide the best customer service possible (which includes education).
It seems that there are a myriad of facets to the cheese industry so we will do our best to cover the essentials in this two-day series. We will also be eating quite a lot of cheese. Yum!
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

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Calling all Fromagers!

photo 2 e1384293166957 Calling all Fromagers!

The American Cheese Society is accepting applications for its third Certified Cheese Professional exam but you had better apply soon because the application deadline is coming up. That exam will be administered at their annual conference in Sacramento next summer.

Before you get too excited about becoming a CCP let me caution you that there are some eligibility requirements that must be met. This is not a certification for everyone, as great a cheese lover as you may be. In some ways however it is for everyone, at least everyone who has been in the cheese business and still is. In other words, the test is broad-based – it is not only about cheese making.

There are many facets to the wide world of cheese, so if you have been in the business for a while you have probably had at least a little exposure to other areas outside your day-to-day tasks. This is precisely why the certification is so broad. A CCP should have knowledge of other domains within the cheese world, for if she does she will have a better understanding of her product, inside and out.

This is a fundamental goal of the certification: to ensure that cheese is better understood, better cared for, more accurately described, better transported and packaged, more safely handled, more successfully marketed, and that those who work in the industry are more knowledgeable about the new challenges cheese will be facing in the near-future with the full implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Better understanding of all these points will help serve the cheese industry well.

This is not an exam for which you can simply pick up a book, read it through, retain all that you read, then pass the exam. Not even my Mastering Cheese will give you everything you need to know, not even close. No one book will be the one study guide you will need to pass. Hands-on experience counts toward eligibility, both paid and unpaid: work at dairies, creameries and retailers; as well as attending cheese classes and the ACS conferences; writing about cheese; etc.

Many people have applied to take the exam, paid the $35.00 application fee, then fail to take the process seriously. It is a tough exam, very thorough, 150 multiple choice questions, with three hours to take it, yet it is not overly difficult. Just don’t expect to be spoon-fed the entire content of the exam. It is up to the individual to prepare herself for the test. Many applicants have formed study groups and have reported that the process was satisfying and enjoyable.

By the way, once you become certified this does not make you an ACS CCP permanently. You will need to re-certify after three years. Not too difficult to do, so long as you maintain regular involvement in the industry.

Just make sure that you have your eligibility requirements first, then sign up, start studying, and then we’ll see you in Sacramento!

- Max McCalman

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Colorado Cheese Festival

max w goats e1383596155889 Colorado Cheese Festival

The appetite for cheese in Colorado appears to be rising faster than ever. Little surprise then that artisan cheese making is enjoying an uptick to satisfy that growing demand. Artisanal cheese production has been in existence for decades here but now the industry is booming. Craft beers are a big thing in Colorado too, which helps to grow the cheese appreciation.

The fifth annual Colorado Cheese Festival was held in Longmont this year, about an hour north of Denver. The festival enjoyed record-breaking attendance even though it was not in Denver itself. Several Denver denizens made the drive up, but there were other participants from all over the state as well as a number from out of state.

John Scaggs of Haystack Creamery brought four of his goats to the festival this year, two Nubians and two La Manchas, beautiful and gregarious animals. They stayed out in the parking lot munching on hay and taking in all the attention. When a small plane flew overhead all four of them looked up to see what it was. Curious, too. They held their gaze on the plane until it was out of sight.

Inside the convention center hundreds of cheese lovers were milling about, visiting cheese makers’ kiosks and attending sessions. I was asked to conduct a pairing session on cheese and beer. Turned out to be a big hit. Along with the Oskar Blues beers a local gin and coffee liqueur were thrown into the mix from Spirit Hound. My word of caution to the assembly was to know one’s capacity.

It appeared that everyone in attendance was being careful though. No one falling down. If there was anyone who might have fallen down it would have to be the festival’s organizer, Jackie Rebideau. Jackie had been up most of the night before putting the final touches on the event. She met us a few years ago when she attended one of our Master Series. She has gone on to make quite a cheese career for herself, along with hosting the Colorado Cheese Festival she also hosts a radio program, A Fermented Affair, and she just rolled out her first food truck in Denver, Mobile Meltz.

The festival will be back in Longmont again next year and I look forward to being a part of it again, helping Jackie spread the curd.

- Max McCalman

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Vive la France, Oui Oui!

800px Cheese shop window Paris e1374515476622 Vive la France, Oui Oui!

The excitement occurring in the cheese world today is occurring right here within our shores. However there are some cheeses that simply will not be successfully replicated outside their original provenances. Actually, no cheeses can be recreated identically if produced in different places. There are too many variables that come into play. The French have elevated the importance of terroir, as well they should. For a country about the size of Texas there are many distinct soils, climates, topographies and cultural/historical influences. These qualities which define terroir shape the profiles of cheeses dramatically. The same cheesemaker will not be able to make the same cheese in a different locale. Even if she has the same milk to work with, and the same recipe, the locations where the cheeses are produced and cured will have their own influences on the cheesemaker’s cheese.

The French were not the first to make cheese, nor do they produce the most cheese, nor do they eat more cheese than anyone else, yet the cheeses of France are widely considered to be the best. Many people feel the same way about French wines – that they are the best. We are finding as many distinctions among French wines as we are among French cheeses. It is rather mind-boggling, this array of quality in French cheeses and wines.

French cheeses have found an important export market in the United States – a good thing since per capita consumption in France has been leveling off. While American cheeses continue to improve, these imported French cheeses are finding unexpected competition with our own artisan cheeses. There are many French cheeses that will never find their way onto our cheese shop’s shelves; the young cheeses made from unpasteurized milk find homes within France or in other less paranoid nations than ours. It is difficult for me to avoid this topic: the young cheeses crafted from uncompromised milk that are prohibited here. Many of these cheeses are becoming “luxury” cheeses within France itself. Cheeses that were recently humble peasant foods are now finding their way onto cheese trolleys of the most exclusive restaurants in the world. Sadly, some of these cheeses are barely hanging on; the economics simply don’t add up, even with the appreciation among well-healed turophiles.

The denial of young raw milk cheeses here has served to shape our cheese choices toward the more aged varieties, and fortunately with a little uptick in the raw milk cheeses too. This means that we do not have those young delicacies, most of which are as close as we can get to that fresh wholesome milk without destabilizing heat treatments. This is not to say that aged cheeses cannot be fabulous, both aesthetically and nutritionally, but it does mean we are missing out on a dizzying array of magnificent curds.

So what can we do to preserve these old cheesemaking traditions, many of which are very much endangered? I am afraid it is highly doubtful we will see any revisions to our regulations but we can go to France and eat them while there, or wherever they may be produced: England, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, etc. I have no problem with that: venturing to Europe to taste cheeses that are illegal here. It is easier for me to fly to Paris than it is to get to Burlington, Vermont. I missed the Vermont Cheese Festival again this year, partly for that reason. Another thing we can do is eat as much artisan cheese as we possibly can, from wherever, young or aged, pasteurized or not. If we eat more cheese it will help keep all cheesemakers in business and future generations will see the industry as one that is viable.

The only problem with eating all this extra cheese is that we will have to purchase new wardrobes; our waistlines will slim down dramatically. Seriously!

I’ll tell you all about it at the next Cheese & Wine 201, with a few tidbits thrown in at the next Cheeses & Wines of France.

Ever wonder why French women don’t get fat?

It’s the cheese!

- Max McCalman