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.
The Artisanal Premium Cheese Decadence Collection – the perfect gourmet gift for the foodie in your life. With three spectacular cave-aged cheeses and Christopher Norman chocolates presented in our signature French Hat box, this collection promises to be the over-the-top, death-by-indulgence gourmet gift you’ve been looking for.
With Valentineâ€™s Day around the corner, thereâ€™s a frenzy to find that perfect, unique gift that will top all others. As people become better educate about food, gourmet gifts are increasingly becoming popular gift options around the holidays. Cheese and chocolate may not sound like the most appealing combination but as we’ve tested out pairings with our partners at Christopher Norman and we were surprised and thrilled with all the interesting nuances in flavor and texture the cheeses and chocolates brought out in each other. Grand Marnier truffles withPetite Mothais; blood orange bonbons with Fiscalini Cheddar; Four-Year Gouda and smokey lapsang bonbon were just some of the great combinations we discovered.
If you’re in New York for Valentine’s Day weekend, join us on Saturday, February 12 for Decadent Chocolate & Sinful Cheese, when we’ll be sampling some of these incredible combinations paired with an indulgent dose of wines both sweet, sparkling and still.
A couple of days ago one of our clients returned his slice of our 4 year old Gouda, claiming that it was covered in mold and thusly inedible. I have spoken about moldy cheeses here before: â€œMold is my Friend.â€ Most molds are actually beneficial; they can extract excess moisture out of the body of a cheese, as well as from its surface, and they can add flavor to the cheese as well. Not that you would want the molds that grow in or around cheese to overwhelm the flavor profile, but if you allow the mold to â€œdo-its-thingâ€ it can add a little accent.
As a matter of fact, given a choice between having a cheese that is a little misshapen with some colorful molds on the rind and one that has one flat single appearance in a â€œperfectâ€ shape would be my preference. We must keep in mind that cheese is a living food, or that it should be. I look at the molds as flowers.
In the case of that old Gouda it was not any mold whatsoever. The cheese is so old and dry, yet exquisitely delicious, that the opportunity for mold development is long past. What appeared to be some unusual little molds on the cut surface was actually some of those phenomenal Tyrosine amino acids that had crystallized. Those little crystals in an aged Gouda or GruyÃ¨re are delightful on the tongue, and when they are consumed the Tyrosine works as a building block for the protein chains of which we are composed. Tyrosine is also a pre-cursor to the production of Norepinephrine and Melanin, among other things.
Some cheeses have different crystals that are usually considered to be defects in a cheese, such as Calcium Lactate. This is not the case with this Dutch masterpiece, nor is it a mold. Though this cheese may not have those â€œflowersâ€ growing on the rind, it is still a â€œlivingâ€ food, great with a cup of coffee and versatile with a full range of wines and beers as well.
Learn more about the incredible nutritive values of cheese, as well as any safety concerns you may have, in our Cheese & Wine 201 sessions.
Some cheeses with whimsical names can be a little bland. Some cheeses that have longer, difficult-to-pronounce or difficult-to-spell names can turn out to be altogether insipid. Some cheeses that look a little scary may actually taste just fine; they donâ€™t frighten the palate as much as they do our eyes.
Names and looks tell you little about the quality of the cheese once itâ€™s in your mouth.
A new addition to our line of American made cheeses is Brenda Jensenâ€™s Ocooch Mountain â€“ a wash-rind, semi-soft buttery sheep milk cheese that she creates at her Hidden Springs creamery in southwestern Wisconsin. The cheese looks a like a Torta del Casar or a Serena, just a little smaller, and without that little bitter note in the finish. It is a raw milk cheese, giving it a full aroma, a long flavor, an excellent texture, and a very good shelf-life.
Beermat (a.k.a.) Aarauer Bierdeckel (you can see why we abbreviate the name) is a cow milk cheese from Switzerland that is washed in wheat beer. Semi-soft, pungent, meaty, savory, and chock full of umami. This cheese is also made with raw milk, and it has tremendous keeping qualities. Granted, this aroma may not be everyoneâ€™s cup of tea, but itâ€™s important to keep in mind that what we smell may be significantly different from what we actually taste. The Beermat (like one of those little circular coasters upon which you set your beer glass) happens to pair very well with Pilners, Lagers, I.P.A.â€™s, and many white wines.
Fleuron is not that unusual in appearance (if you donâ€™t mind the mottled rind); the name is not that difficult to pronounce (fluh-ROHN) but this type of cheese is delicious and a relatively rare type in the region where it is produced â€“ the Aquitaine of southwest France. It is more of an alpine style of cheese. Perhaps the residents of Aquitaine recalled how much they loved those styles of cheeses and decided to make one themselves on the opposite side of France. This cheese is also made with raw milk; it has an exceptional shelf-life (quite frankly it ages very gracefully, like most all the other Alpine styles), and it is a great value too.
FladÃ¤ (full name Stanser ChuÃ¤ FladÃ¤ â€“ meaning a cow patty from Stans) is exquisite, a special occasion cheese, or one that you might just have for yourself. Delicious, luscious; this is a cheese that should be consumed in one sitting. Iâ€™ve saved this cheese overnight and does hold up well but it is always best when you first cut off the top â€“ the undulating top that looks a little like its name would suggest, only pink.
Amarelo da Beira Baixa (full name â€“ Queijo Amarelo da Beira Baixa) is almost as much fun to pronounce as it is to eat. Well, not really. Mixing the two milks â€“ goat and sheep â€“ gives you the best of both worlds. Harking back to a time when a family might have one ewe and a doe (a female goat), they would have mixed together whatever milk they did not drink into the production of a cheese that would sustain them when the fresh milk was no longer available. The cheese name means â€“ Yellow Cheese from the Lower Beira. You might just call it Amarelo. Rustic, outstanding keeping qualities, this is one of a handful of cheeses from Portugal with D.O.P. status, certifying its provenance and methods of production.
Ubriaco Prosecco is another unusual cheese, in name and in its making. Essentially it is a pressed toma style of cheese from northern Italy. The name means â€œdrunken in Prosecco.â€ The flavor of the grape lingers deep into the flavor of the paste within. This treatment of cheeses was originally practiced not only for the additional flavor and aroma but to help protect the rind.
Pecorino delle Balze Volterrane is not your typical Pecorino. The sheep milk is coagulated with thistle rennet instead of the traditional animal rennet that is used for most all the other sheep milk cheeses of Italy. This gives the cheese a delicate and unusual bitterness in the finish. The Pecorino delle Balze Volterrane is aged in oak barrels for 60 days, the rind covered in oak and olive wood ash. One reason they would cover cheeses in ash was to protect the cheese within from flies and other undesirables.
There was a time when I thought it might not hurt to skip a yearâ€™s conference of the American Cheese Society. It has always been a pleasure to spend a few days with other cheese people; there just werenâ€™t enough new cheeses, or improvements of existing cheeses, coming along. The breakout sessions usually included some that were especially worthwhile but there was not enough new material being discussed.
However, the seminars seem to be getting better each year; they appear to getting down to the microscopic level of examination. Some of the standout sessions this year included: Understanding the Value & Implications of Terroir in America, Health Benefits & the Psychology of Cheese, Advanced Sensory Flavor Characteristics & Chemistry in Bandage Wrapped Cheddar, and Transhumance â€“ Moving Livestock in Tune with the Seasons.
I also had the privilege of serving as an Aesthetic Judge this year. The competition set a record for the number of entries â€“ 1,462 â€“ nearly twice as many cheeses as five years ago! The quality of the cheeses is improving too. As I have said before, the excitement in the cheese world today is happening right here.
My judging partner â€“ Dr. Mark Johnson â€“ dairy scientist from Wisconsin â€“ tasted over 50 cheeses in our categories on the first day judging. We evaluated nearly 60 the second day, then later that afternoon all thirty judges were asked to sample the one hundred First Place winners among the 110 categories (some of the categories did not have any cheeses that rated high enough for a First Place score) to select a â€œBest-in-Show,â€ a runner-up, and second runner-up. In all we tasted about 210 cheeses over those two days. Bliss. Later that evening I went to dinner with some of my cheese friends; after our main course we had another seven cheeses.
Among the 100 Blue Ribbon winners there were a number that I thought were outstanding, each of these worthy of a â€œBest-in-Showâ€ prize. That was the tough part. That top honor went to Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve, the third time that Mike and Carol Gingrichâ€™s cheese has won it.
Some people wait until fall to enjoy blue cheeses but there are many that are outstanding right now. The Smokey Oregon Blue is one that is perfect for summer picnics as well as just about any other part of the year with just a touch of smoking over hazelnut shells. The inimitable Roquefort, Carles is so sweet and creamy, simply remarkable. The often misunderstood and rare naturally bluing blue from Asturias, Spain â€“ Gamonedo â€“ has a touch of that smoking that comes from the small apple wood fires around which the young cheeses are cured. For another brilliant summer time blue we enjoy the Crater Lake Blue, or for a funkier blue, we recommend the Bleu de Laqueuille, full of the buttery cow notes.
Here we are in the dog days of summer, just on the cusp of the “great cheese harvest” that begins in September and extends through to the end of the year. We call it that because it is a time of year (the Fall) when more cheese types are available in good form than in any other part of the year. Yet there are plenty of great cheeses around right now that are “screamin’ to be eaten.” Now is also a time when our appetites may not be so hearty, when we would prefer to stick with a little fresh fruit and little else, certainly not any cheese. Alors!
We’ve noticed this phenomenon year in, year out: cheese appetites tend to fall in the summer. Perhaps some people are thinking that they should cut back on cheese if they want to look good in their swimsuits.
What a shame! Too few have discovered that the cheese diet will actually help them to lose weight (if they care to) or to gain lean body mass (if they’re the body-building types that are hoping to impress in other ways).
Practically all of the goat cheeses are lovely right now, the sheep of all kinds are spectacular, and the cows, well, they’re always around. Speaking of which, I’ll even have some fondue or a raclette type like the fabulous Val Bagner. I may have different wine preferences now from those I have in February, and I will drink more water; I’ll have different fruits available, but I certainly won’t cut back on my cheese. What a depressing thought.
And on that note: lest we forget; cheese does make us happy. No, really!
-Dean of Curriculum and MaÃ®tre Fromager
I recently came across an article in Gourmet Magazine about one of Artisanal’s favorite Affineur known as the Cheese Pope, Rolf Beeler, Maitre Fromage. Because of his exceptional skills that he has been perfecting for more than 30 years, Rolf Beeler has revolutionized the way cheesemakers think and practice the art of Affinage. Affinage, a word that is derived from the Latin finus, meaning “end” or ultimate point,” is the process of the curing or ripening process to “finish” a particular cheese. This is arguably the most crucial step in cheese making and is what we focus on at Artisanal.
What makes Rolf Beelers cheeses so special is besides advising the cheesemaker on the length of time to age their cheese, how often to rotate or wash it, and suggestion of different bacteria to flavor them, he will go as far as to modify the animals diet. He may also steer them to a different field where they may encounter foods that are more beneficial to produce a specific milk flavor profile which he believes is critical to begin the cheese making process.
His end product is one that all affineurs strive to produce, a unique flavor, texture and long finish. His cheeses explode with flavor the second you taste them and always seem to please everyone’s palate.
Rolf Beeler’s Gruyere, for example is aged for at least 18 months and produces a unique taste, one you can tell is full flavored with a granular texture that speaks to you instantly, similar to an experience you wold have with a high quality Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Beeler never mixes milk from different dairies or uses milk that has to travel because, “when milk is shipped from hundreds of miles away, it loses its, how you say…terroir. I like the farmer to know the name of each cow.”
Here are some great Rolf Beeler cheeses to try right now:
â€œI find among writers that the milk of the goat is next in estimation to that of women, for that it helpeth the stomach.â€
~ William Harrison, English Clergyman (1534-1593)
Max McCalman, our Dean of Curriculum, has engaged me in many a conversation on just this subject, that one reason cheese is such a comfort food may be because it is most like our first source of nourishment (both physical and emotional) our motherâ€™s milk.
Goatâ€™s milk is one of the easiest forms of dairy to digest (owing to the smaller fat globules then are found in cowâ€™s milk) and its smooth, soft, creamy texture provides delicious, nutritious sustenance. Before starting at Artisanal I was a timid sampler of goat cheese, rarely venturing further then a log rolled in herbs from the local green market. A little over a year later, I have enjoyed dozens of varieties from our caves and have been surprised and delighted by the vast array taste, shape and texture.
In the winter months the firmer, aged versions of goat cheese like Old Kentucky Tomme and Ibores were perfect companions for heavy sweet white wines and dark heady reds. But now comes the best time for consuming fresh goat cheese, especially now, spring is arriving and the kids are causing the utters to fill with particularly rich delicious milk full of vitamins A and D.
The first goat cheese I fell for (which I recommend for beginners) was Purple Haze. Creamy, tangy, subtly herbaceous, Purple Haze is a sure fire way to hook people in and quickly get them addicted to goatâ€™s milk (a drizzle of honey added a whole other dimension). My latest obsession, which I tried for the first time last night and immediately, took home to enjoy at my leisure, is Garrotxa (gah-ROTCH-ah). Surreally smooth and light, like a solid form of yogurt but less tangy, the Garrotxa enhanced the light bubbles in the glass of Cava I was enjoying and reminded me that the days are getting longer and warmer and another season of great cheeses is on itâ€™s way.
“G stands for goat and also for genius . . .”
~ Kenneth Rexroth, American Poet (1905 â€“ 1982)
When I first started working at Artisanal it was just a job for me, as I was out of work and needed something to do. I had just recently moved back to the city and wanted to work, and had been informed about this new company which was in the opening stages and was looking for someone to handle all calls for the office. Having over 10 years experience working in the hospitality industry I thought I would give this a try. At the time Artisanal was still setting up operations and working on getting the website ready to go live. There was a lot of behind the scenes work which I was a part of and assisted in setting up. I had thought I knew cheese, I did know what it was that I liked, which was the typical cheeses one found in many stores, Kraft singles, Velveta, and Finlandia Swiss.
When I was asked what my favorite cheese was I would say Swiss cheese, I always had to have it on my sandwiches. Well let me tell you almost 6 years later I now know when someone asks me what my favorite cheese is, I can not answer this simple question. I have grown and expanded my taste and knowledge for cheese. I am unable to just choose one cheese as a favorite. We have so many cheeses that I have learned about and enjoyed over the years and there are so many new cheeses coming in that I have yet to learn about. Although I still sway towards the Mountain style cheese, and I feel is a must have on any cheese plate, I also enjoy many other great cheeses that I have experienced in my time with Artisanal such as, Epoisses, Abbaye de Belloc, Vacherin Mont dâ€™Or and Tomme Fermiere dâ€™Alsace, just to name a few. But I have learned that even for each season some cheeses are better then others, and that the animals grazing and eating habits also make a difference in the flavor and texture of the cheese. So with all the great options I can not just pick one.