Posts Filed Under The ‘unpasteurized cheese’ Category

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

New Year’s Resolution: Eat more Cheese!

New Year’s Resolution: Eat more Cheese!

During the first part of the year we make plans to take better care of ourselves: we try to go to the gym on a regular basis, we write ambitious to-do lists, we aim to get more sleep, we cut back on sugar and other carbs, we walk up stairs instead of taking the elevator, we schedule that overdue dentist appointment, and many people try to quit smoking. We all mean well but we can easily fall back into old patterns.

One of the easier resolutions to keep is to eat more cheese. By doing so you will be taking better care of yourself, you may even sleep better, you will likely cut back on other emptier calories. You may feel more like walking up the stairs, your dentist will notice your healthier teeth and gums, if you are unable to quit smoking it should offer some comfort knowing that the CLA derived from cheese has been shown to be an effective cancer fighter, and if you do head to the gym you will be a little more energized going in and you will recognize better results coming out. All this because you are eating a little more cheese!

However not just any old cheese.

When I update my picks for Max’s Especially Healthy Plate I make sure that each cheese in the collection is crafted from milk that has not been compromised by excessive heat treatment, as in pasteurization. There are plenty of good nutrients in the pasteurized varieties but not quite as many as you will get from the raw versions. Some of the nutrients are destroyed by pasteurization while others are far less bio-available. The fat soluble vitamins are reduced  significantly. According to recent studies conducted in Barcelona up to 80% of the vitamins A and D are lost in heat treatment. Whatever vitamin C may have been in the milk is zapped, the B vitamins are reduced, and some of the minerals that would have been chelated to the milk proteins are no longer available; the proteins that would enable their transport having been denatured by the high heat of pasteurization.

Again, there are plenty of nutrients in the pasteurized cheeses too, just not quite enough to hold up to the standards of my Especially Healthy Plate.

Do yourself some good and eat more cheese in 2014.

Max McCalman

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Fondue Weather

 

The weather we’re experiencing around here these days suggests fondue. For other parts of the country even more so! Nothing warms you better than melted cheese and currently there are several specimens here that dissolve beautifully into simmering white wines. One of the original fondue cheeses is Fontina d’Aosta, always crafted from raw cow milk, as they have been for over a thousand years. The so-called “mountain” cheeses are the ones to seek out, especially the cow milk varieties.

Why cow?

It seems that cow milk cheeses are better at melting into a fondue than sheep, and certainly better than goat cheeses. Many of these mountain cheeses are delicious on their own at room temperatures, yet Fontina (though delicious at room temperature) simply does not hold up so well when left out. A wedge of Fontina will start to slump, the butter fats will leach out, and the wedge will dry out quickly. The cheese seems to demand that it be melted down, which is one reason why it makes an excellent cooking cheese.

A similar cheese from across the border in eastern France is Morbier, more of a smear-ripened cheese than Fontina but equally nice at melting. The Morbier has the same disposition when set out at room temperature as the Fontina d’Aosta. The harder cheeses that are closely related to these stand up better when left out, such as Comté, Gruyère, Uplands Pleasant Ridge and Tarentaise. When I first started snacking on these types at room temperature I was admonished, as though that was the only way to fully enjoy them, melted.

Maybe that is true for today’s weather but when it warms up in a few months, I would prefer to leave the fondue pot in storage and instead shave off several thin slices of these marvelous cheeses, invariably some of the most popular in cheese competitions.

Max McCalman

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

How do you like your chèvres?

How do you like your chèvres?

There was a time about a decade ago when we were able to acquire some young unpasteurized goat cheeses from France, some of the AOC varieties. And of course, no one became ill from consuming them, though their legality here was lacking. It was kind of like “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Back then we would recommend that customers follow the seasonal fluctuations: those chèvres being much better during the second half of the year, actually some of them beginning to show well as early as May.

With the implementation of more stringent adherence to the outdated FDA regulations, those young goat cheeses were summarily banned. Seems that we are due for updated immigration reform. What French goat cheeses were available from then on were mostly insipid and banal. This descent has been taking place for many decades anyway, even within the French borders themselves. Fortunately, the overall quality of the Loire Valley chèvres has remained relatively high, if nuances and depth in flavors have been missing.

These imitations of the original AOC cheeses have continued to enjoy popularity here, to the point that most of them are routinely called by their cherished names such as Valençay, Sainte Maure, and Selles-sur-Cher. The newish “substitute” cheeses don’t dare use those names when they depart France but we use those names here anyway. The names practically roll off the tongue. Considering what I have tasted in France recently, these replacement Loire Valley cheeses are not that different. Some of the goat cheeses without AOC status produced in other parts of the country are closer in flavor profile to what our Loire selections use to be!

The affineur has a few tricks he can apply to help those cheeses reach their greatest potential. As in the old days: a little sechage in the haloir is invariably part of the process (drying in a dry environment). These cheeses arrive in plastic wrapping and dripping wet, and virtually flavorless. Not to be too much of a cheese snob here, I try those “fake” cheeses from time to time, curious as to why their popularity seems not to have diminished, but only after they have dried a little and after they have acquired some of their beautiful multi-colored mold coating. It could be partly that they don’t offend, either mold-covered (though the appearance seems to bother some) or the younger ones (with no mold coating) with far less character. Sadly, this is what many consumers expect from cheeses – that they be flat-flavored, bland and lifeless. With a little careful ripening these pitiful things can become more interesting.

Think of those molds as the “flowers” growing on the cheese surface. Some “flowers” blossom in the interior of cheeses! Almost all of these mold species are beneficial. They contribute flavors to the paste within and also enhance drying. Those “flowers” themselves may not be particularly tasty but the cheese’s flavor will be enhanced. For those that do want flavorless cheeses they may want to specify this via a phone call. We may have some fresh arrivals pre-affinage we can send along.

I fear that the assumption from some consumers is that if the cheese comes from France, it must be great. And our obsessive hysteria regarding mold, well, don’t get me started!

A recent shipment of “Sainte Maure” (cheese-on-a-stick) came in so fragile that one of the logs broke the day we took it out of its packaging. We set the poor thing in with its sisters anyway and I took a little taste after its few days of drying, ripening and molding. It was very nice, mold included.You may want to try some of these now, even though it’s January. A little TLC goes a long way with the chèvres.

Let it grow!

Max McCalman

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

That Cheese Was Smoking

10275 Large e1381949180632 That Cheese Was Smoking

So how do you feel about smoked cheeses?

It may sound gimmicky, an idea of how to make a cheese distinctive, or a way to put aroma and flavor back into a cheese that may have been crafted from pasteurized milk. “Smoked cheese” may sound like a new concept yet the practice has been around for many centuries, possibly since the Bronze Age.

One cheese type that has received the smoking step longer than just about any other is the Fiore Sardo, a pressed sheep milk cheese from Sardinia. The name does not indicate “smoked” – instead it translates to “Flower of Sardegna.” A native breed of the island provides the milk for the cheese and traditionally the young cheeses were cured in huts containing wood-burning fireplaces, hence the “smoking.”

Sardinia is an island of weather contrasts: near the coast it is more tropical, while in the central upper elevations it can be much colder. The one-room huts’ WBFP’s would keep the shepherds warm at night and these same rooms would be the ones used for curing the cheeses. The smoking helped dry the cheeses and imparted a subtle smoky flavor deep into their cores. The smoking also helped to keep away pests.

A similar practice was taken up in northern Spain’s Navarre region, where Idiazábal went through the same curing process, and for the same reasons. Which region adopted this first?

My hunch is that this practice occurred in Sardegna before Navarre, and possibly somewhere in the Middle East long before it started in Sardegna. Records on the earliest cheese smoking are scant.

Gimmicky?

Form follows function. The smoking is subtle in each of these internationally protected cheeses; it is not the dominant flavor note. That smoked flavor would likely be more persistent if these cheeses were crafted from compromised milk. Fortunately neither of these cheeses are.

- 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