Exactly what it is that would prompt someone to embark upon an affinage internship eludes most people. Is cheese really that important or worthy in the scheme of culinary pursuits? Donâ€™t you simply need to stop at your local grocery store and pick up some cheese to complement your dinner party fare or add to your favorite dish? Cheese is cheese. Or is it? Not to mention that fact that internships are unpaid positions and not something 40- somethings would find practical or appealing.
But just ask a convert to the world of fine artisanal cheeses and youâ€™ll have your answer. For aspiring cheeseaholics such as me, cheese is more than just something good to eat. Itâ€™s life-sustaining goodness from the soil of the earth that both sates and delights the appetite. Cheese is a connection with early humanity and civilization. Without its fortuitous discovery mankind may not have thrived, let alone survived.
A quick study on the history of cheese traces cheese back its creation at least 8,000 years. With the discovery that domesticated animals could be milked comes the tale that cheese was â€œdiscoveredâ€ by a nomad, whose saddlebag contained milk to sustain him on a journey. When he stopped to quench his thirst he found that the milk had separated into a watery liquid with solid lumps. Since the saddlebag was made from the stomach of a young animal and contained a coagulating enzyme known as rennin, the milk had become separated into curds from the tossing about of its contents, the heat of the sun, and the rennin. Thus, came curds and whey.
Over time, people discovered that the milks of different animals produced markedly different cheeses. Further, with skill and patience, the cheese could be fashioned or manipulated in such a way as to derive completely different tastes, textures and aromas, thus making it a very versatile and delicious form of nutrition and sustenance.
These subtle nuances and fine-tuning techniques are what sets artisanal cheeses apart from your garden variety, store-bought Gouda or Cheddar. It is within the dedicated hands of a skilled cheesemaker and the subsequent process of affinage, that a simple farm-fresh, hand-hewn cheese can become truly magnificent.
Acquiring some of the best cheeses the world has to offer and nurturing them to the next level of achievable perfection is where Artisanal Premium Cheese Centerâ€™s mission lies. Being fortunate enough to be selected for an affinage internship was a great adventure and a hands-on experience that would have been hard to duplicate anywhere else in the United States.
My tutelage has extended from the microbiology of molds to the mechanics of cave humidity and temperature. I have learned to appreciate cheese for everything that it offers â€”exceptional nutrition, a delectable array of tastes and textures, and the artistic expression of the cheese maker and affineur.
Creative expression is clearly evident in fine artisanal and farmstead cheese. If you have ever seen and tasted a Robiola Vite, whose creamy goodness is encased in Muscat grape leaves entwined with raffia, itâ€™s like eating a delicious and artfully packaged gift of nature. Nestled within Artisanalâ€™s goat cheese caves are Wasbash Cannonballs that are lined up like snowballs in rows, ready to be tossed onto a cheese platter. In the cave of Tommes, the spherical shaped Mimolette, with a pitted and rough moon-like surface and a brilliant orange exterior, almost resembles a melon when cut. Each and every cheese has a unique personality and appearance—just as humans, no two are exactly alike.
As interns, we are taught how to bathe and brine various cheeses to bring out their true characteristics. Each day brings a different task. Turning, patting and flipping certain cheeses assures that the fats and moisture are evenly distributed during the affinage process and keeps the molds in check. Spritzing the Livarot with Calvados or misting the cave interiors with water to increase humidity is part of the delicate balance of providing attention when needed or leaving nature to its own devices.
Each day on the job, I relished the first step into the washed rind cave whose aroma abruptly awakened my sense of smell with a blast of brine, alcohol and soured milk. The tomme cave, housing some of the worldâ€™s greatest cheeses, takes one into a wooded, musky, earthy realm of olfactory pleasure. Of course, one of the greatest pleasures of the internship lies in tasting the cheeses during the maturation process. Knowing when a cheese is too young, over-ripe, or just right for sale is one of the educational experiences the interns truly savor.
Cheese aficionados must use nearly all of their senses to ascertain the quality, readiness, texture, appearance, and aroma of a given cheese. Detecting these subtle nuances was like second-nature to the cave manager who directed our internship each day. The wealth of knowledge he possesses regarding the history, geography and creation of each cheese in the caves, left me and my fellow interns in awe.
As I reflect back upon those 3 months of obsessing over every aspect of cheese, I am forever changed. Cheese led me onto a new and highly rewarding career path that allows me to be passionate about my business and my job. Cheese has made me more aware of the joy of appreciating the gifts that creation has bestowed upon us in all of its forms—the animals, the earth, the sky, the sun and mankindâ€™s innate need to know, to learn, to perfect, and ultimately to bring joy to others. This is what cheese has done for me and it is something I intend to share with anyone and everyone who will listen.
Drop Ship and Corporate Gift Culinary Advisor