Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Mickey Likes Cheese

Viva Italia e1380135902940 Mickey Likes Cheese

Boy does he ever! The first time I was invited to speak at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival was a sell-out, with people lined up around the outside of the Odyssey hoping to squeeze in. What seemed like it might be a routine Cheese and Wine 101 ended up being a major production for the Disney cast. A wine tasting alone is merely that: a “tasting” of wine. When you throw the cheese into the mix the fun (and the work) begins. Cast members who were more familiar with the small pours a wine tasting requires needed a little encouragement. As we know, cheese has a way of bringing out the thirst. While I was busy in the back helping prepare the plates of cheese, the wine was being poured in one ounce portions. This was rectified.

Meanwhile the cheese display on the dais was set up beautifully, with cameras ready to close in on their various textures, ready to relay those close-ups onto oversize monitors. All was coming together fairly well, until the lights came up. Within the first half hour the cheeses were starting to droop; I could see it happening, very distracting. By the end of the tasting even the aged Gouda was looking a little Raclette-like.

The festival gets rolling again this coming weekend and I will be there Saturday morning conducting the first cheese and wine seminar of the 45-day festival. The first week’s cheese and wine seminar will highlight the cheeses and wines of France – a popular session. I return the following weekend for a session focusing on cheeses from here in the U.S. (where most of the cheese excitement is occurring these days) paired with beers – a first for the festival. I have wanted to feature a cheese and beer session for a while (knowing how devoted those beer lovers can be) so we are now able to include one, and in October!

My colleague, Erin Hedley, will present the cheeses of Spain accompanied by Spanish wines on the third Saturday, October 12th. From that weekend on up to the closing day of the festival November 9th, each session will feature wine with the cheeses, each week themed a little differently. The cheeses and wines of Italy will be featured October 19th. Then to include other important cheese countries such as Holland, England, Switzerland and Portugal, the next weekend will feature “old world” cheeses and wines. The United States gets a second session on November 2nd, this time pairing some other great cheeses with Napa valley wines. The final session features cheeses and wines of the Mediterranean, an appealing thought – the Mediterranean – as the evenings become brisk, even in central Florida.

With all these many years of practice you can be assured that there will be no drooping cheeses on the dais and the wine pours will be generous.

- Max McCalman

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Monday, September 23rd, 2013

The Waning Days of Sauvignon Blanc

13930 Large e1379958620981 The Waning Days of Sauvignon Blanc

We have enjoyed some lovely weather around New York City for the past several months. After Sandy, we have had little to complain about. During the last few hours of summer it has seemed more like November. The cooler weather is good for many things, including the cheese appetite. It may not be quite as good for the Sauvignon Blanc fans, those that would prefer to have a chilled glass by the side of the pool. For many however, the weather matters little – this varietal is a favorite, even in February.

If other foods rise to the Sauvignon Blanc occasions only sporadically, it is nice to know that cheese can meld well with this grape in greater frequency. The goat cheeses are practically a given. As it turns out, the sheep cheeses favor this varietal too. About the only major cheese family that seems to shun Sauvignon Blanc is the family of blues, unless the wine happens to be one of those rare expressions of a “dessert” Sauvignon Blanc.

So among the goat cheeses you can count on Hoja Santa or Humboldt Fog to pair well with this grape. And from the sheep department the Abbaye de Belloc or the Pecorino Sardo make great partners. A Brillat Savarin (cow) triple crème makes a surprisingly nice mate, and in mixed milk bloomies, try the Nancy’s Hudson Valley Camembert. The wash rind cheeses can pair well too: try Epoisses, which likes just about any wine you throw its way. One of the bigger surprises is what Sauvignon Blanc can bring out of an older Gruyère or Comté. The phenomenal Cheshire, or one of the great British Cheddars, Westcombe or Keen’s, can marry well with Sauvignon Blanc too.

So as the days of Sauvignon Blanc begin to slip away, you can count on a number of cheeses of all stripes (save for the veined blues, not those stripes) to make for a memorable sunset.

- Max McCalman

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Friday, September 20th, 2013

Skip Breakfast?

breakfast with beans e1379701588371 Skip Breakfast?

The New York Times printed an article recently debating the value of skipping breakfast with regard to weight loss. Sadly, it seemed like there was no specific conclusion on this point. I was reminded of an early afternoon a few years ago: I was sitting on the 1 train and could not help but hear a conversation between two young women sitting across from me.

One said to the other “I just had lunch less than an hour ago and I am already starving!”

I wondered what it was she had for lunch. I assumed it must have been a low-fat lunch, likely accompanied by a diet soda. I had not eaten since breakfast (which I rarely skip) and I was still sated. My breakfast that morning consisted of fruit, a handful of nuts, a 30-weight espresso to which a little honey had been added, and a small wedge of firm sheep cheese.

There is nothing quite like a little cheese to keep you going for hours.

If your day is rather sedentary I suppose skipping breakfast may be an option, though I do not see how one’s work performance can be adequately sustained without some sort of nutrient.

So, if nothing else, at least have a little cheese. Or if you are inclined to skip breakfast for whatever reason, make sure you have a chunk of cheese in your pocket.

- Max McCalman

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Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

What About the Underweight People?

8 e1379522265765 What About the Underweight People?

It seems that most of the spam I receive is intended for the overweight. In case you have never seen me in person, being overweight is not one of my concerns. Obesity is a national problem and it does merit attention but all the claims you find on how to lose weight are, in my estimation, flawed. There are many ways one can shed a pound or two, and including cheese on a regular basis can help make that happen. If you have a hard time believing that one, I have some lovely real estate in Florida. No, seriously, cheese can be part of a wholesome and weight reducing diet plan.

That is not my topic here. Instead, for many of us, including yours truly – the cheese-devouring Maître Fromager, trying to keep weight on is a bit of a problem. I understand that it may be better to be underweight than over, but I would prefer not to have to shop in the boys’ departments when I shop for clothes. Genetics plays its role. As my doctor insists, some people will gain a pound just by looking at a piece of cheese. Yet as much cheese as I eat, it is simply not adding on the poundage. At times I think I ought to cut back on cheese so that I can get my weight up a bit, perhaps make up the difference with some other foods.

Naw. Ain’t gonna happen.

Cheese does have some qualities that can help you put on weight, I am told. Hint: it is not the fat. Fat does provide calories, as does the protein in cheese, yet the fat yields a feeling of satiety, thus reducing the desire to overeat. More on that later.

The weight one may put on by consuming extra cheese is lean body mass. No one I know has a problem with lean body mass, at least up to a point. So where might we pick up some of the rounding pounds?

You might include a glass of wine or a beer with your cheese. That may help. Or if you do not drink alcohol you can pick up those extra calories with juices, or a little extra whole grain bread.

Bottom line: if you are trying to add weight, cheese may not be the way to go, unless you are willing to pick up extra carbohydrates from other foods and beverages.

- Max McCalman

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Monday, September 16th, 2013

A Chef’s Cheese

10303 Large e1379367159151 A Chef’s Cheese

Kirkham’s Lancashire is a cheese I have known and loved for many years. I recall sharing it with my friend David Pasternak back in the day. In case you do not know David, he is one of the owners and the Executive Chef of Esca restaurant here in New York. He would come into my cheese “office” daily when we worked together at Picholine and ask what I would recommend. I had already fallen in love with Kirkham’s by then so I wanted to see if he felt the same. It was (as it usually is) in fine form, so David would ask for it frequently, from that day on rarely bothering to ask what I would recommend.

A big part of my job there was to make wine recommendations for cheeses, and vice versa. The Lancashire showed very well with many wine types, both reds and whites. As Pinot Noir was (and still is) a favorite wine, an expression of which many parties would be enjoying when the cheese trolley pulled up, it was pleasing to see how well this varietal paired with this cheese. And so it went with many other reds: Syrah, Barbera, Tempranillo, Gamay, Amarone, Merlot, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Primitivo, even the occasional Cabernet Sauvignon. And of course the white wines paired well too: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Albariño, Sémillon, the occasional Chardonnay, and Champagne. My British friends would say “Give me a pint of ale.”

So what gives this great British traditional such synergy with all these wines and ales?

It mostly comes down to balance. This is a quality Kirkham’s Lancashire possesses. By this I mean that it is not too salty, yet salty enough; not too sour, but acid enough; with a scant trace of bitterness; sweet fresh milk flavor; as well as a pleasing buttery mouthfeel. Pour a little astringent red wine on top and the cheese is able to soften the edges, or a little white wine and the fruit in the wine springs forth.

You have to take care of your Lancashire however. Make sure it is not left out for hours on end; it can dry out, which takes away from the lovely texture. And when you rewrap it, it helps to give your leftover Lancashire its own little microcosm. It is a raw milk cheese so when the pairings succeed they can be brilliant, though when they miss, they can miss badly. It is best to try this “chef’s cheese” alone first, the way David Pasternak always did. Get to know it on its own terms. A keen palate will recognize this cheese as one of the culinary world’s greatest masterpieces.

- Max McCalman

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Friday, September 13th, 2013

Order of Cutting

It makes a difference which cheeses you cut first, and which cheeses you save to cut last, whether you use a cheese wire or a knife.

The primary reason it makes a difference is, if you follow the order outlined below, it is less messy, and secondly, the probability of cross-contamination is reduced. I usually avoid the “contamination” word when I speak about cheese, as cheese is already undeservedly feared. The contamination referenced here is more about the commingling of flavors that can occur. Unless after cutting each cheese you are diligent in cleaning your cutter: knife, wire or otherwise. Cheese flavors can spread from one cheese to another.

I recommend cleaning your cutter anyway, if only with the quick wipe of a cloth. With the harder cheeses the cuts are cleaner and fewer residues will remain on the cutter, which can end up in the next cheese that is cut. Softer cheeses do not cut as clean as the harder ones—one reason to save those for later. A soft cheese may ooze – this can be problematic.

There is no substitute for fresh cut cheese, by the way. Yet if you must cut cheeses a little ahead of time, the harder cheeses will hold up longer than the softer ones. Once cut, a softer cheese may end up spreading across the plate, sometimes onto other cheeses. This commingling of flavors is the more serious type of “contamination” I mentioned above. Maybe not a serious problem but for the purist, a cheese is better appreciated on its own or with an accompaniment besides another cheese.

The blue cheeses should be cut last. Most of them are moist, if not soft. And once you have blue on your knife, the flavor of blue cheeses being as persistent as it is, it can easily overwhelm the subtleties of the milder cheeses. If the blue cheese is cut before a non-blue, the blade should definitely be wiped clean beforehand.

So the recommended order of cutting is not necessarily the same as the recommended order of eating. The harder cheese should be cut first, the softer cheeses next, saving the blue cheeses for last. One point to keep in mind here: just because a cheese is soft does not mean it will be a mild cheese, not at all.

- Max McCalman

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Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Wireless Cheese Carrier

cheesewire e1378933222998 Wireless Cheese Carrier

I often carry cheese around with me, sometimes in ziplock bags or in Tupperware type containers, sometimes carefully wrapped in two-ply semi-permeable cheese paper, and/or in a cool thermal lunch box, or in a larger cardboard box. Yesterday I was on my way to speak at the New York City Bar Show with several cheeses in a box, some printed collateral, business cards, and my handy wire cutter.

I was invited to speak at a tasting/seminar about cheese and beer. Had this been a year ago I would have been able to walk the short block from our old location to Javits; now from our temporary quarters in Queens, it took a bit longer. I started prepping by cutting the hard aged Gouda, even though this was going to be the fourth of five cheeses to be tasted. More on that logic in a future posting, or you can reference my first book, The Cheese Plate. Then I cut the Beeler Gruyère into rectangular shapes; this the third cheese to be tasted; then the Keen’s Cheddar — a little less hard than the Gruyère. Keen’s was the second cheese in the lineup, then the first cheese: Appleby’s Cheshire. Everything had been going well up until this point. All the harder cheeses were cut beautifully and laid out onto paper plates. Then with the softer Cheshire the wire on my cutter snapped.

The moment a wire breaks is always a little jarring for me. Here I am with more than 60% of the cheese sliced and plated then the wire breaks. Alors! What compounded the problem was that I did not have a replacement wire. I was wireless. The harder cheeses are often the ones that cause these wires to snap, not a moist cheese like a Cheshire. Earlier I had observed one of my colleagues cut into a wheel and decided right then and there to replace another cheese with this marvelous specimen of Cheshire. By the way, the Cheshire paired admirably with each of the ales, no surprise there.

So here we are with less than fifteen minutes to go before the start of the seminar, and I am wireless. No replacement and not enough time to go back to our facilities in Queens, and I had no knife.

So how does one cut cheese without a wire or a knife?

I still had the broken wire. There was no other choice but to wrap the wire around one finger and pull it through the remaining Cheshire and then through the last cheese, the Stilton. Fortunately these two cheeses are a little soft, otherwise I would be cutting my finger, not the cheeses.

I usually remember to bring extra wires. I will make a point of having backups with me from here on out.

If you are not familiar with one of those wire cutters I have to say it is a cheese guy’s most valuable tool. Precise cuts of cheese can be made, better than the cuts you can make with a knife. The handy wire cutter is often included in my checked luggage; each time it’s there I get a note from TSA. As many times as I have flown from LGA with my cutter, you would think they’d recognize it by now.

- Max McCalman

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Monday, September 9th, 2013

Fall is in the Air

Autumn Collection e1378755343934 Fall is in the Air

We could feel it around here the past couple of days: a little crispness and slight chill that stimulates our appetites. This works out well for cheese lovers, when there is a greater variety available in their optimal forms than at any other time of the year. There are still plenty of the fresher younger cheeses around as well as some of those cheeses produced earlier this year that needed a few extra months aging to reach their peaks. For the cheeses that are at their best at over one year of aging, those will have had ample time to come into their own. The stinkier cheeses are better tolerated now than when the heat index was over one hundred, and the blues are looking more attractive too.

A friend of mine invited a few friends over for fondue just a couple days ago, while it is still technically summer. I can make room for blues, the stinkiest, as well as fondue at any time of the year, no matter the weather.

We’re also headed into a busier time of the year, most of us. The days are becoming shorter and there seem to be more tasks to accomplish. This is another advantage for cheese lovers. With less time for other culinary endeavors we can assemble a little selection of cheeses and make it a meal, bread optional.

Rest assured, you have little to fear selecting your cheeses this time of year. It is almost impossible to go wrong, only that you may want to get a little more than you did in July; your bigger appetite is back. This time last week I had about 50 cheeses in my little cheese cave at home (a.k.a. the kitchen refrigerator) with the equivalent of around twenty pounds total. Today there are less than 20 cheeses remaining, and only about five pounds total.

The temperature is going to be pretty cool here tonight; I better stock up. Maybe I will make a little fondue too.

- Max McCalman

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Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Artisanal Cheese at the 2013 NYC Bar Show

13933 Large Artisanal Cheese at the 2013 NYC Bar Show

A.K.A. The Holiday Buying Show, this show will be held at the Javits Center Monday and Tuesday, September 9th & 10th. Susan Greene asked me to join her there Monday afternoon to speak about cheese and beer. We will also taste some cheeses and beers in addition to discussing them.

These two ferments have been enjoyed together for millennia, though in Mastering Cheese I referred to their pairing as “…an exciting new frontier.”

I suppose I may have intended to make the following point with that statement — that the pairing of cheese and beer has not been explored so much as it has simply been an everyday pleasure. That seems to be the case here in the United States. And here, by the way, it seems to be all about the pairings these days. So you would think that this would have been fully studied.

Not to take the fun out of the experience but there are some fundamental principles of food and beverage pairings that apply. I have always been intrigued in the “why” of pairings. Detection of what is working well together is one thing: fairly straight-forward with some allowances for personal preferences. This level of subjectivity is one reason why I don’t buy into the “tasting” practices where you are given one cheese to go with one beverage, then a second cheese to go with a second beverage, etc. I would rather let my own palate decide what works, thank you, and not be told that this or that is the right pairing. I prefer to approach the tasting of foods and beverages as more of a laboratory, with as many combinations as I can possibly assess.

Our beer expert friend, Herr Frederik Bohn, insists that beer and cheese pairings definitely offer greater variety than cheese and wine pairings.

We’ll see about that, and also try to figure out why at Javits on Monday.

- Max McCalman

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Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

ACS CCP™ Second Exam Exit Survey

ACS CCP logo Final e1378319056183 ACS CCP™ Second Exam Exit Survey

The second exam for the American Cheese Society’s Certified Cheese Professionals was administered July 31st in Madison. 172 applicants sat for the exam this year. As of this writing our Subject Matter Experts team is determining the passing score for the exam. Many test-takers have asked why it takes so long to know whether or not they passed. The short answer to that question is simply not that short. Our SME team wants to make sure the exam is tough enough but not overly difficult. This takes careful analysis of each and every question of the 150 on the exam. How did each question fare? What was the highest score and what was the lowest? What was the median score and what was the mean?

If one question fared poorly (as in less than half answered the question correctly) then is the question flawed in some way, or is there more than one defensible answer? We also put the overall performance on the exam into some historical context by comparing how the exam-takers did this year compared to the first year.

Analyzing how each question fares is not only dependent upon how many people answered the question correctly but also dependent on the consensus among the SME’s. Was the answer to a particular question something that the CCP™ should be able to answer correctly, and if so, what percentage of the test-takers would get it right?

Tomorrow the persons that passed the exam should be receiving their notifications that they are now ACS CCP’s. Based on our post-exam analysis it looks like we will have many more added to the 121 who passed last year. This is great! We expect to welcome even more CCP’s after the third exam at the 2014 conference in Sacramento.

A big “Thank You” to the team of Subject Matter Experts who volunteered many hours to this important endeavor, and to Jerry Rosen and Michelle de los Santos at Knapp Associates, and to our own Jane Bauer, as well as all the many people who have lent their support over the past decade. A tremendous amount of work went into this process. I know it seems like it has taken a long time to get the results but to maintain the standards I believe it is worth the wait. This certification is too important for the entire cheese industry.

- Max McCalman
ACS CCP™ Committee Chair

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