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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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Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Probiotics in Dairy

10969 Large e1378238386784 Probiotics in Dairy

It seemed like it might be a nice piece at the start: someone accidentally left milk outside and it fermented. When did humans first recognize that this was a healthful product?

I had to read this one: an article on probiotics, and not for the fact that it came from a doctor.

Instead this online article concludes with a list of five things one can do to make sure they have great digestive health, avoiding all dairy products being at the top of the list. What went wrong with this article? How did we get from a healthful product to one that should be avoided? The good doctor does mention the negative effects of pasteurization: that it may destroy the lactase in the milk? He also points to the lactose in dairy, as though it is found in all dairy products, including aged cheeses.

If the probiotics are the key to the improved digestive systems and the enhanced immune systems, why not direct the reader to those cheeses that are full of probiotics, the uncompromised (raw) milk cheeses?

Interesting points are made throughout the piece, including the notion that about 85% of the bacteria in our gut is of the friendly variety, the rest being non-beneficial yet less problematic because they are outnumbered so greatly. This has been widely accepted as a given, that there are far more of the good guys than the bad, otherwise we would not be here.

But do not try and confuse the reader with all this hysteria-inducing talk, all for the sake of selling a lifetime supply of factory-made probiotics. You can get the more natural types directly from your raw milk cheeses, without the lactose, and in an incredibly effective and delicious form.

As I have noted before: they do not teach cheese in medical school. These guys had better watch out. Was it not the father of western medicine who said: Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food?

- Max McCalman

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Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Burning Fat

Emmentaler e1377722980399 Burning Fat

I am always on the lookout for articles making claims of benefits for foods. Just as interesting are the articles on the negatives in foods.

Will cheese appear on either of these lists: the good or the bad?

Yesterday morning’s Newsmax article started off: “When it comes to weight loss, the hard truth is that there are no miracles: If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight…But nutritional experts know that all calories are not created equal.”

Fair enough. I agree with this part.

The article goes on to state that the fat-burning foods are those that require more energy to digest, such as lean meat, foods that are high in fiber, and those containing “good” fats. Knowing that cheese has two of those three components: the protein found in lean meat and the “good” fats gave me hope that I would find cheese among their list of these fat-burning foods.

Along with the fat-burning potential of lean meat the writer brings up the satiety angle: the satiety levels are increased. This satiety happens with cheese for similar reasons. The protein-rich foods such as cheese and lean meat make you feel full longer so you snack less.

“Protein-rich meat requires a lot of energy to digest…”

The cheese may not require as much energy to digest as the lean meat does but are we really looking for foods that require extra energy to digest? Seems wasteful. Cheese requires less energy to digest because it is already pre-digested. Cheese is a fermented food that has undergone some metabolism. This metabolism continues after the cheese crosses our lips. As for the satiety angle: cheese has those proteins (a full complement of the proteins’ building blocks, the amino acids) along with the “good” fats (some of us would say that the fats found in cheese are at least as good as those found in meat) as well as vitamins and minerals. All these nutrients, including the “good” fats provide that feeling of satiety. Which makes me ask: Why lean meat?

Avocados are mentioned in the article for their monounsaturated fats and fiber. I love avocados and I am pleased to hear that they are a source of fiber, but the monounsaturated fats? They’re nice too. It is the fiber that requires a little extra energy to digest. Since cheese has no fiber I am happy to make room in my shopping cart for an avocado.

Raw almonds? Why not? Not only almonds; different nuts have different nutritive values. They all contain some proteins, fats and fiber. It is the relative amounts of those nutrients that differ: for example, some may have a little more selenium than others. I will include almonds on my shopping list, as well as other tree nuts.

Hot peppers? Sure, but in moderation. The article claims that the capsaicin in peppers boosts metabolism. The peppers also contain some vitamin C, which cheese lacks.

Then another favorite food is listed: coffee. The writer says that one or two cups of coffee will jump-start lipolysis, the breakdown of fats. Green tea is recommended in the article for its fat-burning potential. I have a cup of it every once in awhile but I already enjoy four of the other foods much more: coffee, almonds, avocados, and peppers. I may have meat occasionally – but lean?

So where was the cheese in this article? I suppose we might say that it does not require the extra energy to digest, and that it does not trigger lipolysis dramatically. Yet it does enhance metabolism of the foods we may have eaten, the cheese itself included.

I want to see cheese celebrated for its powerful nutritional benefits including its weight-reducing potential, not only for the gustatory pleasures it offers.

- Max McCalman

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Monday, August 26th, 2013

Hard is Easy

camembert apples cider e1377533739767 Hard is Easy

I just spent the past two weekends as well as several weekday evenings working on a cider and cheese project. It may not sound like “work” drinking hard ciders alongside fabulous cheeses but when you taste and analyze approximately 500 different combinations, all the while taking detailed notes of their synergies, well, you get the picture. The phrase “hard work but someone has got to do it” comes to mind.

I purchased a cider at a fromagerie while in Cannes earlier this summer, knowing I would be working on this project. I had never really focused on ciders before; the demand for wine, beer, whisky, even Sake pairings was far greater than those requested for ciders. Yet ciders have been playmates with cheeses for many centuries, especially in that great cheese region of southern France and northern Spain. Fermented apple juice and fermented milks – the possibilities are many. So the pairings between ciders and cheeses were actually fairly easy to recognize: the balance of fruity and savory, the harmony of acidities, the overall “size” of each partner, the role of textures in each, the “seal-the-deal” melding of aromatics, as well as the relative hunger and thirst; all these considerations made for an interesting exercise.

One thing I especially appreciated was the relatively low alcohol contents of the ciders, some higher than others; the top end being around 10% while most were near 5%. This means that you can taste a greater variety of cheeses without compromising your assessments, and you can wake up the next morning feeling a little better than if you were pairing cheeses with wines hovering around 15%, which many of them are these days.

As with wines and beers, the ciders come in a range of relative fruitiness. Some of them taste sweeter than others. Those on the sweet end have their advantages, like “dessert” wines, the sweet balancing the savory or salt in the cheeses. In one pairing I was distinctly reminded of some of those classic cheese and wine pairings – Roquefort and Sauternes. The drier, less fruity ciders relied upon other balancing qualities: the aromatics providing the most recognizable “finishes,” some that either enhanced the partners, or brought out nuances in either or both.

You might want to take a second look at ciders. When you see some of the wine or beer offerings (often très banale) a cider might be just the ticket.

Or in other words: If you are unsure about the water, or the wine or beer, drink the cider.

- Max McCalman

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Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Mickey’s Camp

max teaching e1377113055597 Mickeys Camp

I just returned from Mickey’s Camp (no, not the one in Florida, that comes later) the fund-raising camp held each year southwest of Indianapolis. Each camper pays a nominal fee to attend the camp with all the proceeds going to area charities. I have been to every Mickey’s Camp but one, so now well over a decade of “camping.” The women campers arrive Monday morning and finish up noon on Wednesday when the men arrive to stay through until Friday afternoon. The organizers thought it would be best if I offered my seminars to both groups; so it has worked out best if I start 8:30 Wednesday morning with the first group of women (hearty souls drinking wine and eating cheese with me at that hour) then with a second group of women at 10:30. The guys arrive for their first cheese and wine seminar at 1:30; the final group of guys begins their session at 3:30.

I arrive early those Wednesdays to begin preparing for the first session, with a short window of time to prepare for the second, then for the third, and finally for the fourth. It ends up being a long day of cheese and wine for me, but it is one that I enjoy. After all, cheese and wine all day long? It can be done.

The trick is to be well rested the night before, and to drink gallons of water all day long. It is also helpful to take small sips of the wines, without holding back on the cheeses whatsoever. The crackers? Only in moderation. Seriously! The crackers tend to make you thirsty (with their salt) and the cheese accomplishes this on its own. The cracker is there as a palate cleanser between the cheese and wine pairings, just a nibble, no more. The cracker is not a vehicle for transporting the cheese into the mouth. The campers get it, many of whom have attended my sessions in the past.

Some of the campers finish all the cheese on their plates; others save some for snacks later in the day. After four sessions of this I am usually done with cheese, at least for a couple hours.

I hear that the cheese and wine sessions are many campers’ favorites. No surprise there; they keep inviting me back again and again. I always bring different cheeses each year. I doubt that I have brought the same cheese more than twice. It is easy to forget how many great cheeses exist. Even though there are many hoosier gourmets, their access to the world’s best cheeses is limited, outside of I’m glad we are there for them, spreading the curd.

- Max McCalman

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Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Who Says Red Wines Don’t Pair Well with Cheeses?

13931 Large e1376413225258 Who Says Red Wines Don’t Pair Well with Cheeses?

There was a time when most people seemed to insist on red wines with cheeses, or ports. Then there was a flip-flop and many people insisted that white wines were the only ones appropriate for cheeses. I confess that I may have helped contribute to that trend. I have found many more great matches with whites than with reds, yet there are many red wine pairing standouts.

At last week’s Cheese & Wine 101 the reds beat the whites hands down. The Alsatian Riesling scored well (as Rieslings usually do) but the Vacqueyras in which Grenache was the driver succeeded nicely with each of the cheeses: goat, sheep and cow; soft to hard. The Primitivo scored a couple +2’s: with Le Moulis (vache) and with the aged Gouda. This wine was a bit much for the lovely little Rove des Garrigues but everything else paired well, which is no surprise.

I mentioned how well the Riesling paired (except with the Manchego [not bad but not very good either] and with the Echo Mountain [ditto]) yet it scored a couple +2’s as well: with the Roves des Garrigues and with the Taleggio. You can count on Rieslings of any stripe to flatter the wash rind cow cheeses, as well as most of their goat and sheep expressions.

The big disappointment of the evening was the Verdejo—the Rueda. Lovely wine to begin but it faded fast. Excellent on its own and with the Roves des Garrigues, nice with the aged Manchego, then it was headed for the showers.

Overall scores: Reds 16 Whites 10.

Of course this was only seven cheeses and the selections, though diverse, just happened to be selective partners for these four wines, each in their own ways. Interesting to note: none of the matches was bad; which serves as a reminder: in more cases than not, cheeses and wines do pair well with each other.

Go Reds!

- Max McCalman

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Thursday, August 1st, 2013

L’après-midi d’un fromage

10683 Le Moulis e1375380575372 L’après midi d’un fromage

I can’t seem to get enough of this one particular cheese – Le Moulis. I have loved it for many years. It is a cheese without a P.D.O. – a Protected Designation of Origin, which would guarantee its production in the unique region where it originated, in this case the Moulis region of the Pyrénées – but it has been a cheese of exceedingly high quality for many years. There are many similar tommes produced in this corner of France so they could be lumped together under one P.D.O. umbrella, though this may not be necessary, or advantageous. I love all those fermier cheeses dearly: partly for their simple elaboration, but also for their correspondingly complex flavors. How this can be so: simple crafting leading to profound profiles?

This is precisely the point. Milk is, or should be, a nutrient-dense fluid. When it is fermented and made into cheese the goal is to preserve those nutrients and to possibly enhance or elaborate those nutrients as well. The fermentation helps reach both of these goals: preservation and enhancement. The many nutrients themselves give depth to the overall profile of cheese.

Le Moulis does not receive complicated secondary treatments; it is a basic farmer cheese. No bloomy white coating, no smelly orange rind, no blue veining, and no superfluous floral adornments, just cheese: pure and simple. Definitely uncompromised milk.

The flavors upload onto the palate without a lot of fanfare; they open up gradually but finish authoritatively. Most everyone loves Le Moulis at the start because it reminds them of their first food – mother’s milk. The flavors evolve across the palate, highlighting all the variegated plant species those cows enjoyed that afternoon in southwest France. The balanced simplicity makes Le Moulis an ideal marriage candidate for many wines; its lingering complexity leaves the shy wines to themselves.

- Max McCalman

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Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Must be Muscat

Muscat dAlexandrie Viala et Vermorel e1375291560260 Must be Muscat

If you can get people to try a white wine other than Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, it might not be such an easy thing. Those three varietals are the work-horses for Americans’ white wine preferences. All together I would venture to guess they comprise more than half the white wine we consume, and quite possibly as much or more than a third of all wines that we drink. Not that I have anything against those three but they do have their limits when you pair them with cheeses.

Last week I was reminded of how valuable the humble Muscat can be as a cheese varietal. Years ago it was my number one go-to white varietal if a guest wanted a recommendation for a glass of white to go with their cheese course. The grape can cover a range of dryness: from drier table or sparkling wines to dessert and fortified wines. Depending on the guest’s tolerance for bubbles or sweetness, this would define the Muscat style I would recommend.

At last week’s Sexy Cheese & Sumptuous Wines class the Bonny Doon Muscat was the star player among the four wines poured. The Mâcon Chardonnay held up fairly well except with the one sheep milk cheese in the mix, the Abbaye de Belloc. The Napa Merlot was delicious on its own but it did not come into its own until we reached the Epoisses, the Gruyère, and the sweet Prima Donna. The Merlot fell flat with most every other cheese on the plate including the blue Fourme d’Ambert. The northern Rhône Syrah fared a bit better than the Merlot but the star of the show was Muscat.

I would not write off Muscat out of hand. Some may be a bit cloying but many are simply delightful, especially with cheeses.

- Max McCalman

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Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Nice Weather for Cheese

main cave e1374781072777 Nice Weather for Cheese

An old colleague called it “cheddar weather.” Today’s weather is close to ideal for maintaining cheddar: cool, moist, overcast, with gentle breezes. These are the kinds of conditions that work best for curing most any cheese, cheddar included. They approximate the conditions in a natural cave, which is the reason they call cheese ripening rooms “caves.”

Another reason we might call it “cheddar weather” is because this kind of weather can stimulate our appetites for cheese. For some of us any kind of weather is good for the cheese appetite. We may prefer some cheese styles more than others depending on the atmospheric conditions, the same way that weather can shape our wine choices. Our taste for cheese may veer toward the lighter cheeses when it is hot outside, while the colder days suggest a heavier mountain style of cheese – the types that make their way into fondue.

It may be mid-summer but fondue sounds good, the primordial food that it is. Cheddar, by the way, is not the ideal cheese for fondue. Cheddar works well for melting over apple pie but the Gruyère family of cheeses is better for making fondue. Call it “Gruyère weather?”

- Max McCalman

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Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Caring for Cheese

cheese wrapped pre shipment e1374607692106 Caring for Cheese

Although perhaps not the most frequently asked questions, those centered on how best to store cheese come up often. The short answer to the storage question is: store you cheese in your stomach; and that you purchase the cheese you will consume within a day or two, the same way you purchase fish; leave the long-term storage for the professionals. The way most Americans buy food for home consumption these days, buying only what you need for a couple of days is not an option. We simply don’t have the time to go shopping for our cheese every other day, though you can do that easily using our website. The firmer the cheese, the longer you can store it. The softer cheeses can be considered to be more “luxury” cheeses, or cheeses for special occasions. With the softer cheeses not only do you have shorter shelf lives, you are paying for more water, hence the shortened shelf lives.

So what if you do have leftover cheese, soft or hard? We ship our cheeses in cheese-friendly paper, which allows the cheese to breathe while in transit. This paper is also good for rewrapping leftover cheese, at least while it’s clean. If the cheese paper becomes too wet, or if too much rind remains on the paper, or if it becomes soiled in another way, the paper should not be reused. If it is a larger piece of cheese (say about a half pound) you can wrap it in some other similar paper (parchment or waxed) but this may not be worth the extra effort, or the paper.

I typically drop leftover cheeses into reusable plastic containers. If it is a firmer cheese I often drop them directly into ziplock bags, sometimes more than one type of cheese. Cross-contamination is not a significant concern with the harder cheeses. It would not be a concern for the softer cheeses either except they can ooze into their neighbors. Actually, this might lead to some interesting blends.

If the concern with storage is whether or not the cheese is safe to eat after extended storage, the probability is very high that it is. I would not say that there is a 100% guarantee that the cheese will still be safe to eat after many moons but when a cheese is not really safe, a little nibble will be enough to let you know.

Notice how I did not mention refrigeration? There are advantages and disadvantages to this recent addition to food storage systems. The advantage is that refrigeration preserves cheese in a relatively static state. Retarded degradation and spoilage occurs at lower temperatures. The cooler temperature helps to keep the moisture within a cheese, so long as the cheese is well wrapped. If a piece of cheese is left out it can sweat, then dry out. Butterfats will leach out leaving a relatively tasteless (and less nutritious) cheese behind. The primary disadvantage to cold storage is similar to the problem just cited. Most refrigerated units are relatively dry. The drier environment will draw moisture from the cheese; this can occur even when the cheese is well wrapped. To that point: well wrapped is one thing but cheese needs a little air exchange. Without it the cheese will eventually spoil. Cheese, being a fermented food, requires air to survive. This is why cheese will better survive longer transport and storage if it is wrapped in breathable paper, or some other semi-permeable wrap.

To recap for home or restaurant storage:

Buy less but buy often. (Remember to eat cheese every day!)

Wrapping cheese in cheese paper (such as the paper we send your cheese in) is the ideal but it is not absolutely necessary. Wrapping leftover cheese in parchment or waxed paper is fine, or it can be dropped into a small Tupperware type container, or into a ziplock bag.

It is fine to store cheese in your refrigerator, so long as you leave it out to rise to room temperature before you eat it. Do not store cheese in your freezer!

Cheese can keep for extended periods: the firmer the cheese, the longer the shelf life. If a cheese is too far gone to safely consume a little nibble will confirm this – a little nibble you may choose to spit out.

- Max McCalman

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