November 14, 2005
Taleggio Cheese
Posted by Gordon Smith

A friend who had lived in Italy introduced me to Taleggio cheese, and it now makes regular appearances in my home. Yesterday, I opened a slice for my family's customary Sunday afternoon cheese munching, and it was gone within minutes.

This cow's-milk cheese originates from Val Taleggio in Bergamo, and it is listed on the EU's Protected Designations of Origin. Taleggio cheese is formed in squares. The rind is rose-orange colored, and it usually has spots of greenish mold. The paste is yellow and creamy, but not runny. As the cheese ages, the paste gets darker and the smell becomes more pungent. It is a slightly salty cheese, but generally mild. If you enjoy brie or camembert, you will love this cheese.

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November 08, 2005
Fine Cheese Can Be Quite Lowbrow
Posted by geoffrey manne

As a guest here, I know to be respectful of my hosts. And I mean to be – I am. So I don’t want you to think I’m being cheeky with this post. I’m not. I’m being quite serious.

Fine cheese. Like Gordon, I have a penchant for it. Why just the other day at the Portland Farmer’s Market I bought a delectable artisan lavender farmer’s cheese. It’s the sort of cheese Gordon would blog about. It’s a little like this one.

But should the highbrow cheeses really get all the attention? Some may be loath to admit it, but there’s some real quality in the lowbrow stuff, too. And, as it turns out, I can be quite lowbrow.

Take, for instance, port wine cold pack cheese food.

It’s delicious stuff. Really. Spread it on a Wheat Thin (a low-brow cracker, of course) and savor the piquant, creamy flavor. Or slather it on a crusty baguette and pretend it’s cheap-wine-soaked camembert. Whatever gets you over that initial revulsion.  Sure, it may come in a plastic tub. It may merit its own CFR entry distinguishing it from actual “cheese.” It may be Day-glo orange and pink. But it’s delicious nonetheless.

And there’s some incredible, lowbrow cheese-related foods that shouldn’t be neglected. We all know about Philly cheesesteaks and other lowbrow cheese-related sandwiches, but have you tried poutine? It’s – now stick with me here – french fries, covered with cheese curds, and topped with gravy. It’s a Quebecois delicacy, and, perhaps, "Canada’s most pervasive contribution to world cuisine" (whatever that means). It's so good, it's easily worth the 3 months each order takes off your life. Even without the fries and gravy (but with the addition of a little beer batter and oil) deep fried cheese curds may be the very apotheosis—the eidos, if you will—of low-brow, cheese-related cuisine.

(On a related note, this seems like a good time to mention that Montreal may be home to the most wonderful collection of junk food in the world.  In addition to poutine, there's smoked meat sandwiches, May Wests, and the Wilensky's special, each a stand-out in it's class).

I could go on. Suffice it to say fine cuisine is not necessarily haute cuisine.

UPDATE:  My friend Dave points out that I neglected to pair the appropriate wine with my recommendation.  He corrects the oversight.

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October 25, 2005
"Grotesque and political"
Posted by Gordon Smith

That was Hans Bender of the Danish Dairy Board after the European Court of Justice upheld the name "feta" as a protected designation of origin for Greece. Bender wonders, "What will be next? Will the Italians demand that pizza become a protected product that no one can make?" (W$J)

So what will happen? Non-Greek producers of feta will continue to produce the cheese, but they will use other names. What would you call your feta if you couldn't call it "feta"?

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October 15, 2005
Quark
Posted by Gordon Smith

Do you know quark? Not the subatomic particle, but the German cheese (which appears to have been the indirect inspiration for the name of the particle). I first encountered it in Austria, where it is called topfen. It looks like cream cheese, but it is a bit drier (almost chalky) and not as flavorful. Still, it is one of my favorite treats on my trips to central Europe. I spread it on toasted bread, then top it off with strawberry jam, but quark is also used as an ingredient in many German desserts.

The W$J mentions quark in an article on German cuisine, "Another typically German product, quark, a soft white cheese often made in the U.S., is appearing in chefs' recipes in place of cream cheese." The article quotes Chef Marcel Biró, who has an upscale German restaurant called Biró in Sheboygan.

I feel the sudden need for a road trip!

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September 23, 2005
Cheese Rooms
Posted by Gordon Smith

How do you store your cheese? Like most people, I use that little drawer in the middle of my refrigerator. As of next year, we will have other refrigeration options (via the W$J):

At least two companies are developing cheese refrigeration units for the home. Next year, food and kitchenware retailer NapaStyle will offer a countertop cheese refrigerator with four compartments for different cheeses, each with its own temperature and humidity controls. The appliance, roughly the size of a toaster oven, will cost about $300, says the company's owner, Michael Chiarello. Kitchen-appliance manufacturer Viking Range Corp. also says it is developing a cheese refrigerator.

But why stop there? Steve Bainbridge has his wine cellar. Why not a cheese room? 

In Atherton, Calif., home builder Sam Benzacar recently started construction on a 16,000-square-foot house that will have a 300-square-foot cheese room adjacent to the wine cellar. The room -- which has multiple refrigeration units and is designed to hold hundreds of pounds of cheese -- is likely to add $50,000 to the cost of the home, which doesn't yet have a buyer, Mr. Benzacar says. Meanwhile, Daphne Zepos, director of cheese maturing at the Artisanal Cheese Center, a New York importer and retailer, says she recently reviewed plans for a country house in northern California's Lake County that will have a subterranean stone cave for aging and storage, built around a natural artesian well that will provide cheese-friendly humidity levels. The room, she says, will be reminiscent of giant cheese-aging caves in France.

The problem here is that cheese is picky about how it should be stored. Different cheeses thrive in different temperatures and at different humidity levels. If you don't have $50,000 for a cheese room, therefore, take heart.

While home cheese-aging has long been popular in Europe and is becoming more popular in America, some cheese experts say it isn't worth the trouble. Steven Jenkins, author of "Cheese Primer" and a cheese specialist at Manhattan's Fairway Market, calls the idea "really silly." People who bring home cheese to store "are simply drying out their cheeses," he says. He recommends buying cheese in small amounts from cheese-mongers who know when it's ready to eat.

Thanks to John Surdyk for the tip.

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September 19, 2005
Cheese, Dreams, and How Did Gordon Miss This?
Posted by Christine Hurt

During my commute home on Friday, I heard on the radio this story about a study linking types of cheeses to types of dreams.  The British Cheese Board studied 200 cheese-eaters and found that eating specific cheeses may determine the sleeper's dreams.  Cheshire cheese led to no dreaming, while Stilton blue cheese gave sleepers the wackiest of all dreams.  While most of the cheeses tested were popular in Britain, cheddar was also tested.  Interestingly, eaters of cheddar cheese, the most popular cheese in the U.S., dreamed of celebrities.

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September 18, 2005
Ubriaco del Piave
Posted by Gordon Smith

"Ubriaco" is Italian for drunk or intoxicated, which suits this cheese because it is bathed in Cabernet, Merlot and Raboso must for three months, creating a bruise-colored rind and a very fruity flavor. It has a sweet fragrance, and the cheese itself is semi-soft, white and creamy. The Piave is a river in northern Italy.

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September 12, 2005
Wisconsin Cheese Tour: Gile Cheese/Carr Cheese Factory
Posted by Gordon Smith

Grandpa_gile

In my entry on Brunkow Cheese Cooperative yesterday, I mentioned visiting two cheese factories on my way home from Iowa. The second was Carr Cheese Factory, home of Gile (pronounced just like "guile") Cheese in Cuba City, Wisconsin, Pop. 2074.* The factory is named for the family that donated the land, but the cheese is named after the family that makes the cheese. Cletus Gile bought the factory in 1946. That photo shows Cletus' father, who worked at the factory from its founding in 1921. One of Cletus' sons, Tim, was manning the retail store when I dropped in for some aged cheddar, and he described the history of his business, of which he is rightly proud. You can read more about that here, on their company website.

According to Tim, two cheeses are their most popular (and award winning): Baby Swiss and Colby. I bought some of both, and while I was there, I purchased some eight-year-old cheddar, too. Baby Swiss is very mild, usually a bit too mild for my taste. I will write more about that in a future post. Colby Cheese is also very mild. It was developed in Colby, Wisconsin, and I will hold off writing more about that until I visit the source. For this entry, I will focus on aged cheddar.

In "The Cheese Shop," Monty Python observes that Cheddar is "the single most popular cheese in the world." That may be true, but mozzarella has surpassed cheddar as the most popular cheese in the U.S. Still, cheddar is a wonderfully flexible cheese, and it is very popular in Wisconsin. Of course, it is named for a village in England, where it has been manufactured for at least 800 years. It's taste can range from very mild to very sharp, with aging being the primary driver of sharpness. Also, as the cheese ages, its texture turns from creamy to crumbly.

If you are accustomed to purchasing cheddar in a grocery store, you are familiar with the designations "mild," "medium," "sharp," and "extra sharp." To give you some sense of the aging, Tillamook ages its cheddars as follows: medium cheddar (60 days), sharp cheddar (minimum of 9 months), extra sharp cheddar (minimum of 15 months). Tillamook doesn't sell a mild, but you can assume that mild cheddars are aged from a couple of weeks to a few months.

When you are buying aged cheddar, you are buying "sharp" or "extra sharp" cheese, and these descriptions lose their value in distinguishing among the various forms of aged cheddar. In this market, the main descriptor is the number of years the cheese is aged. The most popular aged cheddars are no more than five years old. Unless you have developed a keen taste for aged cheddar, going beyond five-year-old cheese could be a shock to your taste buds.

The eight-year-old cheddar from Gile Cheese was outstanding. Sharp and crumbly, but not dry. Cheese of that age contains calcium lactate crystals, which occur naturally during aging. Both calcium and lactose are found in cow’s milk, and during the production process, the lactose ferments, becoming lactic acid, which associates with the calcium to form a salt crystal. In addition to enhancing the sharpness of the cheese, the crystals make aged cheddar crunchy.

* According to Tim Gile, Cuba City was first called "Yuba," but when the city's founders discovered that "Yuba" had already been taken by a small town to the north, they searched for a new name by beginning at the top of the alphabet and rhyming with Yuba. "Auba"? No. "Buba"? Definitely not. "Cuba"? Cuba!

"City" was added to the end of the town's name by the person who made the sign for the railroad station. He wrote "Cuba City," and it stuck. Apparently, they get visitors now and then from Havana, who want to buy t-shirts.

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September 11, 2005
Wisconsin Cheese Tour: Brunkow Cheese Cooperative
Posted by Gordon Smith

Brunkow

A few weeks ago, I found a map of Wisconsin designed for cheese tasters. Talk about an invitation I could not refuse! So today, driving home from Iowa, I took a few back roads and visited two cheese factories. One of them was the Brunkow Cheese Cooperative, which is located outside of Darlington, Wisconsin.

If you want to know the Wisconsin that I know, avoid the interstate highways. In fact, avoid any road identified by numbers. Drive the county roads (perhaps misleadingly called "highways"), which are designated by letters. (My early years were spent on a farm on a Trempeleau County road called "Highway NN." My parents still refer to those years as "living on double-N.") At the intersection of two such roads -- Highway F and Highway G in Lafayette County -- you will find the Brunkow Cheese Cooperative.

Here is a brief history of the cooperative:

In 1899, a group of Wisconsin dairy farmers gathered to make plans to build a cheese factory, which would provide them with a market for their milk. They wanted a plant which would be built close to their farms, so that they could reduce the time and effort required getting their product to market ... for them and their horses.  The cheese factory was built as a co-op, with each farmer pledging money or labor to build the factory for his share in the co-op. It was named Brunkow Cheese Co-op for the farmer who donated the land.  A cheesemaker was hired. He furnished the machinery, tools and labor necessary to produce the cheese, and, once the cheese was sold, was paid a percentage of the money from the sale. A small amount of money was set aside for upkeep of the building, and what money remained was paid to the individual farmer members for each hundred pounds of milk he had delivered to the cheese factory for the month.

Brunkow still operates as a cooperative, and if you can't travel to rural Darlington, you can find their cheese at the Farmer's Market on Saturdays in Madison. (I didn't realize that until I walked into their store an saw a familiar label.) Although Brunkow mades a wide variety of cheeses, I know them for their cheddar cheese curds and aged cheese spreads, so I bought some of both.

Cheese curds are bite-sized chunks of cheddar cheese as they appear before being pressed into blocks and aged. In other words, this is fresh cheese. When you obtain them straight from the factory, as I did today, they are rubbery and they squeak when you bite them. Because they lose their freshness rapidly, Wisconsinites have taken to deep-fat frying them (coated in batter), which must be a fairly rapid route to a heart attack.

I rarely eat cheese spreads, which normally are a horrid imitation of real cheese. The Brunkow cheese spreads, on the other hand, are quite tasty. Their website explains why:

Our special blend of aged (over 100 days) raw milk Cheddar cheese, whey, cream, water and flavorings can enhance any meal or snack. We add no preservatives or artificial colors. Brunkow Cheese Co-op Cold Pack cheese is live, natural cheese with no relation to pasteurized, process cheeses. There is no heat involved, therefore the full flavor of the cheese remains.  Some spreads contain extra salt, stabilizers or added sugar, but not Brunkow Cheese Co-op Cold Pack Cheese Spread. The whey (with its own milk sugar) and cream make our spread naturally sweet. The flavor is exceptionally full-bodied.

Now I'm hungry again ...

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September 04, 2005
Mezzo Secco
Posted by Gordon Smith

This cheese -- whose name means "medium dry" -- has an ivory-colored paste and a brown rind. My first impression on spotting the cheese in the store was "Manchego," but it really isn't much like Manchego. Mezzo Secco is made from cow's milk, not sheep's milk, and has a milder flavor than most Manchego that I have tasted. The Cowgirl Creamery describes the cheese as "a version of Monterey Jack is aged for 3-4 months," and that tells you more about its taste than any adjectives I can conjure. In addition to eating it from a cheese board, my wife and I added slices to a chicken breast sandwich, and that seemed like just the right touch. It bears a remote resemblance to Parmesan and I could imagine it tasting good with pasta. The aroma is slightly sweet and despite the reference to "dryness" in its name, the texture is creamy.

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August 29, 2005
Two Gems From Neal's Yard Diary
Posted by Gordon Smith

It has been a long time since I have posted about cheese, but with fall approaching, the smell of cheese is in the air. Over on the Cheese Forum, a new blog about cheese where I will be cross-posting my entries from here, Rusty started an open thread on cheese shops. If I were allowed to visit any cheese shop in the world, I would have to choose Neal's Yard Dairy, which has two locations in London. Last year, Neal's Yard (via Whole Foods) introduced me to Isle of Mull Cheddar, which remains one of my favorite cheeses ever. This weekend, I discovered two new cheeses from Neal's Yard: Westcombe Cheddar (orange) and Llangloffan (white). Both are hard cheeses made from raw cow's milk, and both pack a punch, especially the Llangloffan.

Westcombe Cheddar is made by the Calvert family at Westcombe Farm in Somerset County, England. It is a traditional, cloth-bound cheddar, and although it is generally described as "fruity," our wedge was nicely sharp. If you would like to see photos of Westcombe Farm and their cheesemaking operations, check out the list of cheeses at the NYD website, click on "Cheddar - Westcombe," and scroll down.

Llangloffan is produced by the Downey family near Pembrokeshire, Wales (which displays a surfer on its tourist sight, by the way). The Downey's have a story to tell about how they came to cheesemaking. Leon Downey was co-principal viola in the Hallé Orchestra and Joan Downey was a secretary when moved to Wales to make cheese. A big part of why I love cheese relates to stories like this. The Downey's are cheese people, and they have created an outstanding cheese. Our wedge was a  slightly crumbly, and the taste was spicy. It's bite made my children wince, but I was happy that they left most of it for me. Photos of the Llangloffan Welsh Farmhouse are available here.

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June 20, 2005
"True Love"
Posted by Gordon Smith
June 16, 2005
Bengtson's Cheese Shop
Posted by Gordon Smith

lund.cheese.shop1

lund.chesse.shop2

Continuing our Swedish lessons, this entry's word is Ost. Cheese! Lund has a small cheese shop called Bengtson's, and we visited yesterday. At the recommendation of one of our hosts, we purchased some Västerbotten cheese (which Bengtson's spelled Wästerbotten). Västerbotten is a county in northern Sweden, and this cheese reminds me of Dubliner cheese, though a bit more cumbly. We also purchased some Swedish cheddar (I didn't realize that Swedes made cheddar), which my son intends to use for macaroni and cheese later this week.

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June 02, 2005
Brie de Meaux
Posted by Gordon Smith

I would have taken a photo of my own slice of Brie de Meaux and posted it, but that would have required me to let go of the knife and extract my fingers from my mouth. Not to mention that I would have had to snap fast, as the slice was gone in about 10 minutes. I love this cheese.

It has been nicknamed the King of Cheeses or, alternatively, the Cheese of Kings. The origin of this nickname apparently dates to the Congress of Vienna, where Talleyrand reportedly challenged ambassadors from other European nations to a cheese duel. Talleyrand selected Brie de Meaux to represent France, and, of course, the cheese prevailed. (If it hadn't I wouldn't be telling this story.)

Brie de Meaux is manufactured only in certain parts of the Ile-de-France, the region that includes Paris. As you can see in the photo, it has a white mold rind and a creamy paste, which is quite mild. My favorite description of the taste: "It will cause a sensation in your mouth similar to that of licking the bottom of a freshly emptied butter churn (which, we're sure, many of you out there are familiar with)." Having never licked the bottom of a butter churn, I am hard-pressed to gainsay the comparison.

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May 23, 2005
L'Edel de Cleron
Posted by Gordon Smith

The first thing you notice about this cheese is the bark band, which is used to provide structure for the cheese, though it doesn't seem to require it. This cheese is made from pasteurized milk, and it seems to hold its shape well. The unpasteurized parent of L'Edel de Cleron is Vacherin Mont d'Or (indeed, L'Edel de Cleron is sometimes called "faux Vacherin"), which is seriously runny and (unfortunately) not to be found in the U.S. Both cheeses are made in Franche-Comte in eastern France. L'Edel de Cleron is produced in Cleron in the Loue Valley. The bark is not merely for structure, but it enhances the flavor of this cheese, which is often described as "resinous" or "balsamic."

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