December 18, 2012
Prehistoric Cheese Mongers
Posted by Gordon Smith

Another reminder that cheese is awesome:

In prehistoric times, when almost every adult was lactose-intolerant, the invention of cheese-making offered herders a way to turn fresh whole cow's milk into a food that they could consume without getting ill, experts said. Cheese contains far less lactose than milk. Moreover, cheese, which normally takes up a tenth of the volume of the milk from which it is made, is easier to store, transport and preserve.

From the comments: "Cheese historians whey in."

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November 06, 2010
But when thou governest, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth
Posted by Gordon Smith

The NYT has a gotcha story about the Department of Agriculture, which is discouraging the consumption of saturated fat while encouraging "restaurants to expand their menus with cheese-laden products." Products like the new Wisconsin 6 Pizza from Dominos:

Wisconsin pizza

Responding to the NYT, the USDA "acknowledged that cheese is high in saturated fat, but said that lower milk consumption had made cheese an important source of calcium." The entire pizza shown above (assuming it is a medium, 12-inch) has about 300 mg of calcium, which is roughly 30% of an "adequate" for an average adult, according to NIH. If you ate the whole thing, you would be consuming about 1500 calories.

By the way, the six cheeses on that pizza are mozzarella, feta, provolone, cheddar, parmesan and asiago cheeses. I can't remember the last time I had a Domino's pizza -- not since they changed the recipe last year -- but I don't find this tempting at all. For starters, not all of the cheeses come from Wisconsin. Humph! More to the health point, I just don't eat much pizza anymore. When I want cheese, I mostly stick to specialty cheeses, which offer a lot more taste in much smaller quantities.

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February 18, 2010
The Law & Economics of the Winter Olympics
Posted by Erik Gerding

I’ve been watching a lot of Winter Olympics with my six year old. I’ve developed an ambitious research agenda on the law and economics of the Winter Games and also thought about a few implications for scholarship:

1. Medal prediction model: I’ve developed the following complex model to predict the medal haul of each nation:

Medal count of a nation = 1/total medals * (gross annual production of cheese * gross winter sales of spandex + 1.34 * total male population named “Lars” or “Jan”).

How has the model done in predicting medals in past years? Wunderbar!

There have been a few kinks that need to be worked out. The model tends to under-predict the medal count of China and Korea. It also tends to predict too high of a medal count for Denmark, Metallica, and 80’s übershow Airwolf.

2. The Efficient Markets Hypothesis: In a surprising twist, the notes to Liechenstein’s national hymn, the Banksekretenlied, seem to predict that country’s stock market performance over the past year. But I am hesitant to publish my results for fear of no longer being invited to the Vaduz Junior Scholars Workshop next year.

3. Optimal Scholarship: It has been sobering to watch the games and realize that years of training by an elite athlete can all go down the tube based on tiny split second errors. Lesson learned: I make one Blue-Book error and I’m never going to teach at Oxford.

4. Training runs: I’ve also decided to videotape all of my workshop talks and invite commentators to give color analysis live. Here is an example:

“Gerding explodes out of the gate with his talk. Great, great form by the youngster. Oh, what a nice tight line he takes through the tricky methodology section. Picking up speed. Picking up speed.

Oh no! Disaster! He catches an inside edge trying to run through the Regressions. He’ll never catch Ron Gilson now. He’ll have to wait 4 more years to get another shot. You can just see the disappointment on his face.

At least he’ll get to keep the spandex.”

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February 03, 2010
Endangered Cheeses
Posted by Gordon Smith

WaPo has a story describing the extinction of some traditional French cheeses:

Dozens have been lost since World War II, and experts say another dozen or more are considered at risk of extinction. No one has a precise count of how many cheese types France produces, but the country has long prided itself on having a different one for every day of the year.

Why is this happening? You had to know that Americans are at least partly to blame. Other villains: law and big corporations.

Many blame the Americans, saying they habituated the French to pasteurization, to the detriment of raw-milk cheeses -- an ironic claim, considering that the germ-killing process was invented by a French hero of science, Louis Pasteur. 

Other big forces are also in play: the creeping homogenization of the global palate, food-safety regulations imposed by the European Union, and the increasing weight of the food industry, which churns out just a handful of blockbuster varieties.

In the end, however, the French have no one to blame but themselves. No one is forcing them to eat commodity cheese. A few pieces of self-loathing from the French:

"The French have forgotten what real cheese is," said Veronique Richez-Lerouge, who heads the Association Fromages de Terroirs, a group aimed at protecting France's cheese culture.

"Buying cheese has become like buying a box of detergent," said Richez-Lerouge, whose association publishes a calendar featuring bikini-clad pinups straddling hunks of Saint-Nectaire, Savarin and Rocamadour from family farms.

And this from a cheesemaker:

"Little by little, the others got old and retired or decided it wasn't financially worth it to them," Marmottan told The Associated Press. "A farm has to be viable financially and the product we make has to interest people or we can't in good faith continue. It's too hard a job."

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July 25, 2009
The Best Burgers in America?
Posted by Gordon Smith

Searching for the best burgers in America is one of the (many) silly things that foodies do to entertain themselves, but some picks are more credible than others. Lunchbox Laboratory in Seattle, for example, looks like it could be worth a trip, but the recently minted list at Epicurious contains one obvious pretender:

Atlanta: Holeman & Finch
2277 Peachtree Road, Atlanta, GA (404-948-1175)

Best flipped upside down and eaten as fast as humanly possible to manage its gushiness, the burger created by Chef Linton Hopkins is as much an event as it is a sandwich. A bullhorn sounds at 10 p.m. (official burger time), and the crowd goes wild. Hesitate a minute and the limited quantity (they make only two dozen a night) will be gone. The glossy buns baked in their bakery next door contain two patties of freshly ground, grass-fed beef (chuck and brisket in equal proportions), a slice of Kraft American cheese, a pinch of raw red onion, bread-and-butter pickles, homemade ketchup, and yellow mustard. Crisp golden fries are part of the deal. Those who miss out on the burger can always come back for Sunday brunch, when the kitchen makes 72 of them.

This sounds like fun, what with the bullhorn, the limited quantities, and the late hour to accentuate the unhealthiness of the whole experience ... but Kraft American cheese!?!

No, no, no, no! Automatic disqualification.

The point of this list was to reveal the best burgers in America, not to provide a roadmap for "how to ruin an otherwise fine burger."

By contrast, check out the review of Judy Rodgers' burgers at the Zuni Café in San Francisco:

San Francisco: Zuni Café 1658 Market S. (near Franklin) San Francisco, CA (415-552-2522) When anyone mentions hamburgers in San Francisco, one name immediately comes to mind: Zuni Café. While Bay Area residents can't agree on politics—or the best burrito, for that matter—the general consensus is that this is the best burger. Chef/owner Judy Rodgers buys chunks of chuck and liberally salts the meat before going home at night. The next day she and her crew grind the meat, salt and all. The salt seasons the meat so the thick grilled patty releases a gush of liquid with each bite. It's served on a square of grilled rosemary-scented focaccia, generously slathered with garlicky a ïoli, and accompanied by house-made pickled zucchini ribbons and onion strips. The burger can be ordered with Roth Kase Private Reserve (an Alpine-style raw-cow's-milk cheese aged ten months), Mountain Gorgonzola, grilled onions, or portobello mushrooms, but why mess with perfection? Note: The Hamburger is served at lunch and after 10 p.m. only.

Note to critic: adding fine cheese to a burger is not messing with perfection, but rather completing the creation.

Ok, back to the burger ... Roth Kase is not the best cheese from Wisconsin, but it puts Kraft American to shame. If you want to make a great cheeseburger with Wisconsin cheese, I would recommend Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Company. It's a Gruyere style cheese that is great for melting.

I know what I am having for dinner ...

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July 16, 2008
"You’re going to end up making cheese – be careful"
Posted by Gordon Smith

I was just looking at a transcript from my latest round of cheesemaker interviews and this was the warning issued by a cheesemaker who saw early parallels in our careers -- we had both been affiliated with the University of Chicago, then gone to the University of Wisconsin.

You could have a worse fate than becoming a cheesemaker, that's for sure.

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March 04, 2008
Cheese Videos
Posted by Gordon Smith

Just for fun, three cheese videos ...

Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling

The Cheese Trap

Cheese And Onions

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February 26, 2008
Pa-Pa-Pa ... Pa-Parmigiano
Posted by Gordon Smith

[UPDATED] In our continuing effort to keep you apprised of developments on the frontiers of law and cheese, I note today's decision of the European Court of Justice holding that ["Parmesan" is not a generic product name.] "Parmigiano Reggiano" is a protected designation of origin [and only authentic "Parmigiano Reggiano" can be sold under the name "Parmesan."] According to the BBC story, authentic Parmesan is "made by fewer than 450 cheese-makers close to the Po River in northern Italy." In honor of the decision, take a look at this promotional video with a catchy jingle ...

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February 19, 2008
Cheese Week is the Best Kind of Week
Posted by David Zaring

Gordon is in Wisconsin, conducting a survey of cheeseries, and I think it's fair to say that some people associated with this blog are pretty envious.  My family happily received an airmailed wheel of Christmas Stilton from the UK, long before cheese was cool, but also long before I could reconcile myself to the idea of mold in my food.

Now I love the stuff.  Should I move to the country and start producing my own?  One Hudson Valley cheesemaker made his fortune first:

For Tom and Nancy Clark, an investment banker and an interior designer, the transition from weekenders to owners of the largest dairy sheep farm in the country began in 1979, when they bought property in Old Chatham, N.Y. ...[I]n 1993, the couple bought 600 acres nearby and began building barns for what is now the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company, a storybook complex of a creamery and 1,200 crossbred Friesian dairy sheep, which produce sheep's-milk yogurt and 10 cheeses that are sold nationwide in cheese shops and whole foods markets.

Mr. Clark still commutes a few days a week to his investment firm in Greenwich, Conn., but "the rest of the time I'm here haying and driving tractors."

While another West Coast cheesemaker embraced the very concept of fortune reluctantly:

''I didn't believe in capitalism,'' [Stephen] Schack said, ''but my ideals have changed over 20 years.'' After studying cheese-making in France, the two came back to their Redwood Hill Farm in Sebastopol, on a hidden road overlooking Iron Horse Vineyards. Although they have been making goat's cheese for only three years, their Camembert-style Camellia is a standout.

And here's how some Texas A&M economists estimated the impact of a potential Texas panhandle cheese factory:

• Operation of the cheese plant creates 857 jobs in Lubbock county, 125 directly in the plant.
• County population increases by 935.
• School children increase by 210.
• Labor force increases by 614, net in-commuting increases by 116, and 127 unemployed take jobs.
• The county property tax base increases by $109.5 million.
• Tax revenues for all jurisdictions in the county increase by $2.28 million annually (nominal dollars).
• Inter-governmental revenues increase by $.45 million annually for all jurisdictions in the county (nominal dollars).

UPDATE: And here's the Times on the market niches for micro-dairies serving up everything but cheese: yogurt, butter, custard, ice cream ... yum!

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The Cheesemaker Study
Posted by Gordon Smith

A few years ago, while I was still at the University of Wisconsin, I started investigating the business of cheesemaking. Wisconsin has long been the leading producer of cheese in the United States, but as California has increased production, Wisconsin cheesemakers have turned increasingly to the production of specialty cheeses. I noticed that some of these specialty cheesemakers were organized as corporations or limited liability companies, while others were organized as cooperatives.

At roughly the same time that I was looking into cheesemaking, I had a couple of students who were interested in the law governing cooperatives. I did a bit of reading and started asking around in the local legal community. We never discuss cooperatives in Business Organizations, and very few legal scholars write about cooperatives (Henry Hansmann being the notable exception). I became fascinated by this lost corner of our law, which obviously still has some traction in the U.S.

So last year I recruited Brayden King and Marc Schneiberg, two organizational sociologists, as co-authors. We applied for and received a grant from the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. And I took the occasion of the Wisconsin Contracts Conference to visit some cheesemakers in southwest Wisconsin. This is my first time using interviews as a research methodology, and it's a lot more fun than sitting in my office hatching theories of fiduciary duty. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The only problem is the weather. A storm on Sunday -- rain followed by snow -- left the roads icy, and most of these cheesemakers reside in very small towns ... or in no town at all. They are accessible only by country roads, which are beautiful in the summer, but treacherous this week. Yesterday, I ended up in a snowbank on an unmarked curve. Fortunately, a cheesemaker named Ole (I am not making this up) had a truck and a chain and was able to pull me out.

My discussions with the cheesemakers are fascinating. I am constantly reminded of Stewart Macaulay's famous study of non-contractual relations because the smaller cheesemakers simply can't be bothered with formal contracts. If they come crosswise with a farmer who supplies them with milk or a distributor who sells their cheese, they just stop dealing with them. Simple.

UPDATE: If you want to get a feel for some disturbing local culture, this is one of the towns I visited yesterday.

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July 10, 2007
Help! Need Cheese!
Posted by Gordon Smith

While my co-bloggers are busy offering insights about business law and related matters, I am still trying to find my way around Utah County. This morning, cheese junkie that I am, I had a craving for some good cheese. As longtime readers of the blog know, Madison's Whole Foods Market was one of my favorite hangouts, but when I searched for a Whole Foods Market near my Utah home, this was the result:


Hmm. I have never shopped at a Wild Oats store, but I know that Whole Foods has been trying to merge with Wild Oats. Perhaps they are in Utah and have some good cheese?


Well, 24 miles sure beats 339, but it's a long way to drive when I am not even sure about the payoff.

Plan B: Google. Google Maps is great on business searches, but "cheese" brings up Chuck E. Cheese, PJ Cheese (which I take it is related to Papa John's?), and Who Moved My Cheese (which seems to be a business consultancy based on that silly management book).

"Gourmet chesse" is not much better, returning among other things, Papa Murphy's Take N Bake Pizza and a business called "Pioneer Gourmet Food Provisions." (I think we can safely say that this is the sort of business you would only find in Utah!)

"Imported cheese"? More pizza or other Italian restaurants.

Based on my prior conversations with BYU professors, I am pretty sure that people here eat good cheese, but it looks like I am going to have to use old-fashioned methods to find it. Like blogging for help! (Of course, I will also ask around in my neighborhood and at the office, but if one of our readers happens to know of a good cheese shop in Utah County, I would be grateful to hear about it.)

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February 06, 2007
Aging Cheddar
Posted by Gordon Smith

In real time!

Thanks to Eric Goldman for the pointer.

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April 28, 2006
Farmhouse Cheeses
Posted by Gordon Smith

At dinner with several of the bloggership participants tonight, I ordered a selection of three "farmhouse" cheeses (two French and one Italian). What is a "farmhouse" cheese? Though I have heard the term often, I had never actually tracked down its meaning. Here's a definition from Hormel food glossary:

A term commonly applied to European cheeses referring to any of the different types of cheeses that are made by traditional cheese making methods and produced from the raw milk of animals such as cows, goats or sheep raised on a small regional farm, a mountain chalet farm or mountain hut. The quantities produced from these methods are small in volume. When approved for production by the Eurpoean AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlee) the cheese is categorized as a fermier or farmhouse variety. Although this term was derived in Europe, it is also often used to classify domestic varieties of cheese.

Now we both know.

UPDATE: Here is a photo of the farmhouse cheeses, courtesy of Ann Althouse:


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April 03, 2006
Cheshire Cheese
Posted by Gordon Smith

Christine reminded me the other day that we haven't had a cheese post in awhile, so I stopped at Whole Foods on the way to work today. Among other things, Whole Foods was featuring Cheshire cheese from Neal's Yard Dairy. This is a crumbly, tangy cheese produced by Appleby's Farm. The name of the cheese dervies from the county of Cheshire in England. It's flavor is similar to a sharp cheddar, but Cheshire is typically aged only six weeks to six months.

According to the Appleby's website, "Cheshire is considered to be the oldest British cheese, it is mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) and probably dates back even further to Roman times." Some people are taken by the saltiness of the cheese. Appleby's attributes the saltiness to the Cheshire land, but assures us that they have happy cows:

Our herd of cows graze the salty summer pastures at the edge of the Cheshire Plain. In the winter they are housed indoors on straw beds. Our cows are milked every day at 5am and 3pm using a floating rotary parlour. The modern technology we use helps to ensure our milk is of the highest quality and our cows are happy and relaxed.

In the U.S., the most distinctive feature of the cheese is its crumbly texture, which gives it the appearance of a much older cheese. In the U.K., however, the most distinctive feature is its color. Though Cheshire comes in three varieties -- white, red (actually, we Americans would call this "orange," the result of annatto dye), and bue-veined (also called Shropshire cheese) -- the orange version is the one usually associated with the name Cheshire. Teddington Cheesemongers offers this anecdote about the orange color:

Although Cheshire is naturally a light golden colour, it is more often dyed to a rich orange using annatto. Legend has it that because its reputation was so good, some Welsh farmers labelled their own cheese as Cheshire and sold it to coach travellers on the Hollyhead to London route. The Londoners were unhappy when they tasted the inferior cheese back at home and thus the name of Cheshire cheese began to fall into disrepute. The Welsh farmers were told to dye their cheese in order to distinguish it from real Cheshire. However, the new coloured cheese quickly became fashionable and the Cheshire makers soon found themselves having to follow suit. Thus, red Cheshire was born.

Of course, the orange color is most distinctive in a cheese display without the orange cheddars that tend to dominate American groceries.

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December 04, 2005
Fol Epi
Posted by Gordon Smith

This is a Swiss-type cheese, but it is produced in the Loire Valley of France. I am told that "Fol Epi" means "wild wheat stalk" or "crazy wheat," and this cheese is made in a mold to create the distinctive wheat markings on the side. The rind is brown, having been dusted with toasted wheat flour. It feels and tastes like Emmenthaler, and it is sometimes referred to as an "emmenthaler imitation." Our wedge didn't last very long, and I just skipped the crackers.

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