Monday, August 31, 2009

No Whey!

Well, yesterday was indeed a banner day! Not only did we successfully make mozzarella, but we made whey as well! Whooppee, you just looks like gross yellow-y clear liquid. Weirdly, I think it looks a lot like clarified butter, which makes some sense, since clarified butter is butter with the solids removed. But, unlike clarified, butter, almost all the fat has been removed (its in the cheese curds!). Basically, after all the curds are skimmed out to make the cheese, you have high protein, low fat whey left. What to do? Historically, there were few choices. You can't throw it in the river. The high protein messes with the river life, and makes a big stink. Same problem with dumping it in your fields. You can feed it to your pigs - they love it! (Ever wonder why delicious Parma ham and Parmasean cheese come from the same place? All that whey has to go somewhere, and I say, happy pigs are a great way to get rid of it!) Sadly, as I do not live on a farm, and didn't feel like dumping it, there was only one thing to do - make ricotta cheese!

That's right. Feeling supremely confident with my adorable cheese balls resting in the fridge, I decided to soldier on. Reheat the whey - up to 200 degrees F, and add 1/4 cup of cider vinegar. I should mention that while the heating is happening, the whey stops looking like clarified butter, and starts looking more like vanilla pudding. Very weird. Anyway, after you add the vinegar, a second separating happens. Kind of like what happens when the curds separate, but the separating bits are much, much smaller. Scoop it all out and put it in cheese cloth. I bet you've never used cheese cloth for the purpose for which it's named! I know I hadn't.
You tie up the corners of the cheese cloth and let the little bundle drain over the sink. Please note the high tech equipment! It dripped for about a half hour.
After most of the liquid went down the drain (now pretty much completely devoid of proteins) I untied it, and there was my (flavorless) ricotta cheese stuck to the cheese cloth. Yum. It really wasn't very appetizing. Anyway, after I scraped it all off the cloth, I added salt and the tasty tarragon and parsley DH had chopped really fine. I'd have a picture, but it was so good!

Whey is really good for you. You know how many of those protein powders are made of whey? Considering the amount of cheese made in the world, I wonder how many gallons of whey are made in a day? I would guess almost as much as there are gallons of milk made into cheese. Yikes! If we all ate whey ricotta instead of using those gross protein powders, we might all be happier. Just think - all those cranky body builders eating low fat, high protein whey cheese instead of chemically flavored protein drinks?

Here's to ricotta. Yes whey!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I'm a Cheesemaker!

Today was the day! I've been talking about it for weeks, and something about wanting to stay inside on probably the second hottest day of the year propelled me toward the stove. Go figure. Today, one gallon of milk gets heated on the stove, and through the magic of science, turns into mozzarella. Eeek!!!
I must give major props to the DH (pictured above - isn't he handsome?). He was a total partner with me in this, and it made it that much more fun. Together, we carefully monitored the milk as it was heating on the stove. At 90 degrees F, we added citric acid. At 150 degrees F, we added the rennet, and the curdling began in earnest! Rennet historically comes either from processed calf stomach (gross, but reality). There is now vegetarian rennet, which is what was part of the kit that I got. **note - if you are a hard core veggie, you should really check and see what kind of rennet is used in your favorite cheese. There are lots of vegetarian cheese out there now. You should be able to find lots of yummy kinds.
Mmmmm...look what adding rennet does to heated milk! The white blobby bits are the curds, and the clear yellow-y liquid is the whey. We scooped the curds out into a bowl, and pressed them with our (scrupulously clean) hands to get more of the whey out. Then, the whole thing went in the microwave for a minute. Not conventional, I know, but I was just following instructions.
After one minute, we stirred it with a spoon, and it turned into a curd-y blob. The curd squeaked a little. Not like anything else I've ever seen. Not exactly tasty looking, but it was MY curd-y blob, and I loved it! After another 30 seconds in the microwave, and the addition of salt, it turned into this fabulous goo! Kind of like silly putty, but tasty! And, incredibly hot! The bowl next to the cheese goo is ice water for putting the fully formed cheese balls into to cool them off, but I was also using it to keep my delicate little fingers from burning!

Isn't that the most cunning little ball of mozzarella ever? Tasty too! I'm serving them up tonight with a little olive oil/herb/garlic marinade, some heirloom tomatoes and basil. Yummy! Good thing we were able to restrain ourselves from eating all of our little cheese babies right out of the bowl.
Mr. Snout really wanted to help/scarf down all of the fresh cheese. He was sadly mistaken, but I had to give him credit! The DH and I were so proud of ourselves! The whole process was pretty stress free (after the initial panic over how best to check the temperature of the milk), and conquering science in this way is just an incredible feeling for a Sunday afternoon.

I'm sure I'll be dreaming about this tonight! Give it a try! You'll feel like a million bucks (and you'll save a couple bucks at the store on mozzarella)!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Awake with Weekend Cheese

Just got home from work - overall a pretty decent week. I'm slowly coming out at a cheese head at the office, and feelin' the love! Threw some ice in a glass, added vodka and OJ, and while I was in there, realized that there was a little sack of cheese love from last weekend sitting patiently, waiting for me to notice. Shame on me for ignoring my little cheese bites! So, I sliced them up and gobbled them up! Feeling fabulous now, waiting for the weekend to begin.

And really, this is an important moment to remind myself (and anyone reading...) to buy only what you plan on eating/serving in a week or two. Cheese really does last for a long time. It just continues to age. The flavor does change over time, but that is part of the fun! If you spot a little mold on the rind, don't worry. Just cut it off. I know, I know...I used to be that way too. Still am about lots of things, but I'm getting over it when it comes to cheese mold. Trust me, you will KNOW if it has gone off, which only means that you haven't been eating your cheese, and shame on you!

So, I'm saying it here...I'm going to make my first batch of mozzarella this weekend. Now that it is out there, it has to happen, right? I'm also reading through Italy in the Cheese Primer, so may need to go in and get some Italian cheese! Big plans, big plans!

Will have some happy cheese dreams tonight. Hope y'all do too!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More Goat Love

As you may or may not know, I think goats are some of the cutest critters out there. They aren't the most efficient milkers - approx 1 gallon/goat/day vs. 10 gallons/cow/day. This is not to say that I don't also think that sheep and cows aren't pretty awesome, because I do. I just think there is something sprightly about goats. I don't specifically seek out goat cheese. I always aim to be "fair and balanced."

Last night, I shared some tasty cheese with my friend TS at Cube on La Cienega. We put ourselves in the capable hands of our waitress, who didn't disappoint, bringing us four amazing cheeses (and four incredible salami). I knew we were good when I realized that one of the cheeses she brought us was the Roaring 40s blue cheese from Australia that I'd had before and loved, loved, LOVED. Such a great, crumbly, mild, cow's milk blue that I could just eat all day.

Anyway, in addition to this gem, we shared a washed rind Mosur Cru Blanc from Switzerland which had just the right amount of "stinky." Without the rind, it was just delicious. A little mushroomy, but still tasting like grassy mountains. The rind made it a little more aggressive, which wasn't that much of a bad thing! We also had some Wildspitz from Switzerland - a semi hard, mild cheese made of cow and goat's milk with a hint of mushroom. Delicious with the pistachios and craisins it came with.

The big surprise of the evening, though, was a TRIPLE CREAM GOAT CHEESE(!!) from Coach Farm in the Hudson Valley in New York. Who knew? I have always thought of triple cream as being the provenance of cow's milk cheese, but the extra cream (have also never thought of goat's cream as something to use...small mind expanding quickly!) makes it taste so rich and buttery, but unlike some triple creams that just taste like butter, this one tasted like butter, but with just a little tangy-ness that gave it a little more depth. Just amazing. Served with dried apricots. YUM!

So, back to the point, I guess that I tend to root for the underdog, the one who makes the least amount of milk, the one who's cheeses get stretch marks, the ones that for some inexplicable reason my BFF just hates, and I guess learning about triple cream goat cheese just opened my mind. It's times like this that I really realize how much more I have to learn. It just makes me excited for the future of my cheese education!

Sweet goat cheese dreams to all (except Jordan - if you're reading this! You can dream about sheep's cheese)!

(photo courtesy of the State Library and Archives of Florida)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Those Cunning Little Squiggles...

See the little squiggle marks on the goat cheese on the left, and the one on rind of the goat cheeses on the right and left? I promise you can if you squint. See how the ash covered Selles sur Cher in the middle doesn't have those same squiggle marks?

What you can't tell because you can't squeeze the cheese on your screen is that the two in the back are much firmer than the one in the front. You might be able to see that the edges of the squiggled rind cheeses are a little sharper, and the edges of the front cheese are much softer. Yes? This is because the two in the back have aged for a much longer period, developing their flavors, bringing out their inner goat, and getting hard and rich (don't you wish that happened to all of us as we aged?). The ashed cheese is a much younger cheese. Much softer and less aggressive, if you will. As such, its skin is much more tender. If it was given a chance to age (which it wasn't! way to tasty!), the insides, or paste, will tighten up and shrink, and the rind will get tougher and thicker, but will have less cheese surface to cover. Are you getting the picture?

When I asked the cheesemonger at the Cheese Shop of Beverly Hills what caused the adorable squiggles on the cheeses, he explained it to me much as I have explained it to you. At which point, drunk on rich cheese samples, I blurted out, "Like stretch marks!" To which he replied, "I'm glad you said it not me!

Anyway, I am always looking for ways to connect with my food, to feel closer to it, to understand it. While I am not about to admit on the internet where words are immortalized for all eternity that I have stretch marks, I appreciate that many people do, and LOVE that as humans, we share the ability for our bodies to shrink and tighten, creating richer, tangier inner lives, and sometimes leaving a little extra skin on the outside to create little squiggles! I just wish thighs in a bathing suit with stretch marks was considered as adorable as a little goat cheese!

Bonus points to anyone who admits to having a cheese dream about a goat cheese in a bikini!

Monday, August 24, 2009


We're all trying to watch what we eat. Watch your carbs, eat your veggies, make sure you get enough anti-oxidants, watch your fat intake....and I totally agree that a balanced diet is important. Cheese is an important part of that balanced diet. I know, you've been thinking all along that you love cheese, but it is so fattening. It's just for special occasions, etc. Turns out, there are ways to have your cheese and eat it too! Just keep your eye on the butterfat.

Here's the trick - butterfat is usually listed on the package if you buy your cheese at the market. But just because the Brie is listed at 40% butterfat and the Cheddar is listed at 25%, it doesn't mean you get less fat with the Cheddar. Turns out butterfat is measured by dry weight. Brie is so liquidy and goopy, while Cheddar is dry and crumbly. So, if you theoretically dried out a Brie, say in a food dehydrator, it would really shrink in volume, so ultimately you would have 40% butterfat on just a few ounces, while the Cheddar wouldn't shrink much at all, and even though it is only 25% butterfat, you have a lot more left to eat. 40% of 2 ounces is a lot less overall fat at the end of the day than 25% of 8 ounces, say. (I'm not 100% sure on the volumes, etc., but I hope you get the principal. ) So eat that Brie! Or eat the Cheddar. The most important rule is to eat what you like! Just don't eat the whole wheel of cheese in one sitting. By yourself.

And on the topic of butterfat, there is an argument that double and triple creme cheeses aren't cheeses at all because additional cream is added to the process. I say, it's a darn good cheese! What else would I call it? Anyway, a triple cream has to be at least 75% butterfat, which ends up being 40% overall. A decadent treat, to be sure! Try a delicious St. Andre Triple Creme and you'll be hooked!

All of this got me thinking about how cows make butterfat. I'm still trying to figure it out. This website wasn't all that helpful to the non-dairy farmer, but it did give me a few clues. Mostly, a cow's butterfat is directly related to the tasty freshness of what they eat for lunch. Eat grass in the mountains of France, and your butterfat will be higher than if you eat hay and "silage." I've also heard that the more the cows walk around, the richer the milk - something about the enzymes being released during exercise. More on this topic later when I figure it out. The science of all this just fascinates me, and I hope you are at least a little interested!

Sweet dreams of goopy, healthy cheese!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

French Tasting Day!

I finally got through France in Steve Jenkins' Cheese Primer yesterday morning. Yea me! There is so much amazing cheese made in France, from Normandy to the Pyrnees to the Alps, not to mention the Loire Valley and Provence. And there is so much information! I'm not ready for a formal quiz, but I thought it was definitely a moment for celebration. And so I was off to Andrew's Cheese Shop to claim my discount from going to his Cheese 101 class and collect a few delectable French cheeses. Woo hoo!

I find that I learn better by doing (and tasting!). So, I wanted to taste a few of the cheeses that I had been reading about in hopes that I would remember details and tastes in order to better be able to talk about them. I tasted the washed rind Pont-L'Eveque from Normandy - a very sophisticated "stinky" cheese, with a mushroomy richness that filled my mouth and delicately crawled up my nose (and I mean that in a good way!). I tried the Epoisses de Bourgone from Burgandy, which had the most amazing creamy, goopy texture and a stronger "barnyard-y" taste that wasn't my favorite, but I could totally appreciate why it has legions of fans.

It was the hard cheeses today that I fell in love with yesterday. First, and most famously, was the Beaufort (bottom), made by happy, Alpine cows. It was so sweet and nutty, and the DH and I decided that it was a "confident" cheese. It was just delicious. The second was the Grands Causses (top) from the mountains of Auvergne in south, central region of France. This cheese comes to us from the happy sheep that wander up and down the mountains eating grass. It was sweet and smooth, and I just thought it tasted like mountains and sunshine. Just light and delicious, and full of joy. Finally, and the biggest surprise, was the ugly, but divine, Dalle Charentaise from Western Central France. The rind on this goat cheese was so dry, ripe and stinky, even I was afraid! But inside, this cheese was just amazing! Complex and sweet with a slightly mineral-y, stone taste (DH likened it to tasting "an old French cathedral" in a good way!). I didn't notice any of the tangy-ness that usually accompanies goat cheese. Under the rind, the cheese was almost translucent, and the center was chalk white and smooth. We sucked on this one, savored it, and just relished every moment! The find of the day!

Next stop - Italy!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cows Work Hard Too!

The same way it takes 3 goats 3 days to make one little cheese, it takes the milk of an entire herd of cows a whole day's worth of milk (say 100 gallons) to make one 10 pound cheese! It makes sense if you think about it. Milk is a liquid, and cheese is mostly a solid. In the process of preserving a liquid as a solid (more on the technicalities of this later, I promise!), a lot of liquid volume gets removed. This removed liquid is called whey, and it isn't a part of most cheeses. So, the more milk, the more cheese. However, just like with wine, if the milk is collected from lots of cows that are eating different things, and living in different flavors, it might be hard to get a distinctive flavor out of the cheese.

The other night at Andrew's Cheese Shop, I learned about a very special American cheese called Renata. Renata is from Sally Jackson Cheeses, and Renata is made from, well, Renata. Renata is a Brown Swiss cow, and ALL of the milk in Renata cheese is sourced from this one very sweet cow. Renata cheese isn't that big a round, as you might imagine. You can't really expect her to make that much milk all on her own! (and click "next" three times to see Renata!) I thought it was kind of cool to know what the cow looks like that is working hard for your cheese, but the DH somehow thought that it was a little weird. Maybe its a guy thing.

We didn't get to taste the Renata. The cheeses are too small and precious to give away at a tasting. *sad face* BUT, we did get to taste another cheese that really highlights the creativity of cheese makers dealing with temporary milk shortages. The Morbier (more -be-yay) is a washed rind, delicious, creamy, grassy tasting cheese that made me think of the scene in The Sound of Music where they are dancing in the hills. My tasting companion, SMcG thought it tasted like "cow pasture poop," so always remember that everyone's tastebuds are different! Anycow, this tasty or poopy cheese, depending, was traditionally made with 1/2 the milk coming from the evening milking and 1/2 the milk coming from the morning milking, with a layer of ash between the two layers to protect the evening cheese overnight. So pretty! I love this one because I can just imagine the cheese maker going "Crap! I only have enough curds to half fill the mold halfway. I guess I'll just cover it overnight with a little ash and finish it off in the morning!

Sweet cheese dreams for the Morbier cheese maker, Renata, and you!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Summer School!

My dear friend SMcG and I went to school tonight. We hadn't done our homework and we were a little worried about what the other students would be like, and if the teacher would be nice or scary. We shouldn't have worried! We were at Andrew's Cheese Shop in Santa Monica, and the class was Cheese 101. We got there before the doors opened, and just had to peer in through the glass at the classroom - chairs achingly close to the cheese.

We learned so much! We learned about pasteurization, butterfat, double creme, the importance of beta carotine, calcium lactate, monks, the importance of rye bread in making Roquefort, and a cow named Renata! AND, it was driven home yet again, the importance of sharing cheese with friends. Every seat was full. Friends doing girl's night out, comfortably married couples having date night, and inexplicably, a group of four guys in their early 20s wearing coordinating polo shirts and looking all the world like they really belonged at a cigar night instead of a cheese tasting. But, whatever! Everyone was having a great time, tasting, asking questions, sipping a little wine, and passing 2 hours like they were nothing.

The big winner of the night was probably the Humboldt Fog goat cheese, made by Mary Keene in Arcata, CA . It was grassy and tangy, with this amazing creamy, crumbly texture. And, it was just beautiful, with a layer of ash through the middle, and an almost sweet bloomy rind. It was a bright white color (extra white because apparently goat's milk doesn't contain beta carotine, which gives cows milk cheese a more yellow/orange color) , which made it feel even lighter, fresher, and more like summer. Yum!

The fun thing about these tasting evenings is that there are so many new flavors! The hard part is knowing what to talk about first. Stay tuned, and sweet dreams.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cheddar Chunks of Childhood

So, last night, I was reminded by my old HS friend "JT" about how I used to prepare cheese for my "signature dish." There is nothing more colorful than a bright orange cube of American Cheddar. And I used to indulge my most OCD tendencies while cutting a half pound of grocery store chunk cheddar cheese into one inch cubes.

I would boil up a pound of elbow macaroni, chop a red onion fine, toss in some frozen peas (cooked in the pasta water), and mix it all together with a cup of mayonnaise, a squirt of Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and dried oregano. After all the other ingredients were mixed together, the perfect little cubes of cheddar would accent this Americana classic - the pasta salad.

The little cubes of cheddar would get just a little melty around the edges (but not so much so that they glued all the noodles together...). The oregano infused mayonnaise blended with the cheese to make a mild, rich base for the noodles and veggies. This American, grocery store cheddar isn't the rich, crumby cheddar of England. It isn't the nutty, complex cheddar of the American artisinal movement. It isn't a sharp, tasty Australian cheddar. But, it is a simple, mild classic that did what I wanted it to do - give amazing color and provide a tasty creaminess that nicely absorbs the mayo and spices. Yum..

Sometimes, you just need a little chunk o' cheddar.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

So 1975...

So, I asked my most devoted friends (Facebook and Twitter feeders - thank you. All five of you!) to vote about last nights post, and they all voted for Queso Fresco, and so I obliged. I hope they appreciate how loyal I am to my readers!

However, it is now time to write about the runner-up option. The Camembert-Brie Challenge. While I have been told this topic is "so 1975," the results were remarkable. First, I have to say again how amazing the conversations are when you share a cheese among friends. Two quotes to start:

"Life is too short to eat bad cheese!"

"I had kangaroo meat in Paris once..."

That last quote in context makes a little more sense...we were out wine tasting with friends, and I thought I'd bring along the Tasmanian Heritage Diary Camembert to share. (Not sure if kangaroos are on Tasmania as well as the continent but...) And since I'm always looking for a new blog topic, I thought I'd pick up a Brie to compare it with. And there is where it all went south. I've been lecturing anyone who will listen that just because it is a soft-bloomy rind cheese cut in a wedge, it's not necessarily a Brie. I was in a hurry at the mega mart, and grabbed the first Brie-looking cheese and ran. Turns out it wasn't a Brie at all, but a Rougette Landkase washed rind cheese from Germany! Shame on me.

So, though it wasn't a real Camembert/Brie challenge, it was definitely a comparative taste test. The Camembert from Tasmania was mellow and delicate, with just enough saltiness, and something either lemony or beefy about it, depending on the taste buds you confer with. Dee-licious! I would have taken a picture of this beautiful cheese, but was too busy eating it...and then it was all gone! *Note - if someone tries to sell you a wedge of Camembert, it isn't Camembert. Camembert is only sold whole.

The Rougette Landkase (not Brie at all!!!) had a much thicker texture and was much more pungent, with a mushroom-y, and an almost ammonia-like after burn that hit my oh-so-delicate tongue in an unpleasant way. This pungency is not suprising in a washed rind cheese, as we've learned in previous posts, but I had to throw my bite away! Too strong for me. That said, there was a member of our party who preferred this one, even comparing it to the Nic Cage of cheese!

That's the best thing about cheese - there's something for everyone! And, now I really want to eat kangaroo in Paris.

Cheese dreams to all...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Open Air Queso Fresco

Last night, I went on the most amazing adventure. The DH and I headed from the beach to Boyle Heights for a little comidas corridas - street food! We walked, and walked and finally arrived at a brightly lit parking lot at the corner of Breed St. and Ceasar Chavez. Now, clearly there are a lot of people for whom this isn't the kind of cultural field trip it was for me, for whom an evening of tacos, gorditas and churros cooked fresh to order on a propane powered grill under the unforgiving glare of flood lights. There were families and couples on dates, and little dogs looking for dropped carnitas.

And sprinkled on top of each taco, and inside the quesidilla stuffed with grilled squash and huitlacoche (delicious corn fungus - take my word for it), was queso fresco - fresh cheese.

I love this cheese, and trust me, it tastes even better when you eat it on a goat taco in a parking lot in Boyle Heights. It is mild and soft, with just the right amount of saltiness, which is what you might expect from a fresh cheese. Remember, the longer a cheese sits, the more "pungent" the flavor. Queso fresco sits at most for a few days before it is wrapped up and sent out, destined to be crumbled up and put on a taco. Hence, a nice mild flavor that really helps mellow out the spice in some well seasoned beans. And, fun cooking fact, it doesn't melt, which makes it extra decorative on top of whatever.

I was so inspired after last night's fantastic food orgy, that I went out and bought some carne asada and queso fresco at the local megamart, and threw together a little southwest salad. The queso and the avocado together created a great creamy-ness that kept a little texture and body, and while it didn't take me back to the corner of Breed and Cesar Chavez, it was pretty tasty. Maybe if we'd eaten outside....

Cheese dreams all - melty or not!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Why So Blue?

I've been thinking a lot about blue cheese lately. Lots of things to like about it! Within the category, there are so many different flavors, textures and even colors. According to Steven Jenkins' Cheese Primer, there are two French blue cheeses - Bleu de Gex and Bleu de Septmoncel, used to get their blue from a "fungal bloom" that lives on two kinds of wild Alpine violets. The cows would eat the violets and the fungus would show up in the milk. I just love that story. Happy alpine cows munching on violets up in the mountains...moo.

We tasted two completely different blues from Australia the other night. The Signature Blue from Tasmania was a big favorite at our table. It was incredibly smooth and strong, with lovely dark blue bits in it, that looked almost like peppercorns at first peek. I wasn't such a fan, encountering in it my first taste of "barnyard-y-ness." I had been wondering what that word meant in terms of flavor, and all I can say is that it has a weird earthy-ness that, while tasting like cheese, also was reminiscent of that stuff the gardener puts on the lawn...I was a bigger fan of the other blue cheese, the Roaring 40's from King Island, named for being made on the 40th parallel down under (cute!). It was a waxed rind blue, and a little firmer than the Signature Blue. It was soooo tasty - a little more mild and nutty, and also really pared nicely with the spicy Shiraz from "Hill of Content."

Nothing much more to say on that . Sadly, I didn't get any good photos of these two cheeses, since they were both devoured! Needless to say, I am only blue because I'm all out of blue!

Pick up some penicillium roqueforti tonight, and have sweet cheese dreams all weekend!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Cheesetastic Evening Down Under

Just got back from a great Australian cheese and wine tasting event sponsored by the Cheese Shop of Beverly Hills. The DH and I were in need of a date night, and I was so excited to get a space for us at this event. I learned/relearned a few things this evening:

#1 Cheese is so much better when you share it with friends! We were seated at a table for four, and were a little nervous about who our table mates would be, but E2 (for the purposes of anonymity) are our new friends, courtesy of a little Seal Bay triple creme from King Island (off the coast of Tasmania - an island off the coast of Australia), and a little Boarding Pass Shiraz. Thanks to both of them for a great, fun table!

I think that my favorite description of a cheese taste tonight was courtesy of one of our new friends, who described the Red Square Tasmanian washed rind cheese as tasting like "metallic rain," and not in a bad way. It definitely had a minerally saltiness to it, but I just loved the visual - it got me thinking of cool rain on hot asphalt on a summer day. Comparing preferences and ideas with new taste buds is a great way to see past your own tongue!

#2 The wine/cheese producing area of Australia in the south of the country/continent has a climate very similar to Normandy, France. Thus, it totally makes sense that the wine and cheese from that area should be just as delicious, yet with its own flair.

#3 Australia is a continent built on old salt beds, and thus, everything is a little salty. The grass that the cows dine on has a little extra salt in it, which is transferred to the milk and then to the cheese. The Seal Bay triple creme, for example, has an amazing smoky, rich, creamy, saltiness that is just amazing.

#4 The cheese of Australia is so diverse that there is no way to fit it all into one posting, so you'll just have to wait! Amazing blues, sophisticated cheddars, irridescent double cremes, a sneaky, nutty Swiss...did I mention the Seal Bay triple creme?

#5 Cheese people officially rule!

Cheese dreams all. I know I'll be dreaming about a conversation with an Australian cow!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cheese for a Wednesday Night

I actually googled that phrase earlier today. "Cheese for a Wednesday Night." I was looking for a little inspiration. Sort of pathetic when you are turning to a search engine for that kind of thing. Turns out there is a wine and cheese tasting group in Austin, TX that meets on Wednesdays. Kind of fun, but not quite what I was looking for.

Anyway, the DH and I didn't get into the tasting tonight, which is sad, but there was a cancellation for tomorrow, so we're excited about that. Australian wines and cheeses. I've never thought of Australia as a cheese place, but I'm sure that is just because I have only really started thinking about cheese in a serious way a short while ago. I'll be sure to pass on the info!

In the meantime, I needed a cheese fix for today, and after mentioning penicillium roqueforti last night, I was in the mood for a little blue cheese. I visited the local megamart, and found a Pt. Reyes Farmstead Blue Cheese waiting for me, just down the aisle from the steak, arugula, red onion and avocado that I put together to make a delicious dinner! The cheese was so smooth and creamy, with just enough bite to it. Tangy, but not like goat cheese tangy. Tangy like happy cows eating organic grass while looking at the Pacific Ocean. Rich and delicious. It was perfect in the salad, and will be perfect again tomorrow eveningn with a little after dinner port.

Blue cheese is such a special thing. Many blue cheeses are poked with long skewers a the beginning of the ripening process to allow air to get in and interact with the penicillium roqueforti to make those amazing blue/blue-green streaks. When I cracked open my hunk of Pt. Reyes blue cheese tonight, it was fun to see how the skewer holes on the outside translated to these beautiful green-blue streaks on the inside. Some day, I definitely want to try making my own blue cheese, just to be able to poke at it with a stick!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Waiting for the Curd to Form...

A busy day of accounting software management followed by a night on the town has kept me from accomplishing much in the way of gathering new cheese knowledge, but there are several things on the forefront that should result in a series of entertaining stories in the near future.

First, and most concretely, I have finally ordered my "30 minute mozzarella kit" from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company! I should be receiving my rennet, citric acid, dairy thermometer, muslin, and recipe booklet within three days!! Having it so neatly packaged makes it feel a bit like a housewarming gift and less of an official foray into cheesemaking, but I thought this might be an easier first step than, say, a washed rind triple creame, reminiscent of the Red Hawk cheese created by the Cowgirl Creamery. They've been doing this for much longer, and have much better equipment. If you would like to follow along with the mozzarella experiment, you can for the low price of $24.95 + shipping. I'm not getting any endorsements, but they do seem to be the place to go for everything from beginner kits like this one to black diamond materials like Penicillium Roqueforti for making your own fancy blue cheese.

In other news, the DH and I are first on the waiting list for tomorrow night's Australian Wine and Cheese tasting at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. Fingers crossed that someone will drop out and remember to call! Should be most educational.

So, until then, cheese dreaming to all and to all cheesy dreams! Wait...that's not right...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Goats Work Hard!

Ok, well, maybe they have it pretty good - hang out all day eating tasty grass and tin cans, and romping around smelling all goaty...and in fact, it is only the male goats that smell at all. Fun story about that another night.

When I was at the cheese shop yesterday, I learned a fun fact about goat cheese. It takes up to three goats three days to produce enough milk to make one Chabichon cheese - one 3" tall, 2" wide little cylinder of cheesy heaven. Crazy. If you think about it, it does make some sense. The process of cheese making is designed to remove excess moisture (whey) from the milk as part of the preservation process. Depending on the goat, they can make up to 2 liters of milk/day. 6 liters of milk isn't that much in the cheese business (a Comte can use up to 140 gallons of milk for one 90 pound cheese!). So, part of the tangy-ness in goat cheese comes from the fact that some of the milk has been sitting in the fridge for two days. You keep milk a lot longer than that, so don't get all grossed out... Kind of interesting, eh?

All the goat cheeses I shared on Sunday night were gobbled right up, and they really did help change the way our taste buds perceived some of those tangy Sav Blancs. My favorite quote of the evening - "The next time someone offers me a glass of wine, I'll have to ask them if they have any cheese!"

Cheese dreams everyone!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A trip to the cheese store!

Glorious day! Going to a wine tasting tonight, and while I am looking forward to trying the many Sauvingnon Blancs, I am thrilled to finally be able to put some of my recent cheese reading to the taste! Cheese compliments wine, you know.

I've been planning for a week - reading my books, day dreaming a little, and contemplating how many Andrew Jacksons I would be spending at the cheese shop. I knew I wanted goat cheeses. The books all suggest it, and I really wanted to dive into some of these cute little cheeses. The tangy flavors of the cheese will go well with the mineral-y flavors of the wine. I hope these little jewels will be enjoyed! I also hope there will be enough for me!

When you want cheese, go to the source, and don't feel like you are on your own in the store. Don't be afraid of talking to your local cheese monger. They know stuff! It helps to know a little bit about what you are looking for when you go in, but you can also just tell them what you are planning on doing with your cheese. Are you making fondue? Are you drinking a big Cabernet? Do you want some "stinky cheese" for a picnic? Or, do you just want to learn more about Spanish cheese? This is often enough to help them help you. If you have a great cheese monger, they will give you samples, and help you identify some of the flavors you are tasting. They can tell you stories, explain how cheeses are made, where they are made, and what you can eat them with. (And, if you're lucky - they might give you a little wine to taste with it!) There are no stupid questions. I repeat - there are no stupid questions! Have no fear. The people who work at cheese stores are so excited to share their treasures with you. In fact, I have found that even when I know what I am looking for, they have other suggestions that end up being so much better or surprising than what I was originally thinking about.

Today, I went in for the darling goat cheeses you see above. I was expecting to buy Selles sur Cher (with and without ash-stacked in the pic), and a Chabichou (to the far left). I left with those tasty jewels, but also with an amazing Cypress Moon hard goat cheese and an incredibly rich goat cheese from Nantes that tastes like red wine (the most suprising find). Granted, I spent a little more than I had planned, but I learned so much! I'll be sharing more about the cheeses I bought after I taste them, but the lesson today is that you should go to the store with some idea of what you are looking for, but it is ok to ask LOTS of questions, to ask for samples, keep an open mind, come away with something new, and to enjoy.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Washed = Stinky?

There is a new puppy in the office. She is really cute! She is coming into the office with her mom while she is being potty trained. The training isn't going very well at the moment. She seems to like going on the floor right near my desk, which maybe I should take as a compliment. Anyway, it got me thinking about all sorts of stinky liquids. AND, because I'm a little twisted, it got me thinking about brine, and washed rind cheese.

Before we go any further, I would like to reassure you, gentle reader, that there is no relation whatsoever between dog pee and cheese. At least not one that I have found. Just my weird mind making connections where there aren't any.

But, back to cheese...washed rind cheese get scheduled baths in brine (salt water solution) to encourage the bacteria that help ripen the cheese. They actually have their surfaces wiped down with a rag dipped in the brine solution. Most labor intensive. Different solutions create different flavors. The brine protects the cheese from getting moldy, keeps it moist, and gives the bacteria something to eat while they break down proteins and ripen the cheese. Some cheeses are just washed in brine, but others get a little extra wash in wine or beer to add additional flavor. One thing that really unites all of the washed rind cheeses is their distinctive odor. Some liken it to sweat socks. Yum. The good news is, they don't taste at all like they smell (not that I've tasted sweat socks...). They are complex and delicious, if not a little more challenging than your basic Cheddar. Limburger is a famous, stinky example, but there are many, many more, including Munster (France) and Taleggio (Italy). Don't be afraid of the smell. Just think about how cool/crazy/unique your friends will think you are for taking on this black-diamond cheese! You might just start a trend.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What is Cheesy?

I've been thinking a lot about the word cheesy lately. When someone or something is "cheesy," it isn't necessarily considered good. Cheesy is overwrought. Cheesy is ridiculous. Cheesy is inarticulate. Cheesy is a sequin dress with plastic shoes or a powder blue tuxedo without the irony. I suppose cheesy comes from American slices in buttery grilled cheese sandwiches, with strings of goo hanging between the halves. Kind of processed, kind of comfortable in a guilty pleasure sort of way, something that makes you go "awwwww - cheesy!"

There is ABSOLUTELY more than one kind of cheesy cheese at the mega mart. In fact, some goat cheeses are made of nothing more than frozen curd and dried milk! Ew. And this is some of the cheese that doesn't even look cheesy. Even as a kid, I knew there was something wrong with something called "Pasteurized processed cheese food." A few too many superlatives.

The reality is, however, that there are cows, goats and sheep all over the world chewing on tasty greenery and being milked into buckets by farmers who take the milk no further than their their kitchens to make cheese that is tangy and complex and smoky, and earthy and sometimes gooey but never boring.

So please, if you love cheese, please refrain from calling unpleasant, boring, one-note, ridiculous situations or activities cheesy! Anyone suggestions for replacement phrases for these unfortunate situations will be most welcome!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Grocery Store vs. The Cheese Store

When I was little, when we were being "fancy," we would get Munster from the grocery store, instead of Cheddar. There was something about the white, white "paste," so gummy that you had to have a really sharp knife to slice rectangles for grilled cheese. That red dye with the basket marks in it was so exotic! But my favorite part was how well it melted into a relatively flavorless, but stringy, melty grilled cheese.

However, much like many other cheeses from Chevre to Cheddar, Brie to Gouda, factory produced cheese for the grocery store, wrapped in plastic and pasteurized for "safety" bear very little resemblance to the cheese first created by farmers to keep their extra milk edible through the winter, and now produced by artists and sold in cheese stores (and Whole Foods cheese counters) around the world. To quote Murray's Cheese Shop, real Munster is round! Yes, not a square brick. AND, "At full strength the aroma of porcini mushrooms wafts from the gooey interior while the flavor evokes truffled pate and caramelized onion!"

To my mom's credit, we never got "pasteurized processed cheese food." But really, after reading the description of a real Munster (something that I might just need to pick up this weekend to taste to believe), I'm just not sure that we weren't just kidding ourselves re: how "fancy" we were. Granted, I doubt that I really would have been into mushroom scented cheese as an 8 year old, but I was the kid with the Deviled Ham sandwiches with onions. I might just have been showing early promise!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cheese Dreams for Cheese Dreaming?

At lunch today, after I located a phone number to follow up on missing paperwork and before I made the phone call, I made a list of upcoming blog post topics for this little ole blog. Since I've been working late, and my creativity is simmering but not ready to create fully formed curd these days, I thought that would be a good idea. I've got some good ones too.

But then, I found the following link on Google - Better dreaming through cheese. I knew that in the past, doctors had prescribed Camembert for digestive problems, but had never thought that it might be used as a hallucinogen. And I quote

"I am interested in regulating my dreams by eating various combinations of cheese before bedtime. Can you suggest some different cheeses and their effects and how they are likely to work together?"

I had never, ever, thought of this as a possibility! Huge LOLs for a Tuesday night! I have to say, it does make sense. So many bacteria, making so much yummy goodness, some of them must have mind altering effects! Apparently, the British Cheese Board did a whole study. Stilton makes you dream of vegetarian alligators or army men throwing kittens instead of grenades. and Cheddar makes you dream of Johnny Depp. The British head cheese says its something in the amino acids that reduces stress.

More than one commentator asked the question - what happens when you eat French cheese, or Swiss cheese, or Napa Valley cheese? Dreams of Jerry Lewis making watches while drinking a big Chardonnay?

This will definitely be a new topic of research!

If you want to read more now, please visit -

Sweet cheese dreams to all!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fish and Cheese?

So, like I said before, I've been cranking out a final paper and just not finding time to do much in the way of cheese education. I'm through Brittany in Steve Jenkin's Cheese Primer. Good nighttime reading!

Turns out that even though Brittany has 20%+ of dairy production for France, most of the cheese it produces is not on the "best of France" list. They like fish more. Hmm. As I wrack my brain, I can't come up with a cheese/fish dish without checking the internet. All I'm coming up with are chedder goldfish crackers, and I don't think that counts. What about tuna melt? That might count, but only if canned tuna counted as fish!

Maybe some grated parmigiano reggiano in the crust on a broiled whitefish?

Not sure if this is really worth research at the moment. I'm still trying to work my way through the cheese of France! And then, I'll need to read it again, and then taste each of them. Maybe I'll attack them in alphabetic order....