A while ago, the great state of Wisconsin voted to name Lactococcus Lactis that official state microbe in honor of all that it does in the production of cheese (according to the New York Times, Wisconsin leads the nation in cheese production). How great is that? A little weird, but pretty cool.
This got me thinking - there must be microscopic differences in the microbes that help various cheeses around the world make the transition from milk to fromage. Cheeses are all so unique - based on the type of milk used, what the animal was eating before being milked, what processes were used in making the cheese, what molds are introduces, how and where the cheese is aged. What if I could do my own research to discover the molds and microbes in my favorite cheeses? Ultimately, could I re-create famous cheeses in my kitchen? (Well, no, probably not, but still...maybe we could create something new from something old - a hybrid as it were) All I was lacking was a little equipment and know-how.
And then, I started talking with my friend the Professor, who has a PhD in biochemistry and a lab at CalTech. He didn't see how it could be that difficult, and encouraged me to start my little science experiment. So, last Friday, I visited his lab and returned home energized and with a bag full of petri dishes prepared with agar substrate to encourage bacterial growth. All I needed was the right test subject. Mwa ha ha ha!
I found it in an amazing Loire Valley cow's milk cheese - Vendeen Bichonne. This semi-soft cheese ( it will totally gum up your grater - so just eat giant hunks of it) is aged in an abandoned tunnel, which explains the mealy grey rind and industrial basement smell coming off of it. Don't let the outside fool you though. The paste inside is sweet, rich and creamy with just a hint of the green pastures where the cows graze. There is also an earthiness present in the cheese, but it doesn't taste anything like the rind smells. Maybe a little bit of slate - if you were to lick a wet slate paving stone it might taste a little like this, but only if the paving stone was covered in rich, creamy, sweet cheese. I can't say enough about how much I love this cheese. I want to melt it onto a nice piece of home made wheat bread and enjoy it with a glass of a Spanish Tempranillo. Bliss.
Anyway, in my attempt to harness to magic of this cheese, it became the first subject in my science experiment. As you can see, under completely sterile conditions, a small slice of cheese was rubbed onto the plate, which was then labeled and placed in a temperate, dry location in the kitchen (on top of the tortillas and next to the coffee maker). I can't wait to see what grows! Hopefully, there should be some results soon. The Professor has said that he might be able to help me take up close and personal pictures of my biological blooms. Looking forward to having something fun to share with you!