Thursday, September 16, 2010
Cheese, cheese and more cheese!
I love cheese and crave it on a regular basis. Hard or soft, creamy or stinky, I have rarely met a cheese I didn't like. Blue cheese on my salad or on a cracker with some walnuts. Camembert. Manchego. I'll eat feta straight up. I just finished munching on a bit of hard, crumbly asiago. There is always something new to try and I never tire of browsing the cheese aisle at Murray's Cheese down in the Village (whenever I rally and get down there from my apartment, otherwise it is Trader Joe's) or thumbing through my monthly Zingerman's catalog. There is an entire UNIVERSE of cheese out there, people. British, Italian, French, Spanish, American...goat, sheep, cow...chesire, blue, gruyére, zamorano, cheddar, stilton...the list goes on! I insisted on trying ever cheese I came across when Vronsky and I were in France, gladly forgoing dessert for the fromage plate. (OK, sometimes I just ordered both...)
People become "cheesemongers" I suppose the same way that people become "wine-o" or oenophiles, if you want to get technical. Cheese, like wine, is alive. And great cheese, like great wine, should be variable. It changes over time. It ages and matures. No wheel should be the same, just as no bottle should be exactly the same. You can get so much from just smelling it and it can evoke anything from freshly mowed grass to nuts and fruit.
In her brilliant and informative The Cheese Chronicles, Liz Thorpe takes the "aliveness" of cheese to an entirely new level. She anthropomorphizes the cheeses that sit in Murrays's case--sitting there like little people--and agonizes that some of the fresh cheese might spoil before someone takes them home. But I can't blame her. She knows who makes these cheeses, from quirky and spunky women in Oregon to accidental goatherds in Vermont, and the intense labor and love that goes into ever wheel.
There are several families of cheese, no matter what kind of milk they are made from (cow, sheep or goat).
Fresh: a high moisture style usually eaten within days of its production. They have a creamy texture, no rind, and a milk, neutral smell.
Bloomy: Classic examples are brie and camembert but include all exterior-mold-ripened cheese. As the cheese is ripening/aging, the spores actually bloom like microscopic dandelions on the outside of the cheese, hence the name "bloomy," although you'd rarely see this by the time the cheese reaches you in the store.
Washed Rind: These are the stinky cheeses. They get their smell from the regular washings in brine (salt water) that can be fortified with booze, yeasts, even butter milk.
Then you have your true rind cheeses: uncooked pressed, cooked pressed, and blue. Uncooked press cheese are aged for two to eight months and are semisoft to firm in texture. Spanish manchego, Italian pecornios and English cheddar are examples of this kind of cheese.
Cooked pressed cheese means that while the curd is being stirred it is cut into tiny pieces and cooked in a vat making it smooth and elastic in texture so that it can age for the long haul. Swiss cheese, gruyére, and Parmigiano-Reggiano are made this way.
Blue cheese is a whole family of cheese, not just the kind that goes on your salad. Like bloomy cheese, the family of cheeses has mold introduced in powder form duringcheesemaking, and it needs oxygen to grow. It is only after the cheese is pierced after it ages that the mold starts to grow and the cheese gets its taste. There are so many "blues" out there outside of mass produced Maytag, so feel free to sniff and experience!
And this is only scratching the surface! I can't even begin to tell you all that I learned reading Liz' book, so go on amazon and get it for yourself! Maybe you'll be inspired and sign up for Zingerman's Cheese of the Month Club. Or buy it for me as a gift....either way, explore cheese that isn't mass produced. We left boxed wine behind in college (at least until New Years, anyway), now it is time to explore the wide, wonderful world of cheese!