Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Holey Cow

Janet Fletcher: This new cow's milk wheel from California's Central Coast Creamery derives its inspiration from Switzerland and the category of eye-riddled cheeses, mostly undistinguished, known here by the unfortunate shorthand of "Swiss cheese." It's a crime that the term has come to suggest bland cheeses suitable only for sandwiches. Switzerland's cheeses are numerous, diverse and often sublime.

Creamery owner Reggie Jones, started in 2008 with his wife, Kellie, says he had Swiss Emmentaler, in mind when he devised Holey Cow, but he envisioned a much smaller wheel. Emmentaler can weigh 200 pounds, an impossible size for a small retailer.

Holey Cow wheels weigh a more manageable 10 pounds and have a natural rind, like Emmentaler, because they are exposed to air as they age. Made with pasteurized milk from Central Valley farms - Jones says he can't find hormone-free milk on the Central Coast - Holey Cow is ready for release in two months, although more aging doesn't hurt. But demand has been so strong that Jones can't hold on to it, a reflection of how tasty and well-priced this cheese is.

The cultures used for Holey Cow and other Swiss-style cheeses generate gas that produces the big internal eyes, or holes. A butter-colored wedge of Holey Cow has a mouthwatering scent, an aroma that merges sour cream, salted butter and custard. The texture is firm and easy to shave.

It is almost too concentrated, too buttery and sweet, to enjoy in larger chunks. Try the cheese in the paper-thin sheets produced by a cheese plane. It has some piquancy but no real bite; a child could enjoy this cheese on a sandwich.

It may not be sophisticated enough for a dinner-party cheese tray, but Holey Cow makes a pleasant snacking cheese. Serve it with a brown ale or a Belgian dubble such as Chimay Red Cap.


Janet Fletcher: Like many American artisan cheeses, Harbison, a bloomy-rind disk wrapped with a strip of spruce bark, evolved from an experiment. Jasper Hill fans will recognize it as the love child of Moses Sleeper, the creamery's Camembert-style cheese, and Winnimere, its bark-wrapped washed-rind wheel.

The experimental cheese became runny when ripe; girdling it with the spruce band helped contain the interior and imparted a woodsy scent. "We knew we were on to something tasty," says Mateo Kehler, Jasper Hill's cheese maker.

Jasper Hill harvests the paper-thin strips of bark in the spring from white spruce and dries them. As needed, the bark strips are boiled to sterilize and soften them, so they will bend around the day-old wheels.

Over the four-week maturation at the creamery, the wheels develop a powdery-white cloak of mold. By the time they reach Bay Area cheese counters, the 10-ounce wheels should be supple inside, spreadable like frosting. At peak ripeness, which occurs at about 60 days, the cheese will be so soft that you can slice off the top and scoop out the interior with a spoon.

If you want to experience Harbison at optimum ripeness and it isn't there yet, Kehler suggests putting the cheese in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Keep it in a lidded plastic container and monitor it often, turning the wheel over every couple of days. When it gives readily to pressure, bring it fully to room temperature before serving. "The texture should be ooey-gooey," Kehler says.


Chaubier is a semi-firm, washed rind, French cheese made from a mixture of pasteurized cow and goat’s milk. The milk is cooked, curded then pressed, resulting in a semi-firm yet creamy textured cheese. The goat milk gives it a lower fat content, while the cow's milk retains the creamy texture and flavor. The wonderful harmony of tangy goat and creamy cows milk make this semi-firm, natural rind cheese very inviting.

Aged for six months, this tomme style cheese has a distinctive, moist orange rind and a pate that is golden yellow. The washed rind develops a slightly piquant character, nutty flavor, and rich buttery finish that is slightly aromatic. The firmer texture of this cheese allows it to melt well too. A great introduction for those hesitant to try goat cheese, i
t adds character to any cheese course.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Milk Composition and Cheese Making

Skilled cheese makers choose their recipe based on the makeup of their raw materials. They also adapt to seasonal fluctuations. Milk with higher protein (casein) content coagulates more quickly and yields firmer curds, sheep's milk is a good example of this. Milk with lower protein content, from Holstein Friesian cows, or a cow grazing on lush summer pastures, will undergo slower coagulation and produce thinner, more fragile curds. Variation in acidity and mineral content affect the speed and character of coagulation as well.

Cheese making is controlled spoilage, and many early steps in the recipe involve putting the brakes on acidification, so it can continue at a measured pace until the elevated acid level within the curds or cheese body or presence of other agents, salt, heat, drying, bacteria, or molds cause it cease.

Successful artisan cheese making requires a gentle hand. Milk fat molecules form into globules surrounded by protective membranes. Excessive agitation causes the globules to break up and the fat molecules to separate, in which you wind up making butter. Gentle stirring allows the fat globules to remain emulsified as curds form and the whey is drained off. If kept intact the fat globules fully integrate into the forming cheese and are allowed to make a delectable contribution to the flavor and texture.


Setting the milk. Fine cheese starts with clean fresh milk, preferably from the most recent milking. The milk is soured; its lactose (milk sugar) converted to lactic acid by bacteria. Acidification will occur naturally if milk is left to sour on its own by inherent bacteria, but cheese makers normally add starter cultures to jump start the process.

Traditional recipes involve creating a starter by using a small amount of the naturally soured milk from the day before, the way yogurt is made. This can be difficult and time consuming for a larger operations. Today many cheese makers add bacteria by way of commercially prepared starter cultures in the form of freeze dried powders or frozen liquid concentrates. These offer greater predictability, consistency and control.

After completing acidification, starter bacteria die and release their enzymes, which contribute to the breakdown of proteins and fats, a key step in successful cheese ripening and flavor formation.

As bacteria convert lactose into lactic acid, temperature and time measurements are critical. Bacteria multiply very rapidly, lactic acid bacteria may continue their fermentation for a long time during cheese making, both during and after coagulation. The rate of acidification is the most important measure of a starter culture because it determines the curds (and cheeses) eventual pH (acidity) as well as their moisture and mineral contents.

Secondary Cultures

Secondary Cultures are often added to the acidifying, coagulated milk and curds. They can be applied to or encouraged to grow on the forming cheese. Each culture has unique flavor and texture effects, which help distinguish one cheese form another. Among them are a number of yeasts, molds, and bacteria with many strains and sub strains.

PROIONIBACTERIUM gives Swiss style cheeses certain characteristic flavors as well as holes due to carbon dioxide release in the cheeses interior.

GEOTRICHUM CANDIDUM, a white mold with yeast like traits, contributes to surface ripening of bloomy rind cheeses, as well as some washed ones.

PENICILLIUM GLAUCUM contributes dark blue-green colors and piquant flavors to Gorgonzola and other blues.

PENICILLIUM ROQUEFORTI has similar effects on Roquefort and related blues.

PENCILLIUM CAMEMBERTI which is crucial to Camembert style cheeses. It turns a young cheeses rind white at first, then changes to gray after a few days.

PENCILLIUM CANDIDUM, the equivalent for Brie types but it stays white and accounts for flavor variations.

BREVIBACTERIUM LINENS is a moist, reddish smear of bacteria that helps ripen many washed rind cheeses and tomme style cheeses.

Within each species of microorganism their are different local sub strains, which can account for subtle variations in cheeses. This is how the effect of terroir are played out at the microscopic level.


A natural chemical reaction that transforms fresh liquid milk into a solid. Traditional animal rennets are extracted from the stomachs of young ruminants. There are also vegetarian coagulants derived from stinging nettles, cardoon thistles, (cynara cardunculus), fig, papaya, and pineapple, or genetic material from molds.

Stirred into milk, rennet begins a two-step process that causes the protein in milk, which is normally dispersed in the liquid, to come together and form a matrix—what we call “curd.” To understand how this happens, try to imagine the ultra-tiny world of milk protein molecules—the casein type in particular. There are four different kinds of casein molecules in milk that attach to each other, forming protein “teams” called micelles that float throughout the milk. Milk is full of these micelle orbs. What’s remarkable is that molecules of one type of casein—kappa casein—protrude like fine hairs from the surface of each micelle sphere and attract water molecules. Without this attraction the micelles would separate from the liquid matter as solids. In other words, kappa casein makes milk proteins drinkable. 

For coagulation to happen, rennet has to perform the first step of the process, which is to cut those kappa hairs. When the surrounding layer of kappa casein breaks down, water molecules are repelled. This allows the second phase to begin, whereby all the casein molecules naturally aggregate, forming a sponge-like mass (again, curd). If caseins were not naturally inclined to attach to each other, coagulation would never happen, no matter how much rennet was added. We can thank molecular affinities, as much as rennet, for cheese as we know it.

Rennet induced or enzymatic coagulation takes about half an hour, varying with milk characteristics, temperature and recipe. Acidification continues until the lactic bacteria have ceased to function because temperature is no longer conducive, the acid level in the curds is too high, or they’ve simply run out of lactose to ferment.

Acidification also has a coagulating effect of its own. Curds formed by acid coagulation are generally less firm and elastic than those formed by rennet coagulation, they are more fragile and lead to a softer cheese with a higher moisture content. All milk bound for cheese is acidified, some by lactic fermentation (acidification) alone, with no rennet. The majority of cheeses rely on a combination of both types of coagulation.

The acid level inside a cheese is key to how it will ripen. It determines what type of micro flora can survive and thrive and how the different chemical breakdown reactions proceed toward developing texture, aroma, and flavor.

Pasteurization and heat treatment. Pasteurization kills virtually all microbes in milk, affecting the entire process of producing cheese. It necessitates recipe adjustment to reintroduce acidifying and coagulation agents and to replace the natural aroma and flavor inducing enzymes in milk.

Temperature. The higher the temperature the faster the chemical reaction. If milk is too cool it won’t proceed properly. If its too warm, the curds may become rubbery.

Cutting the Curds

Once the curds have coagulated into a smooth, solid mass, they naturally begin to contract and expel their whey, which consists mostly of water. The technical term is syneresis. The more surface area the curds have, the more syneresis will occur. This means the more the curds are cut, the smaller the pieces are, the less moisture they will retain. To produce a softer cheese with a higher moisture content, the curds must be left larger. Think of a moist cottage cheese  versus a dense, dry, aged cheddar.

The cheese maker watches the curds checking for firmness, to determine when they are to be cut. The pivotal decision involves critical judgement, exercised by inserting a small knife, spatula, or finger into the curd and removing a sample to see how it separates, which is called “the break.” Looking for a clean break so the curds don’t get torn, frayed or crushed, leading to mushy or ragged curds. The curds must maintain clean edges so the whey can leach out properly. If cut when too soft or firm, the leaching out process may go awry, meaning the target moisture content will be off, causing texture and consistency to suffer.

The cut curd particles should be uniform in size and shape. Traditional recipes instruct they be cut to the size of peas, walnuts, or grains of rice.

Cooking and Holding

The third step involves some amount of heating or cooking the curds as well as a holding period during which they are left to sit in the vat while the effects of acidification, and cutting proceed. Timing is crucial. The time and temperature of cooking is adjusted according to the composition of the milk and nature of the curds. The smaller the particles, for example, the hotter they will get.

Generally cheese making vats are hollow stainless steel “jackets”, allowing water to circulate inside and gently heat or cool the curds. If heated too quickly they can overcook and develop a hard outer skin, like trying to bake a cake with scrambled eggs.

During heating the curds are stirred to prevent clumping. As the curds swish and sway they bump into each other which has a pressing effect, promoting moisture loss. The more heat and stirring, the more moisture loss, the harder and denser the resulting cheese. Curds intended to become softer, higher moisture, bloomy-rind cheeses, such as Camembert, will undergo relatively mild heating, a gradual cooling and resting period, with little or no stirring. Curds for harder cheeses are “cooked”, heated to higher temperatures and stirred more vigorously.

When to stop cooking is critical to success. Cheese makers apply their savvy and intuition based on manual tests. Scooping out samples, squeezing them, rubbing the curds between their hands to get a feel for texture and consistency. Next they allow a portion to settle in their finger to see how much it sticks. This is called the “grip.” Both the “break” and the “grip” reflect the levels of acidity within the curds.

An optional step at this stage is to drain some of the whey from the vat and replace it with water, as is done with Gouda. Known as washing the curds, this helps lower acidity and raise the lactose and moisture content. The cheese makers job at this point is to coordinate the firmness of the draining curds with their acid development and figure out exactly when they are ready to be removed from the vat to undergo the next step toward becoming cheese.

Dipping and Draining

Dipping is a term for transferring the curds, by way of scoop or ladle, to some sort of draining receptacle or mold. Draining vessels are usually in the form of a basket or colander. At this point the milk has separated into the solid, cream colored curds, and the yellow or greenish liquid, whey.

Dipping is a form of draining, since liquid drains away from the solids in the basket, or draining receptacle. Another form of draining is to open a valve at the bottom edge of cheese vat and let the whey drain out.

Soft, moist curds will then settle and meld into a mass of cheese, taking on the shape of the container into which they have been placed. This is when the basket weave of Manchego is formed, or the trademarked Parmigiano Reggiano, is imprinted.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fourme d'Ambert

The mountainous Auvergne region of France boasts a few volcanoes whose activity in the past provides a rich and fertile soil where alpine flowers such as gentians and wild anemones bloom today. When you combine magnesium and potassium carbonate-thickened soil with fresh, natural mountain spring water, luscious and herbaceous grasses spring forth, creating ideal grazing land. 

Auvergne is home to many of the fine cheeses of France, but also one of the oldest. According to local folklore, Fourme d'Ambert was being enjoyed by the Druids long before Julius Caesar marched into Gaul. The chocolate of blue cheeses, Fourme d'Ambert has been known to convert even the staunchest blue cheese resistors. 

With its smooth, creamy texture and deep, dark flavor it's more buttery, less salty and bitter than many blues, an important standard of superiority. Aged for two to three months in humid cellars. It has a thin, yellowish rind mottled with sandy molds. Its interior is bone white with distinctive bluing. Although its scent is very earthy, Fourme d'Ambert has a mild flavor with a slightly nutty finish. The paste is both soft and smooth.

"Fourme" is a very old name for a cheese that comes from the bucket like cylindrical or drum shaped molds that the curds were hand ladled into to drain and shape the cheeses. Try this cheese with sweet Sauternes as a dessert course or as a light meal accompanying a salad and slice of crusty bread.

Epoisses de Bourgogne

Called the "King of Cheeses" by famed food author Brillat Savarin, Epoisses cow's milk curds are hand-ladled into forms, bathed with brandy, aged in humid cellars, then packed in cozy, wooden boxes for shipping. The cheese has a powerful, pungent smell, meaty, salty and pudding-like in texture, the pate, has a mouth watering taste of sweet, salty and creamy milk flavours.

Like many of its sister washed rind cheeses, it was probably developed in an abbey during the late middle ages by Cistercian monks in the environs of Dijon. Epoisses became famous during the reign of of Louis XIV and it is said to have been one of Napoleon's favorites. It was very popular in the early part of the twentieth century but disappeared during the second world war. It was only in 1946 that two local Bourguignon families started to produce it. 

The cheese is manufactured by heating cow's milk for at least sixteen hours using lactic acid, after which it is placed into molds, salted and allowed to dry. From there, it is aged for at least six weeks, during which time it is washed in a mixture of water and pomace brandy (also known as marc). This hand washing helps distribute the bacteria evenly across the surface of the cheese and adds flavor. The brandy gives the cheese its color and its strong scent.

Just as important as how the cheese is made are what species of animal it was made from, and what they ate. Brune and Montbeliarde Simmenthal cows typically graze for months in the fields of Burgundy until they are ready to be milked. The local grasses impart the unique flavors of the French countryside to the milk.

Allowed to sit at room temperature, Époisses practically melts inside its rind. When you cut into a perfectly ripe round the knife just sinks through the pate. It is ivory inside, resilient and slightly chewy with a soft creamy texture that melts across the palate. This is a big cheese with a strong flavor that hits you with salt and cream and earth and dust and an indescribable blend of flavors that linger long after you've swallowed the cheese. A perfectly ripe Epoisses is an extraordinary thing.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Le Chevre Noir

Le Chèvre Noir is a firm ripened goat cheddar cheese aged over 12 months. It is made from milk obtained from July through December and supplied by a cooperative of about 20 producers in Chesterville, the center of Québec, Canada. The cheese is made in rectangular bricks, and then coated in two layers of black wax. Chèvre Noir is made using the same "cheddaring" technique as its cow's milk relations. Whey is partly drained and the lengths of curd are cut into blocks, stacked on each other, turned and restacked several times to release moisture and ensure all the blocks are pressed evenly. This stacking technique is unique to cheddar and creates its smooth, dense texture.

This internationally acclaimed goat milk cheddar was first introduced in 1989 and has won several awards over the years. Chèvre Noir’s black wax protects the ivory, crystalline interior. Firm, dense and flaky in texture, the paste melts in your mouth with converted lactose sugars lending hints of crunch. Due to its age, the flavours of Chèvre Noir are complex and rich, ranging from nutty to refreshingly fruity flavors with a caramel aftertaste and one of the longest lasting finishes ever.

Nicasio Square

Over 100 years ago, a 17 year old Swiss immigrant, Fredilino Lafranchi, left his home in Maggia, Switzerland to come to America with the dream of owning and operating his own dairy. He married Zelma Dolcini, from a long-time dairying family, and they made their home on a 1,150 acre ranch in Nicasio in northern California.

Their son, Will, maintained the farm and raised six children there. Over the years, Will Lafranchi made many trips back to the Maggia valley, his ancestral homeland in the Swiss canton of Ticino, to visit relatives. He admired the mountain cheeses they served him and dreamed of making similar cheeses on the ranch, but never did.

After his death in 2002, his children pursued the dream more vigorously. They tracked down a cheesemaker in the Maggia valley, Maurizio Lorenzetti, whose wares they liked and persuaded him to come to California and mentor them. Lorenzetti helped the family devise recipes for several Swiss-style cow's milk cheeses and taught Scott Lafranchi, one of Will's sons, how to make them. 

Nicasio Square, a Taleggio-like washed-rind cheese, is one of six cheeses in the company's repertoire. It is a 4-pound square, standing about an inch tall, with the thin, tacky, salmon-colored rind typical of cheeses that have been washed repeatedly with brine and flavor-inducing bacteria.

Over the 30-day maturation, the bacteria produce that signature washed-rind fragrance, that is far more pronounced than the taste. The interior is semisoft, with a uniform pale-butter color and many tiny eyes. It isn't as supple as a ripe Taleggio nor as bold in flavor. The salty rind adds a pleasing crunch, so don't cut it away.

Brie de Melun

When most people think of French Cheeses, the first that come to mind are Camembert, Roquefort, and of course Brie. Unfortunately, as is the case with so many of the world's most famous cheeses, there are many inferior factory made and industrial cheeses that manage to reach the market under the name Brie.

Of the genuine , artisanal Brie type cheeses, Melun stands out as one of the best. It comes from the southern part of the Brie region and is thought to be the prototype for all others. It is also the strongest and fullest version, with a bigger flavor than it's better known younger sister, Brie de Meaux. It is a lovely full dosage of the savory, mouthwatering, creamy sour milk flavors. It has a fairly wide window of peak ripeness, possibly due to it's smaller format, and doesn't seem to fade or go over the hill quite as fast if not consumed immediately.

Bayley Hazen

Bayley Hazen Blue is a natural rinded blue cheese produced by Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. A true farmstead cheese, using the milk from their own herd of Ayshire cows who graze intensively from late spring to early fall. It is made with whole raw milk every other day, primarily with morning milk, which is lower in
fat. Ayrshire milk is particularly well suited to the production of blue cheese because of its small fat globules, which are easily broken down during the aging process.

The paste of a Bayley Hazen is drier than most blues and the penicillium roqueforti takes a back seat to an array of flavors that hint at nuts and grasses and in the odd batch, licorice. Though drier and crumblier than most blues, its texture reminds one of chocolate and butter. It is aged between 4 and 6 months.

Bayley Hazen is named after an old military road, commissioned by General George Washington, was built to carry troops to fight the English on a Canadian front. Though no battle ever took place, the road brought Greensboro its first settlers and continues to be used.


Appenzeller belongs to the centuries-old tradition of French and Swiss mountain cheeses made initially in monasteries. Cool mountain caves were used for storage, and the monks perfected the practice of rubbing the wheels repeatedly with brine to preserve them and encourage a rind. Appenzeller has a documented history of at least 700 years.

Originally from the mountain canton of Appenzeller, Switzerland, close to Austria, it is also manufactured in the Swiss cantons of Saint Gallen and Thurgau. Small brown Swiss cows graze on the rich pasture of the alpine forelands and the milk they produce is made into a delicious and full flavored cheese, of which the recipe is still kept a secret. Maturation time is 7 to 12 months and usually peaks at around 9 months.

All Appenzeller wheels are washed repeatedly with an herb-infused brine, but no two producers use the same recipe. Some formulas are said to include as many as 20 herbs or a local herb liqueur, as well as white wine or cider. Resembling Gruyere in texture and flavor, Appenzeller wheels are smaller, about 20 pounds. The paste is butter-colored, darkening with age; the consistency is smooth, dense and semifirm, and it shouldn't be grainy.

The flavor is fruity and balanced with aromas of brown butter and roasted hazelnuts, and hints of a barnyard fragrance that characterizes most washed-rind cheeses. Appenzeller, Ementhaler, and Gruyere form the classic Swiss fondue trio. Three types are sold:
  1. "Classic". Aged three to four months. The wheels are wrapped in a silver label.
  2. "Surchoix". Aged four to six months. Gold label.
  3. "Extra". Aged six months or longer. Black label.

A breif history of Cheese

The origins of cheese are shrouded in the mists of prehistory. It is believed that simple, lactic fermentation cheeses were made shortly after the domestication of sheep and goats roughly 11,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence of cheese making dates back approximately 7,000 years to the Sumerian and Mesopotamian civilizations in the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in present day Iraq. There is also evidence of it in pre-Roman cultures in both Northern Europe and the Italian Peninsula (with the Etruscans) more than 3,000 years ago.

Homer's Odyssey, believed to have been written in the eighth century BC, mentioned Cheese making: Odysseus and his men had a run in with Polyphemus, the foul tempered Cyclops who was a Shepperd and is said to have made cheese from the milk of his ewes.

The Romans left the first written accounts of cheese and cheese making, such as in the works of Marcus Apicius in the first century BC. Making Parmesan like cheeses along the Italian Peninsula; as the Roman empire expanded, they not only exported their cheeses but also discovered local delicacies in conquered territories, ancient precursors of modern cheeses such as Cheshire and Lancashire in England; Roquefort, Cantal, and Salers in France, Mahon in Spain, and Sbrinz in Switerland.

Roquefort is perhaps the most famous cheese in all of human history. Cesar's centurions encountered it in the first century BC during their conquest of Gaul, and it was mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia dated AD 79.

Primitive forms of Brie- handmade, ladled, lactic fermented, young farmhouse types- were definitely around during Roman times and probably before. Brie style cheese in a form close to what we know today, was likely being served at least 1,200 years ago. The emperor Charlemagne enjoyed them in the eighth century BC, and they were being sold in Parisian markets as early as the 13th century.

Another decisive event in French Cheese history was the invasion of Arabs form North Africa in the early 8th century AD. The Saracens occupied the country as far north as the Loire Valley and brought their goat herding culture to the area. Although they were driven out after the battle of Tours in 732, the Loire Valley has become the most famous goat producing region in the world, including such classic place name chevres such as Selles-sur-Cher and Pouligny-Saint-Pierre.

Excerpts from "Mastering Cheese", by McCalman and Gibbons. A fabulously beautiful and informative book for anyone excited about cheese.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cheese is good food.

Cheese is a delicious and tremendously efficient source of nutrition. It supplies many valuable nutrients, including proteins, vitamins, minerals, sugars, and trace elements. A 4oz. piece of solid farmhouse cheese supplies over half the adult nutritional requirements for protein, fat, calcium and phosphorous as well as significant portions of vitamins A, B2, and B12. If you compare the nutritional content of 100 grams of an aged cheese like cheddar or Emmental to an equivalent amount of chicken eggs (2 eggs are about 100 grams), the cheese contains nearly twice as much protein and only a quarter of the cholesterol.

The miracle of evolution has ensured that milk is an extremely nutritious food. Without it, how would mothers, down through the eons, have guaranteed the survival of their precious newborns. Cheese has the same nutrients as the milk it came from except they are much more concentrated, which makes it a highly efficient delivery method.

Plants in the pasture have absorbed nutrients from the soil; the dairy animals have extracted those nutrients, packing them in the form of milk. The cheese makers have concentrated and preserved the milk.

Another advantage of cheese is that its nutrients are "predigested" by bacteria and enzymes during the cheese making and aging. This means the process of breaking down its proteins, fats and sugars has already begun before our digestive system goes to work. This enables our body to devote less effort to processing and digesting the cheese than many other comparably nutritious foods.

Nutrition experts increasingly recognize that fat tastes good and satisfies us and also that there are beneficial fats available in milk. Many of them work as antioxidants and also provide fat soluble vitamins good for our skin and organs. In cheese, milk fats undergo lipolysis, which breaks them down into more easily absorbed and beneficial fatty acids, some of which, in turn enable us to metabolize the fats from other foods.

It is true that cheese has some "bad fats"- the saturated type from animal sources, which are associated with bad cholesterol- but it also has lots of good ones. Cheese, especially those made from the milk of grass fed animals, are a good source of conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, a highly beneficial nutrient, which is considered an antioxidant, a cancer fighter, and miraculously a fat reducing fat! (Studies have shown that people and animals consuming more CLA eat less.)

Real cheese delivers a big bang for your buck. It represents very concentrated nutrition, so a little goes a long way. Consider it takes 10 units of milk to make one unit of cheese. So all those nutrients are packed into a convenient, portable package. The best part is, that to us those nutrients translate into flavor. The more nutritious grasses the animal ate, the more flavorful the milk will be, and consequently more intense and delicious the cheese will be.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Sottocenere is originally from Venice, Italy and translates from Italian literally as "under ash". The use of ash as a cheese rind is a tradition in the Venetian region used to convey subtle flavors into the cheese. This creamy, labor-intensive cheese is made with raw cow's milk, rubbed with olive oil and a laundry list of spices including, cloves, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, fennel and licorice. The spices imbue a subtle complexity of a quiet canal, far removed from the raucous San Marco Square atmosphere one might expect from so many ingredients. The Semi-Soft paste is laced throughout with slivers of black truffle. Delicate, aromatic and understated, Sottocenere is a silken indulgence perfectly suited to the sparkle of Lambrusco.

Warm up cold nights

Janet Fletcher says it best. "On a recent cold evening, I arranged thin slivers of Sottocenere on top of creamy, just-cooked polenta and let the cheese melt in the heat. Toasts topped with Sottocenere and broiled briefly would be a glamorous accompaniment to a green salad. Top a hamburger an elegant cheeseburger, or tuck some slices into a holiday omelet. A crusty grilled Sottocenere sandwich cut into small, neat squares would make a festive hors d'oeuvre with Champagne."

Pave du Nord

Named after the the pavement stones it resembles, Pave du Nord is almost as durable and difficult to cut. The rough and pumice like exterior hides a bright orange interior the color of a burning sunset. 

This cheese is hard, dry, and flaky until you get it in your mouth, where the texture eases into into a creamy, salty, pleasantly pungent flavor with an earthy undertone. The flavor seems muted at first, but as it melts on your tongue, the deeply savory and nutty notes come through.

Similar to Mimolette, Pavé du Nord has the same rich taste, but its more tender texture makes it an excellent melting cheese. Try broiling it over pasta, polenta, or potatoes for an unpretentious, incredibly savory gratin.