As a cheesemonger, I’ve spent the last nine years or so trying to learn as much as possible about the ins and outs, the hows and whys, and the good, the bad, and the ugly about cheese. And let me tell you, at times it’s been a rocky, bumpy, ‘trip and pretend to jog so it doesn’t look like you tripped’ kind of road.
Take for example my experience as a cheese making intern at Cato Corner Farm way back when I was first getting started in cheese… On the drive up to the farm for my first trial day I was eavesdropping on the farmer and the current intern talking about the cows ‘freshening.’ To the ears of a girl who grew up in suburban Chicagoland, it sounded more like a commercial for Dial soap, or maybe that outdated and ill fated product ‘Shower to Shower’ (anybody remember that one?!?) than barnyard banter. But no, in farm speak, freshening means to give birth, and with a great swallow of pride and extreme reddening of the face, it dawned on me that cows have to have babies to make milk.
Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot since then, but there’s a lifetime worth of information still out there, just waiting to make me do that ‘trip and pretend to jog’ move… This Monday morning, here’s a list of some of my greatest hits of questions a cheesemonger gets asked. It’s never too late to start learning!
Q: Why is some cheese stinky?
A: The rinds of stinky cheeses are washed with brine or some other liquid (often boozy!) which creates a perfect environment for a particular kind of odoriferous orangey-red bacteria to grow on the rind.
Q: What causes that creamy layer under the rind of Brie-style cheese?
A: All Brie-style cheeses fall into a category called ‘mold-ripened’ cheese, meaning that the fluffy white mold that grows on the outside of the cheese actually does the ripening of the cheese. As the mold breaks the cheese down from the outside in, it causes the paste (the inside) of the cheese to break down and get creamier.
Q: How long can I keep cheese?
A: Depends. I have two basic rules. The softer the cheese, the faster you have to eat it. And second, you can keep most cheeses (especially hard, aged cheese) for a LOT longer than you think. Just trim any mold off and keep on trucking!
Q: How should I store my cheese?
A: NOT in plastic wrap. Yes, ok, we do this at the shop for display purposes… But when you take your cheese home, show it a little love and wrap it in parchment or wax paper, and then wrap it again to seal it off from air using either plastic wrap, foil, or a ziploc bag. Wrapping a cheese directly in plastic wrap will make it taste like plastic, trust me.
Q: What are those crunchy crystals in aged cheese?
A: Protein! It recalcifies in the cheese as it ages… The older the cheese, the bigger and crunchier those crystals will be.
Q: Is Shopsin’s open?
A: Usually the answer to that question is no.
Q: Can I eat the rind?
A: Unless it’s wax, cloth, or some other foreign substance, yes! Just try a nibble, and if you like it, go for it!
Q: What’s your favorite cheese?
A: I can never answer that one. There are just too many to ever hope to single out just one. I guess my favorite cheese would be something akin to one of those mythological beasts that are a combination of creatures, some terrifying, some strong, some delicate: the curd equivalent of a goat-horse-dragon-shark-unicorn.
Today we’re talking cheese education with three of America’s leading experts! Max McCalman, Dean of Curriculum at the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center, Sascha Anderson, Director of Education at Murray’s Cheese, and Daphne Zepos, owner of the Cheese School of San Francisco. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about cheese, listen in and find your whey to some of America’s premier cheese education programs.