Thursday, September 10, 2009

What I Learned About Cheese This Summer

Back in April, I started cheese-blogging. Since then, I’ve spent five months researching, sampling, and serving my favorite dairy knock-outs, which have mostly been blues. Here are 10 things I’ve discovered:

  1. Real cheese hounds only serve cheese on bread so that flavors stay pure. Steven Jenkins, in The Cheese Primer (Workman, 1996), basically forbids crackers. Who knew?
  1. Every cheese book I read had something to say about plastic wrap. Most recommend special cheese paper, which is what pro cheese trafickers use; Saran strangles most cheese, which needs to breathe. If you do use Saran, for crying out loud always use a new piece.

  1. Buy slivers, not hunks. Cheese quality deteriorates the longer it sits around in your fridge. This is particularly true of fresh cheeses.

  1. Raw-milk cheese? Yep, it does taste better. Pasteurization kills some of the goodies in the milk and results in a less-complex cheese.
  1. “Vegetarian cheese” refers to cheeses that contain vegetable rennet rather than animal rennet, which comes from the stomach lining of an animal. Does it make a difference? The Stichelton at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London uses animal rennet, while the imported Stichelton does not. Same cheese, different rennet. I have to say, the animal-rennet version tasted especially good, but maybe that was because I was eating it in bed, glass of wine in hand.
  1. There are 8 types of cheese: fresh, semi-soft, soft-ripened, surface-ripened, semi-hard, hard (aged), blue, and washed rind.
  1. The toffee-like crystals that form inside aged cheeses, like Prima Donna (an aged Gouda-style cheese), are made of lactic acid, not caramel-flavored Pop Rocks, despite my suspicions.
  1. Cheese tastes best at room temperature.
  1. When you have a bunch of cheese nubbins lying around, you can make a dip out of them, called “fromage fort.” The Cheese Primer forbids throwing away stray cheese and instructs: scrape off the mold, let the cheese soften, then whirr it in the food processor with lots of chopped garlic and some dry white wine. Whee! You’ve got dip.
  2. If you want to have some fun, host a blue-cheese party. For an interesting range, offer some Stichelton (raw-milk British Stilton), Bayley Hazen (a raw-milk cheese from Vermont), and Rogue River Smoky Blue (a great smoked blue from Oregon). Have your guests bring their local faves, and serve plenty of candied nuts, figs, and good port.


  1. Love this! It's been a great 5 months!

  2. Awesome. I have lots of cheese nubbins, though few at room temprature. Now I know.