Thursday, January 25, 2007

Who Cut the Cheese?

Thanks to an invite from my sister, Lane, and her boyfriends aversion to cheese, last night I got to attend cheese class. Cheese 101 was held upstairs in the classroom at famed Murray's Cheese. Murray's knows cheese. They've got over 250 kinds of unique, delicious, aromatic cheese. They've also got 5 caves, for reals---earthy caves under the NY ground of their store---where they have young cheeses sent to them to age in their own caves, giving them that distinct Murray's flavor.

We sampled 6 different cheeses last night, accompanied by drinks, bread, nuts, and dried fruit. If you look at the plate pictured above, we started at 12 o'clock and moved clockwise. Perhaps I will share a bit of the wisdom I gained last night. You will notice that we started with lighter, softer cheeses and moved to deeper colored, harder cheeses. This was done purposely to entice the palate, but not overwhelm it.

Did you know that from 10 lbs. of milk, 1 lb. of cheese is made? Cheese making is therefore a labor-intensive work of love and science. Pretty much all cheese is made up of milk, salt, and a fermentation agent of either rennet or lactic acid. The difference in taste comes from the way each cheese maker cares for and ages his cheese.

You should always eat cheese from grass fed animals (cows, sheep, goats). It is better for the animal, better quality cheese, and better tasting. It has a more earthy, natural taste to it.

There are many different kinds of rind on cheeses. Some cheeses are purposely injected with bacteria to encourage mold growth. Others are waxed and sealed to stop the aging process before they are shipped for sale. A good rind, in a good cheese shop, should always feel a bit tacky to the touch. Also, you should ALWAYS eat (or at least try) the rind on a cheese (unless of course it is a wax rind). It is the most flavorful and power packed part of the cheese.

Mold on cheese (as in rind and blue cheese), is good mold. There is nothing to worry about when eating it. It is all good, clean, healthy mold. Some kinds are even health beneficial. However, this does not mean you should let mold grow on the cheese in your fridge and then eat it.

Also, milk, and therefore cheese, is at its best in the springtime. Animals naturally produce their most flavorful, enriched milk during this time of year. This is because springtime is a time when animals give birth and need to have the best nourishment for their young. In order to take advantage of this naturally occurring phenomenon, some farmers manipulate the light conditions on their farms to 'trick' the animals into thinking it is spring time. Others keep milk from spring and store it (freezing) for use later in the year, to allow them a year long income. But the purists only produce cheese for sale during the magic 3 months of the year when their cheese is at its best.

Well, when all was said and done, not only did we leave our plates empty and our tummies chock full of delicious cheeses, but our minds a bit enlightened as well. We resolved that the cheese case is no longer a daunting and overwhelming vehemoth, but a curio wanting to share its delicious (and stinky) abundance with us.


ali said...

Dude. This sounds like so stinkin' fun. And good. Thanks for the cheesy enlightenment.

Now, where's my Boursin?

Lorilee said...

Wow, I just learned so many new things about cheese, ......thanks Jamie.

Here is what I already knew...
1. it pretty much makes anything taste better, once it has been melted over the top.
2. my favorites are: havarti and feta.
3. eat too much and you could have a bathroom problem.

Lorilee said...

What's your favorite?

jamieanne said...

I've always been a gouda girl myself. However, this class turned me on to a cheese called Brillat Savarin (about 2 or 3 o'clock on the plate). It was quite tasty!

Ashley A. said...

I love me some stinky cheese in the Spring time.

Isn't it funny that a heffer makes her best cheese when she's expectin' and we (humans) aren't supposed to eat soft cheese when we're expectin'?
Funny little trick nature is.