Wednesday, June 11, 2008

On being a curd nerd...

I'm back at work in the cheese plant, so naturally I've had cheese on my mind. Over the past few years, I have come to understand that there are many misconceptions about dairy and cheese out there... I've often been faced with the task of explaining that not all bloomy rind cheeses are bries, and that sheep are NOT, in fact, the same as goats.

The problem is, many of us Americans have grown up eating only cheddar, Kraft American Singles, string cheese, and Velveeta. So when coming face-to-face with a runny camembert at a Christmas party, or with a washed rind at a wine- and cheese-tasting, the whole experience can se
em a bit daunting. I have often observed that many people, no matter their age, are hesitant or may even refuse to try new foods, and cheese can be especially tough. Part of the deal is the mold...

People can get freaked out by mold! We have been taught that everything in the fridge that is moldy is bad! This is just not true. In fact, a lot of the cheese that we eat had mold in/on it, and on purpose! Some mold cultures can affect the taste of cheeses and the way they age. On the other hand, some are just "cosmetic", meaning they affect the appearance only and not the taste. So, sometimes, a cheese may not look "pretty" but it could be the tastiest morsel you've ever eaten.

I strongly urge you to sample new cheeses whenever you have the chance; at wine or beer pairings, holiday parties, or at restaurants (check out their cheese plate, especially if it showcases local cheeses). Also, don't shy away from the cheese section of your local healthfood store (I recommend Healthy Living -- new location and great cheese area!!) or gourmet market. Many times, you can find small cuts of cheeses for reasonable prices, so don't be afraid to test the waters (or the whey, if you will). =)

I absolutely love cheese. It's great for adding to salads or sandwiches or wraps, or for just plain snacking. If you have a favorite wine or beer, do some research onli
ne to see what cheeses pair with it best (or vice versa). I love testing out new flavor combinations. In addition to eating cheese as-is, it can also be a great ingredient. Cooking cheese can intensify the flavor or even change it. Try grating a tomme into a fondue or stuffing chicken breasts with soft sheep cheese or chevre. Feta is great on pizza, smooth ripe buttery bloomy rinds are great for making mac & cheese, and the list goes on and on...

Bottom line-- the world of cheese is filled with endless possibilities. Just get out there and explore it! And to all of you cheese-haters out there--"Quit yer uncurdly ways!"

Some cheeses I've been obsessing about lately:

  • Willow Hill Farm's Butternut -- a cousin of the late Mountain Tomme, Butternut is made only with cow's milk (the MT was made with sheep-cow mix).
  • Boucher Blue from Green Mountain Blue Cheese (Boucher Family Farm) is tasty and makes a great cobb salad...
  • Doe's Leap goat feta is zesty, citrusy, and satisfies my feta addiction
  • Grafton's Maple Smoked Cheddar is creamy and delicately smokey -- delicious when paired with Miguel's Reserva "Everything" chips

  • Manchego -- Pasamontes or Ojos de Guadiana -- nutty and delicious, as always
  • Tetilla -- smooth, buttery, creamy paste
  • Prebat de Ossera -- utterly delicious soft goat cheese

  • Halloumi -- very versatile... Great in salads, grilled and served in a pita, or even lightly smoked

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