With so many well-stocked and diverse food stores at our disposal, it’s difficult to imagine that we could possibly be missing out on anything – including cheese. In fact, some cheese counters are so daunting, it would take months to eat your way through every option. But the hunks we find at even the most well-endowed cheese shops are just a tiny sliver of everything the world has to offer.
There are several interconnected reasons for the relatively limited selection of foreign cheeses in the United States. Bureaucratic institutions make international compliance with food quality regulations difficult, if not impossible. Small-scale operations abroad rarely have the means or the desire to change their ways to comply with foreign standards, and feel little incentive to give up their traditional methods when there is enough enthusiasm for their product as-is at home.
“They’re not going to make more unless they’re entrepreneurial and value making money,” says Emilio Mignucci, Vice President of Product Pioneering at DiBruno Brothers in Philadelphia (and a third-generation member of the store’s eponymous family). Mignucci was, of course, pointing to many cheesemakers’ reluctance to change their traditional ways for capital gain. “They’ve been doing it for hundreds of years.”
’Tis the season for neighborhood treat exchanges, family get-togethers, and New Year’s celebrations. And so comes the yearly appetizer conundrum. Appetizer spreads have become a competition as we all try to out-hor-d’oeuvre one another. Each year, we try to bring something a little more sophisticated and spectacular to the party. But whatever happened to the classics? Why re-invent the wheel? That’s why, this holiday season, I’m going old-school. I am making cheese balls. (Please, hold your gasps of horror!)
It would not be a Lamoureux Christmas without a cheese ball. Even though some may see the cheese ball as the quintessential cheesy (if you will), retro (but not in a good way) appetizer, I look forward to the annual cheese ball gracing our table at Christmas. So it perplexes me why everyone snickers at cheese balls when they hold such a fond place in my heart.
As summer fades and the nights catch up to the days in length at the onset of autumn, we seek comfort in hearty food and drink that can stand up to the colder weather. ‘Tis the season for meaty stews, full-bodied red wines, earthy wild mushrooms, fibrous nuts and seeds, and dense fruits and vegetables. It’s also a perfect time of year to indulge in those rich, beefy cheeses that we pass over during the hotter months, when we instead gravitate towards feta, ricotta, and fresh goat cheeses that pair well with watery summer fruits, light salads, and crisp white wines.
Just as a wine can be blended from several grape varieties, cheese doesn’t have to come purely from one source to achieve divinity in flavor, body, and texture. As much as we all love a traditional, creamy Camembert or a tangy Chevre, sometimes it’s the mixed-milk cheeses that keep the senses most engaged. MORE
Believe it or not, there are some days when I welcome a lunch that smells like sweaty gym socks. At least that’s how Alex Greene, cheesemonger at Valley Shepherd Creamery, described the creamy, pungent block of Hudson Red he cut for me at the New Jersey cheesemakers’ Reading Terminal Market outpost in Philadelphia. But my days of stinky lunches could be numbered. The washed-rind, raw, cow’s-milk stinker is one of many that could be making its way onto the endangered species list — that is, if the government has its way.
My father does not have an illustrious history with cooking. You wouldn’t know that looking at him in the kitchen now – when my grandmother’s health was failing, he studied with her so that he could make her classic desserts, like fluffy cream cake, spiraling jelly rolls, and not-too-sweet apple pies. But before that, I knew my father to have exactly one dish – Welsh rarebit.
Few things are lovelier than ending a meal with a spot of cheese. The French have done it for years without any trauma to their collective girth, which suggests that indulging in a morsel or two of cheese after supper, instead of a brownie sundae, just might be better for all of us. In fact, eating cheese at the end of a meal is supposed to be good for your teeth. Thank you, food scientist Harold McGee, for that important dental insight.
For after-dinner inspiration, try ordering a cheese course for dessert next time you go out. The Fountain Restaurant in Philadelphia is famous for its cheese cart, which is wheeled to each table like an elaborate pram; the Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan offers an impeccable assortment which sits, veiled, on a slate in its tavern dining room, so that’s it’s impossible not to steal furtive glances. Cheese after a meal should be so exquisite; it should arouse desire. MORE
It was Friday, one o’clock in the morning, four hours into my supposedly two-hour homemade mozzarella recipe, and I found myself standing before a pile of cheese more akin to a ball of warm cauliflower than an artisanal dairy product. The “cheese” crumbled between my fingers like wet sand, and when I cautiously sampled a pinch of my work all that came to mind was damp, salty cardboard.
My desire to make cheese arose from my desire to eat cheese. I have an old habit of researching foods I tend to eat, and that research often results in an attempt to recreate my favorite dishes at home. As a student of the sciences, I set out on my cheesemaking ordeal under the impression that if I could solve differential equations, analyze blood flow models, and pass a course titled “Chronobioengineering,” I would have no problem separating curds from whey to make a little cheese.
Most people who profess to hate blue cheese don’t know a thing about it. They see blue veins, and they turn their peacock heads toward the Jarlsberg display. What a pity. If only they would close their eyes and accept a spoonful of Gorgonzola Dolce, then they might think they were eating vanilla ice cream. Or if they accepted a morsel of Cremificato Verde Capra, they might mistake it for lemon frosting.
Not all blues are badasses. Some tread very, very lightly.
I was 12 years old when I learned that macaroni and cheese didn’t have to come from a box. Until that point, mac and cheese was something that my mom bought occasionally and tucked away for those evenings when my sister and I were home with a babysitter. It was cheaper than a pizza and even a 15 year old with basic cooking skills could make it. We never had mac and cheese made from scratch because my mom could not bear to sit down to a meal that starred a dish made solely of noodles and cheese.
Then one night, an old friend of my parents’ came to visit, with four of her six children in tow. After a quick glance at our pantry, Lusana began to make a colossal batch of homemade macaroni and cheese to feed the kids. I watched in fascination as she made a creamy sauce, poured it over broken spaghetti noodles (it was what we had) and baked it until it bubbled and browned. A single bite and I was forever sold. MORE
If there’s a cheese pairing associated with Valentine’s, it’s a glass of bubbly and a wedge of triple crème. Lovers who fall for this luxe combo tend to think of it as a supremely naughty indulgence – the apex of dairy gluttony. After all, “triple crème” suggests three times the fat of regular cheese.
Like Cupid, that’s a myth. Let me spread some beautiful truth: a hunk of hard cheese, like Pecorino or Parm, actually contains more fat by the pound than a wedge of runny Brie. That’s because there’s more moisture in soft cheese, meaning: more water. Hard cheese, on the other hand, is low in moisture and high in fat, making it far more decadent. MORE
Lately, I’ve been dreaming about the cheeses of Piedmont. Like so many borderlands, this Italian region hugs France and sucks the marrow out of two cultures, fusing the best of both: namely, Italian vigor and French romance. Here, you’ll find operatic young goat cheeses rolled in flower buds, along with oozy Robiolias (think: robust Brie) swathed in leaves – fig, chestnut, or even cabbage.
It’s as if Versace had dressed these wheels.
Piedmont, which means “foot of the mountains,” produces more than 50 varieties of cheese, ten of which are labeled Protected Designation of Origin (DOP), a hard-to-garner marker that ensures quality and distinction. MORE
When I was a kid living back in the Midwest, my Swiss mother used to set out a cheese board every Sunday for lunch, along with crusty bread, cured meats, fruit, cornichons, and nuts. It connected her to her childhood, she always told us, but it served another purpose, too: real Swiss cheese was her end-of-the-week antidote to the many American products that made her scowl as the trolled the grocery, starting with Velveeta.
In our house, you had to eat Swiss cheese on Sundays. Or else. “The Frau,” as people often called our mother, taught us that strong flavors build strong character. MORE
So many of my foundational food lessons came from family members. My grandma Bunny taught me about meringues, while my other grandmother showed me how to shove slivers of garlic into roast beef to enhance the flavor. My mom is responsible for my everyday food knowledge (along with my basic canning skills) and my dad shared everything he knew about fried eggs, pancakes, waffles and the art of the chocolate chip cookie.
I wish I could tell you that I learned to make béchamel and cheese sauces from an aunt or a kindly neighbor, but sadly, the truth is that all the credit for that particular skillset goes to Rachael Ray, circa 2002. MORE
Right around the time I start digging out my sweaters, I begin to crave Spanish cheese. That’s because I associate Spain’s notoriously dense wheels with autumn smells – dry leaves, cool earth, a hint of wood smoke – and, especially, fall colors. A golden wheel of aged Mahon can be brighter than any maple, and a russet wheel of Ibores (rhymes with Delores) pops like neon pollen on new sidewalk.
Spanish cheeses take their color from spices like paprika, the source of Ibores’ rouge coat, and sometimes olive oil, which lends the surface of Mahon its characteristic dark gloss. Cheesemakers rub these ingredients into the rinds as the wheels age, a process that adds flavor – not just to the surface, but also to the paste as the spices slowly penetrate to the core. MORE