Cheese

“BellaVitano Gold” and the difficulty of writing well about cheese

My favorite cheese right now–the kind I get all the time for myself and my 2 year old cheese-addict son–is a kind of cheese called BellaVitano Gold.

     Since I’m new to writing about cheese, I’m not sure how to describe it other than saying it’s, “ummmmm, really good.”
     Oy! This description-thing is something I have to work on pretty hard, as it feels like everyone I know who likes cheese is better at describing it than I am.  For example, I gave a wedge of BellaVitano Gold to  the then-protein-craving-pregnant-mother of one of my son’s daycare colleagues,  and she emailed that it reminded her of “Monchego with the saltiness I love in Parmesan, and yet it is totally in a league of its own!  (nutty, salty, and very robust!)”
     Pretty accurate, and much better than I can do right now!  According to the article “Describing Cheese”  by Jennifer Meier at About.com, “Nutty” refers to cheese that’s “a little sweet, often similar to the flavor of hazelnuts.”
     I’ll go with that, adding that BellaVitano is slightly sweet…but also slightly sharp, too….
     Sigh. “Slightly sweet but also slightly sharp.”  Not the best lingo, but whatever. I plan to keep trying to learn from people who really have their cheese-words down.  People who do sound wonderful and metaphorical and mellifluous….A coworker told me how much fun he once had at Caseus,  New Haven’s cheese restaurant, where the owner Jason Sobocinski described all of the individual cheeses on a cheese plate to him.  My coworker was like, “Yeah, baby, keep using those words!” (Sobocinski also has a cookbook out called Caseus Fromagerie Bistro Cookbook: Every Cheese Has A Story and a show on The Cooking Channel called The Big Cheese. Apparently this guy really knows how to talk about cheese!  In an interview for “Guest of a Guest”  he says
 
My credo is that every cheese has a story, and that’s one of the things that really draws me to it. I’m not necessarily selling just a product; I’m selling all the things that go along with it. Legends, stories, ideas and sometimes just experiences that people have had when they go to a place and try a cheese – that to me is what eating is all about.
     I haven’t found good stories about BellaVitano Gold yet, but it’s  made by Sartori Cheese, and according to their website they also make BellaVitano cheeses infused with Balsamic, Black Pepper, Merlot, Raspberry, Chai, Espresso, and occasionally Cognac, Cannella, and Peppermint.  I’ve gotten the Gold, Merlot, and Espresso from New Haven’s Elm City Market and bought the Raspberry one at Stew Leonards  in Danbury (Stew Leonards is a crazy-huge/strange grocery store, noted by Ripley’s Believe it or Not as being the largest dairy store in the entire world.  It also also has mechanical singing cows, singing milk cartons, singing bananas, singing butter-sticks, etc. in most of its aisles.  Warning to parents of toddlers: this can either be wonderful or absolutely, utterly terrifying….)  So far I still like the Gold best, but maybe I’ll find new favorites as my palete, and vocabulary, develop.
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     Ah, here’s another description from the website “Wisconsin Cheese.” I like it.  
Inspired by traditional Italian farmstead cheese, BellaVitano® is a rich, creamy style with a nutty, fruity flavor with caramel and pineapple overtones. The flavor begins in the mouth like a premium Parmesan and finishes with hints of melted butter. The texture combines the creaminess of a young Cheddar with the savory, crystalline crunch of a premium aged Parmesan.
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“The bacteria that you find in between the toes is actually very similar to the bacteria that makes cheese smell like toes.”

Are you a true caseonaut??????????????????????????????????????

Megan Gambino of Smithsonian Magazine asks,

 If a cheesemonger were to offer you brie or a pungent stilton, and just as you reach for it, share a juicy detail—that she culled bacteria from her own armpit to make it—what would you do? Would you turn your nose up and politely decline?

….In Selfmade, microbiologist Christina Agapakis and scent artist Sissel Tolaas collected bacteria from the mouths and toes…of willing participants…. They cultivated that bacteria and yeast in petri dishes and eventually combined them with milk to create farmhouse cheddar and whey cream cheese…..

Read more at Smithsonianmag.com: Cheese Made From Bacteria Between Your Toes and Other Bizarre Bio Art. (January 27, 2014.)

Cheese Eyes and “Crybaby Swiss”

In the cheese-world, the holes in swiss cheese are known as “eyes.”

A piece of swiss cheese w/out any eyes is known as a “blind” cheese.

The eyes are caused when bacteria consumes the lactic acid of the cheese, which is a process that makes cheese, well, cheese.  The particular bacterias used in swiss cheese  release carbon dioxide–which produce air pockets–which result in holes.

According to an article by Daven Hiskey at Today I Found Out, (Why Swiss Cheese Has Holes In It,  November 3, 2010,)  “the size of the holes in Swiss cheese sold in the United States is regulated by the U.S. Government.

The U.S. Government created these regulations at the lobbying of commercial American Swiss cheese producers, who were having problems with their mechanical slicers cutting cheese when the Swiss cheese holes were too big, (typical sizes of the holes used to be around the size of a nickel). Rather than innovate or upgrade their equipment, they went with the age old practice of simply lobbying the government to make laws to fix their problem.  Namely, to specify that, in order for Swiss cheese to be classified as “Grade A”, which is generally necessary for high volume sales in the United States, it must have holes no bigger than 3/8 of an inch, which is about half the typical size before these new regulations were put in place.  This also significantly shortens the required aging time of North American style Swiss cheese, which also benefited the American mass-producers of the cheese.

Arethusa Farm  in  Bantam Connecticut produces a “Crybaby Swiss.” (The cheese-portion of their website has a list of where one can buy their products.) According to Jill Lewis at the blog Cheese and Champagne, Crybaby Swiss

closely mimics a traditional Swiss cheese in flavor and texture. Dappled by small holes through its off-white paste, the cheese tastes like damp hay and toasted nuts. Those flavors give the cheese the same Swiss tongue feel – almost as if you have cheese morning breath, but in the best possible way. The interior is firm enough to support a thick cracker or slice of fruit, so it’s an assertive cheese from any way you approach it.

I’m not sure I want an “assertive” cheese to have eyes or cry or give me morning breath, but I’m still excited to try it….

Connecticut caseonauts: check out R.J. Julia!

Because I’m a Nutmegger, I’ve decided to focus Caseonauts esp. on cheeses and cheese-related delicacies that are made or can be bought in Connecticut.  (For example, the other day I wrote about bread-cheese.  The bread cheeses I’ve sampled so far are by the Juusto brand. [I will have to keep exploring bread-cheese, as I just found out from “The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin blog” that Juusto is not the traditional melt-in-one’s coffee bread-cheese, but is instead a spike-it-with-toothpicks bread-cheese. I next want to try the melting-kind!] Anyway,  Juusto is made in Wisconsin, but I  found at the caseonaut-loving Elm City Market in New Haven, where they have a cheesemonger on staff and often hold classes on cheese….The January class focused on Raw vs. Pasteurized Cheese and was subtitled “The good, the bad, and the stuff you never knew.”)

This weekend I found out that R.J. Julia  in Madison– known for being one of the best independent bookstores in Connecticut–is also a decent place for caseonauts. There’s a small bistro in back of the store where one can order cheese plates, grilled cheeses, and salads topped with good fromage.  I ate the cheddar, fig, and arugula grilled cheese and liked it.  My husband pronounced it “okay,” as he doesn’t like grilled cheese with lots of stuff in it. ( In fact, he only likes grilled cheese made with lots of butter and Pepperidge Farm white bread and Kraft American “Cheese,” the latter two products of which which he usually otherwise can’t stand.  So I don’t think he’s the best judge.) My cheese-loving 2 year old, on the other hand, pronounced the kid’s grilled cheese “good.”  He’s a picky eater, so (for what it’s worth to caseonaut-toddlers and their caseonaut-parents,) that’s high praise.
R.J. Julia: well-worth exploring for book-lovers and cheese-lovers alike!

Brits run out of goat cheese!

While Superbowl-party-loving Americans are upset about the Great Velveeta Shortage, the British are up-in-arms about their own Great Goat Cheese Shortage.
Seems that goat-cheese has become the cheese of choice for many British cheese-lovers, as it’s easier to digest than cheese made from cow’s milk.  However, Britain is not the best country for raising goats, and goat-milk production is down all over Europe.  (I wonder whether they might now start importing more American goat cheese?)
Katy Salter of the Guardian speculates that the shortage might be good for British vegetarians, however.  In The great goat cheese shortage of 2014,  (January 20, 2014) she writes:
“As bad as the shortage is for farmers, it might be a nice thing for vegetarians who’ll finally get a bit of variation when they’re eating out or round people’s houses,” says food writer Alice Hart, author of Vegetarian. “Goat’s cheese became a stock vegetarian dish in the 1990s, around the same time that balsamic vinegar and sun-dried tomatoes were huge,” ….Both goat’s cheese tarts and salads are still menu fixtures in restaurants and pubs across Britain. Hart would like to see chefs move away from the cheese and create more inventive vegetarian options: “Thai salads, vegetarian summer rolls – something with a bit of pep to it.” If the goat’s cheese shortage lasts much longer, they may be forced to.

The recent rise of American Caseonauts

A bit of recent cheese history:  it was very difficult to be an American caseonaut before the 1990’s, as there just weren’t that many cheeses around to sample.

“American Cheese” was synonymous with Kraft’s American “cheese,” which, (as I’ll talk about in a later post,) usually isn’t actually cheese.  Cracker Barrel cheese (the white kind, at least) was thought of as being slightly exciting, and once in a while a party-giver would put out some brie, which no one would know how to eat. (Eat the rind? Don’t eat the rind? What the heck?)

Then, as the story goes, in the 1970’s a woman named Laura Chenel teamed up with famous chef Alice Waters to introduce goat cheese to the United States.  (Read more about Chenel’s cheese at The New York Times: For American Chevre, an Era Ends, by Kim Severson, 10/18/2006. Waters liked to put her cheese on salads.) This started getting people interested in what other kinds of cheeses might be out there, and though the effect wasn’t immediate, within another couple of decades artisanal cheese makers were producing lots and lots of different cheeses all over the country.  Today, “American Cheese” means, well, one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of varieties of cheese currently produced in America.

This parallels the recent renaissance of American beer.  As Julie Johnson writes in an article called called “Craft Beer and Artisan Cheese”:

“Many of us who grew up before the craft brewing revolution were exposed to bland cheese and bland beer, and for a lot of the same reasons,” observes Charles Finkel, founder of Seattle’s Pike Brewing Co. and an advocate for handcrafted foods of all types. “The words ‘American cheese’ or ‘American beer’ were synonyms for something that had little or no taste, that is mass-marketed and fills the void between being hungry or thirsty and satisfying those needs, but not with any panache.”

But over the past four decades, consumer frustration with national brands and styles has transformed wine, beer, coffee, chocolate—and now, cheese.

Read the rest of Johnson’s article at the All About Beer Magazine website, Volume 31, Issue 1, March 1, 2010.

Cheese for breakfast? Yes! Juustoleipa!

I used to think that the idea of eating cheese for breakfast was disgusting, (I’d conveniently forgotten that I ate cheddar or provolone in omelets all the time,) but then I came across “bread cheese,” or, as the Finns call it, “Juustoleipa.” (“Juustoleipa” is pronounced, according to the Juusto website,  as “hoo-stah-lee-pah.”)  It was originally made out of reindeer milk, (Imagine milking a reindeer! Sounds very dangerous. Here’s a Youtube video from “DeparturesTV” for the curious….) but these days it’s usually made from goat or cow milk.  It has a crust that looks like bread, (hence the name “bread cheese,”) and it’s mild enough to eat first thing in the morning.  Some people grill it, but one can just microwave it for 20-30 seconds or so if in a hurry.  It will look a little greasy when done, but if you have a cautious morning-stomach just think of it as “glistening-ness” instead of “greasiness” and you should be all right.  Note: it’s also sometimes referred to as “squeaky cheese,” because it squeaks against one’s teeth.  (This is a quiet, fun, just-for-yourself squeak, not a squeak-for-everyone-else-to-hear-too squeak, though.) Its mild taste makes it a good vehicle for other breakfast treats: it’s good eaten straight with jelly, and many like to dunk it in  coffee.  According to the eatwisconsincheese website, “mothers of eligible women used to offer suitors a cup of coffee with the cheese and, if the man liked the cheese, he married the girl!”