Cheese is as wondrous as it is mystifying. For those who ever been perplexed or intimidated by this delectable dairy product and want to know a bit more about it, peruse the articles below.
Five Cheese Gifts No Cheese Lover Should Be Without
There aren’t many types of gourmet food that rouse as much passion as cheese. Perhaps it’s the almost countless number of varieties, or maybe it’s because each cheese is individual to a country or region, but one thing’s for sure – the love of gourmet cheese is definitely here to stay. Perhaps you are a cheese lover yourself, or you know someone that is, and you’ve often thought about the products that are available to help in the enjoyment of cheese. Well, thankfully, there are lots of different items available that can turn a run-of-the-mill cheese plate into something much more fun and exciting. You might even be looking for some gifting ideas for the cheese lover in your life, and there are lots of great options that suit that purpose, too. Let’s take a look at five great examples of cheese accessories that no cheese lover should be without.
A ‘proper’ set of cheese knives
We’ve had the experience of trying to serve gourmet cheese with a standard knife; it sometimes doesn’t give the right cut, making the experience messier than it should be. There are lots of serving accessories available, including a number of specialised cheese knives designed to cut any type of cheese in a clean and safe way. Some sets also include the classic cheese wire, which makes very short work of cleanly slicing any type of cheese. With a ‘real’ set of cheese serving accessories, any cheese lover will be able to enjoy the occasionally smelly passion all the more!
A cheese dome
Perhaps you’ve been in a restaurant, or seen in someone’s home, a cheese serving dome. These are usually glass, and make for the ideal accompaniment to any type of cheese platter . You simply place your selection of gourmet cheeses from all around the world on the pedestal, then place the glass dome over the top of them. This keeps the cheese away from airborne particles, and ensures it doesn’t dry out. It’s all about making the cheese taste the best it can.
A cheese grater
OK, so this one might be as common as hearing about the latest celebrity cruises, but a cheese grater is a fundamental addition to any cheese lover’s kitchen. It helps in all sorts of situations, and is perfect for dishes such as spaghetti and other pasta recipes. And let’s not forget – a cheese grater isn’t just for the more ‘haute couture’ dishes, it can be used every day.
Markers for your cheeses
If you or someone you know ever holds cheese tasting sessions to discover new tastes, you’ll always need a way to distinguish one cheese from the next. With a set of a cheese markers, you’ll be able to pop a little ‘flag’ into each block of cheese to let everyone know their cheddar from their Brie. These are available in a wide range of designs, so you’re sure to find one to suit you or a friend.
Cheese recipe books
If you or your cheese loving friend doesn’t already have a cheese cookbook, now is the time to get one. You never know what delicious cheese-based recipes are available, so it’s definitely something you should look in to. No matter how much you love cheese, there will always be new ways for your to enjoy it, and a cheese recipe book will be a great guide to help you discover these untold treasures. You might well surprise yourself with just how versatile cheese can be.
Of course, these aren’t the only cheese gifts out there; you could also invest in a nice platter, or a ‘real’ cheese board, but they should be enough to stimulate your imagination and get you thinking about new ways to explore the world of cheese. With a little bit of thought and research, you or your cheese loving friend could find a totally new side of cheese, as well as some cheeses which you may not have tasted just yet. The world is packed with new types of cheese, and more are being developed all the time, so make sure to broaden your horizons and make the absolute most of your love of cheese!
Is Gourmet Cheese the Key to Good Health?
It’s 6 weeks into the New Year and I would venture to guess many people have become lax about their new years resolutions to exercise and eat healthier. The gym is less crowded than it was a month ago and Valentine’s Day reintroduced us all to sweets such as cookies, chocolate and the ubiquitous cupcake. It should be no surprise that as The Cheese Ambassador, one of my indulgences is gourmet cheese. It turns out is that cheese may not necessarily be an indulgence after all but can be a part of a healthy diet and even prevent cancer! Foodies take note: gourmet cheese and good health are no longer at odds.
According to a study by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women who ate an ounce of full-fat cheese gained fewer pounds over time than women who did not include cheese in their diet. Cheese contains conjugated linoleic acid, which may boost your metabolism. While it’s hard to limit myself to just one serving, one way I incorporate gourmet cheese almost daily into my meals and snacks (I hate to use the word ‘diet’) is as part of a large salad. Blue cheese, especially, packs such a punch of flavor you don’t need more than an ounce. Here are a few of my favorite salad and cheese combinations:
- Mixed greens, dried cranberries, toasted almonds, blue cheese, raspberry vinaigrette
- Romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers, pepperoncini, garbanzo beans, feta cheese, olives, red wine vinegar and olive oil
- Arugula, pine nuts, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, lemon juice and olive oil
- Romaine, tomatoes, zucchini, roasted corn, black beans, jicama, aged cheddar and salsa vinaigrette
The good health/gourmet cheese connection doesn’t stop there. Dr. Oz recently featured an esteemed panel of cancer experts on his television show to provide cancer prevention tips. Renowned cancer researcher, Dr. William Li, recommended adding hard cheeses like Gouda to your diet. Hard cheese includes Vitamin K2, which inhibits the growth of cancer cells. It can prevent cancer, especially lung cancer. As a bonus, this vitamin also protects from heart disease and heart attacks by preventing the arteries from hardening. Soft cheese is also a source for Vitamin K2 but offers about half the amount, according to Livestrong.com, the Lance Armstrong Foundation for health and fitness. Check out the list of gourmet cheese high in Vitamin K2. Chances are many of your favorites are already on the list!
Have No Fear: Try These (Seemingly) Scary Gourmet Cheeses
In honor of Halloween we are celebrating the monsters (or should I say Munsters) of the gourmet cheese world. As The Cheese Ambassador, I find cheese to be a thing of beauty but I do come across some rather beastly specimens that give reason to pause before tasting. Whether it’s a malodorous aroma, dark, furry molds or a previously horrific experience that may hold you back, there are some cheeses worthy of a second chance. With one bite, you may realize you can’t judge a cheese by appearance (or odor) alone.
This Spanish blue cheese with it greenish-gray wrinkled rind is so riddled with bluish-blackish molds you may want to take a pass. If you are brave enough to taste it, you may find that the searing spiciness will overwhelm your palate and overpower other foods and wines. Tame this ferocious beast with a drizzle of honey and sip an aged Sherry. The sweet counterpoints will downplay the fire allowing you to enjoy the salty and creamy nuances of this Iberian classic.
There is one gourmet cheese so putrid it was once banned from Le Metro (the Parisian subway system) – Epoisses de Bourgogne. But don’t let this stop you from enjoying one of the most incredible washed-rind cheeses. With its edible rind the color of worn rust, Epoisses (as it’s commonly known) has a gooey, creamy center and a distinct, pronounced flavor. Made from unpasteurized cow’s milk, it is washed with a local brandy. Look for Epoisses in a small round wooden box at your local cheese shop or gourmet food store.
At first glance, Mimolette doesn’t seem so menacing. Truth be told, Mimolette does have a skeleton in its closet… This gourmet cheese is made with microscopic bugs known as cheese mites. They prefer the cloak of damp darkness in which to burrow. As they feed off the rind of the cheese they create paths of airflow which aid in flavor development as the cheese ages. By the time this French cheese has reached maturity, the cheese mites have disappeared entirely leaving behind only crumbly, caramelized, nutty goodness.
Hey, it’s Halloween season and how could I not include Munster. You may have had the supermarket variety with its sprayed-on neon orange faux rind. Most likely, it was a bland and gummy imitation of the original. Authentic French Munster, like many washed-rind cheeses, does have an offensive aroma. I urge you to power through the smell to enjoy the bold beefy and nutty flavors and the oozing texture.
TETE DE MOINE
Hailing from Switzerland, Tete de Moine literally means “monk’s head”. With one whiff, you’ll wonder why it’s not named Pied de Moine or “monk’s foot”. Made from raw cow’s milk, this gourmet cheese is traditionally shaved into thin ribbons by a handy contraption called a Girelle. If you can get past the strong scent, you will no doubt appreciate the intense and unique meaty flavor.
Mitigating Dairy Disaster: Lactose Intolerance & Cheese
If you ever felt bloated, gassy or just plain ill after eating certain dairy products, you are not alone. Ironically, shortly after I started this gourmet cheese business I found myself to be lactose intolerant. Certainly a cruel hand dealt from fate, or so I thought. Panic, depression and anxiety set in with the notion of never being able to partake in some of the most exquisite foods. Cheese had become my life and my livelihood. But after doing some research, I discovered that not all dairy products are equal in lactose levels and gourmet cheese can resume its rightful spot in my daily diet (phew!).
Lactose intolerance is a hereditary condition affecting up to 70% of the world’s population. Southern European, Asian and African populations tend to be the most afflicted. Lactose is a type of sugar naturally found in milk and dairy products. Lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine doesn’t produce enough of the lactose-digesting enzyme called lactase. So when milk products are consumed, the large intestine cannot easily digest lactose and therefore stomach aches ensue. Cramping, bloating, gas and belly pain are some of the (less gross) symptoms associated with lactose intolerance. The tricky part in managing lactose intolerance is that it affects people differently with some dairy types being easily tolerated (such as yogurt with live cultures) and in varying amounts. To help determine the right mix of dairy your body can handle without discomfort, it helps to know which milk-based foods have lower levels of lactose.
Milk, ice cream and yogurt are high in lactose (10 grams per serving). When it comes to gourmet cheese, the amount of lactose present is determined by the production and aging process rather than the type of milk used to produce the cheese. Turns out that cow, sheep and goat milk all contain approximately the same amount of lactose. Hard, soft-ripened and blue cheeses has less than 1 gram per serving. And most aged cheeses contain virtually no lactose. How could this be if real cheese is made with milk? As the cheese ages during the cheese making process, the lactose is converted to lactic acid.
So, cheese-loving, lactose intolerant afflicted foodies rejoice! If you have been giving gourmet cheese the cold shoulder, invite it back into your life. If you are unsure as to just which cheeses to extend the invitation to (meaning how long a cheese has been aged), take a look at this list differentiating fresh cheeses versus aged cheeses, listed in order of lactose levels from low to high.
Hard Cheese (virtually no lactose per serving)
Firm Cheese (less than 1 gram of lactose per serving)
Blue Cheese (less than 1 gram of lactose per serving)
Semi-Soft Cheese (less than 1 gram of lactose per serving)
Soft-Ripened Cheese (less than 1 gram of lactose per serving)
Fresh Cheese (higher levels of lactose) – proceed with caution
Chevre (fresh goat cheese)
Mozzarella (including Buffalo and Smoked)
Washed Rind Cheese (higher levels of lactose) – proceed with caution
Ew, What's That Smell: How Can Stinky Cheese Taste So Good?
Feet, socks, BO. We are not talking about the locker room but the aroma of some of the world’s most delectable foods – cheese. One step into a fine cheese shop and it’s easy to be overwhelmed with the foul fragrance. To some it’s offensive and to others it’s heavenly. With most foods, the sense of smell is directly related to the taste but this is not always the case with cheese. If the odor wasn’t enough to keep you from sampling these culinary delights then perhaps the use of molds and bacteria in the cheese production process will. These microscopic wonders are employed to produce a desired rind color and flavor profile. For the adventurous foodie, there are many renowned cheeses considered to have an unsavory bouquet that are definitely worth a taste.
Most gourmet cheeses known to be odiferous have something in common. They fall into a category known as washed-rind cheeses. During the aging process, these cheeses are washed with a brine typically of salt water, brandy, beer or other spirits. Sounds perfectly harmless, right? Turns out this washing method allows the cheese to become hospitable to the beneficial bacterium responsible for the brightly hued rinds, robust flavor and pungent odor. A few times per week, the cheeses are bathed in these liquids until they are perfectly aged.
As we all know, the French love their cheese. No other country produces so many types. There is one cheese so putrid it was once banned from Le Metro (the Parisian subway system) – Epoisses de Bourgogne. But don’t let this stop you from enjoying one of the most incredible washed-rind cheeses. With its edible rind the color of worn rust, Epoisses (as it’s commonly known) has a gooey, creamy center and a distinct, pronounced flavor. Made from unpasteurized cow’s milk, it is washed with a local brandy. Look for Epoisses in a small round wooden box at your local cheese shop or gourmet food store.
An equally sumptuous washed-rind cheese worthy of your attention is Taleggio. This square-shaped cheese from the Lombardy region of Italy has been crafted in the same manner for centuries. Made from cow’s milk and doused with a salt-water bath, Taleggio has an edible, rose colored rind. When perfectly ripe, it is a moist, semi-soft cheese with a buttery (some say meaty) taste. And let’s not forget the unforgettable odor.
With one bite of these epicurean treasures, it’s easy to forget the strong smell. Simply grab a bottle of wine and a loaf of crusty bread. But to be considerate, just make sure you are not on Le Metro.
Avoid the Imposters: How to Select Genuine Artisanal Cheese.
Take a stroll down the aisles of your local supermarket or gourmet food store and you may notice that many foods are labeled “artisan” or “artisanal”. You’ll find products such as bread, chocolate, cookies, crackers, coffee, flour, gourmet cheese, granola, oils, pasta, salami, salt, spices, and vinegar described as “artisan(al)”. And this term is not just reserved for specialty foods, mass grocery brands are employing them as well. Sargento Artisan Cheese Blends and Wheat Thins Artisan Cheese Crackers are perfect examples. How are shoppers to know whether this is just a savvy marketing term or if their product selection is truly “artisan(al)”?
The main issue with the term “artisan(al)” is that it's not regulated by the FDA like other food label terms such as “low-fat”, which have strict usage guidelines . “Artisan(al)” also bears different meanings across different food categories. Artisan coffee implies the beans are roasted in small batches while Italian artisan balsamic vinegar is produced according to strict regulations regarding recipe, process and region. Essentially, the common denominator for the term “artisan(al)” is to suggest associations of high-quality and to differentiate the product from mass produced foods.
When shopping for cheese in the United States, the origin of production plays a major role in how it’s labeled. The countries of the European Union (EU) have long recognized how food and wine is not only a way of life and a symbol of cultural and national pride but also an important tradition worthy of preservation and continuation. In an effort to protect these types of foods, to ensure a high-quality product and to minimize consumer confusion of similar products, the EU has developed the “Protected Designation of Origin”– a culinary copyright, if you will. Strict rules govern production particular to the protected food and wine such as region, recipe and method. The countries of France, Italy and Spain have greater quantities of foods and wines that benefit from this labeling system and each have a different acronym reflecting the translation into their respective languages – AOC, DOP and DO respectively. To make matters confusing, a PDO labeled food does not necessarily guarantee an artisanal product, as there are mass producers adhering to these stringent rules. And conversely, there are plenty of high-quality European foods made by hand in small batches that do not benefit from PDO status. See the article below for more information on European food labeling laws.
According to The American Cheese Society, an organization supporting American artisanal and gourmet cheeses, for American cheeses to be labeled "artisanal", the focus is on the process (and not the region, like in the EU). American artisanal cheeses are typically made by hand in a traditional manor and in small batches. This allows for the cheese maker to have greater control over the quality, flavor and craftsmanship.
To feel confident that the gourmet cheese you are selecting is indeed artisanal, take a look at the label or ask the cheese monger. Is it made by a small company or a large corporation? Does the packaging offer details about the production process and the cheese maker? Regardless of the “artisan(al)” term, what matters most when selecting gourmet cheese is the taste. High-quality will always be reflected in the flavor.
BTW, What Do These Cheese Acronyms Mean?
If you email or chat online with any frequency, you may have noticed a proliferation of acronyms being used. BTW (by the way), LOL (laugh out loud), OMG (oh my goodness) and WTF (what the f***) have found their way into our daily electronic communication. There is another set of acronyms you may want to become familiar with when shopping for gourmet cheese and fine wines – AOC, DPO and DO. And while it’s important to know what they mean, you will likely never need to say the words in their non-abbreviated form - unless of course, you want to show off your newfound foodie knowledge.
These cheese acronyms only apply to cheeses crafted in the Old World. The European Union (EU) has developed the “Protected Designation of Origin”– a culinary copyright, if you will. Only foods with PDO status are the authentic version. Strict rules govern production particular to the protected food and wine such as region, recipe and method. The countries of France, Italy and Spain have greater quantities of foods and wines that benefit from this labeling system and each have a different acronym reflecting the translation into their respective language.
Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) is the French version of the EU’s PDO laws and governs foods such as gourmet cheese, chicken, lentils, honey, butter and fine wine. The genesis of the French food labeling laws was first applied to Roquefort in the 15th century when production was regulated by the French parliament. A few hundred years and and a few hundred cheeses later, only 40 cheeses are protected by the AOC label including our favorites - Brie de Meaux, Camembert de Normandie, Comte, Epoisses, and of course, Roquefort. To illustrate just how stringent these laws are, Roquefort can only be named as such provided that milk from particular herds of sheep is used, the cheese is aged in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, France and must be injected with Penicillium roqueforti molds produced in the same cave.
To make matters confusing, Italy utilizes two acronyms to protect food and wine. Italian wines primarily use the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) assignment while gourmet foods such as prosciutto de Parma, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, gourmet cheese and even San Marzano tomatoes use Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP). Gorgonzola, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano and Fontina are just a few of the cheeses from assigned DOP status.
Spain regulates wine and food such as olive oil, jamon Serrano (cured ham), sherry vinegar, and gourmet cheese using Denominación de Origen (DO). A few Spanish DO cheeses you may be familiar with include Cabrales blue cheese, Manchego and Zamorano.
With all of the acronyms in your life, you may be wondering if you need to memorize more. Just knowing they exist and keeping an eye out for them may be enough to help you discover wonderful and exciting examples of traditional food and wine from these European countries. When shopping for gourmet foods and wines, look for these acronyms somewhere on the label. Whether you find the acronyms on gourmet cheese, fine wine or other specialty foods, you’ll feel confident knowing you are selecting a taste of quality, heritage, place and a sense of people. Like taking a trip without leaving home.