Cheese, an Overview

In reality, what education would be complete without a course on cheese? None, which is why I decided to take the cheese certificate class taught by Formaggio’s own Ihsan Gurdal. For the class we must journal about our experiences tasting all the wonderful different cheeses that are brought in, so here it goes! 

During the first class I learned many things I did not know about cheese. The most important, and most practical for the every day cheese eater, has to do with storage. You are not supposed to wrap cheese in plastic wrap. I am very guilty of doing this, partially because when you buy cheese at most stores it is wrapped in plastic wrap, so who would have guessed that is not how you are supposed to keep it in your refrigerator at home? Cheese is living, so you want to let it breathe, and plastic wrap does not allow that to occur, so really you should get cheese paper from your local artisanal cheese shop in which to wrap it.

As most cheese lovers know, there are several types of milk with which you can make cheese, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, and cow’s milk. All of these different types of milk produce different flavors and textures in the resulting cheese. Goat’s milk makes a cheese that is light, gentle, and easy to digest because it contains smaller fat globules. Sheep’s milk makes the cheese with the largest fat globules, so it is more difficult to digest. Sheep also only lactate for about six months out of the year, which makes this type of cheese less common. Another interesting fact about sheep’s milk cheese is that the pastures in which the sheep graze are the most important here out of all cheeses. The diet of the sheep comes across particularly well in these types of cheese, so those expert cheese tasters can easily identify where the cheese is from. Lastly, cow’s milk cheese, made from the heartiest of the three milks. Cows are usually milked twice a day, therefore cow’s milk cheese is plentiful, and it produces both raw and pasteurized cheeses very well. Especially when pasteurized, cow’s milk produces very consistent cheese.

It is important to know a bit about the cheese making process before I go into the tasting bit of this post. Basically, the curds of cheese are what eventually make the cheese itself, and also delicious poutine. One gets cheese curds by coagulating milk, which turns lactose into lactic acid and produces the curds (solids) and whey (liquid). Once you separate the curds from the whey you (and by ‘you’ I mean the cheese maker) then cut them to a size appropriate to what type of cheese you will make. Larger curds make softer cheese and smaller curds make harder cheese. Once you have the curds all cut nicely to size you can then press them into molds, once they are finished being pressed you float the resulting wheels in a brine bath to remove additional moisture and also help form a rind on the cheese. The process varies from here depending on the cheese you are making, harder cheeses age at room temp and the wheels are flipped about once a day, softer cheeses are aged in a cooler environment and flipped more often. The flipping prevents moisture from building up on one side of the wheel and creating an uneven flavor.

For the tasting portion of the class we had eight different cheeses with accompanying wine and condiments. Sadly, I did not think to take pictures of what I was eating during this first class, so you will have to use your imagination.

Starting with goat’s milk cheeses paired with Cross Tour spicy Quince and 2014 Dietro le case Menfi.

  1. Nerina from Piedmont Italy- This cheese was interesting because it was made with an ash wash n the rind, which you can definitely tell from the texture, which has a texture similar to extremely fine sand, not in a bad way though because it does not feel like you are eating a mouthful of sand, the ash just gives a depth of texture. This cheese, which is pretty mild, is aged and vaguely sour but also fairly concentrated. I am still figuring out how to describe cheese flavors in a way that makes sense to someone other than myself, so bear with me.
  2. St Maure cendree arrine, La Vernelle France- It tastes like how a goat smells but in a pleasant way. That is the best way to describe this slightly pungent cheese. The flavor is quite strong and animaly. One distinctive characteristic of this cheese was that it still had a very strong aroma while I was chewing it in my mouth. The quince that was served with these two cheeses went particularly well with this one.

Sheep’s milk cheeses paired with V Smiley Cherry, Marcona Almonds, Membrillo, and 2014 Dietro le case Menfi.

  1. Manchego Anejo Artesano, La Mancha, Spain- This hard cheese had a very dry texture, and was kind of flakey, which is due to the large fat globs in the sheep’s milk. It has quite a bit of a bite, which I loved, and was aged for over a year.
  2. Arrocca, Cagliari Sardegna- I didn’t think it was possible but this cheese was even drier and harder than the previous one. It is vary parmesan-like in consistency and also rather flakey. You can really taste the ‘fatty explosions’ from the larger fat globs in this cheese. That sounds kind of gross, I’m sure, but it isn’t. The fat cuts the dryness and ads an almost creamy aftertaste to the cheese.

Cow’s milk cheese served with Moxie’s Cassis Jam and 2015 Bouquetin Vallee d’Aoste Gamay.

  1. Wilde Weidekaas, Zoeterwoude, Holland- A smooth, gouda-like consistency is the best way to describe the texture of this cheese. The flavor had a bit of a sense of cooked milk. Rather than the hard bite of the sheep’s milk cheeses, this one fades in and fades out on the palate, quite nicely.
  2. Tomme de Verbier, Verbier Switzerland- A much softer, brie-like consistency. With this cheese you can definitely sense the brine washed rind, which gives a bit of needed texture to the cheese, which is subtly sour and very creamy.

Blue Cheese paired with Run dog run Honey and 2015 Bouquetin Vallee d’Aoste Gamay.

  1. Gorgonzola Isolabella Dolce, Lombardy Italy- This final pair with the honey was the highlight not only of my night, but of my whole week. Seriously, if you have never had blue cheese with honey go to the store right now and get some because it is the best thing you will taste all month. This gorgonzola, as far as a blue cheese is concerned, is pretty mild, but very aromatic when it is actually in your mouth. There is some bitterness, which the honey cuts very well.
  2. Bleu de Basques, Pays Basque France- This cheese is very animaly, kind of like the second goat’s milk cheese. Again, in a good way By this point I was really just enjoying the blue cheese/raw honey combination so I can’t remember too much about the cheese by itself.
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