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Everyone has their favorite cheese. Whether it is a triple cream Brie,
some extra-odiferous Morbier, or good old-fashioned cheddar, cheese is
one of the most versatile and crowd-pleasing appetizers at any gathering.
I find that, no matter how runny or smelly a cheese I set out at a party,
most people are willing to at least try it (and most ask where I got it,
oddly enough). So this month I’m going to highlight a few of my
Before I begin, there are a few concepts to go over first. Number one
is “Appellation d’ Contrôllée,” or AOC.
This is a French law regulating a type of cheese. And by regulating, I
mean regulating. They control where it can be made, the breed of cow,
sheep, or goat it can be made from, the manufacturing methods used, and
the cheese’s shape and texture, among other things. The Spanish
and the Italians have similar laws called DO (Denominación de Origen)
and DOC (Denominazione di Originie Controllata) respectively. This means
that when you’re talking about a type of cheese like Manchego or
Asiago, it’s only really Manchego if it’s from the Castilla-La
Mancha region of Spain and it’s only Asiago if it’s from the
Vicenza and Trento regions of Italy. Now, I’m not a total purist.
I don’t really believe that if it’s made in Wisconsin or Vermont
(or wherever) that’s it’s automatically not as good; it’s
just not technically authentic.
The second concept is the classification of cheeses. While looking over
items for this article I’ve seen them classified by type of rind,
by age, by softness, and by region of origin. In each of these classifications
there’s also always a miscellaneous section. But it you’re
one of those people who feels more comfortable having the cheese laid
out by type, I’d go with the categories of fresh, soft, semi-soft,
hard, blue, and natural rind. Fresh cheeses are those meant to be eaten
with a few days of being made, like mozzarella or Boursin. Natural-rind
cheese is usually a fresh cheese that forms its own rind like Rouelle,
or Crottin. Soft cheeses include Brie and Boursault. Semi-soft cheese
includes two types—the more common Trappist (washed-rind) cheeses,
and washed curd. An example of Trappist cheese is Reblechon, while Edam
and Colby are examples of washed-curd cheeses. Hard cheeses include cheddar
and Parmigiano Reggiano. And blue cheese is, well, blue cheese (of which
I’m told the Maytag Blue is one of the best.)
There are also a few cheese terms that the novice learns in order to sound
smart. Look at me, I did it last night and now I’m writing an article.
Casein is the protein in milk. In soft cheeses it becomes watery, and
in hard cheeses it becomes (you guessed it) hard during the coagulation
process. FDB is “fat on dry basis.” This is the American version
of the term; it is not standard throughout the world. It is the statement
of fat content in cheese. The higher the proportion of fat to dry matter,
the softer and creamier the cheese. Curds and whey are the separated parts
of the curdled milk—curds are the solids, whey is the liquid. Finally,
rennet is the enzyme used to break down the milk into a digestible form.
Animal rennet comes from the lining of the stomach wall in milk-fed animals.
Fortunately for the vegetarians there is a vegetable rennet as well. Check
the chart at the cheese counter, or ask our knowledgeable cheese folks
if you’re uncertain. Now for my top five cheeses in our department.
Number one is definitely the Parmigiano Reggiano. It’s a hard, cow’s
milk cheese aged around two to three years. The makers adhere to production
methods mostly unchanged since the 12th century, controlling even the
cow’s diet—only fresh grass, hay, or alfalfa. Brittle and
crumbly with crunchy calcium lactate crystals, the difference between
this and the stuff you get out of the green can is amazing. Once you try
it you will never go back to the pre-grated cheese. I like it especially
over green veggies, but you’ll definitely notice the flavor on your
pasta as well.
Coming in a close second is our cave-aged Gruyere Swiss. Another hard
cheese, it is strong and dense with a nutty flavor. It’s also very
versatile. It makes great soups, gratins, and is a must for any fondue.
Next is our 6-year cheddar. Originally cheddar comes from the Cheddar
Gorge region near Somerset Britain. Ours comes from Wisconsin. It has
a sweet flavor that really sticks with you, and it also has those cool
calcium lactate crystals. Melt it slowly for the best cheese sandwich
you’ll ever have, or eat it with apples and pears.
Number four is the Reblechon. One of the AOC regulated cheeses, it has
very similar qualities to Brie. We label ours Brie-style, so people have
an idea of the texture although it’s not really a Brie. (For that
matter most Brie in our country isn’t true Brie. The Brie de Meaux
(AOC) is the real thing, but since it must be kept at room temperature
or it becomes rancid tasting, most suppliers and retailers use a more
stable, newer style.) Reblechon has an interesting history—it means
re-milked. French farmers were taxed on how much milk they produced, so
they secretly milked the cows at night before the taxman came. This first
milking produced richer, sweeter milk that became the Reblechon. Some
say it’s not a cooking cheese and is best enjoyed with salami or
ripe fruit, but I have found a tasty fish pie made with it. Go to www.frencheese.co.uk
and check out the recipe.
The last cheese on my list is not for the faint of heart. Morbier is a
semi-soft cheese with a very pungent fragrance. A cow’s milk cheese
originating in the Franche-Comté region of France, it is aged two
to three months, and has a sweet (almost fruity) flavor. Melted and eaten
with crusty bread or potatoes, it is delicious (if you can get by the
There you have it, my top five favorite cheeses here at the Co-op. Our
cheese person would be upset if I didn’t include the triple cream
Brie as an honorable mention. Now that it’s time for picnicking,
and in honor of dairy month, stop by and try out some of our wide selection.
The reward for being a little adventurous is usually worth it.