Cheese: Two Lessons in Love and Affinage

by Anne Maxfield on October 8, 2012

Accidental Locavore French Cheeses

A recent and disappointing cheese service taught the Accidental Locavore a couple of important lessons. First, the importance of affinage*. People may scoff at the idea and think its way it’s too precious to properly age cheeses (obviously they’re not French), but an accidental (almost blind) taste test of the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Jasper Hill proved the value of this to me and my guests without a doubt!

Accidental Locavore Clothbound CheddarWe had been nibbling on a wedge of the Cabot that I brought home from the Cheesemakers’ Festival before dinner at Red Devon. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that schlepping a wedge of cheese in a cold-pack (in July), is not usually the best way to preserve it, but the aged cheddar was picked partially for its seeming indestructibility. And the cheese survived its journey nicely! The piece we had at home had all the qualities I love in this particular cheddar. It was nicely sharp with a really developed, rich flavor. Besides great taste, it had the little bits of crystallization (called tyrosine) that just takes it to a whole new level for me! My friend had never tasted it before and quickly became a fan.

Accidental Locavore Vermont CheesesLater that evening, after a lovely dinner at Red Devon, a local restaurant, we ordered the cheese service. Since Red Devon prides itself on local products, we were guessing as to what might be on the plate.** What we received were three cheeses, a blue, something soft (think Camembert) and something looking like cheddar. The blue was cold, so there wasn’t much taste to it, the runny one was pretty good, probably the best of the three and the cheddar was not terribly interesting, with almost a smooth texture.

Accidental Locavore Raw Milk CheesesWhen the waitress told us what the cheeses were, we were stunned! The not-very-interesting, kind-of-plastic cheddar was my beloved Cabot Clothbound! My friend would not believe it was the same thing. To me, this is the prime example of how affinage makes (certain) cheeses taste so much better. It’s like letting wines age—just develops their full flavor potential. When I’ve bought the Cabot from Murray’s (who are big with the aging caves!), it’s always wonderful. Buying the same from Fresh Direct (local delivery service) and it’s a ho-hum wedge of cheese. So, without getting too fussy about it, always buy your cheese from someone who will love them and take care of them and serve them at room temperature. And then if you really want to finesse the cheese service, make sure you cut your morsels properly…

Which brings me to my second lesson. If a little love makes cheese taste so much better, what does it do to everything else we eat?

 

* Affinage is a French word that means to age and ripen cheese (usually in a controlled environment, like a wine cellar, but for cheese).

**Our guesses: the blue would be a Berkshire Blue, the runny one a Camembert from Chatham Sheepherding, but we couldn’t figure out who had a good, local cheddar. The most “local” one that was actually on the plate was the Cabot from Vermont.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne Maxfield October 16, 2012 at 11:36 am

What a beautiful website!
It may very well have not been a Cabot Clothbound, but that’s what we were told it was. It’s funny, I tend not to order cheese service in the US and am even picky about it in France, but my friends really wanted cheese. Live and learn.

sue sturman October 13, 2012 at 2:40 am

Jasper Hill doesn’t release their Cabot Clothbound before it’s ready. In fact, Cabot makes the clothbound and sends it to Jasper Hill for affinage; The Cellars at Jasper Hill are the largest affinage center in the Northeast. So what you had at the restaurant may have been a Cabot cheddar, but from your description, it does not sound like it could have been a Cabot clothbound at all. Look for restaurants with cheese staff who have earned the ACS Certified Cheese Professional designation and you’ll have a better chance of getting really good cheese service..

Anne Maxfield October 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm

LOL! Nice site you have, how can I get on your mailing list?

Chris October 11, 2012 at 2:17 pm

So true!! I recently had a fresh local chevre at an otherwise nice local restaurant. The chevre taste distinctly of…. tuna.

I asked the server who came back from the kitchen with an enthusiastic pitch for “that’s a trait of this cheese!”

She was patient with me when I asked her to see if there was tuna stored anywhere near the cheeses in the same fridge…

She cam back and just looked at me and whispered “Sorry!”

Anne Maxfield October 10, 2012 at 9:49 am

If you can buy the cheese directly from the cheesemaker (I did buy the Cabot directly from Jasper Hill who does the affinage for Cabot, at the cheese festival) that’s often the best bet. However, even in France, cheesemakers send their cheeses to an affineur. Since Murray’s (and Artisanal) really care for the cheese, I would buy from them before I bought from a place like Fresh Direct or Fairway.
I adore Andante Dairy and HATE Murray’s for getting me totally addicted to her “Etude” and then never having it again!!!! There’s a big hint for either Murray’s or someone near Andante Dairy…

Scott October 10, 2012 at 9:24 am

Well, now I would never had any idea about this if it weren’t for you. So I am actually better off not buying the cheese directly from the cheese maker, but from someplace like Murray’s? I would never have guessed this…

I like Andante Dairy incidentally….. check it out 😉

Ivan Hentschel October 9, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Oh my Gawd! Anne, do you mean to tell me that Velveeta is not CHEESE?

As reagrds your closing query: If you are what you eat, then you had better love how you go about it, or else you will hate yourself later. I think affinage and affinity are kissing cousins?

Anne Maxfield October 8, 2012 at 11:13 am

Thanks for the comment! I added a definition of affinage to the post. What are your favorite VT cheeses?

mercyn620 October 8, 2012 at 10:04 am

We always return from visiting my son in Vermont with various local cheeses. I had to look up the word affinage. Thanks for the education!

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