aging cheese

Oh Come On, Really? The FDA vs. Cheese Makers

by Anne Maxfield on June 16, 2014

Accidental Locavore Cheese AgingBanning wooden boards for aging cheese? The Accidental Locavore is outraged and you should be too!  In an amazing use of its legislative powers, the FDA has ruled that wooden boards are not approved for use in cheese aging operations, declaring that “the use of wooden shelves, rough or otherwise, for cheese ripening does not conform to current Good Manufacturing Practices”.

Have you ever known anyone to get sick from eating cheese that was aged on a wooden board?

Besides the fact that most people don’t even eat the rinds, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who has gotten sick from an aged cheese. However _______ (fill in the blank with whatever food, or drug-related atrocity) has gone unchecked. Do you think it’s because the FDA doesn’t want to mess with Big Agra or Big Pharma? Much easier to pick on the little guys.

Accidental Locavore Cheddars AgingIf you’re not particularly attached to American cheeses, don’t think this won’t affect you. Theoretically, if they wanted to ruin not only our artisanal cheese makers, but those world-wide, they could stop any imported cheeses that were aged on boards from coming into the country. Say ciao Parmesan, cheerio cheddar and adios Manchego, as almost every aged European cheese is, and has been for centuries, aged on wooden planks. The thing is, wood is sustainable, breathes and may or may not add to the taste of the cheese. Cheese aged on plastic or metal shelving just doesn’t taste the same (unwrap a slice of American cheese if you don’t believe me).

Accidental Locavore Cheese on WoodAnd not to be paranoid, but if cheese can’t be aged on wood, will the oak barrels used for wine be next?

Just as this was being written, the FDA backtracked on its ruling, but cheese makers are still skittish. They’ll be meeting today at the Cabot Creamery in Vermont (home of some of my favorite cheese, butter and yogurt) to discuss it. I’ll end this with a quote from the end of the NY Times article: “Other than ruling that milk from mammals would no longer allowed for cheese production, it is hard to think of an issue that would unite more of the cheese world — big and small, foreign and domestic — to mobilize,” Gordon Edgar, a cheese monger at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco and one of the nation’s authorities on artisan cheese, wrote in an email.”






Making Cheddar

by Anne Maxfield on March 10, 2014

Accidental Locavore Cheddars AgingAs you may know, the Accidental Locavore has been wanting to make cheese for a while now, so when the opportunity came up to take a cheddar-making class I quickly signed up. Because of time constraints, most cheese-making classes are limited to making ricotta, goat cheese or mozzarella (two out of three of which I’ve made). This one, at Hawthorne Valley Farm, was different because Peter, the cheesemaker, had figured out how to show us cheddar-making in its various phases. And who wouldn’t want to make cheddar?

When we arrived at the farm, Peter showed us a batch that he started a few hours before and we got to work on a second batch. In real time it can take up to 9 hours to make a batch, so time and patience are some of the prerequisites to good cheese. The other, and most important, is a source for good (preferably raw) milk. Add to that a proper place to age your cheeses and you come up with a pretty daunting list of hurdles before you even start.

Accidental Locavore Cheddar CurdsPeter was great about explaining the whole process, which is essentially heating the milk, adding cultures (that’s what flavors the cheddar), adding rennet (that’s what makes it cheese), cutting the curds and then separating them from the whey. Even when he was getting very technical, it was in an easily understandable way, and not so over-your-head that you glaze over and stop paying attention, which was pretty impressive. Because of that, we learned a lot about the composition of milk, how cultures are made, the differences in rennet and how they all combine to make (or break) cheese.

Accidental Locavore Wrapping CheddarWhen the cheese was finished and molded, we learned how to wrap, using a big cheddar that they had made the day before. Now I understand why clothbound cheddars are my favorite – butter! First, you coat it in butter, apply the wrap, and then add more butter to make the wrap stick to the cheese – yum! After that it goes into the cheese cellar for at least six months before you can see how your adventure turned out. We got to accompany our wheel into the cellars and tour the various areas.  So there is no co-mingling of bacteria, each type of cheese is aged in a separate area.

Now, I know you’re all wondering, have I made a cheddar yet? No, for a couple of reasons. First, getting raw milk requires a car trip, which has been a bit difficult due to our nasty winter. Secondly, I’m waiting for the installation of a new gas range, which will make it easier to control the temperature of the milk – a critical aspect. So it may become a rainy day spring or summer project, but I’ll let you know.Accidental Locavore Cheese Aging



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.