Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year 2010

For the past three days, I been reading on the cheese blogs and news feeds about the best cheeses of 2009. I was surprise to read that so many people are recommending Mont d'Or, as I also like it a lot.

I first discovered Mont d'Or in Ireland while working at Sheridan's Cheesemongers. They sell the big wheel and so you can buy a slice of this creamy, pungent, luscious cheese. In the US and Canada you can only buy small wheels (retail price US$35).

Because of it's format, and because it does not keep well once opened, I recommend that you eat it all at once. You can eat it in spoon fulls over a nice crusty bread and pair it with bubbly wine for your NYE celebration.

While cleaning boxes that we have stored in Will's parents house, he found some of my first cheese notes from a class we took together. Funny enough I had written down "cheedar > Brie," for the amount of pressure used to make those cheeses. Little did I know that almost a decade later I would be writing a cheese blog.

2009 was by far my best cheese year, not just because I had the honor to be a supreme judge at the World Cheese Awards or because I traveled around tasting cheese. It was the best because after going to Chiapas twice, now I know that cheese makers there have a good chance of earning a decent livelihood with their product.

Cheese for me should not be considered an elite food, but the craftmanship should be regarded as high skill and honored as such.

Mont d'Or is a perfect example. While you can pair it with fancy Champagne, the most interesting thing about this cheese is that is made with the same milk as Comte. Cheesemakers change to the production of Mont d'Or in the middle of the fall when cows start producing less milk and the flavor changes too much to keep making Comte.

They use everything that is available and hold the cheese with a piece of bark that infuses the cheese with a very distinct forest flavour, imagine tasting some of the logs in the fire place.

I am guessing those cheesemakers like changing the cheese that they make to keep things interesting, but always within the thing they know: Cheese.

For 2010, I have big plans within the things I know best. I will be doing field work for my PhD and will be helping Mexican cheesemakers enter their cheeses for the World Cheese Awards.

I hope you all have a great beginning of the year and thank you for reading. Happy 2010.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cheese of the Week:Crystal Brook Farm Goat Chevre Log

For New Year’s celebration, my sister instituted a family tradition a couple of years ago. At 12:01 on the first day of the new year, you have to go out of your house with a small bag in hand and run around the nearest pole seven times. She attributes the extensive amount of travelling that she does to this tradition. My mom, Will and I have also started following it and seems like we are travelling more. Most recently we ran in Guadalajara, Mexico on our 2008 New Year’s Eve trip. Will and I have ran in Boston and in New York, convincing friends to follow us in what always is a very fun and accelerating activity for an otherwise un-climatic moment.

I love to travel, having grew up in a pre-NAFTA Mexico I find the diversity of the world full of possibilities. The one thing that I love the most about travelling is eating and finding new foods. Recently, the quest to find new local cheeses in the places I visit has open up a world never tasted before. In my recent trip to Europe, I had a layover in Reykjavik from America and found nice cheeses in the duty free area of the airport (see pictures below in the blog). I bought two bloomy rinded cheeses, one with extra blue mold making it a very cheese. The cheeses had a mixture of cow’s and goat’s milk and they claimed that the milk of these animals is unique because they eat grasses watered with glacier water. My friend Peyman, who kindly enough hosted me in London with his wife Alpha, loved the cheese and claimed that he was able to taste the tundra. Talk about an interesting terroir.

Finding local cheeses has pushed me to venture to walk on the highway interconnector in St. Louis, MO and to practice my rusty Italian with an Albanian bus driver in Milan. However, during this holiday break finding good local cheeses was easy - Will’s parents took us to the Cheese Shop in Concord, MA (http://www.concordcheeseshop.com). This little store has a great selection of world cheeses, with all the families covered. Still, the real treat was to find Massachusetts chesses.

Of four that I tried, I bought two: Crystal Brook Farm Goat Chevre Log from Sterling and Great Hill Blue from Buzzard’s Bay (Marion). I choose them because they were the most complex in flavor and I knew people would enjoy them. Will’s family likes creamy full-fat cheeses. My family likes sharp cheeses and Will and I enjoy the rounded flavors best.

Crystal Brook Farm makes this goat chevre with the milk of their own animals. The chevre is fresh, milky (lactic), and a little bit sour. Making it a great chevre to mix with food. They have a version with locally grown cranberries and another one with ginger. I did like both flavored ones, but decided to buy the plain one, as I didn’t want people to be unable to taste the freshness of the milk.

Great Hill Blue was really nicely covered with blue mold all over. I am guessing they use penicillium roqueforti because the veins were green and blue. The cheese is made with raw milk, and it was very lightly salted. It was also very fresh and the smell was full of mineral notes. The fact that this cheese is made and aged near the ocean is unique and it has a definite impact on its flavor. I really liked that it smelled like wet rock, which made me think of the rocky beaches of Massachusetts.

The goat chevre was a success and we finished almost all of it. The remaining piece may go into a quinoa/cranberry salad that we are copying from a friend who brought it for our Thanksgiving potluck.

If you want to find out more about Massachusetts cheeses, I found this link (http://www.mass.gov/agr/massgrown/cheese.htm) while browsing for information on the cheeses that I got. It belongs to the Massachusetts Agricultural Department and has a nice list by county of cheese producers in the state.

Apart from being a great cheese, I am making goat chevre the selection of this week because any good cheese plate should start with a fresh cheese. Since this is the first choice of the year it is perfect that it starts with a cheese that is fresh, from Massachusetts (where I took my first cheese class at the Boston Center for Adult Education from the buyer at Formaggio’s) and one discovered during a trip. Come midnight of December 31st, 2009, I will be out of the door running with my suitcase to wish that 2010 brings a lot of trips to find new cheeses and interesting politics research.

Feliz Año Nuevo.

(In the picture Crystal Brook Farm Goat Chevre log is in the upper left hand corner, Great Hill Blue is in the upper right hand corner, at the bottom there is Bound for Glory Cheddar from Greensboro, VT on the left and Queso de Vaca Urgelia from Catalan Pyrenees, Spain)

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Adventures in Cheese-buying


Cheese selection @ The Cheese Store (Concord, Ma.)
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Adventures in Cheese-buying


Cheese selection @ Comercial Mexicana (Mexico, D.F., Mexico)
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Adventures in Cheese-buying


Cheese selection @ Whole Foods Supermarket (Cambridge, Mass)

Normally, Whole Foods has a very good selection of cheese, the problem is that their employees are not well-trained as cheesemongers and rather just know retail techniques, for this reason they let cheese dry up and get bad. I have been in Whole Foods in Canada and the US (West Coast) and always there is cheese that should not be for sale anymore.
It is a shame that Whole Foods do not train its employees to take care of their interesting selections and to teach consumers about cheese.
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Adventures in Cheese-buying


Cheese selection @ Keflavik Airport (Reykjavik, Iceland)
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Adventures in Cheese-buying


Cheese selection @ Palacio de Hierro - Gourmet (Mexico, D.F. Mexico)
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Cheese pictures


Queso de Bola de Ocosingo, Chiapas, Mexico.
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Monday, December 21, 2009

Cheese of the Week: Cheese Traditions

The Christian high holidays are here, and like most other religions the preferred way to celebrate them is with a big meal. Traditions are both easy to start and easy to forget, especially those that you only have to perform once a year. But traditions that come with food are always easy to remember even if recipes change a little every year.

In Mexico, most people cook a turkey for the dinner of the 24th. When growing up we were no exception, but it was the other dishes that I remember most.

The more Spanish side of my family used to make two turkeys. One had sweet stuffing (prunes, apples and raisins) and the other had a savory stuffing (pork and almonds). But, the highlight of the meal at my uncle's house was a dish called: Bacalao de Castilla. This dish is made with six ingredients (and I should say a lot of them). First is the salted cod, which needs to be soaked for three nights to get rid of the extra salt out and loosen the fish meat off the skin. Then there are tons of garlics, olive oil, tomatoes and almonds. The cod is cooked for over six hours until most of the oil and tomato sauce has cooked off. The final touch is jalapeño peppers and the dish is a bomb of flavor, spicy, fishy, oily, garlicky and above all full of memories.

The other side of my family, the more “Mexican” not indigenous but certainly earlier settlement in the country is known for Romeritos con tortitas de camaron.

This dish is made with a plan that resembles a young rosemary, but it is less aromatic and the leaves have more cellulose therefore they are more substantial. The plant is carefully cleaned and then cooked in a rich Mole sauce. Shrimp croquettes are made too and added to the final dish as garnish. Unfortunately, neither one of my Mexican families has a cheese dish.

However, at my boyfriend’s house, the tradition includes cheese straws. But these are no regular cheese straws they are serious-cheddar-cayenne-chilly-fluffy straws. They are just amazing! For that reason this week’s recommendation are cheese traditions. If your family has one, pass it along and help me and Will start a new cheese tradition of our own.

Happy holiday.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'll bring the Cheese!

Tomorrow I have a small dinner with my PhD advisor and I am in charge of bringing cheese. Talk about cheese politics!

She loves cheese and has heard me talk on cheese politics, cheese migration and cheese history (some of the classes I teach). However, to bring cheese to someone's house is always a challenge. Cheese changes everyday and with every batch and price is not always the best indicator of a good piece.

I normally take my time to think about the people that are going to be eating the cheese, and try to match their taste with the cheese. Yes, this is really involved, but I am a cheese geek.

Still, I don't expect everyone to pay this much attention or be so OC about it. So here are some crowd pleasers. This is a small list of American cheeses that will earn you the love and respect of your advisor... sorry of your friends and family.

VBC Coupole
Meadow Creek Grayson
Pleasant Ridge Reserve
Spring Bridge Tarentaise
Vermont Shepherd
Jasper Hill Farm - Bayley Hazen Blue
Beehive Cheese Co. - Barely Buzzed

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cheese of the Week: Stilton

The winter arrived to New York this week in full force. After having unseasonaly warm days with 60 F in November, this week it was really cold. Still no snow on the ground.

This weather makes me change my entire eating patterns. While I normally go for light food, when it gets cold outside all I want is stews, soups, and vegetables instead of fruits and tacos. My cheese cravings also change. Instead of washed and bloomy rinds, I only want hardy and blue cheeses.

Cheeses in the blue family are always my favourites and I always find an excuse to buy a piece of blue cheese to eat. I love blue cheese and red wine and Roquefort in potato & leek soup. Gorgonzola is great on toast and Bayle Hazen Blue and Cashel Blue are great introductory blues for a cheese board.

This week for my class at Murray's, I choose Stilton for the cheese plate. I normally don't think of this cheese, as it can be really salty and it is expensive. However, Stilton made it to the last round at the World Cheese Awards and it was easy to get for my class. When I tasted it, I was surprise at how well balanced it was and because the paste was moist and had blue everywhere.

People in my class seemed to like it and worked well to close the class with a familiar cheese. The flavour was described by someone as chlorine, which I attribute to the mineral notes of this cheese and not to a fault in the cheesemaking process.

The politics of this cheese are particularly English. This is the only British cheese protected with a Denomination of Origin. The regulation calls for pasteurized milk, which is strange for a DO cheese. Most other cheese making guidelines require that the milk be raw. However, for Stilton, the particular history about the creation of a British milk board was key to have pasteurization as a requierement to be certified.

In a push to industrialize and make the dairy industry more profitable, the British created a milk board that collected milk from various regions and then served as the sole national supplier. Eventually, the milk quality dropped and pasteurization was necessary to ensure nobody ot sick. This in turn created a national anxiety over raw milk and all cheesemaking techniques changed to use pasteurized milk.

Stilton is the pride of English cheesemakers, so it makes sense that a cheesemaker associated with Neal's Yard Dairy is trying to revive the original recipe made with raw milk. That cheese, however, cannot be called Stilton so it goes under the name of Stichleton. If you find it, buy it. It is amazing and really improves the flavour of the blue mold.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Best of the Best

Yes, a Canadian cheese won the 1st Prize at the 2009 World Cheese Awards. But most of us won't be able to taste this cheese unless you travel to Quebec. The demand for Le Cendrillion has sky-rocketed since winning the top prize this year in the Canary Islands. Still, unless you are terribly lucky is actually impossible to find this cheese due to the very small production by La Maison Alexis de Portneuf.

So, what is the point to awarding an obscure cheese such a great prize. This is the nature of the business, rarity comes attached to artisanal / farmstead cheeses. That, however, does not mean that the famous available cheeses are not worth our attention.

Taste is subjective. I say this not because I don't think that the 13 cheeses chosen by the supreme judge panel (myself included) are not amazing. But because you may love something that I detest like cucumbers or you may find impossible to eat/drink something that I have everyday, like beer.

In today's class at Murray's, the participants got to hear my stories about tasting cheese and "judged" with me six amazing cheeses. I chose these six cheese based on the final thirteen ones of the WCA. However, I had to substitute two cheeses that we cannot get here in the US yet.

The cheese plate tonight had: Sainte-Maure (replacing Le Cendrillion), Camembert, Taraintese (instead of Saint Giles), Manchego, Ossau-Iraty, and Stilton.

The winners tonigth were: Manchego and Ossau-Iraty.

People loved the sheep milk cheeses because they are more wholesome (fatty) and sweet.

I was surprised that at the bottom was Camembert, which is one of my favourite cheeses. I guess the smelliness of it really puts people off.

Cheese of the Week: Meadow Creek Grayson

So the holiday parties are in full force. What a great excuse to eat more cheese. My idea for this year is to bring cheese for my hosts, rather than wine.

I am recommending Grayson because everyone always love it. It's creamy, stinky, meaty flavour goes great with any type of bread and with most red wines. It's square form reminds me of an Italian taleggio, but the flavor is unique. The only problem of this cheese is it's smelly nature. It is a washed rind cheese from Galax, Virginia. Last time I bought it people kept looking at me in the subway, so make sure to not buy it much in advance of you getting to your house.

The politics of this cheese are straight forward. The story is a common one of American artisanal cheeses and it is rapidly becoming a very sucessful and famous cheese. It won't take long before it becomes an export cheese.

It is made with raw milk and the family that makes it is using environmentally sustainable techniques to make their cheese. They also respect their animals and only produce cheese with milk from the normal periods of lactation, instead of injecting their cows with growth hormones to produce more milk. And only when the cows are on grass and not on silage, which makes the cheese more flavorful and there is less risk of infection from the unpasteurized milk.

Last year it won the 1st in it category at the American Cheese Society awards and it is set to become a staple of the new wave of American cheeses. When Virginia was red (Republican), I feature it in my American Cheese Politics: Blue state vs Red state class. Next year when I'm teaching again that class, I will be using it as a sample of blue state (Democratic).

On Wednesday (Dec. 9. 2009), I will be teaching a class at Murray's Cheese. I will be presenting six cheeses that made it to the supreme panel of the World Cheese Awards. The class will be about the politics of judging cheese and about the unique opportunity that we have to taste so many cheeses from such diverse traditions.

If you are interesting on what it entitles to be a cheese expert and didn't get a seat for my class, watch this video from the 2009 Caseus competition in France. (At Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mvr19PsnO68)
This competition is known as the cheese Olympics. I have trained for it for many years, but I'm still looking for another Mexican national to go with me. If you know of anyone, please let me know.

Hope you enjoy Grayson and come back on Tuesday to find out on the cheeses that I will be teaching for my class.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Cheese of the Week: Mozzarella di Buffala

It seems like my iPhone lost the post and never published it online. This is a short reproduction.

Cow's, goat's, and ewe's milk are the most commonly used type of milk in cheesemaking. However, cheese is also produced from the milk of other animals. Camel, Mare, Yak and Water Buffalo are other types. The most famous of these other four in the 'west' is Water Buffalo and perhaps the most famous cheese made with this milk is Mozzarella di Buffala.

This cheese has an Italian DO and is mostly produced in Lazio and Campania. The cheese is in the pasta filata category and is always eaten fresh. A smoked version also exist, and it is the main ingredient in pizza made in Naples.

The story of this cheese is full of myths. The most famous involving the Second World War, the Nazis and new herds of Water Buffalos. According to the story, Mozzarella stopped being produced after the war because all water buffalos were killed by the withdrawing fascist troops.
Apparently, the troops got orders to destroy the livelihoods of the farmers and this meant the killing of all farm animals. Soon after the establishment of the new republic, a herd of water buffalos was brought from South East Asia and production restarted.

In North America, only one producer uses water buffalo milk. The Vermort di Buffala company used to produce an ok mozzarella out of their facility in Woodstock, Vermont. However, since they move to Quebec in Canada, I have not seen any of their cheeses.

In New York you can get cow's milk mozzarella in most delis. They are normally produced somewhere in Brooklyn or are hand pulled in the kitchen. However, it is possible to find the water buffalo version in a couple of places. They normally come in a little green plastic bag with some whey to conserve them fresh. But if you want to eat them really fresh and are willing to put up with the guilt of a heavy carbon foot-print product, the best option is the Mozzarella bar in midtown.

The place is Obika and they have fresh Mozzarella di Buffala imported weekly from Italy. The flavor is milky with a tangyness distinctive of this milk. They also have a nice selection of meats and salads. I will be taking my partner to celebrate his birthday, and I will be taking a lactaid to be able to consume so much lactose.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cheese of the Week: Rogue River Blue

For this week, I wanted to choose something that could be served for Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps a blue cheese is not the best option after a meal of turkey, cranberry sauce, and pies. But I have chosen this chesse for its politics and story.

Rogue River Blue is made in Portland, Oregon - out of raw cows milk. After the cheese is pierced, it is covered with grape leaves that have been macerated with Brandy. The flavour is salty, creamy and boozy (this may help you when coming out to your family during dinner.)

The cheese is the first American raw milk cheese allowed to be exported to Europe. The cheesemakers behind it are strong advocates of raw milk and have designed a cave that mimics those in Roquefort. However the wrapping in grape leaves resambles more a Spanish cheese than a French one.

The great thing about American cheeses is the possibility to combine various cheesemaking techniques and come up with great new cheeses. The proccess of innovation in Europe has stopped and for the most part new cheeses there are only commercial inventions responding more to market forces than innovation.

Some cheesemakers blame this on the strict DO rules, while others attribute it to a saturation of the market. In North America there is more space to innovate because we still have huge markets to enter. Still, cheesemakers in Canada, the USA and Mexico are not just looking for market niches, they are trying to figure out the terroir of their regions and develop cheeses that will appeal to consumers in the same region.

For this reason a lot of the great new American cheeses can only be found in local farmer's markets and access is limited to where the cheesemakers can get without compromising their product.

The conjuction of old techniques, new terroirs and opportunities to young cheesemakers is the driving force behind the growth in artisanal cheesemakers in North America. For this reason, I think we should support them and help them find their own place in the cheese world.

Enjoy and happy thanksgiving.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Food outlets

New York property values are often to blame for the mark up in some of the products commercialized in the city. The amount of rent that retailers have to pay is directly passed on to the consumer. This often means that some of the best located outlets also have some of the highest prices in the city. For this reason I am in constant search for cheese stores in less desirable neighborhoods, so I can pay a lower price. However, this also means that those cheaper cheese stores have worst selection or cater to a market that is not interested in artisanal cheese.

Then artisanal cheese is categorized as a premium product and access is limited. This is not the case in Europe, where good quality cheese is available at many places and the price does not include real estate and transportation cost.

Price obviously discourages people to try some of the best cheese. The main concern of people is that a cheese may be too expensive and unless you know what you like, it is a high risk to pay so much.

This is why I truly believe in cheese education. Classes are an easy way to try different cheeses at a lower cost and discover potential favourites.

Another way to get excellent cheeses is trying the local production, a great addition to the cheese retailers of New York is Lucy's Whey at the Chelsea Market. Lucy concentrates on American cheese and the staff behind the counter will be able to point you in the right direction.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Queso de Bola


Queso de Bola has already received its collective trademark and this particular one is going to be entered as one of the Mexican cheeses for the 2010 World Cheese Awards.

We hope to have the backing of the government of the state of Chiapas to send at least one producer to London next year.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cheese class

Just a short note to let people know about my upcoming class at Murray's Cheese in New York City.

Here is the info:

Best of the Best: World Class Cheese

Finally! An acceptable excuse to be judgmental! Learn the ins and outs of critiquing cheese from Carlos Yescas, judge at the 2009 World Cheese Championships in the Canary Islands. Let this international cheese enthusiast and New School Doctoral Candidate in Politics guide you in using your discerning palate for good, not evil, as he takes us behind the scenes in the politics and bartering behind cheese-judging.

When: 12.09.09
Time: 6:30 - 8:00 PM
Cost: $50.00
Status: 20 seats available

To purchase your ticket visit: http://www.murrayscheese.com/edu_class.asp?number=CHEESECOURSE12090901

I will be taking about cheese politics, judging and six of the twelve cheeses chosen at the last round of the World Cheese Awards.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cheese customs


Coming back to the US is always a huge ordeal. Not just going thru immigration is a long process, with questions like "what were you doing away for so long?" "aren't you a student? - so how do you pay for all this traveling?" and my two personal favourites "what are you gonna do with a PhD in politics?" and "is the New School even a real university?"

On top of this, since I got into cheese and food, customs has also become a reason for anxiety. Not so much because I bring anyhing that is not allowed to enter the county, but because I am worried about the food ignorance of some of the customs officials.

This is particularly true if you are bringing cheese into the country. Even the pasteurized versions of camembert can cause concerns. The aroma of one of these cheeses can become overpowering after a long international flight with no refigeration, but that does not mean it has gone bad or should be incinerated.

I understand the reasoning behind the prohibition on the transportation of live cultures and some molds. But those present in cheese are innocous as their concentrations are small and would be consumed almost immediatedly upon arrival to the US.

I know of tons of stories when the officials have confiscated perfectly packed cheese, meat, chiles, and tortillas. While more harmful things like tobacco get special permission and are even allowed to be sold free of taxes. Last time I checked the most recent cheese related death was over five years ago in Canada from a pasteurized store-bought cheese. However, deaths related to pulmonary problems caused by cigarrettes happen everyday and the government still allows Big Tobacco to turn a profit.

Sadly cheese still has no powerful lobby in DC - yet maybe it is better this way as we should enjoy good cheese only in it's place of origin.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cheese knowledge


The trade fair here in Chiapas included producers from all the states of Mexico.

Many states brought cheeses to showcase and some of them were excellent. After judging my share of Queso de Cuadro, I was asked by all the producers from the other states to taste their cheese and judge it too.

This was particularly difficult as I felt that I was expected to tell them that their cheese was excellent, so that they could use my endoresement to sale more. I, however, believe that they will benefit more from a honest assesment.

Bob Farrand during the briefing to the judges at the WCA asked us to do two things. 1) to not judge any cheese against another cheese, but to judge it against the best that cheese could be, and 2) to offer positive feedback on how to improve each cheese.

I tried to do the same here and explain to people that taste is subjective and that I was only tasting to offer advice on how to improve each cheese. Some producers took my recommendations really hard and replied that either I had no way to know about their cheese or that I was too young and from the "capital" (from Mexico City).

Both these arguments go to the core of cheese judging. This practice is to most people highly suspicious, even more when it is done by someone percieved as foreign. That was not just the case here, but also in the Canary Islands were some of the reporters from the local press questioned how someone like me or the judge from Japan or South Africa could know anything about European cheese.

I agree with the suspicion, but also think that most of these type of comments are not against our expetise or passion for cheese, but our position as non-cheesemakers.

Cheesemakers devote their lives to making wonderful products and some distrust non-cheesemakers. They are right to question judgements, as I too would like them to distrust recommendations that could cheapen their products. However, turning a blind eye to informed opinions also causes cheeses to stop developing and become the bland commercialized cheese that some DO cheeses have turned into.

I am writing this post as I leave Chiapas and hope to be here next year to judge the development of the cheeses that advice. I am humbled by the opportunity to be here and intend to keep learning on cheese, so that my recommendations are always more informed.

PS. The winners of this year taste will be announced soon. Once this has happen I will share the names and companies that presented excellent cheese so people can seek them when in Chiapas.

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Cheese of the Week: Queso de Cuadro

After tasting 50 samples of this cheese. I had to make it the cheese of the week.

This cheese is produce only in Chiapas and it varies from region to region. The cheese is commonly made with raw cows milk and some producers make small batches with pasteurized milk for some specific markets.

I believe the best examples are from the Ocosingo and Costa regions of the state of Chiapas. Those cheese are creamier, more milky and fresh, and overall better in texture. This may be due to the better pasture in those regions and a smaller incidence of cows eating silage.

A recent issue with this cheese is the use of milk from cows eating the infamous "pollinaza" and "gallinaza." Basically chicken feces. The region around Tonala has one of the largest chicken processing plants in the state and therefore produces a lot of "feed."

The producers in this region had started using the feed until the government started monitoring and discourage the use of milk from cows on this diet for the making of raw cheeses. However, some cheesemakers are still using it for pasteurized versions. The Minister of Agriculture of the state promised me that by the end of the year they will have a total ban.

Still the issue of feed for cows is important and I will write about it soon. Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilema is a good read to learn about feed.

This style is commonly found in in the major cities of Mexico, in Guatemala and in Texas (only the pasteurized version).

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Salt, futures and health

Salt is the hidden and often times forgotten third ingredient in cheese. Salt is used to heighten the complexities of the milk. Tasting over 50 cheeses this week, I have developed a taste for the salt used.

My biggest issue with salt is with the commercial industrially produced salt that has iodine. I find that type of salt can give sometimes a metallic taste to cheeses that have high ph levels.

The end result is normally a cheese that has good flavour, but the finish is unpleasant as the mouth overwaters to dissolve some of the excess salt.

When asked the producers about their choice of salt, most if them told me that is an economic decision. They choose the cheapest salt in the market the day that they need it. That price is normally set by the demand and supply forces around cheese and the futures market may also have to do something with the fluctuations in price. In Chiapas this is particularly problematic as all the salt is brought from far away regions and the final price includes the cost of transportation to this very remote and difficult access area of Mexico.

Salt with iodine is promoted in Mexico by the health inspectors, but so far I have gotten no clear answer of the benefits of iodine in salt. I guess I should go back to Mark Kurlaski's book Salt and try to learn more about this mystery ingredient.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Vegetarian Rennets


This morning I tasted 25 cheeses of the Queso de Cuadro style. The tasting went well and I applied the same technique that we used during the World Cheese Awards. Tomorrow, I will be tasting another 25 cheeses. After that tasting I will talk to all the producers to tell them the way they can improve their cheese. At this moment, I can disclose that a big issue is the use of microbial rennet, which could give an off flavour to any cheese.

Mary Quick of Quick's cheddar, mentioned to me that these microbial rennets are responsible for much of the odd textures of new cheeses. I understand that these new rennets are being introduced as an alternative to the ancient animal rennet for the growing vegetarian market. Still, before I know more about rennet chemisty and how it interacts with milk, I will not push for a specific rennet for the collective trademark for the Queso de Cuadro.

My friend Tom, who is doing a PhD and is researching on Denominations of Origin says that we should leave many things open for the producers to decide on. While I think this is true, I think that rennet is one of those things that we should requiere everyone to use the same type.

Of course the final decison will be of he producers with help from the chemists involved in this project. But I would like the rennet to be choosen based on the cheese final flavour and not just to please one or another market.

BTW: the hotel breakfast this morning included Queso de Cuadro, so that is good results from my pushiness.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Southern dispaches


I'm in Chiapas, in Tuxtla Gtz for one of the biggest trade fairs in Mexico. There are about 300 producers, 31 international and 50 national buyers. Coffee, cheese, fruit, veggies and other food products are for sale.

I am here to taste about 50 cheeses, of the Queso de Cuadro style. Today, I'll be leading a private tasting for some government officials, where I will stress the importance to not push pasteurization on cheesemakers. I believe the milk used for these cheeses is of great quality and in chemical analysis experts from the University of Chiapas and Chapingo have found below average of harmful bacteria. So pasteurization at this point will only destroy the complexity of the milk flavor.

During breakfast this morning, I wanted to have some cheese from the buffet and to my dissapointment the options were the infamous slices of bland "American" cheese. I cannot believe that having so many wonderful producers meeting in the city, the platter did not included a single cheese made in Chiapas.

When I pressed the restaurant manager about it. The response was telling of the overall feeling in Mexico about our own products. He said to me - Cheese here is not good and I can get this from the general caterer.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cheese of the Week: Cheddar

This week, many things happened that made me think about the politics of Cheddar. Amongst them, I hosted a Sunday dinner at our place in Brooklyn for our friends in the building.

The menu included Aztec Lasagna, an invention from our time in Jersey City. The dish is a combination of sweet potatoes, tofu, plantains, poblano peppers, tomato sauce, tortillas, Mexican cream and cheddar. While, I normally get most of these ingredients in our neighborhood, either at the Mexican store or from the Korean-run 24-mini-mart. It is nearly impossible to get good cheese in K-town. I normally go to Murray’s Cheese once a week to get cheese for the week or for a specific recipe. However, this week I forgot to get the good-enough-to-melt Irish cheddar that they carry and only bought Morbier to put over potatoes and Fourme d’Ambert to stuff dates.

For tonight’s dinner, I had to go to the local Food Town to buy cheddar. I ended up getting Cabot (Extra Sharp) Cheddar, which is neither sharp nor complex as the clothbound version that the Cabot Co-op produces for the upscale market. Still, this cheddar is a fine cheese to melt over a dish that has many different flavors going on. But the politics around its availability in the super market are definitely more complex than the flavor.

Other two things that made me think this week about the politics of cheddar, were a conversation with Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Farms and a talk by Slow Money author – Woody Tasch that I attended on Friday night.

The Cellars at Jasper Hill Farms are currently being used as maturing rooms for the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, and this partnership has been a major source of pride for both the Cellars and the Cabot Co-op. For this reason, Mateo and his family decided to open their caves to other cheeses. They were also concerned about becoming “cheddar bitches” as they realized the aging of cheddar could take over their business. Mateo used the expression to mean that unless they diversified, and quickly, their business would be overtaken by the amount of demand for Cabot’s upscale cheddar. This obviously has made me think a lot about investment, prestige and supply-demand dynamics.

Finally, on Friday after an engaging talk over the principles of Slow Money, I have been thinking a lot about the options for the likes of me, who do not have money to invest but still believe that we should support local productions. This year, for the first time, we were members of the local CSA. This opportunity lets us try a lot of new things, but also kept us fed in weeks when we had no time to go out to the store.

Unfortunately, cheese is not part of the bi-weekly bounty. The cheddar sold at the farmer’s market in Union Sq. is ok, but cannot really be melted and should not be called cheddar. So options are limited. This takes me back to my trip to Food Town and their cheese options.

The first thing I notice is that every single piece of pre-cut cheese is tiny, and therefore marketed as “grab and go” options. The small portions are meant to be cheap and easy to get in our hectic urban lives. But this means that packing is intensive and that those pieces of cheese are full of additives to stabilize the taste, prolong shelf life and mimic flavor that is normally developed by maturation and care.

The second thing was the consistency of styles. There were about 15 cheddars – orange, sharp, jalapeno, lite – from four different producers. Also they had 6 munsters, 5 smoked, 4 chevres, 3 red-wine washed, 4 “swiss,” and 7 “parmesan.” All from five to seven different producers, with ingredients list that went 18 items beyond milk, rennet, and salt normally found in artisanal cheeses.

Finally, all of the options felt like rubber to the touch and none had a discernible smell that resemble cheeses made in a dairy and not in a factory. Cheddar is probably the extreme case of this. Cheddaring means the process followed by cheesemakers, who stack slabs of curd on top of each other to spell whey and created the specific flavor of this cheese. The best versions are cloth bounded, covered in lard, and aged for about 8 to 16 months, depending on desired sharpness.

The cheddar found on supermarkets has none of the care that this style requires. The versions available are always the same, always with a metallic taste and an interesting but few times pleasurable chewiness. It is a great sandwich cheese and gets along with most foods, mostly because it is bland and unintrusive.

To wrap up, I think an artisanal version could gain from our support. The demand is there, we just need better options. And it will help dairies and cheesemakers.

If you are looking for good options try:

1) Cabot Clothbound from Vermont, 2) Montgomery from England, 3) Mt. Callan from Ireland, 4) Cows from Canada (even if this is more commercial that use a small herd and their technique is very close to the original cheesemaking process of this style.)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why is Oka the only Canadian cheese you can find in New York?

Canadian cheese doesn’t carry the same connotations as American Cheese – all Kraft Singles and curds in a can – so why don’t we see more of it around the world… As usual my response is: Cheese Politics!

“Quebec cheese is a hundred years ahead of us,” Cole Snell told me when talking about all the Quebecois cheeses offered at his store in Toronto. As proven recently in the 2009 World Cheese Awards, where a Canuck cheese took the top prize, Quebecois cheese is ready for the world stage. Still it is impossible to get the winning Le Cendrillon in the US or even cheeses that are more familiar in Canada like Le Baluchon or its mature cousin Reserve La Perade, or Fellowship or Grey Owl, or even the cryopacked-but-amazing Cows Cheddar.

Quebecois politics may have something to do with why good Canadian cheese can’t be sold to foreign markets. Also, there is the Canadian federal system that protects small local producers, but creates huge obstacles for small dairies to obtain federal permits to sell across provinces. This risks only helping big agri-business and food conglomerates with the resources to lobby parliament.

The transfer of knowledge from Quebecois cheesemakers to other farmers in the rest of Canada has been slow. A persistent perception that English-speaking Canadians only eat cheddar has hindered joint ventures that would train cheesemakers in British Columbia, Ontario or PEI. So most of the cheeses produced in the English-speaking provinces have developed by people who have gone “back to the farm,” much like in the US.

The US still limits imports of Canadian cheddar to protect American producers (mainly conglomerates producing block commercial cheddar). Many of the regulations in place are left-over from policies adopted by the government of the thirteen American colonies against the royalist Canadians who sided with England during the war for independence. Other regulations involve the inconsistent 60-day rule applying to raw milk cheeses, that bans the entrance of much amazing unpasteurized cheese from Canada.

If this weren’t enough, the Canadian government has been slow at supporting its own producers (artisanal, but also some farmstead) to get them off the ground and move into export. I know we are not meant to have some food products outside of our regions, following slow food principles, but when you think about it, Toronto is closer to New York, Quebec closer to Boston and Vancouver closer to Seattle, than many points within the States. “Think local, think Canadian” was my motto when I was beginning to develop a market for Canadian cheeses in New York.

While that project is on hold, now I just hope someone starts bringing these amazing cheeses from north of the border. Intermittently, Canadian cheeses can be found at Artisanal in New York. Their affineur Denis Cottin is from Quebec and manages to bring some interesting wheels. But if you have the chance to travel north, make sure to try one of the amazing Canadian cheeses made with raw milk.

BTW – if you are into the slow movement, Mr. Woody Tasch, author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered will be giving a talk at Murray’s cheese on Friday at 6:30 PM. For info contact: Taylor Cocalis at taylor@murrayscheese.com

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cheese of the Week: Queso de Bola de Ocosingo.

For this the first blog post of Cheese of the Week, I present to you………….. Queso de Bola de Ocosingo. This cheese is manly produced by small co-ops in the towns around the city of Ocosingo, in the north-east part of the Mexican state of Chiapas. This cheese resembles an Italian Cacciocavallo in the type and form. It has an outer rind that hardens and forms a casing that is sometimes edible (however, I don’t like the chewy-ness of the rind). In the inside, the paste is a bright straw yellow (with the texture of cream cheese) and the flavour is lactic (milky), salty and fresh. The cheese is normally made with raw cows milk from small Holstein herds.

This cheese is almost impossible to get outside of Chiapas, but if you ever travel down there to see the Mayan ruins of
Bonampak, the cheese will be available in most tienditas de abarrotes.

There are two cheeses produced in the state of Chiapas, 1) Queso de Cuadro and 2) Queso de Bola, both are fresh raw cows milk cheeses. Queso de Cuadro is fresher, salty and very lactic. Some people in Mexico City, like a matured Queso de Cuadro, four to five months old, until it has become dry and even saltier to sprinkle on top of enchiladas.

I chose this cheese because I got word this past week that I will be attending the
13th International Expo of Non-Traditional Products in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, Mexico. During this event, I will taste fifty samples of Queso de Cuadro (Doble Crema) de Chiapas. Since the summer of 2007, I have been working with a group of consultants for the Chiapas Ministry of Agriculture help local cheese producers to develop a single recipe for this cheese.

In 1994, the Zapatista movement entered a political conflict with the Mexican government. After the accords of San Andres, the government promised to support rural farmers. Many of them are indigenous peoples and these programs were intended to bring them out of poverty. The Ministry of Agriculture then became very interested in small cheesemaking co-ops that produced Queso de Bola and Queso de Cuadro and granted funds to develop newer cheesemaking facilities.

Most of these cheesemakers are family run outfits with no more than four to six employees, mostly family members. Fifty percent make farmstead cheese (made with your own cows milk), while the other half produce cheese with milk bought form local producers. At this moment there is only one farm that is certified organic and there are issues over pasteurization.

Now, the State of Chiapas and the Mexican Institute for Industrial Property (part of the Ministry of Economy) are trying to develop collective trademarks for cheese. This is the first step in the long process to get a Denomination of Origin in Mexico. Currently, there are no cheeses with this denomination, while other items like Tequila have been recognized for a long-time. The Queso de Bola de Ocosingo has already been granted a collective trademark and is now in the periodic review to be granted a full fledged Denomination of Origen.

Both cheeses have been produced in Chiapas since the time of the Porfiriato, and some believe that Queso de Bola was actually developed following a recipe for the
Edam. However, in the techniques of cheesemaking employed and even in the flavor, they seem to have little in common. Still, the spherical shape of Queso de Bola may have had some inspiration from that Dutch cheese.

Edam was originally introduced to Mexico when the ports of the Yucatan peninsula were a common stop for transatlantic cargo ships. In fact Yucatan food often incorporates Edam, -- a great dish featuring this cheese is Relleno de Queso. This meat and cheese dish is made by stuffing a carved Edam with minced meat and spices.

Queso de Bola and Queso de Cuadro, are two of the ten distinct Mexican cheeses. As Steven Jenkins wrote in a recent email, “there are no new cheeses.” This is true, Mexico didn’t have cows before the conquista and almost all cheesemaking techniques were brought over by Franciscan monks evangelizing Christiantianity to the indios. For this reason, I think Queso de Bola and Queso de Cuadro produced by indigenous farmers shows exactly how cheese can be political.

Judging the World Cheese Awards 2009

Originally posted on October 5th, 2009 in Facebook

Hello everyone, here is the promised update of the competition in the Canary Islands.

After a very long flight, the last 30 judges flying from London arrived in Las Palmas at 2:00AM. We were tired, but excited of being there. In Madrid, on the connection of our flight, we had bonded over the state of affairs of the British economy, the vote of Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty and the upcoming election of the host of the 2016 Olympics (Congrats Rio!!!) We had eaten some cheese, jamon and drank Rioja from the airport shops. We needed a good rest, as we knew the day ahead will be full of surprises.

The next morning after a very very light breakfast of coffee and toast, 130 judges took two buses to the Alfredo Kraus Auditorium. Upon arrival, we stepped out to the terrace and admired the gorgeous views and the clear ocean water. We were excited, almost giddy. Old acquaintances chatted and introduced the newcomers to experienced judges. Bob Farrand addressed the group and explained the rules. We were assembled in teams of 3 to 5 and given a selection of about 60 cheeses. All teams were to judge between 5 to 10 categories of cheese, ranging from spectacular hard mountain cheeses to cheese spreads. The task was to rate cheeses in an scale of 25, solely based on their flavour.

My team consisted of a British man, a German retailer, an Austrian wholesaler and me. We set up to the challenge ahead of us, dressed up in our white jackets, hat or aprons. We judged a selection of double gloucester, farmhouse cheddar, block cheddar, mountain cheeses, gruyeres, goat logs with spices, feta, cheese spreads and young washed rinds. No blue for me - my favorite family. We awarded 6 golds, 1 to a perfect farm house cheddar, two to excellent gruyeres, and three to the goat logs. We had few silvers and about 10 bronzes. I felt very happy with the selections and was excited to sign my name under each gold selection. We end up tasting 56 different cheeses.

The process took about three hours and gold selections kept pilling up in the tables at the back, I looked with anticipation at the great selection wishing I could try the winner cheese. At about 12PM John Farrand informed me that I had been selected to sit in the Supreme Judge Panel. I was perplex, as I couldn't believe that I was given the opportunity to sit along experienced judges and three members of the French Guilde des Fromarers.

I ran to grab a light lunch and chatted with my new friends and got some coaching from adorable Sarah Bates on judging the gold selections. After all, most of my knowledge I owe to her as my former manager in Sheridan's Cheesemongers in Galway, Ireland. I went back to the judging floor and was told of the new rules. I was going to taste 20 new cheeses and had to choose my favourite. I had 20 minutes to do this, before the cameras started rolling. The gold selection was overwhelming, there were great cheeses competing against awesome cheeses. I finally settled for an Appenzeller, that was nutty, lightly aged, perfectly washed and full in flavour. The paste was solid and as it had started to sweat the smell from it was decadent. (Appenzeller is Will's favourite cheese, and this one lived to its name)

The final judging started and I presented my cheese to the rest of the panel of Supreme Judges, it got high marks from my peers, but eventually only got fourth place after the Canadian winner, and two Spanish cheeses.

The winner is a Canadian cheese made in Quebec named Le Cendrillon. This cheese will most likely be available in cheese and food shops by the end of the year, but in the mean time you should try some of the other winner. Here is a link to the cheeses with highest ranks: http://www.finefoodworld.co.uk/downloads/wcawinner09.pdf


You can watch the video here.

Barack on Food Politics

Originally posted on November 6th, 2008 on Facebook

As you know food politics are one of my biggest interests. After all, food-production intersects every issue of our lives.

This is why, I think Barack's presidency is truly a change in the view we are going to deal with the most important issues in a modern world - which to my opinion are: environmental change, food security, and energy use.

Here is a the Man on his own words.

----------------

President Elect B. Obama's interview with Joe Klein:

The biggest problem with our energy policy has been to lurch from crisis to trance. And what we need is a sustained, serious effort. Now, I actually think the biggest opportunity right now is not just gas prices at the pump but the fact that the engine for economic growth for the last 20 years is not going to be there for the next 20, and that was consumer spending. I mean, basically, we turbo-charged this economy based on cheap credit. Whatever else we think is going to happen over the next certainly 5 years, one thing we know, the days of easy credit are going to be over because there is just too much de-leveraging taking place, too much debt both at the government level, corporate level and consumer level. And what that means is that just from a purely economic perspective, finding the new driver of our economy is going to be critical. There is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy.

I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollen about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it’s creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they’re contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs. That’s just one sector of the economy. You think about the same thing is true on transportation. The same thing is true on how we construct our buildings. The same is true across the board.

For us to say we are just going to completely revamp how we use energy in a way that deals with climate change, deals with national security and drives our economy, that’s going to be my number one priority when I get into office.

Cheeses of Chiapas- letter from fellow cheesemonger Carlos Yescas

Originally posted on August 18th, 2008 in The Cheese Diary

Dear Cheese Aficionados.

How are you all?

I hope you are doing great and enjoying some nice summer cheeses during your many sunny picnics.

I'm here reporting on the cheese life in Mexico, as you have all wrote and asked.

I was in Chiapas last Monday and back on Tuesday after tasting 48 double-cream Quesos de Cuadro. It was a great experience, as I got to talk to all the producers, which included small family businesses and farm cooperatives. No cheese conglomerate there.

The experience started with my first trip to Chiapas. As you know, Chiapas is a very important place for me as is the only Mexican state with a sizable indigenous population that has not produced international indigenous migrants. There is still a lot of internal displacement of people due to the military intervention from back in the 1990s and the push from the para-military group. This, however, has made both the federal and state government to pay more attention to living conditions of Chiapanecos. For cheese producers this has meant an infusion of cash to modernize their facilities and ultimately to decide to grant a Denomination of Origin to the Queso de Cuadro.

Among Mexicans the yellow-foil wrapped cheese called "doble crema" is well known for its acidic taste. This cheese is used mostly in the south of the country to cook with, in Mexico city is known as a great way to stuff enchiladas, but little or nothing is known of its history, making, or of the producers involved in making it. Its real name is Queso de Cuadro and is produced by different cooperatives, farms and small family businesses.

Along "quesillo," "panela," "menonita," and "requeson" - Queso de Cuadro is among one of the most famous Mexican cheeses. Other mexican cheeses exist, such as "añejo," "de bola de ococingo," "enchilado,"

"fresco," and "cotija." But these are only eaten locally or found in Mexico city in one of the big Mercados like Sonora or Medellin. For the most part all Mexican cheeses are variations of well-tested European recipes, with some modifications for fat content and salt availability. Maybe the big exception is enchilado, which may resemble those cheeses from Portugal or the Balkans rubbed with paprika, but in the Mexican version it is rubbed with chilli powder.

The government of the state of Chiapas is now trying to better regulate the production of one of its best products, by granting a Collective Trademark to the Queso de Cuadro. This is the first step in the long process of awarding a Denomination of Origin (DO) to any product in Mexico. Currently, only Queso de Bola de Ocosingo has this distinction and the producers of Cotija are in a legal battle to be recognized as well.

Queso de Cuadro has many varieties, changing size, fat content, salt and acidity. However, amongst the various options all maintain a nice acidity, a very lactic smell and a sharp salty end. It is real nice cheese that can be eaten fresh (2 –3 days) during breakfast or matured (45 days) grated over enchiladas. It is mostly made with unpasteurized milk and turned with microbial rennet.

Tradition calls for unpasturized milk and the producers want to keep it this way. The Secretaria del Campo (Ministry of Agriculture) – my employer – also wants it this way, but the Ministry of Health and Walt-Mart wants it to be pasteurized. The debate is now on whether it’s possible to sell fresh cheese from unpasturized milk and the lawyers are saying no. Advocates are trying to change this rule and keep Queso de Cuadro as an unpasturized cheese.

On Tuesday, I was given the chance to talk to the producers and I addressed the issue of pasteurization. I obviously, want this cheese remain unpasturized, as it will open the way for other cheeses to enter the country in its original way. The Deputy Minister of Agriculture wasn’t happy with me taking a position but I had nothing to lose. Afterwards, during an interview with the local TV, I repeated my position and the Minister recognized that economic pressures were behind the push to pasteurize this cheese. I hope that this battle is well fought by others here in Mexico and I will continue speaking up about it.

The tasting was great. My approach was to not judge any cheese against each other, or even against a memory I had of this style of cheese. I instead tried every one with an open palate and made recommendations on how to improve each individual recipe. My biggest problem was the use of commercial salt, which gives most cheeses a metallic taste. I suggested changing salts to a better quality and in some cases adjusting recipes according to the amount of water expelled from the curd. The producers were receptive to my opinions, but some left angry because they felt I was being too harsh on their product. Others assured me that this would improve the overall quality of cheese produced in the state and only the best producers will remain. I also had issues with acidity and with those cheeses made with different milkings I found 8 excellent cheeses and will be recommending two as the standard for the others.

I plan to go back to Chiapas next summer and taste again all of the producers. But in the mean time, we will be approving guidelines based on the two I will be recommending.

Now, that I am back in DF, I am finishing the set up for my two cheese classes. I will be teaching at Endicott College / Mexico on Thursday, August 7 and Friday, August 8.

The classes will feature one Mexican goat cheese (that my mom has been selling for about a year), four imported cheeses (Brie, Raclette, Comte and Roquefort), two pates, Jamon Serrano and three wines. The classes are almost sold out, and I hope to start a real following for good cheese in Mexico.

Best, Carlos.

For Earth Day, Lets Go Back to the Caves.

Originally posted on April 22nd, 2007 in Cooking Fire

During the last three months, I have spent a lot of time underground, washing, patting, brushing, and doing a lot of heavy lifting. I spent two days out of every week damp and cold, breathing spores, with no natural light. My job was to clean, but not disinfect. I “grew” mold, swept away mites, and farmed yeast. I was training to be a cheese-affineur.

My days were divided between tending over forty cheeses in the four caves that Murray’s keeps under the streets of Greenwich Village, and unloading, unpacking and arranging about a thousand pounds of cheeses that pass monthly through these caves.

Murray’s Cheese in New York City has an incredible (and highly competitive) training program to learn the art of cheese affinage. I was lucky enough to be allowed into the caves and learn about new American treasures, as well as good old French, Spanish and Swiss staples.

I learned the optimal temperatures, humidity levels necessary to prevent cheeses from breaking; I grew to sense the moment for turning cheeses and the smell of a well-ventilated cave. This all helps me now to better choose from the counters and appreciate the hard work behind a $16/lbs Appenzeller. It also helps me to appreciate the flavor developed through meticulous care from the cheesemaker and affineur, as opposed to the chemical punch of plasticky orange cheddar. Without sounding like a snob–and to encourage people to try more cheeses, different pairings, and consume it all the time–I’ll tell you something about my interest in cheese.

My interest in cheese started back in Boston. Since then, this passion has taken me to a rural goat farm off the interstate in Queretaro, Mexico — and to the once dangerous border of counties Cavan and Fermanagh in Ireland.

Cheese making, affinage, and mongering were once as important trades, as were curing meats, oyster pickling, or making marmalade. All now seem like elite food fabrication methods, in an era of Kraft singles, Smuckers and Oscar Meyer baloney. Cheese at its most basic principle started as a way to save excess milk from the spring and summer months, for consumption during the fall and winter. As conservation of food products, it helped ensure survival of families during the cold months, and could even be used as a kind of currency to trade for other services and products.

The increasing demand for food products in the industrialized world has lead into the commoditization of production methods to yield the greatest amount of product in the smallest amount of time, all in factories with high-energy usage. All this sacrifices flavor and obscures the hardships of those involved in the production process. Further distancing urbanites from rural places, the process is now starting to seem unsustainable.

It is now believed that due to climate change the Swiss Alpine glaciers will disappear in the next 20 to 30 years. This in turn affects the lush pastures of the Schachen region, threatening the future production of Emmentaler. So, eat cheese, make bread, and at the same time, you’ll care more for our shared environment.

Starter of this blog

Lactography

lac-to-gra-phy - [lak-to-ruh-fee]

-noun, plural –phies.

1. the science dealing with cheese.

2. the study of this science.

Origin:

L lact- (s. of lac milk) + -o-

Gk -graphia. See -graph, -y-

lac-to'gra-pher n.

1. a person who specializes in the study of this science.

Origin:

gráphos a writer; See -graph + -er-

This is probably the third attempt to start this blog. I have had a lot of encouragement from friends, family and colleagues to write about cheese politics. For a very long time I decided to not do this as it would consume a lot of time and didn’t have a clear goal.

Also, I didn’t have a good name for the site and there are other more talented people writing blogs already. Amongst the most impressive are Cheese Underground, Cheese a Day, and the posts by Nora Singley at The Kitchn. Other good sites, that have sporadic entries or haven’t had any entries in a while are: CurdNerds, 365 Cheeses, Cheese Dairy, and the Murray’s blog series.

My aim is not to write the ultimate cheese blog, but rather to share with people my passion for cheese and politics. I hope to keep you entertained and practice my writing. I also want to remind people about the stuff we all take for granted when eating. Like the decisions of producers, farmers, and politicians in marketing, harvesting or legislating the food that we eat. While this could be super boring, I hope to do it with some irony, as my subject of inquiry is cheese and anything serious about cheese can easily turn fromagesque (cheesy).

Cheese,

Carlos Yescas

Lactographer

PS. Thanks to Matthew Hicks for the perfect term.