Cheeses

Blue mold gone bad… how to tell?

We received a great question on the “Ask the Cheese Lady” message board. Anytime you have questions, post them and I’ll get back to you!

Question:

Hi Jill
How do you tell or is there an easy way to tell when “veined” cheeses like Picos Blue, stilton, Roquefort and American blue cheeses go bad? I love these type cheeses but the flavor intensity usually means I eat a couple of times and then want to “pause” a bit but by the time I get back to them..well I am not sure if they are still edible, hence in the trash!
thanks in advance

Answer:

Hi there!

You have hit upon one of the great cheese questions! Since blue cheese is already intentionally moldy, it can be hard to tell when good mold goes bad. The best method is to watch the paste (the actual cheese part) of the cheese instead of the mold. It should be consistently colored throughout (some cheeses have a brighter white paste, some have more of a tan color, some are almost grayish). But the key is that is should be uniform. If most of the paste is white and the edges are turning brown, that’s a sign your cheese has passed. Likewise, if it begins to dry out, become rubbery, or develop cracks, let it go.

It can be hard to get through a big wedge of blue because of the intensity that you mentioned. I recommend taking home only what you can eat within a week, then come back and get more. That way, you’re not storing it too long. And speaking of storing, keep it unwrapped in a lidded Tupperware container (not plastic wrap). That will preserve it nicely.

Enjoy your cheese!

Jill

Cow vs. Buffalo Mozzarella

One of the most delicious and versatile cheeses on earth is fresh mozzarella. Things can get a little confusing, though, when we are forced to choose between cow and buffalo versions. Here’s a little guide to help you out.

mozzboth-smallerCow milk (left): While still very tender and mild, this mozzarella has a slightly tighter, springier texture. Its flavor is more mild than buffalo milk, and it will hold up better to cooking.

Buffalo milk (right): This version is more succulent and lacy in texture. Its flavor is more robust, which makes it great for eating at room temperature. When heated, it will liquify more easily, making foods like pizza soggy.

Once cut, the texture differences are even more obvious. The cow (top) has a tighter paste while the buffalo (below) is more lacy.

Each version has benefits. When cooking, I choose cow milk. When eating in a salad or with fresh tomatoes, I choose buffalo.

P.S. “Buffalo” here is not American bison. It is water buffalo, a cow-like critter which won’t crush you to death when you try to milk it 🙂

Filed in: Blogging, Cheeses

What makes a great cheese?

At Cheesetique we have hundreds of cheeses, each chosen for a specific reason, from flavor to color to story. With so many cheeses, how do we answer the question, “What makes a great cheese?”

I decided to go right to the experts: the amazingly talented folks of Cheesetique. I asked each one the simple question, “What makes a great cheese?” And here is what they said…

  • Thomas (Store Director): “Depth of flavor. It has an initial flavor that develops into something else.”
  • Charisse (Bartender): “Flavorful, not too funky.”
  • Ellie (Cheesemonger): “The perfect balance of sweet and salty.”
  • Ross (Server): “Flexible. Both physically and within the cuisine.” (I’m not quite sure what he means by “physically flexible” – does it need to be able to do a back bend?)
  • Angel (Manager): “Starts from the ground up and is taken care of every step of the way from the dairy to the creamery to the customer and gives you a sense of place.” (Angel wins for the most beautiful answer delivered so smoothly you would think he’d practiced it.)
  • Moe (Kitchen Supervisor): “To me, the texture. A lot of cheeses I don’t like just because the texture is wrong.”
  • Jeff (my husband): If it’s called “Mt. Tam,” “Beemster Gouda,” or “Shropshire Blue,” it’s a great cheese. (For the record, he had the most trouble answering this question. It was like pulling teeth. Perhaps Angel could tutor him.)

So that settles it. A “great cheese” has depth of flavor, lack of funkiness, balance, flexibility, a sense of place, pleasant texture, and it may or may not be named “Mt. Tam.” There you go!

Blue… Before and After

Blue Before and AfterAlmost always strong in aroma and flavor, blue cheeses are salty by nature and can pack a serious punch. One of the many things I love about blue cheese, though, has nothing to do with its flavor.

Cheese is truly alive, each delectable piece chock-full of healthy bacteria and/or mold. This is why cheese should never be stored in tight plastic wrap – it will literally suffocate. Nowhere is this more apparent than within blue cheese, which is filled with the very mold that grows on bread. Living happily within the cheese, it bides its time until it is exposed air. Then… BOOM!

Cutting into a new wheel of blue cheese is one of the surest ways to watch cheese life in motion. On the left is a wheel immediately after being cut in half. Notice the presence of the “veins” of mold, but also notice that they are more yellowy-green than blue. BUT, mere minutes later, after they have taken some nice deep breaths, those same veins have exploded in color, giving blue cheese the name it so rightly deserves.

So, the next time you need a reminder that (good) food is life, grab a hunk-o-blue and dig in!

Filed in: Blogging, Cheeses

What’s in a name? For cheese, a lot!

You can't steal Stilton's thunder - it's protected.

You can’t steal Stilton’s thunder – it’s protected.

The appearance, aroma, flavor, and texture of a cheese reflect its ingredients, place of origin, and preparation techniques. So it should come as no surprise that producers take the cheese’s identity very seriously. Some were lucky (or smart) enough to have been name-protected, which is much like a trademark here in the United States. In these cases, a cheese has to be produced in a specific way – and in a specific place – in order to be named a certain way. This is why you will never find Roquefort made anywhere in the world other than the caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, France. Other famous examples of name-protected cheeses are Camembert, Stilton, Manchego, and Gorgonzola.

Some über-famous cheeses, however, did not get the memo about the importance of protecting their names. This is why anyone… anywhere… can make Cheddar or Gouda. In these cases, the name doesn’t indicate anything other than basic flavor characteristics that one can expect from the cheese.

In the world of cheese, a name can mean everything.  So, don’t be fooled by wanna-be “Parmesan” – it’s NOT the same as true “Parmigiano Reggiano.”

Filed in: Cheeses, Education

Don’t go out of your whey…

Curd and whey, before separation.

Curd and whey, before separation.

When transforming milk into cheese, we end up with two products: curd (the clumped-together solids that had been floating around in the milk) and whey (the liquid which holds of the solids). The curd gets to move closer toward immortality when it becomes a cheese. But the “leftover” whey is more than just a byproduct of cheese making. Whey is full of protein and lactose (this is why there is actually very little lactose in cheese). This means that whey is both nutritious and deliciously sweet. We can use whey for several things:

1. Ricotta cheese. The word Ricotta means “recooked” in Italian. By heating the whey, even more sneaky solids will settle out. Those creamy/fluffy bits become one of the simplest delicacies: fresh Ricotta. Great in lasagna. Even better on a spoon.

2. Feed your critters. Whey can be added to animal feed as a way to enhance the nutritive value.

3. Fertilize your crops. Yep, pour some whey on your crops and you have natural approach to plant food.

4. Grow your muscles. Ever wonder about those enormous containers of “whey protein” in the health food store? Well, wonder no more. This is simply dehydrated whey, full of protein (obviously) and used to “pump you up” for generations.

So, as they say, waste not, want not. That’s whey cool!

Filed in: Blogging, Cheeses

Is that cheese… or a traffic cone?

A lovely yellow Mustard Seed Gouda from Holland.

A lovely yellow Mustard Seed Gouda from Holland.

Milk is white, not orange. Ever wondered how orange cheese was born?

Historically, cheese with more butterfat could be sold for a higher price at market. Higher butterfat naturally gives cheese a deeper, more creamy/yellowy color, so shoppers could look for more color when they wanted the best, most nutritious cheese. When ancient cheese makers wanted to cheat, they would skim the cream off of their milk and turn that into butter to make additional income. Then, left with only skim milk with which to make their cheese, they invented a way to give their “skinny” cheese the “heavyweight” color. Adding artificial colors from flower petals and other sources tricked consumers into paying more.

How and when this slight influence of color turned into the neon orange cheeses we see today, I have no idea. It must have been like someone who uses too much spray tanner… they just don’t know when to stop (and they think they look great).

Interestingly, orange cheeses have become staples of certain cultures. For instance, East Coast Americans want their Cheddar white and Midwestern Americans want their Cheddar orange. In fact, some cheese makers will produce the same cheese in both orange and white for different regions. Today, cheeses can be colored naturally (using annatto seed) or artificially (using synthetic dyes).

MarCheese Madness at Cheesetique: Get the Latest Results Here!

The only thing I know about “brackets” is that they tend to hold things in place. But when our Cheese Director, Tommy Ferraro, recommended a massive cheese taste-off to coincide with some little basketball event, I jumped at the opportunity. And a new epic event was born.

Tommy picked 32 of our most popular cheeses and strategically pitted them against each other. (For the record, he compared this to “picking your favorite child.”)

Each day, in each location, YOU will taste and vote on your favorite. Thus the narrowing-down will begin. Building in anticipation, day after day, we will approach the “Fromage Four” and then there will be just two. The winner from each store will face off… with only one rising to true supremacy.

Hurry to a Cheesetique near you (or both, if you can) to taste and vote. Make it happen, people!

MarCheese-Madness-Bracket

(click to view the current MarCheese Madness bracket)

Filed in: Cheeses, Events

Hell hath no fury like Santa scorned: the stinkier side of Christmas

So, here’s my theory. Santa is kind of a vindictive guy. If you’re naughty, not only will he withhold gifts, but he will even go out of his way to leave a piece of coal in your stocking. Coal is heavy and carrying a load of it on a sleigh is no small thing. You have to be really irked to roll this way. You’re not just ignoring people’s requests – you’re actually leaving a mean little reminder of the fact that they failed at basic niceness.

This holiday season, I have a great – dare I say revolutionary – idea for Santa. Instead of leaving coal, leave a big hunk of stinky cheese. Here are just five of the reasons:

  1. You think coal is punishment? Imagine waking to find a warm, gooey wad of super-stinky cheese jammed at the bottom of your stocking.
  2. Stinky cheese will stick with you. You dig your hand down, looking for chocolate, but NO! Instead, you are marked for the rest of the day by the tell-tale funk of naughtiness. And I challenge you to wash it off – not happening! It’s like the Scarlet Letter and Macbeth all rolled into one. Out, damned stink!
  3. Stinky cheese is less wasteful. Honestly, what are all the naughty kids going to do with their hunks of coal? Nothing! If you leave them stinky cheese instead, there’s at least a chance one of their grandparents will say, “Hey – no need to waste that cheese. Just get me a cracker.”
  4. Stinky cheese is more humane. Let’s not forget about the extra work for the elves (hopefully just the naughty ones), who are probably forced to mine all that coal while being prodded with candy canes. It’s a sad thing.
  5. Stinky cheese is flexible. Someone was just a little naughty? Leave them a wedge of Reblochon. Medium-naughty? Limburger. Super-naughty? Stinking Bishop all the way.

Santa, I like you. You’ve always been good to me (I particularly remember the year you brought an Easy-Bake Oven and a set of walkie-talkies). Plus, I get you. You’re not a turn-the-other-cheek kind of guy. You reward the good and wreak havoc on the bad. But trust me when I say there is WAY more reeky havoc at your fingertips. Just give me a call and I’ll hook you up. I’ll also mention it to our Elf on the Shelf just in case.

Merry Christmas to all you hard-core Santas out there! And we’ll have your stinky cheese waiting!

Filed in: Blogging, Cheeses

How much cheese is “enough” cheese?

Quick! You’re hosting a group of six for hors d’oeuvres before dinner. Naturally, you choose to serve cheese. But how much is enough, without being too much? A good rule of thumb is four ounces total cheese for each person. So, let’s say you have four cheeses and six guests: 6 bellies x 4 oz. divided by 4 cheeses = 6 oz. (1/3 lb.) of each cheese. Simple, huh? Don’t forget bread/crackers and some nice accompaniments to round out the presentation. And always serve your cheeses at room temperature – an hour out of the fridge will do it.

Filed in: Cheeses, Shop