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 ( 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 ( 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:
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.

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