Wednesday, June 22, 2011


A quick note to let everyone know that we have moved the blog to and added a list of our services and the mission of our project.

Thank you to everyone that followed us here for so long, we enjoyed your comments and emails. Please visit our new page regularly as there are many new things coming up.

Sincerely, Carlos Yescas.

P.D. La nueva página tendrá también un blog en Español.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


The talk in the academic world is on the importance to create collectives of people who are in different fields and disciplines and try to learn from each other. This may sound really obvious, but it has taken a very long time for scholars to get here. Academic endeavor is defined by the strict boundaries set up in the study of the physical and social sciences. The humanities are less strict about this, but they also have their fair share of border patrolling. The idea is to create expertise that can then be utilize to produce wealth, if interested you should read Max Weber.

It is with this in mind, that I have tried to expand my horizons and move away from the self-centered view that my work and my craft is most important and significant alone. I have tried to enter, establish and seek collaborations with people doing amazing food projects. Here I present to you four new collaborations. More information will be coming up, but this is a little taste of things to follow.

Educating Young Minds

Along with the HSMSE Gastronomy class run by a good friend of mine, we are taking 18 high school students to Flying Pigs Farm in upstate New York to participate in the Farm CampThis school group learns about food production through readings and films but also experiences like taste workshops, visits to farms, markets shops around NYC. Part gastronomy class – part cultural sensitization, the aim of the program is to introduce students to good food and “to expose the kids to new tastes and cultures encouraging an open-mindedness, which in theory would extend to all aspects of the students' lives.” experience.

We are going to Farm Camp to learn about the realities of food production and to gain an understanding of the importance of knowing the source of what we eat. We will be in the farm on 5/6 June and you will be able to follow us on twitter by tracking the #GastroCamp or the #FarmCamp tags.

Other twitter feeds to follow are: @FarmCampNY @FlyingPigsFarm I will have a small contribution on smell and the ideas of disgusting, nasty, tasty and gourmet. I have been working on this topic for a while now and I have a piece (in Spanish) on Letras Libres.

If you would like to learn more about the HSMSE Gastronomy class or on the teacher leading the initiative you can contact her check out their facebook page at: HSMSE Gastronomy Eats NYC or email her at jboylan @ She has prepared lesson plans and a syllabus, which she will be happy to share with other educators.

Mexican cheeses
I designed five different vegetarian sandwiches using Mexican cheeses for Aula Chocolate in Mexico City. These sandwiches are created around a traditional Mexican cheese and paired with local ingredients. Here are three that are already for sale:

Chiapas: Queso de Cuadro, berros, aceite de oliva, balsámico y miel.
Chihuahua: Queso Menonita, mostaza de grano y cebollas caramelizadas.
Michoacán: Queso Cotija, compota de sandía y menta fresca.

They are all made with bread baked on-site. The cheeses are produced by artisanal farmers and sourced by Lactography, and information on the makers is included with every sandwich. The purpose of this collaboration is to showcase traditional cheeses and ways to pair them with food and integrated them in a lacto-vegetarian diet. All profits from the sale of the cheese go directly to the makers and affineurs that produce them and age them.

For more information visit: Aula Chocolate or follow @aulachocolate

Cheesemonger certification

The American Cheese Society has been working for the past 10 years on creating a Certification Exam for Cheese Professionals and developing a Body of Knowledge document, which includes guidelines on all the cheese knowledge that someone to be certified should have. The purpose of such certification is to create professionals that are able to speak, promote and better cheese for everyone. I have been invited to be a Subject Matter Expert and hope to bring my expertise of Latin American cheese productions as well as experience as a Cheese Judge in North America to the effort. The first exam is scheduled to take place in early 2012 and you will be hearing more during the annual meeting of the ACS in August.

At this moment, I don’t envision traveling to Canada for the annual meeting, mostly because being a Mexican citizen I am requested by the Canadian government to obtain a visa to enter the country (this was not the case two years ago) and the price of application plus my situation as a full-time student makes the expense to apply for a visa, plus travel, plus enrolling in the conference prohibitive. If you would like to sponsor my participation or know someone that would, I will be forever grateful. I have budget the trip to cost US$1,000 dollars only on fees and travel expenses. I have friends in the Montreal to stay with.

For more information on the annual meeting and other events about the ACS you can follow them at @CheeseSociety

The other event that is taking place that may impact the certification process and which I have been doing some PR is the 2nd Annual Cheesemonger Invitational, it will be hosted by Adam Moskowitz of Larkin on Friday, 8 July 2011, from 7 to 10 PM in Long Island City, New York. For more info visit Cheese Monger Invitational or follow him at @CMI_2011

Tea and Cheese

Harney and Sons will be hosting a small tasting in its newish SoHo store in New York City, we will be offering their tea-infused cheeses and other American cheeses paired with teas. I will be around to explain cheese tasting and pairings, while Emeric Harney will be explaining teaching people about tea. Cheese is a great gateway for this and should be a fun experience to have the cheesemaker there to explain us on the making of flavored cheeses.

Our tentative date is Thursday, 21 July 2011, from 5 to 8 PM, details to come. You can also find more information following @HarneySoHo and buy tea here.

Other (older) ongoing food collaborations:

Camel milk and cheese project – I am part of the Advisory Board of the What Took You So Long Foundation film project “Respect the Camel” for more info on the film being produced and many camel cheese related events follow them at @wtysl or at WTYSL Foundation.

Judging guidelines – We are looking to develop guidelines for cheese judges. This project is in conjunction with the Guild of Fine Food organizers of the World Cheese Awards and it will involve all the current Supreme International Judges. Follow them at @guildoffinefood and visit them at Fine Food World and for info on the 2011 Awards.

Denomination of Origin – I am continuously helping the Rancho San Josemaria, producers of one of the finest sheep’s milk cheeses in Queretaro, Mexico, to apply for a certificate of trademark in a first step on the long process to have this cheese awarded a DO. Follow them at @QuesosOvejaSJM or visit their site.

Finally, I call them collaborations because I have not been economically remunerated for any work under this scheme. I write this not to brag about my philanthropic spirit, but to differentiate these collectives from the work that I do commercially which includes classes, tastings, trainings, and consultancies. If you have an idea in mind that could impact the way we think about the food that we eat or how we consume it, email it to me and we can set up a collaborative. If you are interested in any of these projects and have an idea also email me or any of the people involved. All inquiries welcome to cheeseconsulting @

Monday, May 9, 2011

Fromage, Cheese, Queso

"Aunque la mayoría de los quesos “famosos” son españoles, ingleses, suizos, italianos o franceses, el queso no es oriundo de Europa: el queso original es árabe."

Here is my newest piece on Mexican cheese in Spanish for Letras Libres - Fromage, Cheese, Queso.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Upcoming class: American Cheese Politics

Blue States v Red States: American Cheese Politics

It is always about local politics, isn't it? Come and join us for a night of cheese, wine and politics, as Carlos Yescas introduces you to the issues behind the plate. The class will feature five cheeses made in blue and red states to compare the craftsmanship of the parties and then vote for your favorite. Carlos is researching a PhD in Politics and has been twice an International Supreme Judge at the World Cheese Awards.

Where: Lucy's Whey Chelsea Market in NYC, 425 West 15th St., New York, NY 10011

When: Apr 14, 6:30PM

Price: US$ 30.00

Tickets on sale at 212.463.9500

Saturday, March 19, 2011

New Irish

Glebe Brethan is a thermophilic cheese made from unpasteurised Montbeliarde cow’s milk at the Tiernan Family Farm, Dunleer, Co Louth. The Montbeliarde breed originates in the Jura region of eastern France and is used for its rich nutrients in Comté production. David Tiernan has only been making Glebe since 2004. It is an astonishing achievement to have developed a cheese of this calibre in such a short time. This Gruyere / Comté-style cheese is made in 45 kg wheels and aged on spruce timbers for between 6 and 18 months. The natural rind develops over time and as the cheese is turned and salted by hand. The flavour is rich and fruity with herbal, floral notes and occasional hints of cellar where the rind flavours have penetrated the paste. It is often punctuated by pleasantly bitter notes of chicory. With age the paste develops meaty undertones and a distinctively nutty finish.

Glebe is made on a very small scale and is sold exclusively on the Irish market. David produces just two wheels per day and only during the summer months. He does all the work himself from start to finish – including mlking his herd of pedigree cows. David is a brilliant and fascinating character. Ask him a question and the answer with generally begin with: “Well, I’ll tell you, there’s a story behind that....”

Try Glebe with an oaked French chardonnay or the oxidative Savagnin-based wines of Franche-Comté.

For more information visit

Lucy Noami Moylan.

Thanks to Lucy for her contributions. We are delighted to have her and hope to bring her back in the future, maybe a post in Irish? For now, those are just six of the most amazing Irish cheeses around. There are more around and you should try them all. Consider a trip to Ireland and support local agriculture.

Best, Lactography.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A sibling cheese

Crozier Blue is a sheep's milk blue cheese from Co. Tipperary. It is made by the Grubb family in Beechmount Farm. Sarah is now in charge of most of the operation, she is the daughter of Jane and Louis and the person responsible for making Cashel Blue and Crozier Blue available outside of Ireland. Like many second-generation cheese makers in Ireland, Sarah has set the vision of the company to expand beyond farmer's markets and sales in Ireland and England. She has been able to do this by balancing act of meeting a growing demand with a limited supply by automizing some of the procedures in making her cheese. In the case of these two gorgeous blue cheeses, the piercing of the wheels has been turn into a mechanical system and that allows for consistency in the production. This is good news for a small cheese makers, who has been gradually adapting and growing just as much as her milk production would mantain.

I personally love Crozier, because unlike Roquefort it is less salty and easier to pair with food. Roquefort is the standard of comparison for blue sheep's milk cheeses, however, that comparison misses the mark as Roquefort is not only a blue cheese, it is also a cultural production that grows and develops in caves with very specific conditions. The taste of Roquefort is more mineral than Crozier, this minerality can be described as a slight tingling inside of the mouth with an after taste of salt, almost like when licking a piece of rock salt. Crozier is in turn, less mineral, maybe even more fatty and moist than Roquefort, making it a milder cheese.

I love eating Crozier with quince paste or apple preserve. It is great for cooking too and can easily be used as a "gateway" blue cheese for those folks who find more intense blue cheeses intimidating. For more information visit their page here. You can also watch this Irish TV piece on the cheese at

The other cheese made my the Grubbs is Cashel Blue. You can follow Sarah on twitter at @CashelBlue and make sure you like them on facebook:

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Goat farmers Tom and Lena Beggane were taught the art of cheesemaking by a Dutch neighbour. They started making Clonmore at their farm in the heart of Cork hurling country, Newtownshandrum, outside Charleville, in the late 1990s. It is handmade using milk from their tiny, free range herd of goats. The Begganes are at the heart of the new wave of lesser known Irish cheesemakers who have broken away from the classic Irish washed rind tradition to explore other styles.

The Begganes’ goats are fortunate enough to enjoy some of the finest grazing in the heart of the Golden Vale. This pasture, more usually associated with dairy farming, lends wonderful richness to their cheese. Tom and Lena are part of that dying breed of Irish cheesemakers who are still involved in the maintenance of their own herd. The majority of Irish farmhouse cheesemakers nowadays prefer to buy their milk from one or two well-trusted local sources. The combination of farming and cheesemaking is extremely demanding in terms of time and patience. Anyone still willing to commit themselves wholeheartedly to both should be greatly admired. The Begganes also run their herd in coincidence with the animals’ natural lactation cycle, allowing the goats to dry out at the end of November and resuming cheesemaking in March. This is a less profitable, more labour intensive business model but ultimately results happier animals and higher quality cheese.

Clonmore is a small, gouda shaped cheese with a beige waxed exterior and a bone white paste that is intermittently freckled with small holes. At its best the cheese is milky on the palate with a mild tang that gently gives way to the unmistakable rounded, goaty finish that typifies Clonmore. It is neither sharp nor soapy yet presents a distinctive and smooth flavour. Clonmore is one of those cheeses that is better served below room temperature. It has a tendency to become slightly oily if unrefrigerated. It partners well with scaled down wines. Enjoy with a traditional Chablis or a good Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire. This is undoubtedly one of the rarer Irish cheeses. In all of my international food travels with the export department of Neal’s Yard, I’ve never seen it outside Ireland. I therefore highly recommend that you call into Sheridans Cheesemongers for a sample next time you’re visiting!

Lucy Noami Moylan.

Thanks to Lucy for this collaboration. You can follow her on twitter at @lucymoylan. She is also the mastermind behind Sheridan’s Cheesemongers online presence @SheridansCheese. When not mongering cheese knowledge, Lucy works as a translator (Irish-English) and soon she will be a great ambassador for her country!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone.
Carlos, Lactographer.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Second generation Irish

Coolea is a gouda-style made in Co. Cork in the south-west of Ireland. Originally one of the “big four,” this cheese has been made since 1979 by the Willems. Since, 1991 Dicky the son of the original cheesemakers, Helene and Dick, took over the family business. The cheese is now easy to find in the United States as it travels well and the sweetness, classic of this style, is really appealing.

Unlike other gouda-style cheeses, Coolea has enough flavor from excellent milk, that it can be aged up to two years. At that time it turns into a complex and nutty taste that is excellent to pair with a stout. The Willems also make an herb and garlic flavored type that is delicious with salads or just in a sandwich. The texture of the young rounds is creamy, while the aged ones are firmer but still elastic. I remember selling it to people looking for a good table cheese that can be eaten while cooking.

Gouda is the quintessential Dutch cheese, and while Boerenkaas (the raw milk version) is second to none, many artisanal gouda-style cheeses made outside of The Netherlands are better than commercial stuff produce at home. This is the case of Coolea, which takes its flavor from amazing milk coming from cows pastured in the lush hills of Ireland.

The reason Gouda and gouda-style cheeses are so popular among cheesemakers, perhaps has to do with the easiness to age and transport them. This means that they are a safe bet for steady income sources. Originally, according to Harbutt, this ability to travel without rotting was what made Dutch Goudas famous in France and with travelers sailing around the world. Nowadays, probably the reason is that the sweetness of the cheese and the potential to be flavored gives it a wide market among consumers in places where stinky or blue cheeses have a hard time selling.

For more info on Coolea visit:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

First Irish

Milleens is recognized as the first farmhouse artisan cheese of the dairy revolution. Veronica Steele, who is a very active lady, developed this cheese in 1976. It is a washed rind that was a favored style at the beginning of the movement in Ireland along with Durrus and Ardrahan.

When ripe, Milleens is runny with a pungent earthy smell, soft in texture and piquant in the tongue. It is always a gorgeous orange color and perfect to pair with nuts, cornichons, and some English mustard for a very strong-flavor lunch.

For more on the farm and cheese visit their site: or like their facebook site or Culture’s profile: Milleens.
You can follow Veronica on twitter at @veronicasteele

The cheeses selected to be feature this week are: Milleens, Coolea, Crozier, Clonmore and Glebe Brehan. Lucy N. Moylan, formerly of Neal’s Yard Dairy in England and now working for Sheridan’s Cheesemongers in Ireland, recommended them as uniquely Irish.

We will have her write up the entries for Clonmore and Glebe Brehan and hopefully tell us a little bit about her experience as a monger in Dublin and London.

Juliet Harbutt in her “World Cheese Book” list twenty-one Irish cheeses. Càis lists thirty-two dairy farms and Sheridan’s sells twenty including Cratloe Hills, Gabriel, Killeen Cow and Goat, Knockanore Smoked and Wicklow Blue Brie not included by Dianne Curtin contributor of the Irish section of Harbutt’s book.

I point out this to highlight the wide variety of cheeses that do not make it outside of local markets and can only be enjoyed near the places where they are produced and therefore it is hard to find information on them. This is the case too with many cheeses from Latin America, new cheeses from the US and very local examples of French, Spanish and Italian cheeses produced seasonally or ad-hoc depending on milk ability.

Cheese like many other artisanal foods is best consumed close to the source. This is specially true for washed-rind cheeses that don't travel well in dry containers. Therefore, if you want to try them you ought to visit Ireland.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Irish Càis (cheese)

In honor of the country that first trained me in cheese and to their cheesemakers who are hurting from an economic downturn, I will feature one Irish cheese every day during this week to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Let me start with a little bit of Irish cheese history. Cheese in Ireland, like in many other colonial lands was brought by missionaries and was deeply linked to religious life. Monks made most cheeses for subsistence markets and remained localize to villages near big monasteries. Much like in England, industrial revolution brought pasteurization and consolidation of cheese making to large dairy companies.

It was only in the early 80’s that cheese production returned to farms, and with it the use of raw milk. Most cheeses during that time where made in County Cork and slowly other parts of the country have started to produce excellent cheese as well. There are a high number of cow’s milk cheeses, even if sheep are so familiar in the Irish landscape. In the Americas, the most common Irish cheese is commercial cheddar (think Dubliner), but increasingly in cheese stores you can find Cashel and Crozier Blue, Ardrahan and Coolea. They are all great, but Crozier around this time is just amazing!

My favorite Irish cheese is Durrus, however as of late it is very difficult to find a good round outside of Ireland. This raw cow’s milk cheese does not travel well in refrigerated containers and without proper washing. It also cannot wait to be eaten the 60 days required by the FDA to be brought to the US. I had one in London that was nutty and stinky and reminded me of cold rainy days working at Sheridan’s Cheesemongers sharing a cup of tea and a bite of creamy Durrus on fresh baked bread.

If you have the opportunity to travel to Ireland, check Durrus out and if you find Milleens, Desmond, Cooleney or Smoked Gubbeen also make sure to buy a big chunk and have them with a pint of Smithwick's

You can find more info on Artisanal cheeses from the Emerald island at:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On Cheese Judging #catando

For the past three days a couple of cheesers on twitter have been discussing on how to judge cheese. We have had input from cheesemongers, makers, marketers and other judges. I would like to extend this conversation to all of you, as we try to come up with a consensus on: what a cheese judge should know? Please contribute your ideas. If you want to contribute on twitter, please use the hash tag: #catando - I will collect all comments and draw some conclusions from your opinions.

You can also contribute in our facebook page:

Para hacer esto mas interactivo y tener mas opiniones, me interesa que los queseros de habla hispana también participen. El tema es: Que necesita un juez quesero saber? Sus opiniones son bienvenidas. Si quieres contribuir en twitter, usa la marca #catando y yo recolectare todos los comentarios para sacar conclusiones de tus opiniones.

Tambien puedes contribuir en nuestra pagina de facebook:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Asociación Mexicana de Queseros

As many of you know, I am involved with various cheese projects in Mexico. The principal one is in Chiapas, where I have been advising for the past four years the Ministry of Agriculture (Secretaria del Campo) on flavor profiles of two of the most famous cheeses. Another one is supporting cheesemakers and affineurs in Queretaro and Michoacan and the last one is to create the first cheese-aging facility in Mexico City along a small educational center. While many have asked me to join efforts and turn my cheese interest into a full time commercial endeavor that is completely involved in selling cheese in Mexico and exporting to the US, Canada and Europe, I have decided to stay out of that game for a while and let others more knowledgeable of marketing start businesses.

However, I do have opinions on the way Mexican cheese should be commercialized, how farmers, cheesemakers, and affineurs should be supported and on legislation that could foster growth in this industry. The industry that I am referring to is the one that produces artisanal cheese based on the protection of Mexican culinary culture. I am less concern about large dairy conglomerates, as they have already found a way to turn profits for their investors. Still, I have not been able to decide the best way to move forward, but I know we need to start an organization that can support Mexican cheesemakers and bring better products to consumers.

A while back, a very enthusiastic french transplant to Mexico proposed me to start the Mexican Cheese Society, modeled after the American version (ACS). A Mexican professor of dairy sciences suggested contacting the Guilde des Fromagers and ask them to start a chapter in Mexico. Finally, an American scholar involved with the ACS proposed to follow the Canadian example and first start state organizations that would support themselves with expertise and lobbying power and then expand to the country, just like the Ontario Cheese Society is now doing it. She offered the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association as the best American example of a powerful and knowledgeable association. I have also looked at the models created by the British, Irish, Australian and New Zealander cheesy enthusiast. They all have great ideas, but in my opinion they are missing something. In essence most of their organizations are trade associations mostly started by cheesemakers to concentrate their efforts on pushing local legislators to gain grants, resources, or to move legislation in benefit of small dairies. Few of these organizations expand their efforts to include distribution companies (food companies), in a push to court an unlikely ally in the race to sell more cheese. The problem with this unlikely pairing is that in most markets, small cheesemakers and food companies are in two different businesses all together. Artisanal cheesemakers are in the business of turning milk into cheese to sustain themselves, their lifestyles, to feed people with good cheese, and some times to produce small profits to their investors. Food companies are in the business of making a profit from transportation, consolidation, distribution, and marketing of food. The difference in business models pits the two camps in a battle where cheesemakers seek to be paid better for quality products and food companies would like to pay less to producers while charging more for processed food to consumers.

I know this reads as a familiar complain against large supermarket chains, food consolidators, investors, and consumers of commercial products. Still, I believe there is something to be said for a different way to organize ourselves and to think about the way we feed ourselves. I am not claiming that I have all the answers or that I do not consume commercial products, benefit from food consolidators, or sometimes shop at supermarket chains. I am instead trying to contribute ideas to a discussion that many times feel stagnant in accusations and apathy to have a conversation about change. Here are two sample articles of what I am talking about, in B. R. Myers' article for The Atlantic the denunciation of foodism is enough to turn you off of ever thinking about the politics of what you eat. In the response from the Village Voice's Robert Sietsema, you are left with accusations that do not help in trying to answer the underlying question of both articles: why are there so many people writing about food? If you add to your reading list this guest post from my friend Jen Boylan for Svelte/Gourmand and this video on TED on a lecture by Carolyn Steele on "How food shapes cities," you may be left with the desire to do something but not know what to do. On my end, I always feel tired and walking over the kitchen to grab a piece of cheese to feed my apathy in trying to think what to do next. I think Jen is in the right direction in trying to engage in the conversation and allowing for the hard questions to be asked by her students. However, not having a group of interested teenagers has turned me to the Internet and to writing this blog. Still, I'm not sure how I contribute and if maybe it is just best to keep eating and worry my pretty-little head with flavor rather than politics. I'll be honest; sometimes I do wish I could become the head cheese buyer for a large store and travel around the world only worried about container measurements and temperature levels, instead of humane animal treatment. Still, I know from talking to the head buyers at Whole Foods, Tesco, Provincial Fine Foods, Murray's Cheese, Sheridan's Cheesemongers, and many other cheese consolidators around the world, that the politics are always present and they not only worry about profit margins but also about the livelihoods of the cheesemakers. Heck, even the dairy buyer for Walt-Mart in Mexico told me during an event in Chiapas that they too were thinking on the best ways to support local cheesemakers, but still needed assurances that their products will be shelf-stable. So, what is there to do?

I think, we still need more transparency about what we eat, where it comes from, and the ways that our choices impact our environment and societies. It is for this reason, that I envision an Asociacion Mexicana de Queseros, not only as a lobby or trade group, but also as an organization that supports educational projects at all levels. In my head, it looks like a research institute investigating and disseminating the best practices to care for animals, and how to produce, market, buy, consume and ultimately enjoy better cheese. My idea is a think thank / consumer organization / center for the distribution of knowledge. This idea already exist around wine, with many enology institutes that produce great scholarship on the many issues relating to wine production and consumption.

The first steps to create a trade organization in Mexico are already underway. I am not longer part of that effort, because I'm still not sure that this is what Mexican cheesemakers need. Still, I am not completely stepping out and rather I am consulting with many cheesemakers in Mexico and around the world on the ways to build a better movement. A movement that supports livelihoods, educates, and also informs consumers of their choices. If you would like to contribute with your ideas, please email me. I will soon present a finalized idea that has input from cheesemakers and academics in Mexico.

Here is other link to a good article on The Atlantic by Josh Viertel on the way we need to lobby for better information: Froot Loops vs. Real Fruit: For Real Change, Don't Look to Obama.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cheese withdrawal

Happy Chinese New Year to everyone, hope the Year of the Rabbit is full of surprises.

It is now about two months since I got to China, however, not since I last had cheese. Soon after I ran out of the carefully packaged pieces of Camembert, Grayson and Roquefort that I smuggled into the country, I found the local distributor of Yellow Valley cheese in Xi'an. I bought three wheels and snack on it with joy. I even shared with Chinese and ex-pat friends, to a general consensus that it was nice but a little salty.

Those three mini-wheels also ran out and now I'm left with nothing to replace them. The new shipment from Shanxi comes until next week and I am in full withdrawal. I have cravings, dreams and my cheese obsessions fueled by tons of tweeter messages has turn my yearning into a crazy desperation.

While watching TV last night, we have been catching up on US and English TV series; I scream cheese pairings to drinks fictional characters were drinking. The night looked like this: when watching The Wire, it was all pungent cheeses and new American classics paired with US domestics beers drank by hunky Det. Mcnulty, then came the mountain cheeses and hard pressed Europeans to match decadent wines and after dinner drinks enjoyed by the Crawleys from the Abbey, to end with the sad moment of watching the terrible and completely wrong Sex and the City 2 movie only to dream about luxurious goat cheeses to pair with the copious amounts of bubbly and yearn for halloumi, quark, and farmer's cheeses to eat in the dessert oasis with fresh dates and sweet teas.

Oh how, I miss cheese!!!! Anyway, before I go crazy, I leave you with these two stories on cheese in China. First, a good post from Culture Magazine on Chinese cheeses and then a news story from the Telegraph on Beijing Grey Camembert.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Global food

Two of the most common questions I have been getting over the last four years since I started coming to China regularly, are: Can you get used to eating this? And How come you know how to use chopsticks? Both questions always come with just the right amount of naiveté, pride, and disbelief. In a country where many people are still yet to "see a foreigner," it is warranted that some Chinese people still remain in the dark about the cultures and ways of the rest of the world. For a country, that heralds its raising profile to become the next super power, its people sure are still bugged down with antiquated stereotypes about different cultures. I write this not to complain or with anti-Chinese sentiment, but rather from the perspective of a person less mesmerized by economic indicators.

How I normally respond to those questions is: this food is not that different from stuff we get in Mexico or the US, and we sometimes also use chopsticks to eat. Every time, I answered annoyed and not thinking much about the implications of the questions. However, a couple of days ago that all changed and I finally understood why these foods taste familiar and some of the assumptions of people about the "west."

Just after a month of eating only Chinese food, we went to a German inspired Brazilian-rodizio style microbrewery and buffet to have Mexican meat. In the US and Mexico, I try to maintain vegetarian mostly for ecological reasons. China is different, because there is no real concept of vegetarianism amongst the non-religious population and therefore everything is made with some type of meat or its stock. Buddhist Chinese who keep vegetarian eat at home or at special restaurants near temples. Xi'an is unique, in the sense that it has a large Muslim population and therefore Hallal restaurants abound but they also serve meat, mostly lamb. The idea of going to a grill sounded horrible at first, but I could not decline, as it was an invitation by a friend. She had made a point of finding a restaurant that would serve something Mexican, so I would not miss home. She imagined that a month without my own food would have me ready to leave China; she had experienced a similar frustration over a four-month visit to Baltimore eating only "American" food.

Now, after understanding a couple of things that was one of the most interesting cultural experiences I have had in China. But before I start Orientalizing my hosts, let me paint a scene for you of this "western" style restaurant for you. A disclaimer, the term "western" refers to food from Europe and the US. Basically anything not considered Asia. Chinese describe everything this way and pose their own culture vis-a-vis assumptions about what the "west" is like. My question is always if Mexico is considered part of the west, and while sometimes it is also described as such, most times it is not. Mexico is mostly known for its immigration problem and spicy food, both cultural references popularized in US media.

The place is called Golden Hans Restaurant and the logo of this chain steak grill is a caricature of a Bavarian German dressed in traditional attire. The restaurant is in a two story-high building on the east of city inside of the Xi'an Wall. The place houses two brewing thanks and they serve a lager and a dark beer on tap. The service is a buffet of mainly Chinese dishes like noodles, rice, cooked vegetables, fish skins, soups, and a very large dessert table full of little cakes and muffins. The meat is all done with spades, like giant skewers, that are grilled and you can get 32 different types of meats, including chicken hearts, beef tongue, Canadian bacon, and small sausages. The Mexican meat was a pork sausage that was partially smoked before it was grilled.

We arrived around 7pm and got pints of dark beer. The first thing I notice was that the table setting had a fork and a knife instead of chopsticks and no cups for tea. The place was filled with families and groups of young guys out for the night. My friend's husband and I could not communicate with each other as he only speaks Chinese and I still don't speak the language, so we decided to let the others talk without constantly translating and head over to the buffet table. There, I picked everything that looked "western" and my friend everything that looked Chinese. I went for kidney beans, fried rice, spaghetti, and slices of watermelon. He went for fish skins, lotus roots, aspic, and noodles. Once back at the table, my plate was full of small pieces of meat that the guys with the spades had been cutting and serving. The entire feeling of the place was like a Brazilian rodizio, but we had no signs to stop service of the meat. Since, my friends didn't like the dark beer, we ordered a large pitcher of lager and starting eating. As the conversation started being all in Chinese, I had time to get distracted and look around at the other tables. The table next to us had two young couples and they also had gotten the dark beer, but the pints remained untouched after the first sip. Also they were not using their fork and knife to eat, they had asked the server for chopsticks. I quickly turner around and looked at my friends and asked my husband to translate: How come you know how to use a fork and knife? After the normal delay for the translation, they all laughed as they realized how the opposite question sounds to me.

This turned the conversation into the differences between Chinese and western restaurants. They wanted to know if this place was like restaurants in the US or in Mexico. We explained that this was a mix of many styles of restaurants and describe the parts that felt specific to each place. The Brazilian rodizio, the American buffet, the Canadian microbrewery, the German attires, the French desserts and how it all together felt like an amusement park. On the way back home, I kept thinking about the foods that I miss. Hummus, frijoles refritos, salsa verde, grits, samosa chat and obviously cheese are on the top of my list. When I'm in the US or in Mexico, I always miss proper dumplings, hand made noodles, and buns. They too have become part of the foods that I normally eat and now consider my cuisine. For as much as I like to eat only local and seasonal, there is something about global flavors that is very attractive. I guess this exposes how bougie I am and won't try to apologize for it. I just know that when the food revolution comes, I will still try to replicate the flavors of my adoptive countries.

The picture on top is of an Ice Peak orange soda. It is made in Xi'an and it is everywhere, you can read more about it here.

There is a wonderful academic essay on the use of chopsticks and enjoyment of food. Here is the reference: Roland Barthes, “Chopsticks,” from Empire of Signs. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1982).

Also, as promised, here are some pics of various foods: Xi'an restaurants. Since there is no access in China to twitter from my mobile device, I have been using foursquare to tag the restaurants we normally eat at and I recommend. You can check those updates by following me on twitter @CarlosYescas

On other news. I am happy to inform that I have been approached by the Cheese Slices program to film an episode about Mexican traditional cheese-making. I will keep you posted on that, but until then, please let us know what cheeses from Mexico you would like to see featured. Here are some of the ones that I have reviewed: Quesillo o Queso de Hebra,
 Queso de Bola de Ocosingo,
 Queso de Cuadro Doble Crema, and
 Queso tipo Manchego.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Cheese of the Week: Yellow Valley Gouda style

The label reads "Traditional Dutch Farmhouse," but it is made in Shanxi Province in China. So what does it mean to be traditional Dutch? and how about being a Gouda? The true is that this Chinese cheese should not be considered either, but rather a very good example of the what is possible to produce with good milk, salt and cheesemaking expertise.

The cheese (original flavor) is yogurty, more like an American Brick than a Dutch Gouda, with a good amount of salt coming from the rind. It has small eyes in the paste resembling a semi-hard rather than a hard cheese and the aroma is fragrant but a little sterile. Marc de Ruiter the cheesemaker, prides himself of a very clean production and definitely the cheese did not give any off smells from unwelcome bacteria. I also tried the 'italian" flavor, which has tomato and other spices, while it was less salty it was a little dryer making more a grating cheese than a table cheese. Overall, Yellow Valley is a good cheese that could use less salt and should be eaten a young age. It melts fast, making it a great option to add tor a "western" style meal (pasta, sandwiches, mashed potatoes) and if in China you should look for it.

The story of Yellow Valley is easy, you can read it in their website, a Dutchman move to China to support local sustainable farming and had a passion for Goudas of his native land. He started making cheese from an old recipe, pays above market prices for milk, and takes care of the people and animals who have decided to join him in producing this cheese. The story feels familiar because most cheeses of the Americas have a similar story. What is truly unique about this cheese is that its market depends almost a 100% percent on it being consumed by foreigners in a country with no cheese eating culture. Therefore the production is small, but the opportunity for expansion is huge if ever more Chinese people start incorporating cheese into their diets. Here a video about that potential posted by The Cheese Goddess from Chinese english TV.

However, what interested me about Yellow Valley is less about its market potential and more about an interesting way of approaching a common problem. Increasingly, the lifestyles of small farmers around the world are being eliminated by our reliance on the production of food by conglomerates. This means that the small guy is pushed out because of unfair competition from large corporations receiving large subsidies in the form of tax incentives, artificial low oil prices for production and transportation, and unlimited access to high-interest credit for consumers.

The story of Marc de Ruiter is similar to that of other in the cheese world who have moved around the world to help small dairy farmers develop a better market for their milk and have turned into cheesemaking as a real possibility. To mind comes Joseph Dubach, who taught Bill Hogan (West Cork Natural Cheese Company) maker of Desmond and Gabriel in Ireland to make cheese in Costa Rica. Other stories are those documented by The What Took You So Long Foundation in Africa about camel cheesemaking.

I hope to visit Marc soon and learn more about his work, but for now I have three wheels of his cheese which are great for snacking and taking a break from noodles and other Chinese food.