Hi. My name is Keith and I am a Cheeses Freak. Now, you too can become one. All you need to do is find a nice comfy chair, lower the lights and relax. Now, with your eyes closed, repeat these words: “Cheese is my sole purpose for existence. I am the cheese. The cheese is I.” That’s it! You are now (imagine me with a sinister twisted grin on my face and rubbing my gnarly hands together) one of the few, the proud, The Cheeses Freaks.
Cheese: What is it and…what’s that smell?
You may be asking yourselves, as the great thinker Einstein once did, what is cheese? Did it just, like, fall out of the sky or something? If you believe that, you are a complete imbecile. Babies, of course, fall out of the sky where they are caught by storks and delivered to their parents. But cheese??? Poppycock!
First you must start with milk. “Yeah, yeah…I know that,” you may be saying. But, Mr./Ms. Smartyboots, cheese comes from many different animals. Cows (whose only lot in life is to produce milk and get eaten…not the brainiest sort), sheep (who figure prominently in the social lives of New Zealanders), goats (my personal favorite…tres cute and accomplished nuzzlers), water buffaloes (less like the American Bison and more like the cow…but with prettier feet), and other, but less utilized, animals.
yak or reindeer’s milk cheese, anyone??
Once the curds have turned the metaphorical cold shoulder to the whey, you more or less have cheese. The great cheese philosophers still battle over this definition so let’s take it a bit further. The curd may be placed in a mold and left (with Yanni music in the background) to drain off further whey or pressed (with AC/DC music in the background) to expel even more liquid. Generally, a little salt is added or (cheeses REALLY like this) rubbed in the rind and it is left to ripen and age for a spell.After you got your basic pool o’ milk, you dump a little starter (no spark plugs or radiators) in to alter the milk’s acidity level and prepare it for its “leap towards immortality.” This starter is sometimes different from cheese to cheese and lends its own special flavor. Next, toss in a pinch or two of rennet. This hastens the separation of the curds (solid chunks that look like part of tofu stew) and whey (watery liquid that looks like melted tofu stew). These two components may be more familiar to you in the nursery rhyme, “George-y porgy sat on his tuffett eating his curds and whey, then stuck in his thumb and pulled out four and twenty blackbirds.” Whoaaa pardner! Let’s back up and examine that “rennet” thing again. What’s rennet? I wish you hadn’t asked. It’s sorta…well…gotten from the inside of a calf’s intestine. Eeeooouu. You know that feeling when you did your first dissection on a frog? Same feeling, huh? So you may be asking why, then, we don’t just use the intestines of a frog for rennet. Well, we can’t…that’s why. Okay? To make you feel a little bit better, vegetable rennet is being used quite a bit now in place of animal rennet but the vegetables aren’t too thrilled about it.
As my grandfather used to say, “Stand up straight!” He also used to say, “There you have it.” Cheese. Of course, each variety of cheese goes through its own special procedure. Brie gets sprayed with a mold. Parmesan gets aged for a longer time. Gouda is wrapped in wax. Velveeta is blended with…HEY! how did you get in here Mr. Faux Fromage? More on this offending bastard (pardon my language) of cheese later.
And now… CHEESE!!
Let’s round out this introduction to cheese with an introduction to one of our local creameries (sounds better than saying cheesemaking factory, huh?): Cowgirl Creamery, out of Petaluma. You HAVE to visit this place or go for a tour – locations in San Francisco and Point Reyes and they make some of the best American cheeses.
Mt. Tam is their flagship, an organic, triple cream, washed rind (or surface ripened) cheese. Named after Mt. Tamalpais, a Northern California landmark, this is a smooth and creamy cheese with a melt-in-your-mouth buttery flavor.
Region/City, State: Petaluma, CA
Aging: 3 weeks
Use this as dessert, with a nice glass of Sauternes or a Late Harvest Riesling. Pairing it with some spiced roasted walnuts will really set off the creaminess of the cheese. Optimum eating is when the cheese is oozing deliciousness over the bloomy rind. Look for the firmer center to be only slightly larger than a quarter.