Sunday, October 12, 2014

After a long silence

I find time for cheese weekly.  Just haven't written about it recently.  My ceremonial time to go to Formaggio Kitchen is saturday mornings 9-10AM.  It is not busy with customers, and yet the store staff are bustling to put final touches on the set up and special offerings.  I love Saturday mornings for this.  Yesterday I was struck by the arresting geode-like visage of a Mimolette-- 1/2 pound wedge landed easily in my basket.  A slightly aged boule from Wallonia, Belgium was  my cheese monger's chevre delight that day-- fitting for a wet saturday along with some preserves on crusty wholemeal bread.
Belgian Boule

Then it occurred to me that it might be interesting to take a picture of the entire scene on the countertop.  Counter top clutter at the end of the week is a window onto, if not the soul, at least the particular physical world of home that matters.

Our counter top on a saturday afternoon/evening:

  1. food: bread, cheese, fruit, salad (made with a fantastically large head of radicchio), pumpkin seed oil (expensive, but crazy nutty). fennel salami (the best), ginger candy (kiss someone right after eating one- the bestest!), organic red grapes (who knows if they are better-- I feel better), and butter 
  2. meds: fish oil (to keep us feeling young), vitamin D drops (I NEVER remember to put them in my daughter's food), and prescription meds (that's private!)
  3. gadgets: old iPhone, portable landline (we can't feel comfortable without one- will that always be true?)
  4. paper: recipes from the NYT (I still like to tear them out and put them in a book-- there is a quiet and monastic element in it I think), random sh*t
  5. misc: paper money, play cup, baby socks, and raincoat (hand me down-- we are so lucky)
Our Countertop, week's end 

Perhaps some of you might like to share pictures of your counter tops at week's end, and see if in describing or cataloguing what you notice you have a view of your life from a bit higher.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Springtime Cheese

A short piece on a hand-sized disk that will be perfect for a picnic, if it ever becomes picnic weather.

Robiola di Capra, hailing from the Piedmont region of Italy.  Fresh, succulent, alive, bright, tangy, and floral. When aged just enough, it has a highly sensual appeal because the outer surface is slightly molten and giving way while the inside is dense even a bit chalky-- does wonders in the mouth.  I am not sure why the cheese I picked up wasn't wrapped in a cabbage leaf-- my online research tells me that it should have been.  No matter-- I don't feel swindled because I was fully satisfied with the visual and olfactory experience.  This is a cheese that demands to be eaten--- between two fingers, with fruit, pastries, eggs, chocolate, and even warmed and chunked into a parsley and endive salad with almonds. It's worth getting more than one for parties of 3 or more-- black eyes otherwise.

As the Robiola di Capra was disappearing, it stood atop a pile of infant clothing while the kitchen was being readied for making dinner.  Then it struck-- I often think of  'has this combination ever...' and a picture got snapped.  Identifying the unique reminds me of the potential of discovery and also of connection- because possibly, there is someone out there who has done the same thing. Has anyone else in the entire world also put a Robiola on top of infant clothes?     Friend, are you out there?
Robiola di Capra
Robiola di Capra sitting atop infant clothing

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Saturday Night Post- Catching up!

Can it be possible that this is the first post of the year?  It is already April. I did make a New Year's resolution that I would write at least monthly.  But then life unfolded and here we are, a Saturday night in April. And yet, priority enough that high up on my catch up list is turning out an entry here.

First item to catch up on: cheese in the news.  This time, a bit of a troublesome topic-- is cheese safe? Infectious pathogens like dangerous E coli.  Are cheeses made from unpasteurized cheese unsafe enough to be banned or rules governing manufacture significantly changed?  Some may find this tiresome-- the thought bubble 'really?  This again???' I have the same bubble, but I also think to the few people that have gotten sick-- some severely-- from eating cheese, and the importance of setting policy that maximizes safety.  And, yet again, life is full of risks, and because a few cheeses -- many from tainted pasteurized factories-- have been problematic doesn't mean all cheese production should be changed.

I will relay my person view, and then list some resources I have found helpful.

Personal view:  As noted, life is full of risks. Unpasteurized fluid milk is not worth drinking-- it may taste nice, but the risk/benefit is just too imbalanced to be consumed.  My judgement is that a reputable cheese maker, using unpasteurized milk to make aged cheeses older than 60 days, can be relied on to make safe enough cheese for general eating.  The balance of risk/benefit ought to be carefully considered for pregnant women, young babies, and individuals with immunologic concerns.  What I mean here is that some people enjoy cheese SO MUCH that perhaps for them it is worth a nibble on an aged cheese, while for others, who like cheese but don't dream of PARMIGIANO REGGIANO, it would be best to forgo.   Lastly, it is hard to define 'reputable'.  A cheese shop that knows its cheese supplier and can comment in particular on the safety protocols used by the cheese makers-- this is what you are looking for.  Oh truly lastly, it is NOT the case that all pasteurized cheese is safe.  Many outbreaks are in fresh pasteurized cheese that gets tainted after the pasteurization process. Think Queso Fresco.

1. American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on the consumption of raw and unpasteurized milk products by children and pregnant women.  Click here.  The AAP recommends banning the sale of unpasteurized milk products.  I'd support fluid milk ban, but not aged cheeses.  Nevertheless, a strong policy statement worth taking seriously.
2. FDA on unpasteurized milk.  Easy to read.  Doesn't specifically comment on hard cheeses.
3. In 2010, CDC investigated E coli outbreak because of contaminated Gouda-style cheese. Click here.    I am pretty sure these cheeses were made from unpasteurized milk.   NB- purchased at Costco!
4. CDC report on investigations of unpasteurized contaminated milk and milk products. Published 2012. Click here.  While mostly fluid milk, some aged cheeses are implicated.  I think still low risk for >60 days aged, but not zero.

Second item to catch up on: catching up to my students!  During GI pathophysiology tutorial, the second year medical students I was teaching in March became aware of my interest in cheese.  Our last day, we celebrated by having a fancy breakfast.  This was fancy and fantastic because we enjoyed one of my favorite cheeses-- Humboldt Fog.  The evidence is provided.  But we didn't stop there. McDonalds hash browns also made it to our gathering.  Scrumptious of course, but how about topped with a slab of Humboldt Fog?  Inspired!  To our knowledge, this is the first documented instance of combining these two foods.
Humboldt Fog and McDonalds hash brown!

Humboldt Fog at GI Tutorial

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Claire is now 7 months old.  There has been time/energy to eat some cheese.  At this moment, Claire is fighting with her pacifier, and I am feeling a little bad that I am not diving in to help her. I guess not bad enough...

A comment about taking care of babies.   It's hard.  But why?  If they cry it's because they need something: a nap, a bottle, some food, a diaper change, a change in scenery, a smooch.  How hard is that? Easy, unless you can't figure it out, you're tired yourself, you need to get something done aside from taking care of baby, etc. etc.  Mix in a little anger, frustration, exhaustion, and wham!  You have a tough situation on your hands.  Not so interesting but for the fact that millions of babies need to be raised all over the world-- I am sure many parents are a lot more tired and frustrated than we are.  Sure, give these parents some cheese, but also some high-quality, affordable, early childhood education!

Some observations from the last week:

1. Focus: I may have in the past recommended that one purchase a few cheeses at once.  However, I think there is strong justification for an approach marked by going home with one large chunk of cheese and learning to eat and enjoy it well.  This works beautifully for those semi-firm or firm cheeses that can last days to weeks if properly stored in the fridge-- wrap in waxed paper, unwrapped daily, and placed in a zip lock plastic bag, or, in a cheese preserver (see below).  I invested in a ComtĂ© Le Fort -- 2 lbs of it!-- for Thanksgiving.  This deliciously nutty, supple, toothsome cheese has been and will go strong for days, and one can experiment with different combinations of cheesing experience-- fruit, fruit preserves, honeys, breads, crackers, butter (see below), leftovers, melted... consider focusing next time you go to the cheese store!

Sanitary Cheese Preserver holding 2 lb Comté
2. Strange objects: Some years ago, a friend got me a cheese preserver for my birthday.  I have been meaning to use it.  When I brought it to Formaggio Kitchen for a show-and-tell... befuddlement!  Concern that the vinegar would permeate and influence the cheese flavor. We reached a consensus that it might be useful to store a cheese in the fridge or in a cold basement, but nix the vinegar. Here is some internet chatter about these objects. Anyone else have some experience with these?  Please share.
Sanitary Cheese Preserver

3. Use butter: Ever paired butter with cheese?  unless you are enjoying a triple cream, butter enhances the experience by eliminating the dry mouth problem, and with more fat, I think the flavors elaborate with more gusto.  Try it!  I like salted butter for this-- cultured sure, Kate's butter is great, but any old salted butter is a good start.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Is there any time for cheese?

Claire is now 4 1/2 months old.  I am not sure she would tolerate parmesan rinds about her head.  She might like to gnaw on the rinds instead.   But I digress.  The Cheese Doctor has managed to eat some cheeses worthy of mention, even while the possibility to peruse, ponder, and poke around cheese stores is generally out of reach.

Tobasi is a washed rind cow milk cheese that came my way because I had a gift certificate to Central Bottle. When I walked in, I went straight to the cheese counter and said to myself 'whatever is out on the cutting board I'm getting' (within reason-- this was no weekend for a blue cheese). Tobasi was it. A gorgeous corrugated rind, a buttery, luscious paste, and a floral, gentle herby flavor.  Usually I cut away such rinds, but I really got into this one.  I wanted to enjoy it all on its own but some salami crept in.
Claire got to drool on the provisions when she was flying through the air in her space ship/side arm hold.  

Lastly, a web find from a student of mine.  Click here.  I had no idea about this tall tale.  Would you go with the Red Leicester?  Cheddar sounds like more fun.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Developing ecologies

Something happened on the way to La Fromagerie (this is actually a shop worth tubing to in London-- click here). It has been a long while since the last post because this cheese doctor adopted a baby girl.  We call her Claire.  A delicious ordeal.  And it included some real comforts and some discoveries.

To respect autonomy, I won't reveal identifying features until she can assent.  One never knows.  But, that can't stop me from getting her used to cheese-- I think beneficence wins out here.  Some Parmesan rinds nearby seemed a good and balanced place to start.

Claire sleeping with friends- a pacifier and Parmesan rinds

In the thick of our experience, a dear friend brought us cheeses.  When one is exhausted, exhilarated, and a bit freaked out, there is nothing better than strong, clear notes.

Stilton w dried ginger and mango
Stilton with mango and ginger doesn't come over to play in my cheese house much, but did it ever during out adoption trip.  It was even a respite for the tongue, which could tease apart the little pieces of ginger and mango from the cheese leading to even more concentrated bursts of tang/juicy and crystalline spice.   The next day,  Carr Valley Billy Blue-- soft and luscious with a surprise goaty finish-- was a transforming partner for some clearance Chianti from Target.

Billy Blue

Since we talk about microbes, how can we not talk about Claire's developing intestinal microbiome?  Of course!  I have been gazing at her stools.  Yes there are the color and texture changes for sure, but it is the evolving smells that indicate microbiome on the upswing.  We have been through two formulas-- the first, Enfamil Enfacare, based on intact cow-milk protein and lactose, lead to some thick paste-like stool with fishy, vaguely musty odor.  Then, came Enfamil Newborn, also with the same base but with added 'prebiotics'-- meaning carbohydrates that cannot be digested by human enzymes and cells but which can be digested by bacteria.  Indeed!  Within a feed or two, little Claire was farting like his Papa, and passing soft stools which took on a more mustard consistency. And behold, the odor changed to something akin to cut grass and manure.   Amazing!

It could also have been the probiotics that Dr Cheese started.  There are many, but this one won because Claire can lick the powder off Papa's pinky.
Implements for feeding Claire

Cheese, as in life.  I am not saying that I want to eat Claire's poop.  What I am noticing is that the microbial world is magnificent, and the transformations that occur remind us how delightfully related delicious and disgusting biological substances can be.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Finding an Old Cheese

We forgot about a reasonably large wedge of Bayley Hazen Blue. I had gently wrapped it in waxed paper, put it in a plastic bag so it wouldn't dry out, and moved on to a busy schedule for about two weeks.  I was shocked and a bit sick when I found it-- was it going to be beyond eating?  Was I going to make a rank fromage fort?

It was an orange, sticky, ammoniacal mess as I peeled away the damp and disintegrating waxed paper.  I dabbed with a dish towel.  Wielding knife, I got into it and appreciated that the external funk could be cut away yielding a somewhat discolored but seemingly serviceable paste.  You can appreciated the surface molds visibly penetrating in the undersurface of the cut away pieces towards the top of the picture.
Bayley Hazen Blue

You might ask-- is it good to eat?  Is it safe? The answer to the first question is easy-- if it tastes good, its good.  The history of food discovery is just that.  Is it safe?  This is a harder and sometimes very important question-- mushroom gathering comes to mind.  For artisan-produced cheeses with real rinds, consider this approach.  If the cheese is molding with what looks like its intended surface molds, this is fine. Just cut away what doesn't taste good and enjoy. If the color has dramatically changed, or the surface mold texture is totally different, this is more extreme.  You may discover a new food or flavor, and  perhaps just keep this process to yourself  until you are a little more sure about safety.

What remains of the Bayley Hazen Blue
As for the Bayley Hazen, turned out no one got sick, and its fudge-like texture and carmel-barnyard flavors were delicious with orange marmalade or a fruity honey.

Lastly, I include a post from a cheese blog I created a while ago about this topic.  This has more to do with commercial cheeses, but presents a slightly stricter view.  Curious to know reader's thoughts on this!

A few posts ago I said I would write again about what I learned about mold on cheese. In short, one should not consume molds that aren't supposed to be on or in the cheese. This is rarely difficult to figure out. If cheese didn't come with the mold in question, it probably is a bad actor. Almost always pink/yellow/black molds are bad. The mycotoxins they can contain can make you sick. Exactly what kind of sick isn't clear to me from the literature. Many know of aflatoxin, but this doesn't cause acute symptoms so much as it is a potent carcinogen.
1. Official guidelines say for hard (e.g. aged Gouda) and semi-firm (e.g. Fontina) cheeses, one can cut away 1 inch around and below mold spot (I use for spot bigger than eraser head, smaller I cut less) and the rest should be safe.
2. Entire package of pre-sliced or crumbled cheese with molding should be discarded. The mold is likely not just in the place you see.
3. It is true, a soft cheese with more than a very small bit of abnormal mold should be discarded in its entirety. The wetness allows the mold roots to grow deeply, even if the surface mold spot is not very large.

See this USDA site for more information.