Facts about cheese and cheese etiquette from Vivien Straus
On a tour of the Cowgirl Creamery’s Petaluma production facility, Vivien imparted some fun facts about the basics of cheese as well as proper cheese etiquette.
All cheese is made from the same four essential ingredients:
1) Milk: can come from cows, goats, sheep, water buffalo, etc. Cowgirl Creamery uses solely cow’s milk.
2) Cultures: consist of yeast, molds or bacteria. Cultures break down proteins and fats in the milk.
3) Rennet: contains enzymes found in a calf’s stomach. Rennet is used as a coagulant in cheese production to separate solids (curds) and liquids (whey). In nature, these enzymes help solidify the mother’s milk in the calf’s stomach so that the baby can digest it and extract as much protein as possible.
A coagulant can also be made from vegetables, microbial enzymes and of course, there is a genetically modified version. Both Straus and the Cowgirl Creamery take a strong stance against the use of GMOs, not only in their own products, but as well as their use in any product—whether it be food, biodegradable containers, or the myriad (and sometimes surprising) other products in which GMOs can be found. Cowgirl uses two different coagulants, microbial and rennet to make their cheese.
4) Salt: helps to draw moisture out of the curds, develop the rind and promote culture growth.
Cheese tastes best when eaten at room temperature, which Vivien stated takes a half hour to two hours out of the fridge before properly served, depending on the size. This allows the full flavor of the cheese to come out.
Etiquette on rind eating is really up to the consumer. The rind is the strongest part of the cheese and while some enjoy the flavor, others either discard it or freeze it for later use to flavor and enrich soups (parmesan rinds are commonly used for this). Even if you do intend to eat the rind, separately taste each part of the cheese first (the center, right under the rind, and the rind), all of which have distinct flavors which contribute to the whole.
Vivien suggests that consumers only buy as much cheese as they will eat in a week, as cheese will continue mature over time, and with it, its flavor. Cheese tastes best if bought and consumed soon after it is cut from the wheel. The longer you hang on to a cheese, while it may not spoil, the flavor will start to diminish. Buy little and buy often, is a rule to live by. To enjoy the flavor the cheese producer intended, consumers should eat cheese within a week or two of buying it, regardless if it can last longer. Once you buy cheese, rewrap it in wax paper and then, if you desire, put it in a plastic container or bag. Open up the container or bag once to a few times a week to allow the cheese to breathe. Cheese is a living thing, containing cultures which require oxygen.
When it comes to mold, Vivien stressed that the only mold that you should worry about is either black or pink, any other color is okay. Black molds are okay to eat, just aesthetically unappealing and bitter. Simply cut the moldy piece out and enjoy your cheese.
Photo Credit: Cowgirl Creamery