Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Trappist, Port-Salut, or Port du Salut, and Oka

In spite of its name Trappist is no rat-trap commoner. Always of the elect, and better known as Port-Salut or Port du Salut from the original home of the Trappist monks in their chief French abbey, it is also set apart from the ordinary Canadians under the name of Oka, from the Trappist monastery there. It is made by Trappist monks all over the world, according to the original secret formula, and by Trappist Cistercian monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani Trappist in Kentucky.

This is a soft cheese, creamy and of superb flavor. You can't go wrong if you look for the monastery name stamped on, such as Harzé in Belgium, Mont-des-Cats in Flanders, Sainte Anne d'Auray in Brittany, and so forth.

Last but not least, a commercial Port-Salut entirely without benefit of clergy or monastery is made in Milwaukee under the Lion Brand. It is one of the finest American cheeses in which we have ever sunk a fang.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Emmentaler, Gruyère and Swiss

Whether an Emmentaler is eminently Schweizerkäse, grand Gruyère from France, or lesser Swiss of the United States, the shape, size and glisten of the eyes indicate the stage of ripeness, skill of making and quality of flavor. They must be uniform, roundish, about the size of a big cherry and, most important of all, must glisten like the eye of a lass in love, dry but with the suggestion of a tear.

Gruyère does not see eye to eye with the big-holed Swiss Saanen cartwheel or American imitation. It has tiny holes, and many of them; let us say it is freckled with pinholes, rather than pock-marked. This variety is technically called a niszler, while one without any holes at all is "blind." Eyes or holes are also called vesicles.

Gruyère Trauben (Grape Gruyère) is aged in Neuchâtel wine in Switzerland, although most Gruyère has been made in France since its introduction there in 1722. The most famous is made in the Jura, and another is called Comté from its origin in Franche-Comté.

A blind Emmentaler was made in Switzerland for export to Italy where it was hardened in caves to become a grating cheese called Raper, and now it is largely imitated there. Emmentaler, in fact, because of its piquant pecan-nut flavor and inimitable quality, is simulated everywhere, even in Switzerland.

Besides phonies from Argentina and countries as far off as Finland, we get a flood of imported and domestic Swisses of all sad sorts, with all possible faults—from too many holes, that make a flabby, wobbly cheese, to too few—cracked, dried-up, collapsed or utterly ruined by molding inside. So it will pay you to buy only the kind already marked genuine in Switzerland. For there cheese such as Saanen takes six years to ripen, improves with age, and keeps forever.

Cartwheels well over a hundred years old are still kept in cheese cellars (as common in Switzerland as wine cellars are in France), and it is said that the rank of a family is determined by the age and quality of the cheese in its larder.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Taleggio and Bel Paese

When the great Italian cheese-maker, Galbini, first exported Bel Paese some years ago, it was an eloquent ambassador to America. But as the years went on and imitations were made in many lands, Galbini deemed it wise to set up his own factory in our beautiful country. However, the domestic Bel Paese and a minute one-pounder called Bel Paesino just didn't have that old Alpine zest. They were no better than the German copy called Schönland, after the original, or the French Fleur des Alpes.

Mel Fino was a blend of Bel Paese and Gorgonzola. It perked up the market for a full, fruity cheese with snap. Then Galbini hit the jackpot with his Taleggio that fills the need for the sharpest, most sophisticated pungence of them all.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Wisconsin Longhorn Cheese

Wisconsin Longhorn is a sort of national standard, even though it's not nearly so fancy or high-priced as some of the regional natives that can't approach its enormous output. It's one of those all-purpose round cheeses that even taste round in your mouth. We are specially partial to it.

Most Cheddars are named after their states. Yet, putting all of these thirty-seven states together, they produce only about half as much as Wisconsin alone.

Besides Longhorn, in Wisconsin there are a dozen regional competitors ranging from White Twin Cheddar, to which no annatto coloring has been added, through Green Bay cheese to Wisconsin Redskin and Martha Washington Aged, proudly set forth by P.H. Kasper of Bear Creek, who is said to have "won more prizes in forty years than any ten cheesemakers put together."

To help guarantee a market for all this excellent apple-pie cheese, the Wisconsin State Legislature made a law about it. Small matter in the Badger State when the affinity is made legal and the couple lawfully wedded in Statute No. 160,065. It's still in force:

Butter and cheese to be served. Every person, firm or corporation duly licensed to operate a hotel or restaurant shall serve with each meal for which a charge of twenty-five cents or more is made, at least two-thirds of an ounce of Wisconsin butter and two-thirds of an ounce of Wisconsin cheese.

Besides Longhorn, Wisconsin leads in Limburger. It produces so much Swiss that the state is sometimes called Swissconsin.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Gorgonzola Cheese

Gorgonzola, least pretentious of the Blues triumvirate (including Roquefort and Stilton) is nonetheless by common consent monarch of all other Blues from Argentina to Denmark.

In England, indeed, many epicures consider Gorgonzola greater than Stilton, which is the highest praise any cheese can get there. Like all great cheeses it has been widely imitated, but never equaled. Imported Gorgonzola, when fruity ripe, is still firm but creamy and golden inside with rich green veins running through.

Very pungent and highly flavored, it is eaten sliced or crumbled to flavor salad dressings, like Roquefort.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Allgäuer Bergkäse, Allgäuer Rundkäse, or Allgäuer Emmentaler

From Bavaria. Hard; Emmentaler type. The small district of Allgäu names a mountain of cheeses almost as fabulous as our "Rock-candy Mountain." There are two principal kinds, vintage Allgäuer Bergkäse and soft Allgäuer Rahmkäse, described below. This celebrated cheese section runs through rich pasture lands right down and into the Swiss Valley of the Emme that gives the name Emmentaler to one of the world's greatest. So it is no wonder that Allgäuer Bergkäse can compete with the best Swiss. Before the Russian revolution, in fact, all vintage cheeses of Allgäu were bought up by wealthy Russian noblemen and kept in their home caves in separate compartments for each year, as far back as the early 1900's. As with fine vintage wines, the price of the great years went up steadily. Such cheeses were shipped to their Russian owners only when the chief cheese-pluggers of Allgäu found they had reached their prime.

Alemtejo

Called in full Queijo de Alemtejo, cheese of Alemtejo, in the same way that so many French cheeses carry along the fromage title. Soft; sheep and sometimes goat or cow; in cylinders of three sizes, weighing respectively about two ounces, one pound, and four pounds. The smaller sizes are the ones most often made with mixed goat and sheep milk. The method of curdling without the usual animal rennet is interesting and unusual. The milk is warmed and curdled with vegetable rennet made from the flowers of a local thistle, or cardoon, which is used in two other Portuguese cheeses—Queijo da Cardiga and Queijo da Serra da Estrella—and probably in many others not known beyond their locale. In France la Caillebotte is distinguished for being clabbered with chardonnette, wild artichoke seed. In Portugal, where there isn't so much separating of the sheep from the goats, it takes several weeks for Alemtejos to ripen, depending on the lactic content and difference in sizes.

100% American Fondue

2 cups scalded milk
2 cups stale bread crumbs
½ teaspoon dry English mustard
Salt
Dash of nutmeg
Dash of pepper
2 cups American cheese (Cheddar)
2 egg yolks, well beaten
2 egg whites, beaten stiff

Soak crumbs in milk, season and stir in the cheese until melted. Add the beaten egg yolks and stir until you have a smooth mixture. Let this cool while beating the whites stiff, leaving them slightly moist. Fold the whites into the cool, custardy mix and bake in a buttered dish until firm. (About 50 minutes in a moderate oven.)

Tomato Baked Fondue

1 cup tomato juice
1 cup stale bread crumbs
1 cup grated sharp American cheese
1 tablespoon melted butter
Salt
4 eggs, separated and well beaten

Soak crumbs in tomato juice, stir cheese in butter until melted, season with a little or no salt, depending on saltiness of the cheese. Mix in the beaten yolks, fold in the white and bake about 50 minutes in moderate oven.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Parmesan

Parmesan when young, soft and slightly crumbly is eaten on bread. But when well aged, let us say up to a century, it becomes Rock of Gibraltar of cheeses and really suited for grating. It is easy to believe that the so-called "Spanish cheese" used as a barricade by Americans in Nicaragua almost a century ago was none other than the almost indestructible Grana, as Parmesan is called in Italy.

Münster

Like Limburger, this male cheese, often caraway-flavored, does not fare well in England. Although over here we consider Münster far milder than Limburger, the English writer Eric Weir in When Madame Cooks will have none of it:

"I cannot think why this cheese was not thrown from the aeroplanes during the war to spread panic amongst enemy troops. It would have proved far more efficacious than those nasty deadly gases that kill people permanently."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Neufchâtel Style Fondue

2½ cups grated imported Swiss
1½ tablespoons flour
1 clove of garlic
1 cup dry white wine
Crusty French "flute" or hard rolls cut into big mouthfuls, handy
for dunking
1 jigger kirsch
Salt
Pepper
Nutmeg

The cheese should be shredded or grated coarsely and mixed well with the flour. Use a chafing dish for cooking and a small heated casserole for serving. Hub the bottom and sides of the blazer well with garlic, pour in the wine and heat to bubbling, just under boiling. Add cheese slowly, half a cup at a time, and stir steadily in one direction only, as in making Welsh Rabbit. Use a silver fork. Season with very little salt, always depending on how salty the cheese is, but use plenty of black pepper, freshly ground, and a touch of nutmeg. Then pour in the kirsch, stir steadily and invite guests to dunk their forked bread in the dish or in a smaller preheated casserole over a low electric or alcohol burner on the dining table. The trick is to keep the bubbling melted cheese in rhythmic motion with the fork, both up and down and around and around.

Edam

Edam when it is good is very, very good, but when it is bad it is horrid. Sophisticated ones are sent over already scalloped for the ultimate consumer to add port, and there are crocks of Holland cheese potted with sauterne. Both Edam and Gouda should be well aged to develop full-bodied quality, two years being the accepted standard for Edam.

The best Edams result from a perfect combination of Breed (black-and-white Dutch Friesian) and Feed (the rich pasturage of Friesland and Noord Holland).

"Eclair Edams" are those with soft insides.

Cheshire

Cheshire is not only the most literary cheese in England, but the oldest. It was already manufactured when Caesar conquered Britain, and tradition is that the Romans built the walled city of Chester to control the district where the precious cheese was made. Chester on the River Dee was a stronghold against the Roman invasion.

It came to fame with The Old Cheshire Cheese in Elizabethan times and waxed great with Samuel Johnson presiding at the Fleet Street Inn where White Cheshire was served "with radishes or watercress or celery when in season," and Red Cheshire was served toasted or stewed in a sort of Welsh Rabbit.

The Blue variety is called Cheshire-Stilton, and Vyvyan Holland, in Cheddar Gorge suggests that "it was no doubt a cheese of this sort, discovered and filched from the larder of the Queen of Hearts, that accounted for the contented grin on the face of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Angelic Camembert

1 ripe Camembert, imported
1 cup Anjou dry white wine
½ pound sweet butter, softened
2 tablespoons finely grated toast crumbs

Lightly scrape all crusty skin from the Camembert and when its creamy interior stands revealed put it in a small, round covered dish, pour in the wine, cover tightly so no bouquet or aroma can possibly escape, and let stand overnight.

When ready to serve drain off and discard any wine left, dry the cheese and mash with the sweet butter into an angelic paste. Reshape in original Camembert form, dust thickly with the crumbs and there you are.

Such a delicate dessert is a favorite with the ladies, since some of them find a prime Camembert a bit too strong if taken straight.

Provolone

Within recent years Provolone has taken America by storm, as Camembert, Roquefort, Swiss, Limburger, Neufchâtel and such great ones did long before. But it has not been successfully imitated here because the original is made of rich water-buffalo milk unattainable in the Americas.

With Caciocavallo, this mellow, smoky flavorsome delight is put up in all sorts of artistic forms, red-cellophaned apples, pears, bells, a regular zoo of animals, and in all sorts of sizes, up to a monumental hundred-pound bas-relief imported for exhibition purposes by Phil Alpert.

Pont L'Evêque

This semisoft, medium-strong, golden-tinted French classic made since the thirteenth century, is definitely a dessert cheese whose excellence is brought out best by a sound claret or tawny port.

Roquefort

Homage to this fromage! Long hailed as le roi Roquefort, it has filled books and booklets beyond count. By the miracle of Penicillium Roqueforti a new cheese was made. It is placed historically back around the eighth century when Charlemagne was found picking out the green spots of Persillé with the point of his knife, thinking them decay. But the monks of Saint-Gall, who were his hosts, recorded in their annals that when they regaled him with Roquefort (because it was Friday and they had no fish) they also made bold to tell him he was wasting the best part of the cheese. So he tasted again, found the advice excellent and liked it so well he ordered two caisses of it sent every year to his palace at Aix-la-Chapelle. He also suggested that it be cut in half first, to make sure it was well veined with blue, and then bound up with a wooden fastening.

Perhaps he hoped the wood would protect the cheeses from mice and rats, for the good monks of Saint-Gall couldn't be expected to send an escort of cats from their chalky caves to guard them—even for Charlemagne. There is no telling how many cats were mustered out in the caves, in those early days, but a recent census put the number at five hundred. We can readily imagine the head handler in the caves leading a night inspection with a candle, followed by his chief taster and a regiment of cats. While the Dutch and other makers of cheese also employ cats to patrol their storage caves, Roquefort holds the record for number. An interesting point in this connection is that as rats and mice pick only the prime cheeses, a gnawed one is not thrown away but greatly prized.

Limburger

Limburger has always been popular in America, ever since it was brought over by German-American immigrants; but England never took to it. This is eloquently expressed in the following entry in the English Encyclopedia of Practical Cookery:

Limburger cheese is chiefly famous for its pungently offensive odor. It is made from skimmed milk, and allowed to partially decompose before pressing. It is very little known in this country, and might be less so with advantage to consumers.

But this is libel. Butter-soft and sapid, Limburger has brought gustatory pleasure to millions of hardy gastronomes since it came to light in the province of Lüttich in Belgium. It has been Americanized for almost a century and is by now one of the very few cheeses successfully imitated here, chiefly in New York and Wisconsin.

Early Wisconsiners will never forget the Limburger Rebellion in Green County, when the people rose in protest against the Limburger caravan that was accustomed to park in the little town of Monroe where it was marketed. They threatened to stage a modern Boston Tea Party and dump the odoriferous bricks in the river, when five or six wagonloads were left ripening in the sun in front of the town bank. The Limburger was finally stored safely underground.

Feta

The Greeks have a name for it—Feta. Their neighbors call it Greek cheese. Feta is to cheese what Hymettus is to honey. The two together make ambrosial manna. Feta is soft and as blinding white as a plate of fresh Ricotta smothered with sour cream. The whiteness is preserved by shipping the cheese all the way from Greece in kegs sloshing full of milk, the milk being renewed from time to time. Having been cured in brine, this great sheep-milk curd is slightly salty and somewhat sharp, but superbly spicy.

When first we tasted it fresh from the keg with salty milk dripping through our fingers, we gave it full marks. This was at the Staikos Brothers Greek-import store on West 23rd Street in Manhattan. We then compared Feta with thin wisps of its grown-up brother, Casere. This gray and greasy, hard and brittle palate-tickler of sheep's milk made us bleat for more Feta.

Cheddar

The English Encyclopedia of Practical Cookery says:

Cheddar cheese is one of the kings of cheese; it is pale coloured, mellow, salvy, and, when good, resembling a hazelnut in flavour. The Cheddar principle pervades the whole cheesemaking districts of America, Canada and New Zealand, but no cheese imported into England can equal the Cheddars of Somerset and the West of Scotland.

Named for a village near Bristol where farmer Joseph Harding first manufactured it, the best is still called Farmhouse Cheddar, but in America we have practically none of this. Farmhouse Cheddar must be ripened at least nine months to a mellowness, and little of our American cheese gets as much as that. Back in 1695 John Houghton wrote that it "contended in goodness (if kept from two to five years, according to magnitude) with any cheese in England."

Today it is called "England's second-best cheese," second after Stilton, of course.

In early days a large cheese sufficed for a year or two of family feeding, according to this old note: "A big Cheddar can be kept for two years in excellent condition if kept in a cool room and turned over every other day."

But in old England some were harder to preserve: "In Bath... I asked one lady of the larder how she kept Cheddar cheese. Her eyes twinkled: 'We don't keep cheese; we eats it.'"

Camembert

Camembert is called "mold-matured" and all that is genuine is labeled Syndicat du Vrai Camembert. The name in full is Syndicat des Fabricants du Veritable Camembert de Normandie and we agree that this is "a most useful association for the defense of one of the best cheeses of France." Its extremely delicate piquance cannot be matched, except perhaps by Brie.

Napoleon is said to have named it and to have kissed the waitress who first served it to him in the tiny town of Camembert. And there a statue stands today in the market place to honor Marie Harel who made the first Camembert.

Camembert is equally good on thin slices of apple, pineapple, pear, French "flute" or pumpernickel. As-with Brie and with oysters, Camembert should be eaten only in the "R" months, and of these September is the best.

Since Camembert rhymes with beware, if you can't get the véritable don't fall for a domestic imitation or any West German abomination such as one dressed like a valentine in a heart-shaped box and labeled "Camembert—Cheese Exquisite." They are equally tasteless, chalky with youth, or choking with ammoniacal gas when old and decrepit.

Brick

Brick is the one and only cheese for which the whole world gives America credit. Runners-up are Liederkranz, which rivals say is too close to Limburger, and Pineapple, which is only a Cheddar under its crisscrossed, painted and flavored rind. Yet Brick is no more distinguished than either of the hundred percent Americans, and in our opinion is less worth bragging about.

It is a medium-firm, mild-to-strong slicing cheese for sandwiches and melting in hot dishes. Its texture is elastic but not rubbery, its taste sweetish, and it is full of little round holes or eyes. All this has inspired enthusiasts to liken it to Emmentaler. The most appropriate name for it has long been "married man's Limburger." To make up for the mildness caraway seed is sometimes added.

About Civil War time, John Jossi, a dairyman of Dodge County, Wisconsin, came up with this novelty, a rennet cheese made of whole cow's milk. The curd is cut like Cheddar, heated, stirred and cooked firm to put in a brick-shaped box without a bottom and with slits in the sides to drain. When this is set on the draining table a couple of bricks are also laid on the cooked curd for pressure. It is this double use of bricks, for shaping and for pressing, that has led to the confusion about which came first in originating the name.

The formed "bricks" of cheese are rubbed with salt for three days and they ripen slowly, taking up to two months.

We eat several million pounds a year and 95 percent of that comes from Wisconsin, with a trickle from New York.

American Cheddar

Since American Cheddar cheese is the kind that is commonly used in this country, the way in which it is made will be well to know. The milk used for this kind of cheese is first inspected as to cleanliness and the extent of fermentation it has undergone, and when these points are ascertained, it is ripened; that is, allowed to sour to a certain degree of acidity. At this stage, coloring matter is added, after which the milk is prepared for setting by bringing it to a certain temperature. With the temperature at the right point, rennet is added to coagulate the milk, or form the curd. The milk is then allowed to remain undisturbed until the action of the rennet is at a certain point, when the curd is cut into little cube-shaped pieces by drawing two sets of knives through it and thus is separated from the whey. As soon as the curd is cut, the temperature of the mass is raised to help make the curd firm and to cause the little cubes to retain their firmness, and during the entire heating process the whole mass is stirred constantly to assist in the separation from the whey. When the curd is sufficiently firm, the whey is removed and the particles of curd are allowed to adhere and form into a solid mass. If necessary, the curd is cut again into small pieces to get rid of the excess whey; but if the curd is too dry, the pieces must be piled up until they are four or five deep. During this process, which is known as the cheddaring of the cheese, the curd is treated until it is of the proper texture to be milled, that is, put into a mill and ground into small pieces. The object of milling the curd is to cut it into pieces small enough to permit of uniform salting and the further escape of whey. When the curd has been brought to this point, it is salted and then pressed into molds. Finally, it is wrapped and cured, or ripened.

Cheese Fondue

1 1/2 c. soft bread crumbs
1 1/2 c. grated cheese
1 c. hot milk
4 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt

A dish that is very similar to cheese soufflé and that must be served as soon as it comes from the oven in order to avoid shrinking is cheese fondue. It satisfactorily takes the place of meat in a light meal, and may be served from a large dish or from individual baking dishes with or without sauce, as desired.

Mix the bread crumbs and cheese, and add them to the hot milk, beaten egg yolks, and salt. Fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites. Bake in a buttered baking dish for about 30 minutes in a moderate oven. Serve at once.

Introduction

The making of cheese was known in ancient times, it having probably originated through a desire to utilize an oversupply of milk. When cheese was first made, the fact that bacteria were present was not known, nor were the reasons for the spoiling of milk understood; but it was learned that milk can be kept if most of its water is removed. This discovery was very important, for it led to various methods of making cheese and proved that cheese making was a satisfactory and convenient means of storing nourishment in a form that was not bulky and that would keep for long periods of time. From a very small beginning, the different methods of making cheese became popular, until at the present time more than three hundred varieties are made and their manufacture forms one of the large industries of the world.

In the United States, nearly all the cheese used up to about 50 years ago was made on farms, and to a great extent by housewives, but about that time a factory for the making of this product was started in the state of New York, and it proved a profitable enterprise. From this beginning, the business of making cheese commercially in this country has grown until now cheese is almost entirely a factory-made product, in the manufacture of which the states of New York and Wisconsin lead.