Day 53-Keen’s Cheddar


It’s finally happened-53 days in.  I thought of eating cheese this morning and a little voice inside of me went, “oh f*ck, not cheese.”  It passed, quickly-don’t be alarmed!  But it turns out that I don’t have an infinite love of cheese-which is actually ok, as this blog will come to an end in 47 days, and then what?  Am I supposed to hang out in cheese shops with a long face, hoping someone will throw me a rind?  Am I to take up cheese making?  This madness must come to an end.

Speaking of madness, can you believe we are at cheese 53 and it’s only today I am trying Cheddar?  Why it’s the “single most popular cheese in the world!”  Well, at least according to John Cleese. Before starting my folly of fromage Cheddar was the only cheese I would ever go out and purchase. I knew it came in three flavours: orange, white and marbled-0h, also shredded.  God, that’s embarrassing. I hope by now, we all know that colour means nothing, the orange of Cheddar is actually a dye called annatto, it was historically used to colour crappy cheese to look like really good cheese and the convention stuck.  Also, the colour has nothing to do with the taste, it’s all about the culture, the affinage (the aging) and the recipe. And, there is no such thing as “marbled cheddar.” Shudder. The horror.

So…Cheddar.  There’s actually so much to say, that I am breaking this into a couple of posts. First, Cheddar is a cow cheese produced in many countries-the name cheddar is not protected, although it is actually named after the village of Cheddar in Somerset, England. It’s the most popular cheese in the UK and number 2 behind mozzarella in the USA (must be all the pizza and stuff).

Cheddar has been made in Somerset for about one thousand years…the “Cheddar Gorge” and “Wookey Grove” have a number of Cheddar caves in continuous use for a millennium (is it just me or do these sound like a cheese version of Willy Wonka?)  The second world war almost knocked out the British cheese making tradition.  Many cheeses became extinct as almost all milk was used for making a single cheese called “government cheddar.”  Before the war there were almost 3,500 cheeses in England, and after the war fewer than 100 remained.  Holy Hannah, looks like the real victor of WW2 was cheddar.  How did I miss that one in the history books?

Keen’s Cheddar is a raw milk cheddar which has been artisanally made since 1899.  It’s cloth bound and matured for 12 months in some cave with a fabulous name (nice website at http://www.keenscheddar.co.uk/).  Although the term cheddar isn’t protected, the phrase “West Farmhouse Cheddar” is PDO  (Product of Designated Origin) and Keen’s has this designation. The Keen family has its own cows and makes its own cheese onsite-that’s why they get away with using raw milk-their cows only graze at Blackmoor vale.   This cheese is an award winner  taking home, ” first prizes at the Nantwich International Cheese show 2009, Gold award at the world cheese awards  held in Dublin, and the best PDO Cheese at the British Cheese Awards.”

My little chunk of Keen’s looks like…well, Cheddar cheese.  It’s white and creamy and kind of firm-but not dried out.  There’s a little bit of cloth that you need to take off, they remind me of mummy wrappings.  In all my cheddar eating years I have never peeled off a bit of cloth, so you do have to wonder what I have been eating.  Not real cheddar. It smells yummy and cheesey, and well-cheddary.

Here goes…

Wow, what in the world is this?  If this is cheddar, (and it is) I have been eating something else entirely. First, the texture is what you would expect, firm, yet creamy, no surprises except for the crunchy tyrosine crystals-crunchy cheddar, that’s a first for me. The taste is so sharp it makes my salivary glands squirt.  It’s much more intense that I was expecting.  It tastes like cows and booze, and tears-likes bovine teens on a bender.  It’s faintly barnyardy-but also quite salty and just a tiny bit sweet. I’m strangely not liking this cheese.  I want to like it, but it just doesn’t taste right- perhaps my taste buds have been ruined by crappy cheddar.  The thing is, crappy cheddar, has been one of my “go to” comfort foods, it’s the taste I am most familiar with, and even though this cheese is patently better, it’s just not what I am expecting. Sorry, Keen’s, it’s unfair, if only you had gotten to me first!

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Day 44-Old Amsterdam Gouda

At last, the tyranny of Brie is over! I’m going rogue with my cheese tasting, and feeling feisty.  Well, as feisty as one can feel at 4:22 in the morning.I realize that this is possibly the world’s first cheese and insomnia blog, all rolled into one.

Speaking of honour, my cheese today is just covered in medals and awards, including what appears to be a bronze medal in the “World Champion Cheese contest.”  Did you hear that, the WORLD champion.  Wow.  Old Amsterdam is a Gouda from Holland. t’s made from pasteurized cow milk, and is my first cheese to contain annatto, which needs a little explanation.

Annatto, sometimes called achiote, is a substance used to colour cheese.  It’s a derivative of the achiote tree found in South America, and it  produces a yellow to orange hue in food-you know, that “cheese colour.” Many cheeses are coloured, Goudas, Cheddars and others.  This has been occurring since at least 1860.  Presumably, cheese eaters felt that summer cheese was superior to winter cheese.  Summer cheese having a higher fat and carotene content from the grass often is naturally darker.  Hence annatto was used to dye foods as basically one of the earliest food additives  to give cheese that “summer cheese look,” kind of like spray on tanner for cheese. The problem with annatto is that lots of people are actually allergic to it.  However, since it’s a natural product, food containing annatto may be labeled as “all natural” when actually, they aren’t.  Now didn’t you always wondered why cheddar came in “white” or “orange?”  There’s your answer.  Of course, “marbled” takes on a whole new meaning.  It’s essentially annatto dyed cheese mixed with non-annatto dyed cheese.  Weird. Anyway, if you ever feel sick or wrong after eating an orange coloured cheese, try to find it in natural or white and see if there’s a difference, it might be the annatto that’s disagreeing with you.

Now, back to Gouda. This gouda cheese is made with a unique culture owned by the Westland family in Holland.  It’s an industrially produced cheese, but controlled by a family and made in small batches, so it’s got the best of both worlds.  This cheese is made using only week day milk, as apparently weekend milk is not as fresh as cheese production doesn’t happen over the weekend (makes you wonder what they do with all that weekend milk).  It s made from Frisian Holstein cows only.  OMG, this cheese is on facebook, check out https://www.facebook.com/OldAmsterdamCheese.  It’s the first of my 43 cheeses to have its own facebook page. Bravo, Old Amsterdam, you aren’t so “old” after all. This cheese has its own website too, http://oldamsterdam.com/ and includes the amazing news that THIS CHEESE is going into space with NASA.  Dutch astronaut André Kuipers is taking Old Amsterdam on board a space mission in December 2011. Holy Hannah, I feel like I can’t read any more about this cheese. It’s a freaking rock star.

I’m going to talk about Gouda in general more in another post, as I realize I have started my Gouda journey with potentially the most written about and beloved-and well travelled-gouda of them all.  Suffice it to say that there are many types of gouda, and they are matured for differing lengths of time.  Old Amsterdam  has been matured for 18 months and comes coated in black wax. The paste is a deep yellow colour (annatto) and looks dry and crumbly, especially after all that sticky brie.  It’s a pressed cheese and has the odd tiny hole in it. My slice smells just fabulously cheeesey, like a cheddar, to my untrained brain.  It has that sharp, savoury smell, but no ammonia or rot at all, this cheese is months beyond that.  Ok, can’t wait.

Here goes…

Ohhhh, shudder….God, yes…..shudder.  Now, this is cheese!  This is the kind of cheese I have been looking for.  It’s so freaking piquant and outrageously flavourful, it’s sharp, yet sweet, salty, yet tangy.  It tastes like discovery, and joy and life.  I love this cheese.  Mmmm.  Wait, is that tyrosine?  Yes, it is! There are little crunchy protein crunchies in this cheese, which makes sense, it being aged for 18 months.  I have only tasted one other cheese with this texture, and that is cave aged Gruyère  only other cheese in the running with this one in terms of flavour.  The texture is fantastic, it’s like a good cheddar, firm, yet crumbly, and melts nicely in your mouth.  I really love this cheese.  Have I been clear about that?  I would also take this cheese-and cave aged Gruyère, on a space ship with me.  Good call, Dutch astronaut dude.

Old Amsterdam, you get a 5 out of 5.  That’s just for taste, and doesn’t even count the bonus marks for your new media presence.

Day 28-Beaufort d’Alpage AOC

At last we come to the cheese that started it all-Beaufort.  I have two magnificent children, Sophie-almost 15, and Flynn-almost 12.  Sophie recently spent 10 days in France as part of a French exchange with her school.  She lived with a family in Albertville-in the mountains.  Before she even left Vancouver the word “Beaufort” was being bandied about.   Albertville-in the Savoie- is the home of this raw milk cow cheese.  A tour of the fromagerie would be on her agenda.  As I was a cheese newbie at that time-I thought this extremely odd (how the times do change).  Sophie returned from France full of wondrous tales, but they kept coming back to the cheese-the Beaufort-it had literally changed her life.  She now knew cheese, real cheese, and she wasn’t going back to crap. There was cheese everywhere in France-great big wheels of cheese, and it was cheap-dirt cheap.  Her host family had a fridge full of huge wedges of cheese-every week they picked up another 10 pounds of cheese and ate it several times of day in thick slices-AND they were all very thin and fit.  Curious.

Sophie and I then started our quest in Vancouver for Beaufort.  Foiled on numerous occasions, we at last stumbled upon Les Amis du Fromage.  When my daughter looked around the walls at the over 500 cheeses she said, “you could eat a new cheese every day for a year!”  And thus, the seed that became the blog was planted.

So, back to the cheese (I hope it’s clear at this point that no review of Beaufort is going to be unbiased.) Beaufort comes in three versions: summer, winter and this one-made in the Alps in chalets (d’alpage) yes, that’s right, IN CHALETS.  Beaufort is made from Abondance cattle-like the Abondance cheese I reviewed yesterday, and is in the french Gruyère family.  Some people actually refer to Beaufort as a Gruyère. In fact, it was dubbed  “the Prince of Gruyères” by Brillat-Savarin in the 19th century. Beaufort has a distinctive look caused by pressing the wet cheese with a band around the outside of it called “le cercle de Beaufort” this band is tightened as the cheese is pressed giving it a tell-tale concave shape (in other words, this cheese wears a girdle!)  You can see the shape in the first photo here-taken by my daughter in the market in Albertville.  Beaufort-by this name (meaning beautiful-hard) first appeared in 1865.  However the existence of a cheese sounding a lot like Beaufort was reported by Pliny the younger as being found at the court of Emperor Trajan in Roman times.

OK, enough chit-chat, I want to eat this cheese.  My appallingly small slice of Beaufort smells so sweet and fragrant-yet barney-like a fart of a cow that’s been eating clover and flowers-and I mean that in the best way possible.  The cheese is yellow and firm, there are no eyes.  I can’t see where “le cercle de Beaufort” did its girdle shaping-but I am imagining it is there.

Here goes…

Oh man, this is some seriously great cheese. The texture is very firm and goes straight to crumble in the mouth-no pause for melting.  It’s salty and sweet-it perfect balance. It tastes similar to Gruyere-you can definitely see the connection, but it’s more floral and salty and just yummy, what’s the word for that?  Oh yes, yummy.  I sense slight tyrosine crystals in the cheese-nice!  It’s that cheese, that special cheese you have been looking for, your cheese soul mate, you can introduce this cheese to your parents, you can slip a ring on this cheese’s finger.

It’s also used in fondue so I’m going to melt my paltry amount.  Hmm, melting it improves the texture, it’s now that perfect oozy stringy cheese-Beaufort was pretty mellow to start with, so melting it isn’t really necessary-in my opinion, eat it just as it is.

Beaufort, you get a 5 out of 5, first, for being the cheese that started this fromagologicaal journey of mine, and second, for being such an amazingly fabulous cheese, two thumbs up, WAYYYYYY up.

Day 24-Gruyere Cave Aged

This blog is ruining cheap cheese for me.  I can’t walk past the cheese section in a store anymore without taking an excruciatingly long time reading labels, looking at colour and scoffing.  We aren’t even a month in-this does not bode well for the future.  I made quiche for my family last night and used pre-packaged shredded cheese-I felt shame-and just a little dirty.  Do not blog lightly, gentle readers-this can be a life changing endeavour!

With that in mind, I turn my mind to todays’ cheese-Gruyere, cave aged-like yesterday’s Emmenthal-here is a cheese who’s name-at least-I recognize.  I can’t think off the top of my head of anything I actually know about Gruyere, I would never had picked it off the shelf, but I do know that the name is familiar.  This cheese seems to be the fromagological sibling to yesterday’s Emmenthaler-both of these spent three months aging in the dairy, then 9 months in the caves at Kaltbach.  Both are unpasteurized cow cheeses from Switzerland (see, this is why the term “Swiss Cheese” is so silly, the Swiss have multiple cheeses.) What’s the difference?

Gruyere is named after the Gruyere district in Switzerland-it received the AOC designation in 2001.  There is apparently some controversy about whether other similar French cheeses could also claim the name Gruyère (French Gruyère style cheeses include Comte and Beaufort). Oh, delicious, my first cheese controversy. Cheeses called Gruyere are now made almost everywhere.  Unlike Emmenthaler, the Gruyére name is not protected, thus the market is flooded with cheap imitations, like Louis Vuitton at a swap meet-EATER beware!   Gruyere is used for baking, and seems to be one of those cheeses happy to be melted.  I should have used it in my quiche last night, it’s also used-along with Emmenthaler in fondue and French onion soup- ah hah, THAT’S where I know this cheese from.

It seems like a Gruyere like cheese has been around for just about ever. A cheese like Gruyere was made in this region as far back as the time of the Celts-the Emperor Antoin-le-Pieux apparently died in 161 AD.from eating too much of this cheese.  Holy Hannah!  Like all AOC cheeses, there are strict rules about the creation of this cheese (while in Switzerland, God knows what crazy cheese making goes on outside of this AOC region.) The cows can only be fed grass and hay, the milk has to be produced within 20 km of the fromagerie, the mixing vat has to be copper, the shelves in the aging cave has to be unplanned spruce (!!!!) Washing the crust apparently helps distinguish its taste from Emmenthaler (we shall see)-only water and salt are used in the wash.  It differs from Emmenthlaer also in that the milk  it uses has more fat, which naturally sweetens the cheese-the holes are much smaller and more evenly spaced than those of Emmenthaler-the holes may shrink down to a nearly indiscernible during the aging which is the case in my slice.

My robust looking slice of cave aged Gruyere sits beside me here-there are no eyes in this cheese.  It’s very firm looking with a dark rind-I can’t see any spruce slivers, but I suspect they are there. The smell is mild, but very yummy-I WANT to eat this cheese and I shall deny myself no longer.

Here goes…

OK, this cheese rocks.  The texture is fascinating-it’s firm, yet melts quickly in the mouth, but there’s this tiny little crunch in this cheese-what in the world could this be?  It feels like salt… I have my answer, it’s tyrosine- amino acid clusters that form when a cheese spends a long time aging, these protein chains break down over time, leaving these crunchy deposits behind (that is seriously cool). The charming tyrosine aside, I just love this cheese, it’s sweet and mushroomy and totally addictive, I don’t even want to melt it-I just want to eat it all now, if you tried to take this cheese from me, I would bite you-it would be ugly.

Melted…oh God, it’s great melted too!  It’s sweet and oozy and just perfectly salty. Where is the cheese?  It’s all gone!

Cave aged Gruyere, you get a 5 out of 5 for rocking my world-if I could give yo an extra mark for introducing me to tyrosine I would.