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The World of Mediterranean Cheese

Karoun Cheese

Image courtesy of Karoun Cheese

Talking about "Mediterranean cheese" as if it's a distinct variety is problematic for two reasons. First of all, almost all of the best cheese-producing countries in the world surround the Mediterranean Sea: Spain, France, Italy. Second of all, cheese originated in the nomadic sheepherding cultures that lived in the region east of the Mediterranean, so to some extent all cheese is Mediterranean.

Still, when we use the term "Mediterranean cheese," we are typically referring to a select group of eastern European and Middle Eastern cheeses, typically made from goat or sheep's milk, typically fresh or pickled (but not aged), and typically really delicious. Here are some of my favorites.

Is affinage all hype?


“And if my humidity is 35 percent different from yours, my cheese is going to taste just as good as yours. It may have a different color of mold on it, but it’ll taste just as good. And yours is going to be twice as expensive, and you’re a highway robber. And you’re contributing to the preciousness and folly of Americans trying to emulate something in France that has nothing to do with quality. It has to do with expedience. Are you getting me here?” - Steve Jenkins, Fairway

Link to the full story from the NY Times. (Read till the end to see the results of the taste test.)

Meet the Curd Nerd: Janet Fletcher

Janet Fletcher is a staff food writer and cheese columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle. Recently, Curdnerds.com chatted with her about her love of cheese, as well as a beautiful new iPhone app based on her book Cheese & Wine: A Guide to Selecting, Pairing, and Enjoying.

Tell us a little bit about your background.
I’ve written a weekly cheese column for the San Francisco Chronicle for more than eight years, but I’m a trained professional cook and food writer with wide-ranging food interests.

Describe your interest in cheese and how it started.
I “discovered” cheese as a college student studying for a semester in France. I remember admiring the range of little goat cheeses available at the local farmers’ market, and I loved the ritual of the cheese course in restaurants. When I came home, married and established my own household (we’re fast-forwarding here), I held on to this French ritual. We have cheese at the end of dinner most nights; we never have dessert. It’s a great excuse for pouring another glass of wine.



Which pairs better with cheese? Wine or Beer? Why?
Both. Depends on your mood, the occasion, the weather. My husband is a winemaker so we are daily wine drinkers. We have wine with our dinner, so that’s the beverage we tend to have with cheese. But beer is a fantastic accompaniment to cheese and works especially well with the washed-rind cheeses that can challenge some wines. 


Which cheeses make you swoon?
Aged sheep’s milk cheeses like Ossau-Iraty, Zamorano, Pecorino di Pienza and Vermont Shepherd. These are the ones I reach for when I’m “off duty.” 



What advice can you give to a cheese newbie overwhelmed by the selection available at their local shop?
Find an enthusiastic cheese merchant and let him or her guide and educate you. Ask what’s in great condition that day and ask for a taste. Try to give your business to a store that has a staffed cheese counter.



How do you recommend people learn more about cheese if they are interested?
Well, of course I think they should buy my app and my books (The Cheese Course
and Cheese & Wine) and read my San Francisco Chronicle cheese column. The entire archive is online at www.sfgate.com. But really, you learn by tasting critically and comparing. Make good cheese a regular part of your meals, take notes, and expand your universe by purchasing an unfamiliar cheese each time you shop.

Comté Calling


Comté is hands-down one of my favorite cheeses. It's both nutty and fruity at the same time, and its elastic, semi-firm texture makes it a perfect melting cheese (it's often a key component in a fondue). It's almost identical to its more famous cousin, Gruyère, which is what the Swiss call the cheese. But just over the Alps in the Franche-Comté region of France, they call it Comté.

Raw-Milk Cheese 101


Check out my latest post on Serious Eats regarding raw-milk cheese. It's a debate that doesn't seem to die, so I thought it would be good to lay out the basic issues.

Bush's Legacy


Check out my latest post over at Serious Eats, about George W. Bush's latest (and last?) F.U. to the world: increasing tariffs on Roquefort cheese by 300 percent. Get it while you can, the tariff goes into effect on March 23--unless Obama repeals it before then.

Inaugural Cheese Plate

Check out my "red, white and blue" suggestions for an Inaugural Cheese Plate, which appear today on the new Cheese and Champagne blog.

Announcing Cheese Enthusiast

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There's a new cheese publication in town, and it's definitely worth checking out. Cheese Enthusiast is a reincarnation of the old newsletter "Home Dairy News," and as such its focus is on hobbyist cheesemaking at home. Nevertheless the paper takes a very in-depth approach to the topics it explores, so even if you don't make cheese at home the articles are very informative. And, hey, guess what--the inaugural edition features an interview with yours truly!

Annual subscriptions are a bit steep at $30/year, but so far the product is promising. I would love to see some full color photography to go along with the well-written articles, and hopefully they will head in that direction in the future.

Quick! Free Tickets to an Irish Cheese Tasting in NYC!

daru-cheese
The kind folks at Murray’s Cheese are inviting the first 30 of you who R.S.V.P. to the phone number below to an exclusive Irish farmhouse cheese tasting at Ireland House in NYC this Thursday, October 30th, from 6-8 PM. The tasting will be led by Breda Maher from Cooleeney Cheese in the heart of Tipperary. Below are the details.

This will be the kick-off event for a month-long Irish cheese promotion that Murray’s is conducting. As part of the festivities, Murray’s will be featuring Irish cheeses throughout November and hosting tastings with cheesemakers from the country.

What: A free guided tasting of Irish farmhouse cheeses
When: Thursday, October 30th, 6-8 PM
Where: Ireland House, Consulate of Ireland, 345 Park Avenue (bet. 51st and 52nd)
R.S.V.P: Please call Jasmin Mirsal at 212-243-3289, ext. 38

Photograph courtesy of Cooleeney Cheese

Making Cheese at 8000 Feet


Some of the greatest cheeses in the world are made only in the summertime in the gorgeous high elevations of the French and Swiss Alps. Gruyère, Beaufort, Appenzeller, Comté all come to mind. In a process known as transhumance, cows are allowed to graze on mountainous pasture at higher and higher elevations as the snows melt in the warm weather. The cheese itself is made right there on the slopes in little stone huts. The lush array of herbs, grasses and wildflowers in the alpine meadows make for some of the greatest tasting cheeses in the world. This process has been beautifully chronicled on FXCuisine.com, with a stunning high-resolution photo essay of the wonder that is alpine cheesemaking.

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