General Dairy

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.

So You Want to be a Cheesemaker?

What respectable curd nerd has not, for even a moment, contemplated leaving the rat race, moving to a farm, and making their own cheese? Well, lest there be any doubt that being a cheesemaker is easy business, check out this recent post that Kris Noiseux of Meadowstone Farm published to a cheesemaking listserv:

We have a grade A goat dairy in CT, milking 20 with 4 dry and 6 replacement kids. I work full-time and have the help of my retired father. My significant other works weekends and does morning milkings during the week plus animal care, soap, order tracking and supply stocking. We make soap, lotion, have a farm shop, and sell raw milk as well as cheese. We also keep bees, broilers and layers. We service commercial accounts and do two farmers markets.

I work 100-120 hour weeks, every week. I normally work to extreme exhaustion and, during high season like now, will find myself passing out in odd places and and generally incoherent. I regularly work 48 hours at a stretch, especially on the weekends. I have no idea how other farms do it, I would guess each season probably takes a few years off my life span. We couldn't afford to hire an employee.

Thanks to all the hard-working cheesemakers out there! We appreciate you!

Does Cheese Go Bad?

It's a question I am asked frequently, and my answer is always the same, "Yes, but you'll know it if it's so spoiled that you can't eat it." That's kind of a loaded answer though, because many people think that cheeses that are perfectly fine have spoiled. For instance, Époisses is so stinky that it smells spoiled even when it's perfectly ripe! That said, if a cheese is so smelly you can't bear to eat, don't. (But make sure you find the nearest curd nerd and ask them if they would want it!)

In fact, cheese is just milk that has spoiled in a controlled way, so asking whether spoiled milk can spoil is kind of a non-question. But maybe you want some more details. The folks over at Philadelphia's DiBruno Bros. have published an extensive blog entry on cheese spoilage. Definitely worth a read!

What's the best way to properly store cheese at home?

Here are some general suggestions about how to properly store cheese at home. The challenge is that cheese needs an environment that fulfills seemingly contradictory needs; it needs to be somewhere where air can flow in and out, but where moisture loss is kept at a minimum.

  • The first rule is to buy only as much as you need; cheese is best shortly after it is cut from the wheel.
  • If you are keeping cheese for more than a day or so, enjoy it quickly because every day that cheese hangs around in the fridge means a noticeable decrease in quality.
  • The softer the cheese, the harder it will be to keep fresh for a long time.
  • People generally recommend keeping the cheese in the warmest part of the fridge, but I find that this doesn't really matter as long as you give the cheese enough time to come to room temperature when you're ready to eat it again.
  • One method I really like is to wrap the cheese first in breathable paper such as parchment paper, and then cover the whole thing in plastic wrap. Plastic wrap keeps in moisture nicely, but can impart off flavors if left touching the surface of the cheese. And if you use parchment only, you'll lose too much moisture. The combination of the two usually does the trick.
  • Another method is to place some rolled up paper towels in a tupperware container, and then place the cheese on top of the paper. Closing the lid tightly creates a sealed environment that helps moisture stay in, while the paper towels help keep it from getting too wet in there. Be sure to open the container once a day to let some fresh air in.

If you have any other suggestions, please leave them in the comments below!

Raw Milk in the NY Times


Photo by mattbrowne via Flickr

The endless debate over raw milk continues today with a balanced article in the Dining Section of the NY Times. For obvious reasons, I kind of wish they'd cover the debate as it affects cheeses, especially since raw milk cheeses are generally even safer than raw milk itself.

The Udder Truth

Today's Salon.com has a thoughtful and balanced article about the benefits and the dangers of consuming raw milk. The only downside to the article is that it doesn't explore the benefits of using raw milk for cheese production. While the case can definitely made that drinking raw milk is a somewhat dangerous proposition, eating raw milk cheeses that are made in clean environments under strict practices is considered safe[1]. In an age where eating spinach is more dangerous than eating cheese, journalists would do well to investigate issues of food safety much more deeply, and bring out exactly what foods are safe to eat and why.

Link to the full article from Salon.com

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