Cheese Parenting 101

It's important to get the most out of your cheese once you bring it home, especially with today's prices.  If you are going to buy good cheese you should know how to store it once you bring it home.  Here are some helpful tips on being a good mom or dad to your cheese.

Avoid wrapping your cheese directly in plastic.  This is possibly the most common way cheese is stored and possibly the worst way to store your cheese.  But why when I go to my favorite cheese shop all the cheese is wrapped in plastic?  Plastic wrap is necessary for cheesemongers due to health regulations and to display the product but it is not an ideal way for you to store it at home.  Cheese is a living breathing thing and doesn't appreciate being suffocated by plastic, just like humans.  We take good care of our cheese at Artisanal Bistro and rewrap every cheese on a daily basis.  I'm proud to say I've worked at many cheese shops and this is the only one that I've seen do this.  We take care of our cheese like you would your family, assuming you like your family.  Plastic can also give the cheese a undesirable plastic flavor, unless the cheese maker intended their cheese to taste like plastic but I highly doubt that.  So do justice to the cheese makers hard work and don't wrap your cheese directly in plastic.        

Wax paper is the best way to store your cheese.  Wrap your cheese in wax paper and then you can loosely wrap it in plastic.  I don't use the term loosely, loosely.  People often want to wrap the cheese as tight as possible but like I said, cheese likes to breathe.  Some cheese has wax rinds so it only makes sense that wax is cheeses friend.  Here at Artisanal Bistro when you buy a piece of cheese to bring home we wrap it in cheese paper which is the best way to store your cheese.  

It is important to let the cheese know you know it's there.  Don't be a cheese parent deadbeat and neglect your cheese.  Nurture it and give it a good home, preferably in the vegetable crisper farthest from the freezer.     

I Finally Made It!

Cheese that is.
After over ten years of selling cheese to thousands of cheese obsessed people, from world renowned chefs to wide eyed future foodies, I finally got down to the nitty gritty and made cheese.
I felt like somewhat of a fraud over the years being that I never spent time making cheese but I can finally tell people that I have been apart of the entire cheese making process.  Not just any cheese but one of my personal favorites, Jersey Girl.
Sharon and Bob, cheese makers from Cooperstown Cheese Company, invited me upstate recently to make cheese with them.  I couldn't say no to the opportunity to get my hands on some fresh curd and whey.  If that wasn't reason enough to make the voyage, there was also a cheese tasting at the Ommegang Brewery with many other local NY state cheese producers.

First was a trip to the farm to pick up the milk.  Since Sharon and Bob do not own their own farm, just a beautiful cheeserie, they get their milk from a local dairy.  We walked along rows of the actual Jersey Girls who are responsible for the top quality milk used to make the cheese named after them.  They were attractive and personable ladies.  One even licked my hand.  It was almost as enjoyable as the last time a jersey girl licked me.
Now that the Jersey Girls were done their part it was time for us to do ours.  The milk was loaded into the vat to be heated.  We added our starter cultures and rennet to coagulate the milk, transforming it into a custard like mass.  I asked Sharon about what cultures she used but she refused to reveal her secret recipe.  We then cut it into smaller pieces to begin separating the whey from the curd.  Next we drained the whey leaving lots of curd to be scooped up into molds and then pressed to extract any excess liquid.
Sounds easy?   Well it is, but not really.

I was lucky to be in the company of intelligent and dedicated cheese makers such as Sharon and Bob who make it look easy.  It's actually hard work and we should be thankful we have such passionate people dedicated to perfecting the art of cheese making.  They have only been producing cheese for roughly seven years but you would think they've been doing it much longer. When I asked Bob how the last seven years of his life have been he replied that he wished he had been doing this his entire life.  Great answer.  It's wonderful to know the person making your cheese loves their work.
During the entire process all I could think about was how little I know about cheese.  That's why I enjoy it so much.  After all these years I am amazed at how much more there is to discover about cheese.  Whether it is experiencing making cheese for the first time or just tasting a brand new cheese on the market, there is always something new to learn.  The experience was eye opening and I can't wait to do it again.
So please come into Artisanal Bistro and support your local cheese makers.  Here is a list of our current NY state cheeses.  

Cooperstown Cheese Company/Milford NY
Jersey Girl - raw 100% Jersey Cow milk give it the yellowish hue cheese lovers go crazy over. Grassy, earthy, and slightly buttery with a semi firm texture.  It's my favorite cheese to have in the fridge.
Celena - Raw cow's milk with a rustic sharp provolone type finish.  It has a musty aroma that I can't get enough of.  I often use this grated over pasta.

Dutch Girl Cheese/Leonardsville NY
Softy - I was amazed to hear this was raw sheep's milk.  It has a young moist texture with a tangy acidic flavor.  I tried some with honey over it and my toes wiggled.  
Young Thom - Rugged raw cow's milk cheese with a complex gritty taste.  Great with cured meats.

Danascara Cheese/Fonda NY
Dulcinea - Manchego style made from raw sheep's milk.  Just the way I like my Manchego, aged, salty, and tangy.  Rubbed with cocoa and olive oil.  Forget La Mancha, buy NY! 


Mighty Mitey Mimolette

I almost let this blog disappear into the wasteland of millions of other neglected blogs but it is back.

A couple weeks ago 40 protesters took the streets of New York City to protest the U.S. ban on Mimolette, a classic French cheese.  Mimolette has been imported into the United States for over 20 years and just recently the Food and Drug Administration has deemed it not fit for U.S. consumption because of the microscopic cheese mites on the rind being considered an allergen.  Currently there are hundreds of pounds of Mimolette being held up by customs because of our friendly mites.  These mites are important to the production of Mimolette and its distinct crust.  The mites were invited to the party being intentionally introduced to the cheese, so let them stay and enjoy their company.  

Mimolette is a cheese lovers dream and at times a cheese handlers nightmare.  Not because of the mites but because of the cantaloup shape that makes it move around while trying to cut.  It also has a tough exterior and interior making the cheese cutter use all their well developed cheese handling muscles to get through it.  The taste is similar to well aged gouda, edam, and cheddars.  It has caramel like flavor that can be more pronounced the longer they are aged.  

So why would I be telling you about this delicious cheese that you now cannot get?  Because I currently have two wheels of 22 month aged Mimolette at the bistro waiting to be consumed.  Stop in and try some, you just mite like it.

Steffen Kenney

Eat what Barack ate.

Yesterday was the fifty seventh inauguration of the President of the United States of America.  Now what could that possibly do with cheese you might ask.  It just so happens that cheese was served during the third course of the inaugural luncheon.  Not just any cheese but two cheese made by Cooperstown Cheese Company, some of my favorite people in the cheese world.

I was ecstatic to hear the news from Sharon Tomaselli of Cooperstown Cheese Company that their cheese was selected among a long list of New York State cheeses.  I have known Sharon for many years and remember first trying her Toma Celena and Jersey Girl cheeses and have proudly sold them ever since.  One of the first things I did when starting here at Artisanal Bistro was called Sharon and asked her to please send us her cheeses.    

Sharon has also granted us the pleasure of doing a tasting of these two fine cheeses in our cheese cave one Saturday afternoon.  Talking to Sharon about cheese has only made me more knowledgeable about cheese production and I look forward to some day visiting her facility in Milford New York to get a hands on cheese making experience.

Jersey Girl is made with 100% raw jersey cow milk and has a golden color with grassy notes.  It is great for melting and as a table cheese.  It is the type of cheese you should keep in the fridge at all times.  

Toma Celena is a raw cow's milk northern Italian Alpine style cheese.  It has a musty aroma and a bite you back sharpness that makes itching for more.  Stop by Artisanal Bistro Presidents Day weekend during Fondue Month and enjoy a fondue made by both these presidential cheeses. 

So what do you think was running through the Presidents mind while eating these cheeses?  World peace, deficit spending, or maybe global warming.  Maybe he just sat back and thought, damn that is good cheese.

All I'm thinking is congrats to Cooperstown Cheese Company for gracing the table at the White House and for being great people who make great cheese.    

Gamonedo! You are a wild one.

Possibly the most interesting cheese I've ever had the pleasure to handle.  Gamonedo has a mind of its own and what a brilliant mind it must be.  Is it a blue cheese?  Is it a smoked cheese?  Is it made with cow's milk, goat's milk, or sheep's milk?  All of the above, yet none of the above.  WTF!

Gamonedo is produced in Asturias in Northern Spain.  It is made in two villages on the edge of the mountain range called "Picos de Europa."  This area of Spain was making cheese back in the 1100's.

Gamonedo is a natural blue which means it is not force molded like most blue cheese.  Sometimes when you cut open a wheel it has hardly any blue and other times it runs through the cheese mostly closer to its natural grey rind.  The blue part of the cheese is reminiscent to a Cabrales, one of the more aggressive blues on the market.  The cheese is also lightly smoked but does not taste smokey except when it is an extra aged wheel.

The cheese is made using raw milk from cow, sheep, goats, or any combination of the three.  The current wheels we have at Artisanal Bistro are 80% raw cow and 20% raw goat.  They use milk from specific breeds of animals.  

Cow   - Friesian, Asturiana de los Valles and Pardo Alpina breeds or crossbreeds
Sheep - Lacha, Carranzana, and Milschalfe breeds or crossbreeds
Goats  - Lacha, Carranzana, and Milschalfe breeds or crossbreeds

Who cares about breeds of animals!  What does it taste like? 

Its blue portion tingles the taste buds long after it is chewed and swallowed.  It is the type of cheese where not only every wheel taste different but every bite from each wheel taste different.  It has a crumbly texture and a pleasantly salty flavor that dances around looking to have something boozy poured over it.  

I've been very impressed by our customers reaction to this exotic cheese.  Many have said it's the wildest cheese they have ever tasted.  I thought people would be terrified of Gamonedo but instead they have embraced it and given it a good home in their belly. 

Most of the producers of Gamonedo are elderly and their knowledge and tradition is in jeopardy of disappearing.  So get into Artisanal Bistro before these guys keel over and you can't find it anymore, I double dog dare you.     

Steffen Kenney

My holiday cheese plate 2012

Every year on Christmas Eve night my family gathers at my sisters house for a meal where the main feature is cheese.  Cured meats, olives, and other accoutrements fill the table but the cheese is the stand out.  Since my many years of handling cheese our holiday cheese plate has become more extravagant as far as flavors go.  Even my niece's and nephew's palates seem to have developed past the once acceptable St. Andre and towards the Kunik, a more interesting goat's milk based triple creme. 
It's less than one week to Xmas and I have already started thinking about this years cheese plate.  I tend to lean towards what I find eye catching and my problem this year is that everything looks so damn good.  
Should I bring some Canestrato, an Italian raw sheep milk with a complex flavor that builds as you chew it, for a hard cheese or some amazing 3 year Comte (see previous post).  My brother in law loves soft stinky cheeses so maybe a Rush Creek Reserve, which have been outstanding this year, will satisfy his stinky cheese craving.  My sister loves soft and buttery cheeses but do I dare do something as pedestrian as Brie.  Why not?  The Brie we have at Artisanal Bistro is far from what can be bought at a grocery store and has pleasant mushroom notes that make you want to scrape every last bit off the cheese board.  Too many decisions.
So here are the cheeses I will be schlepping on a New Jersey Transit train to my sisters lovely home.  

3 Year Comte (raw cow, France) 
- Possibly my favorite cheese in life
Canestrato (raw sheep, Italy)
- I know it was between this and the 3 year Comte but they are both so good.  It was like Sophie's Choice only no children were involved and I had the luxury of being able to choose both.  I guess it's nothing like Sophie's Choice.
Gratte Paille (cow, France)
- They have looked so perfect lately and should provide something buttery for my sister.  She used to sneak into the fridge and eat sticks of butter when we were little.
Rush Creek Reserve (raw cow, WI)
- They just ooze yumminess and are seasonal so how can I say no.
Clochette (goat, France)
- Bell shaped goats milk cheese may come off as a bit of a novelty but they came in so perfect so I just have to have one.
Cremificato Capra Verde (goat, Italy)
- Amazing blue to round things off.  So creamy and tangy.  

Come by Artisanal Bistro and make your own holiday cheese plate or feel free to copy mine.

Happy Holidays,

Steffen Kenney

Its the Wood that Makes it Good

Whether its the slabs of wood cheeses rest on for maturation or the wood used to smoke cheeses such as gouda's and cheddar's, cheese and wood have worked together for centuries.   

Lately at Artisanal Bistro I have been excited at the arrival of several cheeses with wood wrapped rinds.  The most notable of the group is Vacherin Mont d'Or, one of the most talked about cheeses in the world.  Vacherin Mont d'Or is a seasonal cow's milk cheese from Switzerland that is wrapped in a band of spruce.  The spruce along with the brine washed rind gives this cheese an unforgettable earthy taste that screams holiday season.  A gathering this time of year is not complete without a Vacherin Mont d'Or for friends and family to share.  Just dip a spoon in, drizzle over a fresh baguette, and enjoy.  Repeat this process until the entire thing is gone.  You know you want to.

Some other wood wrapped cheeses we carry at the bistro are Forsterkase and Holzige Geiss.  Both these cheeses are wrapped with a fir bark that provides an earthy almost smokey undertone to the cheeses.  Holzige Geiss is made with raw goats milk, while Forsterkase uses raw cow's milk and both come from the Swiss Alps.

Last but certainly not least is the Rush Creek Reserve from Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville Wisconsin.  This is much like the Vacherin Mont d'Or in that its seasonal and wrapped in spruce wood but the beauty of it is it's made domestically.  This cheese is extremely rare and limited so try one soon before the season ends.

All theses wood wrapped cheeses are both wine and beer friendly or can even be enjoyed with brown spirits such as whiskey and bourbon.  Stop by the cheese counter for a taste.     

Marcel Petite 3 Year Comte - A force to be reckoned with

While handling cheese for over ten years there has never been a cheese that has captivated me more than Marcel Petite's 3 year Comte. October was once my favorite month for cheese because of the arrival of Vacherin Mont d' Or but that has been replaced by November and the anticipated arrival of Marcel Petite's 3 year Comte. It is masterful in stature, color, texture, and most importantly taste.

Of all the AOC cheeses Comte is the most widely produced. There are 175 producers and 188 affineurs registered in France. So what makes this Comte so special?

Marcel Petite's aim is to always offer simple authentic product allowing nature, place, and season to guide his affinage. The facility in which it is aged in, Fort Saint-Antoine, was built in 1879 as protection against a possible Prussian assault from Switzerland. The head cheesemonger and his staff taste from the 300 wheels of aging cheese to determine how much longer each wheel should be aged. With this much time and attention invested into such a limited amount of cheese it's no wonder the end result is so shockingly good.

This particular wheel (75 lbs) we were able to acquire has been aged 36 months and shows off what amazing things time can do to a cheese. With a deep golden color and a dense crunchy texture the flavor makes your mouth water for more. It can easily be paired with a wide variety of wines or beers because of its diverse complex taste. It's extremely rare and won't last long so stop by and get it while you can.

More information: Click here

By, Steffen Kenney
Head Fromager, Retail Cheese Counter Manager