Cheese Boot Camp

I'm a little too tired and cheese addled to give a full report right now, but I just finished the three day, sixteen hour, four pound cheese boot camp class at Murray's, and it was awesome. I am stuffed with cheese and exhausted.

Pat, Flip, Babysit

I know you're beginning to think I'm obsessed with goats and goat cheese. And you're not wrong. But my obsession doesn't spring from nowhere. The goats are a lot of work.

The (admittedly dim, but it's a cave! come on!) picture above is of the goat cave, where the neediest cheeses live. The young goat cheeses need to be patted to control rind growth and flipped over at least a couple of times a week. This is chilly, delicate work. If I spend more than about forty-five minutes in the cave patting and turning the cold cheeses, I start to get a little numb in my fingertips. But this is important work.

Flipping the cheeses keeps the butterfat from settling on the bottom of the cheese. If you don't turn these cheeses, they will eventually squoosh out of the bottom of their rinds, I think.

In truth, that's speculation, but I have seen that if they are not flipped on time, the rind starts to grip the straw mat a little bit. Scary! I would be interested in knowing what would happen if the cheese just was left alone indefinitely, but because my charge was to care for the cheese and not experiment on it, I can only speculate.

Spanish Wine, Spanish Cheese, Jarred Octopus

Oh, food trade shows. How I love you! Yesterday was the Spanish Wine Cellar and Pantry show at Gotham Hall, and there was wine, wine everywhere. Plus a little cheese and food. This is like the aesthetic opposite of being in a cheese cave. The setting was fancy, my friends.

Regarding wine, I liked a Don Jacobo Rioja Reserva. Their literature described it as spicy and minerally, and I thought so, too. Not too pricey. Extremely tasty with the gazillion manchegos that were available for tasting.

And manchegos were really ruling the roost. Because of, I'm sure, its wild popularity, most of the cheese offerings were manchego and variations on manchego. There was also a really unusual garroxta that was very soft at the center, and extremely goaty. I admit, I prefer the harder, drier versions.

Some of the best food options, for my money, were at the beautiful spread from Despana, a Spanish imports specialty shop with sausages, white anchovies, and a wheel of La Serena sheep milk cheese with its top cut off. The soft center of the cheese was scooped out and spread on crackers (shown in a funny little stock photo here). Yum.

There were also fabulously lush (and fabulously expensive) conservas from Conservas Ana Maria. Fish pudding, baby!

Cheeses and Their Seasons

It's spring. And for some people, that probably means daffodils and evening strolls in the extended daylight, but to me, it means one thing: goat cheese.

Winter is the leanest time for goat milk, because there is little to no fresh grass for the goats to nibble. But since early March, the goats are back to good grazing. And six weeks later (time to milk the goats, culture the milk, and lightly age the cheese), seasonal goats are in.

You'll have to forgive the blatantly stolen's swiped from an Oregon dairy. The little Pearl I bought last week I gobbled up too quickly to take its photograph. But more spring chevres are sure to follow.

Brooklyn Chevre: Round One

My first attempt at making fresh chevre in my Brooklyn apartment was a qualified success. These were rennet-free cultured goat milk cheeses, drained for about 24 hours. They were tasty if not very interesting. Two reasons they could have been tastier: the milk was only average quality(commercial goat milk in February-- not the greatest) and the culture was pretty tame. But mild through they were, I'd say my first crack at making goat cheese definitely worked. Sort of a goat milk farmers cheese, and who wouldn't love that?

Here's the milk a few hours after I added the culture. You can see by the way that it pulls away from the pan when I tilt it that the milk has become the texture of firm yogurt.

Next I drained the cultured milk in a cheesecloth. You can buy something called a ricotta tub that is a conical plastic strainer that sits inside a solid plastic cone. But I found that a salad spinner insert works nearly as well, and way more people have salad spinners than ricotta tubs.

And then, my fanatacism shows through, because I drained my cheeses in a wine refrigerator that I've converted to a miniature cheese cave. But that level of insanity is not at all required. Normal people may drain their cheeses in their normal person refrigerators. I set bowls beneath each cheese to catch the draining whey, but next time I'll just set up one large pan.

Twenty four hours later, the chevre was ready to unwrap and eat. I put a scoop on ingredibly unseasonable (but definitely delicious) red raspberries. See? Even if you live in a middling apartment, and have just your standard kitchen equipment, you can make your own fresh chevre.

Grayson: your stinky best friend

There's no way to be kind about it. Meadow Creek's Grayson stinks. Even when it is in the washed rind cave at Murray's, which has a powerful locker room aroma, you can smell it distinctly, out-stinking its stinky cheese friends.

I read recently (on Wikipedia, so bear with me) that b linens, the bacteria responsible for aging washed rind cheeses, are similar to the bacteria responsible for body odor.

It may just be a dirty rumor, but whatever the case, when you move past the whiffiness of Grayson's exterior, what lies beneath the rind is a fluffy, buttery unctuous mass of goodness. In summer months, the interior of the Grayson is bright yellow, showing off that grass fed milk that makes it so tasty.

Grayson is like your smart, guitar-playing friend who is always welcome at a party, even if he might do well to change his T-shirt. Grassy, earthy, a little barnyardy, Grayson is in my top ten list of American greats. Go Virginia! Grayson makes me proud to be an American.

The sex life of cheeses

We all know it. Sex and food go together. There's a sensuous, lovely triple creme cheese, La Tur, that I have called my Cheese Boyfriend. Its mouth feel is so velvety and delightful that, for me at least, it spills over into the sensual. I think of kissing this cheese. With tongue.

I'm not the only cheese pervert, either. When a shipment of sample cheeses came in from France last week, one of the wholesale managers tasted an epoisses and yelled "Marry me!" at the wrinkly little cheese.

But there's more to the sex life of cheeses, beyond the pleasures of the palate. The reason that sheep milk cheese is so much more expensive than cow? Has a lot to do with the sex life of sheep.

According the Zoe, the maven of the caves, cows, and to some extent goats, can be coerced into mating during times that are not their natural seasons. But not sheep. They mate like clockwork, one time a year, and will not be pressured into anything other. They are finicky guys and gals, and mate only in spring. They insist on nursing their young.

So the season during which sheep are "fresh," or milk producing, is limited to the months between weaning the young, and when the sheep dry out a few months later. Then there's about a six month stretch where the sheep produce no milk, until they're ready to mate again the next season.

And you thought sheep were just a bunch of pushovers!

Congratulations, it's a goat!

The young goat cheeses are the most fun to handle in the cheese caves below Murray's Cheese Shop on Bleeker Street. Many cheeses come in looking pretty much as they do when they are sent out, but the young goats undergo a genuine transformation during aging.

They come in naked and white then grow a rind in "cave three," also known as the goat cave. The mold starts out puffy and long, like newborn baby hair, before it is patted down so the rind can continue to develop. Early in the ripening process, the crottin really do look like fluffy haired babies.

Sounds yucky, looks lovely, and tastes terrific. Love the goat!