Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Artisan Cheeses: Never the Same Twice

a 5-inch round fresh from the farmer's market
There is no cheese I don't love. My refrigerator always contains at least three kind of cheese (cheddar, cottage cheese, blue cheese) and usually several other types as well. Recently, I have become enamored of a locally produced artisan cheese called Wheyside, named in honor of the Wayside Inn, a nearby landmark. The cheese is made by Nobscot Artisan Cheese, a neighborhood company that sells at my closest farmer's market, which is where I tasted their cheeses. Nobscot is committed to making cheese using milk from a local farmer. They have several different cheeses, but the Wheyside won me over immediately and continues to do so. I buy it regularly, and it's always delicious but never exactly the same twice.

That lack of uniformity is the real difference between artisan cheeses and mass-produced cheeses. While the mass producers strive for perfect consistency, artisan cheeses are quirkier. They are made by hand, following traditional techniques, and all sorts of factors can affect the final outcome: whether the cheese is made with raw or pasteurized milk, the weather, what the cows ate, the length of ripening, whether the cheese is washed in brine, cider, or something else, as well as mysterious factors.

Years ago, I read a book called The Cheese Book by Vivienne Marquis and Patricia Haskell. It recounted the story of the Borden's Liederkranz cheese factory, which moved to Ohio from NY. The owners were scrupulous about moving everything: the equipment, the method, the original culture and recipe. But the new cheese was unsatisfactory. Finally, some genius decided to smear some of the original Liederkranz cheese on the new factory walls. (I love picturing this, and I wonder how that idea was originally received by management and by the people working there.) Voila! Future batches were successful, because now the very air was correct, filled with the perfect beneficial bacteria.

If the Nobscot folks ever move their cheese works, I will send them this story. I don't want my Wheyside influenced by foreign microbes.

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