Cheese'n it Up: Getting Cheese Nerdy with Vivant Fine Cheese

Cheeseclub2011cheeseclubby Danika Reed

At Vivant Fine Cheese, we have many visitors who are
passionate about cheese.  Many of them
come to us because they love cheese and want to learn more about it.  The world of cheese is vast and can sometimes
be an overwhelming landscape. While a big undertaking, I am going to try and
sum up the world of cheese in a few paragraphs.

Most cheese is loosely grouped into five different
categories: Fresh, Soft Ripened, Semi Soft, Hard and Blue Veined. Before we
begin, I’d like to offer an apology because this could get a bit cheese-nerdy!
Because I have a degree in Dairy Science, I am the ultimate cheese nerd!

To know how to group cheeses we need to know the nuts and
bolts of how cheese is made. First we start with milk.  This sounds simple, but milk comes in many
varieties.  Most mainstream cheese is
made from cow, goat or sheep milk, but it can actually be made with any type of
milk containing protein, fat, sugar (lactose) and water. We currently carry a
cheese made with some coconut milk which gives it a finish full of summer which
is a wonderful pairing with the crisp white wines of summer. 

Once we have our vat full of milk, we add a starter culture.
This culture is what determines the type of cheese being made and what finished
characteristics it will flaunt.  Next we
need to add a coagulant to separate the solids from the water in the milk.  Most domestic cheeses are made with a
vegetable or microbial based coagulant, but in the early beginnings of cheese
milk was coagulated with an enzyme from the lining of a calf’s stomach. Don’t
ask me how the first cheesemaker figured that out! 

After we have let the mixture rest and set up (similar to
letting Jello set up in the fridge), we need to cut it into approximately 1
inch squares.  This will allow us to
drain off the excess water, which is now whey because it contains small amounts
of protein, lactose, and fat.  Once the
whey is drained, we start to veer off in different directions depending on what
kind of cheese we want to make.  If we
are making Cheddar, we will need to turn and salt large slabs of curd to
extract more of the whey.  This process
is actually called “cheddaring”.  If we
are going to make a blue cheese, we can stir in any number of different strains
of mold to create blue veining throughout. 
If we are going to make a hard cheese, it is important to “press” out as
much whey as possible so the aging process is successful.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of cheese making, let’s
concentrate on the categories of cheese: 

  • Fresh Cheese: These
    are usually less than 90 days old and they do not have a rind.  The most common fresh cheeses are chevre
    (fresh goat cheese), cream cheese, and feta, though there are many others.  Some fresh cheeses are adorned with flowers or
    herbs to give them flavor and eye appeal. These cheeses should always be
    wrapped tightly and close attention should be paid to the manufacturers’
    expiration date. 
  • Soft-Ripened Cheese:
    This describes a category of cheeses that are “brie style.”  These cheeses contain a mold rind which
    usually imparts an earthy or mushroom flavor. 
    The rind can be very thing or thick and cushiony depending on the cheese
    makers preference and how long it is aged. These cheeses should always be
    loosely stored in freezer paper or parchment paper.  The cut or exposed side can be covered with a
    smaller piece of wax paper to make sure it doesn’t dry out. 
  • Semi-Soft Cheese:  This category includes cheese under 3 months
    of age such as Manchego, Monterey Jack and Havarti. They are creamy and mild
    and have many uses as table cheese or in recipes.  These cheeses should be tightly covered in
    plastic wrap to keep them as air tight as possible.  The air is what will allow the surface molds
    to grow and eventually break down the cheese to be inedible.
  • Hard Cheese: These
    cheeses are commonly aged 18 months or more. 
    A common good example of a hard cheese is Parmesan Reggiano.  This type of cheese should also be stored
    wrapped tightly with plastic wrap.  They
    will last a very long time because they have the least moisture content of any
    of the categories.
  • Blue Veined Cheese:
    This type of cheese is inoculated with certain mold strains and aerated to
    encourage mold growth throughout. 
    Because these cheeses are encouraged to grow mold, they can sometimes
    become overgrown with mold in the refrigerator. 
    For this reason we recommend keeping your blue cheeses tightly wrapped
    in aluminum foil which inhibits the surface molds from growing. 

Vivant_fine_cheese_side-barI sure do hope some of this information is useful and will
be the next step to you becoming a cheesey-nerd too!  Cheers to cheese!     

 Danika Reed is the Cheese Monger at Vivant Fine Cheese, located in historic downtown Paso Robles.
The Central Coast's premier cheese tasting room features premium,
local and imported handcrafted artisan cheeses paired with the finest
Central Coast wine and beer.  Danika is our monthly guest blogger for
Cheese'n it Up!