We are always asked questions about cheese, and we really try to answer to the best of our ability. However, I often catch a puzzled look on a customer’s face when answering a question. For example, I am frequently asked what Brie is. My answer, that Brie is a soft-ripening cheese from France, sometimes results in a telling head nod. The customer may have no idea what the term “soft-ripening” means. The following glossary may help with those less-than-perfect answers.
Affinage: The art of ripening and aging cheese properly. Currently, one of the best affinage facilities in the United States is Jasper Hill Farms, located in Greensboro, Vermont. Jasper Hill is not your typical small, artisan cheese manufacturer. This farm is known as the first of its kind in our country.
There are many factors to consider when aging cheese. This includes washing, flipping, brushing, patting and spritzing. The process becomes more involved when you realize that different cheeses require different ripening techniques. Some cheeses require moist conditions, while others need a dry one. Some need colder climates, while others require a warmer environment. This mission has to be accomplished with precise timing, to ensure all cheeses are sold at their peak condition.
As a result, Jasper Hill has seven different caves totaling 22,000 square feet. Each of these caves are calibrated with different temperature and humidity levels. Even more amazing, all of the caves are actually located underground. The farm’s forty-five Ayrshire cows graze on top of these caves.
Annatto: A natural coloring agent derived from the seeds of the Achiote tree. Annatto delivers an orange-red color that is widely used for coloring foods naturally.
Artisanal Cheese: Cheeses made in small batches on a small dairy farm, with quality being the foremost goal. Artisanal cheeses vary in size and overall appearance, and they are not as uniform as cheeses found in commercial production.
B. Linens: A bacteria used on the surface of washed-rind cheeses, much the way Penicillium Candidum is used on soft-ripening cheeses. Brevibacterium linens develops a more pungent, aromatic taste than the latter. Limburger, Chaumes and Diva are all examples of washed rind cheeses.
Butterfat: The naturally-occurring fat found in milk and dairy products. It is important to note that butterfat is measured only in dry matter. With regard to single, double, and triple crèmes, you would divide by two . A double crème with 60% butterfat in dry matter would actually have a butterfat content of 30-31%. This means half the fat of meat, yet twice the protein.
In order to produce 1% or 2% milk, all of the butterfat is first removed from the whole milk, then it is partially added back to meet the fat requirement of the finished product. (As a side note: I always find it amusing that 2% milk is advertised as having half the fat of whole milk. Whole milk contains approximately 4% fat, making it 96% fat-free. Therefore, 2% milk is actually 98% fat-free, not 96%.
Button: A small round cheese, usually made from goat’s milk. An example of a button cheese would be Kunik, made by Nettle Meadow in Warrensburg, NY. This wheel weighs around four ounces.
Cheddaring: The process of cutting curd into small pieces, stacking, then pressing further to remove more of the whey.
Cheesemonger: A person who buys and sells cheese for a living.
Core: The center of a cheese that softens as it ripens (see soft-ripening).
Curd: After milk is separated, the liquid part (whey) is drained off. The remaining solids are called curds.
Double Crème: Cheese with a butterfat content of 60% in dry matter.
Fermier: With regard to cheese or coffee, it means coming from the land or the farm. Years ago, we used to call these cheeses “farm cheese.” A farm cheese meant high quality cheese produced in small quantities on a farm and not a commercial cheese production facility. Today, the term artisanal is more commonly used. Unfortunately, the artisanal term has become overused for many products today. Not every product can be artisanal.
Pasteurization: The process of heating milk to 160 degrees to destroy harmful bacteria.
Penicillium Candidum: A snow-white bacteria spread on a cheese. This creates a bloomy rind that will help to soften the cheese as it ripens.
Penicillium Roqueforti: A blue-green mold injected into cheese to create the blue cheeses we all love to eat. There are some blues, such as Roquefort, that need only naturally-occuring holes in the cheese to bloom. The blue-green mold will enter the cheese naturally from the air. This is why Roquefort must be aged in limestone caves in France.
Rennet: An enzyme found in the lining of an animal’s stomach, used to coagulate milk. Coagulating is the starting process of causing milk to separate into curds and whey. Vegetable rennet is made in a laboratory.
Single Crème: Cheeses with a butterfat content of 45-50% in dry matter.
Soft-Ripening: The center of a cheese is referred to as the core. As the snow-like mold does its work to develop the cheese, it will begin to ripen from the outside in. The ripened part will soften and develop a supple, creamy texture that can be described as having a delicate “earthy” flavor, with a faint hint of mushrooms. If the cheese were to be cut in half, you would see three layers: a hard, chalky-white center covered by a softer, somewhat thick honey-like top, and a bottom layer. When the cheese core fully disappears, the cheese is considered fully ripe.
Triple Crème: Refers to cheese with a butterfat content of 75% in dry matter.
Tyrosine: Tyrosine refers to the little crystals found in cheese that occur as a natural result of aging. These crystals are actually an amino acid found in the protein of milk. Crystallization is considered a sign of a well-aged cheese (not to be confused with the salt crystals found on the surface of brined cheeses).
Washed-Rind: A style of cheese that has B. linens bacteria smeared on the outside of the rind to create a pungent aroma and flavor. Unlike soft-ripening cheeses, which are typically white in color, this style creates a reddish-orange color. Limburger is an example of a classic washed-rind cheese.
Whey: The liquid part of the milk when it separates into curds and whey. 95% of the sugars (or lactose) is present in whey. Since cheese is mostly made of curds, in most instances it is approximately 95% lactose-free. This means that 95% of the original 5% of lactose found in milk is discarded.
As a cheese ages, it continues to lose moisture. This removes even more lactose. Still better, most of the lactose remaining in the curd is converted into lactic acid. Most cheeses aged six months or older naturally become lactose-free, as any remaining lactose converts to lactic acid.