By Paul Partica, Cheese Shop of Centerbrook
I thought I would start the New Year off with a little help to all retailing Cheese Mongers. Considering the known number of cheeses now topping 12,000, it’s difficult to reply to a customer’s needs when they ask for a cheese that’s “round and yellow and good.” I then usually thank them for narrowing it down to a couple thousand cheeses (wink) and ask if they can describe the cheese a little further. Below are a few considerations that can help make easier work of finding a cheese:
Knowing the country of origin, if domestic, the state, and maybe the name of the maker can quickly end the search.
Knowing the size of the cheese can be a very helpful start. Cheese can come in a 200-pound round, like Swiss Emmenthal, or an eight ounce round, such as Brie. Mentioning the approximate thickness of a cheese can also help to narrow it down further. For example, Brie will usually be about an inch to an inch-and-a-half thick. I say “usually” because sometimes new cheeses are created with new sizes. So simply saying you are looking for a small round cheese about an inch thick and around half a pound can quickly aid in finding that cheese. Trying to remember the size of the whole cheese when purchased can be very helpful to your cheese monger.
This parameter is becoming a little less helpful because of the increasing demand for natural products. Since all cheese is naturally white, when you see a colored cheese it generally means color was added. On a positive note, the usual coloring agent is Annatto, an orange-reddish color found in the crushed seeds of the Annatto tree, found in South America. Annatto adds no taste to cheese, only color.
Some of the colored cheeses still available today are:
Shropshire Blue – A blue cheese very similar to Stilton in size and shape, only with a very deep orange color
Mimolette – Napoleon’s version of Holland’s Edam balls, who wanted them to have color in order to differentiate them from Holland’s version
Beemster XO Gouda – A very aged form of Gouda, this cheese is lactose-free and has undertones of whiskey and butterscotch
Double Gloucester – An English cheese similar to cheddar, made from milk from the Gloucester breed of cows
Cheddar – Made in various parts of the world
This can be most helpful in describing a cheese. Here are some types you might find helpful in describing rind appearance:
White Mold – The snow-like covering of the soft-ripening cheese family such as D’Affinois, Brie, Camembert and many goat cheeses
Brown-Reddish Rind – Found in the washed-rind family in cheese like Limburger, Chaumes, Pont L’Evêque. Also found in larger hard cheeses such as Appenzeller, Comte, Gruyere, Challerhocker and Morbier
Natural Rind – Cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Piave Vecchio, Emmenthal, Tomme de Savoie, Raclette, Crucolo, and Grana Padana
Waxed Rind – Many cheeses fall into this category. Goudas, Jarlsberg, Moosbacher, Black Knight Tilsit, Midnight Moon, Lamb Chopper, Parrano, etc. Cheddars are also waxed, but many have a cheese wrapping before the waxing
Cry-o-Vac – Another large group of cheeses with no rind other than a tight plastic wrapping. Examples would be: Creamed Havarti, Gjetost, Swedish Farmers Cheese, BellaVitano and all of the English cheeses with added fruit, such as Mango Stilton, Cranberry Wensleydale and Wensleydale with fig and honey.
Foil Cheeses – Almost all blue cheeses come wrapped in foil
Liquid Container – Many cheeses are packed in liquid for preservation and flavor, such as Feta in salt brine and goat cheese in oil
The texture of cheese can be a great help in describing. Is the cheese spreadable, creamy, crumbly, airy, grainy, dry, sticky, rich, tangy, firm, soft, hard, and so on?
You will not soon forget the aroma of Stinking Bishop from England. I keep it double-wrapped and in the closed-door walk-in refrigerator. It will make a limburger seem sweet and innocent. Most of your washed-rind cheeses have this pungent smell. Soft-ripening cheeses can often have a subtle smell on mushrooms. You will also find some cheeses having the following aromas: buttery, grassy, earthy, smoky and even “barnyardy”.
Last, but not least, if you can describe the flavor, the search can come to a quick conclusion.
Is the cheese sharp, sweet, pungent, lemony, nutty, or fruity? Sharp and pungent are often misconstrued. I define sharp as well-aged cheddar versus pungent being the strong taste of Limburger or Chaumes, and of course, Stinking Bishop.
If you can describe the size of the cheese, its color, the type of rind, the texture, the aroma, and a little of the flavor characteristics, there’s a good chance your cheese monger can find your cheese – or maybe another cheese very similar to it.
If all else fails, cheat. Use your smart phone to take a picture of it.
Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop www.cheeseshopcenterbrook.com