Saturday, February 28, 2009

How does Emmental get its holes?

I bought a nice piece of Emmental from the local deli the other day which had the biggest holes I’ve ever seen in the cheese. When I was writing my cheese book I discovered how it gets them - the cheesemaker introduces a bacteria which reacts with the lactic acid in the cheese to create carbon dioxide gas. And that creates the holes (The Teddington Cheese company has a good description here)

Most Emmental comes from Switzerland (an AOC was created there in 2006) but this one came from the Savoie region of France. The only thing that surprised me was that it dried out pretty quickly (maybe because of the size of the holes? The size of the Swiss ones are regulated apparently!) so once it’s a day or two old you need to use it for cooking. It’s a good addition though to a fondue or for toasted cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Argentinian and Italian cheese

Apologies for the gap in posts on the blog - I've just spent 10 days away in Argentina which I think it's fair to say is not one of the world's great cheese destinations. At least not so far but if the wine business carries on the way it's going an artisanal cheese industry can't be far behind. Surely not all the milk can go to make Dulce de Leche.

It's not that they don't eat cheese, it's just that it's not massively exciting. There's quite a lot of Cheddar-style hard cheese and pasteurized Camembert which tends to be served before meals along with ham and chorizo (see above) and some slightly rubbery Mozzarella though it did form the basis of one of the most appealing dishes I had while I was away: a mozzarella and fig salad with toasted almonds at 1884, the restaurant of the country's best known chef Francis Mallman.

I also had a very tasty cheese and onion empanada and some seriously good Brie at one of the posh dinners though I suspect that was imported from France. (The Park Hyatt at Buenos Aires has its own cheese room)

I was intending to post about Valentine's Day cheeses before I went away but somehow missed the boat but I did come up with the perfect cheese for a romantic dinner - a caprino tartufo from Piemonte in Italy (below).

It's a very delicate, creamy goats' milk cheese decorated with fine slivers of black truffles which lend their flavour to the whole cheese. Of course romance shouldn't begin and end on Valentine's Day so there's no reason why you shouldn't serve it whenever you want to give your Significant Other a special treat. It goes fabulously well with champagne or a sexy red burgundy.

* Just remembered another good cheesy thing in Argentina: grilled provolone. They take big slices and put it on the asado (barbecue) for the tiny minority who are not into steak.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What’s happened to French cheese?

Having spent the past week in the south of France, I ‘ve been forcibly struck by the fact that I have a better selection of French cheeses in my home town of Bristol than I do in the Languedoc village where we have our long term holiday home. There the only way to buy cheese without making a special expedition is to go to the local village shop which is supplied by Casino or the Intermarch√© down the road. True there are local markets but the choice of cheese there is limited and not always in good condition. Even the nearest big town of Beziers - a 25 minute drive away - doesn’t have a really good cheese shop.

The French cheese industry now seems dominated by the big companies like Lactalis which have squeezed the small cheesemakers out. You might find a couple of local goats’ cheeses in your local supermarket but that’s about it. Even Roquefort which is produced not far away on the plateau de Larzac comes from one of the big producers or packaged for the supermarkets' own brand range.

The resulting cheeses are not necessarily bad (there are advantages in having a less complex cheese, as I pointed out on my matching food and wine website the other day) just lacking in character. And for a cheeselover that’s a crime.