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Fromage, While You’re at It

Tuesday, 10 March 2020 13:03
Shelburn Farms Clothbound Cheddar Shelburn Farms Clothbound Cheddar

By Rachael Lucas

Working at a cooperative grocery store, I have witnessed first-hand the combat shopping that is occurring during this Corona Virus Pandemic scare.

People are stocking up on toilet paper (why?), canned foods, dry goods, rubbing alcohol, bottled water, and the elusive hand sanitizer. While I scope out would-be cheese customers pushing their shopping carts with gloved hands, looks of terror in their suspicious eyes that peer over blue masks, I can’t help but wonder why they are skipping out on fromage.

Pecorino Tuscano Stagionato Rachael L PicmonkeyPecorino Toscano Stagionato

Aged cheese would be one of the first items on my list if I were to partake in this compulsive pageantry of paranoid purchasing. Aged cheese is a perfect food. Due to the enzymatic and microbial breakdown that occurs during maturation, cheese is essentially pre-digested, which means it is easy for our bodies to process. Lactose intolerant folks need not fear because during acidification the lactose gets devoured by starter cultures and is converted to lactic acid. These ravenous cultures will eat the lactose until it is gone. Weary eaters can rest easy in the knowledge that, after a few months of maturation, their cheese is free of troublesome sugars.

Furthermore, aged cheese is an excellent source of fat, protein, and trace minerals (don’t forget the rind, as much of the calcium escapes the paste and settles there). Vegetarians utilize cheese as a replacement for meat for this very reason. I urge flesh forward folks to purchase some of the time ripened milky stuff, too, as it is much less perishable than meat and can provide similar sustenance if we actually do get to a point when we all must remain in isolation until the virus blows over.

Cheese is a mood booster. Studies show that cheese affects the same feel-good chemicals in the brain that hard drugs, such as opioids, do. If we are stuck inside to avoid illness, and we have a propensity for depression or possess a necessity for social interaction, nibbling on a little fromage could salvage one’s mental state. If you find yourself going stir-crazy, eat an ounce of cheese and see how you feel.

Mature cheese historically came about as a means of preserving milk during the winter months when the animals are dried off (not producing milk), and food is scarce. It would have also served as an excellent source of nutrition for people during times of isolation due to occurrences such as, say, plagues. Aged fromage is built to last and can be kept for years. Typically, the longer a firmer cheese is aged, the more depth of flavor it has. It’s a win/win. If you find mold developing on the face of your aged cheese, do not jettison that lactic jewel! Mold development is natural. Merely cut off the surface growth, and underneath you will discover the same delicious, high quality fromage that you initially purchased.

Some excellent aged cheeses to stockpile in your crisper drawer are Italian Grana-styles like Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, Grana Bella Lodi, and (one of my favorites) Piave Vecchio. If cow’s milk is difficult to digest, opt for aged Pecorinos, which are made with sheep’s milk. Pecorino Romano, Pecorino Toscano Stagionato, and Pecorino Sardo Stagionato are all historic cheeses that have kept Italians going for centuries. Furthermore, there are myriad mature goat’s milk cheeses available in cheese departments. In my case, I currently have a Caprino Sardo, a hefty Sardinian goat’s cheese and a local, artisan Basque tomme-style called Wonderland that is made with raw goat’s milk--and it is choice.

Alpine cheeses are a safe bet, as well, and their versatility makes them an excellent selection for a person in isolation. Alpines are fantastic eaten alone as table cheeses, but they also have applaudable melting properties. These are the cheeses that made fondue a thing. Some of my favorite alpine cheeses are Challerhocker, Sprinz, Beaufort d-Ete, L’Etivaz, Gruyere, Comté, Schlossberger, (and domestically) Tarentaise, and Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Aged, clothbound cheddars will keep seemingly forever. In the U.S., we are more accustomed to developed, rindless cheddars that come in cryovac plastic. Once opened and exposed to air, this type of cheddar’s lifespan dwindles. If you are looking for something that will keep indefinitely, go for the British style clothbound cheddars. Keen’s Cheddar and Isle of Mull (from Scotland) are flavorful options. Shelburne Farms Clothbound Cheddar and Cabot Clothbound are extraordinary British style cheddars that hail from Vermont, if you are into supporting U.S. artisan creameries.

While it is understandable that people seem ill-at-ease and are taking care to be cautious during this time of unknown viral imposition, we need to remain rational. We should have been washing our hands frequently anyway and staying home when we’re unwell. It certainly makes sense to stock up a little in case we are required to hole up in our respective homes. Buy those dried goods, and squirrel away as much toilet paper as you deem necessary. I urge you, however, to continue to support those of us (and our specialty products) that are in the hot zones. Grocery store employees cannot hide from this, as we must be available to serve those of you in need of sustenance. We also need to continue to make a profit. Aged cheese keeps well, doesn’t necessarily require refrigeration (though it lasts longer at cooler temperatures), and it makes us happy. The next time you find yourself in the trenches combating others over canned green beans and rubbing alcohol, remember, while you’re at it, to buy some fromage!

 

Rachael Lucas with cheese wheels MUG 

Editor’s note: Rachael Lucas is an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional (CCP). She also has the distinction of being one of forty-six people in the country with the ACS C.C.S.E. (Certified Cheese Sensory Evaluator) accreditation. You can most often find her cheesemongering in the Seattle area. When she's not working with cheese, she's eating it, talking about it, reading about it, writing about it, and dreaming about it. She can be reached with inquiries about fromage and food excitement in the Seattle area at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Last modified on Tuesday, 10 March 2020 13:22

 

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