Everybody knows what stale bread tastes like, and we all recognize stale crackers when somebody serves them. (Not you, of course.) But have you ever had stale cheese? Not moldy, not stinky, but stale?
I have, all too often, and I’m getting cranky about it. I’m sure you’ve tasted stale cheese, too, but you may have just thought you didn’t like it. It may have tasted cardboardy or faintly oxidized, or perhaps like the plastic film it was wrapped in.
Cheesemongers don’t create the phenomenon, but often they can fix it. When a wedge of cheese is stored in plastic film for more than a day or so, the cut surfaces can start to smell like the plastic. The wet-cardboard scent that I sometimes detect comes, I presume, from lipid oxidation, but I’m also starting to suspect the cardboard boxes that cheese is shipped in. If the boxes get damp in transit or in a warehouse, could they impart that same slightly musty aroma that “corked” wine has? Dairy scientists, please weigh in.
Fortunately, the fix is easy. At some good cheese counters, you may notice the clerks scraping the cheese with a knife before they give you a taste. The staff at my neighborhood cheese shop—Oxbow Cheese Merchant in Napa—routinely does that and I appreciate it. Mongers call it “facing” the cheese, and new hires are trained to do it. The off-aromas rarely penetrate deeply, so a quick facing typically banishes any staleness or plastic taste. When I sample a cheese given this treatment, it smells refreshed and more like the cheesemaker intended.
Lassa Skinner, founder and co-owner of Culture magazine, instituted the practice at Oxbow Cheese Merchant when she managed the store several years ago.
“You always ‘face’ cheese before you give someone a taste,” says Skinner. “You don’t want to give them the taste of the plastic.”
Brisk-selling wheels that store clerks unwrap and re-wrap several times a day probably don’t need scraping. But if you purchase a grab-and-go wrapped cheese that has not been freshly cut, chances are you’ll improve the taste experience if you first give all of the cut surfaces a swipe with a knife or cheese plane.
To the Editor of Planet Cheese
Last week in your Blog, you stated that our acclaimed creamery Meadowood Farms (which produces our well known Meadowood Farms Ledyard, Rippleton, Lorenzo, Strawbridge, Linklaen, Ten Eyck, Juvindale) had “ceased cheese production with no plans to resume”. You also stated that our cheesemaker Veronica Pedraza was “out of a job” and that “cheese was not our passion”, as the owners of Meadowood Farms. All of these statements were misleading and incorrect.
We have been operating at full capacity a 225 acre farm for nearly 20 years. While our creamery has been producing award winning sheep and cow cheeses over the last several years, we have also consistently sold pasture raised beef and lamb, and been the Premier Breeder of Belted Galloway cattle in North America. Last month we were continuing with our on-going operation and producing cheeses while also looking at a number of new initiatives that would create a step change in our production capability (given our strong growth over the last 5 years), when Veronica surprised us with her decision to leave. Veronica is a very talented cheesemaker, and may not have been so enamored of being sidetracked to build out a new production facility. Who knows. In any event, without a cheesemaker this season, sadly for us, there will be no Meadowood Farms cheese this season. We are in the throes of exploring our alternatives, and with our passion for cheese and our recipes still in place, we hope to be back in operation next year.
Marc Schappell and Tom Anderson
Owners of Meadowood Farms
Cazenovia, New York
NEW! Cheese Class: Sheep’s Milk Cheeses
from Near and Far
Join me for this deep dive into the fascinating realm of sheep cheese. We’ll taste fresh and aged wheels from Europe and the U.S., where sheep cheeses are—finally!—an exciting trend. At the end of this sit-down tasting, you’ll understand why, for a cheesemaker, sheep’s milk is the dream ingredient.
Monday, June 12
Silverado Cooking School
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.