Welcome to The Blogosphere Home of The Cheese Snob. If you would like to know more about who I am and what I do, I recommend you check out my Website, www.cheesesnob.com

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Tasting Notes - September 22-23, 2006

Formaggio Essex, where I've been putting in a few hours each week helping out behind the cheese counter, doesn't have tons of cheeses, but what they do have is carefully selected and often somewhat rare. A good selection doesn't have to be a gigantic collection, and other cheese shops could learn something from this example.

I brought my notebook last time I worked there and here are my tasting notes:

(You'll please pardon my lack of umlauts and accents; this blog program doesn't allow me to add them, as far as I can tell.)

Bergkase Unterwasser
Alpine cheese. cows' milk raw. semi-firm, solid with some medium eyes and cracks. pale straw color. From Eastern Switzerland. Sweet, lightly pungent, grass/hay, nutty, milky, robust, a little barnyard on the finish. Exclusive to Formaggio Kitchen/Essex.

Pecorino di Pienza Stagionato di Fossa
Buried in limestone caves in Emilio-Romagna. Semi-firm crumbly, plae, white, pungent, sour, acidic, numbing the tongue. Lingering cabbagey aroma. Can't say I'm a fan of the Fossa cheeses...

6-Month Boerenkaas
Cut from 250-pound wheels. yellow solid semi-firm with medium-sized eyes. smells milky and nutty. texture a little grainy mostly smooth. creamy mouthfeel. milky, sweet, a little sharp, full-flavored.

Black Diamond Cheddar
Canada. Triangular, black wax covered. Semi-firm, flaky, quite solid. Sharp, a little like vodka. yes, really. rather flat tasting. very sharp.


Well, the vodka notes on the Cheddar were interesting, but as you may have gathered, I didn't love that cheese. I'm really picky about Cheddar, and so should you be.

Although the story behind the Formaggi di Fossa is cool - being buried in limestone caves and unearthed on St. Catherine's Day - I just don't really like the cheese much, and I've tried a fair handful of that type. I find them far too acidic, almost acrid. Are they placed in plastic before being buried? Is the Italian government requiring this now to satisfy modern sensibilities/ paranoias about sanitary practices? Because the cheese certainly tastes like it's been aged in plastic. Maybe I need to figure out how to get to Italy in November and try some there that I can see hasn't been matured in plastic bags, only limestone holes-in-the-ground.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Pascal Beillevaire and His Fabulous Cheeses

Olga Dominguez, the manager and buyer for Zabar's cheese department, and more or less my boss there (I'm freelance), has been going nutty over the cheeses aged by Pascal Beillevaire. Every time she fills out the order sheet for the subsequent French container, she chooses a bunch of cheeses unfamiliar to her because she knows they will definitely be good; we've gotten no duds from M. Beillevaire yet. So, when the cheeses arrive, they are a big surprise because many of them are completely new to us.

M. Beillevaire doesn't make the cheeses he sends us, but he matures them in his caves. He selects specific cheeses, all handmade and most made from raw milk, from cheesemakers producing cheeses - some in danger of disappearing - in a traditional manner. It's not only an honorable quest, but a delicious one.

This past week Zabar's got in a huge shipment of Pascal Beillevaire cheeses and we had lots of fun opening the small boxes and discovering what was inside. Here are my tasting notes from September 26, 2006:

Made by Madame Barbeillon in Pentu de l'Etang. Raw goat, shaped like a
big Hershey's kiss, mold-covered. Runny beneath the rind. Good goat! Tangy, smooth, milky, flinty, complex, robust, sweet, more pungent in runny part and rind. Named for the woman who makes the cheese. Approx weight 9 oz.

Couronne Lochoise
From Loire. Goat doughnut. raw milk. covered in crinkly moldy rind. chalky center. mild, savory, saline, not as sweet and more piquant than Barbeillon. Astringent. About 7 oz.

Blanc Bleu du Rizet
raw goat. big barrel of chevre, covered with crinkly almond rind, white and blue-gray mold. Made in Auvergne. Balanced salinity, tangy, earthy, astringent, lite barnyardy, milky mouthfeel, minerally. Nice!

Brique des Flandres
16 oz or so weight. raw cow. it's Mimolette orange. washed rind. semi-soft. mushroomy, pungent, fruity, tastes li
ke melon. strong washed-rind, finish tastes of berries, and it's a little boozy. it's a crescendo of all flavors. brick-shaped. white/orange rind. texture of chilled butter. made in Flandres, near Belgium. That explains the washed-rind thing, since many w/r cheeses were made or influenced by Trappist monks.

Pentu de l'Etang
Made by Madame Barbeillon in Pentu de l'Etang. Ashed, wedge-shaped raw goat, weighs about 9 oz. looks like a door stop. mold-covered, white and gray. savory, really blossoms, a little barnyardy, sweet, mineral - a little bit, warming, a little hint of white pepper on the finish.

semi-firm, raw goat, weighs about 7 oz. squat barrel wrapped in chestnut leaf and a strip of raffia. crinkly almond rind. some blue mold on a fluffy field of white. a little heady at first, then
sweet, tangy, a little salty, milky. this one is relatively gentle. rind is mild. Made in Bourgogne.

Rouleau de Beaulieu en Ardeche
semi-firm raw goat weighs about 4 oz. Made in Ardeche; Rhone-Alpes. Looks like a tiny Saint-Maure, with stick and mold and all. Ashed. Milky sweet, lightly piquant, astringent, dry. Clean finish.

Mont Ventoux
raw goat, weight about 2 oz. Tiny cone rolled in herbs, over blue and white molds. Tastes like fennel. Minty "green." Nice! Not salty, on the sweet side. Mixes nicely with the sweet/savory herbs. Milky, mild, pleasant. Not barnyardy, very clean. Lactic, a little meaty. Made in Provence.

Mille Trous d'Ariege
raw cow and goat. 1.5-2 kilo wheel. brown natural rind, a little roughly textured. springy, semi-firm paste. small eyes. milky, pungent, barnyardy, sweet, lactuc, nutty, a little punchy, fruity. creamy mouthfeel. very nice! slight garlicky notes.

Abbaye de Timadeuc
raw cow. Made in Bretagne. 1 kg wheel. washed-rind. pretty. monastery cheese, orange-pink rind, not too sticky. pungent, garlicky, sweet milk, very smooth for a washed-rind. not offensive. nice balance. garlicky finish.

Timanoix pasteurized cow. Made in Aquitaine. small wheel. nut-brown rind, smells like toasted walnuts (hence the noix). tastes like walnuts and cheese. milky, a little tangy, creamy mouthfeel. walnutty without tasting artificial. washed with walnut brandy - well, that explains it!

Wow. I finally counted, and we tried eleven new cheeses, all from the same affineur, all in one day! And I liked every one of them. Some may be tricky for our retail case, especially the tiny ones, because they are going to dry out quickly between leaving the caves and arriving here. But they are all so wonderful and special in different ways, and it's a lot of fun to taste the differences in the goat cheeses. They are all made with similar recipes and aged for about the same amount of time, but the differences in
terroir and the slight differences in how they're made make for unique cheeses. I love that.

Monday, September 18, 2006


For some reason, which I won't get into here, I was doing an internet search on cheese quotations. Well, I guess, considering it's ME, that's probably not too much of a surprise.

I didn't find too many, but I found some good ones. Of course, they each appeared on about 10 different websites. I'm noticing that in internet-land, everyone just repeats what everyone else has already written. So why change a good thing? Here's my contribution.

Anyway, since each quote appeared so many damn times, I feel relieved from the obligation to give the websites credit, as it does not seem to be due. So take that, copiers! I will, however, give credit to the person who said or wrote it, when known.

Let's go right to the quotes:

"Hast thou not poured me out as milk, and curdled me like cheese?"
- Job, speaking to God

(I guess the Bible is as good a place to start as any.)

"Many's the long night I've dreamed of cheese -- toasted, mostly."
Robert Louis Stevenson

"A cheese may disappoint. It may be dull, it may be naive, it may be oversophisticated. Yet it remains, cheese, milk's leap toward immortality."
- Clifton Fadiman

"People who know nothing about cheeses reel away from Camembert, Roquefort, and Stilton because the plebeian proboscis is not equipped to differentiate between the sordid and the sublime."
- Harvey Day

"The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese."
- G.K. Chesterton

"Blue cheese contains natural amphetamines. Why are students not informed about this?"
- Mark E. Smith

"Stop calling me names you cheese head!"
- Michelle Tanner (played by Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen)

(Yeah, it's a Full House quote. I don't know what to say about that. "Sorry" doesn't suffice.)

"I don't want the cheese, I just want out of the trap."
- Spanish proverb
"The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese."

"It's nice to get out of the rat race, but you have to learn to get along
with less cheese."

-Gene Parret, on retirement

And what would a post about cheese quotes be without Charles de Gaulle's
famous quote:

Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six
variétés de fromage?

(How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six
varieties of cheese?)

I've also found quite a few good cheese quotes in Steve Jenkins' "Cheese Primer."
If you are into cheese and you don't have that book, you aren't really into cheese.
And all your caseophile friends will know it and laugh at you, so get the book NOW!
So, since I'm getting these quotes from Jenkins, I'll cite 'em all...

"Cheese and bread make the cheeks red."
- German proverb (p. 422)

"Apple pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze."
- Old English saying (p. 311)

"Fromage et pain est medecin au sain."
(Bread and cheese is medicine for the well.)
- French proverb (p.125)

"S'il qui mange du fromage, s'il ne le fait, il enrage."
(He who does not eat cheese will go mad.)
- French proverb (p. 176)

"Clifton Fadiman wrote that cheese is like milk's leap toward immortality, which is witty, but untrue.
Velveeta is immortal, but it is not cheese; cheese is milk's leap toward a life of its own."

- John Thorne, Serious Pig (p.368)

"The spirit of a country, if it is to be true to itself, needs continually to draw great breaths of inspiration
from the simple realities of the country; from the smell of its soil, the pattern of its fields, the beauty of its
scenery and from the men and women who dwell and toil in the rural areas."

- Sir George Stapledon, as quoted in The Great British Cheese Book by Patrick Rance
[and then quoted in Jenkins' book, and then quoted in my blog...]

That last one really is a beautiful sentiment, and why I dedicate my life, in my own way, to farmhouse
and artisan-made cheese.

"I am grateful to have learned young that cheese has an important place in a menu. It isn't something to
serve with apple pie, and it isn't something to cut into nasty little cubes and serve with crackers. Early in
life I learned to see the beauty of great slabs of cheese or rounds of cheese on the table, and I still respond
to the sight of a well-stocked cheese tray properly presented."

- James Beard, Delights and Prejudices (p. 22)

I don't know at what age James Beard learned what he did about cheese (8? 13? 25?), but I started learning
about cheese, and I mean
really learning about cheese, at the age of 21. And his quote above is what makes
me the Cheese Snob, and keeps me fighting the good fight, as it were. All in the name of Cheese.

Yours in Cheese,

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Cheesemakers In Need

**No, I did not fall into a giant vat of cheese. I've been working hard on my website, soon to be launched, and other food-related endeavors. More on those later.**

I just received an email from Sasha Davies, one of my Cheese Friends, and half of the team behind "Cheese By Hand." She sent out an email to all of her Cheese Friends to tell us about the Reads, a cheesemaking family from Minnesota who have suffered a particularly upsetting bout of bad luck. It's one thing to make a mistake and learn from it, or make a mistake and not learn from it. But these folks were victims of a malicious act, and now they get to clean up the mess. Read their story and learn what they are doing to restore their dairy - which once supported multiple farm families - to the profitable operation it once was and what you can do to help.

If you think you are a total dunce and couldn't help your way out of a wet paper bag, read their story anyway. If you are reading this blog, you are interested in cheese. And Shepherd's Way Farm makes cheese. See the connection?

Yours in Cheese,
-Cheese Snob Wendy

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Cheese Snob Rewrites Zabar's

So this doesn't totally have to do with cheese, but it's a cool project nonetheless. The head of Zabar's Mail Order Department wants me to pretty much rewrite their Website, at least the on-line store portion. They are going to redo the on-line store's layout and functioning, and she thinks this is a good time to rewrite the product descriptions. I should say so. Most of them are pretty awful.
This project could take awhile. The spices alone could take me weeks...

I'm excited. Not only is it decent money, but I get to research things about which I am only slightly familiar but would like to know more. Things like nuts, caviar, smoked fish, tea and the aforementioned spices.

I know it's not cheese, but I am a total nerd about food, and this will give me the opportunity to know as much as possible about interesting foods.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Tasting Notes - August 29, 2006 - or, The Cheese Snob Changes Her Mind A Little

I'm not generally in favor of cheeses with "stuff" in them; by "stuff" I mean fruits, nuts, booze. Sometimes I even think herbs are too much. It's gimmicky. Why not just let the cheese "stand alone"? A good cheese needs no embellishment. A mediocre cheese is still a mediocre cheese, even with the addition of "stuff."

There are exceptions, of course. Fromi has a line of Brillat Savarins (these are frais, with no bloomy rind) from Bourgogne that are rindless and covered with herbs, schnaps-soaked raisins or mustard seed. They are actually quite lovely, and the mustard seed - an addition unusual even in this mustard-loving country of ours - has a nice spiciness that combines well with the creme-fraiche- enriched cheese. The two foods balance one another.

But most cheese with stuff in or on it is crap, in my opinion.

And every once in awhile, at Zabar's, I have to try a cheese that sets off my snob alarm and I think to myself: What's this foolishness?

So when Olga gave me three new cheeses to try, and two of them were Swiss with herbs pressed into the rind, I thought: Oh, they must have made these inferior products for export to the US only.

Once in awhile it's good for this Cheese Snob to experience a little humility, to be proven wrong. Not often, mind you, but once in awhile.

This was one of those times.

Here's my tasting notes for August 29, 2006:

Raw cow. Rennet. Big wheel. Mild, lactic, flaky sorta dry texture, salty, a little bit of caramel. It's just okay.

Emmi Swiss Alp Bellevue
Herbs pressed into the rind. Looks like Gruyere, but with herbs on the outside. Sweet, thyme, savory, basil. Mmm! The herbs add a nice flavor to the sweet, nutty, fruity cheese. Herbs are on the rind, not in the paste, but the cheese has a strong herbal flavor.

Emmi Swiss Alp Panorama
Herbs pressed into the rind. Eyes. Is it Emmentaler? More sweet and lactic than Bellevue. Herbs are not as dominant as in Bellevue, but still makes a difference in the flavor. nice! Herbs bring out caramel sweetness on finish. Thyme, basil.


So I was pleasantly surprised, Olga ended up keeping the Bellevue, and I ended up bringing it to a party. It's a nice cheese!