Cheese glorious cheese
This was our first late lecture starting at 6:30pm and finishing 3 hours later. Thankfully it was immensely educational and hugely hilarious given the passion, exuberance and eccentricity of the lecturer.
The earliest recorded cheesemaking was 3000BC in Sumeria while other evidence puts it at 4000BC in what was a green Sahara at the time.
Cheese is a consequence of decaying milk. Lactic cheeses come about by straining sour milk. Tasting began with Lebanese Labneh, which is a simple acid curd. Very yogurty. I learned that yogurt is actually hard in its default state. What we commonly identify as yogurt has been watered down.
Next up, 3 air-dried curds looking like pellets of dried tile grout. Damn tasty though! Qurut from Kyrgyzstan, Jameed from Jordan and Churpi from Nepal. Plenty of umami. I could imagine them grated over pasta or spätzle and not dissimilar to a ball of dried Tyrolean graukäse I brought back from Austria once. It tasted fantastic but boy was it a stinker. The ball never seemed to get any smaller no matter how many times it was grated. I had to chuck it in the end because the fridge was complaining, despite keeping the cheese in a resealable freezer bag.
As humans advanced, plant based coagulants were used to make curd more gelatinous and creamy inside. Later, other coagulants were used such as chicken or ruminant stomachs, even slugs. For much of history cheese at home was wet and for trading it was impractical. Pressing cheese and simple wrapping encouraged rinds to form which provided the solution to take cheese to market. Shapes of cheese resulted from the strainers used—baskets made round cheeses, bark scrolls made log cheeses, and socks made ball and dome cheeses.
I love goats cheese. Time for some St Maure de Touraine—a goats cheese dating back to the Saracen invasion of France in the 8th century. It’s held together by a thin straw through the centre, rolled in wood ash and ripened to produce a creamy log. Then Ricotta followed by Gjetost, a brown goats cheese from Norway that’s more like fudge in texture and sweetness.
Did you know that butter itself is a simple type of cheese? The word is Ancient Greek: bou meaning cow, and tir meaning cheese.
Buffalo Mozzarella next. So creamy, so pure. I know, let’s see how long we can stretch it. The challenge saw the class dipping and re-dipping their mozzarella in hot water. This got messy fast. At one point a mozzarella string was draped over a wall-mounted monitor to demonstrate its elasticity.
Now for something completely different, Parmegiano Reggiano then Leerdammer. Ever left a slice of Leerdammer out? It starts to go hard at the edges, right. That’s actually a self-preservation property of the cheese—it begins to form its own rind.
Into France. The lecturer declared, “I can’t cut the Brie because it just wants to play” and promptly served it on a plate with a bucket of clean spoons. Then stinky Maroilles and its bacterial rind. Pooo! The smelliest cheese in the lecturer’s stock. Relief came with Cashel Blue. Yum. Nom.
The lecturer lamented the humble cheese board. Typically so boring and unimaginative. Too true. Why not have all blue cheese? Be brave. Be bold. Go for aggressive flavours—it makes wine pairing easier. Imagine a restaurant with a cheese curfew. “I’m sorry madam, the cheese is not available before 9pm,” then bring out the cheese board with the top 3 stinkers. Ever noticed how the first mouthful of cheese is the best? The second mouthful if pretty good. The third is just ok. Cheese boards have too much of each cheese. Serve enough to savour 2 mouthfuls.
I bet you’ve had crazy dreams after eating cheese late in the evening. That’s down to the amino acids in cheese triggering your brainstem. Apparently not unlike LSD.