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Stew Cues: Understanding cheese is an art

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Stew Cues: by Alene Keenan

One of my favorite subjects is cheese. Almost everybody loves cheese, but many do not really know what it is. I know I didn’t.

Cheese was not originally the luxury product it is today. It was developed out of survival, just like many other products that we take for granted today, such as beer, wine and bacon.

All cheese starts with dairy, usually cow, goat or sheep’s milk. Back in the day, the stomachs of young mammals were used to transport dairy. Inside the stomach was the enzyme rennet, which exists solely to help young mammals process mother’s milk.

When rennet encounters milk, the proteins coagulate. Curds start to form, separating from the liquid portion of milk, called whey. The curds become the cheese and the whey by-product is processed in other ways.

Thousands of varieties of cheese are produced around the world, each with a unique taste and texture. In America, many cheeses are made from pasteurized milk, which kills any harmful bacteria but also kills beneficial enzymes. Most European countries and artisanal cheesemakers use raw milk. Here are some examples:

Aging

Soft cheeses such as fresh, whey and curd cheeses are not always matured, have no preservatives and can spoil quickly. Examples include cottage cheese, cream cheese, farmer cheese, and fresh chevre. They are soft with a mild flavor.

Ricotta is an example of a cheese made from whey. Mozzarella buffalo is stretched cheese.

Semi-soft cheeses include havarti, Muenster and Port Salut. They have a high moisture content and are mild-tasting.

Medium-hard cheeses include Emmental and Gruyere, Swiss-style cheeses flavored by bacteria. The holes or eyes are air pockets formed by the bacteria. Aromatic and sharp flavors are common in Gouda, Edam and Jarlsberg. These cheeses are good for melting and grilled sandwiches.

Hard cheeses include cheddar. Less moisture yields firmer cheeses that are packed into molds under pressure and aged. Originally from the village of Cheddar in England,cheddar has become a generic hard cheese worldwide. These types are marketed by strength or the length aging. Parmesan and pecorino Romano are hard cheeses that are firmly packed into large forms and aged for months or years.

Source of milk

Cheeses are also categorized by the type of milk used, or by added fat content. Cow, goat and sheep’s milk are the most common milks used. Production styles vary by country. Examples include classic cheeses such as French Roquefort and Italian pecorino that are made from sheep’s milk. Feta-style cheeses are made from sheep’s milk in Greece and from cow’s milk in other places. Double-cream cheeses are cow’s milk cheeses enriched with cream to be 60-75 percent fat, while triple creams are 75 percent or more fat.

Mold

Soft-ripened, washed rind, and blue cheeses feature the presence of mold. They age from the outside inward. Soft-ripened bloomy rind cheeses include Brie and Camembert.

Washed rind cheeses are cured in a solution of brine or mold-bearing agents that may include beer, wine, brandy, and spices. The reddish-orange bacteria impart pungent odors and distinctive flavors and produce a firm, flavorful rind around the cheese. The process is labor-intensive and requires regular washings. Port Salut, Munster and Epoisses are examples.

Blue cheese is injected with a Penicillium strain of bacteria while still in the form of loosely pressed curds. The mold grows inside the cheese as it ages. They have distinctive blue veins and pungent flavor. Renowned examples are Roquefort, gorgonzola and Stilton.

Brined cheeses are matured in a solution of brine, which gives them good stability and prevents the growth of unfavorable bacteria. They can be soft or hard and vary in moisture content, color and flavor. They have no rind and taste clean, salty and slightly acidic. Feta is a popular brined cheese.

Serving tips

Here are some tips for serving and storing cheese.

Cheese is highly perishable and should be stored in cheese paper, not wrapped in plastic. It needs to breathe. It should be served at room temperature to fully release the aromatics and flavors. It takes about 30 minutes to an hour to bring cheese to the correct temperature. Don’t let cheese get so warm that it starts to sweat or melt.

Cheeses are always served in odd numbers. It should be placed on a flat surface, with space between the cheese to allow room for cutting and to prevent flavors from running together. Include a selection of milk types, but usually at least one cow, one goat, and one sheep’s milk. Accompany with fruits, nuts, meats, honey, jams and jellies. Serve with a variety of fresh baguette and crackers. Separate knives should be provided for each cheese.

Alene Keenan is lead instructor of yacht interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Ft. Lauderdale. She shares her experience from more than 20 years as a stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht”, available at www.yachtstewsolutions.com. Comments are welcome below.

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