Cheesemaking Simplified

Cheese Making Simplified

Cheese making is at least 7500 years old according to our current archeological records. Ancient pottery shards from cheese strainers containing cheese cultures were recently found in ancient sites in Poland and China.


Cheese Bogucki Pot sieve 400; fragments of ancient cheese strainer found in Poland, c. 5500BC

Ripening the Milk

Cheese production begins with milk from four animals: cow, sheep, goat, and water buffalo. The milk is poured into a vat for pasteurization or thermalization and heated before adding a starter culture. For raw milk cheeses, a starter culture is added directly to the vat without heating the milk. The milk is then given a few minutes to an hour to begin acid production before adding rennet to begin the coagulating process.

Cutting the Curd

After curds begin to form, they are cut with stretched steel blades that resemble a large comb. Cutting the curd must be done at just the right time so as not to loosen any fine curds necessary in curing the cheese.

Curding at Sprout Creek Farm, NY

Removing the Whey

Most cheeses require straining to remove whey. Some cheeses, such as Gruyere, are cooked in their whey before straining. The combination of heat and increasing acidity aids in syneresis, or the expulsion of moisture from the proteins in the curd. Cheddar curds are stirred and folded in a process known as cheddaring, which minimally heats the curds and allows them to knit together while simultaneously expelling whey.

Heating the curds in traditional copper kettles

Heating the curds in traditional copper kettles

Washing the Curd

After straining, some cheeses are washed with a water bath that removes any lingering whey and lactose. Adding water to the curd produces a very moist cheese like Muenster or Brick. Gouda is washed in hot water, which helps to dry the curd and create its characteristic texture.

This Medieval woodcut shows many uses for milk and cream. The center fromager is washing and straining the curd to make cheese; peasant churns cream into butter; large wheels of cheese age on shelves in the background.

This Medieval woodcut shows many uses for milk and cream. The center fromager is washing and straining the curd to make cheese; peasant churns cream into butter; large wheels of cheese age on shelves in the background.

Handling the Curd

Many cheeses that are brined or surface salted are collected into molds or pressed directly under the whey. Blue cheese, for example, is pressed into a hoop, salted, and left for a week before perforating its edges to allow air inside. Gouda and Swiss are pressed under whey, which encourages a smooth texture and prevents escape of air in the aging process. Cheeses such as Cheddar and Pasta Filata (mozzarella) are kept warm in a vat to ferment before salting. Pasta Filata cheeses are then worked and stretched in the warm water before curing.

Pouring the heated mixture of curds and whey into the colander and cheesecloth to form cheese

Pouring the heated mixture of curds and whey into the colander and cheesecloth to form cheese

Pressing the Curd

Curds are collected and then pressed into molds such as baskets, crocks, wooden hoops or metal cylinders. Soft cheeses require almost no pressure while some varieties require up to 25 pounds of pressure per square inch to form. Generally, the warmer the curd, the less pressure required, which may be another reason for cooking the curd of those 75 lb. wheels of Alpine cheese!

19th century cheesemaking tools

19th century cheesemaking tools

Salting the Curd

Adding salt is important for many reasons. It encourages improvement of curds, slows acid development, helps prevent spoilage, and controls ripening and flavor. Salting cheese follows three techniques: adding salt to the curd before pressing such as Cheddar, surface salting after pressing, and brine salting. Brine salting or washing the surface of the cheese (also known as smear-ripening) can occur once or continue periodically throughout the aging process.

Curing the Cheese

Cheeses range from un-aged, “fresh” cheeses to young cheeses that can be aged from two weeks up to two months to aged cheeses that can be aged from three months to many years. Nascent cheeses are placed in modern humidity-controlled “caves” that imitate the original cave environments of traditional cheeses. Cheeses such as Brie and Camembert are meant to be enjoyed under two months of age, as the aging process will spoil the surface cultures of the cheese. Other cheeses, like a fine wine, become more enjoyable with age as their texture and flavor intensify through the aging process.

The Cheese Traveler team selecting cheeses with a cheese maker at The Cellars at Jasper Hill

The Cheese Traveler team selecting cheeses with Vince Razionale at The Cellars at Jasper Hill

What’s Happening in a Bite of Cheese

“What? You’ve got how many cheeses? I had no idea. I don’t know where to start. I feel so…overwhelmed!”

The clarion cry of the novice cheese lover.

We all know this well. Even cheesemongers with their vast knowledge of cheese were once newbies adrift on the cultured dairy sea, discovering the delights of the open water and navigating the treacherous waves of newness.

We love novice cheese lovers. Let me say that again. We LOVE the novice cheese lover. For the innocent palate, everything is a taste sensation. Everything is bursting, new, uncharted, and unformed without words to cloud the experience. Each experience is a discovery.


The novice cheese lover knows instinctively what he or she likes and dislikes. This is especially true on the physiological level. Researcher Valerie Curtis, Director of the Hygiene Center at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Health, suggests that our tastes derive from ancient forms of adaptation that draw us toward heath and away from disease. Physiologically, cheese is a really complicated substance for humans because it pulls on competing interests in our brains and bodies. Cheese is made up of microbes, many of which produce for humans a revulsion instinct. Any revulsion toward these cheesy microbes gets contradicted in taste and smell by humans’ hunger drive, which compels us toward sugary foods. Cheese, in its youngest stages, contains lactose, a form of sugar, which turns into lactic acid as it ages. The longer the cheese ages, the less lactose the cheese has; however, as some cheese ages, it develops, regardless of lactose, a sweet, pleasant flavor, sometimes akin to candy. Cheeses of this type especially are Gouda, Comte, and Gruyere whose cultures and cheese making methods bring out the flavor of burnt caramel. Novice cheese lovers experience this dance of competing instincts in one small bite of cheese. Cheesemongers find this delight both incredibly refreshing and fascinating at the same time.

If biology weren’t enough, cheese affects humans on a psychological level as well. As our tastes develop and we try more and different kinds of cheese, humans can intellectually question the disgust instinct to understand the difference between what is really spoiled and what reminds them of spoilage. Psychologist and researcher David Pizzaro reveals that disgust is a hidden emotion that drives most human behavior. What we see, smell, taste and touch can have a dramatic impact on how we feel and perceive others. Disgust can lead to judgment, and as Pizzaro has discovered, oftentimes a stringently conservative attitude. A novice cheese lover might attribute the “disgusting” flavor of a cheese that he or she does not like to the overall experience of being in a cheese shop. That’s okay! It’s merely part of the process of parsing out what you like and those cheeses that are going to give you that lingering feeling of pleasure – after all, cheese contains copious amounts of the chemical opiate phenylethylamine (PEA), which stimulates the production and release of endorphins and serotonin in the brain. Suffice it to say, cheese is an incredibly complex and addictive substance for humans! In time, the novice might discover that her judgment that “all blue cheese is disgusting” is really her association of blue cheese with a bad experience from long ago.


In addition to the physiological and psychological dimensions operating in a bite of cheese, humans also grapple with language to describe their taste experience. Food critic and New York Times reporter Kim Severson says that the first thing a novice has to learn in her food quest is to say “yes” or to say “no.” And that sometimes means saying “no” to the monger who appears pretty darn smart, and with all that knowledge and passion maybe a little unapproachable and possibly arrogant. A cheesemonger’s knowledge of cheese is nothing to be feared: this powerful knowledge of cheese can be harnessed by the novice to steer him in a better direction. Humans instinctively understand food based on a set of “benchmark tastes” collected throughout a lifetime. This means that all humans not only have the capacity to know what they like on a deep level, but also have the ability to incorporate new foods into their palate through a strong repertoire of taste memory. In the following passage from her memoir Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life, Severson explains the process of what goes on in her mind as she tastes a new cheese. She writes:

Do I like it or not? It’s an all-guts, no-brain call. And if I do, why? This is where the intellectual and emotional work comes in. Why is one cheese better than another? Is it because it is a perfect example of how that particular cheese is supposed to be made? Or does it appeal on some other level? Does the creaminess and funk change how you feel? Does it remind you of mushrooms? Does it bring up memories of the first perfectly grilled cheddar cheese sandwich you ever had? And can you separate the appeal of memory from the actual quality of the food?


A novice cheese lover indeed can navigate the uncharted territory of the cheese shop. Cheese blogger Madame Fromage of DiBruno Brothers in Philadelphia has a fantastic set of guidelines for successfully visiting a cheese shop and getting the most out of the experience called “How to Talk to a Cheesemonger.” IMG_3442_2

We at The Cheese Traveler offer this bit of advice to any novice: trust your instincts! Don’t worry about being too polite. A cheesemongers’ feelings won’t be hurt by a simple, “No, that’s not for me.” Ask questions and let your cheesemonger know your tastes. Cheesemongers are here for you. They enjoy helping you in your taste discoveries and in providing you with the best possible experience in the process.




Curtis Ph.D, Valerie A.No Self Control: How motives make us do what we want, not what is good for us.” Psychology Today. Nov. 13, 2013

George, Alison. “The Yuck Factor: The surprising power of disgust.” New Scientist. Issue 2873 (20 July 2012).

Severson, Kim. Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

A Crowd-pleasing Picnic Basket in 7 Easy Steps

by Alifair Skebe

The summer season is just beginning. The days and nights are warm, outdoor playhouses and parks in every city feature a fantastic line-up of music, plays, poetry and dance. You want to enjoy your lunch and dinner in this expressive milieu. You wonder how to put together that delicious, varied basket of goodies for yourself and your picnic buddies.

No worry! The Cheese Traveler has got you covered. Many of the suggested items can be purchased at The Cheese Traveler shop in Albany, NY or found in your own pantry.


Start with Cheese. Cheese is a classic picnic food predating written history. In ancient times, nomadic peoples from Northern China carried cheese in small urns, and to this day, travelers all over the world tote the nutrient-dense food on trips and outdoor hikes. In small ¼ to ½ pound wedges, cheese is wonderfully portable and resists spoiling in the heat. In fact, as the cheese warms to temperature, it becomes more flavorful: its complexities become stronger and more discernible. Choose an assortment of different styles, types, and milks for your picnic. Harder cheeses such as Comte, Gruyère, Cheddar, and Parmesan will generally last longer in warmer temperatures, though for an afternoon or evening jaunt, don’t be afraid to take a triple-crème, goat’s milk pyramid, Taleggio, or Stilton.


Add Charcuterie. Like cheese, cured meats are a classic, portable food. Smoked, dried, cured, or baked, charcuterie pairs beautifully with picnic cheeses. Adding a few slices of a salty, savory meat is a low-cost way to add some protein to your plate and delight your senses. Choose two or three meats to complement your cheese or to snack on alone. Typically, salami and dry-cured ham will last longer in the heat than cooked ham or pate; yet again, during a few hours of entertainment, there is little need to worry about their spoiling. A wonderful combination of charcuterie will include a hard salami such as Sopressata, Saussicon Sec, or Chorizo; a dry-cured ham such as Prosciutto or Jamon Serrano; a cooked ham or Mortadella; and a country pate.

Pair with Condiments. While enjoying cheese and meat, add flavor perks to jazz up your palate. Since you’re out in the heat, consider both sweet and savory combinations tha139423658_b394695b44_zt will satiate your sweet tooth and replenish your salt balance. Choose a varietal honey and seasonal jam as well as a fine mustard, cornichons, and olives. Consider adding a handful of nuts and local, seasonal fresh fruit as well.

Bread and Crackers. What cheese would not be enhanced by crusty baguette, crispy crackers, or gluten-free crisps? Oh yeah.

Pack a Cheese Board and Knives. Your delectable treats could well be eaten out of the package, though isn’t it tastier and more delightful to dine with a little portable elegance? Consider using a Brooklyn Slate board, or a light-weight, wooden one. Arrange your cheeses and meats on the board from mildest in flavor to strongest. Pack a few knives, one for each cheese, and include several small spoons to scoop out the honey, jam, and mustard.

Pack a Set of Linens and Tableware. Choose a nice tablecloth or blanket. Include some cloth napkins, a set of flatware, and a couple of plates. Go for the classy ceramic plates or some nice, light-weight melamine plates.

Secure your stash with a basket. Choose a traditional wicker basket, a roomy backpack, or a tote bag. Pick up, zip or tie.

Now you’re ready to go!







Cheese, the Food of Love

Cheese notes from's Valentine's Brunch

Cheese notes from’s Valentine’s Brunch

by Alifair Skebe

Around Valentine’s Day, love is in the air at The Cheese Traveler. Whether it be philia (mental love), storge (affection), eros (physical love), or agape (spiritual love), cheesemongers have that uncanny knack to make one’s perfect valentine feel special. And why might that be?

Here are some recent examples of our favorite customer interactions with Valentine’s Day, the four loves, and cheese:

  • A gentleman walks into the shop under the impression that we are a chocolate shop and will have chocolate-dipped strawberries, remembering the chocolate shop that used to be here many years ago. Eric shows the man a selection of fine chocolates which we have, but he is attracted to something else in the air, a more enticing draw. He is mesmerized by the cheese selection. He walks out with Maggie’s Round, Kinsmen Ridge, and Cremeaux des Citeaux for his little daughter, his valentine. She loves cheese.
  • A lady puts together a cheese board to surprise her sweetheart, a die-hard cheese fan. She buys a Brooklyn Slate cheeseboard, a pocket-sized “cheese notes” for jotting down taste preferences, and three cheeses: Camembert Fermier, Twig Tomme, and Calcagno.
  • A colorful, young woman walks into the shop in full snow gear with her skis in hand. She has skied down the sidewalk to pick up a single wedge of Manchego Artesano for the evening with her valentine.
  • A few folks from The Yoga Loft, our upstairs’ neighboring business, wander in after a relaxing hour of yoga and meditation and purchase two domestic goat cheeses Manchester and Evalon.

What do these valentine’s have in common? Cheese! All over the internet, anthropomorphized mice swoon affectionately over giant wedges of hole-y cheese. We humans are those mice, as we express our love of various gooey, oozy, floral, fruity, earthy, unctuous, delectable cheeses. And why might that be?

Cheese, like chocolate, contains the chemical phenylethylamine (PEA) or the “love drug” that mimics the feeling of ‘being in love.’ PEA promotes dopamine production in the body which heightens one’s alertness and leaves one with a feeling of well-being and contentment. Young cheeses can contain as much as ten times the amount of PEA than chocolate. A shout out to all those brie, triple-creme, and vacherin-style lovers. And match that with a smell reminiscent of human pheromone. Get your cheese on!

For your pleasure, we have compiled a few of our favorite cheese valentines from around the net.

mice and cheese love

Two mice mooning from inside a gargantuan hunk of Emmentaller or Jarlsberg. Oh to be so lucky!

mice to the moon

A mouse climbs his way to the cheese moon (A tomme, a triple creme, or maybe a goat crottin?) on a thin thread. A lover will go to extraordinary lengths for his beloved. This courageous mouse reminds us of Anatole!


Two sweethearts flirt over plates of Coeur du Berry, a soft bloomy-rind, heart-shaped cheese from the Berry Province of France.

The Story of Us

By Alifair Skebe

Customers often ask, “How long have you been open?” While this question seems to warrant a fairly straightforward answer, such as, “Our shop was established in 2012,” it begs a larger question: when did this all begin? And as all things begin in the same manner, The Cheese Traveler began with an idea.

Like a refined cheese, the development of The Cheese Traveler was a process. Eric Paul, cheesemonger and owner, long held the desire to own a cheese shop, but the business truly solidified only after the building had been leased. In June of 2012, Eric and I escaped for a weekend vacation to celebrate our ninth anniversary. Eric had just signed the lease at 540 Delaware Avenue, and the space was deep in renovations. The weather was balmy and beautiful. We set out for Little Falls, one of New York’s hidden gems, especially for hikers and climbers. What we didn’t realize at the time was that it was also a hidden gem for cheesemongers. Little Falls, New York is not only nationally recognized for its Moss Island, an igneous intrusion along the Mohawk River with prehistoric glacial potholes, it was also at one time nationally recognized as the cheese capital of the United States.

Little Falls, NY

Eric has been interested in all things cheese since I met him. When we started dating, he was Cheese and Meat Manager at the local Albany co-op Honest Weight, but he soon left to take a position at Siena College’s library in order to complete his undergraduate education. Siena offered Eric a tuition reduction as an employee, and Eric could take classes part-time in the Classics program. While these two positions on the surface may seem unrelated, the connection is that Eric is a researcher at heart.

Starting with ‘cooperative’ ideology of local, small production foods, at Honest Weight Eric developed a way to retail Slow Food, the small, local, farmstead and artisanally-produced foods from around the world. Slow Food International began in Italy as a reaction against the fast food industry. Eric brought ‘slow foods’ from neighboring New York valleys – Schoharie, Hudson, Columbia, and Washington in the form of grass-fed meats and farmstead cheeses – and international ‘slow foods’ specialty chocolates, confections, and accompaniments from Europe and the U.S. into the small, specialty foods section of the co-op. These were the best slow food that the regions had to offer.

Missing slow foods, but capitalizing on his research skills gained from his years at the co-op, Eric sought in his new position at Siena to find the nationally-recognized films of each country – those which were banned, contested, and controversial as well as innovative for their technique and quality. Even though Eric had no library science degree, nor the authority to request or buy the films for the department, he enlisted the help of faculty to sign off on his purchases and use the films for their classes. At my behest, he brought in a collection of Surrealist films, making Siena’s one of the few libraries in the world to own these special, art-house films.

Eric left Siena to complete his bachelor’s degree full-time in Classics at Bard College. Afterward, he worked for a start-up co-op in Troy, NY. However, he had always wanted to get back to cheese. He began translating passages from ancient Greek that referenced cheese in any way, and gathered them in a compendium to classical literature. He worked a short stint at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, MA to get a feel for the small, specialty food business. Through understanding the business, Eric realized that he could open a cheese shop of his own, and he began to devise ways to make that happen in Albany. And that’s really when his idea of a ‘cheese traveler’ began. A ‘cheese traveler’ is a researcher who travels to bring the best and most unique flavors of the cheese world to you.

But as your humble author, I must admit that a refined palate was never my forte. Words and visual design were my aesthetic. The poor immigrant life of my ancestors was one of survival and of sometimes empty bowls and hungry bellies – it didn’t matter what it tasted like; if it was edible, that was good enough. In my 20s, I began branching out in cooking. A vegetarian must exist on more than bread, pasta, vegetables, and soy. I bought a funny little book with pictures of carved pumpkins called Play with Your Pumpkins, which to date has the best recipe for French pumpkin soup, Paul Bocuse’s ‘Soupe de Courge.’ I like to think that it was his recipe and a wedge of Gruyère that brought Eric and me together.

Before I even knew Eric was the cheese manager of the co-op, I had bought a slice of six-month Gruyère with the intent of making Bocuse’s soup. I put the cheese in my bare fridge, right on the top shelf. Eric and I then met while I was member-working as a cashier at the co-op. After we had been on a few dates, I invited him over to my apartment for Sunday brunch. He chanced to look into my refrigerator. Truthfully, on any other day, it could have been a block of cheap cheddar sitting there. Fortunately, this stunning little cheese stood out. I’d like to say that I passed the food test, but it was much more than that. We connected on our shared love of researching the past and experimentation, of learning and discovery. Consequently, I am no longer a vegetarian

Flash forward to Little Falls, NY. Eric and I had just eaten a lovely meal of oysters, lamb, and duck made by Chef/owner James Aufmuth at the French bistro and hotel Canal Side Inn. We were walking through the town from the canal up to the main drag. (Little Falls is also known for its haunted hotels.) And along the sidewalk were historical markers with a narrative of the town’s cheese industry during the nineteenth century. Pictured in black and white on the placards were enormous cheddar wheels, railroad cars, the first industrialized and bottled rennet, factory houses, and more. Photos of factory workers, administrators, town residents. Surprised by our discovery, we ran from marker to marker to find out more about the town’s history, but also of our own, our nation’s, the history of the business we were now entering with our little Albany cheese shop. We had a name and location with no logo, a name without a brand. And here in this place, we realized something. That what we were doing was important. It was the refining of an idea, the ripening of something unique, and Little Falls affirmed us in our journey. That night is the moment that we, cheese travelers were truly ‘open,’ and like Walt Whitman’s uniquely American ‘yawp,’ we sounded ours over the proverbial rooftops of the Capital Region.

When Art, Cheesemaking, and Science Collide…

Installation “Selfmade” (2013) at the Dublin Science Gallery.

by Alifair Skebe

The thought-provoking installation “SELFMADE” (2013), currently on display at The Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin, reveals the importance of microbes in our environment. Microbiologist Christina Agapakis (US) & scent artist Sissel Tolaas (NO) teamed up to create artisanal cheese made from lactobacillus swabbed from the skin of human beings. Lactobacillus is the bacteria responsible for curdling and preserving milk and giving cheese its characteristic smell and texture. Agapakis maintains that the cheese in the exhibit is not intended for human consumption but for investigating the unique microbial environment that humans participate in daily.

Through the installation Agapakis calls into question the prevailing paradigm of good/bad bacteria and offers a more complex view of the world of microbes, both biologically and culturally. She emphasizes the paradox of the modern paradigm: “We not only live in a biological world surrounded by rich communities of microorganisms, but in a cultural world that emphasises (sic) total antisepsis.”i Noting the inconsistency between modern human habits of consumption and bacterial intolerance in the environment, she asks: “Can knowledge and tolerance of bacterial cultures in our food improve tolerance of the bacteria on our bodies?”ii

Agapakis’ use of traditional cheesemaking methods underscores the connection between microbial culture and human culture. In her Pop!Tech lecture, she explains the biological and artistic process of her installation and of creating, by accident, the famed Sardinian “maggot cheese” casu marzu. The cheese can only be consumed when its larvae are, in fact, living. While some might recoil at the idea of consuming “rotten” cheese replete with squirming insects, Agapakis argues through her example of “encountering prejudice toward the macrobiological” for an increased awareness of cheese and its relationship to culture. Cheese, she notes, is about three things: “culture,” “biological context,” and “care” or “the way that we interact with and take care of the environment around us.”iii

Her exhibit poignantly illustrates cheese as a living object. Cheese, by its very nature, can never be an aseptic environment. Each cheese is filled with living organisms that interact with and mirror its culture both physically and sociologically.

iAgapakis, Christina. “Artist’s Statement.” Selfmade. Dublin: Science Gallery, Trinity College, 2013.


iii“Christina Agapakis: Toe Cheese.” Youtube. 13 November 2013.