Cheese Traveler Sandwiches!

The Cheese Traveler Adds New Sandwich Menu

The Cheese Traveler is excited to introduce its new sandwich and panini menu, which will be available Tuesday through Sunday beginning this weekend (November 2nd.) Sandwiches will be built on loaves sourced from Bonfiglio & Bread in Hudson and will feature a variety of high quality meats, cheeses, condiments, and other fine accompaniments. Offerings will change based on seasonal availability and inspiration, and can be enjoyed in-store or packaged to go.

Menu sampling:

  • Laguiole, Apple Peach & Apricot chutney (Rosebud Farms) $6.99

  • Toma Celena, Pawlett, smoked duck breast (Larchmont Charcuterie), black currant jam (Les Comtes de Provence) $7.99

  • Manchego Artesano, salchichon Iberico (Fermin) oil-cured olive tapenade $7.99

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Bonfiglio & Bread’s artisan baked breads will be available in the shop regularly.

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Limburger Files: Pt. 2, Beer and Cheese Pairing

by Alifair Skebe and David Doughan

From the family of smear-ripened or washed-rind cheeses, Limburger is practically made to pair with beer. The bold flavor of the orange-colored, slightly sweet and acidic rind and the smooth, creamy texture of the paste blend well with the effervescent, cool taste of a pint.

Limburger has long been considered a working-class cheese, because it packs a lot of flavor for not a lot of money. The cheese with its dense meaty texture is strong enough to hold its own on a rye-bread sandwich with red onion and mustard and to equally satisfy the tastebuds. Often found on bar menus and under glass at the deli counter, this Belgian-German cheese has become an American classic.

On a balmy February evening, cheesemongers Eric Paul, David Doughan, and Alifair Skebe met to sample Limburger and Beers, looking for the perfect pairing. A great pairing will bring out the best in both, and particularly for Limburger, you want the sweetness and subtlety of its hearty, bold flavor to shine above the funkiness of the washed rind. The right beer can do just that. The wrong beer will either leave the cheese tasting flat or overpowering.

Of the beers that night, we sampled Belgian beers and the American Peak IPA. Amongst the Belgian contenders were Duvel, Chimay blue label, Lindeman’s Gueuze Cuvee Rene, and Delirium Tremens. Although Limburger has long been thought to be a German cheese, its origins are located in Belgium with the monasteries, and its roots are close to Chimay. Thusly, we chose to pair it with the beers that most resemble its heritage.

Limburger, accompaniments, and the beer selection

Limburger, accompaniments, and the beer selection

The tasting order of the pairing began with Peak Organic IPA, and American Indian Pale Ale, and moved to Delerium Tremens and Duvel, both Belgian strong pale ales. We then tasted Lindeman’s Gueuze Cuvee Rene, a Belgian sour, and finished with the Chimay Grande Reserve blue label, a Belgian strong dark ale.

What follows are some tasting notes  –

Peak Organic IPA – American Indian Pale Ale, 7.2%

  • Bright yellow.  One finger head.
  • Fragrant, flowery aroma.
  • Crisp, refreshing IPA that has not gone overboard on the hops.

I definitely would drink this IPA on a regular basis; however, the Limburger overwhelmed the crisp taste immediately.  Water might be a better pairing than this IPA. The worst pairing of the night.

Delirium Tremens – strong Belgian pale ale, 8.5%

  • Bright yellow hue with no clouding.  Nice lacing.  Very little head.
  • Aromas of cloves and pepper.
  • Taste is a bit sweet at first followed by some heat and ends with a dry finish.
  • The better of the two Belgian Pale Ales.

Almost able to stand up to the Limburger. But the cheese wins out on the finish.

Duvel – strong Belgian pale ale, 8.5%

  • Bright yellow hue with no clouding.  Moderate head. Very slight lacing.
  • Citrus aroma.
  • Taste is more linear than the Tremens.  Crisp spicy taste then just goes nowhere after that.
  • The Duvel just is not as interesting a BPA.

Once I tasted the rind of the Limburger I could no longer taste the beer.  The beer did hold up to the paste though.

Lindemans Gueuze Cuvee Rene – Gueze, 5.50%

  • Hazy orange hue.  Slightly more lacing than the Belgian Pale Ale.
  • Barnyard aroma with tart overtones.
  • Taste – tart/sour but not overly aggressive.  Some spice in the background, but I could not place it.  Well-balanced.

A triumph of human ingenuity.  And a complete disaster with the Limburger. The beer’s tartness only accentuated the unpleasant flavors in the Limburger. (Alifair liked this pairing, especially accompanied by the horseradish mustard and pickle relish.)

Chimay Grande Reserve – Belgian strong dark ale, 9.0%

  • Amber to brown color.  2 finger head.
  • Aromas of plum and other fruits.
  • Red wine tastes abound – grape, plums, raisins come to mind.  Very sweet. Creamy texture.

The only beer that worked with the Limburger without accompaniments.  The sweetness of the beer was able to soften the acidic flavor of the rind and allowed me to really enjoy the fruity undertones of the Limburger’s paste.

Our Final Comments on the Tasting:

Overall we found that we enjoyed the Limburger especially when eaten with rye bread and condiments. We agreed that the best Limburger pairing of the evening was Chimay. The flavors enhanced one another and brought out pleasant notes in each. Eric also enjoyed the Delirium Tremens and Alifair liked the Lindemans.

The order of beers was wrong…drinking the Gueuze before the Belgian Strong Pale Ale killed the palate.

Our Grand Opening Is Shaping up to Be a Showstopper

Updated 11.15.2012

Are you ready?

Mark your calendars.

The Cheese Traveler and Tilldale Farm are partnering to bring to you a fantastic lineup of events.

Sunday, November 18, 2012 from 1-6 pm at 540 Delaware Avenue in Albany.

Details are in the works…menu to come…

Here’s a teaser:

1-2 pm “The Tastes of The Capital Region” a cooking demo and tastings by the Chef’s Consortium. Chefs Michael Lapi and Josh Coletto will cook up some seasonal tastes.

2-3 pm “Meet the Cheesemaker” Consider Bardwell Farm of West Pawlett, VT will host a cheese demonstration. The Cheese Traveler will sample from its stock of over 100 cheeses in the cheese case. Consider Bardwell’s cheeses are international award-winners, taking ribbons at the American Cheese Society and World Cheese Championships in the last four years. Their animals rotationally graze on organic pastures to produce the sweetest milk and the tastiest cheese. Their raw milk cheese is antibiotic and hormone free, and nutritionally complete. Rick Reis and Josh Moskowitz of From the Heartland will play.

3-4 pm “Literary Delights and Teatime” featuring readings by local authors Daniel Nestor, Writer, Professor and Director of the MFA program in Creative Writing at the College of Saint Rose, and comedic author of How to Be Inappropriate; Matthew Klane, poet and editor of Flim Forum Press; Alan Casline, poet and director of Rootdrinker Institute; and Mimi Moriarty, poet. Coffee, tea, and pastries catered by All Good Bakers.

4-6 pm “The Heart and Meat of It” Tasting a delectable medley of Fall dishes by Tilldale Farm and MINGLE; acoustic sounds by Mike Grosshandler, guitarist of The Velmas and voted “Best Solo Musician” by Metroland readers, and Tor and the Fjords, finalist for Hudson Valley Songfest’s “Best New Artist” and headliner for the Capital Area Indie Fest 2012.

Why we do not sing for our supper…or how to properly enjoy Greek cheeses

by Alifair Skebe

From Aesop’s Fables

At least two questions arise in this story:

1) the cheese: exactly what did he steal?

2) the moral: why did he let the prize go?

The first of the two questions is easily answered by “any cheese available” to the Grecian bird: feta, kasseri, manouri, kefalogravieria, tiri, anthotiros, graveia, formeilla parnassos, and mizithra to name a few. Or saganaki, but not fried, so as to burn his beak! Traditional to the region are sheep and goat’s milk cheeses aged in brine, salt, or oil.

The second of the two questions is perhaps harder to answer, but as we have seen at the farmer’s market, perhaps not so. Cheese has an unmistakeable aroma, indulgent to the senses and pervasive for yards or metres. Humans, like the fox, are drawn to its smell, and individuals arrive by their noses to exclaim, “I love cheese!” The crow is like the cheesemonger, willing to part with the prize for an opportunity to sing his song.

A lovely cheesemonger interpretation of the fable:

 gravihttp://essexcheese.com/2011/05/18/561/#respond

A PBS storybook version in color in pdf file:

http://pbskids.org/lions/cornerstones/pdf/foxstorybook.pdf

Cheese Wrap: The Importance of the “Right” Package

by Alifair Skebe

Since we wrote this post back in August, we have begun to wrap our cheeses in French paper, which is quite versatile, easy to use and popular amongst customers. The information contained herein will help you to keep your cheeses lasting for a week or longer in your refrigerator. But we advise to eat cheese within a week of purchase to maintain its freshness of taste.

Cheeses arrive at market shipped in whole or partial wheels. Cheeses last longest when they are uncut or cut in larger pieces. The cheese begins to die away at the cut, so the packaging a cheesemonger uses to wrap the cheese for the customer can retard or exacerbate this process. Cheeses typically need some space to breathe or the natural culture or mold will die away leaving a taste anywhere from ammonia to rubbery dullness. The best cheese shops sell cheese cut-to-order and use a paper/plastic combination  wrapping or wax-lined parchment. These types of packaging, of course, are very expensive, and likely the consumer will pay for it in the pricing of the cheese. Nevertheless, they insure the best quality of the cheese.

A paper/plastic combo works particularly well for young, bloomy, and washed rind cheeses, such as the New York washed rind cheese pictured below.

A properly wrapped and cared for washed rind cheese from central New York. The Long Island washed rind cheese in the background was wrapped in plastic wrap. Notice how its rind is beginning to die away.

The same cheese as pictured above. Beautiful!

The cheese paper is very thin, almost the width of tracing paper or a heavier tissue paper which keeps the plastic from touching the paste of the cheese. The outer shell of the paper is a “crystal” plastic, a stiff thin plastic that keeps the moisture and culture inside so the cheese does not quickly die off, leaving an unpleasant taste.

Superior quality cheese paper

Another excellent option for cheese paper is a wax-lined parchment, suitable for keeping the cheese stable and the flavor fresh. This is the paper that works best for the greatest number of cheeses, and The Cheese Traveler has chosen this product for wrapping our cheeses.

Wax-lined parchment

These two methods of wrapping cheese signify best practices and show both knowledge and skill on the part of the cheesemonger. The Cheese Traveler recommends buying cheeses wrapped in this way.

The least desirable packaging for cheese is plastic wrap, especially touching the cut face of the cheese. Many commercial stores use plastic to simplify their operations and to cut down on labor costs. The plastic-wrapped cheeses will sit in plastic for weeks and sometimes months. The taste and smell of the plastic soaks into the cheese and alters its flavor.  It suffocates the cheese and within a few days will kill off its natural characteristics replacing them with unpleasant flavors.

Moreover, the paste of the cheese, like meat, readily absorbs toxins from the plastic, making it an unhealthy long-term packaging option. Young cheeses will very quickly deteriorate in plastic, and the ammoniation from this process that is a byproduct of the dying mold will be released. The longer the cheese stays in plastic, the more ammoniated the rind will become, eventually affecting the entire paste of the cheese. Should you notice a bloomy rind cheese beginning to get hard to the touch and the rind turning from white to a grayish brown, the cheese is probably not going to taste very pleasant, let alone be in its best condition. Bloomy rinds should stay soft to the touch. The best packaging for bloomy rind cheeses is a two-ply paper which has a layer of perforated plastic on the outside and a layer of thin paper underneath it so the mold can breathe. A solid plastic will suffocate it.  A perforated plastic without the paper will also suffocate it because the mold grows into the perforation preventing air passage. A hard or natural rind cheese may hold up better to sitting in plastic wrap, but up to a half inch of the face of the cheese will be lost in flavor.

Plastic wrap from a cheese

Yikes! Let’s get this one rewrapped straight away.

If you choose to buy a cheese wrapped in plastic wrap, there are a few  things you can do when you get home that will help to preserve the cheese. First, only buy a cheese that has been cut, at most, within a few days of the date on the package.  Unwrap the package immediately when you get home. Gently scrape off a thin layer of the exterior of the cheese to remove any unpleasant flavors, aromas, or toxins that the cheese may have incurred. This is what is called “facing,” which a good cheesemonger will do everyday to every cheese to insure each cheese is in good condition to taste.

Cleaning the cheese with a knife

Let the cheese come to room temperature before you enjoy eating it. If you will not eat the cheese right away, rewrap it in parchment paper and place it in an airtight container. Refrigerators preserve food by keeping the environment dry. Cheese likes humidity. You can even place a wet paper towel folded in the corner of the container to add moisture.  An airtight container will keep the humidity in and unpleasant refrigerator odors out of your cheese.

Celebrating American Cheese Month

by Alifair Skebe

October is American Cheese Month, begun annually since its inception last year through the American Cheese Society (ACS) and The State of Colorado. While the words “American Cheese” to many American readers may conjure up images of the ubiquitous solid yellow mass that turns into a gooey melty foodstuff, invented nearly one hundred years ago, this iconic symbol of American industrial food culture is not exactly what ACS means to promote. The larger category of American Cheese, including farmstead, artisan, cooperative, as well as industrially-produced natural cheeses is ACS’ prerogative. Like ACS, this month The Cheese Traveler will be celebrating our wide variety of delicious, award-winning, and spectacular small production American cheeses. Still, it’s hard to hear the words American Cheese Month and not indulge in thoughts of processed cheese synonymous with U.S. Patriotism and North American culture.

Adopted from Swiss technology and patented in the U.S. by Ontario-born James L. Kraft, so-called “American Cheese” caught the wave of the industrial revolution that promoted ease, efficiency, and economy in food production driven by the desire of both the producer and the consumer. Swiss food technicians Walter Gerber and Ted Kennel in 1911 discovered emulsifying salts’ and heat’s effect on coagulating naturally aged cheese to produce a new “product.”

This method derived from traditional fondue recipes that use additives such as beer and wine to keep the protein from separating from the oil during heating. Sodium phosphate, tartrate or citrate “help stabilize processed cheese by taking calcium from the milk protein and exchanging it with sodium. This allows the proteins to hold water, thickening the cheese” (Chapman). Cooked curd cheeses such as the German Kochkase and French Concoillotte may also be the conceptual origins of processed cheese for their meltable structure and additives in the ripening process. American Cheddar and Colby, also cooked curd cheeses, were the first cheeses to be used in processed “American Cheese” for their wide availability as well as their meltability.

Zey Ustunol, Professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at MSU, remarks: “Processed cheese is made from natural cheeses that may vary in degree of sharpness of flavor. Natural cheeses are shredded and heated to a molten mass. The molten mass of protein, water and oil is emulsified during heating with suitable emulsifying salts to produce a stable oil-in-water emulsion. Depending on the desired end use, the melted mixture is then reformed and packaged into blocks, or as slices, or into tubs or jars. Processed cheeses typically cost less than natural cheeses; they have longer shelf-life, and provide for unlimited variety of products.” 

Kraft, a savvy businessman,

James L. Kraft, food industry pioneer

immediately seized on the emerging technology and patented it in the U.S., foreseeing the possibilities for its advancement in and of food culture. Consequently, he secured military food contracts during WWI based on the product’s durability. Upon the soldiers’ return, men who developed a taste for the mild, slightly sweet and salty, standardized taste of the processed cheese found it easily obtainable in the emergent industrial processed food market. Most people at the time, did not have access to cold food storage and Kraft’s cheese did not need refrigeration and could be kept up to ten months, in both warm and cold climates. Processed cheese was more expensive than its predecessor; however, natural cheese was more perishable. It did not have a consistent shelf life and could neither withstand the heat of the southern and western climates, nor the difficulty of interstate shipment. Thus, the processed variety, “American Cheese,” began to unify the modern industrial nation.

On the other hand, traditionally-produced cheese has a long history in North America. Colonial settlers brought European and British cheesemaking traditions to the New World. U.S. cheeses developed in New England and migrated West, first following the Erie canal and its subsidiaries and then the railroad further westward, as cold storage methods improved cheese’s portability, into Ohio, Wisconsin, and beyond to Oregon and the Western seaboard. According to the National Historic Cheesemaking Center: “Puritan woman were the artisans of cheese during [the colonial] period…On the farm, it was almost always the role of women to make cheese and carry on the tradition.” Cheesemaking was a necessity to the settlers, thereby turning what would spoil into a stable product, given the right climatic conditions. The famous words of journalist and critic Clifton Fadiman characterize this economy: 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. By early 1800, cheesemaking moved from New England to the Mohawk region of New York, where the first cheese factory was built, auspiciously in Rome, NY.

view of Rome, NY

As the farmstead U.S. cheese economy shifted to cooperative and industrial models, women’s role in cheesemaking subsided, paving the way for industrial progress and consumer demand. Following the cheesemaking methods developed in NY State factories, US cheese production focused on harder British style cheeses, which came to be known as “American Cheddar.” These cheeses were easier to produce on a large scale, fit well with the development of the industrial dairy model, and provided a more consistent and stable product for consumers. As cheesemaking spread to the Midwest, production of Colby (another British style) and Brick Cheese (Swiss/German style) became a widespread part of American cheesemaking tradition.

Kraft’s production of processed “American cheese” has always relied on the cheesemaking industry because Kraft uses the scraps and byproducts of naturally aged cheese as its foundation. Kraft’s process meted out the variations of the different refuse cheeses, some being mild and others quite sharp, by blending them through both heat and emulsification, thereby creating a very standardized product with little to no variation from one loaf to the next. In addition to its longevity, it had superior meltability, easily applicable to the emerging “fast food” business.

The Great Depression of the 1930s and WWII marked the test case for processed cheese. As women were drawn into the workforce, they needed fast, cheap meals. Kraft’s mac-n-cheese was one such answer. Marketed as a four person meal for 19 cents and a meal in under seven minutes that didn’t need a stove: “By 1930 over 40% of cheese consumed in the U.S. was Kraft’s — and that was in spite of its relatively high price. Thanks to clever advertising, Kraft was able to charge more in exchange for a promise of safety and consistency, even though the product was derived from inferior cheese” (Clark).

While industrially-produced foods and advertising took hold of a large segment of the American population, scarcity encouraged individual industry. Government programs promoted home canning and bringing back the lost art of home kitchen cheesemaking to housewives, such as the 1934 bulletin by the U.S. Department of Agriculture “An American-type Cheese…how to make it for home use.” However, these efforts were eclipsed by the promotion of “American Cheese” through government military contracts provided to Kraft during WWII and subsequently to stabilize milk and cheese prices in the mid to late-twentieth century through government subsidy programs. At this time “American Cheese” became synonymous with “government cheese” offered free to the public and warehoused to offset prices. Sean McCloud, an associate professor of Religious Studies at UNC-Charlotte recalls: “[The Reagan era] was also a period when I ate my share of government cheese, packaged as two-pound blocks of uncut, white American, and distributed at Monon’s community center. We were not poor enough to be on welfare, but we were not so financially secure as to refuse government cheese.” Government endorsement by these means allowed for and promoted the dominance of processed cheese in food culture. Moreover, as consumer (and government) demand increased, Kraft began to dominate the cheese market buying up large producer contracts and effectively pushing small producers and factories, such as cooperatives, farmstead and artisan, out of business. In the later half of the 20th Century through producer and consumer insistence, the USDA developed industry standards and a four-category system for processed cheese, no longer allowing companies to call their processed products “Cheese” and enforcing labeling restrictions. Processed cheese is still promoted by the USDA and reinforced through government programs such as WIC (which only allows for the purchase of processed cheese) as a nutritious alternative to unprocessed varieties.

Since the close of the Reagan-era, the U.S. has seen a resurgence in farmstead and artisan cheesemakers. While American Cheese remains a recognizable comfort food, consumer taste has begun to shift away from standardized and stable industrial cheeses. Consumers also express growing concerns over the additives in processed cheese. Several do-it-yourself guides teach home cooks how to make their own processed cheese so you will “know exactly what went into it” (Ruperti). This is occurring at the same time the Slow Food and Local and Region Food movements have profoundly encouraged interest in small cheese producers across the nation.

The American Cheese Society promotes the cheesemaking industry on a variety of levels from the consumer to the cheesemaker to the retailer. Moreover, ACS promotes continued development of American cheeses from old world traditions to newer ones through education and yearly awards at its annual conference and American cheese competition. The Cheese Traveler stands with ACS in promoting a diverse image of American Cheese and supporting small cheesemakers. This month we will celebrate the great taste and craftsmanship of American cheese. Watch for our meet the cheesemaker demos and promotions that feature our great American cheese selection.

from “The Stellar American-Made Cheese Plate,” J.J. Goode, May 2010, Details.com

Sources:

“Brief History of Cheese.” National Historic Cheesemaking Center. Monroe, WI. 2009

Chapman, Sasha. “Manufacturing Taste: The (un)natural history of Kraft Dinner—a dish that has shaped not only what we eat, but also who we are.” The Walrus. Sept 2012

Clark, David. “A Brief History of “American Cheese,” from Colonial Cheddar to Kraft Singles” Mental_Floss. Jan. 7, 2009

Durand Jr., Loyal. “The Migration of Cheese Manufacture in the United States.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 42.4 (Dec 1952): 263-282.

McCloud, Sean. “Indiana: A Hoosier Remembers Eating Government Cheese.” Religion and Politics: The States Project. Washington University, St. Louis. August 22, 2012.

Ruperti, Yvonne. “How to Make American Cheese.” America’s Taste Kitchen Feed: Do-It-Yourself. Sept. 2011.

Urban, Shilo. “American Cheese: Neither American Nor Cheese.” Organic Authority. 2010.

Ustunol, Zey. “ Processed Cheese: What Is That Stuff Anyway?” Michigan Dairy Review. 14.2 (April 2009).

 Walter, H. E.. An American-type cheese : how to make it for home use.. Washington, D.C.. UNT Digital Library. 

Our Store at 540 Delaware (An Update)

Many supporters, eager customers, neighbors, and passersby have noticed The Cheese Traveler’s sign in the window since it went up at the beginning of May when we signed our lease. And many have wondered when we anticipate our opening date. We shall say that we have completed remodeling and are in the permit-securing phase.

The front door of 540 Delaware, home to The Cheese Traveler and Tilldale Farm Products

Eric, aka The Cheese Traveler, at Albany City Hall to apply for a Building Permit

To those who know us from our small operation at the Delmar and Deleware Avenue Farmer’s Markets, we are cheesemongers! That means that we sell cheese (see our post Cheesemongers, not Cheesemakers)

Mongers means “sellers”

The Cheese Traveler is a small, family-run cheese shop that sells local, farmstead and artisan fine cheeses. When we open at 540 Delaware, our product line will expand to a wider selection of farmstead and artisan cheese from the U.S., Canada, Europe, and British Isles and include fine charcuterie (cured meats like — artisan Prosciutto di Parma, Jamon Serrano, Jamon Iberico, salumi, and pate) and artisan specialty foods — crackers, mustards, jams, chutneys, olive oils, vinegars, chocolate and other confections, etc. We will also feature Tilldale Farm Products’ organic, grass-fed, heritage breed meat — Devon beef and Tamworth pork — poultry and eggs.

Since taking over the space at 540 Delaware, The Cheese Traveler and Tilldale Farm have added plumbing and refrigeration to support a world-class, cut-to-order cheese shop and fine food market. We refinished the poured concrete floor using sustainable soy and water-based products (this alone took two and a half months to do!) and gave everything a fresh coat of paint.

Bubba and Sissy brush-sanding the concrete floor to prepare the stain.

More sanding

Eric staining the floor.

Anticipate something like a Spanish or Italian-style grotto…

Of course now much of this floor you see here is covered by coolers and metro shelves. We are at least two weeks out from opening…possibly four depending on the city. Lastly, our logo is nearly finished and ready for signage.

In the meantime, please spread the word, keep up your interest, and visit us for local cheese at the markets. By the way, we are so excited to be next to our neighboring businesses All Good Bakers bakery and cafe (of the delicious new semifreddo) and Mingle, an upscale, asian-fusion, world cuisine by the same chefs who brought you Avenue A. For a taste experience, try the Flavors of Del-So Cheese Board featuring our cheese, All Good Bakers’ flatbread and your choice of beer or wine flight.  Spread the love!

Cheese Wars?

by Alifair Skebe

You’ve seen it. Gas stations crop up across the street from one another. Coffee shops on opposite street corners. A particular stretch of Route 20 in Guilderland could be renamed “Dress Shop Alley.” In a one half minute stretch, there are the three formal dress shops and a smattering of women’s consignment stores. Of course, each shop is a little different. Fancy Schmancy, for example, is a haute couture boutique owned by the couture designer Suzanne Dura, while Angela’s and Apropos are more trendy formal-fashion-type stores. Hidden in the side parking lot of a tiny strip mall, next to a pizza shop and chinese take-out, Fancy Schmancy is a luxurious little dress shop with plush carpets, lush sofas, and recessed lighting cast on wall-racks lined with all colors of lace and beaded gowns in protective covers. Wide-brimmed hats rival the imagination. Velveteen and satin platform heels, studded handbags, mirrors from floor to ceiling. Jewelry. It’s something like modern art gallery meets Lady Di’s walk-in closet. The feeling-tone here is “unique”: you could literally choose any style gown for any occasion and the look would be a show-stopper.

Of course, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with cheese. In our blog post “A Visit to the City of Cheese,” we covered the small and lesser-known cheese and specialty food shops in New York City. Many people outside of NYC are familiar with Murray’s Cheese and Artisanal’s. Two of the shops we covered were Saxelby Cheesemongers and Formaggio Essex and both are located in the Essex Street Market in Manhattan. The whole market, by the way, is not that big by upstate New York standards. It’s about the size of a quarter strip of Albany’s Lark Street, with only food-related shops and kitchens. Have they declared an all-out cheese war? Not exactly. Because they’re not only competing with each other but also with the big and best like Soho’s Murray’s and 32 other NYC cheese shops as well as the chain stores Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Fairway, the corner grocery stores, and online stores such as FreshDirect. How can a small business keep up?

Our friend James Rutter at Neal’s Yard Dairy in England offers a fresh perspective on competition in the cheese business. At the American Cheese Society annual conference last month, James spoke about the issues around competition. Coming from both the retailer perspective (Neal’s Yard operates two cheese shops in London) and the distributor’s perspective, he looks at the knowledge and skill of cheesemongers as being of the utmost importance in selling fine, farmstead and artisanal cheeses and offering a good product with a good value. After all, it is the cheesemongers who will sell Neal’s Yard cheeses to the public. So competition is not necessarily a bad thing. A good cheesemonger will educate his customers about fine cheese, it’s history, taste, and storage methods, and will deliver a superior product through the proper handling and care of the cheeses he sells. Doing this well raises the level of interest and knowledge of the population, and people can enjoy delicious cheese from North America, Great Britain, and Europe as if one were there on the farm. Having multiple good cheesemongers, even if at different retail shops, allows each to diversify and specialize their offerings. Saxelby’s developed a reputation for carrying farmstead American cheeses from Northeastern U.S. while Formaggio Essex carries a wider range from North America and Europe. A bad cheesemonger, and mind you, many cheese sections of stores are managed by individuals with little to no knowledge of cheese nor skill in handling and caring for cheeses, is one who sells cheese that has been poorly handled. This leaves a negative impression of fine cheese in the minds of the public – “Wow, we pay a premium price for this?  This whole artisan cheese thing is over-hyped!”  So bad cheesemongering which gives the cheese loving/cheese curious consumer this experience hurts the entire industry.

To remedy this problem, Neal’s Yard Dairy invites the other London cheese shops to attend workshops about artisan dairy industry in Great Britain and proper care and handling of cheeses. Murray’s Cheese also offers a crash course to the public.

Shortly, The Cheese Traveler will host classes related to cheese. In the remainder of this post, we will briefly discuss some of the best cheese practices and those less than fair.

Note the packaging.

Cheeses arrive at market shipped in whole or partial wheels. Cheeses last longest when they are uncut or cut in larger pieces. The cheese begins to die away at the cut, so the packaging a cheesemonger uses to wrap the cheese for the customer can retard or exacerbate this process. Cheeses typically need some space to breathe or the natural culture or mold will die away leaving a taste anywhere from ammonia to rubbery dullness. The best cheese shops sell cheese cut-to-order and use a paper/plastic combination  wrapping or wax-lined parchment. These types of packaging, of course, are very expensive, and likely the consumer will pay for it in the pricing of the cheese. Nevertheless, they insure the best quality of the cheese.

A paper/plastic combo works particularly well for young, bloomy, and washed rind cheeses, such as the New York washed rind cheese pictured below.

A properly wrapped and cared for washed rind cheese from central New York. The Long Island washed rind cheese in the background was wrapped in plastic wrap. Notice how its rind is beginning to die away.

The same cheese as pictured above. Beautiful!

The cheese paper is very thin, almost the width of tracing paper or a heavier tissue paper which keeps the plastic from touching the paste of the cheese. The outer shell of the paper is a “crystal” plastic, a stiff thin plastic that keeps the moisture and culture inside so the cheese does not quickly die off, leaving an unpleasant taste.

Superior quality cheese paper

Another excellent option for cheese paper is a wax-lined parchment, suitable for keeping the cheese stable and the flavor fresh. This is the paper that works best for the greatest number of cheeses, and The Cheese Traveler has chosen this product for wrapping our cheeses.

Wax-lined parchment

These two methods of wrapping cheese signify best practices and show both knowledge and skill on the part of the cheesemonger. The Cheese Traveler recommends buying cheeses wrapped in this way.

The least desirable packaging for cheese is plastic wrap, especially touching the cut face of the cheese. Many commercial stores use plastic to simplify their operations and to cut down on labor costs. The plastic-wrapped cheeses will sit in plastic for weeks and sometimes months. The taste and smell of the plastic soaks into the cheese and alters its flavor.  It suffocates the cheese and within a few days will kill off its natural characteristics replacing them with unpleasant flavors.

Moreover, the paste of the cheese, like meat, readily absorbs toxins from the plastic, making it an unhealthy long-term packaging option. Young cheeses will very quickly deteriorate in plastic, and the ammoniation from this process that is a byproduct of the dying mold will be released. The longer the cheese stays in plastic, the more ammoniated the rind will become, eventually affecting the entire paste of the cheese. Should you notice a bloomy rind cheese beginning to get hard to the touch and the rind turning from white to a grayish brown, the cheese is probably not going to taste very pleasant, let alone be in its best condition. Bloomy rinds should stay soft to the touch. The best packaging for bloomy rind cheeses is a two-ply paper which has a layer of perforated plastic on the outside and a layer of thin paper underneath it so the mold can breathe. A solid plastic will suffocate it.  A perforated plastic without the paper will also suffocate it because the mold grows into the perforation preventing air passage. A hard or natural rind cheese may hold up better to sitting in plastic wrap, but up to a half inch of the face of the cheese will be lost in flavor.

Plastic wrap from a cheese

Yikes! Let’s get this one rewrapped straight away.

If you choose to buy a cheese wrapped in plastic wrap, there are a few  things you can do when you get home that will help to preserve the cheese. First, only buy a cheese that has been cut, at most, within a few days of the date on the package.  Unwrap the package immediately when you get home. Gently scrape off a thin layer of the exterior of the cheese to remove any unpleasant flavors, aromas, or toxins that the cheese may have incurred. This is what is called “facing,” which a good cheesemonger will do everyday to every cheese to insure each cheese is in good condition to taste.

Cleaning the cheese with a knife

Let the cheese come to room temperature before you enjoy eating it. If you will not eat the cheese right away, rewrap it in parchment paper and place it in an airtight container. Refrigerators preserve food by keeping the environment dry. Cheese likes humidity. You can even place a wet paper towel folded in the corner of the container to add moisture.  An airtight container will keep the humidity in and unpleasant refrigerator odors out of your cheese.

Having consideration for all aspects of the sale, from storage to cut-and-wrap, we notably store our cut wheels of cheeses in the “diaper wrap” method. At no time will plastic touch the face of our cheeses. We cut a piece of wax-parchment paper to wrap the face of the cheese and then place it in plastic wrap, thereby sealing the humidity of the cheese. While the plastic may touch part of the rind, it does not touch the “cut face” of the cheese.  In our retail display we wrap our cut wheels in plastic; however, every morning before we open we unwrap and “face” each cheese and if we feel a cheese has been sitting in plastic too long we face it throughout the day before sampling or cutting your cheese.

In all, competition when it comes to cheese is not about having too many stores with too many options. It’s about caring for the cheeses and delivering to the public a superior product in excellent condition fresh from the cheesemaker and aged to perfection. It’s about both breadth and depth of cheese knowledge. And it’s about skill. Our mission is to bring to you great tasting small production cheeses in the condition and flavor profile that the cheesemaker intends from their efforts.

And more often than not, you can find some of the best things in life off the beaten path, hidden from plain sight.

The Cheese Traveler’s booth at The First Unitarian Universalist Society Nov 2011.

Being the Cheese Man’s Daughter


by Ava Champion

You may know that we are a combined family, originally Autumn living with my dad Eric, and me living with my mom Ali. Dad has been a cheese-kind-of-guy ever since I can remember, which is when I was five, when my Mom married my Dad.
From a very young age, cheese has been a part of my life, but for Autumn, my stepsister, she has been around it all her life. You would think being around it so much, you might get annoyed with it, and you guessed right.
I remember one time, Autumn and I were talking about how we wished we were normal. Now, mind you, we were around seven or eight, and normal doesn’t have a very good definition for little kids. Our idea of normal included: not eating healthy, not going organic, eating at McDonalds, and most of all, NOT EATING CHEESE. Now you can probably imagine how heart-breaking that must have been for my Dad. How could any kids of his not like cheese?
But it turns out, we at eight were the only ones who thought like that. My brother Terran loved and still loves cheese. I used to think that Terran only did that because he wanted to be like Dad, but now I realize that he genuinely likes cheese.
I once asked my Dad why cheese makes people so happy, I mean it smells! He responded by saying, “Cheese tastes great and it reminds people of their travels and trips. They have happy memories of cafes they went to in France, and restaurants they went to in Italy, so naturally, they want to remember.”
Now I can understand that to some degree. You see a cheese from France, you want to remember your honeymoon. (At least my parents do, having gone to Paris for theirs.) Or you see an Italian cheese, and you remember going there on a trip with your school. (Of course you want to remember that because you spent a lot of money to go!) But when I see people buying cheese, I don’t think everyone has been traveling before. Not everyone has the time.
I see people being engaged in conversations with my Dad, and they seem drawn to him. I don’t know what it is, and I am one of his daughters! But since people love talking to him, and he loves cheese, naturally people end up liking the cheese just because Dad does, and talks about it. He seems to draw people in with his own fascination with the cheese, and I think that is what makes people the most happy to see our cheese stand. Someone who is happy with their job is one big step towards happy customers. The next step is local, and then the third is the variety. All that alone seems to make people like cheese if it isn’t my Dad.
When I was younger, there was this book in our house called The Old Man Who Loved Cheese. Autumn would always ask my dad to read it to her, before I came into the picture, and boy did he hate it. In it, it talked about this guy who loved cheese, the stinkier the better, and everyone was overwhelmed by the smell. Eventually he gave up cheese altogether because it was pushing everyone away, which is not a great moral, because the man was giving up something that he really loved. Why my Dad hated that book, I can hazard a few guesses: because not all cheese is stinky, because the guy in the end gives up cheese, and because Autumn had him over-read it, but most likely because the cheese was ‘stinky.’ And although my Dad hated it, let me tell you, it is a well worn book in our house. That and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. The Stinky Cheese Man runs around the pages of the book like the Gingerbread Man, bragging about no one being able to catch him. In the end the fox tricks him and eats him up, which is very nice for the fox, and not so much for the Stinky Cheese Man. It’s pretty encouraging for the people who, like the fox, like to eat stinky cheese!


One day, after market, Dad asked Autumn and me which one was stinkier: Cheese or Fish. We both said FISH at the same time, automatically. You might think that because we live around cheese, we are immune to the smell and we should know better, having read all those stinky cheese books, but it seems that most people who come up to our booth are there originally because of the smell. Some people say they are just smelling all the cheese when I ask them if I can help them, and others say that they smelled it and wanted to see what it was. If cheese is so stinky, then why does the smell draw people over? It is not so much as stinky, as just a strong aroma. And even Autumn is not immune to the worst of the strong cheese. There are smelly cheeses. Just not all are.
Cheese is good, but my Dad selling it makes it even better. Autumn and I used to (and still do) like to brag about how our Dad started the cheese department at the Honest Weight Food Coop. People would look at us like we were all cute and little kid-ish, then turn to my Dad and ask, “Really?” It was almost as if they were praising him for how well it is going. Or it would be a ‘really’ as in ‘hmm, let me check out The Cheese Traveler. It must be good if this guy started it at the Coop.’ Those ones would and always will make my heart swell.

Ava Champion is a Junior at The Doane Stuart School and a novelist.

FUSSYlittleBLOG

Your regularly scheduled post will not be seen today. Instead I bring you some exciting breaking news. I suppose if you wanted to be technical about it, I broke the news on Sunday. But today I have all the details.

There are exciting things going at at Mingle restaurant on Delaware Avenue in Albany, or as popularized by slilly, in the DelSo. Yesterday I got an email from Jose at the restaurant. It seems like All Good Bakers has turned them on to local and sustainable produce, as now Mingle is getting theirs locally from the Honest Weight Food Co-op. And that’s big news on its own.

However with The Cheese Traveler moving in next door as well, the three DelSo taste makers have now collaborated on an appetizer special that is going on the menu today. It’s called The Flavors of DelSo Cheese Board, and it…

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