Mac-N-Cheese, Cheese Traveler-Style

Mac-n-Cheese? Yeah we do that. On February 20, 2016, the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York held it’s 7th Annual Mac-N-Cheese Bowl competition. The Cheese Traveler, sandwiched in between 30 stations of Hudson Valley cheese-y competitors, served up four-cheese enrobed caserecci pasta curls topped with apple-jack, red wine, and goat horn pepper-braised lamb and garnished with preserved lemon gremolata. Representing The Cheese Traveler, Cheesemonger Ryan Skrabalak and his assistants Morgan and Marina assembled gorgeous little “bowls” of the finest pasta and cheese we could offer.

Around the Siena College Marcelle Athletic Complex basketball court, 2,500 mac-n-cheese enthusiasts wandered through mac-n-cheese laden tables dodging around makeshift lines, elbow to elbow, brandishing muffin pans filled with two ounce “bowls” of the day’s competing mac-n-cheese entries. Since it was the seventh annual Mac-N-Cheese Bowl, many of these folks knew the ropes from previous years, and they brought their own muffin pans to line up, evaluate, and rank the pasta bowls.

At our station, smack-dab in the center of the court, people lined up from midcourt to the sidelines and down the aisle to the far corner. Hundreds of people pushed forward to the table at all sides, hoping to steal a chance to get some of the fast-dwindling supply of caserecci curls. Some waited in line a second or third time for another two-ounce portion. It was heated. It was flying. And it was totally crazy in there.

Our supply ran dry at 12:55 p.m. with over an hour and a half more of the event to go. Did we bring enough to spare? Probably not. We brought eleven pounds of Hessian Hill local, grass-fed lamb shoulder and leg (retailing between $12.95 and $14.95 a pound), over thirteen pounds of bronze-dye cut, fresh-water pasta, hand made by the Masciarelli Pastificio (pasta house), the oldest and smallest pasta producer in Abruzzo, Italy (retails $9.95 a 1.1 lb. package), and a four-cheese medley of Pecorino Fiore Sardo ($23.50 lb.), Tomme Chebris ($24.50 lb.), Edelweiss Havarti ($9.95 lb.), and Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar (donated by Cabot). With the crowd hopping and the mac-n-cheese bowls flying, we could barely keep up with the demand.

If you missed out on this year’s action, you can still try our delicious cheeses and prepared foods. Come out to the 8th Annual Mac-N-Cheese Bowl, or better yet, stop in at 540 Delaware Avenue during business hours. See you soon!


Left to Right: Marina, Ryan, and Morgan Skrabalak


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

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.

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.

Thanksgiving hours

Oh the snow! Already frosty windows, icicles, and breezy winds. Come in and warm up with hot cider while shopping.

Extended Holiday Hours

Monday 11/25 10-7
Tuesday 11/26 10-7
Wednesday 11/27 10-6
Thursday – closed for the holiday
Friday 11/29 11-7

Holiday Cheese SpecialsCelebrate Classic French Cheeses

Coronne de Touraine – $14.95 each , sale $13.95 each
Tome d-Aquitaine – $33.95 lb. , sale $28.95 lb.
Saintalin – $28.95 lb. , sale $25.95 lb.
Fourme aux Moelleaux – $29.95 , sale 27.50 lb.

Holiday Cheese Platters

You can still order Thanksgiving cheese platters (great for keeping everyone fed while the feast is being prepared). Give us a call 518-443-0440 or stop in. — at The Cheese Traveler. Fresh Bonfiglio bread with every order.

ImageBonfiglio Baguettes


Washington County Cheese Tour This Weekend

This weekend, Washington County cheese makers will host the annual Cheese Tour on Saturday and Sunday, September 7-8 from 10 AM to 4 PM. Come sample fine cheeses in a bucolic setting, see the animals, and view the farms and countryside.

Washington County is home to some of New York and Vermont’s finest farmstead and artisan cheese makers in the country. Washington County bridges the rolling countryside between Eastern New York and Vermont, and each year, the cheese makers open their farms to visitors for a driving or 21 – mile cycling weekend tour.

Washington County sheep crossing sign close to 3 - Corner Field Farm

Washington County sheep crossing sign close to 3 – Corner Field Farm

Charming country pastures and six pristine farms are the perfect place to sample local sheep, goat, and cow’s milk cheeses. Washington County offers all the variety of traditional cheese making culture from yogurt, to young, soft, and bloomy-rind cheese, to natural aged, washed-rind, and blues.  Moreover, some of the cheeses have taken national awards at the American Cheese Society’s annual competition, placing first, second, or third in their category out of over 1,800 cheeses.

3-Corner Field Farm

3-Corner Field Farm

Among the farms to host the tour are:

1 – Argyle Cheese Farmer
2 – 3-Corner Field Farm
3 – Consider Bardwell Farm
4 – Homestead Artisans at Longview Farm
5 – Sweet Spring Farm
6 – Sugarloaf Farm

Washington County New York Cows relaxing on a sunny day at late morning.

Washington County New York Cows relaxing on a sunny day at late morning.

Last year, The Cheese Traveler visited the two farms Consider Bardwell Farm and Sweet Spring Farm, and this year, we are a sponsor for the Cheese Tour. You can read about our trip last year in “Weekend Adventures of The Cheese Traveler.” We are very excited to support our local cheese makers. This week in the store, you can enjoy a 10% discount on Washington County cheeses including 3 – Corner Field Farm yogurt, Brebis Blanche, Shushan Snow, Battenkill Brebis, Frere Fumant, and Consider Bardwell Farm Manchester, Dorset, Rupert, and Pawlett. Come in for a preview!

Frere Fumant from 3-Corner Field Farm

Frere Fumant from 3-Corner Field Farm

Jeff Bowers of Sweet Spring Farm

Jeff Bowers of Sweet Spring Farm

Gouda from Longview Farm

Gouda from Longview Farm

Manchester and Cheese List from Consider Bardwell

Manchester and Cheese List from Consider Bardwell

You can access this year’s Cheese Tour Brochure at this link: 2013 Washington County Cheese Tour.

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.

Dairying and Cheese Erotica

by Alifair Skebe

In celebration of National Dairy Month, cheese will “bare it all.” Warning: explicit cheese photos in this post.

To begin, the ancients knew about large-scale dairying. Look at the cows “leaving” their “huts,” as described in the caption (zoom in for readability):

Image from Antiquity of Dairying

Image from “Antiquity of Dairying”

The circular-shaped shafts look like they could be attached to an udder or two, no? And curiously, the cows are lined up in rows, very similar to the way they are in dairy factories today. That’s also a longhouse “hut” of the Northern European variety. Today’s small milking factories are built with a similar longhouse shape.

American Dairy Month was established to bring attention to the needs of the dairy industry, namely to deal with a surplus of milk supply (read about it in our post here). Long ago, cheese makers found a use for excess milk: to turn it into a delicious, nutritious, shelf-stable product that could last through the seasons.

As they turned their milk into “curds and whey” by adding culture and rennet, the curds were made into cheese and the whey was fed to the kids, the pigs, and the dogs. In the 18th Century, whey was a favored morning drink much like coffee or tea. Nutritionally, whey provides a heap of protein, minerals, and vitamins potassium and B-2. Some of our local cheese makers feed whey to their pigs as a superior nutritional supplement to avoid fattening them on grain.

Medieval Cheese Making 1

Medieval Cheese Making 2Medieval Cheese Making 3

Those are some happy medieval dogs! As the cheese sits in the mold as pictured above, more whey will drain out over several days before the wheels will be moved to long-term aging. See how the dogs featured in the pictures lap up the various streams of whey draining on either sides of the cheese? There’s so much there, they don’t even have to fight over it!

Cream can also be siphoned off the whey and get churned into a delicious butter, such as the Italian “Burro” that The Cheese Traveler carries in the shop. Made from the cream of named-controlled Parmigiano Reggiano milk/whey, Burro is a distinctive sweet cream butter that hints at the dense flavor of the aged cheese.

Medieval Maven Making Butter

Medieval Maven Making Butter

At The Cheese Traveler, we cheesemongers spend much of our time undressing, unwrapping, tasting, and rewrapping wheels of cheese to make certain that the cheese is as delicious when it gets to the customer as when it leaves the cave and the farm. Thus as we celebrate dairy, we also celebrate the erotic nature of cheese, the dressing and tasting and redressing. Our beloved milk has given to us the ability to make and enjoy cheese, the foundation of our passion. Thus, we offer you a little Swiss aged mountain cheese erotica with Eric, the Cheese Traveler, and Nicolette, cheesemonger and collage artist:

Planing a morsel of cheese. Perfect for tasting.

Planing a morsel of cheese. Perfect for tasting.

Loving the Unterwasser

Loving the Unterwasser

Undressing Hebleumann


Planing Hebleumann




Behind closed doors, we jokingly refer to these photos as “cheese porn.” Come in to get yours. The cheesemongers will be delighted to taste along with you.

The Simple Meal Is a-Plenty

by Alifair Skebe

What do the Quebequoise poutine, chili cheese fries, and Albany’s Bomber’s “piggy fries” have in common?

Each boasts a gravy, a meat, and a cheese drenched over french-fried potatoes. Reach a fork into the mix to pull out a potato and a string of cheese clinging to the plate. The softened potato naturally pairs with a hot melted cheese and meat sauce. This is the beauty of such a meal. It’s so simple yet offers the flexibility of a variety of ingredients in each category. Which gravy? which meat? and which cheese?

The Quebequois have made an art of creating satisfying answers to these questions. Poutine is a national dish originating in the Quebec province of Chicoutimi in the 19th Century. And yes, Quebec takes the invention very seriously. There is an entire website devoted to the poutine: check out Poutineries can be found in every province with long menus of multiple combinations of cheese, meat, and gravy that comprise the dish, and fine restaurants feature their own exquisite variations. Eric and I discovered the wonders of the poutine in May 2010 in Montreal while looking for after-hours eats. We wandered into La Banquise to find what some consider the best poutinerie or the most “overrated” in Montreal. Suffice to say, we were hooked!

Montreal's Poutinerie La Banquise

Montreal’s Poutinerie La Banquise

Back in Albany, only four hours away from Montreal, the closest pub snack we could find to the poutine was Bomber’s “Piggy Fries,” which is a load of pulled pork, BBQ sauce and melted cheddar cheese over french fried potatoes. When Capital City Gastropub opened in our neighborhood, we were stunned by and quite happy with its “finer” version of the poutine drenched in duck gravy. Now the Gastropub features a number of poutines: one with mushrooms and another with foie gras! Check out their fall menu here.

Of course, we also like to make poutine fresh at home with our choice of yummy cheese and potatoes.

We at The Cheese Traveler have created a close second to the poutine: boiled and baked potatoes to cut down on the artery-clogging shot of cheese-meat-gravy and fried carcinogen.

So here ’tis:

Adirondack Blue Potatoes sprinkled in Challerhocker and a pat of Butter.

Challerhocker (which lingers around the cheese cave) is a flavorful addition to these boiled and baked potatoes.

Challerhocker (which translates as “one who lingers around the cheese cave”) is a flavorful addition to these boiled and baked potatoes.


10 small heritage Adirondack blue potatoes (thank you Farmer Jon and DJ Stacey!)
1 small onion
1/2 cup fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup Challerhocker grated (or substitute any one of our good-melting Alpine cheeses)
A pat of butter
Salt and pepper to taste


Boil potatoes in salt. When soft, drain the potato broth to be used in any number of other dishes as a starchy stock for soups.

Mixing up the ingredients.

Mixing up the ingredients.

Place boiled potatoes on a flat baking pan or a big steel bowl as shown here. Mix them with other ingredients.

Putting the potatoes in the oven to melt the cheese...also making toasts from All Good Bakers rye bread. Very yummy together!

Putting the potatoes in the oven to melt the cheese…also making toasts from All Good Bakers rye bread. Very yummy together!

Bake for thirty minutes in a 350 degree oven or until all cheese is beautifully melted over the potatoes. Feel free to turn them once or twice to keep the potatoes coated in butter and cheese.

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.