[July] Calling All Cheese LoversJul 1st, 2012 | By Lisa Goell Sinicki | Category: Flavor of the Month
Northeast FLAVOR is sponsoring the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, to be held Sunday, July 22 at the Coach Barn of Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont. There are so many reasons for us to sponsor this event: we want to support our local farmers and honor our artisan cheesemakers — cheeseartists, really. In addition to over 40 cheesemakers present at the festival, there will be seminars, demonstrations, wineries, brewers and artisan food producers. But the most important reason to sponsor the festival is the tasting. And because WE LOVE CHEESE!
We could make a strong argument that cheese is the most important food on the planet. It is incorporated into most world cultures as a staple and is a primary component of the most traditional foods. We put it on practically everything, from meat to bread to vegetables. Sometimes even on fruit. Cheeseburger, cheese fries, broccoli au gratin. What would Greek salad be without feta? Pizza without mozzarella? Caesar salad without parmesan? Even the simplest bar hors d’ oeuvres like nachos, potato skins and quesadillas rely on cheese as the finishing touch — the frosting on their cake — so to speak.
Even the word cheese is a happy word. Just saying it forces your cheeks into a wide and high smile. “Say Cheese,” we tell people when they pose for a picture.
Annual world production of cheese averages about three kilos per human being on the planet. It is a key economic staple in dairy producing states and countries — to the point that in the early 1900‘s Wisconsin had a law that every restaurant meal served in the state had to include two thirds of an ounce of cheese. There is even, according to a BBC World News video on YouTube, a bank in Italy that accepts giant wheels of Parmesan as security against loans.
I can only imagine the celebration that surrounded the discovery of cheese, which took place in Old Testament biblical times. Evidence of cheese making goes back to the early Assyrians, and there is even evidence that cheese making took place in ancient Egypt. “I’ve got a great idea,” said some enterprising traveler. In his hand, he waved an empty goat or sheep’s stomach; he had recognized this piece of offal’s potential to move beyond tripe and become an early version of a thermos.
The traveler poured some milk into the goat stomach, sealed it up with twine, and made his trek across the dessert. By the time he arrived at his destination, rennet, a complex of digestive enzymes that occurred naturally inside the goat stomach, had turned his milk to cheese curds.
“Damn it,” he probably said, upset that his milk had curdled. At first, the sour smell of the curds must have scared him. You couldn’t be too careful about deadly food-borne bacteria back in the pre–refrigeration age. After all, cheese is really spoiled milk — often with a bit of mold tossed in. But eventually hunger prevailed and he sampled, or tricked his unpopular cousin Jacob into sampling, the curds. Eureka! Creamy and smooth and just a little bite, plus can travel through the desert. A new source of protein and vitamin D, which was less perishable than fresh milk, was born.
After that came centuries of experimentation. There were milk types to try (goat, sheep, cow, water buffalo) processes to adapt, ingredients to add. Climate conditions — and the presence of distinct naturally occurring molds and bacteria — created unique regional results. I imagine the first blue cheeses were thrown out in horror, the way we rid ourselves of any green speck in our refrigerators or pantries today. But eventually someone dared to eat the moldy cheese — and Roquefort, stilton and Saga Blue were born. Now we even have cheese substitutes — so that even the lactose intolerant won’t have to go without.
In the past decade, American cheesemakers have mastered their craft well enough to place among the world’s cheese elite. And Vermont Cheesemakers are among our country’s finest.
If you share our enthusiasm for cheese, the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival is the event for you.
Hope we’ll see you there…