Edible Boston has an interesting profile of Rachel Dutton, Ben Wolfe and Julie Button and their ongoing quest to understand the microscopic ecosystems of cheese rinds (they’ve also now expanded their research into fermented, cured and otherwise preserved aged foods — they’ve even worked with David Chang to identify the microbial profiles of his kimchi’s). In the process, they have come to some pretty interesting (and potentially controversial) discoveries, regarding the notion of Terroir:
…according to the data that Dutton and her colleagues have generated—the typical aged cheese is home to anywhere from 5 to 20 unique microbes. If they are not put there deliberately by the cheesemaker, where do they come from? And—more importantly—what are they up to? These are exactly the sort of questions that the Dutton lab is attempting to elucidate.
With a comprehensive bank of cheese microorganisms on hand, the work of piecing apart the interactions among each is now possible. It’s time-consuming, given the numbers involved, but not complicated: you just mix and match the organisms in all possible combinations on an agar plate, and then observe what happens over time. (The bulk of the interactions work falls on the shoulders of Julie Button.) This fungus and that bacterium together produce a certain rosy-hued pigment, these two bacteria with the unmistakeable aroma of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Each data point can then be used to explain the appearance of these same phenomena out in the “real world” on the cheeses themselves.
One of first key discoveries the lab made was the fact that cheeses of the same style, no matter the origin, were remarkably similar to one another in terms of their microbiology. Not just similar, but nearly identical in many cases, with the same sets of species on each. “We thought maybe we would find completely different things in French cheeses than we did in the US cheeses,” Dutton told me. “Instead, what we are finding is that the way you make a cheese creates a specific environment, and then you get the microbes that are associated with that type of environment.”
These results upend the notion of terroir, the belief that the essential character of certain foods derives from their place of origin. The term was first used by the French to explain why grapes grown in a particular climate and soil type produce wines that taste a certain way, while the same vines transplanted to another region can yield a very different product.
The idea of terroir has long applied to cheesemaking as well. The notion that the character of a cheese is tied directly to the unique microbial makeup of the cave in which it is ripened is an old one. You might make a similar cheese elsewhere, but—lacking the precise mixture of microbes found only in that one cave—it’ll never be quite the same. Dutton’s results suggest otherwise.
The microbes found in cheese appear to be ubiquitous, rather than local. What’s important—at least as regards cheeses that derive much of their flavor from rind microbes—is not so much where you make the cheese, but rather how you make it. If you look closely you’ll find the same set of organisms on a blue cheese from England (Stichelton, for example) as on a blue from Vermont (like Jasper Hill’s Bailey Hazen Blue). As postdoc Ben Wolfe is fond of saying, “If you build it, they will come.”
Dutton and her colleagues admit that cheese terroir might still exist at the level of the individual strain rather than that of species or genus, as had been previously assumed.
But if so, that fact might present new commercial opportunities for United States cheesemakers. Almost to a one—largely for historical reasons—American cheeses are made using cultures isolated from and produced in Europe. If Dutton and her team identify strains of bacteria or fungi that are unique to North America, these could potentially serve as stock for locally produced cultures, freeing the American cheesemaking industry from its present reliance on European ones.
read the full article here.
(Photos ©2013 Edible Boston)
First growth of Mycodore on the new Tomme wheel. #cheesemaking (Via Cheese Notes’ Instagram).
Whipped Feta. Never tried it, but it sounds like a great idea. How Sweet It Is has the recipe:
You know where I actually think the thought came from? Crumbled feta is a pain. I mean, it’s a delicious pain, but it’s so, well, crumbly that if it’s inside a pita or on top of a pizza, it rolls right off. The crumbles crumble into even tinier crumbles. Even on a salad, it’s nearly impossible to stab each little chunk of feta with a fork and who is going to eat a salad with a spoon? Exactly.
Enter whipped feta.
Perhaps my favorite thing about this whole mess is that you can flavor it any way you like. With just these two ingredients, it tastes like… creamy feta. Mine did not need any additional seasoning, but you make the call. You could add roasted red peppers or a ton of herbs. You could even make this incredible dip into a whipped version, which is definitely at the top of my to-do list. You can add it to a salad or soup – heck, even spread it on pizza or use it like hummus. And the best part is that right after whipping? It’s sort of warm and super spreadable. But it’s just as great coming out of the fridge too.
Okay. What I’m really trying to say is that your Wednesday should be consumed by this activity. Whip your feta.
(Photo ©2013 www.howsweeteats.com)
Via modfarm, the Tumblr for a new quarterly dedicated to agriculture and food culture. (Looks like their offices are located just down the road from my hometown of Philmont too!):
Hey! Haaaaaay! Hello! Welcome! This is the inaugural post from the Tumblr of Modern Farmer, a new media company based in Hudson, NY. We’re a website, print quarterly and, eventually, an event series and online marketplace devoted to the people, issues, plants, animals and technology of farming and agriculture.
Why do we exist? There has been a movement afoot in recent years to make connections between what we eat, how we live and, frankly, how we can avoid trashing the planet. Food and farming buzzwords — food security, localism, urban farming, for instance — have entered the mainstream. People want to know where their food comes from and how they can grow it themselves. Modern Farmer recognizes the escalating importance, even urgency, of global agriculture issues. We want to raise awareness through excellent, independent journalism. (And the occasional animal picture.) We’ll provide tools and information for people who want to be more self-reliant, and celebrate those who are leading the way.
Modern Farmer is for window-herb growers, career farmers, people who have chickens, people who want to have chickens and anyone who wants to learn more about the new food culture. We’ll be posting behind-the-scenes images from our offices and previews of the kind of content you can expect from Modern Farmer.
Single Serving Homemade Yogurt sounds like a great idea. Tammy at the One Tomato Two Tomato blog shares her recipe:
Yogurt is a staple in my house where we make it by the half gallon. But constantly dipping a spoon in to the big container turns the yogurt into a slimy, runny mess. I’m encouraging my daughter to eat more yogurt, but one look in the tub yields an instant ‘No thanks, Mom.’ Enter, the single-serving yogurt jar. I had never tried making these before without a yogurt maker, but thanks to the arrival of a crockpot in our house, now was the time.
I mixed up a batch of yogurt like I usually do, using a bit of leftover yogurt and whole milk, but then pouring the mix into little jars. I left a little head space in each jar so I could toss in granola, muesli, fruit, nuts or jam later. Then the jars went into a water bath in my crockpot. I wrapped the crockpot in a fluffy towel and waited 6 hours. Into the refrigerator it went, and viola! Portable yogurt.
I used cute little 1/4 pint jelly jars for my 6 year old daughter, who can grab them for breakfast, lunch or a snack whenever she likes, and 1/2 pint jars for the adults. The individual containers are reusable and the yogurt stays fresh and firm for several weeks. Best of all, I used non-homogenized milk, creating a yummy cream top layer. We tore through our first half gallon in one week!
Get the recipe here!
(Photo ©2012 onetomato-twotomato.com)
The New York Times profiles Microbiologist Rachel Dutton, aka the scientist with one of the most interesting jobs out there:
For those who have made their way to her, Ms. Dutton is an exceptional find: a scientist who can explain arcane concepts in laymen’s terms, who dispenses her expertise pro bono, and who shares their fascination with good food.
Inside Harvard’s gleaming Northwest Science Building here, Ms. Dutton and two postdoctoral researchers, Benjamin Wolfe and Julie Button, have been culturing cheese samples for scientific scrutiny. In a large, open laboratory filled with beakers and centrifuges, the three work on isolating bacteria and fungi from cheese rinds, storing them in petri dishes in a modified refrigerator they call the cave.
Ms. Dutton, 32, started out as neither a cheesemaker nor a turophile (cheese lover). Her first love is science.
After finishing doctoral work on tuberculosis and E. coli, she began searching for a guinea pig to study the microcosmos. She needed a village of microbes that could help scientists understand how more-complex populations communicate and build microscopic societies that we macrobes depend upon. (After all, microbes take up residence in our homes, the soil, oceans and even within our guts, where they outnumber body cells nine to one and often prove essential to health.)
Her model organism had to be complex, but not so complex that it couldn’t be replicated in a lab. That’s when Ms. Dutton came across the cheese section in “On Food and Cooking,” and said to herself, “This is the community I have been looking for.”
In 2010, she began an ambitious five-year project to sequence, analyze and map the DNA of organisms found on 160 different cheese rinds from around the world. Viewed under a scanning electron microscope, these microbial villages can look very simple or highly diverse — as different as the ecology of Lincoln Center’s well-manicured lawn and that of the High Line before its flourishing weeds were tamed.
(Photo ©2012 New York Times)
This looks to be a really interesting event. Dr. Paul Kindstedt was one of my instructors during my four-day class at VIAC and is an engaging and entertaining public speaker, as well as being someone who really knows his cheese history. Needless to say, if you haven’t bought his book yet, get to it!
9000 Years of Cheese: Fermenting Religion, Climate Change, and the Environment
Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden, New York, NY (Map)
“9000 Years of Cheese: Fermenting Religion, Climate Change, and the Environment”
with Paul Kindstedt
Thursday, May 31, 2012 | Tickets
6:30 pm Check-in and reception | 7:00 pm Lecture
$25 CHNY and MVMH Members | $22 CHNY and MVMH Senior & Student Members | $40 Non-Members and Guests
Weaving together archeology, anthropology, linguistics, and geography, Paul Kindstedt’s new book, Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and its Place in Western Culture, shows how this extraordinary cultural comestible has influenced and enriched humankind. Paul’s lecture will focus on three factors that profoundly shaped the history of cheese: human spirituality, global climate change, and environmental degradation.
Cheese was part of the religious history of western civilization, starting in the Mesopotamian “cradle of civilization.” Yet climate changes and environmental degradation, already occurring in the 4th millennium BCE, pushed cheese making into new directions and set Europe on a track to become the cheese making powerhouse of the world. Cheese making’s rich and luscious history, from Neolithic cultures through ancient Rome, medieval Holland, and modern America, will be showcased in a reception featuring artisanal cheeses and cheese recipes.
Paul Kindstedt is a Professor of Food Science at the University of Vermont, and Co-Director of the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese. Author, with the Vermont Cheese Council, of American Farmstead Cheese (2005), he is a nationally recognized expert on dairy chemistry, cheese science, and cheese making.
Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden (Map)
417 East 61st Street (between 1st Avenue and York)
New York, New York 10065
Purchase tickets here.
The latest batch of Gowanish, at around 3 weeks. I used a slightly different recipe this time around, and included Aroma B Mesophilic in the starter mix. This did change the flavor — Aroma B is often used in the making of cream cheese, and the Gowanish did have a slightly cream-cheesy tang to it. I’m not sure if it was the Aroma B (it could be, because Aroma B produces CO2, which can give the cheese a fluffier texture) but the paste also had a scattering of air pockets, I wouldnt call them eyes exactly, which might also have been due to the curds being slightly harder than ideal at scooping time so that they didnt knit together perfectly in the molds.
Overall I was pleased with the flavor; the rind was a little saltier than I like but the paste was creamy and fudgy in texture, with a creamline that was soft and oozing, but not so liquid that it just spilled out as soon as the room temperature pyramid was cut open. This was also the first time using a new milk supplier from a farm in PA, and it was extremely fresh, bright and sweet out of the bottle, which definitely came through in the cheese.
In the next batch I’m going to pull back on the Penicillium Candidum somewhat, go for more of a 1/1 Geotrichum and Penicillium. I’ll also watch the curds more hawkishly to avoid over-coagulating in the vat.
Just recieved in the mail: My copy of Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and its place in Western Civilization by Dr. Paul Kindstedt, PhD Professor at UVM, co-director of VIAC and author of the required-reading American Farmstead Cheese, which includes a chapter on the history of cheese from which this book was expanded.
Looking forward to digging in. You can hear Dr Kindstedt discussing the book on Cutting The Curd Episode 90.
A fresh batch of Mesophilic Mother Culture, the first step in the cheesemaking process. A few ounces will be used in my next make; the rest will be frozen in an ice cube tray and stored for future use.
Mesophilic Starter purchased at New England Cheesemaking Supply.