Friday, September 27, 2013

A to Z of Cheese

Hi All,

In case you missed it, here’s a photo of an article that I wrote for the Daily Express this week. You can find a more readable image here, or you can head over to the Express site.

My A to Z of cheese

Here are a couple of extra letters that didn't make the final cut:

C is for Casein
Casein makes up most of the protein in milk - it’s usually soluble, and its form is a little like tiny balls of wool. The cheesemaking process starts with the unwinding of these balls or cutting them and reforming them into a big web, often with Rennet. This is the curd part of the curds and whey, once the whey has been strained off, you have a cheese – although you might want to take it to the Affineur before tasting it.

T is for Terroir
A French term used to represent everything that makes a product made from that area unique. It’s a combination of geology, geography, local climate, animals and plant life.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The anatomy of a cheese label

In the last post I wrote about a piece of Taleggio that I had bought from the supermarket. It struck me later that it might be interesting to talk a little bit about the packaging of this cheese and the process of judging a cheese by its cover.

I’ve included a picture of the wrapper below and will talk through what I consider to be the important bits.

Label from the cheese that I picked up

(a) Here we have the name of the cheese and its origin, but the interesting bit is the “DOP”. This stands for ‘Denominazione di Origine Protetta’, which translates to ‘Protection Designation of Origin’ (PDO) for British produce and ‘Appellation d'Origine ProtegĂ©e’ (AOP) for French produce.

This label is proof that the product conforms to, and is protected by, European legislation that ensures that the cheese was not only made in the area from which the cheese was originally produced but crucially was made using methods considered essential to the giving the cheese its unique character. This is the same legislation that requires Champagne to have been made in a very specific part of France according to a well-defined method.

Cheddar isn’t protected in this way and can therefore be made anywhere in the world (although West Country Farmhouse Cheddar PDO is now protected).

The presence of this label doesn’t guarantee the highest quality but it does set a minimum standard that the cheese must have attained and is therefore generally considered to be a good representation of that cheese.

(b) This is the DOP label that demonstrates that the product conforms to the requirements for this type of cheese.

(c) This is the stamp of approval from the ‘Consorzio Tutela Taleggio’ (CTT) – the consortium for the protection of Taleggio – which was set up by the makers and maturers of the cheese to help create the case for the geographical protection of Taleggio .

This precise label is specific to Taleggio but other cheeses may have their own labelling for their own unions.

(d) This is the identification mark. It’s an identifier for the establishment which produced and packaged the cheese or other consumable. This helps to maintain a degree of traceability despite the branding and packaging of the retailer. With a little internet research, these can also be used to find the producers of supermarket ‘own brands’.

‘IT’ is the country code (in this case Italy), and will be found at the top, ‘CE’ stands for European Community (note that this changes with the country according to their language) and will be at the bottom. In the middle is the national approval number for the processing facility.

A quick google of “IT 03/048 Taleggio” brings up a number of sites that link the number to Emilio Mauri S.p.A., a well-known exporter of Taleggio. You can then review that website to find out more about how the cheese was made.

(e) A standard safety warning for this kind of cheese – note that it doesn’t say unpasteurised milk, implying that the milk is pasteurised. If it was unpasteurised then this would have to be marked on the label.

(f) I quite liked this little snippet of advice.

The use by date was stuck to the wrapper as a separate sticker – with a soft cheese like this; I personally would ignore what the use by date says and pick the softest feeling piece of cheese. You’ll probably find that this is the one with the shortest use by date though.

Also note the absence of a ‘Suitable for vegetarians’ label, which implies the use of animal based rennet – a very common in the production of traditional cheeses such as this one.

I’m not going to discuss the nutritional information in this post – I’m no dietician after all. Let’s just say we should try to enjoy cheese, as everything else, in moderation.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Taleggio (from Sainsbury's)

I was in the big Sainsburys on Clapham high street looking for important household goods (elderflower cordial and silver polish) and wandered over to the cheese isle. It turns out that even supermarket cheeses have a strange gravitational effect over me – let’s call it professional curiosity.

I was actually pretty surprised to find an intriguingly diverse display of European cheeses in the “Taste the Difference” range. Readers of this blog will know that I have previously advised against buying cheese from supermarkets but something about the Taleggio called to me. It was a cheese that I enjoyed selling in the shop in France and often would bring a hunk home with me. I think as well, that this was the first time that I had seen the cheese on sale in the UK.

Soft centred and pale - clearly more liquid just under the rind

Taleggio is an northern Italian cow’s milk cheese, named after the valley in Lombardy of the same name. It’s notable for its square shape and wrinkled terracotta rind; its pale centre starts almost chalky but with ageing softens and turns almost liquid under the rind. The rind, when really pushed in age darkens, even taking on a brown/black colour in some areas.

The taste is somewhere between mild and strong depending on whether you eat the rind, it’s kind of confusing on the palate. The rich creaminess of the centre is cut through by the bitterness that the rind imparts, leaving the mouth salivating and eager for more. When aged, the rind turns quite granular, almost sandy and for many, will be left on the side of the plate, although once grilled, becomes brilliantly crispy – ideal for cheese on toast and pizzas.

Rind was quite pale, showing relatively little development

So how does the Sainsbury’s Taleggio fare?
Actually it’s surprisingly good. I was concerned about how long it had been cut, pre-wrapped and left in the fridge – looking at the range of sell by dates they had, I’m guessing potentially 2 or 3 weeks – but it didn’t taste too flat.

The cheese was ripe enough (it’s a good idea to pick the one nearest the sell-by date if there really isn’t any other way to pick between bits) but the rind really hadn’t developed and was rather anaemic looking. That carried through into the flavour which I found to be a bit lacking, I missed some of the more complex hay and meat notes that I was used to with our product in France.

Crucially, did it make a good cheese on toast? Again, definitely passable and made a nice change from cheddar.

The Taleggio performed respectably under the grill
All things considered, I was pleasantly surprised, certainly a step in the right direction and a sensible starting point for those without access to cheese shops and markets.

Friday, September 13, 2013

On the radio

It’s fair to say that things have been a little hectic over the last couple of weeks. I’m pretty much unpacked and settled into London and of course, the book is now published (I’ve seen it in shops and everything). So I’m officially an author. Blimey.

Live from London

The publicity side of things has been a whole new world of weird for me but has been good fun – lots of interviews, presentations and signing of books. I actually spent most of yesterday in a BBC sound studio recording for local radio shows across the country. It turned out that the next person to use the booth I was in was the awesome Bill Bailey. There was just enough time for a quick photo before I was forced out of the building by the enormous entourage of some singer that I confess to never having heard of.

Hats off to the badgers

So what to do to calm down after the 15 minutes of fame? Fortunately there was a very fine hunk of Roquefort in the fridge that I’d picked up from the Mons stall at Borough Market. Tasting that creamy, melt in the mouth woolliness, cut with through with mildly metallic blue notes took me right back to visiting Roquefort this summer, and reminded me that I have several thousand photos that I really ought to start sorting through...