Thursday, September 30, 2010

Guess the Cheese - Answers

I was so busy ranting about salt and cheese I forgot to post the answers to 'Guess the Cheese'. There is still time to play – resist looking at the answers below and click the link to the ‘Guess the Cheese’ post to your right.


a) “Sapphire Cheese” = Fromage d'Affinois. Apparently d’Affinois sounds like ‘Sapphire’ (?)

b) “Columbian Cheese” = Coulommiers – pronounced ‘cool-om-yay’, which sounds a bit like ‘Columbia’. Kind of…if you squint…

c) “The cheese name sounded like ‘ravioli’” = Robiola – a small, usually geo-rinded cow/goat and/or sheep cheese from Piedmont. Generally not available in Australia, so I recommended Brunet or La Tur

d) “The gorgonzola with mushrooms in it” = Cacio di Bosco – the truffle pecorino. This one stumped me for a while, but a few questions revealed that the customer had confused ‘Pecorino’ with ‘Gorgonzola’, and truffles with mushrooms

e) “That blue cheese from Darwin” = Tarwin Blue, from Berry’s Creek Cheesery. Sounds very much like ‘Darwin’

This just highlights the trouble people have with unusual names cheeses – I guess it can be pretty intimidating to come in and shop for things you can’t pronounce. Cheese buyers take note – just try your best, the person behind the counter should be able to work it out given enough clues!

Cheese retailers – feel free to submit your own challenges for the next round of ‘Guess that Cheese’.

Stay tuned next Post for 'A Tale of Two Cheeses'.

The Savoury Details – Salt and Cheese

NB:  For the purpose of this blog, I refer mostly to ‘Sodium’, as opposed to ‘Salt’, as Sodium is the standard for nutritional information panels, but it is really important to note that Sodium does not equal Salt. Salt is a compound – Sodium + Choloride, so if you want to calculate the level of actual salt in your food, you need to multiply the Sodium number by 2.5. Sodium is the element that is bad for our health in large doses – that is why it features on nutrition panels (probably also because it is a lower number than ‘Salt’, making the product look healthier).

I hear an increasing number of my customers complain that their doctor told them that they can’t eat any cheese now because they have to follow a low salt diet. While it is true that some cheeses are high in salt, there are definitely delicious, lower-salt cheese options out there.

Salt plays an integral role in cheese making by controlling microbial action and acting as a preservative and flavour enhancer. But the rules aren’t the same for all cheeses – some styles contain more salt than others – for example: Cheddar, some Blue cheeses and also Parmigiano – which spends 3 weeks bobbing around in a tank of brine before being matured. Some cheeses contain much lower levels of salt, such as fresh styles and some gruyeres.

AWASH (The Australian Division of World Action on Salt & Health, suggests the following 3 categories for identifying low/high salt foods:

Less than 120mg Sodium per 100g = ‘low in salt’ (as per current FSANZ standards)
120 to 600mg Sodium per 100g = ‘medium’
More than 600mg Sodium per 100g = ‘high in salt’

The nerd in me has enjoyed creating this table of Sodium levels in popular cheeses available from most good cheese shops:

mg of Sodium per 100g of cheese:

  • Meredith Plain Chevre  300mg *
  • Comte  335mg **
  • Woodside Goat Fetta  336mg *
  • Berry's Creek Tarwin Blue  440mg *
  • Parmigiano Reggiano  650mg #
  • Barossa Valley Camembert  650mg *
  • Yarra Valley Persian Fetta  880mg *
  • Quickes Cheddar  750mg *
  • Cropwell Bishop Stilton  900mg **
  • Roquefort  1760mg **
*    product packaging   
**  Information supplied by importer   
#    Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium website

As you can see – some really tasty cheeses fit comfortably into the ‘medium’ category. The recommendation for Australians with high blood pressure or an existing cardiovascular disease is a daily Salt intake of 4 grams per day or less if possible, equivalent to 1600mg of Sodium (4g divided by 2.5).

So – if you were to have an individual cheese plate with 30g each of Meredith Chevre, Comté and Tarwin Blue, you would only be consuming around 320mg of Sodium, or 800mg of salt – only 20% of your ‘daily salt allowance’.

OK – so probably not something you would ‘splurge’ on everyday, but this definitely isn’t out of the question if you are watching your salt levels.

If you need some comic relief after reading this slightly dry post, you can check out some of my favourite cheese humour by Mitchell & Webb on YouTube (language warning):

Thanks to Elizabeth from AWASH and Tania from Say Cheese Wholesale in Adelaide for helping me out with this post.

Friday, September 17, 2010

'Guess the Cheese' - a game everyone can play

One of the most common games for people behind cheese-counters to play is ‘guess the cheese’. This involves our customer giving us some vague clues about a cheese they really liked, but forgot the name of – then we try to figure which cheese they are talking about.

Here are a couple of cryptic clues I have had from customers in the last few weeks. I thought I would share them with you so you could play along…the answers will be in my next blog, so stay tuned.

a) “Sapphire Cheese”
b) “Columbian Cheese”
c) “The cheese name sounded like ‘ravioli’”
d) “The gorgonzola with mushrooms in it”
e) “That blue cheese from Darwin”

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

An Introduction

Welcome to ‘Close to the Wedge’ – a cheese blog that I hope will be interesting and useful for people who sell cheese, write about it and who just really enjoy every aspect of it. Rather than write a ‘cheese of the week’-style blog, I really wanted to write about the topics I spend time investigating in the course of my job, such as animal rennet vs non-animal rennet, cheese and wine matching, affinage, plus reports from my visits to cheese-makers around the traps.

When I tell people I am a fromager, I am usually met by a blank look and then the question: ‘a what?’ The role of a fromager is often over-simplified as one who sells cheese, but it encompasses much more than that – including an understanding of the origins of cheese and the cheese making process, the impact of the seasons, different styles of cheese made from different milk types (cow, goat, buffalo etc), how cheeses are matured, how to match cheeses with accompaniments and beverages, and how to best store and present cheese just to name a few aspects.

While there isn’t really a ‘Fromager Degree’, there are a lot of training options for anyone keen to enter the industry. Over the years I have completed a Cheese Sensory Analysis Course, (which permits me to judge at the Sydney Royal Cheese Show each year), I have spent time visiting and working with Aussie cheesemakers, I have done some training and work experience in France (see post below), and also completed the UK Cheese Guild Cheese Diploma. Plus of course, hours and hours of selling cheese in various shops around Sydney (currently at the beautiful Formaggi Ocello in Surry Hills).

Luckily for me, I LOVE my job, so any ‘study’ never really feels like work, just fun. So, on that note, I hope you will enjoy reading my blog as much I love researching and writing it. Please feel free to leave comments or questions for me.

Cheesey times in Italy and France

Almost exactly one year ago, I travelled to Italy to visit the Cheese festival in Bra, and then continued on into France to work with renowned affineur and fromager Hervé Mons, where I learned the finer points of affinage (maturing cheese) and cheese retailing. While working for Mons was absolutely backbreaking and exhausting, it was a 'cheese dream come true' experience - Hervé is amazing, like a cheese-whisperer. People are always asking me about the trip, and to see some pics – so here are my highlights in a series of photos:

Tasting plate at Obika Mozzarell Bar in Turin
Bra. Children dressed as cheeses for a play

Bra. Children dressed as cheese for a play.

Bra. Cheese display in the Market, no refrigeration here folks.
Bra. Cheese display at Market. A Customs nightmare - ferns and hay everywhere!
Bitto 'from the Valley' - a cheese with amazing maturing potential.
Bra. Display of cheese hoop and cheese cloth.
Bra. Some really dry cheeses from Southern France that looked a bit like lumps of dirt. I bought one and ate it - it was very dry, and quite tangy. The rind was almost inedible.
Mary Quicke posing with her eponymous cheddar. The Quicke family have been working their farm for over 450 years - what a tradition!
Bra. Hard at work during a Comte and Champagne masterclass (class translated into English on headphones).
With Beppino Occelli - the maker of Testun Al Barolo cheese, the one covered with grapes. My good cheesey friend, Sonia Cousins in the red.

France. The entry to Herve's famous affinage tunnel. An old railway tunnel under a hill converted to a cheese maturation facility. Over 100 metres long with tonnes of cheese inside.
Me working in the tunnel on some tomme cheeses. So exhausted by end of day.
Having a rest on my 'Comte Gruyere' seat.
Working with the raw-milk, cave-matured St Nectaire. It is matured on beds of straw.
Working hard in the Mons retail store selling raw-milk Morbier. (yes, I know what you are saying - I escape my daily job of working in a cheese shop, only to go on holidays and work in another cheese shop - can't help doing what you love!)
With the famous M. Mons himself - striking a pose next to 'his heart' (ie, favourite cheese), Salers. A very ancient cheese produced in the moutains of Auvergne region.
Salers cows being milked to make Salers cheese on a small Auvergne farm. The milking and cheesemaking process is very involved and labour-intensive.
UK. Checking out the Neal's Yard Dairy maturation facility.