Julia from Mannheim asked Emilie in England some probing questions.
How do I recognize what a quality cheese looks like? Smell, colour?
That’s a difficult question as each cheese has its own taste profile so you will look for different smell, flavour, appearance and texture characteristics for each cheese. But for all cheeses, you want to avoid the same default such as unwanted moulds or yeasts which can give strange colours (green, blue, bright yellow or black). You don’t want the cheese to be too salty or bitter and you don’t want an aroma such as ammonia. A high-quality cheese will allow you to find a delicate balance within its aroma and flavour and brings you the sensation that you want more.
Are there cheese tastings? If so, what do you eat and drink with the cheese to enhance it?
Yes, there are lots of cheese tastings. If you do a cheese tasting just to identify the quality or taste profile of several kinds of cheese, you will only drink water. As the objective If to clear your mouth from any remaining flavour before tasting another cheese, you will as well eat a piece of apple or grape. Having said that, if you do a cheese tasting for the pleasure, most of the time, it will be organised as a cheese and wine evening. In this case, you can almost find a different wine for each cheese and of course, don’t forget the biscuits or the bread.
How many different types of cheese are there – is there some kind of cheese register?
Keeping in mind that only France itself is called the country of 1,000 cheeses, there are a lot of different cheeses in the world and new ones are developed every year. I am not sure that there is a register which will be a full list of existing cheeses, but you can find lots of books giving you the list of the most well-known cheeses, the PDO cheeses (Protected Designation of Origin) or a list of cheeses by big categories (hard cheeses / soft cheeses / fresh cheeses/cow’s milk cheeses/sheep’s milk cheeses/goat’s milk cheeses/ buffalo’s milk cheeses…)
Which nationality prefers which cheese? (Which French region prefers which cheese?)
I can mainly talk about France and the United Kingdom. In France, you can almost identify the preferred cheeses by looking at which cheeses are manufactured in the area. Normandy, Britany, and North are keen on soft cheeses, Mountain areas, you will find more hard cheeses and in the Pyrenees, most hard cheeses made from sheep’s milk. In the centre & west of France, they love goat’s milk cheeses and in Bourgogne, you will find a lot of cheeses which have been infused with alcohol. In the UK, people are quite adventurous and because the main cheese here is the cheddar, they will be happy to try a lot of different cheese wherever you go in the country.
How do you find a good cheese producer?
When we look for a new partner/cheese manufacturer, we look for a family company that has a passion for its products and which will not just sell cheeses but also, love, history and quality. We also want to work with companies that work closely with farmers.
Cow, Sheep and Goat are there other animals?
These are the 3 main species, but you can also make cheese with buffalo’s milk (Mozzarella)
Can you make synthetic cheese – not from animal milk? (What do Vegans do when it comes to cheese?)
You find on the market more and more vegan “cheeses” mainly, they are manufactured to try to be close in taste to cheeses such as cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan or feta. They are plant-based products made mainly using coconut oil, modified potato starch, oat fibre, maize starch.
What is the most exotic / most expensive cheese, if it exists?
In France, I will say that it is a mountain hard cheese called Beaufort.
What is the optimum temperature for cheese? Do different cheeses have different optimum temperatures?
The optimum temperature for cheese is important during the maturation stage of the production process. It can go from 10 degrees to 20 degrees depending on the cheese and sometimes changes during the maturation process. After that, when cheeses are packed, they are all stored at refrigerated temperature. For a soft and hard cheese, we also recommend taking them out of the fridge between 30 minutes to 1 hour before eating them to enhance their flavours.
When was cheese first produced? What is the history of cheese?
From my knowledge, no one really knows who made the first cheese, but some historian found traces of cheese beginning more than 7,000 years ago. Having said that, all traditional cheeses, especially those which have a Protective Designation of Origin have their own history.
What is it that makes cheese “stink”?
Most of the time, it comes from the type of starter cultures (yeast and moulds) used in the milk which helps to develop a specific aroma and flavour. It can be also linked to specific steps during the production process such as rind washing.
Can you really tell the difference in cheese if the animal eats good grass or excellent grass, or is it from Normandy, Bourgogne, or Bretagne?
Telling the difference linked to the type of food given to the cows is possible but especially between cows eating outside fresh grass and cows being inside eating fermented food. You can also see the difference between winter milk and summer milk because the grass is richer during summer and contains flowers. You will also have differences between mountain milk and valley one. After this, it becomes difficult to make difference between French areas for example but more because you cannot compare similar cheeses to anything else. You could do the difference between some Normandy butter and British ones.
What does it require to become a cheese producer? What is the training required?
You have some great schools to become a cheesemaker, but I will say that the best way to become a good cheesemaker is, on top of patience and passion, spending time with someone who manufactures cheeses for a long time. There is nothing better than learning from someone who has the experience and the knowledge and can show you how the milk can react differently according to the season, the weather or other small parameters.
How do you make cheese? What are the steps?
Each type of cheeses has its own production process but the main steps are: receive the milk on site, adjust the quantity of fat if needed, pasteurise the milk if needed, add some starter cultures and then leave the time for the starter to do their action during the fermentation. You will then add some rennet or coagulant in order to obtain some curd and get rid of the whey. When the curd has the right consistency, you will do the moulding. Some cheeses can then be pressed. The following step will be the draining and the acidification of the cheese before the salting (dry salting or in brine). After this, the cheese will mature before being sometimes cut and packed to be ready to be dispatched.
How can you learn about cheese?
The best way to learn about cheese is going to visit some sites when you are on holiday but otherwise, you have lots of books giving the stories and characteristics of the main cheeses or even the internet.