Tag Archives: types of cheeses

More from Bob Brown’s: The Complete Book of Cheese

Since my last post was about the 1955 book by Bob Brown, “The Complete book on Cheese,” I thought I would include today the American cheeses, or what Bob referred to as “Native American.”

Native Americans

American Cheddars

The first American Cheddar was made soon after 1620 around Plymouth by Pilgrim fathers who brought along not only cheese from the homeland but a live cow to continue the supply. Proof of our ability to manufacture Cheddar of our own lies in the fact that by 1790 we were exporting it back to England.

It was called Cheddar after the English original named for the village of Cheddar near Bristol. More than a century ago it made a new name for itself, Herkimer County cheese, from the section of New York State where it was first made best. Herkimer still equals its several distinguished competitors, Coon, Colorado Blackie, California Jack, Pineapple, Sage, Vermont Colby and Wisconsin Longhorn.

The English called our imitation Yankee, or American, Cheddar, while here at home it was popularly known as yellow or store cheese from its prominent position in every country store; also apple-pie cheese because of its affinity for the all-American dessert.

The first Cheddar factory was founded by Jesse Williams in Rome, New York, just over a century ago and, with Herkimer County Cheddar already widely known, this established “New York” as the preferred “store-boughten” cheese.

An account of New York’s cheese business in the pioneer Wooden Nutmeg Era is found in Ernest Elmo Calkins’ interesting book, They Broke the Prairies. A Yankee named Silvanus Ferris, “the most successful dairyman of Herkimer County,” in the first decades of the 1800’s teamed up with Robert Nesbit, “the old Quaker Cheese Buyer.” They bought from farmers in the region and sold in New York City. And “according to the business ethics of the times,” Nesbit went ahead to cheapen the cheese offered by deprecating its quality, hinting at a bad market and departing without buying. Later when Ferris arrived in a more optimistic mood, offering a slightly better price, the seller, unaware they were partners, and ignorant of the market price, snapped up the offer.

Similar sharp-trade tactics put too much green cheese on the market, so those honestly aged from a minimum of eight months up to two years fetched higher prices. They were called “old,” such as Old Herkimer, Old Wisconsin Longhorn, and Old California Jack.

Although the established Cheddar ages are three, fresh, medium-cured, and cured or aged, commercially they are divided into two and described as mild and sharp. The most popular are named for their states: Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin. Two New York Staters are called and named separately, Coon and Herkimer County. Tillamook goes by its own name with no mention of Oregon. Pineapple, Monterey Jack and Sage are seldom listed as Cheddars at all, although they are basically that.

Brick

Brick is the one and only cheese for which the whole world gives America credit. Runners-up are Liederkranz, which rivals say is too close to Limburger, and Pineapple, which is only a Cheddar under its crisscrossed, painted and flavored rind. Yet Brick is no more distinguished than either of the hundred percent Americans, and in our opinion is less worth bragging about.

It is a medium-firm, mild-to-strong slicing cheese for sandwiches and melting in hot dishes. Its texture is elastic but not rubbery, its taste sweetish, and it is full of little round holes or eyes. All this has inspired enthusiasts to liken it to Emmentaler. The most appropriate name for it has long been “married man’s Limburger.” To make up for the mildness caraway seed is sometimes added.

About Civil War time, John Jossi, a dairyman of Dodge County, Wisconsin, came up with this novelty, a rennet cheese made of whole cow’s milk. The curd is cut like Cheddar, heated, stirred and cooked firm to put in a brick-shaped box without a bottom and with slits in the sides to drain. When this is set on the draining table a couple of bricks are also laid on the cooked curd for pressure. It is this double use of bricks, for shaping and for pressing, that has led to the confusion about which came first in originating the name.

The formed “bricks” of cheese are rubbed with salt for three days and they ripen slowly, taking up to two months.

We eat several million pounds a year and 95 percent of that comes from Wisconsin, with a trickle from New York.

Colorado Blackie Cheese

A subtly different American Cheddar is putting Colorado on our cheese map. It is called Blackie from the black-waxed rind and it resembles Vermont State cheese, although it is flatter. This is a proud new American product, proving that although Papa Cheddar was born in England his American kinfolk have developed independent and valuable characters all on their own.

Coon Cheese

Coon cheese is full of flavor from being aged on shelves at a higher temperature than cold storage. Its rind is darker from the growth of mold and this shade is sometimes painted on more ordinary Cheddars to make them look like Coon, which always brings a 10 percent premium above the general run.

Made at Lowville, New York, it has received high praise from a host of admirers, among them the French cook, Clementine, in Phineas Beck’s Kitchen, who raised it to the par of French immortals by calling it Fromage de Coon. Clementine used it “with scintillating success in countless French recipes which ended with the words gratiner au four et servir tres chaud. She made baguettes of it by soaking sticks three-eights-inch square and one and a half inches long in lukewarm milk, rolling them in flour, beaten egg and bread crumbs and browning them instantaneously in boiling oil.”

Herkimer County Cheese

The standard method for making American Cheddar was established in Herkimer County, New York, in 1841 and has been rigidly maintained down to this day. Made with rennet and a bacterial “starter,” the curd is cut and pressed to squeeze out all of the whey and then aged in cylindrical forms for a year or more.

Herkimer leads the whole breed by being flaky, brittle, sharp and nutty, with a crumb that will crumble, and a soft, mouth-watering pale orange color when it is properly aged.

Isigny

Isigny is a native American cheese that came a cropper. It seems to be extinct now, and perhaps that is all to the good, for it never meant to be anything more than another Camembert, of which we have plenty of imitation.

Not long after the Civil War the attempt was made to perfect Isigny. The curd was carefully prepared according to an original formula, washed and rubbed and set aside to come of age. But when it did, alas, it was more like Limburger than Camembert, and since good domestic Limburger was then a dime a pound, obviously it wouldn’t pay off. Yet in shape the newborn resembled Camembert, although it was much larger. So they cut it down and named it after the delicate French Creme d’lsigny.

Jack, California Jack and Monterey Jack

Jack was first known as Monterey cheese from the California county where it originated. Then it was called Jack for short, and only now takes its full name after sixty years of popularity on the West Coast. Because it is little known in the East and has to be shipped so far, it commands the top Cheddar price.

Monterey Jack is a stirred curd Cheddar without any annatto coloring. It is sweeter than most and milder when young, but it gets sharper with age and more expensive because of storage costs.

Liederkranz

No native American cheese has been so widely ballyhooed, and so deservedly, as Liederkranz, which translates “Wreath of Song.”

Back in the gay, inventive nineties, Emil Frey, a young delicatessen keeper in New York, tried to please some bereft customers by making an imitation of Bismarck Schlosskäse. This was imperative because the imported German cheese didn’t stand up during the long sea trip and Emil’s customers, mostly members of the famous Liederkranz singing society, didn’t feel like singing without it. But Emil’s attempts at imitation only added indigestion to their dejection, until one day—fabelhaft! One of those cheese dream castles in Spain came true. He turned out a tawny, altogether golden, tangy and mellow little marvel that actually was an improvement on Bismarck’s old Schlosskäse. Better than Brick, it was a deodorized Limburger, both a man’s cheese and one that cheese-conscious women adored.

Emil named it “Wreath of Song” for the Liederkranz customers. It soon became as internationally known as tabasco from Texas or Parisian Camembert which it slightly resembles. Borden’s bought out Frey in 1929 and they enjoy telling the story of a G.I. who, to celebrate V-E Day in Paris, sent to his family in Indiana, only a few miles from the factory at Van Wert, Ohio, a whole case of what he had learned was “the finest cheese France could make.” And when the family opened it, there was Liederkranz.

Another deserved distinction is that of being sandwiched in between two foreign immortals in the following recipe:

picture: pointer Schnitzelbank Pot

1 ripe Camembert cheese
1 Liederkranz
⅛ pound imported Roquefort
¼ pound butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup cream
½ cup finely chopped olives
¼ cup canned pimiento
A sprinkling of cayenne

Depending on whether or not you like the edible rind of Camembert and Liederkranz, you can leave it on, scrape any thick part off, or remove it all. Mash the soft creams together with the Roquefort, butter and flour, using a silver fork. Put the mix into an enameled pan, for anything with a metal surface will turn the cheese black in cooking.

Stir in the cream and keep stirring until you have a smooth, creamy sauce. Strain through sieve or cheesecloth, and mix in the olives and pimiento thoroughly. Sprinkle well with cayenne and put into a pot to mellow for a few days, or much longer.

The name Schnitzelbank comes from “school bench,” a game. This snappy-sweet pot is specially suited to a beer party and stein songs. It is also the affinity-spread with rye and pumpernickel, and may be served in small sandwiches or on crackers, celery and such, to make appetizing tidbits for cocktails, tea, or cider.

Like the trinity of cheeses that make it, the mixture is eaten best at room temperature, when its flavor is fullest. If kept in the refrigerator, it should be taken out a couple of hours before serving. Since it is a natural cheese mixture, which has gone through no process or doping with preservative, it will not keep more than two weeks. This mellow-sharp mix is the sort of ideal the factory processors shoot at with their olive-pimiento abominations. Once you’ve potted your own, you’ll find it gives the same thrill as garnishing your own Liptauer.

Minnesota Blue

The discovery of sandstone caves in the bluffs along the Mississippi, in and near the Twin Cities of Minnesota, has established a distinctive type of Blue cheese named for the state. Although the Roquefort process of France is followed and the cheese is inoculated in the same way by mold from bread, it can never equal the genuine imported, marked with its red-sheep brand, because the milk used in Minnesota Blue is cow’s milk, and the caves are sandstone instead of limestone. Yet this is an excellent, Blue cheese in its own right.

Pineapple

Pineapple cheese is named after its shape rather than its flavor, although there are rumors that some pineapple flavor is noticeable near the oiled rind. This flavor does not penetrate through to the Cheddar center. Many makers of processed cheese have tampered with the original, so today you can’t be sure of anything except getting a smaller size every year or two, at a higher price. Originally six pounds, the Pineapple has shrunk to nearly six ounces. The proper bright-orange, oiled and shellacked surface is more apt to be a sickly lemon.

Always an ornamental cheese, it once stood in state on the side-board under a silver bell also made to represent a pineapple. You cut a top slice off the cheese, just as you would off the fruit, and there was a rose-colored, fine-tasting, mellow-hard cheese to spoon out with a special silver cheese spoon or scoop. Between meals the silver top was put on the silver holder and the oiled and shellacked rind kept the cheese moist. Even when the Pineapple was eaten down to the rind the shell served as a dunking bowl to fill with some salubrious cold Fondue or salad.

Made in the same manner as Cheddar with the curd cooked harder, Pineapple’s distinction lies in being hung in a net that makes diamond-shaped corrugations on the surface, simulating the sections of the fruit. It is a pioneer American product with almost a century and a half of service since Lewis M. Norton conceived it in 1808 in Litchfield County, Connecticut. There in 1845 he built a factory and made a deserved fortune out of his decorative ingenuity with what before had been plain, unromantic yellow or store cheese.

Perhaps his inspiration came from cone-shaped Cheshire in old England, also called Pineapple cheese, combined with the hanging up of Provolones in Italy that leaves the looser pattern of the four sustaining strings.

Sage, Vermont Sage and Vermont State

The story of Sage cheese, or green cheese as it was called originally, shows the several phases most cheeses have gone through, from their simple, honest beginnings to commercialization, and sometimes back to the real thing.

The English Encyclopedia of Practical Cookery has an early Sage recipe:

This is a species of cream cheese made by adding sage leaves and greening to the milk. A very good receipt for it is given thus: Bruise the tops of fresh young red sage leaves with an equal quantity of spinach leaves and squeeze out the juice. Add this to the extract of rennet and stir into the milk as much as your taste may deem sufficient. Break the curd when it comes, salt it, fill the vat high with it, press for a few hours, and then turn the cheese every day.

Fancy Cheese in America, lay Charles A. Publow, records the commercialization of the cheese mentioned above, a century or two later, in 1910:

Sage cheese is another modified form of the Cheddar variety. Its distinguishing features are a mottled green color and a sage flavor. The usual method of manufacture is as follows: One-third of the total amount of milk is placed in a vat by itself and colored green by the addition of eight to twelve ounces of commercial sage color to each 1,000 pounds of milk. If green corn leaves (unavailable in England) or other substances are used for coloring, the amounts will vary accordingly. The milk is then made up by the regular Cheddar method, as is also the remaining two-thirds, in a separate vat. At the time of removing the whey the green and white curds are mixed. Some prefer, however, to mix the curds at the time of milling, as a more distinct color is secured. After milling, the sage extract flavoring is sprayed over the curd with an atomizer. The curd is then salted and pressed into the regular Cheddar shapes and sizes.

A very satisfactory Sage cheese is made at the New York State College of Agriculture by simply dropping green coloring, made from the leaves of corn and spinach, upon the curd, after milling. An even green mottling is thus easily secured without additional labor. Sage flavoring extract is sprayed over the curd by an atomizer. One-half ounce of flavoring is usually sufficient for a hundred pounds of curd and can be secured from dairy supply houses.

A modern cheese authority reported on the current (1953) method:

Instead of sage leaves, or tea prepared from them, at present the cheese is flavored with oil of Dalmatian wild sage because it has the sharpest flavor. This piny oil, thujone, is diluted with water, 250 parts to one, and either added to the milk or sprayed over the curds, one-eighth ounce for 500 quarts of milk.

In scouting around for a possible maker of the real thing today, we wrote to Vrest Orton of Vermont, and got this reply:

Sage cheese is one of the really indigenous and best native Vermont products. So far as I know, there is only one factory making it and that is my friend, George Crowley’s. He makes a limited amount for my Vermont Country Store. It is the fine old-time full cream cheese, flavored with real sage.

On this hangs a tale. Some years ago I couldn’t get enough sage cheese (we never can) so I asked a Wisconsin cheesemaker if he would make some. Said he would but couldn’t at that time—because the alfalfa wasn’t ripe. I said, “What in hell has alfalfa got to do with sage cheese?” He said, “Well, we flavor the sage cheese with a synthetic sage flavor and then throw in some pieces of chopped-up alfalfa to make it look green.”

So I said to hell with that and the next time I saw George Crowley I told him the story and George said, “We don’t use synthetic flavor, alfalfa or anything like that.”

” Then what do you use, George?” I inquired.

“We use real sage.”

“Why?”

“Well, because it’s cheaper than that synthetic stuff.”

The genuine Vermont Sage arrived. Here are our notes on it:

Oh, wilderness were Paradise enow! My taste buds come to full flower with the Sage. There’s a slight burned savor recalling smoked cheese, although not related in any way. Mildly resinous like that Near East one packed in pine, suggesting the well-saged dressing of a turkey. A round mouthful of luscious mellowness, with a bouquet—a snapping reminder to the nose. And there’s just a soupçon of new-mown hay above the green freckles of herb to delight the eye and set the fancy free. So this is the véritable vert, green cheese—the moon is made of it! Vert véritable. A general favorite with everybody who ever tasted it, for generations of lusty crumblers.

Old-Fashioned Vermont State Store Cheese

We received from savant Vrest Orton another letter, together with some Vermont store cheese and some crackers.

This cheese is our regular old-fashioned store cheese—it’s been in old country stores for generations and we have been pioneers in spreading the word about it. It is, of course, a natural aged cheese, no processing, no fussing, no fooling with it. It’s made the same way it was back in 1870, by the old-time Colby method which makes a cheese which is not so dry as Cheddar and also has holes in it, something like Swiss. Also, it ages faster.

Did you know that during the last part of the nineteenth century and part of the twentieth, Vermont was the leading cheesemaking state in the Union? When I was a lad, every town in Vermont had one or more cheese factories. Now there are only two left—not counting any that make process. Process isn’t cheese!

The crackers are the old-time store cracker—every Vermonter used to buy a big barrel once a year to set in the buttery and eat. A classic dish is crackers, broken up in a bowl of cold milk, with a hunk of Vermont cheese like this on the side. Grand snack, grand midnight supper, grand anything. These crackers are not sweet, not salt, and as such make a good base for anything—swell with clam chowder, also with toasted cheese….

Tillamook

It takes two pocket-sized, but thick, yellow volumes to record the story of Oregon’s great Tillamook. The Cheddar Box, by Dean Collins, comes neatly boxed and bound in golden cloth stamped with a purple title, like the rind of a real Tillamook. Volume I is entitled Cheese Cheddar, and Volume II is a two-pound Cheddar cheese labeled Tillamook and molded to fit inside its book jacket. We borrowed Volume I from a noted littérateur, and never could get him to come across with Volume II. We guessed its fate, however, from a note on the flyleaf of the only tome available: “This is an excellent cheese, full cream and medium sharp, and a unique set of books in which Volume II suggests Bacon’s: ‘Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.'”

Wisconsin Longhorn

Since we began this chapter with all-American Cheddars, it is only fitting to end with Wisconsin Longhorn, a sort of national standard, even though it’s not nearly so fancy or high-priced as some of the regional natives that can’t approach its enormous output. It’s one of those all-purpose round cheeses that even taste round in your mouth. We are specially partial to it.

Most Cheddars are named after their states. Yet, putting all of these thirty-seven states together, they produce only about half as much as Wisconsin alone.

Besides Longhorn, in Wisconsin there are a dozen regional competitors ranging from White Twin Cheddar, to which no annatto coloring has been added, through Green Bay cheese to Wisconsin Redskin and Martha Washington Aged, proudly set forth by P.H. Kasper of Bear Creek, who is said to have “won more prizes in forty years than any ten cheesemakers put together.”

To help guarantee a market for all this excellent apple-pie cheese, the Wisconsin State Legislature made a law about it, recognizing the truth of Eugene Field’s jingle:
Apple pie without cheese Is like a kiss without a squeeze.

Small matter in the Badger State when the affinity is made legal and the couple lawfully wedded in Statute No. 160,065. It’s still in force:

Butter and cheese to be served. Every person, firm or corporation duly licensed to operate a hotel or restaurant shall serve with each meal for which a charge of twenty-five cents or more is made, at least two-thirds of an ounce of Wisconsin butter and two-thirds of an ounce of Wisconsin cheese.

Besides Longhorn, Wisconsin leads in Limburger. It produces so much Swiss that the state is sometimes called Swissconsin.

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Bob Brown’s: The Complete Book of Cheese

So, if you are like me, you like Cheese. Of course, my stomach doesn’t like cheese, but that is a completely different story (which I will spare you all from).

Bob Brown in 1955 wrote “The Complete Book of Cheese” which I have to say is fun to look at. Bob Brown also wrote: THE WINE COOK BOOK, AMERICA COOKS, 10,000 SNACKS, SALADS AND HERBS, THE SOUTH AMERICAN COOK BOOK, SOUPS, SAUCES AND GRAVIES, THE VEGETABLE COOK BOOK, LOOK BEFORE YOU COOK!, THE EUROPEAN COOK BOOK, THE WINING AND DINING QUIZ, MOST FOR YOUR MONEY, OUTDOOR COOKING, FISH AND SEAFOOD COOK BOOK, and THE COUNTRY COOK BOOK. He also co-authored, LET THERE BE BEER! and HOMEMADE HILARITY.

Within this book there are fun stories and the author’s memories of cheese, as well as facts about the product.

Here is a bit about foreign cheeses and how they all break down into categories:

Foreign Greats
Ode to Cheese
God of the country, bless today Thy cheese, For which we give Thee thanks on bended knees. Let them be fat or light, with onions blent, Shallots, brine, pepper, honey; whether scent Of sheep or fields is in them, in the yard Let them, good Lord, at dawn be beaten hard. And let their edges take on silvery shades Under the moist red hands of dairymaids; And, round and greenish, let them go to town Weighing the shepherd’s folding mantle down; Whether from Parma or from Jura heights, Kneaded by august hands of Carmelites, Stamped with the mitre of a proud abbess. Flowered with the perfumes of the grass of Bresse, From hollow Holland, from the Vosges, from Brie, From Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Italy! Bless them, good Lord! Bless Stilton’s royal fare, Red Cheshire, and the tearful cream Gruyère.
FROM JETHRO BITHELL’S TRANSLATION OF A POEM BY M. Thomas Braun

Symphonie des Fromages

A giant Cantal, seeming to have been chopped open with an ax, stood aside of a golden-hued Chester and a Swiss Gruyère resembling the wheel of a Roman chariot There were Dutch Edams, round and blood-red, and Port-Saluts lined up like soldiers on parade. Three Bries, side by side, suggested phases of the moon; two of them, very dry, were amber-colored and “full,” and the third, in its second quarter, was runny and creamy, with a “milky way” which no human barrier seemed able to restrain. And all the while majestic Roqueforts looked down with princely contempt upon the other, through the glass of their crystal covers.

Emile Zola

In 1953 the United States Department of Agriculture published Handbook No. 54, entitled Cheese Varieties and Descriptions, with this comment: “There probably are only about eighteen distinct types or kinds of natural cheese.” All the rest (more than 400 names) are of local origin, usually named after towns or communities. A list of the best-known names applied to each of these distinct varieties or groups is given:
Brick Gouda Romano
Camembert Hand Roquefort
Cheddar Limburger Sapsago
Cottage Neufchâtel Swiss
Cream Parmesan Trappist
Edam Provolone Whey cheeses (Mysost and Ricotta)

May we nominate another dozen to form our own Cheese Hall of Fame? We begin our list with a partial roll call of the big Blues family and end it with members of the monastic order of Port-Salut Trappist that includes Canadian Oka and our own Kentucky thoroughbred.

The Blues that Are Green

Stilton, Roquefort and Gorgonzola form the triumvirate that rules a world of lesser Blues. They are actually green, as green as the mythical cheese the moon is made of.

In almost every, land where cheese is made you can sample a handful of lesser Blues and imitations of the invincible three and try to classify them, until you’re blue in the face. The best we can do in this slight summary is to mention a few of the most notable, aside from our own Blues of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon and other states that major in cheese.

Danish Blues are popular and splendidly made, such as “Flower of Denmark.” The Argentine competes with a pampas-grass Blue all its own. But France and England are the leaders in this line, France first with a sort of triple triumvirate within a triumvirate—Septmoncel, Gex, and Sassenage, all three made with three milks mixed together: cow, goat and sheep. Septmoncel is the leader of these, made in the Jura mountains and considered by many French caseophiles to outrank Roquefort.

This class of Blue or marbled cheese is called fromage persillé, as well as fromage bleu and pate bleue. Similar mountain cheeses are made in Auvergne and Aubrac and have distinct qualities that have brought them fame, such as Cantal, bleu d’Auvergne Guiole or Laguiole, bleu de Salers, and St. Flour. Olivet and Queville come within the color scheme, and sundry others such as Champoléon, Journiac, Queyras and Sarraz.

Of English Blues there are several celebrities beside Stilton and Cheshire Stilton. Wensleydale was one in the early days, and still is, together with Blue Dorset, the deepest green of them all, and esoteric Blue Vinny, a choosey cheese not liked by everybody, the favorite of Thomas Hardy.

Brie

Sheila Hibben once wrote in The New Yorker:

I can’t imagine any difference of opinion about Brie’s being the queen of all cheeses, and if there is any such difference, I shall certainly ignore it. The very shape of Brie—so uncheese-like and so charmingly fragile—is exciting. Nine times out of ten a Brie will let you down—will be all caked into layers, which shows it is too young, or at the over-runny stage, which means it is too old—but when you come on the tenth Brie, coulant to just the right, delicate creaminess, and the color of fresh, sweet butter, no other cheese can compare with it.

The season of Brie, like that of oysters, is simple to remember: only months with an “R,” beginning with September, which is the best, bar none.

Caciocavallo

From Bulgaria to Turkey the Italian “horse cheese,” as Caciocavallo translates, is as universally popular as it is at home and in all the Little Italics throughout the rest of the world. Flattering imitations are made and named after it, as follows:
BULGARIA: Kascaval
GREECE: Kashcavallo and Caskcaval
HUNGARY: Parenica
RUMANIA: Pentele and Kascaval
SERBIA: Katschkawalj
SYRIA: Cashkavallo
TRANSYLVANIA: Kascaval (as in Rumania)
TURKEY: Cascaval Penir
YUGOSLAVIA: Kackavalj

A horse’s head printed on the cheese gave rise to its popular name and to the myth that it is made of mare’s milk. It is, however, curded from cow’s milk, whole or partly skimmed, and sometimes from water buffalo; hard, yellow and so buttery that the best of it, which comes from Sorrento, is called Cacio burro, butter cheese. Slightly salty, with a spicy tang, it is eaten sliced when young and mild and used for grating and seasoning when old, not only on the usual Italian pastes but on sweets.

Different from the many grating cheeses made from little balls of curd called grana, Caciocavallo is a pasta fileta, or drawn-curd product. Because of this it is sometimes drawn out in long thick threads and braided. It is a cheese for skilled artists to make sculptures with, sometimes horses’ heads, again bunches of grapes and other fruits, even as Provolone is shaped like apples and pears and often worked into elaborate bas-relief designs. But ordinarily the horse’s head is a plain tenpin in shape or a squat bottle with a knob on the side by which it has been tied up, two cheeses at a time, on opposite sides of a rafter, while being smoked lightly golden and rubbed with olive oil and butter to make it all the more buttery.

In Calabria and Sicily it is very popular, and although the best comes from Sorrento, there is keen competition from Abruzzi, Apulian Province and Molise. It keeps well and doesn’t spoil when shipped overseas.

In his Little Book of Cheese Osbert Burdett recommends the high, horsy strength of this smoked Cacio over tobacco smoke after dinner:

Only monsters smoke at meals, but a monster assured me that Gorgonzola best survives this malpractice. Clearly, some pungency is necessary, and confidence suggests rather Cacio which would survive anything, the monster said.

Camembert

Camembert is called “mold-matured” and all that is genuine is labeled Syndicat du Vrai Camembert. The name in full is Syndicat des Fabricants du Veritable Camembert de Normandie and we agree that this is “a most useful association for the defense of one of the best cheeses of France.” Its extremely delicate piquance cannot be matched, except perhaps by Brie.

Napoleon is said to have named it and to have kissed the waitress who first served it to him in the tiny town of Camembert. And there a statue stands today in the market place to honor Marie Harel who made the first Camembert.

Camembert is equally good on thin slices of apple, pineapple, pear, French “flute” or pumpernickel. As-with Brie and with oysters, Camembert should be eaten only in the “R” months, and of these September is the best.

Since Camembert rhymes with beware, if you can’t get the véritable don’t fall for a domestic imitation or any West German abomination such as one dressed like a valentine in a heart-shaped box and labeled “Camembert—Cheese Exquisite.” They are equally tasteless, chalky with youth, or choking with ammoniacal gas when old and decrepit.

Cheddar

The English Encyclopedia of Practical Cookery says:

Cheddar cheese is one of the kings of cheese; it is pale coloured, mellow, salvy, and, when good, resembling a hazelnut in flavour. The Cheddar principle pervades the whole cheesemaking districts of America, Canada and New Zealand, but no cheese imported into England can equal the Cheddars of Somerset and the West of Scotland.

Named for a village near Bristol where farmer Joseph Harding first manufactured it, the best is still called Farmhouse Cheddar, but in America we have practically none of this. Farmhouse Cheddar must be ripened at least nine months to a mellowness, and little of our American cheese gets as much as that. Back in 1695 John Houghton wrote that it “contended in goodness (if kept from two to five years, according to magnitude) with any cheese in England.”

Today it is called “England’s second-best cheese,” second after Stilton, of course.

In early days a large cheese sufficed for a year or two of family feeding, according to this old note: “A big Cheddar can be kept for two years in excellent condition if kept in a cool room and turned over every other day.”

But in old England some were harder to preserve: “In Bath… I asked one lady of the larder how she kept Cheddar cheese. Her eyes twinkled: ‘We don’t keep cheese; we eats it.'”

Cheshire
A Cheshireman sailed into Spain To trade for merchandise; When he arrived from the main A Spaniard him espies. Who said, “You English rogue, look here! What fruits and spices fine Our land produces twice a year. Thou has not such in thine.”
The Cheshireman ran to his hold And fetched a Cheshire cheese, And said, “Look here, you dog, behold! We have such fruits as these. Your fruits are ripe but twice a year, As you yourself do say, But such as I present you here Our land brings twice a day.”
Anonymous

Let us pass on to cheese. We have some glorious cheeses, and far too few people glorying in them. The Cheddar of the inn, of the chophouse, of the average English home, is a libel on a thing which, when authentic, is worthy of great honor. Cheshire, divinely commanded into existence as to three parts to precede and as to one part to accompany certain Tawny Ports and some Late-Bottled Ports, can be a thing for which the British Navy ought to fire a salute on the principle on which Colonel Brisson made his regiment salute when passing the great Burgundian vineyard.

T. Earle Welby,
IN “THE DINNER KNELL”

Cheshire is not only the most literary cheese in England, but the oldest. It was already manufactured when Caesar conquered Britain, and tradition is that the Romans built the walled city of Chester to control the district where the precious cheese was made. Chester on the River Dee was a stronghold against the Roman invasion.

It came to fame with The Old Cheshire Cheese in Elizabethan times and waxed great with Samuel Johnson presiding at the Fleet Street Inn where White Cheshire was served “with radishes or watercress or celery when in season,” and Red Cheshire was served toasted or stewed in a sort of Welsh Rabbit. (See Chapter 5.)

The Blue variety is called Cheshire-Stilton, and Vyvyan Holland, in Cheddar Gorge suggests that “it was no doubt a cheese of this sort, discovered and filched from the larder of the Queen of Hearts, that accounted for the contented grin on the face of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland.”

All very English, as recorded in Victor Meusy’s couplet:
Dans le Chester sec et rose A longues dents, l’Anglais mord.
In the Chester dry and pink The long teeth of the English sink.

Edam and Gouda

Edam in Peace and War

There also coming into the river two Dutchmen, we sent a couple of men on board and brought three Holland cheeses, cost 4d. a piece, excellent cheeses.

Pepys’ Diary, March 2,1663

Commodore Coe, of the Montevidian Navy, defeated Admiral Brown of the Buenos Ayrean Navy, in a naval battle, when he used Holland cheese for cannon balls.

The Harbinger (Vermont), December 11, 1847

The crimson cannon balls of Holland have been heard around the world. Known as “red balls” in England and katzenkopf, “cat’s head,” in Germany, they differ from Gouda chiefly in the shape, Gouda being round but flattish and now chiefly imported as one-pound Baby Goudas.

Edam when it is good is very, very good, but when it is bad it is horrid. Sophisticated ones are sent over already scalloped for the ultimate consumer to add port, and there are crocks of Holland cheese potted with sauterne. Both Edam and Gouda should be well aged to develop full-bodied quality, two years being the accepted standard for Edam.

The best Edams result from a perfect combination of Breed (black-and-white Dutch Friesian) and Feed (the rich pasturage of Friesland and Noord Holland).

The Goudas, shaped like English Derby and Belgian Delft and Leyden, come from South Holland. Some are specially made for the Jewish trade and called Kosher Gouda. Both Edam and Gouda are eaten at mealtimes thrice daily in Holland. A Dutch breakfast without one or the other on black bread with butter and black coffee would be unthinkable. They’re also boon companions to plum bread and Dutch cocoa.

“Eclair Edams” are those with soft insides.

Emmentaler, Gruyère and Swiss
When the working woman Takes her midday lunch, It is a piece of Gruyère Which for her takes the place of roast.
Victor Meusy

Whether an Emmentaler is eminently Schweizerkäse, grand Gruyère from France, or lesser Swiss of the United States, the shape, size and glisten of the eyes indicate the stage of ripeness, skill of making and quality of flavor. They must be uniform, roundish, about the size of a big cherry and, most important of all, must glisten like the eye of a lass in love, dry but with the suggestion of a tear.

Gruyère does not see eye to eye with the big-holed Swiss Saanen cartwheel or American imitation. It has tiny holes, and many of them; let us say it is freckled with pinholes, rather than pock-marked. This variety is technically called a niszler, while one without any holes at all is “blind.” Eyes or holes are also called vesicles.

Gruyère Trauben (Grape Gruyère) is aged in Neuchâtel wine in Switzerland, although most Gruyère has been made in France since its introduction there in 1722. The most famous is made in the Jura, and another is called Comté from its origin in Franche-Comté.

A blind Emmentaler was made in Switzerland for export to Italy where it was hardened in caves to become a grating cheese called Raper, and now it is largely imitated there. Emmentaler, in fact, because of its piquant pecan-nut flavor and inimitable quality, is simulated everywhere, even in Switzerland.

Besides phonies from Argentina and countries as far off as Finland, we get a flood of imported and domestic Swisses of all sad sorts, with all possible faults—from too many holes, that make a flabby, wobbly cheese, to too few—cracked, dried-up, collapsed or utterly ruined by molding inside. So it will pay you to buy only the kind already marked genuine in Switzerland. For there cheese such as Saanen takes six years to ripen, improves with age, and keeps forever.

Cartwheels well over a hundred years old are still kept in cheese cellars (as common in Switzerland as wine cellars are in France), and it is said that the rank of a family is determined by the age and quality of the cheese in its larder.

Feta and Casere

The Greeks have a name for it—Feta. Their neighbors call it Greek cheese. Feta is to cheese what Hymettus is to honey. The two together make ambrosial manna. Feta is soft and as blinding white as a plate of fresh Ricotta smothered with sour cream. The whiteness is preserved by shipping the cheese all the way from Greece in kegs sloshing full of milk, the milk being renewed from time to time. Having been cured in brine, this great sheep-milk curd is slightly salty and somewhat sharp, but superbly spicy.

When first we tasted it fresh from the keg with salty milk dripping through our fingers, we gave it full marks. This was at the Staikos Brothers Greek-import store on West 23rd Street in Manhattan. We then compared Feta with thin wisps of its grown-up brother, Casere. This gray and greasy, hard and brittle palate-tickler of sheep’s milk made us bleat for more Feta.

Gorgonzola

Gorgonzola, least pretentious of the Blues triumvirate (including Roquefort and Stilton) is nonetheless by common consent monarch of all other Blues from Argentina to Denmark. In England, indeed, many epicures consider Gorgonzola greater than Stilton, which is the highest praise any cheese can get there. Like all great cheeses it has been widely imitated, but never equaled. Imported Gorgonzola, when fruity ripe, is still firm but creamy and golden inside with rich green veins running through. Very pungent and highly flavored, it is eaten sliced or crumbled to flavor salad dressings, like Roquefort.

Hablé Crème Chantilly

The name Hablé Crème Chantilly sounds French, but the cheese is Swedish and actually lives up to the blurb in the imported package: “The overall characteristic is indescribable and delightful freshness.”

This exclusive product of the Walk Gärd Creamery was hailed by Sheila Hibben in The New Yorker of May 6, 1950, as enthusiastically as Brillat-Savarin would have greeted a new dish, or the Planetarium a new star:

Endeavoring to be as restrained as I can, I shall merely suggest that the arrival of Crème Chantilly is a historic event and that in reporting on it I feel something of the responsibility that the contemporaries of Madame Harel, the famous cheese-making lady of Normandy, must have felt when they were passing judgment on the first Camembert.

Miss Hibben goes on to say that only a fromage à la crème made in Quebec had come anywhere near her impression of the new Swedish triumph. She quotes the last word from the makers themselves: “This is a very special product that has never been made on this earth before,” and speaks of “the elusive flavor of mushrooms” before summing up, “the exquisitely textured curd and the unexpectedly fresh flavor combine to make it one of the most subtly enjoyable foods that have come my way in a long time.”

And so say we—all of us.

Hand Cheese

Hand cheese has this niche in our Cheese Hall of Fame not because we consider it great, but because it is usually included among the eighteen varieties on which the hundreds of others are based. It is named from having been molded into its final shape by hand. Universally popular with Germanic races, it is too strong for the others. To our mind, Hand cheese never had anything that Allgäuer or Limburger hasn’t improved upon.

It is the only cheese that is commonly melted into steins of beer and drunk instead of eaten. It is usually studded with caraway seeds, the most natural spice for curds.

Limburger

Limburger has always been popular in America, ever since it was brought over by German-American immigrants; but England never took to it. This is eloquently expressed in the following entry in the English Encyclopedia of Practical Cookery:

Limburger cheese is chiefly famous for its pungently offensive odor. It is made from skimmed milk, and allowed to partially decompose before pressing. It is very little known in this country, and might be less so with advantage to consumers.

But this is libel. Butter-soft and sapid, Limburger has brought gustatory pleasure to millions of hardy gastronomes since it came to light in the province of Lüttich in Belgium. It has been Americanized for almost a century and is by now one of the very few cheeses successfully imitated here, chiefly in New York and Wisconsin.

Early Wisconsiners will never forget the Limburger Rebellion in Green County, when the people rose in protest against the Limburger caravan that was accustomed to park in the little town of Monroe where it was marketed. They threatened to stage a modern Boston Tea Party and dump the odoriferous bricks in the river, when five or six wagonloads were left ripening in the sun in front of the town bank. The Limburger was finally stored safely underground.

Livarot

Livarot has been described as decadent, “The very Verlaine of them all,” and Victor Meusy personifies it in a poem dedicated to all the great French cheeses, of which we give a free translation:
In the dog days In its overflowing dish Livarot gesticulates Or weeps like a child.

Münster
At the diplomatic banquet One must choose his piece. All is politics, A cheese and a flag.
You annoy the Russians If you take Chester; You irritate the Prussians In choosing Münster.
Victor Meusy

Like Limburger, this male cheese, often caraway-flavored, does not fare well in England. Although over here we consider Münster far milder than Limburger, the English writer Eric Weir in When Madame Cooks will have none of it:

I cannot think why this cheese was not thrown from the aeroplanes during the war to spread panic amongst enemy troops. It would have proved far more efficacious than those nasty deadly gases that kill people permanently.

Neufchâtel
If the cream cheese be white Far fairer the hands that made them.
Arthur Hugh Clough

Although originally from Normandy, Neufchâtel, like Limburger, was so long ago welcomed to America and made so splendidly at home here that we may consider it our very own. All we have against it is that it has served as the model for too many processed abominations.

Parmesan, Romano, Pecorino, Pecorino Romano

Parmesan when young, soft and slightly crumbly is eaten on bread. But when well aged, let us say up to a century, it becomes Rock of Gibraltar of cheeses and really suited for grating. It is easy to believe that the so-called “Spanish cheese” used as a barricade by Americans in Nicaragua almost a century ago was none other than the almost indestructible Grana, as Parmesan is called in Italy.

The association between cheese and battling began in B.C. days with the Jews and Romans, who fed cheese to their soldiers not only for its energy value but as a convenient form of rations, since every army travels on its stomach and can’t go faster than its impedimenta. The last notable mention of cheese in war was the name of the Monitor: “A cheese box on a raft.”

Romano is not as expensive as Parmesan, although it is as friable, sharp and tangy for flavoring, especially for soups such as onion and minestrone. It is brittle and just off-white when well aged.

Although made of sheep’s milk, Pecorino is classed with both Parmesan and Romano. All three are excellently imitated in Argentina. Romano and Pecorino Romano are interchangeable names for the strong, medium-sharp and piquant Parmesan types that sell for considerably less. Most of it is now shipped from Sardinia. There are several different kinds: Pecorino Dolce (sweet), Sardo Tuscano, and Pecorino Romano Cacio, which relates it to Caciocavallo.

Kibitzers complain that some of the cheaper types of Pecorino are soapy, but fans give it high praise. Gillian F., in her “Letter from Italy” in Osbert Burdett’s delectable Little Book of Cheese, writes:

Out in the orchard, my companion, I don’t remember how, had provided the miracle: a flask of wine, a loaf of bread and a slab of fresh Pecorino cheese (there wasn’t any “thou” for either) … But that cheese was Paradise; and the flask was emptied, and a wood dove cooing made you think that the flask’s contents were in a crystal goblet instead of an enamel cup … one only … and the cheese broken with the fingers … a cheese of cheeses.

Pont L’Evêque

This semisoft, medium-strong, golden-tinted French classic made since the thirteenth century, is definitely a dessert cheese whose excellence is brought out best by a sound claret or tawny port.

Port-Salut (See Trappist)

Provolone

Within recent years Provolone has taken America by storm, as Camembert, Roquefort, Swiss, Limburger, Neufchâtel and such great ones did long before. But it has not been successfully imitated here because the original is made of rich water-buffalo milk unattainable in the Americas.

With Caciocavallo, this mellow, smoky flavorsome delight is put up in all sorts of artistic forms, red-cellophaned apples, pears, bells, a regular zoo of animals, and in all sorts of sizes, up to a monumental hundred-pound bas-relief imported for exhibition purposes by Phil Alpert.

Roquefort

Homage to this fromage! Long hailed as le roi Roquefort, it has filled books and booklets beyond count. By the miracle of Penicillium Roqueforti a new cheese was made. It is placed historically back around the eighth century when Charlemagne was found picking out the green spots of Persillé with the point of his knife, thinking them decay. But the monks of Saint-Gall, who were his hosts, recorded in their annals that when they regaled him with Roquefort (because it was Friday and they had no fish) they also made bold to tell him he was wasting the best part of the cheese. So he tasted again, found the advice excellent and liked it so well he ordered two caisses of it sent every year to his palace at Aix-la-Chapelle. He also suggested that it be cut in half first, to make sure it was well veined with blue, and then bound up with a wooden fastening.

Perhaps he hoped the wood would protect the cheeses from mice and rats, for the good monks of Saint-Gall couldn’t be expected to send an escort of cats from their chalky caves to guard them—even for Charlemagne. There is no telling how many cats were mustered out in the caves, in those early days, but a recent census put the number at five hundred. We can readily imagine the head handler in the caves leading a night inspection with a candle, followed by his chief taster and a regiment of cats. While the Dutch and other makers of cheese also employ cats to patrol their storage caves, Roquefort holds the record for number. An interesting point in this connection is that as rats and mice pick only the prime cheeses, a gnawed one is not thrown away but greatly prized.

Sapsago, Schabziger or Swiss Green Cheese

The name Sapsago is a corruption of Schabziger, German for whey cheese. It’s a hay cheese, flavored heavily with melilot, a kind of clover that’s also grown for hay. It comes from Switzerland in a hard, truncated cone wrapped in a piece of paper that says:

To be used grated only
Genuine Swiss Green Cheese
Made of skimmed milk and herbs

To the housewives! Do you want a change in your meals? Try the contents of this wrapper! Delicious as spreading mixed with butter, excellent for flavoring eggs, macaroni, spaghetti, potatoes, soup, etc. Can be used in place of any other cheese. Do not take too much, you might spoil the flavor.

We put this wrapper among our papers, sealed it tight in an envelope, and to this day, six months later, the scent of Sapsago clings ’round it still.

Stilton

Honor for Cheeses

Literary and munching circles in London are putting quite a lot of thought into a proposed memorial to Stilton cheese. There is a Stilton Memorial Committee, with Sir John Squire at the head, and already the boys are fighting.

One side, led by Sir John, is all for a monument.

This, presumably, would not be a replica of Stilton itself, although Mr. Epstein could probably hack out a pretty effective cheese-shaped figure and call it “Dolorosa.”

The monument-boosters plan a figure of Mrs. Paulet, who first introduced Stilton to England. (Possibly a group showing Mrs. Paulet holding a young Stilton by the hand and introducing it, while the Stilton curtsies.)

T.S. Eliot does not think that anyone would look at a monument, but wants to establish a Foundation for the Preservation of Ancient Cheeses. The practicability of this plan would depend largely on the site selected for the treasure house and the cost of obtaining a curator who could, or would, give his whole time to the work.

Mr. J.A. Symonds, who is secretary of the committee, agrees with Mr. Eliot that a simple statue is not the best form.

“I should like,” he says, “something irrelevant—gargoyles, perhaps.”

I think that Mr. Symonds has hit on something there.

I would suggest, if we Americans can pitch into this great movement, some gargoyles designed by Mr. Rube Goldberg.

If the memorial could be devised so as to take on an international scope, an exchange fellowship might be established between England and America, although the exchange, in the case of Stilton, would have to be all on England’s side.

We might be allowed to furnish the money, however, while England furnishes the cheese.

There is a very good precedent for such a bargain between the two countries.

Robert Benchley, in
After 1903—What?

When all seems lost in England there is still Stilton, an endless after-dinner conversation piece to which England points with pride. For a sound appreciation of this cheese see Clifton Fadiman’s introduction to this book.

Taleggio and Bel Paese

When the great Italian cheese-maker, Galbini, first exported Bel Paese some years ago, it was an eloquent ambassador to America. But as the years went on and imitations were made in many lands, Galbini deemed it wise to set up his own factory in our beautiful country. However, the domestic Bel Paese and a minute one-pounder called Bel Paesino just didn’t have that old Alpine zest. They were no better than the German copy called Schönland, after the original, or the French Fleur des Alpes.

Mel Fino was a blend of Bel Paese and Gorgonzola. It perked up the market for a full, fruity cheese with snap. Then Galbini hit the jackpot with his Taleggio that fills the need for the sharpest, most sophisticated pungence of them all.

Trappist, Port-Salut, or Port du Salut, and Oka

In spite of its name Trappist is no rat-trap commoner. Always of the elect, and better known as Port-Salut or Port du Salut from the original home of the Trappist monks in their chief French abbey, it is also set apart from the ordinary Canadians under the name of Oka, from the Trappist monastery there. It is made by Trappist monks all over the world, according to the original secret formula, and by Trappist Cistercian monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani Trappist in Kentucky.

This is a soft cheese, creamy and of superb flavor. You can’t go wrong if you look for the monastery name stamped on, such as Harzé in Belgium, Mont-des-Cats in Flanders, Sainte Anne d’Auray in Brittany, and so forth.

Last but not least, a commercial Port-Salut entirely without benefit of clergy or monastery is made in Milwaukee under the Lion Brand. It is one of the finest American cheeses in which we have ever sunk a fang.