Both wine and cheese have fascinated people for thousands of years and although wine can be produced only in countries with the right climatic conditions, cheese is produced all over the world. Places like France, Spain and Italy have turned the art of matching food & wine almost into a national sport for hundreds of years and more recently Australia’s Hunter Valley has upped it’s game.
Here’s the skinny on cheese…
Origins of Cheese
Historical records first mention wine some 7,000 years ago and is believed to have been made in a city called Shiraz in Iran… but the history of cheese goes back even further.
Cheese is believed to have first happened somewhere in the region of the middle east or Asia when a goat-herder used the dried stomach of a goat as a vessel to carry fresh milk. The enzymes (rennet) in the stomach together with the warmth from the sun acted on the milk, curdling it and turning it into solid curd and whey.
And as they say; the rest is history.
Rennet: is a complex of enzymes produced in any mammalian stomach, causes the coagulation of milk and separates it into solids (curds) and liquid (Whey). Rennet is a natural substance but can now also be produced in laboratories.
Milk: from almost any domesticated herbivore can be used to make cheese; cows, sheep and goats are the most common, but water buffalos, reindeer, yaks, llamas, camels and horses are also used.
Of course you want to make cheese last….
- Always re-wrap cheese in fresh wrapping, preferably in waxed or parchment paper, after the cheese has been opened to avoid having the cheese dry out or pick up other flavors. Remember that natural cheese is a living organism, with enzymes and bacteria that need air and moisture to survive. Thus, rewrapping the cheese in paper and then in plastic wrap to create a micro-environment for the cheese is the preferred storage treatment. However, you should not leave cheese in the same wrappings for extended periods of time.
- The recommended storing temperature range for cheese is between 35 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit, at a high humidity level, preferably in the bottom vegetable/ fruit bin. To avoid accidentally freezing the cheese, don’t store it near the freezer compartment or in the meat bin.
- Double wrap strong, pungent cheeses, such as blue, aged brick, or washed rind varieties, to avoid having their aromas permeate other foods. It is best to place these cheeses in an airtight container for extra assurance against aroma leakage. And it’s best to store cheeses separately if possible, especially blues, washed rinds and milder cheeses, as they will pick up each other’s flavours.
- If cheeses have surpassed their expiration dates (other than fresh cheeses and blues), or if the cheese develops a blue-green mould on the exterior, make a cut about a ½ inch below the mould to ensure that it has been entirely removed; the remaining cheese will be fine.
- In general, never freeze natural cheeses, as they may lose their texture, and in some cases their flavour profiles will be seriously altered. If you must freeze cheese, allow the cheese to thaw slowly in the refrigerator and use it for cooking, as the texture will become crumbly and dry after it is defrosted.
- It’s best to discard when any stored cheeses are overly dry, develop a slimy texture, exhibit ammoniated or have any off odours. If you find these characteristics in cheeses at your local shop, do not purchase them, as they are past their prime. If a retailer’s offerings consistently display the above characteristics, it’s best to find another resource for your cheese.
Keeping it fresh will save you money…
The Price of Cheese
Like wine, there are many factors that go into the price of cheese. Ensuring very consistent supply of good quality milk, the cost of equipment, the cost of hygiene and using the best quality ingredients all play a role.
But, seasonal milk production is usually one of the main reasons goats & sheep milk cheeses can be a bit more expensive than cow’s milk cheeses. Goats & sheep generally stop producing milk at the end of autumn and throughout winter. Cows produce milk all year around.
So what cheese do you choose?…
Matching Wine & Cheese
The world is wonderfully diverse, especially in Australia, so it makes sense that the Hunter Valley has caught up over the past 25 years or so, to the joys of wine & cheese tasting and how to match them.
There is no right or wrong way. However some combinations do work much better than others and this cheese tasting table gives you a starting point to what works best.
And if you like entertaining….
What to serve with cheese
There are a myriad of accompaniments for cheeses and again it is personal taste as to what you would like to serve with your cheeses. Some of the more common ones are:
- Fresh fruit including apples or pears.
- Dried fruits like apricots, figs or dates.
- Nuts like muscatels, walnuts, almonds or pecans.
- Fruit pastes like quince, spiced pear, fig and date.
- Honey drizzled on blue vein is heavenly.
Remember, you will not become a Cheese & Wine connoisseur by studying, doing courses or reading books. The only way you will learn what works and what doesn’t is by tasting numerous Hunter Valley cheeses and wines. Yum!