If you want to buy interesting cheese, you must first find a good outlet with knowledgeable staff. This might be a local dairy with a farm-gate stall, or a farmers’ market, where you may even meet the cheese-maker. Alternatively, there are many specialist cheese shops that stock a wide range of farmhouse and artisan cheeses.
Look for a shop with a thoughtful and knowledgeable display, particularly of whole cheeses with natural rinds. A good cheese display should be fresh, colourful and imaginative, making full use of the cheeses’ fascinating range of shapes, colours and sizes. The display should also be informative, with details about milk type and where the cheese was made. Look especially for shops with a range of raw-milk cheeses, as these are far more interesting than cheeses made from pasteurised milk.
Specialist cheese retailers recognise that good natural cheese is a living, breathing food that requires skilful handling to reach the customer in optimum condition. The very best shops buy young cheeses and carefully mature them in purpose-built cellars until they develop their true potential. The extraordinary complex of smells that hits you when you walk through the door of one of these stores makes buying cheese an exciting sensory experience.
If you’re buying individual cheeses, always read the label. If the cheese is described as ‘pre-ripened’, this usually means it has been stabilised for long-term storage. Stabilised cheeses are more reliable than traditional cheeses, but are far less interesting.
Avoid places that buy cheese in vacuum-packed blocks or pre-cut wedges and resell them without any thought for condition, quality or flavour. Pre-packaged cheese requires no skill to display or handle, which makes it quick and easy to sell, but this convenience comes at a cost. When confronted with a large range of refrigerated waxed cheeses, rows of plastic-wrapped rectangles, or piles of long-life ‘Camemberts’ and ‘Bries’, you can be sure that the selection is unlikely to provide any real flavour satisfaction.
Excerpt from Page 92 of Cheese Slices by Will Studd
Internationally renowned cheese expert Will Studd reveals the stories and secrets behind one of the world’s oldest man-made foods in this richly illustrated 380-page cheese reference book. Cheese Slices is the essential guide to buying, storing, eating and understanding the world’s great cheeses.
Photographs by Adrian Lander and Michael Robinson.
Published by Hardie Grant Books in September 2007.
RRP $79.95 deluxe hardback.
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