Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Celebrity Cheddar

Cheddar has been in the news.

Perhaps the coverage hasn't been on the same crazed level as stories about Paris Hilton or Beckham & Posh, but a certain wheel of Cheddar has reached celebrity status and found its way into big-time, popular news outlets (e.g., AOL , Yahoo, CNN, New York Times). What helped Cheddar tick along the AP wire is a still-active Web site, courtesy of the West Country Farmhouse Cheesmakers (UK), that shows a clothbound English Cheddar maturing in real time. Despite being likened to watching paint dry, CheddarVision has captured people's attention.

I believe--and hope--that the chief reason why a moldy wheel of cheese has generated so much media coverage, and has even received fan mail, is that in this fast-food age, when we are divorced from the true source of the foods we eat, people are fascinated by seeing the slow-- excruciatingly slow--process involved in making food that isn't produced on a massive scale in a factory. It's a novelty to see slow food.

I am pleased as a mouse with cheese that a story about Cheddar has made the news. The stories certainly helped me look less like a Cheddar-crazed person! But I am shocked, too, by the comments posted on YouTube in reaction to the video. A few people are utterly convinced that the video is fake and it's a stunt. The chief reason that they think so is their misconception that all cheese has to be refrigerated or it will spoil. This is wrong. Cheddar is aged at 50 degrees F, +/- 2 degrees, or at least this is the temperature at which the master cheesemakers at Fiscalini in Modesto, Calif., age their delicious clothbound Cheddars. A fridge's temperature is much lower that that.

Other folks posting on YouTube were disgusted by the mold. I didn't realize that fears and misconceptions about mold were still so strong. I guess I shouldn't be when most people buy their Cheddar (as well as factory-farmed chicken) neatly wrapped in plastic, with no signs of its production. And I shouldn't be surprised that no one, not even the ones who tried to call people on their mold phobia, didn't realize that the mold is chiefly exterior. The mold is on the cloth that wraps the large (almost 50 lbs) wheel of cheese. When the cheese is ready to be sold, the cloth will be ripped off, along with the mold, and all that will be left (unless some mold has found its way into a fissure in the cheese and caused some bluing--the same blue as Roquefort) is the complex taste of a cheese that the mold helped create.


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