Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Grading Cheddar

So, how did Cheddar fare during its brief stint in night school? I am relieved to report that it passed. I wish I could say that it earned an A+, but it fell slightly off the mark, mainly because of me.

For the most part, I succeeded in achieving what I had planned for my hour-plus-long class at the Princeton Club of New York. I introduced the guests, about 25 of them, to the varied tastes of Cheddar from around the world, and I survived conducting my first cheese tasting. I also competently outlined Cheddar's long history, and I wasn't flustered by several self-important guests.

This is where I fell off the mark:
1. I am not sure I successfully explained why the guests should care about Cheddar and its history.

2. I didn't do a good job of showing the delicious differences between a mass-produced Cheddar and a farmstead/artisanal one. This fault may have rested more with the cheeses than with me. None of the five cheeses particularly impressed the guests. If one stood out favorably, it might have been the Fiscalini.

3. I forgot to ask the guests which of the Cheddars was their favorite. What a wasted opportunity!

4. I realized that I am not yet adept at identifying different Cheddars without some visual clues or labels. When I first arrived in my "classroom," none of the cubed cheeses, which were placed in separate piles on one plate, were labeled. I panicked that I couldn't tell them apart and that I was going to mislead my guests during the tasting. I could safely distinguish the musty Keen's and the caramel-ly Le Chevre Noir, but I wasn't at all sure about the other three, Isle of Mull, Fiscalini, and Cabot (Classic Vermont, Sharp). Thank goodness some labels finally appeared and rescued me!

This evening served as an excellent opportunity for me to see what the public wants to know about Cheddar, if anything. Here's a summary of their instructive questions: how much does each cheese cost, how should the cheeses be stored and for how long, how do the properties of milk differ among breeds of cows, why do you push the cheese to the roof of your mouth when tasting it, how can you tell a supermarket Cheddar from a supermarket Jarlsberg, what role does snobism play in assessing specialty foods, how is the pH level controlled during cheesemaking and how does its level affect the final product, how will cheddaring or stirring the curd create different tasting cheeses, and when will my book about Cheddar come out.

Despite not being able to answer the above questions fully, I felt confident with the material and in control of it and for that, I am much relieved. But I've got so much more to learn and master!

I want to thank both the Princeton Club of New York for inviting me to speak and for putting on such a well-run program and the food historian Francine Segan for recommending me to the club's program director, Wanda Mann.

1 comment:

msdeemc said...

darn, I thought this was about "grating" cheddar. but, a question; is cubed cheddar the superior state for tasting?