Cheese can be intimidating, no doubt, from the lingo to the smells to the mold, it takes a little courage to get into it. But, once you jump in, you’ll find yourself on a planet of pure joy, and the cheesemongers at Wedge are your intergalactic travel guides.

The Difference Between “American” Cheese and American-Made Artisan Cheese

We’re on a mission to open your mind when you think “American” cheese. Let’s do away with those plastic yellow singles used for deli sandwiches. That cheese gives American-made Artisan cheeses a bad rap. The diversity and quality of American-made cheeses is exploding, and we want to share them with you! So what kind of American cheese should you be looking for?

  • Start with anything made locally first. Support your local dairymen, farmers and cheesemakers. These cheeses are often only found near you as their production is rarely big enough to ship outside the area. These are special, unique cheeses – enjoy them! Other than that, ask your Cheesemonger to recommend something special the next time you stop by.
  • Although American Artisan Cheesemakers are hundreds of years behind the Europeans in terms of tradition and experience, they are catching up fast! Americans have been winning top awards on the world stage for years now ever since Fiscalini Farmstead Cheese knocked England off its pedestal with the Best Bandage Wrapped Cheddar at the World Cheese Awards in 2007 (and two more times since then!). American Cheesemakers are eager to learn and implement all they can from their European counterparts. They continue to innovate with their “American Originals” and impress at all levels of competition around the world every year.
  • Celebrate American Cheese Month every year in May by checking out the American-made specials we will be featuring all month!

What is Cheese?

As the saying goes, cheese is milk’s leap toward immortality. Basically, cheese is an age-old way of preserving the extra milk that couldn’t be consumed fresh. Milk, by definition, is a white liquid produced by the mammary glands of mammals. It does not come from a nut (sorry vegans!). The process involves isolating the solids (curds) from the liquid (whey). The curd is then handled in a variety of ways to ripen it depending on what style of cheese is being made. The ingredients are as simple as milk, enzymes, rennet and salt. Although a skilled cheesemaker is essential in directing a cheese to greatness, it is nothing short of magical as each cheese takes on the characteristics of its environment to become a unique product.

The Difference Between Artisanal and Farmstead Cheese

Artisan mainly refers to a product that is truly handmade. In the cheese world, this means the cheesemaker has a close and important relationship with their milk producer. The operations are often located physically nearby as well. The cheese is produced in small batches and often follow traditional recipes and methods.

Farmstead means that the cheesemaking facility and the farm where the animals live and are milked all happen on the same property. Generally, the animals are owned and managed by the Cheesemaker (or someone who is part of their organization) as well.

Can You Have Cheese If You’re Lactose Intolerant?

Most cheeses are safe for people who are lactose intolerant. The vast majority of the lactose is removed in the very early stages of cheesemaking. As cheese ages, lactose is converted to lactic acid, so many aged cheeses are considered to be lactose free.

All the Reasons to Enjoy More Cheese

  • Cheese tastes good, and it’s good for you!
  • Cheese is an excellent source of protein, carbohydrates and “good” fats. Cheese also contains healthy amounts of phosphorus, magnesium and potassium, which are known to be good for heart health.
  • Cheese supports bone and muscle health! Cheese is loaded with calcium, which promotes bone health. Cheese is also a great source of protein.
  • While people typically assume all cheeses are high in fat and calories, there are also some low-calorie options like feta, which has about 6 g of protein and only 70 calories per ounce.
  • Yogurt isn’t the only dairy product that’s good for your gut. The live cultures in artisan cheese help promote gut health, too!
  • Ever notice you feel a bit more calm and happy after eating cheese? That’s not just because it tastes so good. Cheese contains magnesium, which is known to help reduce the effects of stress on the body.
  • For those who have trouble digesting cheese, try goat and sheep milk alternatives. These milks are naturally homogenized and have smaller, more uniform fat molecules making it easier to digest.

Types of Milk Used For Cheese.

An old saying goes: Cow’s milk is made for butter, Goat’s milk is for drinking, Sheep’s milk is made for cheese. While there are a lot of cow’s milk cheeses these days (that’s mainly what is used in the US), worldwide there are just as many cheeses made from sheep’s milk. That’s pretty amazing, considering sheep only produce milk for about 5 months of the year. A single sheep produces about 1-2 quarts of milk per day (compared to 8-12 gallons from a cow and about a gallon from a goat). This is one of the reasons there are more cow’s milk cheeses.

  • Cow’s Milk – This is the most commonly used milk used for cheese making in the US. This isn’t necessarily because it’s the best, but it is versatile and many of the cheeses made from cow’s milk are in high demand. Some of your favorite cheeses made with cow’s milk include Cheddar, Muenster, Mozzarella, Brie and Camembert, Gruyere, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gouda and many blue cheeses like Stilton and Gorgonzola.
  • Goat’s Milk – Also known as chèvre, Goat’s milk cheeses are lower in potassium, making them more safe for people who need to avoid it. Goat’s milk cheese include Fresh Chevre, Bucheron, Chabichou, Drunken Goat and MANY more!
  • Sheep’s Milk – Sheep’s milk is a relatively new trend in the US and is a growing industry. Sheep’s milk is rich and delicious with approximately twice the fat as cow or goat milk. It is used to make REAL, traditional Feta (most US made Feta is made with cow’s milk – blasphemy!), Roquefort, Manchego and Pecorino Romano, among others. 
  • Buffalo Milk – You read that right! Water Buffalo (not American Bison) milk is often traditionally used to make fresh mozzarella, and many other styles as well. Stop by and try some other fabulous cheeses made with this rich, creamy milk.

How to Cut Artisan Cheese.

  • Hey now, get your mind out of the 4th grade. Cutting artisan cheese properly adds to the experience of eating it. Presentation means a lot when it comes to cheese:
    • Semi-soft wedge – Cut across in slices, then cut perpendicular along the rind.
    • Soft wedge – slice into wedge section fanning outward from the point.
    • Soft wheel – Cut into even wedges from the center.
    • Veined wedge – Start at the center of the thin edge and slice into points.
    • Log – slice across the log into coin shaped pieces.
    • Soft pyramid – slice downward in wedges from the center.

How to Care For Your Artisan Cheeses.

Wrapping Cheese: Your Cheesemonger will cut your cheese and wrap it in special cheese paper. The best way to preserve your cheese and keep it as fresh as possible is to use that paper. If that is not possible, use wax paper or parchment paper first and then overwrap it in plastic or put it in a plastic zipper bag. Your cheese is a living, breathing thing and will not do well wrapped straight in plastic as it will begin to suffocate. It needs a balance of humidity to keep it from drying out or getting sweaty.

While cheese can last a long time, it won’t keep forever! If you can’t consume it right away, please check your cheese every few days for any mold growth. Mold is normal and expected. If your cheese never gets any mold, that is cause for concern (Velveeta, for example, will never grow mold because there is nothing alive left in that product). Mold is normal and natural. Just cut off any moldy bits with a sharp knife and rewrap your cheese in clean paper.

Storing Cheese: Store your cheese in the cheese or dairy drawer in the coldest part of your refrigerator. It is ok to store cheeses together except for blue cheeses. These should be kept in their own container or zippered bag. The mold from these cheeses will travel to other cheeses if not kept separate.

Serving Cheese: Cheese should always be served at room temperature for the best flavor experience. Cut off what you think you will eat in one session and leave it out for 30-60 minutes before serving so that it can warm up and let the flavors develop.

Buying Cheese: Try to purchase just what you will consume in the next few days to a week. Cheeses are always best when cut fresh from the wheel. Your Cheesemonger is always happy to cut just the amount you need. And please don’t hesitate to ask for a sample prior to purchasing! We don’t want you to buy a cheese you don’t LOVE.

What’s the difference between raw and pasteurized milk?

Pasteurization is a process of heat treating that is designed to kill unwanted pathogens. There are several ways to accomplish this, but all require the milk to be brought to a specific temperature for a specific amount of time. The drawback, of course, is that all (or most) bacteria are destroyed, bad and good. Raw milk is milk that is unpasteurized and preferably not cooled and reheated for cheesemaking. Raw milk preserves all the natural flavor-producing bacteria that are the creators of the wonderful flavors found in aged cheeses. Raw milk is safe to drink and make cheese from as long as the milker is scrupulously clean with all their procedures and they have healthy animals.

Ever heard of AOC, AOP, PDO and DOP? These acronyms may be familiar to you in terms of wine such as Champagne. As you may know, Champagne cannot be called Champagne unless it is from the very specific area of Champagne, France. Otherwise, by law, it must be called Sparkling Wine. Cheeses also have these geographic protections. AOC/AOP (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, Appellation d’Origine Protégée) is the French version, DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta ) is the Italian. PDO is the EU/English version meaning Protected Designation of Origin. This means, by law, the particular food product being discussed can only be produced in that very specific geographic region using very specific methods and ingredients. This law exists because the flavors and nuances of these foods CANNOT be reproduced anywhere else but in those areas. These cheesemakers work very hard to preserve the traditions and flavors of these cheeses, so look for some of these seals (or ask your Cheesemonger) to be sure you are getting the REAL deal!

How was cheese discovered?

As the story goes, cheese was discovered many millennia ago when a shepherd carried milk in his boda bag made from an animal stomach. After a long day walking he discovered the milk had curdled. The boda bag had released rennet — an enzyme which comes from the stomach of a milk-fed animal. It contains the enzyme chymosin and causes the milk to coagulate and separate from the liquid whey, a vital first step in cheesemaking. Traditionally, rennet comes from animal sources, but there are vegetarian (thistle, nettle or acid, among others) and microbial (lab created) alternatives for those who are concerned about that.

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