Issue 28

Cheese as Art

Cheese as Art

The Art of Cheese making is a long standing, artisanal, creative process, full of culture, legacy and ideas on how to engage and thrill the senses.

“An artisan is a person engaged in or occupied by the practice of a craft, who may, through experience and talent, reach the expressive levels of an artist using their hands, mind and heart in their work and what they create.” (Merriam Webster)

I can say without doubt, that cheese makers are artists that spend countless days, hours and months – even years – servicing their masterpieces. They use their surroundings as inspiration, as well as to find ingredients. They self- critique using all of the senses, they “go back to the drawing board” and they are committed to the role that better food, including their cheese, plays in our lives.

My first experience with the artistic nature of cheese was the first time I cut into a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano 12 years ago. Though it’s a bigger house cheese today, made en masse, it’s considered the “King of cheese.” Those that make it are considered master cheese makers, maintaining what is called alimentary control in Europe. You could say it is one of the first artisan cheeses available to the world.

Government organizations(DOC in Italy/the AOC in France etc.) assure terroir-that your cheese is made on the same land, in the same climate/country, using no artificial ingredients etc., as it first was and always has been. It’s important to that craftsmanship. Similar to how a Picasso and a Picasso print are valued differently. The original is always the one that brings the most at auction.

With Reggiano, there are even special cutting and carving tools, not just a knife or a wire. The blades of some of the tools look like big, flat, silver paint brushes, designed to crack that 75 pound wheel. You score the wheel with the carving tool, insert the “paint brushes,” and twist them to crack the wheel.

That moment when the rind cracks and the air touches the paste, that cheese is “born” and breathes for the first time. The cheese reveals its beauty, simultaneously speaking to your eyes, ears, and nose. The smell of a fresh wheel starts the wanton need of your taste buds for that first, sweet, nutty, sharp, intense, stinky, soft, crumbly, crystal crunchy taste. When I am cutting cheese, I have people smell the half wheel before we taste it. It’s like regarding a painting or sculpture for the first time – something to behold, creating a passion which brings you back for more.

This European cheese artistry influenced mainly Wisconsin, Vermont and California for a long time, but recently has reached into almost every state in the U.S. The burgeoning American artisanal landscape is prime for the picking with brewers, to vintners, to cheese makers. They are all throwing their hats in the ring and producing rustic cheeses, brews, wines and spirits that delight and rival their counterparts. They are cultural forefather’s and mother’s that took those huddled cheese masses and helped turn them into some of the best cheeses, loved all over the world, which was unheard of for American cheeses just ten years ago.

Humboldt Fog from Cypress Grove in Northern California is a long standing goat cheese made in the U.S. that has amazing craftsmanship. It’s goat brie that is aged like St. Andre. Sitting about six inches tall, the effect is a soft, brie texture at the rind, and a bit thicker, and richer texture in the middle. It’s like two cheeses in one.

Rogue River Blue from Rogue River Creamery, as well as Maytag blue from Newton Iowa, are two of the most highly acclaimed American artisan cheeses. Due to demand, they are produced in quantity now, so they are not handled in that small batch manner. However, the attention to authenticity and truth in cheese was started by these up-and-coming cheese companies and, as with their European counter parts, it matters to them.

All over the U.S., there are great local cheese makers creating small batch cheeses, partnering with local brewers and vintners. Here in Nebraska, Shadow Brook Farms in Lincoln and Honey Creek between here and Missouri Valley (tours available) make some delicious goat cheeses. Branched Oak makes cow’s milk cheeses, and Jisa’s from Brainard, NE is a distinct and fun farmer’s cheese with a variety of flavors, including cheese curds and sold at the Old Market Farmer’s Market and all over.

These artists are taking back the land. As artisan cheese makers in the USA, the impact they have had in some communities is phenomenal and something to be truly proud of. Farms that were set for foreclosure were salvaged and repurposed for our newfound love of great cheese. Cheese has created a call for a new beginning for something that might have seemed unimportant or uninteresting. This is art for our sense of taste, incorporating the way we love our land and animals that begets artistry and beauty as bi-products.

Sidebar – American Artisan Cheesemakers

Cowgirl Creamery CA, Crave Brothers WI, Cypress Grove CA, MouCo CO, Belle Chevre GA, Beecher’s OR, Murray’s Cheese, Green Dirt MO


Tags assigned to this article:
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