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The Whey of the Curd

Welcome to a new blog that explores the fascinating and delicious world of artisanal cheese and other delights.

My passion is cheese.  I work with it, eat it, and literally talk about it ‘til the proverbial cows come home.  And with cheese comes an appreciation of dairy animals, farmers, cheesemakers and the land.

I’m addicted to all things cheese.  There is evidence that cheese addiction comes about through the naturally occurring opiates found in cow's milk--or the milk of any other species, for that matter.  Milk contains a protein called casein, which breaks apart during digestion to release a whole host of opiates, called casomorphins. 

Scientific reasoning aside, cheese makes me feel good. It makes my mouth and taste buds happy.  I notice that it makes other people a bit fanatical as well.  But my fascination doesn’t end with the cheese board.   

Wine is another amazing gift of terroir.  Wait, huh? The concept of terroir in wine making denotes the special characteristics that the geography, geology, and climate of a certain place bestow upon particular varieties of grapes. It extends to cheese as well. Think about it.  Agricultural sites in the same region share similar soil, weather conditions, and farming techniques, which all contribute to the unique qualities of the crop, or in the case of cheese--milk. Terroir can be very loosely translated as "a sense of place.”  Each cheese has a unique fingerprint of the land, the milk, the skill of the cheesemaker, and the caves in which it is aged.

The pairing of fermented curds with fermented grapes is another area of interest that I have been cultivating for the last 6 years.  There is nothing cooler or more gastronomically rewarding than sipping and nibbling your way through a dazzling array of artisan cheeses matched with the perfect wine or spirit. That’s why I love teaching classes about cheese.  I get to eat, drink, and pontificate with the cheese curious about why this ancient food stuff is just so darn amazing.

I learned all about cheese in the caves of Artisanal Premium Cheese Center in New York where I trained as an intern, learning from some of the best experts in the business. My newfound passion incited me to enroll in the master series at Artisanal, eventually working as a culinary advisor and then becoming a member of its teaching faculty as a fromagère.

To me, cheese is more than just something good to eat. It’s a living, breathing food that both sates and delights the appetite. Cheese is a connection with early humanity and civilization.

This blog will endeavor to share bits and pieces of curd-worthy news. I also want to dish about other great things going on in the world of food, entertaining and anything else that I, frankly, find interesting.

Ultimately, I hope to hear from you. What do you want to know about cheese? What are your favorites? Why do some cheeses smell so bad?  Anything goes. Perhaps we can all discover something new.   

Your friend in fromage, Erin Hedley, aka La Dame du Fromage, LLC

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Connecticut Patrician November 28, 2011 at 02:22 PM
wonderful blog---best cheese shop in lower fairfield county is the Darien Cheese Shop in The Good Wives Shopping Centre. Knowledgeable staff. You may taste the cheese before purchasing. Wide selection of cheeses. In addition, they carry the best prosciutto ever.
Erin Hedley November 28, 2011 at 03:36 PM
I agree with you on that! Love Ken and Tori and what they have created in their cheese store. If you ever need a custom-made platter for any occasion, this is one of the specialties that La Dame du Fromage offers. Thanks for reading my first blog post!
Ann McManus November 28, 2011 at 04:00 PM
Erin - one of the best things about your cheese platters is that you always have the right mix of soft, hard and stinky cheeses. I'm hoping you'll give some advice on how to assemble different but complementary cheeses for every occasion!
Erin Hedley November 28, 2011 at 05:56 PM
Yes, depending on how you're serving your cheese, whether as an appetizer or dessert course, I hope to cover a wide range of serving ideas. Seasons play a role in cheese offerings as well because many artisanal cheeses have a season in which they're best enjoyed for peak flavor.
L Smith November 28, 2011 at 07:41 PM
Thanks for the great information Erin! I look forward to learning more.
NewCanaanVoter November 28, 2011 at 08:28 PM
"There is evidence that cheese addiction comes about through the naturally occurring opiates found in cow's milk" There is evidence that certain types of casein are broken down by the body or by certain milk processing techniques to produce opioids (not opiates), but I don't think there is any evidence that this can cause cheese addiction. First, addictiveness is largely a function of route of administration. The shorter the time between administering a substance and that substance passing through the blood brain barrier (BBB), the more likely it is that a person will develop an addiction. That's why for the same drug, the likelihood of developing an addiction from smoking > IV > insufflation > sublingual > oral. When you eat cheese, first the caseins need to be broken down into casomorphins and then those casomorphins need to cross the BBB, a process which probably takes hours. This is assuming it's even possible for casomorphins to cross the BBB when consumed orally, which scientists think may be possible although it hasn't been proven. So when you consider that casomorphins are only very weak opioid agonists, and also the extreme slowness of onset of effects, it's unlikely that it would be possible to develop either a physical or psychological addiction to cheese unless you figure out a way to smoke parmesan through a crack pipe or something.
NewCanaanVoter November 28, 2011 at 08:36 PM
It's interesting to note though that there have been a couple unscientific experiments looking at possible effects on dreaming from hard cheeses: http://www.erowid.org/experiences/subs/exp_Cheese_Blue.shtml http://web.archive.org/web/20060115000115/http://www.cheeseboard.co.uk/news.cfm?page_id=240 It's not clear if any of these effects, assuming they really exist, would come from the opioid properties of the casomorphins. There are a bunch of techniques to potentiate opioids though, so I suppose one could try downing a bunch of grapefruit juice and tonic water before eating cheese and seeing if it does anything: http://www.hipforums.com/newforums/showthread.php?t=305596 I doubt there would be any effect, but don't blame me if you try it and OD. :-)
Erin Hedley November 28, 2011 at 08:40 PM
Thanks for your thoughtful response to my post. I was referring to my "cheese addiction" largely "tongue-in-cheek" but have done a bit of research on the subject of cheese and casomorphins. Here's a reference to a study conducted by the Physicians Council for Responsible Medicine. http://www.pcrm.org/search/?cid=1290
NewCanaanVoter November 28, 2011 at 08:48 PM
Interesting article. I'd be interested in seeing A2 cheese compared with A1 cheese in terms of calming or other psychoactive effects.
jane armstrong November 29, 2011 at 05:50 PM
Erin, I have really enjoyed the many cheese events I have attended of yours, my favorites being the in-home cheese (and wine and honey) tastings. These are a great way to spice up a ho-hum dinner party and the guys love it as much as the gals! Would love to know how best to store the cheeses and how long they last?
Erin Hedley November 29, 2011 at 09:59 PM
Thanks for the kind comments. Storing cheese takes just a little bit of extra effort. Simply wrapping leftover cheese in plastic wrap is not the way to go. You see, saran wrap can "smother" the cheese and impart off flavors if left on the cheese for more than a couple days. The softer cheeses can be stored in a lidded container if you don't have special 2-ply cheese paper which is made specifically for cheese storage. Softer cheeses should be eaten soon after purchase. The high moisture content tends to foster over-ripening and mold growth much sooner than the harder, firmer cheeses. For semi-firm to hard cheeses, I like to wrap these first in a layer of wax paper or parchment paper, then wrap a loose layer of saran wrap around the paper. Why? Because now you've created a mini cheese cave which allows the cheese to breathe and develop without compromising the flavor. Cheese likes humidity and does NOT like dry, cold air. The best place to store your cheese is in the vegetable compartment of your refrigerator. The exception to this rule is for blue cheeses which can tolerate colder temperatures. You can even wrap your blue cheeses in foil, which is the type of wrap that most blues are packaged in as they leave the cheese caves. My tip for cheese buyers is to buy only what you think you will consume quickly. Buy smaller pieces, but buy often!
Amy R. Burger December 01, 2011 at 04:24 PM
Erin, great blog! I can say I've never enjoyed just cheese for dinner until I had you over...we learned a lot and had a great time, thank you. Ever since you introduced me to that dreamy goat's cheese from The Tuscan, I've been trying to find it elsewhere and can't remember the name....do you?
Erin Hedley December 01, 2011 at 10:18 PM
Oh, the yummy goat cheeses of the world have come such a long way since the introduction of fresh chevre to restaurant chefs the late 70's. I believe the cheese I introduced you to was the Coupole from Vermont Butter and Cheese Company. Alison Hooper and her partner have become experts in the production and aging of the French Loire-valley style goat cheeses. It's shaped like a little dome (thus coupole) and has an ivory colored wrinkly skin. Its paste is dense, almost fudgy, with a hint of citrus, mineral and yeast. Does that ring a bell?
Kelly Hanratty December 06, 2011 at 04:57 PM
Erin - great cheese blog! When in a pinch and can't get to the nicer cheese shops, are there selections or varieties of cheese you could suggest from stores such as Trader Joe's or Walter Stewart's?
Erin Hedley December 06, 2011 at 10:04 PM
My suggestion would be to visit Walter Stewart's market since they are carrying a few selections from Artisanal Cheese Center, where I learned my craft. They also have a few from other American artisanal cheesemakers, such as Jasper Hill. Another option would be Whole Foods...they have a quite a few great varieties of cheese such as Piave, Mountain Gorgonzola, aged Goudas, Ossau-Iraty, and Hudson Valley Camembert.
L Smith January 16, 2012 at 09:44 PM
Great suggestions Erin. I love your platters both in taste and presentation! Is there a difference between hard and soft cheeses in regard to calories and fat content?
Erin Hedley January 17, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Yes...though most would think that the gooey, decadent triple and double-creme cheeses like Brillat-Savarin or Saint Andre are more fattening, ounce per ounce a harder cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Cheddar has more fat and calories. This is due to the fact that the softer cheeses have more water/moisture content than the drier cheeses which are more dense and concentrated.
Joaquin Marietta September 22, 2012 at 06:01 PM
My favorite cheese is the packet included in the box of Kraft macaroni and cheese that my friends and I ate everyday for lunch in high school while attending Mountain View High School in Mesa, Arizona in 1977. My question for you would be: Is this really cheese and if so, what variety? I also know someone who added hot sauce to this for better flavor.
Erin Hedley September 22, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Ha! A post from my dear childhood friend who has exposed me as a long-time user of the Kraft Mac and cheese. All kidding aside, I can tell u that there is actually some cheese in the strange, powdery, orange colored mix. Most of the powder consists of whey, which is the byproduct of the cheese making process. Other ingredients are milk protein, and calcium phosphate which gives the cheese sauce mix it's texture and taste of cheese. Cheese cultures are also in the mix adding to the impression of eating a cheesy type of sauce. I miss our Mac and cheese days back in AZ. Xxo

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