All things cheese in France


Saturday, 25 April 2015

Excellence versus perfection




« If life were perfect, you wouldn’t have to live it! »  This is my mantra. It is what makes life interesting and even though I am sometimes seduced by the idea of perfection, as an interior designer and a project director for over 30 years, I have seen my fair share of designers painstakingly search for a perfect design solution, a perfect detail, a perfect whatever, to no avail!  One person’s perfection is another’s imperfection.  A far better and more satisfying option has always been to search for the expression of excellence.

Interior design/architecture has always been about being in the middle, being the bridge between a myriad of disciplines – client, architects, engineers, cost consultants, constructors, providers and suppliers, all sorts of points of view and visions; where the most oft heard statement is “my idea is the only idea!”.  Being the designer in the middle has always meant having to be inquisitive, creative, open, flexible and modest but above all respectful of all the various competing egos that make up a team.

So recently when a former colleague asked me to look at an addition to her CV that would explain why she was the appropriate candidate for an exciting new job, I got to thinking about perfection versus excellence. While the job was outside her discipline, it was by no means outside of her capabilities and expertise.  She has always been able to produce creative design ideas; recognized projects, cost effective solutions and well run project teams. In other words, she has always been able to create and foster excellence from a diverse and sometime disparate group of players.

Every job, every client, every team varies from the others for all sorts of reasons.  So why would this new discipline be different or more difficult for this talented designer/team leader than any other new project for her to be successful?  It wouldn’t!  The ability, passion and desire to create and foster excellence are the most important ingredients in any successful endeavour  not the perfect candidate.

So you ask, what does any of this have to do with cheese?  Cheese, like interior design, is no different; it is the ultimate team effort.  The environment, the animal, the cheese maker, the process, the production, the ageing, the selection are all part of this search to produce an excellent example of a cheese.  No not a perfect one because that can never exist, except perhaps in the mind (or mouth) of the beholder!  Each one of them is different, unique, an exploration and expression of that cheese with those particular elements led by that specific person at that time and place.  No two cheeses will ever be the same. And yet when all these different elements are led in unison towards excellence, the recipient – us - will have an excellent example in our possession to savour. And we can be grateful for all of the effort that "team leader" took to perfect excellence.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Eat More Cheese!

And now you have it! Scientific proof that eating cheese is good for you.  Here is an article in Time Magazine titled: Here’s Your New Science-Backed Reason to Eat More Cheese, by Mandy Oaklander dated April 13, 2015 that reveals all.

 

Did you really think otherwise?  The average French person is thin and eats 57 pounds of it a year! So what are you waiting for?  Go to your local cheesemonger and buy cheese!

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Raw Milk and Affinage...are they sacrosanct?

There are two issues that continuously present themselves in conversations about cheese, which never find resolution.  

Are raw milk cheeses better than pasturised milk ones?

Is affinage (aging) an added value beyond the cheese making?


And while the world's problems won't be solved by answering these two quetions, in the cheese world, they never seem to go away.  You find many different opinions and some fervent advocates on both sides of the fence, each one with their own viewpoint worth considering. This of course points to a point of departure for the discussion about what makes cheese - cheese and what makes up the profession(s) that surround it.

The central question about whether milk in its original form, i.e.; with all its inherent chemical makeup versus milk that has had all that 'good' stuff removed and then a controlled version added back in, makes for a better end product


I have my opinions but have had it challenged a few times, particularly with pasterised milk Époisses, which of course only proves to me that there is no finite answer. This was brought home when I read an interview with a well known fromager here in Paris - Martine Dubois, a fromagère in the 17th arrondissement who always has amazing cheeses.  She is an interesting person who advocates for better understanding and dialogue within her industry.  When asked her opinion about the debate about raw milk versus non, she said:

"The question isn't really there. Sorry to bring down a myth, but a raw milk camembert can be bad and a camembert from microfiltered milk can be excellent. Here we are speaking particularly about Camemberts, but all cheeses are affected yet not all make as much noise. It is a war that makes you forget the main objective: the taste of the product. Also, we cheesemongers need to be able to be supplied with a constant quality: raw milk cheeses are more difficult to maintain and the quantities do not always match the demand."

Another point of contention was whether affinage is a real profession and is it separate from being a cheesemonger? These have come under some heavy discussion of late by a lot of cheese people in the US.  As to this question of affinage, which technically meaning refinement or finishing or as the master Max McCalman defines it "the art of aging cheese",  Madame Dubois had another pretty pointed opinion which was echoed by Randolph Hodgson, the owner of Neal's Yard Dairy in the UK. 

The question to her was - What is a fromager-affineur which means one who not only sells cheese but ages cheese. Here in France, I would have said that a fromager is not the same as an affineur.  One sells cheese, but does not necessarily practice the art of affinage. They could be one in the same and those who do both would provide more advantages to the customer.  According to Mme Dubois however this misses the point. She said:

"Another myth ... refining (aging), is the maturation of cheese. Today, almost no fromager (cheesemonger) ages cheese in his cellars. I have three caves, each at different temperatures and humidity levels, which are used sometimes to delay or finish aging, but cheese is much better left in its original cellar to mature where it is at home with the right humidity, the right temperature, the right environment and the suitable expertise. Moreover, and to go even further...we (fromagère) are cheese merchants, we do not make cheese, that credit goes to the producer."

I think a bit of splitting hairs is going on here. According to Mr. McCalman in his article The Art of Affinage in Cheese Connoisseur this month, affinage is the second step in cheesemaking regardless of who practices it. 

"Great affineurs make memories and poor affinage destroys the promise of greatness."  

A cheese not only needs to be maintained properly, but it must have started with superior milk, cheesemaking techniques and hygiene. Affinage is the process of monitoring the development of a cheese and none of those steps without the other can make a superior product. In otherwords, affinage can not make a great cheese out of a poorly made one. But assuming all that is in place, proper affinage practiced by an artist in the trade will allow; coax; nuture what was set in motion during the cheesemaking process onto the road of achieving the cheese's full potential.

So in my opinion, regardless of whether the milk was raw or pasturised, if the milk was of high quality and the cheesemaker practices his craft with the upmost attention, a cheese has the potential of being taken to its highest level of expression by a cheesemonger, fromagère or affineur who practice at least in some part, the art of affinage.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Parmigiano-Reggiano

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Lactose Intolerance versus Milk Allergy, bis

from Culture Magazine 2013
My theory on Lactose Intolerance versus a Lactose Allegy has been vindicated!

An article on the Culture Magazine website - Cheeseographic: Lactose Intolerance on