BRATTLEBORO—As a public service, I offer this question-and-answer edition of The Cheese Log. It’s sort of the cheese version of “Dear Abby,” except that name is already taken. So how about “Dear Stabby?” I mean, knives are involved, you know.
Even though I’ve hung up my apron and closed my cheese shop, people still stop me on the streets and ask me questions about cheese. I sort of expected that I would be known as a go-to source of cheese information, and having my picture attached to this column certainly contributes to the situation.
But every day?
The frequency of these questions tells me that the cheese-eating public feels hopelessly lost when faced with the results of the controlled spoilage of milk.
That makes me sad.
Please allow me to help by formulating somewhat clever fake letters to a cheese-advice columnist, using frequently-asked questions as the basis for conveying information and a lame attempt at comedy.
My hope is twofold: I answer your burning cheese questions, and you think of other ones and write to me so I can keep having fun with this.
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Dear Stabby: I bought this cheese called Morbier, and it looks like there’s this big line of mold running down the center, all the way through the wedge. Can I eat this? —Confused in Colrain
Dear Confused: It’s not mold. It’s harmless ash created by burning vegetables. Why would anyone burn vegetables? Maybe they don’t like them, or they were trying to do too many things at once. It happens.
Meanwhile, it’s perfectly edible, and it doesn’t even taste like anything.
So, why is it there, you might ask? Mostly as a concession to tradition.
Morbier began its life as leftovers.
During Morbier’s formative years in the Franche-Comté region of France, the cheese was made in the evening using whatever curds were left over from making Comté. The cheesemaker would put the curds in the hoop and cover them with vegetable ash to help protect it from flies and to prevent a rind from forming. At the next morning’s milking, fresh curds were laid on top to complete the 10-pound wheel.
Morbier isn’t the only cheese with vegetable ash. Fresh goat cheeses are often found coated in ash, and their young, soft-ripened counterparts sometimes have a layer of ash just beneath the rind or, like Morbier, have an equatorial ash-line.
Some Vermont goat cheeses displaying this ash-line are Blue Ledge Farm’s Lake’s Edge and Lazy Lady Farm’s Marbarella. I highly recommend both of them.
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Dear Stabby: Can I eat this rind? —Nervous in Newfane
Dear Nervous: Since you failed to attach a photograph, or a cheese, I don’t know which rind you mean. So I’ll pretend you have many cheeses representing every type of rind.
Here’s the quick and dirty answer.
Is the rind white and cottony? You can eat it.
Does the rind look like dirt or the surface of a rock? You can technically eat it, but you shouldn’t.
Is the rind orange or salmon-colored and a little sticky? You can eat it.
Does the rind look like paint, plastic, or wax? You shouldn’t eat it.
Is the rind really hard with an oily surface? You won’t like to chew on it, but you can throw it in your stock pot.
You never have to eat the rind. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
If you want a more detailed answer, please see “Edible or not? Minding your rinds,” my cheese column from the March 4 issue of The Commons.
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Dear Stabby: I’m having sophisticated guests from Paris. Which French cheeses should I buy to impress them? —Hungry in Hinsdale
Dear Hungry: None.
While it is entirely possible to get excellent French cheeses stateside, they will not be what your Parisian guests are used to, and you are risking disappointment.
You are also risking boredom. When you visit your friends in France, do you seek out American-style food? I hope not!
Your guests deserve the best experience our region has to offer and, other than maple syrup, there’s arguably no food that does this place better justice than cheese.
New Hampshire has a few excellent cheeses. Sawyer’s Artisanal Cheese is made at Stonewall Farm on the outskirts of Keene, and Walpole boasts Boggy Meadow Farm and its many varieties.
Just over the river, within about a half hour’s drive, is Parish Hill Creamery and Vermont Shepherd in Westminster; Grafton Village Cheese in Grafton and Brattleboro; Spoonwood Cabin Creamery in Jacksonville; and Big Picture Farm in Townshend.
Most of these cheesemakers sell their cheeses at farmers’ markets; others sell them at farm stands and food co-ops. The Grafton Village Cheese retail shops in Grafton and Brattleboro sell their own cheeses as well as a number of regionally produced selections.
It is not only possible to create a cheese board with super-local selections. It is also exciting, and your French guests might find themselves jealous of our wonderful New England cheeses.