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  • Susan Low

Sharing the cheese love

Updated: Apr 20, 2022

It wasn’t inevitable that I would grow up to love cheese.

As a child in the US in the 1970s, I witnessed (and ate) many Crimes Against Cheese, including plastic-wrapped individual slices of ‘pasteuried process cheese food’ that you peel and eat (lest your hands get besmirched by touching smelly cheese); cans of Easy Cheese, a bright-orange paste that you spray onto a biscuit; and Cheez Whiz, a nuclear-orange paste that’s meant to ‘enhance’ everything from hot dogs to fully loaded nachos. ‘American cheese’ was a tasteless pale-yellow rectangle of blandness whose sole purpose, it seems, was not to offend the senses.

Maybe that early introduction was a kind of inverse aversion therapy. Now, when it comes to fromage, my senses crave the most interesting, smelly, oozy, runny, hard, soft, fuzzy-rinded and challenging cheeses. I can’t get enough of the stuff.

I recently decided to formalise my cheese obsession by learning about it properly, and I’ve just completed my Level 1 Certification at The Academy of Cheese. Mine was a virtual course taught over two evenings, and led by the irrepressible cheese expert Emma Young, aka @thecheeseexplorer.

Emma’s a mine of cheesy knowledge. Ask her about the importance of affinage, salt-loving microbes in blue cheese or the ideal fat content of milk for cheesemaking and she has the answer.

The course is well put-together and introduces the Academy’s own Structured Approach to Cheese Tasting, a systematic way of learning to assess cheese objectively (as far as tasting can be objective ­­– read more on that topic in this excellent piece from Vittles). The course has helped me to understand how the many ways a cheese can be made and subsequently treated and aged can affect the way it tastes – and it’s given me a full lexicon of descriptors to dip into.

In other cheesy goings-on...

I had the privilege to proofread Portrait of British Cheese: A Celebration of Artistry, Regionality and Recipes by writer, photographer, poet and food producer Angus D. Birditt.

Birditt travelled all over the British Isles talking to farmers and cheesemakers producing artisan and farmhouse cheeses such as Baron Bigod, St James, Stichelton and many more. He pieces together how the landscape, the animals, the local community – and the cheesemakers themselves – contribute to each cheese’s unique character.

It’s a great read. Warning: it will make you hungry.

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