Cheese Noobs Needed
August 17, 2006 8:55 AM   Subscribe

I want to start writing some cheese articles for a website I have. The first article will be an "intro to fancy cheese" type of thing geared towards folks who have only eaten the orange mega-mart stuff, but want to try some of the (perhaps scary) cheeses they see at Whole Foods or some of the other upscale markets.

The problem is, I'm not sure I have a good handle on just what sort of info these folks might find most helpful. So if you find cheese tempting but too intimidating, or if you have fears over stinky foot cheese, or if you want avoid spending good money on something you'll hate, or if you'd just like to know why people would eat that weird stuff, or....... well, whatever. Please share your cheese quandaries. Said another way - I want to write an article on "common concerns of cheese newcomers" but I need a survey of what those common concerns might be.
posted by MrCheese!!! to Food & Drink (50 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I only eat orange mega-mart stuff, because I eat the smelly stuff and it's totally GROSS. Give me some recipes it might taste good in, then we'll talk.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:03 AM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

Please don't include Brie in your article...


{explore cheeses people may actually like}
posted by Budge at 9:09 AM on August 17, 2006

i usually don't venture too far afield from cheeses I know that I like, other than a willingness to try whatever's on special at whole foods.

I'd like suggestions on pairing cheeses with other food and drink, basic explanations, "mozzerella is made with cow's milk, or sometimes buffalo, it tastes like x and is good with y, most often used in z recipes." Stuff like that.

I'm not really into strong cheese, or anything with moldy veins. If you know how to develop an appreciation for them, that'd be good. and I always like knowing how stuff is made.
posted by dubold at 9:13 AM on August 17, 2006

how do you pick a cheese to try? what are common characteristics of common cheeses? (taste-wise, consistency, pair with?) if you like X cheese, what Y cheeses should you try?

I'm have a wine, cheese and chocolate party, so I'm definitely all ears.
posted by canine epigram at 9:15 AM on August 17, 2006

Seems like a discussion of pairings would be useful, especially since fancy cheeses are often eaten for their own sake and not in recipes. You could discuss what fruits, or what sort of bread/cracker/other vehicle, or what wines or other beverages would best enhance the flavors of various cheeses.

I think non-cheesenerd people aren't so much used to just nabbing a hunk of cheese and mowing it down, they are used to melting it into something or sprinkling it on top of something. You can probably make it more accessible to people if you provide them some context for the cheese.
posted by padraigin at 9:15 AM on August 17, 2006

In what universe is Brie gross? It's utterly sublime.

Your best bet is probably to come up with some sort of grading system: hardness, smelliness, sharpness, sweetness, etc etc. That way people can easily compare.

Perhaps also comparing more exotic cheeses (and I use 'exotic in its loosest sense) to stuff they already know? "Proper parmagiano reggiano is kind of like what you get in a can of Kraft, much like that big juicy burger from your grill is kinf of like a Big Mac. Try asiago--it's a similar flavour etc etc etc."
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:16 AM on August 17, 2006

Mmmm. Cheese is my favourite thing.

You might want to start off with a real cheese that's sort of similar to the cheese you can bury in the ground and dig up to eat in 30,000 years time. Something like mild cheddar or Red Leicester.

Show how you can use cheese in familiar situations, like on burgers (Emmental! Emmental!). Then when you have their trust, start pushing the boundaries.

Put the new cheese in a place of comfort and safety, and you'll be rolling.
posted by randomination at 9:16 AM on August 17, 2006

Brie rules.

I think what might be a good thing to mention to your readers is the following: you can go to a proper cheese shop and have a little taste of anything they've got, so you don't have to buy anything you don't like. And if you don't want to do that for one reason or another, you can buy a small piece of whatever's on display for five or ten bucks. I went to my local cheese shop the other week and bought five kinds of cheese I'd never had, and spent between three and eight bucks a chunk each. If I don't like it, I've only spent a few bucks. This is nothing. And if I do like it, my life has been suitably enriched.

Anyhow. Maybe not what you were looking for. Other things:

- Moldy cheese isn't gonna kill ya.
- Don't be scared just because it's been cave-aged or has ash on the rind
- If you like a variety of cheese, you'll probably like the smoked kind even more.
- Just because it stinks doesn't mean it's going to taste strong. Many mild cheese reek to high heaven.
- Just because the gubmint says unpasteurized cheese is a bad thing doesn't mean they're right. They ain't.

I love cheese. I've had six new varieties in the last month, and had to stop myself from blowing a fortune on unpasteurized local stuff the other day.
posted by solid-one-love at 9:18 AM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

"I only eat orange mega-mart stuff, because I eat the smelly stuff and it's totally GROSS."

So if I came up with a list of cheeses that even "it's GROSS" folks would think are delicious, you would find that useful? Or could I persuade you to be more adventurous by explaining some of the odd flavors? Or perhaps I could explain how small the percentage of GROSS cheeses are among fancy cheeses as a whole?

"Please don't include Brie in your article..."

Well, the goal is to address common concerns. So brie will be in the mix. In fact brie is a good cheese to use when explaining gross cheese since it has such a wide variety of flavors and textures. For example, my wife will *not* eat stinky or runny cheese. But there are still some bries that she likes.

So brie will be in there. But I'll spend plenty of time explaining which brie a new cheese adventurer might want to avoid.
posted by MrCheese!!! at 9:20 AM on August 17, 2006

How about suggesting a more mild/accessible version of a very exotic cheese, in case your reader is a bit intimidated by the really exotic? Either a completely different type of cheese, or just a different style/blend/maker of the same kind.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:22 AM on August 17, 2006

I'd like to see a place online where I could order some "exotic" cheeses that you reccomened.

Unfortunatly, even though I work in NYC, and Murry's isn't that far, it's not close enough that I cna get there on a regular basis.. and thier online ordering is great but large portions/expensive.

Some of the smaller boutique cheese thrown in the mix would be great as well as the more common stuff - one of the best I've ever had was this cave-aged from some farm in Vermont, I actually had to pick up a phone and call, as it wasn't distributed very widely, but mm mm good :-)
posted by niteHawk at 9:22 AM on August 17, 2006

Your intro should probably stay clear of the moldy and the crumbly until they've already made the jump to brie, camembert (my personal favorite) edam, gouda, etc. I second dubold - work with a sommalier if need be, but let us know what wines/recipes best compliment the cheeses.

And let us know the site, I'd be interested, myself.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:23 AM on August 17, 2006

The site's in his profile.

And MrCheese, I had an Irish-made Lincolnshire Poacher this past weekend and quite liked it, too.
posted by solid-one-love at 9:27 AM on August 17, 2006

niteHawk, share, dude, share!
posted by canine epigram at 9:29 AM on August 17, 2006

Oh yeah - care to post the site you'll be using? (or email me in the link) I'd like to see where it goes :-)
posted by niteHawk at 9:30 AM on August 17, 2006

Explaining rinds would probably be helpful. I love all kinds of cheeses and I'm still sometimes unsure which rinds are edible and which should be cut off.

Actually, just mentioning that it's OK to cut off all rinds if you don't want to eat them might be good. My ex was much more willing to try different cheeses when they were rindless.
posted by occhiblu at 9:30 AM on August 17, 2006

What are some good cheeses to substitute into common recipies? For example, what would be some great cheeses to use in mac-and-cheese instead of (or in addition to) cheddar, or to put on top of a pizza instead of mozzarella? I would be more inspired to try a new cheese if I could use it to zing up something I'm already making.
posted by Gortuk at 9:32 AM on August 17, 2006

canine - Orb Weaver Farms
No website, no online ordering.. but is worth it

some info

Phone number can be found in one of those links :-)
posted by niteHawk at 9:34 AM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'd be very interested in trying cheeses but wouldn't have any idea where to start. I love brie but I suspect that it's the Chardonnay of cheese and the cheese snobs look down their nose at it. So I'd like to know if there are any highly user friendly cheeses that are also revered examples of the craft?

I think it's good in any endeavor like this to let people know they shouldn't be intimidated by the foodies they may run across.
posted by mattholomew at 9:39 AM on August 17, 2006

Great quandaries I'm seeing so far -

- Stinky cheese is GROSS. Right?
- Do I eat it plain? With something?
- I like wine. What cheese goes good with wine?
- How do I avoid strong cheese?
- I see 400 cheeses at the store. Help me break this down.
- How is cheese made?
- How do you pick cheese?
- Can you cook with fancy cheese?
- Show me something really fancy I'll like.
- I like Kraft cheddar. What else will I like?
- Cheese shops are scary. Right?
- It's suppose to be moldy? Do I eat that?
- Can I buy good cheese online?
- Does "good" mean imported?
- Do I have to eat the rind?
- I like mac & cheese. Can I make that with fancy cheese?

Great stuff folks. Keep 'em coming.
posted by MrCheese!!! at 9:42 AM on August 17, 2006

An explanation of terminology (since I assume you're looking to get beyond "gross or yummy?") would be particularly useful. There are obviously a lot of things which need to be experienced to be understood, but talking about what the flavor and texture descriptors mean, what components of the cheesemaking process contribute to them, and (critically) giving an example of a cheese that really demonstrates them is super useful. (This is something I've come across with wine and beer descriptions as well.)
posted by nickmark at 9:47 AM on August 17, 2006

You might also consider cheese and beer pairings. There are definitely cheeses that work better with beer (which is why I've started avoiding all Benelux cheeses, because the one's I've had have been nasty with wine).
posted by occhiblu at 9:48 AM on August 17, 2006

"talking about what the flavor and texture descriptors mean, what components of the cheesemaking process contribute to them, and (critically) giving an example of a cheese that really demonstrates them is super useful."

Point taken, but I want to hold off on that for a later article. This website is a long time commitment to me, so I'll have time to answer that question in depth.
posted by MrCheese!!! at 9:52 AM on August 17, 2006

1. It would be nice to have some explication of "categories" of cheese. That might help newbies be comfortable trying something new.
2. How about a series of entries, "If you like food/beverage X, then you will also like cheese Y." In other words, tempt them to branch out from some food item they know and like into an exotic cheese.
posted by alms at 9:57 AM on August 17, 2006

I really like the idea of pairing new cheeses with the familiar and explaining the difference. Take a capriacette for example. It's a small white round French goat cheese, a little pungent with a dusting of white ash. Very scary, no? Not until you taste it and realize it tastes almost exactly like a slightly sharper Kraft Cream Cheese with a firmer texture. Once you stomach that distinction, a Bucheron is a slightly more pungent (and exotic looking) version of a capriacette. Like Kraft swiss cheese? Try a tangy aged Havarti which might be described as a Kraft swiss with a bit of Kraft medium cheddar thrown in.

P.S. I don't think that in terms of an American palate, Brie and Camembert are the "next steps" from standard sandwich cheese. I remember them being very shocking when I first tried them, having had nothing other than Swiss, Cheddar, and American before.
posted by mrmojoflying at 9:58 AM on August 17, 2006

Oh and Kraft Mac and Cheese with an ounce of shaved Asiago mixed in is DIVINE.
posted by mrmojoflying at 9:59 AM on August 17, 2006

I find all the different blue cheeses very confusing, and sometimes scary.

Some have a really salty flavor, others are more subtle and nutty. Some have such a strong smell that they almost smell like puke. Some are softer, some are crumblier. Some are made from goat milk, some are made from cow milk.

I never know how much to use. Which blue cheeses will overwhelm my salad or mac & cheese or whatever, and which will complement my food and add an interesting differentess.

I made the mistake of going to the grocery store while hungry the other day, and came home with close to $40 worth of cheese -- a sharp cheddar, a creamy brie, a port salut, an asiago and blue stilton. Guess which one is still unopened in my fridge? The stilton.

I've had not-blue stilton before, and enjoyed it. But the blueness scares me. I don't know what to do with it.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:56 AM on August 17, 2006

Tell us where differnt cheeses come from -- like Wensleydale!

posted by kc0dxh at 11:02 AM on August 17, 2006

Not that you'd want to copy them or anything, but the cheese section of the FreshDirect online grocery is pretty good. It groups the cheeses into groups such as Brie & friends, swiss & alpine, blues, etc. Then when you click on an individual cheese it gives you a rating out of 5 for hardness, sharpness, etc (depending on the type of cheese). You can also compare individual cheeses.

Might give you some ideas, anyway.
posted by gaspode at 11:04 AM on August 17, 2006

I've had not-blue stilton before, and enjoyed it. But the blueness scares me. I don't know what to do with it.

Blue cheese and bacon burgers. Either as a topping or crumbled up in the meat. Trust me.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:08 AM on August 17, 2006

I would really appreciate a guide to identifying the various kinds of cheese- often I just see something in a box or wrapper and it's hard to tell what type it is. Is it soft? Is it hard? What can I expect?

Also, where can I find it? It would be really cool to have like a "target/costco/walmart finds" section where you find interesting cheeses that don't require a local cheese shop.

Incidentally, the cheese in Obninsk/Kaluga region of Russia is mostly wretched and is definitely different by name (parmesan is def. not parmesan) or just hugely varied in quality, hard to say. Depending on your world experience you might touch on this far down the road.
posted by fake at 11:16 AM on August 17, 2006

If I'm interested in trying a new cheese, I'd really like to know about the texture (hard, semi-soft, soft, etc), the taste (tangy, creamy, sharp, nutty, etc), the smell, the proper way to eat it (with or without rind, melted, crumbled, whatever), and some of the best things to eat it with/recipes to enjoy it in. A comparisson to something I've had before that may be similar would also be very useful.

Other less useful info might be where to find it, how much to expect to pay, what to look for when selecting a good sample, and maybe the story of where it came from/how it's made.
posted by geeky at 11:29 AM on August 17, 2006

The same cheese can have different names in different countries. There is a cheese in Sweden called "Prast Ost" (Ost = cheese) that I like but I can't figure out what it would be called in America. Can you include a cheeses of the world translation table?
posted by Eringatang at 11:41 AM on August 17, 2006

Can you talk about Venezuelan Beaver Cheese?

This thread is making me salivate. I love cheese! I'm very excited to explore your website.

One suggestion is to have pronunciations of the cheeses in the article. Perhaps some people are intimated by the (often) French words.

I second geeky's suggestions. All very good info that I would be interested in. I'm a cheese lover, but I tend to be lazy about exploring on my own.
posted by witchstone at 11:43 AM on August 17, 2006

If anyone's still looking for a place to buy cheese online, I just received an email from Epicurious yesterday advertising iGourmet's "700 gourmet cheeses from 30 countries."

posted by fujiko at 11:44 AM on August 17, 2006

Maybe a section on americanized versions of other cheeses and why the original or other variation may be superior, i.e. Kraft Parmesan-in-the-green-can vs. true parmesan reggiano.
posted by karmaville at 11:57 AM on August 17, 2006

Can you talk about Venezuelan Beaver Cheese?

He actually does on his site.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:09 PM on August 17, 2006

At the Wild Oats Market here in Albuquerque you can buy sample size cuts of cheese. I like to buy a handful of cheeses I've never tried before, and if they're disgusting, well no great loss, they're never more than a buck, no matter how expensive the cheese. I discovered some really nice cheese this way: havarti with dill, manchego and a creamy french cheese with ashes in it, the name of which I can't remember. Yum.
posted by Sara Anne at 12:16 PM on August 17, 2006

What I'm confused about—what is the "orange mega-mart stuff" you speak of? Velveeta or Kraft Singles or something? 'Cause growing up I was very familiar with cheddar, Swiss/baby Swiss, colby-jack, mozzarella, parmesan and provel. Those seem to me to be the most common cheeses in the U.S., apart from that disgusting plastic crap they call "American cheese" and that other disgusting crap they call "cottage cheese."

I'd also had the Asiago cheese bagels at Bread Company (Panera, for all you non-St. Louisans), and then in college I became well acquainted with provolone and Gouda. Those seem to me to be part of the next level of commonality. Then at one point I tried a semi-soft cracker cheese with a bit of ash running down the center whose name I can't remember...and it was good, but I wouldn't run out to the store for it all the time. In general, the cheeses listed above are the ones I stick to.

I guess what I'm trying to say is...perhaps a way to explain cheese that would help someone like me would be a concentric circles kind of method, e.g. "These are cheeses you may have encountered on sandwiches or at the grocery store. Now here are some cheeses that are similar to those cheeses but a bit less common." Then "these cheeses are similar to X and Y cheeses, but less common." Etc.

Also, I was lucky enough when I was a kid to see a whole segment on some show (Sesame Street? I don't know) about how they make cheese in factories. It was very informative, and I've never been afraid of any cheese (well, except blue cheese) after seeing it. So an article about how cheese is made could in fact be very helpful as far as allaying readers' fears is concerned.
posted by limeonaire at 12:29 PM on August 17, 2006

I'm with karmaville. There are lots of cheeses here that are widely enjoyed, like "Swiss cheese," that just aren't anywhere near as good as their counterparts made in the country of origin. I hated that stuff until I tasted Emmenthaler made from non-pasteurized milk. After eating Gruyère, though, I haven't had either Americanized Swiss or Emmenthaler since.

However, trying to argue this point with American muenster and French munster might get you shot when your readers try the smelly stuff. :)
posted by invitapriore at 12:43 PM on August 17, 2006

Fantastic input folks. This is the first article I'm writing for the site, and I wanted to do it right. I feel like you've put me on a good path.

Many of the ideas here are probably better for something after this "cheese 101" article. But I'll get to those as well.

I really try to avoid self-linking. So if you just check the link in my profile next week you'll find the product of this discussion linked on the home page.
posted by MrCheese!!! at 12:44 PM on August 17, 2006

Oddly enough, this question came up among some friends last weekend, and none of the modrately educated and cheese-loving crowd knew the answer: Why is some cheese white, some yellow, and some orange? (The blue we understand.)
posted by mkhall at 1:09 PM on August 17, 2006

Short answer - Orange cheese is colored with carrot juice (rarely) or annatto (more commonly). This is tasteless and just for looks. Occasionally you'll find some cheese aged 3+ years that tends towards orange, but that's subtle.

White/yellow is harder.

White cheese tends to be fresher. Yellow cheese tends to aged a few months or more.

Goat cheese tends to be whiter than cow's milk cheese.

But aging and production methods can shift things a bit.

When we're dealing with mega-mart processed cheese, any color other than white will be artificial and not related to taste.
posted by MrCheese!!! at 1:41 PM on August 17, 2006

i like cheese
posted by ozomatli at 3:23 PM on August 17, 2006

Mega-mart processed cheese is made from regular cheeses such as cheddar, colby, monterey jack, swiss, ect. These types of cheeses are made in gigantic blocks at the original cheese factory. When the blocks are cut into one pound blocks (or whatever shape and size specified), there is always some cheese that is left over. These cheese pieces, along with any over-aged, under-aged, or "out of spec for selling as natural cheese," get sent to the processed cheese factory. While in the factory they are mixed with salt, emulsifiers, stabilizers, maybe some peppers (if it is pepper jack or something like that), and perhaps some other ingredients. A manufacturer will use an additional colorant in a processed cheese, but the majority of the cheese color comes from the natural cheese that was used to make it. Any additional colorant is used to ensure that the cheese is uniform in color. If a processed swiss is desired, mainly swiss will be used to make it. If a processed American is desired, it is mainly made with cheddar and other yellow or orange cheeses. I am not trying to say that I like processed cheese (because I do not really), but I do not want people to get the idea that processed cheese is just some sort of alien food that contains no real cheese.

There are different grades of process cheese. Processed cheese, processed cheese food, and
posted by catseatcheese at 3:44 PM on August 17, 2006

opps...proccessed cheese spread are all different types. The processed cheese contains the most cheese.
posted by catseatcheese at 3:47 PM on August 17, 2006

I found a mascot and theme song for you.
Group X - I Like Cheese.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:32 PM on August 17, 2006

There's also Robyn Hitchcock's song "The Cheese Alarm"

Roquefort and grueyere and slippery Brie
All of these cheeses they happen to me
Oh please

Rough pecorino and moody Rams Hall
Stop me before I just swallow it all
Oh please

Somebody ring the cheese alarm
Oh please
Somebody ring the cheese alarm

Goats' cheese cylinder, tangy and white
Roll over me in the flickering night
Oh please

Chaume and Jarlsberg, applewood smoked
"The pleasure is mine," he obligingly joked
Oh please

Somebody ring the cheese alarm
Oh please
Somebody ring the cheese alarm

Hey now, Fletcher, don't keep me up late
I can't even fit into size thirty-eights
Oh please

Juddering Stilton with your blue-blooded veins
You can't build a palace without any drains
Oh please
Oh please
Oh please

Half the world starving and half the world bloats
Half the world sits on the other and gloats
Oh please

Truckle of cheddar in a muslin rind
Would you give it all up for some real peace of mind?
Oh no.

posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:47 PM on August 17, 2006

Certainly you should cover Casu Marzu.
posted by oats at 7:26 PM on August 17, 2006

Article posted. Thanks for the help everyone.
posted by MrCheese!!! at 10:30 AM on August 18, 2006

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