I garnered these extremely important bits of vital information as hundreds of cheesemakers and industry experts from around the globe descended on Madison, Wis., for the International Cheese Technology Exposition. All you had to do was stand in one place at the Alliant Center at any given time to hear at least three different languages being spoken, all in the name of cheese. Ah .. just think if I could speak French or Italian – I could have learned even more!
Thursday’s 2010 World Champions Awards Banquet was especially moving – as cheesemakers from around the world flew in to Wisconsin to claim their gold, silver and bronze medals. The table of Swiss cheesemakers sitting next to me – all dressed in traditional Swiss clothing – seemed to have a VERY good time, whooping it up whenever a Swiss cheesemaker took the stage for an award.
Later, I was privileged to be part of a cheesemaking seminar with French Cheesemaker Ivan Larcher and Mateo Kehler, of Jasper Hill in Vermont. Ivan and Mateo taught us the science, chemistry and art of making Munster cheese from the Alsace region of France. All of the assumptions we had about making cheese in the U.S. were challenged – everything from cooking and cutting the curd, to sanitizing our surroundings, to aging cheese once it’s out of the mold.
Much of the course was extremely technical, with flip charts on acidity evolution, aging bacteria and coagulation gradients. While the 12 cheesemakers in attendance – two of them Wisconsin Master Cheesemakers – soaked up the knowledge like sponges, my eyes pretty much glazed over. But I did learn two things: cheese can pee, and if aged incorrectly, cheese can develop nipples.
This highly technical information actually came up earlier in the week, as several cheesemakers gathered at a local cheesemaker’s home, talked shop, and drank a large amount of Lake Louie beer. I learned that Cheese pee comes from big wheels of Swiss, when crafted with too much acidity, actually crack during the aging process. They “weep” or “pee” Swiss cheese juice, and in a day or two, can fill half a glass with such pee. Apparently it tastes pretty good. I brought up the idea of marketing cheese pee, but was greeted with completely blank stares and the advice to have another beer. Oh well.
Cheese nipples are another story. Apparently when cheese is drained improperly during the aging process, it can actually form little buds of moisture on the rind, which Ivan, with a completely straight face, deems “cheese nipples.” I googled “cheese nipples”, hoping to learn more, but actually learned WAY more than I wanted to about Welsh film makers who made a shoot-em-up short film called “Operation Cheese Nipples.” Catchy theme music, though. That’s nine minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Think I’ll go back to learning about cheese.