The Foodie

artisanal cheese, cheese

An Artisanal Cheese Revival

November 24, 2009
by Colleen Brondou
The craft of artisanal cheesemaking is alive and thriving in the United States, producing a huge variety of top-notch cheeses that rival their European forebears. We'll take you on a tour of artisanal cheeses and show you how to make them and where to buy them.

Learning Cheese Lingo

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Terms like “specialty,” “artisan” or “artisanal,” and “farmstead” get thrown around a lot, but what do they all mean? The American Cheese Society champions the specialty, farmstead and artisanal cheesemaking movement in the United States and explains that artisanal cheese differs from other types of cheese production in that it is mostly handmade and relies very little on machines for production; any type of cheese can be artisan or atisanal if it is handmade.

Processed or artisanal cheeses come in many varieties and can be made from the milk of a number of different animals. To learn the differences between gouda, feta, parmesan, cheddar and the hundreds of varities of cheese available, consult our Cheese Guide.

Sampling Artisanal Cheeses

One way to get acquainted with different cheeses is to sample them by style. A classic cheese plate includes a mix of the different styles or types (aged or fresh, hard or soft) arranged from freshest to the most aged. Cheese expert Laura Werlin shares her favorite artisanal cheeses in this Food & Wine article, “The Great American Cheese Plate.” Each cheese is presented with a quick description and a link to its associated Web site.

Another way to sample cheese is to go to the source: travel around the country, drop in on artisanal cheesemakers and see what they’re up to. Michael Claypool and Sasha Davies did just that, and then went one step further by chronicling their adventures in a blog, Cheese by Hand. The couple traveled from Maine to Alaska, visiting cheesemakers and sharing their stories.

Making Your Own Cheese

Next time you’re in Dripping Springs, Texas, drop by award-winning Pure Luck Farm and Dairy. Pure Luck is a family owned and operated goat farm that specializes in handmade artisanal goat cheese. The Dairy also offers workshops in basic cheesemaking techniques (which this writer attended, and highly recommends). Register for a workshop and learn how to make several different types of cheese (including chèvre and feta). Best of all, you’ll get to take your cheeses home with you.

Maybe you want to skip the class and dive right in to cheesemaking. That’s OK, too. David Fankhauser, Professor of Biology and Chemistry at the University of Cincinnati Clermont College, offers a Beginning Cheese Making tutorial. Get an overview of ingredients and equipment, and a list of seven recipes. You’ll be making mozzarella and blue cheese in no time.

Buy Local

Buying directly from your local artisanal cheesemaker can often save you money, ensure that you get a fresh product and help you support small local businesses. Online Yellow Pages and map sites like Google Maps or MapQuest can help you find a cheese shop or farmer’s market in your area. Another option is to try Smalldairy.com. The site has a directory of small creameries around the country. Cheeses are listed by milk type (cow, goat, sheep and water buffalo or yak) and include a description, the dairy location and a link to the associated Web site.
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