“Delicious Decomposition: Tales from the Cheese Caves of France”
Sister Noella Marcellino, Ph.D., Abbey of Regina Laudis, artisanal cheesemaker and microbiologist who studied the biodiversity of cheese-ripening fungi in France; featured in Netflix documentary series “Cooked,” based on Michael Pollan’s book “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation”
Mateo Kehler, co-founder and manager of Jaseper Hill Farm and Caves, Greensboro, Vt.
Or in the words of Sister Noella, the presentation could be renamed to “cavemen I have known and loved.”
I’m not going to go into super detail. It was just a fun lecture. I wanted to attend because I remembered her from Pollan’s Cooked. I got there early (doors opened at 6pm even though the lecture didn’t start until 7pm), and took my old spot in the audience.
We got cheese samples!
Sister Noella’s presentation was really informative, but I think Mateo’s and Ben’s presentations were a bit more of interest to me. She mostly talked about how the Bethlehem cheese came to be, certain microbes (like the geotrichum candidum, which I think smells a bit like daikon), and how she won a Fullbright scholarship that allowed her to study cheesemaking in France.
Mateo’s presentation was almost half-advert, but was really about the structure of Jasper Hill Farms as it relates to cheesemaking.
He also made a comment about grass-fed cheeses. Basically a cheese made from the milk of cows with a 100% grass-fed diet doesn’t taste all that great. He said that dairy production requires a lot of energy, and lactating cows need to be fed a little bit of grain. (Grains provide more energy than just grass.) If I recall correctly, he also mentioned that the Jasper Hill cows are fed dry hay, which promotes good microbes and none of the bad ones like lysteria.
Anyway, Jasper HIll has prospered enough and worked with scientists often enough that they’ve actually built their own lab on the property to study their cheese microbes.
Toward the end, there was a surprise mini-presentation with everyone’s favorite microbiologist, Ben Wolfe, Tufts University. Ben quickly chatted about DNA sequencing and patterns of microbes.
And that was the lecture.
Or not, because let’s go back to that cheese sampler!
Seven cheeses were listed on the sponsor thank you slide, but the audience only got five cheese samples per plate. The very top cheese in the photo (at 12 o’clock) is the Cowgirl Creamery Mt Tam. I definitely liked this one. It was like brie, but creamier and maybe saltier. I found the overall flavor to be clean and fresh.
The cheese to the bottom right of the Mt Tam is probably the Bethlehem cheese. Maybe, probably. I thought it had some citrus overtones to it. Overall texture was dry and brittle. Flavor was mild. I liked it enough.
The bottom right cheese (at 5 o’clock), I’m fairly confident, is the Kaltbach Gruyere. It was hands down my favorite. I liked the scent and the flavor of it better than all the others. It was strong but nothing offensive.
We only had one blue cheese, and that was the Jasper Hill Bailey Hazen Blue. I really thought I was going to hate this as I normally find blue cheeses to be too stinky and too boldly flavored for me. Not this one. Having said that, it was still my least favorite on the plate. It reminded me of a stack of papers. Probably old papers. But it was very salty and metallic tasting on my tongue. So, metallic old papers?
The last sample on the top left is probably the Jasper Hill Winnimere cheese. My first impression of it was that it was sharp in scent and flavor. It also smelled salty. The texture was soft, but not as soft as the Mt Tam. The flavor of the Winnimere reminded me of beer. It’s a good cheese, but not one of my favorites.
So yeah. I want to stock my fridge with Mt Tam and Kaltbach Gruyere right now! (^_^)