Archive for the 'terroir' Category

14
Jul
10

Cheese! Cheese! Cheese! – Part 2


[Eran Elhalal is a chef/Entrepreneur working in Manhattan. An Honors Graduate of the  Culinary Institute of America,  Eran was Executive Chef of two Manhattan restaurants in the past few years and consulted several others. He began educating customers about food and wine pairing and cheese in 2007 while working as the Chef at UES’s BarVespa.

These days, Eran talks about food and wine pairing as the chef for the panel of Meetup, a wine club, dedicated to introduce and educate the American public about Israeli wines. Photos: courtesy of Eran Elhalal. CS]

“Well, and what’s Cheese? Corpse of Milk!” (James Joyce)

The Cheese Series- Second Chapter


How cheeses are made

There are countless nuances to Cheese making, hence, Different countries produce different cheeses , which reflect the country’s Terroir , traditions and even mentality. Each one of the steps in the process is crucial to the end result ,the way the curds are cut will determine the texture of the cheese, the method and quantities of salting will affect aging or ripening.

The first Two steps of cheese making  however , are common to all cheeses. Essentially, cheese is made by extracting the water and whey from milk and allowing the remaining milk solids ( Curds ) to spoil in a controlled environment, monitoring bacterial growth, expansion of molds throughout the cheese and so on…

First step: Collecting and Preparing the milk

Artisanal cheese makers collect the raw milk from their own farm or nearby farms. That is the traditional way and the best one. Travel time , agitation , temperature and cleanliness of the transport vats are highly important factors to the resulting cheese. Much like wine proximity is crucial. The shortest the time between milking the animal and starting the cheese making process, the better.

A word on : Pasteurization

Not all cheeses are made from pasteurized milk, but for the majority of modern cheeses, this is when the process is applied. The milk is typically heated to a temperature of 160o F for 15 seconds or to a temperature of 114oF and held for 30 minutes. Un-pasteurized cheeses are more flavorful because the heat inactivates natural enzymes in the milk that help develop the final flavor of the cheese . Pasteurization also slows down the action of the Rennet , thus prolonging the ripening/aging step in achieving full texture and flavor. On the other hand, pasteurizing makes the flavor of milk homogenous, which large volume producers seek to maintain consistency of flavor from different batches of milk.

I say, that in the sense of depth of flavor and uniqueness, the difference between cheeses from un-pasteurized milk to those from pasteurized milk is the same as the difference between wines which are non-kosher or kosher to wines that are Mevushal (Hebrew for: cooked).

http://aftercheese.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/swiss-cheesemaking1.jpg?w=539&h=405

Second step: Curdling

Raw milk will actually sour and curdle on its own , but this natural method is inconsistent. Pasteurized milk does not sour this way ,so nowadays all cheeses are made by introducing an acid like lemon juice (Citric acid) , or vinegar, but in most cases a starter culture of special Bacteria is used to change milk sugars (lactose ) into lactic acid. The increased acidity denatures the milk protein (Casein), so it separates from the milk water into solid curds when a coagulating agent  (Rennet) is introduced. The protein molecules then lump together to a soft gel. The curds are allowed to settle at a temperature of 70oF-95oF for 30 minutes-120 minutes, depending on the type of cheese being made. Low tempo yield soft curds for soft cheeses and high tempo yields hard rubbery curds used to produce semi hard and hard cheeses.

Third step: Concentrating and processing the curds

First the curds are cut to release the whey . The method applied here will determine the texture and moisture content of the cheese. Softer cheeses are made by minimal cutting of curds and piling them up to drain naturally . Harder cheeses are cut horizontally and vertically to very fine pieces , thus releasing much more moisture that results in a drier, harder cheese.

Some hard cheeses are then heated to temperatures in the range of 100 °F–130 °F. This forces more whey from the cut curd. It also changes the taste of the finished cheese, affecting both the bacterial culture and the milk chemistry. Cheeses that are heated to the higher temperatures are usually made with thermophilic starter bacteria which survive this step—either lactobacilli or streptococci.

Salt has a number of roles in cheese besides adding a salty flavor. It preserves cheese from spoiling, draws moisture from the curd, and firms up a cheese’s texture in reaction to contact with the denatured proteins. Some cheeses are salted from the outside with dry salt or brine washes. Most cheeses have the salt mixed directly into the curds. Salting also slows down the starter bacteria culture, thus contolling the rate of ripening/Aging.

Processing methods:

Cheddaring: The cut curd is repeatedly piled up, pushing more moisture away. The curd is also milled for a long period of time, taking the sharp edges off the cut curd pieces and influencing the final product’s texture. (Hence- Cheddar)

Stretching: The curd is stretched and kneaded in hot water, developing a stringy, fibrous body.(For example: Mozzarella , Provolone , Kashkaval).

Washing: The curd is washed in warm water, lowering its acidity and making for a milder-tasting cheese. ( Examples: Gouda,Edam)

Whey based cheeses: Once the whey has been drained,it can be used to make some cheeses ,without the use of curds.(Ricotta,Urda).

Fourth step : Molding

Most cheeses achieve their final shape when the curds are pressed into a mold or form. The harder the cheese, the more pressure is applied. The pressure drives out moisture ,the molds are designed to allow water to escape , and unifies the curds into a single solid body.

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Final step :Ripening/ Aging

Ripening/ Aging is the stage where enzymes and microbes change the chemical composition of the cheese from complex organic molecules to simple ones and transform the cheese’s  texture and intensity of flavor. Temperature and humidity are monitored carefully. Some traditional cheese are aged only in near caves which contain unique molds and yeast which result in a one of a kind cheese. More often, cultures are used, giving more consistent results and putting fewer constraints on the environment where the cheese ages. These cheeses include soft ripened cheeses such as Brie and Camembert, blue cheeses such as Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Cabrales, Stilton, and washed rind cheeses such as Taleggio, Grayson.Soft Cheeses- like Brie, Camembert, ripen quickly and at a lower tempo than hard cheeses. Soft cheeses ripen from the outside in. It is all about controlled spoilage here. Bacteria multiplying too quickly results in uneven maturation of the cheese. High humidity ( usually 80%-95%)is crucial to a moist surface in cheese. The ripening/aging period (called Affinage in French) can last from days to several years. This transformation is largely a result of the breakdown of casein proteins and milkfat into a complex mix of amino acids,amines and fatty acids.

http://www.thomaswalshphotographer.com/_images/Cuisine%20Web%20Photos/Comte-Cheese-Aging.jpg

Eran Elhalal

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Cheese! Cheese! Cheese!

17
Feb
10

Enjoying your Wines – Part 4 – Grape Varieties


There are literally thousands of grape varieties in existence. Most wine grapes are made from the European species, which is considered to be superior to the American vine species. The reason for the numerous varieties is that grape vines have a tendency to mutate and cross breed with ease. Advances in genetic technology have allowed scientists to determine the origins of many well-known grape varieties. The following will give you an introduction to the world of most common grape varieties.

Red Varieties

Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon requires care and attention in the vineyard, with fruit exposure and yield directly related to fruit quality. However its thick skin makes it incredibly resilient to adverse climatic conditions. In the winery, winemakers often age Cabernet Sauvignon in a mixture of French and American oak.

Climate has a significant impact on the sensory characteristics of the variety. In cooler climates, minty and leafy characters are intermingled with blackcurrant and red berries. In warmer climates, chocolate and tobacco characters express themselves.

Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc
is a component of Bordeaux blends and Loire Valley reds. It has leafy red-berry characters.

Malbec
Malbec is a successful varietal in Argentina. Also used in Bordeaux blends.

Merlot
For Merlot to be good, it must be picked at optimum ripeness, to avoid the presence of herbal characters. Flavors of plums, red currant, mint, pimento, game, earth and leather can be found. Its tannins are invariably soft, making Merlot a good early drinking style, but this does limit its aging potential.

Merlot is most famous in its homeland of Bordeaux in France, where it is used to make some of the world’s greatest and most expensive wines. Over the last ten years, plantings have rapidly expanded across the globe, most notably into California, South America, Italy, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

Petit Verdot
Petit Verdot is a red grape variety that is traditionally used in Cabernet Sauvignon based blends. It is known for its intense color, vibrant flavors and firm tannin structure making it a good choice for true red wine drinkers.

Petit Verdot has an interesting flavor profile. It can be incredibly perfumed, having aromas of blueberry and violet. Sometimes it has an attractive herbaceous and spice element, giving the variety complexity. The acidity is often prominent and due to the thick skins of the grape, the color is very dense and the tannins are firm. Structural wines with intense flavors can age well in the mid term. Due to its strength of character, Petit Verdot can have a significant impact on a blend, even when used in small proportions.

Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir originated in the French region of Burgundy, where it is most renowned and revered. The true character of Pinot Noir is expressed when it is grown in a cool climate. In fact, its early ripening nature makes it able to withstand some of the cooler areas.

Wines made from Pinot Noir are typically lightly colored, with cherry-to-plum red hues. The aroma, which is often highly fragrant, can be composed of cherries, red berries, violets and spice when young, transforming into gamey, leathery, mushroomy characters with age. The palate is light-to-medium bodied with fine silky tannins.

As complexity is a vital attribute of good Pinot Noir, the winemaking process is very detailed. Some winemakers choose to include whole berries in the fermentation to increase the fragrance of the wine. Others allow crushed grapes to macerate prior to fermentation to increase the depth of color and flavor. Some choose to do this after fermentation. Oak is used as an important element in both the sensory and structural aspects of the wine, however due to the delicacy of the variety, care must be taken to ensure that it doesn’t dominate the wine. It is not unusual for a single batch of grapes to be processed in different ways to give a range of blending options for the final wine.

Syrah
The beauty of Syrah is that it can flourish in a range of climates. Syrah can be made into a range of styles, defined by the terroir of the region and the winemakers’ artistry. With its soft ripe tannins, black cherry, pepper and spice characters, it can be crafted into wines suitable for immediate consumption.

Zinfandel
Substantial plantings in both California as well as Italy. In Italy it is known as Primitivo. It produces full-bodied and richly flavored wines.

White Varieties

Chardonnay
The popularity of Chardonnay quickly rose, due to its generous flavors and its ease to grow and make into wine. In fact, it is often called a viticulturalist’s dream, as it is early ripening, naturally vigorous and is relatively resistant to disease. Most importantly, it can be grown in a wide range of climatic conditions, leading to a vast array of styles.

The base flavor of Chardonnay is generous, but relatively neutral thus the winemakers’ individuality can be expressed through the winemaking techniques used. Oak usage, yeast lees contact and malolactic fermentation are just some of the ways a winemaker can influence the style of Chardonnay.

Chenin Blanc
Chenin Blanc is a classic French variety. The basis of some of the world’s greatest and long-living sweet wines.

Gewurztraminer
Gewurztraminer is a spicy, aromatic variety. Its style ranges from the flavorsome and fruity, to fine and delicate.

Pinot Gris
There are many synonyms for Pinot Gris. In Alsace, it is known at Tokay Pinot Gris. In Italy, it is commonly referred to as Pinot Grigio and in Germany it is known as Ruländer or Grauburgunder.

Gris, meaning grey in French, refers to the color of the Pinot Gris grapes. As a result, wines made from Pinot Gris often have a slight coppery hue. They have a delicately perfumed aroma with flavors stretching from fresh pear through to tropical fruits. Pinot Gris is similar to Chardonnay in that it has good palate weight and flavor.

Riesling
Riesling is an aromatic variety that produces intensely fragrant and flavored wines of exceptional character. Notes of citrus, honeysuckle, blossoms, green apple and mineral are commonly seen. With concurrent high acidity and comparable low alcohol, the wines retain an enviable freshness which many other varieties lack. Oak is not used and the wines are very pure and clean.

Riesling is a variety that is much loved by winemakers and wine connoisseurs due to its intense flavors and its defined palate structure. Riesling is delightful when it is consumed young and fresh. However it is one of the few white wines that has the ability to age.

Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc
is a variety with increasing popularity in Australia. Although its plantings are quite small, they are expected to significantly increase over the next ten years. Sauvignon Blanc is used to make fresh, vibrant wine styles with none of the heaviness of Chardonnay or the floral tones of Riesling. Its flavor profile is in harmony with Semillon and consequently these varieties are often blended together.

The flavor spectrum of Sauvignon Blanc is quite diverse. Upon a backbone of herbaceousness lie tropical fruit, passion fruit and gooseberry. Look a little closer and you may see tomato leaf, spice and flint. The stronger styles have elements of asparagus, capsicum and gun smoke. And winemaking can add tones of oak, butter and yeast. They are a feast for the senses, especially during the heat of summer where their defined acidity adds freshness to the palate.

Semillon
Semillon is a unique minerally, lemony style, which is crisp and lean when young and is made without the influence of oak or malolactic fermentation. However the wine undergoes a transformation with age, evolving into a complex, nutty, honeyed wine of great depth and complexity.

Semillon is often seen blended with Chardonnay, particularly in mass-market wine styles. The freshness of Semillon provides a necessary balance to the often overly rich Chardonnay. It is a blend that has been very successful.

Viognier
The most distinctive attribute of Viognier is its stone fruit character, most notably that of apricot. It can also show considerable floral and spice tones. In cooler climates you can see citrus whilst in warmer areas there is more honeysuckle. It has good viscosity due to generous alcohol levels and is similar to Chardonnay in that it has a weighty mid-palate and generous flavour, making it a good alternative to this ubiquitous variety.

Aaron Zimmerman

[Mr Zimmerman owns and operates Liquors Galore, 1418 Avenue J (between 12th and 13th Streets); Brooklyn, NY 11230-3702; Telephone: 718.338.4166. The above post is the lastof a multi-part series we have been posting once a week on these pages]

RELATED POSTS

Enjoying your Wines – Part 3 – Storing

Enjoying your Wines – Part 2 – Tasting

Enjoying your Wines Part 1 Buying




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