Wednesday, June 04, 2008

In Praise of Cheese

Hunter from DiBruno Bros., Philly's best cheese shop, on the history/biotechnology of cheese:

The cursory step of separating the curd from the whey is one of the original forms of biotechnology. This basic step, transforming a liquid to a solid (and a thinner liquid – whey - as a byproduct) allowed civilizations to exist in environments not bountiful enough to consistently supply adequate protein sources. In an era predating refrigeration, cheese was a means of storing milk weeks, months, even years. Not bad compared to the day or two a resident of the Fertile Crescent could expect from unaltered milk.

Cheese making techniques had come a long way by the time of the Romans. Accounts of cheeses with a suspicious resemblance to Parmaggiano were being described in the areas to the north of previous Etruscan territories. (Parmaggiano wasn’t actually referred to as such until the time of the Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron. Surely at that point, it had been produced for more centuries than one could count on their fingers.) Hard durable cheeses such as Parmaggiano - or to name another cheese of many, the sheep cheeses of Tuscany that predated the Roman era, and certainly were quite similar to the Pecorino Tuscano of today – were a means of nourishment a soldier could travel with for months in the hot Mediterranean climate. Soldiers were freed from the worry of foraging for fresh food. Cheese was antiquities version of an MRE!

Also, short, counterintuitive advice for cheese storage:
Real cheese is alive. Suffocation is the enemy. Plastic wrap, plastic bags, and other airtight containers should be avoided in all cases except the previously mentioned fresh cheeses. These storage methods trap in stale air, as well as prohibiting the cheese from venting moisture and other byproducts. Once a soggy oxygen deprived environment develops, anaerobic bacteria present themselves. This is a bad thing. This is spoilage. Butcher paper, parchment paper, and wax paper avoid this problem.

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