Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Artisanal American Cheese Going to Europe
Picture: Point Reyes Blue Cheese (California)
When you talk in Paris with a Frenchman about cheese made in the US and tell him that there are now excellent such cheeses made by very devoted and knowledgeable cheese makers, he will not believe you. But there is a rapidly expanding production of great artisanal cheeses in the US, though starting from a very low level. Cheese will probably never play the role in an American household it plays in a French household. The typical French grew up in a household where in the evening his or her mother would serve a four courses meal---crudites as starter, main plate, cheese and dessert, with a glass of wine of course, or two. The French have it in the Jeans. He or she knows so much about good food, including cheese. In the US, it is very different. Cheese is eaten as topping for Pizza or for the cheeseburger or similar food. But America is changing. Some Americans have started to show serious interest for high-quality cheese and artisanal cheese makers are springing up across the country.
One constraining factor that one keeps hearing is that the income groups in America that would eat cheese are very health conscious. On average, the Americans spend roughly double the amount on health care per person than the French. That does not mean that every American citizen gets the double amount of health care than the French. In fact it does not. But cheese is widely regarded as something detrimental to good health.
The other thing is that while Americans spend double the amount on health care, they spend only half of the amount on food, compared with the French. Again, this is an average and can be misleading. I would say that in the areas, where I mainly spend my time in the US, the Washington DC area, New England and in the San Francisco Bay area, the food—as well as the wine-- that you can buy there is outstanding. The seafood that is readily available in these areas, New England Lobsters, King Crabs from Alaska, wide range of oysters, the Maryland crabs, just to name a few items, is hard to beat. Equally, in terms of fresh vegetables, meat and fruits, what you can choose from in the Supermarket in say Concord, New Hampshire, where my daughter Dorothea studies, is amazing. The other day we had a feast in Concord, with New England Lobsters, New York Strip steak and outstanding red and white wines from Dr. Frank winery in the Finger Lakes region. We ended the meal with amazing cheeses from New Hampshire and Vermont.
Of course, when you go to the cheese department of the Safeway in McLean, no comparison to the cheese department of Carrefour in Paris. In particular, when it comes to high-quality cheese, very few American cheeses are offered at the Safeway, while at the Carrefour you find a huge selection of all kinds of French cheeses. But a lot is happening in the US. Similar to the wine boom headed by Robert Mondavi and others from California, there is a cheese boom happening right now.
You can see it everywhere. The Ten Bells wine bar in New York City run by three Frenchmen only has American cheese on their menu, to go with their Old World wines. The Cowgirl Creamery of Point Reyes, north of San Francisco, opened a cheese store in the Penn district in Washington DC a year or so ago. I love their Blue Cheese. Cheesetique on the Virginia side of greater Washington DC area, specializing in hard-to-find cheeses from around the world, also has a large selection of American artisanal cheeses.
And this cheese explosion is going east now to Europe. I was at the Borough’s market in London a few months ago and I was surprised finding Neal’s Yard Dairy to sell Roque River cheese from Oregon and the Pleasant Ridge cheese from Wisconsin.
J.S. Marcus, a writer based in Berlin, has written an interesting article about this for the Wall Street Journal, which you can find here.
Schiller Wine --- Related Postings
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Wine and Food: Wine and Cheese Matching Demystified