Brie. Camembert. Gruyere. If all these names sound hopelessly foreign to you, don’t worry. This post gives you a 101 into the world of cheese.
There is a growing appreciation for fine European cheeses in Singapore, with more specialty cheese shops popping up in recent years. But is cheese appreciation just a Western thing or something reserved for the upper class of society? Not at all, says Chef Julien Bompard, whom I met at a recent cheese appreciation event at Scotts 27.
According to Chef Julien, Singaporeans are actually very adventurous when it comes to trying new cheeses. He says, “In my experience, Singaporeans are not afraid of strong-flavoured cheeses and actually like going for the exciting flavours.”
Before you embark on your journey of cheese appreciation, here are some must-know facts:
The reason why you don’t find much cheese in Asia.
According to this article on Mental Floss, lactose persistence (or lactose tolerance) is mostly found in people of white European descent; only 5 percent of East Asians have lactose persistence. However, lactose persistence is actually something out of the ordinary. Although most mammals have the ability to digest milk, the ability to produce lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose molecules) is lost after weaning. If you think about it from an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense – if animals (or humans) could drink milk all their lives, they would never leave home to hunt and find food.
So why are some humans still able to consume lactose? One theory suggests that after humans migrated out of the fertile hunting grounds of Africa and into Europe, finding protein became more difficult. Humans from this period were beginning to farm vegetables and animals, so the milk from other mammals became a good source of protein for those who could stomach it. Unfortunately for those who weren’t able to digest lactose, they died out, leaving behind a race of lactose-persistent white people. However, in Asia, humans fulfilled their protein needs with soy, which is both easily farmed and fermented. Thus, the inherent lactose intolerance continue till today.
You’re most likely to come into contact with these 7 types of cheese:
Unripened cheeses are made by coagulating milk proteins (casein) with acid.
Examples: Ricotta, Feta Curd, Cream cheese
2. White Rind/Soft
Soft cheeses are typically ripened for a short period of time before they are drained and turned into molds without being treated or cooked.
Examples: Camembert, Brie
3. Washed Rind/Soft
This is where soft cheese is washed with either salt or brine water to maintain the moisture level and softness of the cheese.
Examples: Meunster, Mariolles, Dauphin
These cheeses are a bit firmer and more crumbly, and tend to make good melting cheeses.
Examples: Gruyere, Emmental
5. Hard/Very Hard
These are aged cheeses that are dry and crumbly, but are not shrivelled up.
Examples: Mimolette, Manchego, Aged Gouda, Aged Cheddar
6. Goat’s Cheese
As the name suggests, this is cheese made from goats’ milk. It’s worth noting that cheese can be made from any mammals’ milk, and the food these mammals consume affect the flavour of the cheese.
Examples: Feta, Chablis, Crottin de Chavignol
7. Blue Cheese
The most infamous of cheeses. Blue cheese has cultures of penicillin injected into it so that the final product is spotted or veined, and comes with a distinctive smell and flavour.
Examples: Roquefort, Danish Blue, Gorgonzola
How to appreciate cheese:
When trying a cheese for the first time, look at its colour and texture before breaking off a small piece. Hold it between your fingers and smell. Taste both the centre and the rind, noting the intensity of the flavours and whether or not it leaves a lingering taste. Chef Julien says, “Cheese is meant to be enjoyed in small pieces; if you eat just one type of cheese, it can be a bit overwhelming.”
Which cheese pairs best with which alcohol?
While the classic pairing is still cheese with wine, you can also experiment with other types of alcoholic beverages like whisky or cocktails. When pairing with wine, a general rule of thumb is this – sparkling wines and light wines go well with fresh cheese or goat’s cheese; medium to full reds pair well with cheese with washed rinds and semi-hard cheeses; sweet wines pair well with hard cheeses and blue cheese. Interestingly, for teetotallers, there is a rising trend of pairing cheese with tea. It’s not strictly orthodox, but as with most food-drink pairings, taste is subjective. What’s most important is that you’re enjoying the flavours.
How to prepare a cheese platter:
Chef Julien says, “There are no rules. Think of your cheese platter like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. However, as a guideline, you should have a variety of cheeses on your platter. Different cheese have different characteristics, so you should try to include an interesting mix of flavours. It’s a a good idea to have a bit of jam or honey on the side to temper the bolder flavours. When trying new cheese, it’s sometimes good to try it with a bit of crusty bread or plain crackers.”
How to store cheese:
In Singapore’s tropical climate, it’s important to store your cheese properly. Try wrapping your cheese with wax paper or brown paper (the kind they use to takeaway briyani rice), and place them in a box before storing the box in the chiller section of your fridge (separate from the vegetables). Remember to remove the cheese from the fridge 10 to 15 minutes before consumption as you may not get the full flavour of the cheese if it’s too cold.