Excessively in a good way, of course. I must add that we did manage to get some learning done at le Ferme de l'Anneau d'Or (the Golden Ring Farm), our cheese farm here in the Beaujolais region, where I may or may not have eaten way too much cheese and curds.
|Therese filling the cheese molds...a long and solitary process|
Suffice it to say that the methods at Therese and Wladek’s cooperative are are a bit more “sophisticated” than those implemented at Wwoofing farm #3. Not to say that this is better or worse, because with large-scale production comes more work hours and many more rules and regulations—even in France. I was sad to hear that Therese’s farm is no longer allowed to age their cheeses in underground caves due to recent health code regulations. I fear that the next health worry will put raw milk cheeses more stringently under the microscope, which is something that we do not want.
Let me go on the record saying that raw milk cheeses, when done safely and properly, are nearly always better than their non-raw counterparts.* Pasteurizing milk (which gently heats and prevents it from being raw) may kill the bad bacteria, but it also kills the good bacteria that contribute so much to flavor. Cheese is bacteria, in a sense — a wheel of cheese is a living microcosm.
Too bad it tastes so good.
Too bad it tastes so good.
|Therese covers the molds with something like a fitted cheese colander and feeds them with|
coagulated milk (at right), then uses a scraper tool to push it all down into the molds
But this leads me to an additional point, which is that you should always buy cheeses that have been cut off of a whole wheel. As soon as you start to hack up a cheese, you expose its flavor-giving bacteria and enzymes to air, and the flavor starts to die off. If you don’t have a cheesemonger, try to buy whole pieces at the grocer—just please, don’t buy pre-sliced cheese unless you really don’t have that extra minute it takes to slice the cheese yourself. You might as well be using edible plastic on your sandwiches.
And shoot, I hate to go off topic, but there is another reason you should buy your pieces of cheese from a whole wheel: More often than not, that wheel was made and cared for by somebody. That is, a real live human put their energy and affections and expertise into making that cheese. Most likey, it was somebody who cared about food. Those pale yellow store-brand rectangles of cheddar cheese? Not exactly man made. Not exactly made for man, either, if you ask me...
|Artisan Cheese: made from the heart (pictured: Therese's cow and goat blend. The lighter, white stripes are goat's milk and the yellow is cow.)|
So when you're standing in the checkout line, it's up to you to decide which idea you support—food created by machines, or food created by hands. If we Americans want to start seeing quality behind our food system, we have to start thinking about and seeking quality in all of our purchases. In this internet age, learning about the origins of what goes into your belly is only a click away.
But back to the raw thing, the same idea applies to milk. John and I have been drinking raw goat and cow milk throughout this trip and have realized that the ultra-pasteurized milk you get in the states tastes like creamy water compared to the raw stuff. So, if you can find local raw milk from somebody you trust, please don’t hesitate to support them and treat yourself. If you can’t find raw, then at least go local. It will taste better. It will probably feel better, too. Unless you're lactose intolerant.
Of course, if you need help deciding which cheese to buy, you can always visit my cheese reviews page...
*So why pasteurize in the first place? The short story is that pasteurization heats milk to a certain temperature and kills bad bacteria (and any of the good bacteria sensitive to said climate). As businesses grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage the cleanliness of every step of production, so to make things easier, many simply do away with all of the bacteria by cooking the milk. A small, clean facility won't have this contamination risk because they have the time and resources to be there every step of the way, safeguarding against the bad guys.
So wait, I was talking about the cheese farm, wasn’t I?
Here are a couple pictures of the animals and the cheese room. We can only assume that the reason there aren’t more pictures of the abundant cheeses is because I went into a psychological fit of cheese-overdose and was too overcome to remember to take photos.
I'd say these captive geese have a pretty
good deal...until they get eaten.
|betcha didn't see THAT comin!|
We did manage to work in another farm-related activity during our stay: Arising at a dreadful 4am one morning, we accompanied the neighborly Jean-Michel on his cheese delivery route. We covered about 12 different delivery points throughout the region, and I managed to sleep through three of them and thus not be a zombie for the entire day, so everybody wins.