|Posted by Maddie on October 5, 2011 at 7:05 PM|
Cheese: A Coming-of-Age Story
ROB KAUFELT and Brian Ralph were standing in a cool underground bunker below Murray’s Cheese Shop in Greenwich Village, giving a visitor a tour of five temperature-and-humidity-controlled cheese caves. The man-made chambers, they said, prevent many of the things that can go wrong with cheese when it is not handled properly.
Take slipskin. If a mold-ripened cheese is stored in a place that is too humid or warm, the mold that coats the outside can “grow very aggressively,” said Mr. Ralph, 26, the cave manager at Murray’s. “It gets thicker and thicker and it peels away from the paste.”
Or if Cheddar is ripened carelessly, he said, “sometimes it can turn sulfuric, kind of rotten-eggy.”
Mr. Kaufelt, who has owned Murray’s since 1991, said, “If it’s too dry, it can crack.”
On the surface, the conversation might seem like a mere collection of scary stories about good cheese gone bad. But underneath it all, the two men were offering a glimpse into a topic that inspires both evangelical zeal and scoffing among hard-core fanatics of fromage.
They were talking about affinage.
Affinage is the careful practice of ripening cheese, but it’s about much more than simply letting a few stinky wheels sit until some magical buzzer goes off. For those who believe the affinage gospel, it is about a series of tedious, ritualized procedures (washing, flipping, brushing, patting, spritzing) that are meant to inch each wheel and wedge toward an apex of delectability.
But if the affineur has become the cheese world’s version of the mixologist — a lab-coat-clad expert with a seemingly bottomless appetite for arcana — there are those who strongly resist drinking his small-batch Kool-Aid. To say that Steven Jenkins is a skeptic, for instance, would be an understatement.
“This affinage thing is a total crock,” said Mr. Jenkins, the cheese monger at Fairway and the author of the pivotal 1996 book “Cheese Primer.” “All it does is drastically inflate the cost of cheeses that have benefited zero from this faux-alchemical nonsense.”
.... READ THE REST HERE: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/05/dining/cheese-and-affinage-a-coming-of-age-story.html