How Does Your Cheese Melt?

We love the ooey-gooey – that melty delight that is fondue, grilled cheese, and everything in-between. But in your own cheesy experimentation you’ve probably noticed how some cheeses just aren’t as up to turning melty as others. It doesn’t mean we love them any less (I mean, who doesn’t love that crispy crust of Parmesan on a Chicken Parm?) but we know they’re just different. Have you ever wondered why? Don’t worry, we’re here to break it down for you, Cheesers.

First things first, it’s all about the fat! The fat and water ration in cheese determines how it is going to melt. So something that is higher in moisture is usually going to be a better melter than a drier alternative. That’s because the protein structure (which is what keeps the water and fat separated) is looser in high moisture cheeses, and very rigid in dry ones. 

So when heat is applied to most cheeses, the fat globules change from solid to liquid, which is when it starts getting that ooey gooey consistency. The protein structure loosens its grip under the heat, and the cheese begins to flow like a thick liquid rather than a solid – think of dripping, delightful fondue, and you’ll have the right idea in your head!

This is why age isn’t just a number when it comes to melting cheese – the age actually means a lot! Freshly made cheeses don’t have that maturity level yet, with their proteins tightly wound up. As they gain a little bit more time, the proteins loosen up, and create a more open matrix (think of it as a net that holds all the water and fat). That matrix is flexible, which is why they melt smoothly and don’t break. But if it ages too much, those proteins tighten up into tough clumps – that’s where that crispy cheese comes in.

So the best melters are a combo of age and moisture – Emmentaler, Gruyere, Comte, they are all well aged, with a flexible protein net. Their high moisture helps separate the proteins without breaking them completely, which allows them to flow into stringy, ooey-gooey meltiness. It totally makes your mouth water just thinking about it, right? Science is so much funner when it’s delicious.

You can hit up some of our favorite melters and get started on your own grilled cheese, fondue, and other cheesy experiments! 

Cheese Gifts from the Heart

If you’re starting to get the feeling that Valentine’s Day managed to sneak up on you this year, don’t worry, we feel you. You can go with the classics + flowers, but there’s still time to come up with something that is unique to your loved one’s taste. Something that says “I love you, in all your cheeseloving glory”. We’ve got your back on this one, and have a few gifts that you can give that say, “I was thinking about you”. 

For Your World Traveler

If the love of your life loves puddle-jumping, spends their days browsing cheap flights to Europe and beyond, and dreams of vacays visiting Italy’s historic sites rather than the beaches of the Bahamas, this is the gift for them. La Dolce Vita (“The Sweet Life” for you non-native Italian speakers) transforms a cheese plate into a moving experience. This exquisite selection of salumi, formaggio, and snacks comes from a country where food is a deity and features classics like sheepy Pecorino Calabrese, silky Speck, and plump and briny Castelvetrano olives. Look, we know you couldn’t afford to get your boo those tickets to Milan – but this is way better, if you ask us.

For Your Partner Who’s Been Eyeing Those Tiffany Earrings

Forget diamonds, forget Rolex watches – this collection is more luxurious than the two of them combined. Designed to pair with a tall glass of bubbly, this collection was cooked up specifically for a romantic, memorable night in. Like champagne, the three cheeses from this collection will delight your senses and add a bit of excitement to date night – from the earthy Truffle Tremor, caramelly sweet Ewephoria, or velvety Hudson Valley Camembert, there’s nothing quite like cheeses and champagne. They’re a match made in heaven, just like you and your Valentine.

For Your Cheeselover with a Sweet Tooth

Cheese and crackers are nice, but you probably want a little bit of sweetness specially for Valentine’s Day. There’s nothing quite like an Effie’s biscuit and a dollop of creamy Delice de Bourgogne or a tangy sweet Chiroboga Blue. This selection tastes of home – it’ll remind you of breakfast at your mom’s house, or tea time at high noon. Whether you’re going for a fancy snack or a cozy treat, this collection is the perfect balance of both.

For Your Partner Who Wants to Spend Valentine’s Day Ordering In Pizza

You love them, you know you do, but maybe you don’t want Domino’s for your Valentine’s Day dinner. We get it, and we definitely believe in compromise when it comes to relationships. That’s why we propose The Cure to your ailments – a spread of glorious meat that no one can say no to. From the simple smoky Mosefund Mangalitsa Bacon to the rare and delightful Iberico de Bellota or creamy foie gras. Ditch the floppy, half-burnt pepperoni and break out the ultimate gift for the love of your life – it’ll give ‘meat lover’ a whole new meaning.

Winter is Here to Stay – Stock Up on Winter Cheese

Punxsatawney Phil has spoken and it’s official: Winter is here to stay, at least for another six weeks. While we might not be stoked for the cold weather, there is a plus side to six more weeks of winter – more winter cheese! From our favorite fondue classics, to tangy, warming cheeses, there’s only a few weeks left before these delicious little guys are overshadowed (Groundhog Day joke!) by their fresh, Spring rivals. 

Comte Saint-Antoine

Alpine styles are a go-to for winter months. It’s not just because they are the best for melting into ooey-gooey fondue (even though they’re just the right texture and flavor for a nutty, savory pot). We get our Comte from France’s Jura Mountains, and while it may capture the raw, mountain-pasture fed cow’s milk, it features winter flavors. There’s the sweetness of cooked milk, a bit of stone fruit (like dried apricots that pair oh so nicely), and the quiet nuttiness of brown butter. If you’re not feeling fondue, just slice this Comte thin and melt over winter root vegetables. Comfort food to the max!

Bayley Hazen

One of the things we love about winter foods is the inclusion of chocolate. Dark chocolates, nutty caramels, they’re all delicious and simply perfect for the winter months. But what about a cheese to go along with these succulent sweets? Blue cheese is the way to go, and nothing is better than Bayley Hazen Blue. The paste is a bit drier and denser than your typical English Stilton, but it’s the bold flavors of cocoa, roasted hazelnuts, and licorice that shine in this blue cheese. Add a bar of dark chocolate, and you’ll have a wintery dessert you’ll be craving mid-summer.

Murray’s Camembert 

It’s not just that the downy, tender rind reminds us of a field of freshly fallen snow – it does, of course. But we’re more interested in the straw-colored paste within. Hints of buttered toast are the first thing to hit your palate, totally reminding us of the cold, crisp breakfasts of winter days. After the buttered toast melts away, it’s the bold and beautiful flavors of sauteed mushrooms that stand out on the palate. Maybe cozy up with this little wheel by the fire, with a big glass of bold Bordeaux.

Tumbleweed

There’s something kind of amazing about cheese that you can pair a toasty lager or rich stout with, especially during the winter. Tumbleweed is that cheese – a cross between cheddar and French Cantal, it is filled with brown butter flavors, with a hint of tartness and fruitiness. In the winter months, the toastiness combines with an earthy flavor, creating something warm and rustic, especially when paired with a beer. The perfect combo to ride out these short remaining chilly months, if we do say so ourselves.

Greensward

There honestly isn’t a comfier snack than a wheel of Murray’s own Greensward. Slice off the top rind, and the paste inside is creamy and beautiful – a fondue minus the heat. A scoop – either with a cracker, or a spoon if you’re feeling no-frills about it – tastes of a snowy winter forest populated by pines, and freshly fried bacon. The taste is oh so much bigger than this small wheel will imply, and will keep those memories of winter alive even as the weather starts to warm.

Make Whey For… Murray’s Camembert!

When you think of French cheeses, we wouldn’t be surprised if your mind immediately went to Brie. It is, after all, one of the oldest cheeses to survive over the years and make it onto your cheese plate. But if we’re being honest, we’re enamored with Brie’s younger brother – a farmhouse Frenchie with the earthiness and toastiness that we love in a spreadable French cheese: Camembert! 

The original Camembert cheese came from the northern region of Normandy, France. Made by Marie Harel in 1791, who was visited by a priest from the Brie region of France named Abbot Charles-Jean Bonvoust. He passed along the recipe for preparing a cheese with a bloomy, edible rind which was produced in his homeland, that we now know as Brie. The recipe was apparently altered in the process (think of a game of cheesy telephone), creating a similar, but distinctly delicious new cheese.

Often times, Camembert is mistaken for or confused with it’s cousin, Brie. Though they are both made of cow’s milk, Brie originated from central Ile de France, while Camembert comes from the northern region of Normandy. Brie is usually made in larger wheels, and is milder than the more pungent wheel of Camembert. Camembert is a bit softer and creamier than brie, which has a more pudgy and gooey texture.

There have, since the cheese’s creation, been many different versions of Camembert. Unfortunately, because of FDA regulations on raw milk cheeses, we cannot import the traditional AOC Camembert du Normandie. But we’re always on the hunt for the best Camembert we can manage – and we think we’ve found it. The tender, downy mold rind gives a contrasting bite to a melting straw-colored paste within. Aged to rich, creamy perfection, this wheel of Camembert is toasty, buttery, and ever so lactic. This is the kind of cheese that can stand up to a bold, big red wine like Bordeaux, or is balanced by a bright Hefewiesen.

If you’re looking for the perfect pair for Camembert, the answer is simple: apples. Apples are Camembert’s best friend and neighbor, as the land around the farms Camembert is made on are often apple orchards. You can go simple by slicing a few apples, drizzling with honey, and pairing up with our gooey wheel. Or, just break out a bottle of cider or a glass of apple brandy – either way, you’ll be savoring this sweet and savory combo.

A History of Loving Cheese in the USA

Today, January 20th, is National Cheese Lover’s Day! We’re celebrating by looking back at the cheese lovers who came before us and paved the whey for our obsession today. 

The thing is, humankind has been loving cheese pretty much since we learned how to make it. There are a couple of stories about the discovery of cheese – the most well known and apocryphal is the story of a man traveling across the desert with milk in a sheep-stomach bag. After the heat of traveling and the rhythm of the camel he was riding, the milk transformed into whey and curds, which the hungry traveler devoured. While this story is questioned by historians (especially since it was suspected that humans were possibly lactose intolerant before the introduction of cheese into diets), cheesemaking can be traced back at least 4,000 years.

The manufacturing of cheese is depicted in murals in Egyptian tombs that are dated back to 2000 BCE. Jars from the First Dynasty of Egypt were found to contain cheese, dating back to 3000 BCE. Cheeses from this era were thought to be fresh cheeses, and were thought to be made through acid coagulation or through a combination of heat and acid.

(Cheesemaking according to ancient Egyptian heiroglyphics. credit: Oregon State University)

Cheesemaking became a way of life, especially in Europe, during the Middle Ages. Cheese during this period was highly regional, used as a method of bartering and taxing, and was especially important to places such as monasteries. In fact, it was the monasteries of the French and Swiss regions that developed one of the most beloved style of cheeses – the washed rind. Whether it was accidental (there is an excellent story of a drunken monk spilling his beer over an aging wheel of cheese that resulted in it’s funky exterior) or an experimental process, we came up with delicious, pungent wheels that are still enjoyed to this day. Also during the Medieval period, cheese such as Gorgonzola in the Po River Valley (897 CE), Roquefort by French monks (1070 CE), and English Cheddar (1500 CE) were developed, with their traditions continuing on to this day.

While we’ve talked plenty about cheesemaking in the Middle East and Europe, we haven’t talked much about the Americas. This mostly has to do with fact that cheesemaking simply was non-existent prior to European immigration to the Americas. Columbus brought goats on his voyages as a source of constant milk and cheese for the long voyage. The Mayflower included cheese among their supplies while crossing the Atlantic in 1620, and brought cheesemaking to the colonies as they raised livestock.

As American cheese production developed during the 18th and 19th centuries, it became clear that cheese was as regional as it was in Europe. English and Irish immigrants brought cheddar to New England, while the Swiss and Germans developed the Alpine recipes of their homeland in the Midwest (especially Wisconsin). Out on the West Coast, Spanish and Italian missionaries who had moved up and over the Mexican border brought their own style of aged goat and sheep’s milk cheeses.

It wasn’t just local farmers who were getting in on the action – inspired by his travels in Paris and Northern Italy, President Thomas Jefferson fell in love with a recipe there. For a state dinner, the President imported macaroni and Parmesan cheese. Dubbed “a pie called macaroni”, Thomas Jefferson unwittingly introduced macaroni and cheese to the American consciousness.

(above, Thomas Jefferson’s initial sketches of a pasta machine, which he would use to make the United States’ first version of macaroni and cheese. credit: Library of Congress)

But Thomas Jefferson wasn’t the only American president who enjoyed cheese. In 1835, Colonel Thomas Meacham, who was a dairy farmer from Sandy Creek, NY, made a gigantic wheel of cheddar. Four feet wide, and two feet thick, it weighted nearly 1400 lbs, and was dedicated to the current President of the United States, Andrew Jackson. But Meacham didn’t just dedicate that big block of cheese – he sent it to Jackson. When it arrived at the White House, Jackson was left wondering what exactly to do with it. It certainly didn’t help that the cheese was described, by one senator, as “an evil-smelling horror” that supposedly could be smelled from blocks away.

Jackson tried to get rid of it by handing out large chunks to friends and family, but two years later, there was still about 1200 lbs of cheese remaining. With his term almost up, Jackson sure wasn’t going to be bringing what remained of the cheese with him when he left the Oval Office. During his last public reception at the White House, Jackson opened the doors of the White House to his constituents, who swarmed the atrium. 10,000 people attacked the wheel, hacking into it with knives and walking away with sizable chunks. Jackson’s plan worked – after two hours, the entire wheel was gone, and Jackson was rid of his stinky cheddar.

(above, an illustration of Jackson’s big block of cheese, as the public attacks it with vigor. credit: Mental Floss)

Things in American cheesemaking began to change in the mid-nineteenth century, with the construction of the United States’ first cheese factory. Built in 1851 in Oneida County, New York, by a Mr. Jesse Williams. The father half of a father-son venture, Jesse’s boy wasn’t exactly the most skilled cheesemaker that had been born to the family. By buying milk from surrounding herds and pooling it to make a factory-made cheese, he covered up his son’s lack of skill, while making a bulk cheese that was affordable and less labor intensive. And like that, cheesemakers started changing to the factory style, which made them a much prettier penny than their small-scale farmhouse businesses had in the past.

The small time farmer’s cheese production slowly dwindled over the early 1900’s, but it was World War II that wiped out the regional diversity of US cheese. (The same thing, we should note, happened in Europe as well, and the war almost killed off some of our most beloved imported recipes.) Due to rationing, streamlining commodity cheeses in factories was an important wartime effort and a way of saving money while providing cheese for the nation. The cheese business was consolidated, for the sake of winning the war.

That was the state of American cheese for a good 30 years after the war – a desolate wasteland of “cheese food” and “cheese product”. Sure, we discovered that the mild, meltable processed American cheese was perfect for topping a burger or melting in a grilled cheese. But we, as a nation, missed the flavor of the Old World traditions that had been lost.

But the 1970’s birthed the artisan cheese revival! Started by women and small town farmers trying to re-establish their connection with Old World traditions, the focus began using goat and sheep’s milk instead of cow’s milk. While the yield of these cheeses was low and a more expensive product, the quality could not be denied. Cheesemakers like Laura Chenel, Vermont Creamery, and Cypress Grove had little to start with, but trained in French techniques and brought flavor back to the American cheese industry, from the ground up. Since then, the American cheesemaking scene has blown up, the artisan cheese boom giving birth to some of our favorite cheeses Bayley Hazen Blue, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, and Coupole.