Cheese Special: Cheeses from the New World

Some of America’s best artisanal cheeses were featured in a Taste Workshop yesterday at Cheese, the international biennial Slow Food event dedicated to dairy. The workshop was led by Jeff Roberts, the author of The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese, and featured cheeses from Pleasant Ridge Reserve in Wisconsin and Rogue River Blue from Oregon (both made from raw milk and Slow Food Presidia), as well as cheeses from Andante Dairy, Cypress Grove and Cowgirl Creamery in California and finishing with Coupole, a goat’s milk cheese from Vermont.

‘American cheesemakers have taken their inspiration from Europe – Britain, France, Italy, Spain – and are looking at how these techniques can be expressed in a very unique fashion,’ explained Jeff during the workshop. ‘For me that’s part of the joy of what is going on in the US today, we are creating something that is very unique to America.’

This is the first time that American artisanal cheesemakers have had their own booth at Cheese. Soft-ripened goats milk, aged cows milk, blue cheeses, cheddars and American originals can all be sampled and purchased, and the cheesemakers themselves are manning the stall to talk about their product. ‘This is an opportunity for us to proclaim to the rest of the world that some of us do know how to eat’, said Jeff, ‘and we want to share it with all of you as well’.

A Taste Workshops this morning led by Will Studd, Australian expert on artisanal cheesemaking and raw-milk champion, uncovered some of the gems from this continent – from chèvres and blues from the state of Victoria to cow’s milk cheese from Barossa Valley, South Australia. In a country where 80% of the national cheese market is dominated by mass-produced Cheddar, and the making of specialty cheese is a very new activity, Studd explained that: ‘we now have some great cheeses, but we have some challenges’.

Studd explained there is very little understanding of cheese traditions among Australians, and that because of this, and a government ban on raw milk since 1996, there is a mentality that all milk must be pasteurized for cheese making. The raw milk ban has since been lifted selectively for imports, but Australia continues to heavily restrict the use of unpasturized milk in cheesemaking. However, it is thought Australia will soon follow New Zealand, where the ban on raw milk cheesemaking will be lifted this October.

Cheesemaker Kris Lloyd, who makes a wide range of goat and cow milk cheese from small local dairies in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, presented once of her own cheeses during the workshop, and commented that raw milk was just the beginning of the issues facing small artisanal cheesemakers. ‘One issue we have is that we are very young specialist cheese industry, and there is no historic base to source advice and information. Much of our learning is by trial and error,’ she said.

‘This is my forth time to Bra’, said Kris, ‘and I have been very inspired by what I see here. Coming to Cheese has modeled many of my cheeses I have chosen to make by broadening my horizons. I enjoy making many different styles, and pioneering a new approach in Australia.’

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