Sunday, August 5, 2012

Formaggio Kitchen Cheese Cave Tour

Gail and I are fans of Formaggio Kitchen, so when the opportunity to tour the cheese caves came up, we jumped at it. Tyler, the cave manager, gave us a tour of the two cheese caves in the basement of the store. Matthew, a buyer, taught us about the process of making cheese. Throughout, we were able to sample a number of delicious cheeses that emphasized what we were learning about.

Our tour started downstairs in the caves. The first cave was cool with water on the floors to keep up the humidity. It held many of the big wheels, with cheeses like Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Gouda, and multiple Comtés of various ages.

Our first tasting showed the effect of aging with a "Frais" (fresh) goat cheese called Cabri d'Antan, and the same cheese after a few months of aging called "Affiné" (refined). The aging dries the cheese and develops a rind. The result is a richer and funkier tasting cheese.

While in the cave, Tyler gave us samples of some special cheeses using a cheese corer. He explained how he saves the end of the core to re-plug the hole, allowing the rest of the cheese to continue to age properly. He sealed up any remaining edges by rubbing them with a big chunk of butter.

Our second tasting compared two types of Abondance Fermier, a French cow's milk cheese. The first was aged 10 months and the second 16 months. Both were delicious, but the older cheese was dryer and richer with sweeter notes. We were interested to learn that these caves are not just for temperature-controlled storage. Formagio extends the aging process in their local caves, making a better product than you might get at a cheese shop without a cave.

We moved into the second cave, which was cooler and more humid than the first. That is where they store and age many of the wash rind cheeses, including a beer washed cheese. Tyler showed us some of the aging experiments he was conducting, where he made a wash of the rind of one cheese and used it to start a rind on a different fresh cheese.

The second half of our tour was upstairs at the cheese counter. Matthew explained the common elements in making cheeses. In describing the use of rennet, he talked about both animal and vegetable rennet types. Then we tasted two young sheep cheeses. The first was made with animal rennet, and the second with a special rennet used uniquely in cheese from Portugal. That rennet comes from a thistle plant that grows in Portugal.

Our final tasting was a wash rind goat cheese and a strong Roquefort cheese. The Roquefort was deliciously salty and tangy on its own, but Gail noticed how wonderful it tasted when paired with a little honey on the plate. That will be something for us to try at home.

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