Store That Cheese

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You’ve done it! You’ve succeeded in making your very own delicious cheese! You’ve carefully coagulated the milk, separated the curd from the whey, compressed the curd, soaked it in brine, and aged it under just the right conditions of temperature and humidity. You’ve tasted it and it tastes delicious. You’ve shared it with friends and family and they also think it has a wonderful flavor. Now you’re ready to store what’s leftover so you can serve it again – and again, and again until it is finished. Now comes the deciding moment. How do you store this cheese so that it remains as flavorful later as it is today?

First of all, it is important to remember that cheese is a living food. Those same bacteria that you used to make the cheese are still in there and still roaming around inside. You may be done with the cheese creation process, but the bacteria are not. Your cheese will continue to ripen and age, even in your refrigerator. The firmer the cheese, the longer it will keep. If properly stored, cheeses like Swiss, Manchego, Blue, and other hard cheeses can be stored for many months. Softer cheeses such as Cottage Cheese, Mascarpone, and others can only be stored for about two weeks before they have to be discarded.

Temperature and moisture are the critical factors that determine how well a cheese stores. Cheese should be stored in your refrigerator at a temperature of 38-42oF in one of the vegetable bins or elsewhere on the bottom of your refrigerator so that it is out of the airflow as much as possible. Wrap your cheese in aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or wax paper to further seal in the moisture. And check your cheese frequently to make sure that the cheese hasn’t dried out or become moldy.

If you see mold on a soft cheese, then throw it out immediately, since that mold will be all the way through. On a hard cheese, however, you can merely cut off the moldy part, since that mold will only be present on the surface.

If your cheese dries and cracks, fret not. All is not lost. It is possible to re-moisten the cheese by wrapping it in a damp towel for 1-2 hours. You can also cover it in a cheesecloth that has been soaked in wine or salt water and wrung out.

Follow these guidelines, and you can be assured that your carefully made cheese will continue to delight you and your guests for many months.

Your Waste is My Bread and Butter

poop equals bread and butter

Waste. The very word implies something that is unwanted or not needed. Call it leftovers, trash, byproducts, garbage – it all means the same thing – something left over from something else after all of the useful elements of that something else have been extracted.

What do we do with that waste? Well, most of the time, we discard it. We throw it away without a second thought and feel assured that it’s gone forever. Not so. As Mike Nowak, a Chicago radio gardening show host once stated, our planet is a closed system. Everything you discard still remains on Earth somewhere. There is no such thing as “away.”

Much of this waste also ends up back in our bodies, sometimes indirectly in the air we breathe or substances we absorb through our skin, but sometimes directly and by design. What do I mean by this? Allow me to elaborate.

What do we mix into our soil to help boost the growth of our vegetables? Manure. What is manure? You know good and well what it is. It’s POOP! Yes folks, cows and horses are excreting the unusable portions of the food they eat (a.k.a. poop) out of their butts. And we willingly collect it, dry it, spread it onto our vegetable gardens, grow vegetables, put those vegetables in our mouths, chew them up and swallow them. This is considered a good thing – and it is. But whether it’s via tomato road or jalapeño highway, in the end, we are still eating poop.

Nauseated yet? Well, to paraphrase that tune by the Carpenters, I’ve only just begun. Do you like cheese? You know how cheese is made, of course. Bacterial culture is added to milk, which causes the milk to separate into curds and whey. We then extract the whey, compress and age the curds, and that gives us cheese. But what do the bacteria do? Some bacteria is used to start the cheesemaking process. They will chew up the milk sugar (lactose), convert it to lactic acid, and excrete that lactic acid into the milk. The acid lowers the pH of the milk and creates the right conditions for coagulation of the milk. Other bacteria roam through the ripening curd, chew up the material inside and excrete salts and other acids. Well what is all this stuff that the bacteria are excreting? You can call it salt, acid, whatever pleases you. But bottom line, it is still waste product that the bacteria expel from their little bodies. In other words – bacterial poop! And we consume it with gusto!

Now I tell you all this not to disgust you. Well, maybe a little. Fine, I admit it. I’m rolling on the floor as I imagine the looks on all of your faces as you’re reading this! We all need a hobby, and I’m working mine. But all kidding aside, it’s important that we remember that food – real, honest to goodness food – does not spontaneously erupt from the shelves of your local grocer in neat and pretty packages. There is real work, effort, and ancient knowledge that goes into the development of that food long before it ever reaches the grocery store. To the urbanized eye, it is not all neat, pretty, and sweet-smelling. But without it, we would all have no choice but to eat the packaged, artificially created, chemically laden stuff that’s already a large part of most of our diets. And what those excuses for food can do to our bodies is a lot more disgusting than a little poop could ever be!

Here Comes the Bride, All Dressed in – Herbs?

Wedding bells are ringing out for some happy couple somewhere. And it’s time to decorate the church, synagogue, mosque, or wherever it is that the wedding is being held. And how shall we decorate it? Why, with flowers of course. And with herbs.

Wait a minute, you’re saying to yourself. Did he just say – herbs? At a wedding? Yes, that is exactly what I said. And no, I haven’t been sniffing any of those “other” herbs. This is not a new idea that I just invented. The use of flowers and herbs in wedding ceremonies is thousands of years old. In ancient Greece, brides carried fresh marjoram bouquets and wore fragrant myrtle crowns. In ancient Rome, brides wore rosemary and roses in their hair. In 17th century England, brides had gilded branches of rosemary tied with silk ribbons carried before them during the wedding ceremony. And in the Middle East, brides were adorned with gilded wheat and fragrant orange blossoms, symbols of wealth and fertility.

Why not borrow some ancient cultural wisdom and use herbs as part of your next wedding ceremony? Where to start? Here are some ideas (wedding planners, take notes.).

Rosemary – Rosemary was used in weddings for at least 2,000 years as a symbol of fidelity, loyalty, and remembrance. There are a variety of ways to decorate with rosemary. They can be placed in the bride’s bouquet, the groom’s boutonniere or in the flowers carried by the parents. Pots of rosemary can also be placed near the altar or in the reception room.

Sweet Marjoram – A symbol of joy and happiness, sweet marjoram was favored as a wedding herb by ancient Greeks and Romans. Brides carried it in bouquets; the wedding paths were strewn with it, and it was also used to crown the heads of the wedding couples. The Greeks also burned it in special temples as an offering to their gods.

Myrtle – Many cultures have used myrtle for weddings and other festive occasions. In ancient Greece, myrtle was an ancient emblem of the goddess Aphrodite, and was a symbol of love and passion. The Bible refers to myrtle as a symbol of divine generosity. In England, myrtle represented peace, home and restfulness, and sprigs of it were added to bridal bouquets. And in Germany and Switzerland, brides wore myrtle crowns on their wedding day.

Rue – Rue was believed to be an herb of vision, virtue, and virginity. In Latvia and Lithuania, rue was considered to be the most important of all the herbs. Brides wore crowns of herb leaves on their wedding day, and after the wedding, the bride carried a pot of rue from her mother’s home to her new home.

Ivy – Ivy was revered as a symbol of friendship, fidelity, and marriage. In ancient Greece, Ivy was sacred to Hymen, the god of marriage and the wedding feast and Dionysus, the god of wine and festivity, and bridal alters in ancient Greece were wreathed with strands of ivy. In modern times, many brides use it in their bouquets without knowing its 2,000 year history.

There are many ways to incorporate herbs into a modern day wedding. For starters, herbs can be added to the bridal bouquet. Make sure to choose herbs that will complement the flowers. Fresh or dried herbs can be added to flower petals in the flower girl’s basket. Herbs can be placed in bags and given to the wedding guests to toss in place of rice. Use roses for love, rosemary for remembrance, marjoram for happiness, and lavender for devotion.

Herbs can be a wonderful addition to any wedding. Why not use some in yours?