Wednesday, March 3, 2010

How to Select Genuine Artisanal Cheese

 Photo, courtesy The Cheese Ambassador

If you are a regular reader of The Entertaining Kitchen you know that salad, bread, cheese (and wine!) are a big part of our family's diet. The children think nothing about a nice salad, a warmed baguette and some wonderful aromatic cheeses for dinner.

I am joining forces with The Cheese Ambassador and they are graciously giving away a gourmet cheese gift basket to one of my readers. To enter visit my other blog, The Entertaining House to learn about the rules.

Sarah Kahn, founder of The Cheese Ambassador shares the following with us.

Avoid the Imposters: How to Select Genuine Artisanal Cheese

Take a stroll down the aisles of your local supermarket or gourmet food store and you may notice that many foods are labeled “artisan” or “artisanal”. You’ll find products such as bread, chocolate, cookies, crackers, coffee, flour, gourmet cheese, granola, oils, pasta, salami, salt, spices, and vinegar described as “artisan(al)”. And this term is not just reserved for specialty foods, mass grocery brands are employing them as well. Sargento Artisan Cheese Blends and Wheat Thins Artisan Cheese Crackers are perfect examples. How are shoppers to know whether this is just a savvy marketing term or if their product selection is truly “artisan(al)”?

The main issue with the term “artisan(al)”, is that it’s not regulated by the FDA like other food label terms such as “low-fat”, which have strict usage guidelines . “Artisan(al)” also bears different meanings across different food categories. Artisan coffee implies the beans are roasted in small batches while Italian artisan balsamic vinegar is produced according to strict regulations regarding recipe, process and region. Essentially, the common denominator for the term “artisan(al)” is to suggest associations of high-quality and to differentiate it the product from mass produced foods.

When it comes to imported gourmet cheese, the origin of production plays a major role in how it’s labeled. The countries of the European Union (EU) have long recognized how food and wine is not only a way of life and a symbol of cultural and national pride but also an important tradition worthy of preservation and continuation. In an effort to protect these types of foods, to ensure a high-quality product and to minimize consumer confusion of similar products, the EU has developed the “Protected Designation of Origin”– a culinary copyright, if you will. Only foods with PDO status have been recognized as the authentic version. Strict rules govern production particular to the protected food and wine such as region, recipe and method. To make matters confusing, a PDO labeled food does not necessarily guarantee an artisanal product, as there are mass producers adhering to these stringent rules. And conversely, there are plenty of high-quality European foods made by hand in small batches that do not benefit from PDO status.

According to The American Cheese Society, an organization supporting American artisanal and gourmet cheeses, for cheese to be labeled artisanal, the focus is on the process (and not the region, like in the EU). American artisanal cheeses are typically made by hand in a traditional manor and in small batches. This allows for the cheese maker to have greater control over the quality, flavor and craftsmanship.

To feel confident that the gourmet cheese you are selecting is indeed artisanal, take a look at the label or ask the cheese monger. Is it made by a small company or a large corporation? Does the packaging offer details about the production process and the cheese maker? Regardless of the “artisan(al)” term, what matters most when selecting gourmet cheese is the taste. High-quality will always be reflected in the flavor.

About Sara Kahn
Even though her passion for gourmet cheese was undying, Sara Kahn found shopping for it to be overwhelming, time consuming and confusing. She established The Cheese Ambassador to offer a simple way to select and serve the world’s finest cheeses. By providing the perfect combination of exquisite cheese along with a comprehensive cheese course guide, enjoying gourmet cheese is now a deliciously enriching experience.

Please check out her fabulous website!

1 comment:

Socially Savvy said...

Now your speaking my language ... love cheese!