Whether it’ll be you and Fido only, or the whole clan around the table braving Covid-19, this Thanksgiving, with or without travel, certainly feels like no other. One way to offer comfort, perhaps between the squash casserole and the pumpkin pie, could be to add a cheese course. And if you believe cheese makes you fat, Anne Saxelby, who co-owns Saxelby Cheese at the Chelsea Market and provides American cheeses to many of the city’s top restaurants, begs to differ!
“Real cheese, meaning cheese made by hand, doesn’t make you fat,” said Ms. Saxelby. “This is the biggest misconception and the culprit is processed, industrial cheese.”
In her new book, The New Rules of Cheese (Ten Speed Press), Ms. Saxelby explains that while Americans are eating more cheese than ever—around 35 pounds per person, per year — they complain that cheese makes them fat. Chances are they are consuming processed cheese. But what is processed cheese anyway?
“It’s ground up cheese combined with potassium citrate and sugar to create maximum meltability,” she said.
Dr. Keith Berkowitz, Founder and Medical Director of the Center for Balanced Health in New York City, adds that when cheese is pasteurized and homogenized, as in the case of processed cheese, it loses the enzymes that help digestion so people often feel bloated and gassy without knowing why.
Artisan cheese is simply made with four ingredients: milk, culture, rennet and salt. Period. And there may be as many as 100,000 variations on this theme, around the world. Few gourmets realize that artisan cheese contains “good fat,” one of which is Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), that can boost the metabolism and even facilitate weight loss.
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“Two ounces of Parmigiano Reggiano is one of the most satisfying snacks,” she adds, “And did you know that it packs more protein than steak?”
The artisan cheese revolution came to the United States in the 1970’s when women such as Laura Chenel in California and Allison Hooper in Vermont started making goat cheese. American chefs loved their French cheese, but they also loved the idea of American cheese if…it could taste as good!
By the time Ms. Saxelby opened her tiny shop in the Essex Market in 2006, American artisan cheese had exploded in many areas of the country.
“I had only 100 square feet,” she said, “So I took the plunge and decided to focus only on American cheese.” Today, she’s made two exceptions: Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano.
“There’s just no equivalent here for these,” she said.
For Thanksgiving or any holiday dinner, Ms. Saxelby recommends a platter made of three, or if you can, five cheeses. If you don’t like the idea of a cheese course, stick with a cheese platter to entertain the diners while you finish cooking.
If you’re not sure how to assemble your platter and you cannot personally visit your cheese monger, start with what you know and like, then add cheese made with various kinds of milk (goat, sheep, cow). Pick different textures, from soft to semi-firm to hard, and a variety of styles: fresh, bloomy rind, washed, natural rind and blue. Always eat them from the mildest to the strongest to be gentle on your palate.
Ms. Saxelby’s favorites this season (to be eaten in this order) include:
Pearl: a fresh, mild goat/cow cheese similar to a crottin with a bright and tangy taste and the smoothest, spreadable texture. Aged one week at Seal Cove Farm.
Invierno: Named for the long Vermont winters during which this semi-firm, semi-aged cow & sheep cheese ripens at Vermont Shepherd, at the intersection of cheddar and pecorino.
Jake’s Gouda: A more intense two-year old farmstead raw-milk cheese made in traditional Dutch fashion producing crunchy crystals and a toasty butterscotch quality.
Eligo: A washed goat and cow’s milk curd produced by the Cellar at Jasper Hill Farm, it is reminiscent of a Tallegio with tangy, almost effervescent custard texture.
Boujee Blue: This goat/sheep/cow mix is made by Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. and offers a sweet buttery texture and a gamy but mellow flavor.
And if after all of this, you want to delve even more in the world of artisan cheese, take a look at the Finger Lakes Cheese Alliance and drive up for their cheese trail where you can visit, among others, Engelbert Farms, the first certified organic dairy farm in the country!