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Friday, May 6, 2011

The best worst moldy cheese in the world

The Epi Blog points us to an article by wine and cheese writer James Beebe on the tricky relationship between mold and cheese.specifically, he refutes the common assumption that one can simply scrape the mold off an old block of cheese and continue eating because cheese is largely grown from mold in the first place:

Cheese is simply what you get by isolating the solid material in milk. Separating the curds (the solid part of milk) from the whey (the liquid part) most often begins with the addition of a starter culture to fresh milk. Starter culture is always a kind of bacteria, whereas mold is a kind of fungus. I think Myth #957 gains some of its support from the conflation of mold with bacteria.
Fair enough, but don’t tell that to the Vikings.
When Pax Aracana and his brother Frisbee Arcana were in Norway, we stumbled across a cheese called Gamalost in the market. It looked attractive enough when still in its package, but the brothers Arcana were a bit shocked to find this inside:
Gamalost translates literally to “old cheese” in Norwegian. At least we couldn’t claim false advertising.
Gamalost is sometimes called Viking Cheese, because the roots of the stuff can be traced to an era when men who looked like Pax Arcana were feared by the crooked-toothed hobbits and defenseless monks tilling the rocky soil of the British isles.
Gamalost is made from sour skim milk. The low fat content means it can be stored for long periods of time without refrigeration or salting or tasting like something that didn’t crawl out of an open wound. Here’s a description of how the stuff was traditionally made, from the Norway Post:
Skimmed cow’s milk was left to sour, heated, and then the curds were placed in cloth-lined wooden boxes, wrapped in dried marsh grass, and the aging process would begin. Every other day, for many months, the dairy maids would pull the boxes out from under their beds, where the cheese was stored, and rub the cheese by hand to help spread the bacteria evenly. By Christmas the cheese had fermented to a brownish gold color and was ready to eat.
Seriously, this stuff is rank. There’s even a song about how gross it is. Even the old Norwegians who like the stuff say it tastes as bad as it smells:
One story I heard attesting to the intensity of Gamalost’s flavor was that when an old-timer was asked how Gamalost was made, he replied, “Take some cheese, stuff it in an old sock, bury it in manure under the barn and when it is ready, it will crawl out.”
Apparently, the Vikings considered the stuff a powerful sexual stimulant. I guess that could be true if you spend your time having sex with dead Irish monks.
Wait. What were we talking about?

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