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3 Awesome Ways to take Cheese Appreciation to the next level

If you had told me five years ago that I’d end up geeking out over cheese, I probably would’ve raised my brows at you in question. Perhaps it had been a case of an unrefined young palate? Or maybe I had simply eaten too much processed filled cheeses in my childhood. I simply never quite had a special relationship with cheese in my youth.

Turns out, I just didn’t know cheese in the way that I was supposed to. At least, not in the way that I do now. If I only liked cheese in a passing manner before, all the time I’ve spent working with Real California Milk Philippines has taught me to appreciate it in a completely new way. It developed in me a special love for cheese that I now very gladly feed. These kinds of surprises are always the most wonderful.

Speaking of surprises, I got the chance to go on a weekend Boracay trip with Real California Milk Philippines at the end of May. It ended up being one of the most fun and educational trips I’ve been to in a while. I learned about cheese from unique approaches this time. Also, I got to meet some pretty awesome people!

None other than “The Cheese Dude” Mark Todd was there to share his cheese wisdom with us. His first tip? Going for cheeses that have the Real California Milk seal on them. The moment you see this seal on any cheese packaging, it’s automatically an assurance of quality and best production practices when it comes to cheese brands that come from California. It’s amazing that the US actually produces more than 25% of the world’s cheese supply, and that California is responsible for 20% of this output.

You can of course buy these cheeses locally at S&R Membership Shopping, Royal Duty Free, Landers Superstore, SM Hypermarket, SM Supermarket, Merkado, PureGold Price Club, Cash & Carry, Rustan’s Supermarket, Robinsons Supermarket, Unimart Supermarket, and Landmark Supermarket. No need to fly all the way to the States for some great dairy!

[Read more about Real California Milk]

Today I’m going to share with you the things I learned from this weekend getaway that really raised my appreciation for cheese to the next level. If you try out any of these things, I’m fairly certain you’ll at least find a new perspective when it comes to cheeses. And maybe, like me, you’ll love it a little bit more!

1. Try your hand at making cheese

You know what they say: You never truly appreciate something until you understand how they came to be. In the same way, I always find myself seeing any food item with new eyes the moment I learn how to make them from scratch. Cheese is no exception. Even though we only made some basic cheeses, I can definitely see how much of an art cheese-making can be. As a bonus, we also learned how to make butter.

The geeky part of me had always wanted to try this, so I was stoked we were going to attempt this stuff at all. It’s such an interesting process of adding acid to hot milk, then letting it curdle for a bit until you get cheese. Of course, we used some Real California Milk to make our cheese.

For this activity, we were paired up to make things a little easier. We had to choose between making queso blanco and ricotta. I assumed everyone else would be making ricotta, so my partner Nicole and I went with queso blanco. (Turns out only one pair made ricotta!) For the homemade queso blanco, ingredients and equipment you will need are:

  • 1 gallon whole milk (with the Real California seal, of course)
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar (plus 1/8 cup for back-up in case you will need it)
  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 6-quart non-reactive stockpot
  • Instant-read thermometer
  • Food-grade rubber spatula
  • Stainless steel whisk
  • Strainer ladle
  • Mesh strainer
  • Cheese cloth
  • Metal bowl

First, you want to slowly heat your milk in the stockpot, checking the temperature every so often until you get to 190°F (88°C). You want to stir the milk often but very gently in up and down motions to prevent burning. This should take at least 20 minutes.

Next, evenly pour in the apple cider vinegar and turn off the heat. You want to take your whisk and gently dip it in and out of the milk, working around in a circle, to incorporate the acid into the milk. DO NOT STIR. (You can see this in action in my vlog at the bottom of this post.) After you’ve done one round, leave the mixture to sit for 10 minutes.

After the 10 minutes are done, take a look at the mixture. If the curds of cheese have formed, there should be visible chunks in the milk. If the milk still looks very cloudy and the curds have not formed, add the last 1/8 cup of apple cider vinegar. Leave another 10 minutes. Meanwhile, dampen a cheese cloth and set it over a mesh strainer and bowl.

At this point, your cheese should be ready. Use your strainer ladle to gently scoop out the loose balls of cheese that have formed. Put them straight into your cheesecloth, salting between each scoop, and allow to drain for 1 hour. You may also want to help it along by gently squeezing the cheesecloth with the cheese inside. (Be careful as it’s hot!) Now all you have to do is put the cheese into a mold and press it with something a little heavy, for up to 4 hours. You can actually serve the cheese right away, or refrigerate it, tightly covered, and consume within 3 to 4 days.

For the homemade butter, you need only two things: a mason jar, and some good quality heavy cream made with Real California Milk. The cream needs to be around 50°F (10°C) for this trick to work. Basically, you put the cream into the mason jar just a little over halfway, put the cap on, and then shake it like your life depended on it! 

The first few minutes is the most crucial according to Mark. Taking that to heart, I shook the jar like a bobble head until I started to get dizzy lol. Nicole and I took turns shaking the jar and somehow after over 10 minutes of work, we got ourselves some creamy softened butter.

There will be some liquid left over in the jar. What you do next is pour the entire thing into a bowl and use a spatula to “squeeze out” any excess liquid from that butter. Just press the butter against the sides of the bowl and get all the liquid out. The liquid is actually buttermilk, so I think it’s pretty cool you get no wastage here.

If you don’t want to do something as involved as this, I totally understand. The next two points are much easier and less time consuming, so read on!

2. Make a flatlay-worthy cheeseboard

You know all of those wooden boards filled with cheeses and fruits and nuts you see on Instagram? Well, they’re actually not that hard to put together as long as you know what you’re doing. Our group had a little fun competition creating our own cheeseboards during this trip. And while we all stuck to our own unique themes, we all had some common factors in all our cheese boards as well.

For me, the most important thing about a cheeseboard is having a good variety of cheeses. You want to have at least one soft cheese, one semi-hard, and one hard cheese EACH on the board. A little something for everyone, if you will. Each cheese gives a different mouthfeel and flavor when paired with stuff like dried fruits, pickled veggies, crackers, or cured meats. Chili-infused honey is also an excellent partner for most cheeses. 

While having a variety of textures will make the eating experience more enjoyable, adding some decorative touches also feeds the eyes. Take advantage of colorful trail mixes. Add levels to your cheese platter by stacking your cheeses. Break a big piece of cheese into rough halves to give it a rustic feel. The only limit is your imagination really. I have already written a more in-depth post about cheese boards you can check out for more tips!

[Read: 10 Tips for a Fabulous Cheese Board]

3. Do a cheese and beer pairing session

You guys read it right: cheese and beer. We’re not going into a debate over whether wine is a better pairing with cheese, but I will say that pairing cheese with beer can create a very unique experience. The malt in the beer does some really interesting things to the taste of cheese. I don’t drink beer so I never attempted this pairing before, but I started to see the “charms” of beer after this.

The basic and most important rule for beer and cheese pairings is that they should complement each other. What I mean by this is: If you have a strong tasting cheese, you should pair it with strong tasting beer, and vice versa. Neither your cheese nor your beer should be wrestling against each other in your mouth, because that can be very unpleasant. In the same vein, it’s pointless to do a pairing when your super malty beer will only drown out your super mild cheese.

Of course, it’s often a case of trial and error when it comes to these things. That was exactly the case when we did our pairing sesh with a selection of local Craft Beers. Mark followed only his instincts when he selected the pairings, and in our own group the reception was varied for each pairing. Check out the pairings we tried and my personal comments about each of them below:

  • Marin French Triple Crème Brie & Engkanto Pale Ale- This cheese is light and creamy, nicely blending with the fruity and yeasty notes of the beer. There is a hit of bitterness at the end because of the cheese rind, complementing the beer.
  • Rouge Creamery Chocolate Stout & Crazy Carabao Kalinga Kolsch- This cheese has some mushroom-y truffle-y undertones that shines alongside the clean taste of the beer. I think the beer makes the flavors of the cheese more striking. It didn’t taste as intense when I had the cheese by itself for breakfast when I got home. One of my favorites!
  • Marin French Breakfast Cheese & Crazy Carabao Lapu Lapu Lager This cheese is super rich and buttery, with hits of sweet and sour that gets balanced out by the strong woody lager. This cheese is a little too much for me on its own, but I definitely like it with the beer. The ending is mildly bitter.
  • Rogue Creamery Rosemary Cheddar & Joe’s Brew Fish Rider Pale Ale I loved this cheese on its own. Fragrant with just the right amount of rosemary flavor! Eaten with the beer, there’s a moment where the strong bitter taste of the ale takes over all the flavors in your mouth, but somehow the finish is super complex. You get this mix of fruity, bitter, and herby. Interesting.
  • Point Reyes Toma Cheese & The Cebruery Dumaguete Dubble- This was the pairing I liked the least. It was kind of meh for me. The cheese had a mild classic taste that I can’t even remember anymore, and the beer was WAAAAY too strong for it. The cheese manages to come through at the end, but you have to sit through the mineral (almost rust-like) scent and taste of the beer first.
  • Fiscalini Bandage Wrapped Cheddar & Illusion Brewery Dark Hat Porter- I can understand why this cheese has won awards for being Best Mature Cheese. It’s such a delicious, smoky cheese on its own! In contrast, I wasn’t a fan of the beer. The porter was SUPER intense, and my looking for the coffee in it only gave me this… I don’t even know how to explain the flavor. Forest-y? Plant-like? But my goodness they paired so well together. I don’t even know how it managed to become one of my favorite pairings!
  • Vela Dry Jack & Cerveza Sagada Saison- I loved this super nutty dry cheese and I think that’s what saved this pairing for me ultimately. The beer started out being way too funky for me. The cheese somehow manages to take over, so the finish wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be after the initial sip of beer.
  • Point Reyes Original Blue & Crazy Carabao Exit Wounds IPA- This was another deliciously creamy cheese with very strong shroom-y undertones. I do like bleu cheese so I was excited to see the effect of any beer paired with it. As long as you don’t drink too much of the IPA, I actually think it enhances the taste of the bleu cheese.

It’s hard to get the nuances of each pairing at first, but I think it’s best to just let yourself taste the pairings without pressure so you can identify which ones you like. I didn’t expect to like the very strong cheese and very strong beer pairing yet here we are! I tend to like to chew the cheese a little bit before taking a sip of beer, but you can do the reverse. Real California Milk has more recommendations for beer and cheese pairings right here.

Well this has turned out to be a long post. Yet another proof of how I’ve truly taken my love for cheese to the next level! You can check out my awesome weekend experience with Real California Milk Philippines through this vlog as well:

PS. This was the loot we took home from this weekend trip. All I can say is: I am SUPER excited to cook and bake from these cookbooks! I will definitely share the results here. 

For more recipes and information about Real California Cheese, check out the Real California Milk website. You may also follow and like them on their Facebook page!

Full disclosure: This trip was sponsored by the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) in the Philippines. All opinions stated above are my own.

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