Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Day 603 : A commentary on Affinage

In today's New York Times Dining section, Jeff Gordinier takes a look at the aging process of artisanal cheeses and the city's authorities on the subject and their differing opinions. If you haven't read it, please feel free:  After receiving a variety of emails from Fromagical readers about the article, I thought I'd comment on what was said and give you my opinion.

You may wonder apart from writing on cheese why would I remotely have the ability to comment on this topic?

Well that's easy folks, I apprenticed under the affineur at Murray's close to four years ago when affinage was an even more obscure word on the lips of New Yorkers.

So what is affinage?

It is simply put, the process of aging cheese. It is an age-old art and profession in France and throughout Europe in fact. There are a great number of cheese purveyours who double as affineurs meaning that they take charge of the conditions necessary for a cheese to age to perfection -- whether its the correct amount of humidity present in a room, the temperature, the washing techniques necessary, the patting down movements, you name it. It is a science, an art, and most certainly an educated process.

Why has it taken so long to really make a splash on American soil?

Because of the fact that American artisanal cheesemaking is a years old endeavor, not a centuries old endeavor like our cheesemaking friends across the pond.

Where can you find cheese aging caves in the city?

Murray's, Artisanal, and Saxelby Cheesemongers.

So what are my thoughts?

Although I respect Steven Jenkins, a leading pioneer in cheese and a cheesemonger at Fairway's opinion, I think it is utterly ridiculous for someone who cares so much about cheese not to see the benefits and necessities of affinage. I know for a fact that the times I've gone into Fairway, there are cheeses that are on display that most certainly should not be sold in their conditions -- they will taste off, piercing, pungent, and mostly just not what one expects when one purchases them. That does not mean that across the board you should not buy cheese at Fairway; I actually think Jenkins does an excellent job at cheese curating. But I would inquire sometimes if a cheese looks a little iffy how long they have had the cheese and the same goes for the majority of supermarkets across town. You might not expect to get the highest of high qualities unless you go to a specialist which is where places like Murray's and Artisanal and Saxelby and Lucy's Whey come into play.

Moving on to the specific topic of affinage -- I am a huge supporter of affinage and the art that goes into the perfection and aging of a cheese. Don't you want to drink a wine at its best age? Don't you want to eat a piece of fish or meat cooked at the ideal temperature to the correct amount of done-ness? Don't you want to eat a peach that is exactly soft and ripe enough? Well why wouldn't you want to eat a piece of cheese that is aged to the exact moment of ideal consumption? In my opinion, affinage affords one the opportunity to showcase all of a cheese's best qualities. So why wouldn't you want to make sure that a cheese is aged in the right conditions to produce the best flavor profile? If you have the facilities, it is a no-brainer if you ask me. That does not necessarily mean that affinage under the watchful eye of the cheese purveyor, it could most certainly also occur at a creamery or farm or say in the caves of an affineur like the Cellars at Jasper Hill in Vermont.

By bringing the process of affinage to the forefront, the American artisanal cheese movement is taking the logical next step. Without it, we would be at a standstill, it's time to move forward folks.

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