Cultivation of a Cheesemonger

A Blog of Cheese Culture and Cultures



AlexanderFleming_microscopeB2Lysozyme is an enzyme discovered and named by Alexander Fleming- the same guy who discovered Penicillin. The discovery was completely accidental when “nasal drippings were inadvertently introduced to a petri dish.”

Lysozyme is an antibacterial found in abundance in the human body – in tears and saliva; and is also present in the spleen, lung, kidney, white blood cells, plasma, and breast milk. Lysozyme has antibacterial activity against a number of bacterial species. 

Lysozyme Use in Food

Just as lysozyme is an antibacterial in humans, lysozyme from hens’ egg albumen has been used in cheese making to prevent a production defect called butyric late blowing due to the Clostridium bacteria.


An example of a cheese with the Butryic Late Blowing defect.

Research for using Lysozyme from hens’ egg albumen began in the late 1960s and 1970s. This research was followed by trials on cheese carried out in Europe in the early 1980s. These trials demonstrated the efficacy of lysoyzyme to prevent the late blowing defect in  different types of cheese. Since then, hens’ egg albumen lysozyme has been recognized as by the FDA as “The most   ‘generally recognized as safe'” effective organic anti-bacterial for use in food (Rulis). Because lysozyome in cheese is from egg, some cheese ingredients list may mention that the product contains egg by FDA allergen regulations.

The Role of Chlostridia in Butyric Late Blowing in Cheese

Many species of the genus Clostridium, also known as butyric acid bacteria or BAB for short, are endospore-forming obligately anaerobic bacteria able to ferment carbohydrates. Clostridia species have been identified as a significant milk contaminant by having been frequently detected in cheese samples that show the presence of Butyric late blowing. Clostridium tyrobutyricum, Clostridium butyricum, and Clostridium sporogenes are the most commonly observed species. Together, these species are called “butyric acid spores.”  Among the three species, C. tyrobutyricum has been the most extensively studied. It is acid-tolerant, characterized by the ability to ferment lactate (lactic acid sans a hydrogen) to butyric acid, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen. It is these carbon dioxide and hydrogen gasses that cause larger than normal eyes in the cheese and large cracks and bursts within the paste. Silage, a forage conservation technique, is frequently pointed as the principal source of butyric acid spores of ruminant feed.



Man in a silo of harvested sorghum

Silage is harvested crops, mainly grass and corn, and stored in silos to ferment. Compared to hay, silage can provide a richer source of available provitamins A and other carotenoids and tocopherols. Because silage is full of vitamins and important nutrients that grazing animals need, silage has markedly exceeded hay production in many countries and has been the prevailing type of preserved forage.  Some farming systems are based on year-round silage feeding to cattle.

However, Silage can also be a pool of the undesirable bacteria. Bacteria such as Bacillus cereus, Clostridium tyrobutyricum and Listeria monocytogenes can carry over some components affecting sensory properties from silage to cow’s milk creating a concern to those in the dairy industry.

However, in some parts of the world, the off flavors and late blowing in cheese is so unwanted, the use of silage has been prohibited. P.F. Fox wrote in the second volume of Cheese: Chemistry, Physics and Microbiology text that “Since lactate decomposition by Clostridium butyricum and Cl. tyrobutyricum into butyric acid, acetic acid, carbon dioxide and hydrogen causes the cheese loaf to blow. Even in small amounts, butyric acid is unfavourable to flavour development. Therefore, in Switzerland, silage feeding of cows is prohibited for cheese production.”

The crops that are harvested for silage are placed in a silo and within 48 hours the stack will start and finish an aerobic fermentation phase in which trapped oxygen is consumed and is then followed by anaerobic fermentation that will convert sugars to acids. Complete fermentation takes approximately two weeks.

In the past the fermentation was conducted by indigenous microorganisms, but today the chemical reactions that occur in the stack are regulated. Some bulk silage is inoculated with specific microorganisms to speed fermentation or improve the resulting silage. Silage inoculants contain one or more strains of lactic acid bacteria, and the most common is Lactobacillus plantarum. Other bacteria used in inoculants include Lactobacillus buchneri, Enterococcus faecium andPediococcus species.


Clostridia are bacteria found in the soil and on dirty plant material. Pollution by earth and dead plant elements further increase the risk of butyric fermentation by increasing the introduction of Clostridia into the silaged crop.

Clostridia in silage impair milk quality due to the fact that clostridial spores can survive the passage through the alimentary tract of a dairy cow. Clostridial spores present in silage are transferred to milk via faeces and faecal contamination of the udder.


Clostridia are endospore-forming anaerobic bacteria. Many Clostridia ferment carbohydrates as well as proteins. In addition to carbohydrate fermentation, it is C. tyrobutyricum that can degrade lactic acid to butyric acid and carbon dioxide and hydrogen gasses according to the following overall reaction:

Sugar or 2 Lactic –> Butyric + 2 CO2 + 2H

How does Lysozyme Work as an Anti- Chlostridium Bacterial?

Lysozyme is such a strong component of the immune system because it is able to degrade peptidoglycan present in bacterial cell walls. It destroys the Chlostridium cell wall by cleaving the Beta (1-4) N-acetyl-D-glucosamine polymer located in the peptidoglycan cell wall of the bacteria. Some Clostridia can cause serious health problems. One extremely toxic species is Clostridium botulinum.


Lysozyme Application in Cheesemaking

We now know that butyric acid, which makes cheese unpalatable, and an accumulation of carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas, that cause defects in the cheese, both result when Chlostridia ferments sugars or lactic acid during ensilage.  Hen egg albumen lysozome has been approved by the FDA as an anti-bacterial to destroy the cell walls of any present Chlostridia to prevent these unfavorable results in the cheese making process.

During cheese making, lysozyme is added to cheese vats in either a liquid or spray dried and granulated form. At the pH of the milk, lysozyme is positively charged, and as the curd forms, lysozyme is electrostatically attracted and adsorbed to the negatively charged casein molecules that form the curd. After separation of the curd from the whey, greater than 90% of the lysozyme activity resides with the curd.

Lysozyme will not begin to destroy Clostridia spores until partway through the aging process of the cheese.  As the center of the wheel develops anaerobic conditions, the contaminating spores of Clostridium tyrobutyricum slowly begin to germinate.  Lysozyme that was introduced to the milk and has remained on the curd and will break down the Chlostridium cell wall and continue to do so for the duration of the aging process of the cheese. (A.S. Naidu)

From a consumer’s point of view, lysozyme is completely harmless unless consumers are allergic to hen’s egg whites, in which case they may be allergic to lysozyme.  Some cheese companies are working hard to make sure lysozyme is included in the list of ingredients. If you have this allergy, please read the label.


Batt, Carl A., Totorello, Mary Lou ed. Encyclopedia of Food Microbiology 2 ed. Elsevier 2014

Drouin, Pascal  and Lafrenière, Carole . Milk Production – An Up-to-Date Overview of Animal Nutrition, Management and Health. Chapter 18: Clostridial Spores in Animal Feeds and Milk. Published: September 26, 2012 under CC BY 3.0 license

Fox, P.F. ed., Cheese: Chemistry, Physics and Microbiology: Volume 2 Major Cheese Groups. Aspen Publishers, 1999

Goodling, A. et. al Hen Egg-White (HEW) Lysozyme. Protopedia.

Muck, R.E. Butyric Acid In Silage: Why It Happens. Powerpoint. U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, USDA.

Naidu A.S., ed. Natural Food Antimicrobial Systems. CRC Press, Jun 21, 2000

Pavel Kalac. The effects of silage feeding on some sensory and health attributes of cow’s milk: A review. Food Chemistry 125 (2011) 307–317

Rulis, Alan M. Ph.D. Agency Response Letter GRAS Notice No. GRN 000064. Letter written April 2, 2001. Page Last Updated: 10/15/2014

Stefanie J.W.H. Oude Elferink, Frank Driehuis, Jan C. Gottschal, and Sierk F. Spoelstra. Paper 2.0: Silage Fermentation Processes and their Manipulation. Agriculture and Consumer Protection Dept. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

LYZ lysozyme [ Homo sapiens (human)]The National Center for Biotechnology Information updated on 7-Feb-2016

Clostridia – the underestimated danger in dairy farms. Addcon Green Chemistry.


Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum. Fleming-at-Microscope.  Flickr. <;

Lysolac: Safely & Naturally Protecting Your Cheese. “Image of Cheese deformity caused by Butyric Late Blowing” Chestnut Hill Sciences LLC.

Kesmodel, David. U.S. Farmers’ Latest Hot Crop: Sorghum. Wall Street Journal. Jan. 21, 2015

Seed Today. Corn Silage Hybrids and Seeding Rates. August 15, 2011

DB Science 3. Bacteria.




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German cheese adventure!

Hello, gang

My brother has been in Italy looking into necessary paperwork for inheriting a house. While that has been going on, he took a trip up to Schwäbisch Hall in Germany to say hello to some friends and while he was there, he passed through a couple farmer’s markets. Being my brother, he looked for, and found some great cheese and sent photos!  Now I want to share my brother’s cheese with all of you and take you on an adventure through this German cheese.

The district of Schwäbisch Hall is the capital of the district with the same name.  The district lies in the northeast of the state of Baden-Württemberg itself located in southwest Germany. The town of Schwäbisch Hall is in the Kocher valley, named after the river that runs through it. The Kocher river runs from the Swabian Alb mountain range which creates somewhat of a southern border of the Schwäbisch Hall district. The Hohenlohe plain (Hohenloher Ebene) and the Swabian-Franconian forest hills cover the northern landscape.  Confused?  The map images below will help…

Political map of Germany, Schwabisch Hall

Political map with the district of Schwabisch Hall circled in red

Relief map of southeast Germany

Schwabisch Hall, in the Kocher valley, is set between the Hohenlohe plain to the north and the Schwabisch Alb moutain range to the south.

With such an interconnection between the names of both geographical and political features, it becomes apparent that a strong “sense of place” has developed within Germany. As a sense of place becomes part of the tradition of a region of people (or perhaps it’s the other way around) it seems inevitable that food becomes part of that tradition. Methods of preparing certain foods and meals, certain foods grown, animals bred and kept on farms – over time, the landscape, weather, climate, geology will dictate what local and unique foodstuffs will thrive in an area. For example, the Schwäbisch Hall region is very well known for their Schwäbisch swine – a pig that is only bred and raised in the 573.00 sq. mi area of Schwäbisch Hall.  

The famous Schwabisch Swine with its distinctive markings

The famous Schwäbisch Swine with its distinctive markings

Because the location of an area is so important to the cultural food identity of a place, I want to begin to get to know the farmer’s market cheese from Schwäbisch Hall through knowing the landscape of the district. The geographical area gives an idea of the weather patterns and vegetation. Settled in a valley with the strong Neckar river, the Schwabian alb range to the south and the Hohenlohe plain to the northeast, the Schwabish hall region encompasses a wide variety of elevations and soil types. This gives way to a variety of vegetation – food for cows when grazing out in pastures or among the foothills. This vegetation varies in water content and minerals present, affects milk composition which in turn affects the flavors of the cheese.

The Hohenlohe plain (Hohenloher Ebene) and the Swabian-Franconian forest hills are dotted with small sedge communities, spring swamps, woodland spring mires, and lots of trees. It is actually at the intersect of subalpine-boreal, frost-sensitive atlantic and sub-mediterranean biomes, which means that spring water remains rather cool in the warmer parts of the year and during the cold months is relatively warm and never freezes.

The geology of the Kocher valley is predominantly of non-metamorphic calcareous sedimentary rock. Calcium and magnesium observed in the water (making this area one that has “hard” water).  This is an interesting note because an abundance of calcium present in streams and vegetation definitely makes its way into the cow’s diet and can affect the cheese.

The weather, geography, vegetation, and geology of the area all contribute to “sense of place” a familiarity with a locale and all of which play a big role in cheese production and taste. These factors set the stage and provide the fundamental parts of cheese make procedure and give us a better idea from where this cheese is coming.  Next time you buy cheese, ask yourself – is this from Vermont? Italy? Denmark? Wisconsin?  What is the weather like there? the geography?  And taste the cheese. Allow yourself to experience the sense of place through taste – tasting the mineral-laden soil, the cool spring waters, the damp, wooded forests – because all of that plays a part in taste and experience.

So, for now, let’s enjoy the image of us standing in a field, faint scent of wild flowers, a soft warm breeze keeping us cool from the hot sun overhead. If you stand still enough, you can hear the cow bells clanging…


A gorgeous photo of the Kocher valley (and also the tallest automotive bridge) but seriously, wouldn’t you want to know that the cows that produce the milk to make the cheese you eat are grazing in this valley??


Ellenberg, Heinz. Vegetation Ecology of Central Europe. Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Karl Höll, Helmut Peter, Dietrich Lüdemann Examination, Assessment, Conditioning, Chemistry, Bacteriology, Biology. Walter De Gruyter Incorporated, 1972 

As much as I hate doing this, I had been to so many pages I forgot to document them, so most of the general information came from “The Internet”


Relief Map:

Political Map:

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On Tasting

The following  post is written by guest author and friend.  He is an international bartender, fantastic painter, and a lover, not a fighter.

He writes about tasting coffee, but his views are equally applicable to cheese.  Please welcome our guest author, Jonathan Gaige.

On Tasting 

by Jonathan Gaige

I’m a New Yorker currently in Australia and have noticed that Australians are into coffee in a big way. I’ve been a self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur for 12 years and this came as a surprise to me. They have their own signature cultural drinks such as the Flat White. The Flat White is similar to a latte but with thinner foam on top and a ratio of milk to espresso that makes it much stronger in coffee flavor. Every cappuccino I’ve seen here is topped with cocoa powder, which, in my opinion as a gastronomic purest, is not natural but an enjoyable foible in this foreign land. I would like to make clear, in case I come off as preachy (which I’m sure I will) that this is simply my opinion and my perception of why and how we taste.

Twelve years ago, I took my first job as a barista and I have been exploring the world of coffee ever since. I continue to refine my taste through revisiting drinks I’ve had before and expanding my palate trying new beverages. I’ve sampled and tasted coffee varieties from all over the world – Vietnamese Iced, Turkish/Greek, Espresso beverages, good ol’ American Drip, Japanese pour over and have dreamed of starting a cafe that could brew any kind of coffee that you want because all of these styles of drinking the bean tea are unique and admirable.

Photo of Japanese Pourover by Kenji Aoki for New York Times Magazine

Photo by Kenji Aoki for New York Times Magazine

So, it took me by surprise that just about all of the Australian natives I’ve met in my journey throughout the country say that there is no good coffee in America (speaking about NYC predominantly). I would like to get out of the way that there are some world class establishments in New York to seek out if you’re hard core about your coffee. As a country that takes their coffee seriously, this mindset is truly befuddling to me. First off, the espresso drinks here taste pretty much the same as back home to me, and second, and I’m not trying to go tit for tat with the Aussies, but I’ve gotten some pretty random interpretations of a Flat White, some indistinguishable from a latte.

I‘m not making a point that there is no good coffee in Australia, but it has made me start thinking about the interpretation of taste and how taste is perceived. Since I cannot put my finger on exactly why Australians feel there is no good coffee in America, I turned my thoughts inward and began to analyze my own methods of taste.

I realized quickly that over the years, I have developed my own personal standards to evaluate what I am tasting. Whether it’s for coffee, wine, chocolate, or cheese, when I try something new and am evaluating the craft by which something was made, the first thing I look for is “some quality”.

Quality and Blandness

Some quality” to me is anything I can identify as a quality. I may not like the particular quality but as a taster I’m trying to identify if it’s got something distinct for someone to appreciate. I don’t take my own taste buds as gospel. Any wine merchant will tell you at a tasting that there are no wrong answers. The first thing I think about while evaluating any digestible is basically “Is this bland?”

Factors within Quality – Is this I something I enjoy eating?

This search obviously and inevitably leads to a variety of other questions about exactly what those qualities are: what notes on a flavor wheel could be identified, if there is balance struck with those flavors, mouthfeel, aroma, texture, etc. One could, after that, bring other factors under evaluation – like cost – which if you happened to be in a place that only has civet digested coffee, could effectively bring a person to the conclusion that, practically, it is not accessible and therefore there isn’t any good coffee in the place. At the end of the day I’ll draw the conclusion as to whether or not this thing is a thing I like and would enjoy eating.

Ask yourself... is this bland?  Courtesy of Arrested Development

Ask yourself… is this bland?
Courtesy of Arrested Development

Cultural Relativity and Location

I thoroughly believe too, that cultural relativity would comes into play. If I hear about balut, for example, can’t just go find a fertilized egg and say I’ve had it. In other words, when in Rome, do as the Romans. The first time I had balut was in Cambodia at a market stall on the street with all the accouterments. Without that perspective, I don’t think I could say that I’ve really had it. Nor would I know its better with vinegar. If I know that I’m the type of person who doesn’t like cilantro, as in for many people cilantro tastes like soap, I would hope I’m not the type of person to say there’s no good food in Mexico. I think this often happens when people come into contact with American Drip style coffee. If I gabbed a coffee at a bodega I’m not going to value it in the same way I would a single origin, small batch roasted coffee at an independent cafe. At a bodega I would add a bit of cream and maybe a dash of sugar. It’s a totally different beast because of the utilitarian aspect than the fine wine of a single origin drip. That drip would have totally different qualities if you grind it finer and use it in a latte.

Try it, You Might Like It – Practice, Practice, Practice

The last thing which I might consider, if I don’t understand or like the thing I’m starting to taste, is the acquired taste aspect. Sometimes you have to smoke several pipes to understand the subtleties of tobacco. I wasn’t a huge fan of Armagnac when I first tried it but after my fifth time trying it it grew on me. There’s a lot of scientific evidence to suggest that we can and will learn to like things of we only try, weather it’s with cigars, brandy, or spiciness of chili peppers. So, there’s a lot of relativity to trying new things. The only way to truly understand if there is “good” food or drink in a culture is to humble yourself, keep an open mind, and try different samples for comparison. The Buddhist have a practice of meditation when they eat. Leave the rest of your mind and meditate on your next meal with each bite and sip.

Practice, practice, practice!  Photo courtesy of The Larder, 09/17/2010

Practice, practice, practice!
Photo courtesy of The Larder, 09/17/2010

Like many things we appreciate in life, I feel that tasting comes with patience, awareness, and knowledge. The ability to leave our comfort zone to partake in and appreciate others’ cultural traditions and subtleties and to keep an open mind that what we are about to experience may be our next favorite thing or, if not at that grand of a scale, definitely makes our scale of evaluation standards a little more robust for our next tasting.


I’d like to invite all of you to apply this method of thinking to when you eat cheese.  So many people eat cheese and simply think “This is good.  It tastes like cheese.”  I challenge you to recall to the last cheese you ate and compare what you’re eating to that previous one – and remember the cheese you’re eating now to apply to comparison to future cheeses you will eat.  Like different styles or methods of preparing coffee, cheese is the same.  Approach with an open mind and you world can and will open up.

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Crown Finish Caves: Brooklyn Terroir

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of going into one of the finest places underground NYC.  Crown Finish Cave.  Many of you may be familiar with the term “affinage”( the infinitive, Affiner) – a french word derived from Latin “ad finis” meaning “towards the limit.” Affinage, as it relates to cheese, is the act of caring for cheeses as they age so that they may reach their limit of perfection and then sold at peak ripeness for consumption.  An Affineur is someone who cares for the cheese to reach this limit.

Beautiful brick archways of Crown Finish Cave

One of the rooms in Crown Finish Cave

Crown Finish Cave and Parish Hill Creamery have partnered in this underground endeavor.  Sam and Benton (of Parish Hill creamery) are the affineurs at Crown Finish Cave and have worked hard putting this cave together and caring for the cheeses.   What was originally used as a lagering cellar, and most recently as an old storage facility, the space has returned back full circle storing and aging fermented foodstuffs.  The beautiful brick arched space has been thoroughly cleaned and outfitted with state-of-the-art technology to help keep the cheese healthy and aging properly.  To keep mold healthy and thriving and (the by-product) ammonia vented but prevent air from circulating too quickly as to not dry out the cheese, caves need proper air circulation and humidity .  Through research and consulting, Benton was turned on to the top-of-the-line French company specializing in air treatment, Clauger.

Clauger mainThe textile ducts promote even and gentle air flow through perforated walls
Textile air ducts

This even air flow and consistent humidity provide ideal conditions for growing mold and aging cheese.

Each style of cheese is labeled with type and date and placed on a wood board that sits nicely on the metal frame.  Each wooden board pulls out from the metal frame when cheese needs to be washed, brushed, or flipped, and then slid back in.


The cave also holds cheese from local creameries around the New York City area.  With the cave being in its infancy stages, there are currently few cheeses from other dairies but there is hope to expand out of the one room and into all five rooms of the cave.

Here, many Suffolk Punch hang.  Suffolk punch is a pasta filata cheese, curd stretched by hand and hung to dry and age.



Sam and Benton have taken on two wheels of experimental goats’ milk cheeses from respected cheesemakers to see how the cheese will age.  A lot of cheesemaking and aging is science, another portion is a combination of experience and experimentation.

Since the caves had once been an old lagering facility, it is possible that the yeasts used during beer fermentation may still lay dormant in the space.  The slightly moist, acidic, and salty cheese may be the perfect medium for these yeasts to begin growing again – adding their own specific flavor to the cheese and providing a unique Crown Heights, Brooklyn terroir.

I do look forward to tasting Brooklyn via cheese.

For more information, please visit the Crown Finish Cave website

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Cheese event at the Park Slope Co-op in Brooklyn

I attended a cheese event at the Park Slope Food Co-Op a couple weeks ago.  The event was hosted by Aaron Kirtz, sales manager at Forever Cheese and Co-Op member; and was presented by Sam Frank, affineur at Crown Finish Caves in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Cara Warren, general manager and cheese buyer at Greene Grape Provisions.


Cara and Sam started off talking to the crowd about the basics of cheese and affinage – the quality and differences of milk between animals and breeds, terroir and geography of grass-grazed animals, and the environmental variables and constants of a cheese aging facility. The engaged crowd quickly turned into an enthusiastic and question and answer session and the packed house asked everything from “What’s the easiest cheese to digest?” and “Can I eat the rind?” to “Can you grow specific types of mold during aging?” and “Tell me more about what’s going on chemically in cheesemaking/affinage.”

Although there was plenty of food for thought, no cheese event could be complete without a cheese tasting.  While we did taste some domestic washed rind cheeses celebrated by the Co-Op, the true highlights of the evening were the Parish Hill Creamery cheeses brought from Crown Finish Cave.

Crown Finish Cave is a retrofitted old lagering cellar located tens of feet under Crown Heights Brooklyn and is home to adolescent and aged and ready-to-eat cheeses from Parish Hill Creamery, in Westminster West, VT.  Only using 1 of the available 5 rooms in the cellar, the Cave also assists other nearby dairies to age their cheeses to perfection.

Here are some Brooklyn-aged Parish Hill Creamery cheeses that we tried that night.

Suffolk Punch


A classic pasta filata style or hand-stretched curd cheese – which is how it acquires its gourd-like shape.  Made in a similar style to the Italian cheese Caciocavallo, this cheese is both buttery and tangy.  Parish Hill uses – kid (goat) rennet paste which gives this cow’s milk cheese somewhat of a “goaty” flavor, but a noticeably smoother texture.

Parish Hill Kashar


Kashar is styled after Eastern European provolone.  A hand-stretched curd – pasta filata style cheese – that is placed in a mold and aged at least 60 days.  The paste has a beautiful ivory color and flavor of a great young provolone, not overly sharp while the pasta filata  style “grainy” texture, like dough.

Humble Herdsman


The Humble Herdsman is a tomme style cheese washed with Virtue Co. Red Streak hard cider.  It has the rich taste of peanuts with sweeter rind of fruit and definite apple notes from the hard cider.  Although this cheese has been aged for a few months, washing the rind gave the paste a supple and fudgy texture.

West West Blue


The West West Blue is Gorgonzola style with a sweet mold and tastes a bit like a stilton.  While all of the Parish Hill Creamery cheeses were interesting in taste and recipe, this one intrigued me the most.  It is a “2 day curd” cheese: On the first day of the cheese make, the curds are made but are left out to cool and become acidic.  The next day, the freshly produced warm, fresh curd are placed on the bottom & sides of the mold with the previous day’s cold curd on the inside because the old curds do not “knit” or press together as well.  The gaps between curds leave room for air to enter and so, blue mold.


I left with a renewed feeling of enthusiasm for the cheese world and my place in it – that people are curious about all aspects of cheese reminded me that there is more out there for me to do.  One of which things is see what’s going on underground Crown Heights in Brooklyn.  Next Post: Crown Finish Cave

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You Are What You Eat

I was looking up information about probiotic diets one afternoon when I came upon the Wikipedia page for Skin Flora and an image on the page caught my eye.  It was an image of a man and the types of bacteria that grow on skin on different parts of the body.  One of the types of bacteria was familiar — it was the same type we put in the milk to make our washed rind, Tobasi!

Corynebacteriae. It’s in the crevice of your nose, in your groin (inguinal crease), your belly button (umbilicus), and your “toe web space.” It’s also what contributes to the beige-red color (Law, Tamime) of the rind of washed rind or smear-ripened cheeses.

Screen shot 2014-07-28 at 11.26.08 PM

Image from Get Culture


Image by Mia Vergari, Cricket Creek Farm


Image by Darryl Leja, NHGRI


While in utero, a human fetus is sterile. It is not until the mother’s water breaks and the baby is being pushed through the birth canal that bacteria is introduced to the baby’s skin.  Later, handling and feeding the newborn will contribute to the bacterial population and while we’ve established most of our bacteria in the first 48 hours of our life, our environment will continue to shape us.

Smear-ripened cheese requires a lot of different kinds of microbes for flavor, color, and rind and paste development. (gooey texture? caused by microbes!)  Microbes are purposefully added to the milk during the cheesemaking process and/or colonize the cheese from ambient air.  You may call cheesemakers the mothers of the cheeses we make 🙂

Due to lactic acid in sweat and produced by skin bacteria, superficial layers of the skin are naturally acidic (pH 4-4.5) .  At this pH mutualistic flora such as Staphylococci, Micrococci, Corynebacterium and Propionibacteria grow (Lambers et al.) (Some of you turophiles may find that last one familiar as well). This is about the same pH that we want our Tobasi, our washed-rind cheese, to be when it is ready to be put in the aging room to begin rind development so the rind is hospitable to grow the desired bacteria.

But no, they are not the same bacteria. Same genus, different species.
According to one study done on dogs, (who seem to have similar corynebacteria species as humans) skin harbors Corynebacterium humireducens, Corynebacterium diphtheriae, Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis and Corynebacterium ulcerans. (Frischmann et al.) and Corynebacterum Casei grows on cheese.  How closely related are they? Check out the phylogenetic tree below —


(Image by Djossou et al., colored additions by Mia Vergari)


When selling cheese people inevitably ask me what the rind is made of and if can they eat it – a valid question and one that I delight in answering.  Upon hearing the answer many people cannot keep from wrinkling up their nose when they hear that the rind is bacteria (or mold).  But it’s all over you too, microbeface!

According to an article that a friend sent me about making cheese from the bacteria on human bodies, scientists found that  “about 25 percent of the fungi and 60 percent of the bacteria found in these microbial cheese communities were not those introduced by the cheesemakers to create the cheese.” – but where did these bacteria come from? (Fessenden)

“Some may have washed in with the salty brine used to age the cheese. Others were present in the milk itself. Still others may have come from the cheesemaker’s hands. Yup, eating “normal” cheese already includes microbes that live on humans.” ~ Christina Agapkis, microbiologist UCLA

It seems that you truly are what you eat!



Marissa Fessenden. How to Make Cheese Using the Microbes on your Feet. The Daily Dot. July 22, 2014  Last Accessed: 08/02/2014

Kenneth Todar, pHD. The Normal Bacteria Flora of Humans (page 3). Todar’s Online Textbook of Bacteriology. 2008-2012 Last Accessed: 08/02/2014

Djossou F, Bézian MC, Moynet D, Le Flèche-Matéos A, Malvy D. Corynebacterium mucifaciens in an immunocompetent patient with cavitary pneumonia. BMC Infect. Dis. (2010) Last Accessed: 08/02/2014

Get Culture. Corynebacteria. (2012) Last Accessed: 08/02/2014

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Vermont Cheesemakers Festival

Hello, Everyone —

This past Sunday I was up at Shelburne, VT at Shelburne Farms for the Vermont Cheesemakers’ Festival.  We packed up the Tobasi, Maggie’s Round and Maggie’s Round Reserve, and Town Meeting and took the 3 hour drive north on route 7 to eat and talk cheese.



We set up our table and cut samples for 1500 tasters!

When I got the chance, I left the farm table and took a walk around the festival…


Will O’ Wisp from Fairy Tale Farm in Bridport, VT, had a very similar taste to our Maggie’s Round – both were unpasteurized cows milk natural rind cheeses and both have a pretty tart flavor. But while Maggie’s Round tartness lingers on the tongue, Will O’ Wisp mellows out in the finish. When I commented on the flavor, I was told, very proudly, that what causes that mellow, delicious finish is because the cheese is made from milk Ayrshire Cows (Cricket Creek is mostly Brown Swiss).


Next, I stopped at the table of one of my favorite dairy farms, Twig Farm. I knew I loved their Goat Tomme and Square Cheese, but I had to ask about their washed rind. I was curious as to how the paste of their cheese stayed so firm while that of our washed rind cheese, Tobasi, was like pudding. I was told that “It’s all about monitoring the pH to control the bacterial breakdown of the paste.” Effects of pH on paste breakdown is something that I’ve been learning intimately while apprenticing. The curd is hand cut for a half hour and the pH is watched over several hours until the target of a pH of 5.1 is reached. A labor of love with splendid results!


Next, I went looking to try to try the newest cheese from Parish Hill Creamery but was told I’d have to wait until November. However, I got another treat with their West West Blue. A two-curd cheese that is made by making curd, letting it acidify over night, and then mixing it with the next day’s warmer, less acidic curd. I have never heard of such a process but it sure produced some tasty results!


I also had the pleasure of talking with the folks at Cherry Grove FarmDiscussed the FDA’s recent flip-flop with wooden aging boards with Woodcock Farm (and exactly how they flip their Timberdoodle!) I caught up with my prior bosses and said hello to CheeseNotes and owner of Flora Artisanal Cheese in Charlottesville, VA and two-time second place winner of The Cheesemonger Invitational.

A wonderful time, I got to taste a lot of delicious cheeses, talk to some really great people and of course, encourage others to taste cheese from Cricket Creek Farm and answer questions and education others about cheese!