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Sleeper Cheese
Emailed September 10, 2014
Moses Sleeper
A friend in the wine business asked me a cheese question recently that stumped me. “What is the one thing that all the great cheesemakers have in common?” he wanted to know.

I’m gathering opinions on this for a future Planet Cheese (send me your thoughts), but in the meantime, one commonality occurs to me. All the great cheesemakers I know are detail maniacs. They tweak relentlessly. Good enough is never good enough.

Moses Sleeper, the luscious Brie-style cheese from Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm, helps make my case. Rather than produce the cheese in one large vat, the creamery uses nine small ones. Imagine how much more work this entails. Instead of culturing, renneting and cutting the curd one time, the crew does each step nine times, a few minutes apart. “It’s like juggling nine cheeses,” admits cheese maker Mateo Kehler.

Why on earth…? Because the results are more consistent that way, says Kehler. Made in one vat, the last cheeses molded are more acidic than the first ones because the pH is dropping rapidly over the time it takes to transfer all the curds to their forms. If you can stagger the steps, so that each small vat is a few minutes behind the last one, you get a more uniform outcome. “It allows you to give the same or very similar treatment to every curd,” says Kehler.

Named for a Revolutionary War hero with roots in the area, Moses Sleeper is a 20-ounce bloomy-rind wheel made with pasteurized cow’s milk from a neighbor. The cheese is ripened in a humid aging room for about three weeks, then wrapped and chilled to slow the growth of the rind. Kehler wants a thin cloak of white mold, not a thick and crusty coat.

Refrigeration puts the brakes on the rind but not on flavor development. Although the cheese is shipped at four to five weeks, it doesn’t peak until it is 60 to 80 days old, says Kehler. And that’s assuming it is handled well in transit. I have seen (and purchased) overripe Moses Sleeper. Ask to taste before you buy so you get a wheel with no hint of ammonia.

In prime condition, Moses Sleeper is one of America’s best cheeses of this type. A whole wheel should have some give, like a ripe peach, a sign of softening inside. The rind may show a little bit of tan mottling and some slight rippling, but too much would indicate a cheese heading south. The best specimens I have tried have a bone-colored interior that is supple all the way through, a subtle mushroom aroma and a rind tender enough to eat.

Kehler, a craft beer enthusiast, says he likes saisons and ciders with Moses Sleeper. I’m on board with that. For a saison, try Boulevard Brewing’s Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale, Ommegang’s Hennepin or North Coast Brewing’s Le Merle. As for cider, all the Devoto Orchards ciders from Sebastopol impress me.

Look for Moses Sleeper at Bi-Rite Market, Cowgirl Creamery, Haight Street Market and Mission Cheese in San Francisco; Driver’s Market in Sausalito; Oxbow Cheese Merchant in Napa; Dean & DeLuca and Sunshine Foods in St. Helena; Big John’s in Healdsburg; Freestone Artisan Cheese in Freestone; and Farmshop in Santa Monica.
FDA Update
A follow-up to a recent Planet Cheese column about FDA guidelines that were making life difficult for raw-milk cheese producers:

Just to rehash, the agency
had dramatically lowered limits for non-toxigenic E. coli in cheese, with no explanation. These common bacteria live in our gut and they don’t typically cause illness. But the FDA considers their presence in cheese as a sign of unsanitary conditions in a creamery.

Last week, the FDA made what it has termed a “course correction” on this matter. They are giving creameries (both domestic and foreign) a little more leeway on bacterial counts. Based on the interviews I’ve done, I believe this revision will not compromise food safety in the least but will keep some cheeses from being detained or destroyed in an excess of caution. Bravo to the American Cheese Society for its outreach to the FDA and its determination to maintain a dialogue with the agency. Maybe Morbier (pictured above) will return to cheese counters soon.
Your Turn to Taste the Winners
ACS winner
What cheeses floated to the top in this year’s prestigious American Cheese Society competition? Join me on Tuesday evening, October 7, at HALL Wines in St. Helena for
Blue-Ribbon Winners from the American Cheese Society. At this sit-down tasting in the winery’s beautiful demonstration kitchen, I’ll introduce you to the judges’ favorite in six different style categories—to give you a glimpse of what this country’s top cheese makers are up to. No guarantees, but I’ll do my best to secure the Best of Show. Reservations required. For more class details and registration click here.

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Janet Fletcher

Welcome to my world: a fragrant, fascinating universe devoted to great cheese. In this and future issues of Planet Cheese, you’ll find profiles of the world’s best cheeses plus insights into everything cheese: shops, recipes, interviews, pairing discoveries, classes, videos, travel. If you haven’t already done so, sign up here - it’s complimentary - and join me in learning something new about cheese every week.
World Cheese
Tour Resumes
Hall Cheese Class
Join me
  at Napa Valley’s newest showplace—HALL Wines in St. Helena—for two evenings of themed cheese exploration. You’ll sample exceptional cheeses from around the world, accompanied by fine wine from the HALL collection. Come once…or sign on for both to really boost your cheese IQ. Each evening begins with a wine reception, followed by a sit-down guided tasting.

Both classes are from
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Reservations required at
Or call: 707-265-0404.

October 7:
American Cheese Society Blue Ribbon Winners

November 4:
Italy Off the Beaten Path
Find my books:
Cheese & Wine
The Cheese Course
Cheese & Beer
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Cheese Tour photo: Faith Echtermeyer   |   Morbier photo: Victoria Pearson
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