B clheseasreeestdhee makers
Pat Volchok gives a
at Costco products and
services. Send your
UNTIL RECENTLY, Jack, brick, Colby and
the one in the green shaker tube were perhaps
the only well-known American-made cheeses.
Sophisticated cheeses came from Europe,
many thought. But about 20 years ago, on the
heels of America’s fine wine movement, along
came the American cheese revolution. Now
American specialty cheeses are coming of age
across the country—and available in a Costco
warehouse near you.
The culture grows
Today’s domestic specialty cheese industry
is booming, especially within the handcrafted
artisan and farmstead categories. Artisan
cheeses are handcrafted in small batches
according to time-honored techniques, recipes
and traditions. Farmstead cheeses are made
on the farm by a cheesemaker who keeps the
animals that produce the milk. There were
only about 75 American artisan cheesemakers
in 1990. By 2006 the number (which is projected to double every six years) was up to
more than 400.
Some trace this new craving for distinctive cheeses to the growing number of people
seeking local, authentic foods. Others credit
upscale chefs and the desire of many to eat
fresh as part of a healthy diet. For me the
answer is found in the cheeses—handcrafted
masterpieces bursting with unimaginable
flavor, texture and richness.
No two specialty cheese brands are alike.
Most, if not all, are made in small batches using
farm-fresh milk that is all natural and free of
growth hormones and antibiotics. I met one
cheesemaker who handles just 14 gallons of
milk at a time to make about 10 pounds of
cheese. Such a limited-quantity commitment
is certainly in stark contrast to commodity
cheeses produced in volumes totaling more
than 40 million pounds per year.
Cow’s-milk cheeses dominate the specialty
cheese field. However, many of the smaller-volume cheesemakers milk goats. Their milk is
tart and more easily digested. Sheep’s milk is
the richest of the three.
No matter the cheese, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is responsible for maintaining dairy standards and inspecting facilities.
All milk must be Grade A quality. As there is
no regulatory agency yet for specialty cheese,