Lest yesterday’s post about the UW Dairy Cattle Center open house lead you to think that I frown on the university’s entire dairy program, I thought today I’d share some info from the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research’s latest newsletter. Bénédicte Coudé and Professor Emeritus Bill Wendorff provide details on the safe use of wooden boards in cheesemaking:
Wooden boards have been used for many years in most traditional cheesemaking countries as a shelving mechanism for aging cheese. In France, more than 300,000 tons of cheese are ripened on wooden boards each year (Meyer, 2005). Most artisan cheesemakers feel that wooden shelves favor cheese rind development and improve the organoleptic qualities of aged cheeses thanks to the formation of a biofilm on the wood surface.
Take a look at an uncut wheel of Camembert, wrapped in its bloomy white jacket. All that luscious rind—the best part to many people—is made of microbes; the cheese itself begins a few millimeters under the surface. The entire outer crust is actually a colony of organisms, sealing the paste away from pathogens and contributing its own unique flavors to the finished product.
The technical term for this community is biofilm, a web of interconnected microbes that rely on each other to create their own environment, like a coral reef. Biofilms are found everywhere that microbes settle, from a slippery river rock to the lining of your stomach….
But biofilms aren’t just masses of microbes; they’re organized. Individual cells constantly send out and measure chemical signals in a process called quorum sensing. When the bacterium or fungus detects enough of its own kind (or enough other species) in the area, the cells switch from acting as individuals to acting as part of a community of connected organisms.
By knitting themselves together with strands of protein and sugars, the microbes become much tougher. While this is a problem with pathogenic microbes, which become harder to control with chemicals or antibiotics, cheesemakers take advantage of biofilm’s toughness by cultivating edible versions that resist the growth of undesirable bacteria and mold, while regulating the flow of gas and moisture into and out of the cheese paste.
But is it this wood-riding biofilm safe? Yep, if the right steps are taken. Coudé and Wendorff conclude that
considering the beneficial effects of wood boards on cheese ripening and rind formation, the use of wood boards does not seem to present any danger of contamination by pathogenic bacteria as long as a thorough cleaning procedure is followed.
Want all the fascinating technical details? You can find their article on pages 8 and 9 of this PDF.
Finally, to see an award-winning cheesemaker at work, aging his much-sought-after cheeses on wooden boards (and even wrapped in spruce bark), check out the episode of Wisconsin Foodie that features Andy Hatch of Uplands Cheese. (Hatch also happens to be a dairy science alum of UW-Madison.) Enjoy the whole program if you’ve got time, or skip ahead to catch a couple minutes starting at time mark 10:11.
Late last week, the great Wisconsin Public Radio feature “Wisconsin Life” focused on the wonderful Kickapoo Coffee.
As I’ve mentioned many times before, it’s our house coffee thanks to their commitment to fair trade, sustainable (and usually organic) growing practices, and delicious, impeccably roasted beans. The Kickapoo segment on WPR reminded me once again just how much I love the Kickapoo crew. J and I are going to have to make the trip to Viroqua sometime for one of their monthly public cuppings.
Then, watch the episode of Wisconsin Foodie from Wisconsin Public Television that features Kickapoo.
The winners of the second annual Good Food Awards were recently announced. In case you haven’t heard of the national competition, here’s how it’s described at their website: “For a long time, certifications for responsible food production and awards for superior taste have remained distinct—one honors social and environmental responsibility, while the other celebrates flavor. The Good Food Awards recognize that truly good food—the kind that brings people together and builds strong, healthy communities—contains all of these ingredients. We take a comprehensive view, honoring people who make food that is delicious, respectful of the environment, and connected to communities and cultural traditions.”
This year’s winners include four of Wisconsin’s own: Kickapoo Coffee (of Viroqua) for their Organic Biloya Yirgacheffe; Uplands Cheese (of Dodgeville) for their Pleasant Ridge Reserve; Death’s Door Spirits (of Middleton) for their white whiskey; and Spirit Creek Farm (of Bayfield) for their curtido, a Latin-American inspired sauerkraut.
To celebrate the winners, enjoy the video below from Wisconsin Public Television’s “Wisconsin Foodie,” which features Andrew and Jennifer Sauter Sargent of Spirit Creek. You won’t get to see them make kim chi, but you will get to see their farm and hear about their food philosophy. (As with just about everything from Wisconsin Foodie, it’s a nicely produced piece.)