Max McCalman is quite likely our country’s leading cheese “evangelist”. In his latest blog entry he cites the mistreatment of fine cheeses both in storage and serving.
And once again, misguided health codes are the culprit.
The cheese cave at New York City’s Picholine restaurant (the cheese shrine) was installed in 1995. The temperature was set at 50° F and we worked to keep the relative humidity levels high. They are called “caves” because they have cave-like conditions: cool, moist, with gentle air exchange. The compressor kept the temperature steady. We kept the humidity levels high by filling the cave with cheeses. During drier winter months we sprayed the tile walls with water to keep the cave moist. The only minor flaw in the cave’s design was that it was a little too drafty. We simply turned off one of the fans, and shielded the most fragile cheeses in the recesses of the shelves.
Tons of cheese went through that cave from its installation in 1995 until just a few weeks ago. A local health inspector had the Fromagère remove the cheeses from these near-ideal conditions and place them in a colder (and much drier) walk-in refrigerator for storage.
Why they waited until 2012 to take action could be because they did not know of the cave’s existence. It was tucked in a corner of a small private dining room doubling as a wine cellar. We were not trying to hide the cheese cave; this just happened to be the most logical space within the tight quarters of the restaurant. Many guests had the good fortune to dine in that little private dining room with a view of America’s first restaurant cheese cave.
Of all the cheeses that were stored in that cave over the past seventeen years, not one of those cheeses made anyone ill, not one of them. The cheeses were all happy being in that cave, all of them together. We thought it might be a problem but cross-contamination between blues and cheddars, for example, was never a problem. Some cheese lovers profess to love a little blue accent in their cheddars. The cheeses moved through there so rapidly that they did not have a chance to make trouble for one another.
Cheese has been around a lot longer than has refrigeration. I hope that the American Cheese Society’s Certified Cheese Professionals will help correct these misinformed health regulations. If we cannot get the 60-day minimum aging requirement for raw milk cheese amended, maybe we can at least give cheese the conditions that benefit them the most.
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