Category Archives: Cheese World

The Arizona Cheese “Desert”

Cheese desert? More like a cheese oasis. The cheese scene here in Arizona is alive and well, and apparently it has been for many years. It is a little more hospitable for goats than cows but there are many ranches in this state with hundreds and thousands of cattle. The state would be suitable for sheep too; there are just not that many. This, however, might be due to the high copper content in the AZ terroir.

When I accepted an invitation to participate in the First Press fund raiser for the local public radio stations I wanted to reach out to some of the cheese community while here, beginning with my good friend Christine Hyatt, past president of the American Cheese Society, and well-connected to cheese peeps everywhere. She has been living in Phoenix for several years and has helped unite the cheese folks, drumming up a little excitement, stimulating the customer base, and helping raise standards among cheese makers and vendors.

Christine invited several members of the surrounding cheese community to her house on my first evening in town and I got to know them a little better. Christine pulled out all the stops! One of Phoenix’s few CCP’s, Adam Burstein, was there – his passion for cheese was immediately evident. Lara Mulchay is one of the pioneers of the Phoenix artisan cheese scene and she will be opening her latest cheese venture, Craft+Culture at the downtown Marriott. I know where I’ll be staying the next time I’m in town!

Wendell Crow, of Crow’s Dairy was at Christine’s too and he practically insisted we swing by his Nubian goat dairy west of town in Buckeye. So glad we did; the scenery was beautiful and the hospitality was amazing. It’s been kidding season in Buckeye so there were plenty of cute little doelings prancing around. They’ll be providing milk for Crow’s lovely cheeses in just a year!

We got to visit what is apparently Phoenix’s only independently owned cheese shop (hard to believe) the Wedge and Bottle. Owners Troy and Krista Daily have an operation that appears to be on a roll. Highly recommended; don’t take my word for it, just look at the reviews! I also dropped down to Tucson to do a little cheese talk at Tana Fryer’s Blu A Wine & Cheese Shop. My first visit to that lovely city and Tana and her team were super professionals.

The Arizona cheese appetite is growing; business is good, so no serious shortage of customers except perhaps in the hotter parts of summer. It seemed like the biggest challenge the producers face is limited fresh pasturage. No surprise there; after all, it is the desert. Same as in other arid regions around the globe, irrigation has turned broad swaths of the desert state into lush farmland. The water table is not far below the surface throughout most of the state, and there appears to be thick topsoil to nourish crops.

Arizona is one of the few states in the union that permits the sale of raw milk. Considering the independent mind-set defining Arizonans perhaps this may not be a surprise. Should anyone be thinking of moving their dairy operations to sunny Arizona the demand for unpasteurized milk exceeds supply. The availability of raw milk is all well and good, so long as every dairy is maintaining strict sanitary practices.

Whenever one of the infrequent problems occurs with dairy products it affects the entire industry, both raw and pasteurized products. Should problems occur in a raw milk it could have dramatic repercussions on access to raw milk cheeses as well – the ones aged sixty days or more. We hope that the booming Arizona dairy industry will take heed and ensure that all operators follow the highest standards. It would appear that the state’s industry is outpacing the resources of its inspectors. I hear that some raw milk producers are operating under the radar with caution thrown to the wind.

One little disappointment: the top line restaurant where I dined on my last night in Scottsdale had no cheese course. Nevertheless, the Arizona cheese industry is looking great already and it appears it is going to have a sunny future.

Queso Manchego

I had my strong espresso this morning, as well as pomegranate, cantaloupe, orange, almonds, walnuts, pecans and cashews. All I need now is my Manchego then I am set for hours. The American Cheese Society’s convention hotel in Sacramento featured Manchego every morning with its breakfast buffet, which helped sustain me for hours. This cheese has been one of my top cheese cravings for many years and I wanted to share some wisdom and history with you about a truly marvelous food of which I cannot seem to get enough.


If you ask a cheese lover what their favorite cheese is the name Manchego will come up more often than you might expect, given that there are hundreds of well-known cheese names in the world today. What makes Manchego a favorite is a combination of its many attributes beyond simple deliciousness. A big reason why it never fails taste-wise is that Manchego can tolerate poor handling and temperature abuse better than most others. This is partly because it is a cheese that comes from a region with harsh temperature extremes, so it has evolved to what it is today – a cheese of unparalleled keeping qualities. The long shelf life ensures that the cheese will retain its unique flavors and aromas, and will keep its delectable butter fats, and its sufficient moisture levels providing the pleasant mouthfeel, all held together in a complex protein structure. These qualities are unrivaled in Manchego’s many imitators and cognates. A cheese like today’s Manchego has been produced in the region for millennia but has only recently evolved to the world-class we know today.

The climatic conditions of La Mancha have always been challenging for an agrarian economy, as great as the soils may be. When irrigation was introduced nearly two centuries ago, the vast region became a prime location for agricultural exploits; it also became the “bread basket” of Spain. The one sheep breed that has always been able to thrive through the temperature extremes and arid conditions is the Manchega. The yield is low but the milk quality is high. It is a marvel to recognize how great a milk can be derived from such limited resources.

Now I ask you: What cheese are you craving?

Do you say Sì or No to Manchego?

A CCP is not a Critical Control Point

The cheese world is buzzing; can you feel it?

If all the ACS CCP candidates can ace Tuesday’s exam it will make it a lot easier for the exam review committee. All perfect scores? It seems that everyone has been studying extra hard so maybe it could happen. There are around 230 scheduled to take the exam, about 50% more than last year! We are already looking at next year’s exam, thinking we may have to offer the exam twice to meet the forecasted demand.


Where the CCP project is headed is hard to say but we believe it has already contributed mightily to the cheese industry. The knowledge base has grown and cheese is being cared for better than ever. Quite simply, cheese is better understood and many cheese myths have been debunked. Producers may be more confident their cheeses are better represented and customers should feel more inclined to buy more cheese. The people behind the counters and cheese trolleys seem to know more than they use to; and there is a little more pride showing. The American Cheese Society’s Certified Cheese Professional program has taken the cheese wave and given it guidance and support, with positive ripple effects far beyond what is witnessed among the CCP’s themselves. Everybody’s doing it: getting to know cheeses.


Cheese Is Headed Your Way


There are no foods with a greater capacity to inspire passionate discourse, with a myriad of facets to consider: from animal welfare and sustainability, to nutrition and safety. This is part of the beauty of cheese study; it invites contemplation and it stimulates discussions around the globe and around the clock.

A former student emails me questions from her shop in Hong Kong; which triggers the memory of last summer’s young Provençale chèvres au lait cru – illegal for import here due to outdated and misinformed rationale; which reminds me of the upcoming FDA visit to the 31st American Cheese Society conference in Sacramento – a conference now being staged by the organization’s Denver-based administrators and a team of volunteer planning and judging committees’ members from around the country; while cheesemaker Mary Quicke readies for her full day traveling from Devon, England to be there too; while in the meantime: a cheese trolley is being set up for the evening service at a restaurant in Melbourne, who’s chef was inspired by a cheese talk given by Russell Smith – cheese expert of Down Under – also headed that way; as candidates for the Certified Cheese Professional exam are up all night cramming for the 29th of July; shepherds are releasing their flocks from their milking parlors in Portugal’s sunny Beira Baixa; while many millions of pounds of fermented milk cure on cool and damp wooden boards right here in the U.S. of A.; and young and old tummies alike are sated everywhere, including those of the crew of an international space station orbiting our planet.

It is good. Cheese is a food that is as greatly revered as it is reviled. Yet it is a food that has sustained our race for millennia and one that has been offered as a peace offering between warring parties.

Cheese is headed your way, starting now!