April 15th, 2011
04:15 PM ET
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Brandon Ancil is a digital content producer for CNN.com

Artisan cheese - it’s not as scary as you may have thought.

“It’s blue, it’s green, it’s furry, and it might smell funny. That’s what people think when they don’t know about artisan cheese.” Says Liz Thorpe VP of Murray’s Cheese in New York and author of ‘The Cheese Chronicles. “But artisan cheeses, which by definition are hand-crafted in small-production, are made in every type of cheese style.”

Nathan Arnold, a cheese maker from Tennessee, knows people can be intimidated by artisan cheese, but he says they'll end up liking it.

“It tastes like our farm. It’s got hints of the open air and grass from around the Cumberland Plateau where we live.”

Nathan and his wife Padgett are cheese makers at the Sequatchie Cove Farm outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The couple has been farming for more than a decade and decided to try their hand at cheese making in 2009.

Like most artisan cheese makers, theirs is a small-scale production that uses their own farm’s dairy animals.

“We produce around 400 lbs. of cheese a week and two kinds of cheese,” Padgett says. Their number one seller is ‘The Cumberland’ which is distributed in five states across the southeast.

The Cumberland is a French alpine style cheese. It’s got a buttery flavor with a grassy note. It has a washed rind and looks like an unassuming wheel of cheese. It’s far from the mold scored, smelly, very soft cheeses many may think of when they're contemplating the notion of artisan cheese.

Nathan and Padgett made the drive down from their Tennessee farm to Atlanta to show off their cheese at a blind cheese taste-testing event at Restaurant Eugene.

Liz Thorpe of Murray’s Cheese hosted the event and says it’s a win-win deal for the farmers and the consumers. “A supermarket picking up a small farm’s cheese can mean the difference between keeping the farm open and shutting down,” she says. “And the response to artisan cheeses is growing.”

Thorpe adds, “Blue, green, orange sticky, the stuff that looks the worst, and the stuff that smells the worst, usually tastes the best. I don’t know if people are going to grab it up, but with more artisan cheese available, they may.”

Nathan and Padgett hope that’s the case. As of now, they sell two kinds of cheeses through their creamery: the ‘Cumberland’ and ‘Coppinger.’ With two more cheeses in development, they hope to continue increasing their production.

“We’re comfortable with year one under their belt.” Nathan says. “10 years from now, 20 years from now - I don’t know. We could be a bakery or candlestick maker.” We’re keeping ourselves open.” But for now, they’re pleased with cheese.

Liz’s fun facts for identifying your artisan cheese at first glance:

  • The sweatier it is, the more likely it’s sheeps' milk cheese. Sheeps’ milk has twice the fat as cows’ milk. The oil in sheeps' milk rises to the surface.
  • Cows’ milk has more beta-carotene, which is why grass-fed cows have more richly golden colored cheese. But note, the color comes from age. A fresh cow’s milk cheese can be white, but change as it ages.

Liz busts three misconceptions about artisan cheese:

  • It's not affordable: Look beyond the price per pound. For two people, six dollars will be good enough to buy a good hunk of cheese.
  • They're all weird tasting: Taste before you buy. Ask an attendant for a sample.
  • American cheeses aren’t artisan: There are thousands of small and medium cheese makers across the U.S. making artisan cheese.

Liz’s cheese wheel tip:

  • Taste the rind of your cheese (except rinds with a wax coating). Most rinds of artisan cheeses are edible – the rind absorbs the flavor of the surroundings the cheese was aged in. In most cases, it’ll provide extra notes of flavor."

soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Bill K

    I'm foutunate enough to have access to a Great Cheese monger at Nala's Fromagerie Cheese in Green Bay, Wi, the owner Alan (Nala) is always quick with a sample my current favorite being the Cremux French Triple Creme, Now that's a great grilled cheese sandwich paired with shreads of shallots and copacola on a nice sourdough sliced 1/2". yum

    April 27, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  2. D'Santo

    Do not be intimated by cheese. If you need cheese etiquette:

    Frenchie and the Yankee

    April 22, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  3. Christian

    Proper cheese etiquette dictates that if you don't want to eat the rind, you don't have to. Sometimes I don't if it has too strong a taste. And I'm French!

    April 16, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  4. PenRon

    About Cheese

    April 16, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  5. Dover

    "Look beyond the price per pound."

    No. The ppp is the only way you can know the true cost, and compare it to other cheeses you like. Only looking at the total price reveals what a moron you are.

    April 16, 2011 at 3:49 am |
  6. Joe

    As an American I must say I am proud of my ignorance. Cheese comes individually sealed in plastic. It is made by machines, not people. It is to be placed upon the patties of ground cow. We drain the cow teat and then spread it upon its flesh. This is the civilized thing to do. Jesus got his cheese from a factory, and so do I.

    April 16, 2011 at 1:32 am |
  7. The Big Cheese

    I hanker for a hunk of cheese.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  8. John

    Mr. Ancil – theirs with an apostrophe? Please find a Warriner's – or go to an online source – and learn to punctuate. Or get a better editor.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • Daphne

      Glad you pointed this out, John. I cringed when I saw that apostrophe.

      April 16, 2011 at 3:36 am |
  9. moribundman

    "Eat the rind. If you have a wheel of cheese, don’t be afraid to eat all of it. The rind absorbs the flavor of the surroundings the cheese was aged in. In most cases, it’ll provide extra notes of flavor. The only thing you shouldn’t eat on a wheel of cheese is its waxy coating."

    Yeah right. What about cheese rinds that have been treated with natamycin (INN), aka pimaricin, which is a fungicide? Better make sure you know if a cheese rind has been treated with it before gobbling it down based on this sloppy article.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • Matt

      Moribudman, I don't believe naramycin is solble in neither fat nor water and technically thus it should pass right through your intestinal system without any porblems.. I have been eating rinds forever (except the parafin/waxy ones of course – thought they have gone down on occation ;-) ) and I'm still alive ;-)

      April 15, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  10. Olaf Big

    Artisan cheese is a misnomer. There is real cheese that you find in any European market and there is staff that is sold in U.S. supermarkets, which is really not cheese at all but processed milk curd. So, artisan cheese is a feeble and overpriced attempt to bring to U.S. consumers what any European takes for granted

    April 15, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • Matt

      hehe , I gave up on american supermarket "cheese" ( they shouldn't be allowed to call it that! ) when I saw it also came in a SPAY CAN!!! ;-)

      April 15, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • Arick

      You can actually find small producer cheeses in the U.S. that are made like European cheeses. It isn't like artisan cheeses are completely unavailable here.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  11. Today

    Artisan. You mean the national brand of cheese in the resealable plastic bag, that's labeled as artisan?

    April 15, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  12. SBL

    Great article, but come on! "to by a good hunk of cheese" please change to the correct usage of "to BUY a good hunk of cheese"! Embarrasing.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • clyn

      So with you, I really hate typos on sites like this. Makes me sad. No excuses for it!

      April 15, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
      • ctts

        Um, it's called being human...and spell check would not have picked that up.

        April 16, 2011 at 12:40 am |
      • editor

        Ctts a spell check is not the only obligation a publisher has. They need to hire an editor. Too bad they are to cheap.

        April 16, 2011 at 8:02 am |
      • editor

        Ther is no excuse four not using an editor.

        April 16, 2011 at 8:05 am |
  13. Mildred

    If you're lucky enough to have a cheese counter with people working at it when the store's open... get to know them. Love them for their knowledge.

    Right now, the only shop I go to that has a cheese person (is there a formal name?) on staff is my local co-op. Gustav is *incredible* and knows how to pair any cheese perfectly... and has samples available of the week's specials and new selections.

    The last time I was there he had this beautiful quaderllo di bufala...

    I'm also lucky enough to have a good local artisanal cheese maker the next city over who goes to the farmers' markets with yummy goodness.

    April 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Matt

      Mildred, I think the correct name of a cheese-selling person is Cheesemonger – not often used (at par with fishmonger and the like) ;-)

      April 15, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • The Big Cheese

      Yes, it's always good to have an expert who can cut the cheese. And according to some, I am quite skilled at the fine art of cutting the cheese; some have even said that I'm a prolific cheese cutter. So I've got that going for me.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:44 am |
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