He’d Eaten Cheese His Whole Life Long

Here at Murray’s headquarters, we do a lot more than sell cheese. We teach classes about cheese, we age cheese, we make t-shirts about cheese, we devise the perfect pairings for cheese, we write about cheese….and the newest piece of writing comes from our own Rob Kaufelt. He put a spin on Renard the Fox, the 13th century French text that was translated in 1983 by Patricia Terry.

To set the scene: Renard has been injured by a trap and is attempting to eat Tiecelin the crow.

The crow uttered a mighty screech,
Attempting to get his voice to reach
Still higher, but the claw that gripped
The cheese relaxed, the treasure slipped.
It fell to the ground at renard’s feet,
But he, that master of deceit
Woe to the one he takes for prey!
Just simply left it where it lay,
Hoping, by this joy deferred,
That he’d also get to eat the bird.
The cheese in plain sight on the gound,
Renard the fox staggers around,
One foot behind the other drags,
His skin hangs off like tattered rags.
(although he’d only recently managed
to flee the trap, his leg was damaged).
All this for tiecelin’s benefit:
‘Alas, he says, ‘that god sees fit
To afflict poor me with miseries,
By saint mary, i swear that cheese
(God’s curse on it!), it smells so strong
Will do me in in before too long.
For everyone i know agrees
There’s nothing as bad for wounds as cheese.
It’s strictly forbidden in my diet;
I haven’t the least desire to try it.
I beg you, tiecelin, come down here.
If you don’t help, my end is near!’

Tiecelin takes pity on him, but realizes his mistake in getting too close, losing four feathers. he chides renard for his deceitful acting, and annoyed, tells him the cheese is all he’ll get that day.

Renard didn’t bother to insist,
He was busy making up for what he’d missed.
By eating the cheese to the very last bit
(but there wasn’t very much of it);
The way it went down would make you think
It was some kind of delicious drink.
You could look in any land you please
And never would you find such cheese;
He’d eaten cheese his whole life long
And certainly he could not be wrong.
So did renard add up the score,
And his injured leg did hurt no more.

Revised by Rob Kaufelt. Photo courtesy of reynaerts.be

I Just Can’t Wait to be King (of Cheeses)

Miriam Arkin

Here at Murray’s we find that the coming of fall (heralding all the delicious things that can be pulled from the ground, cut from the vine, and thrown into a pot) is the perfect time to pay homage to a bounteous cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano.  We’ve stacked big golden wheels all over the store, and even split a few open—all the better to see how the two-inch thick rind gives way to a perfectly grainy texture.  But don’t be too quick to look beyond the rind!  It too has become an Italian staple, used to flavor soups and stews, and given to infants as what must be the world’s best teething companion.  Italians produce about 3 million wheels of Parmigiano annually, of which only 16% is exported abroad.  Interestingly, whether it is consumed domestically or exported, every single wheel of Parmigiano is inspected for quality by a member of an organization whose very existence seems like an ornate American fantasy—the Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano, whose responsibility it is to test and grade every single wheel of Parmigiano made in Italy.  Why care?  At the heart of the Consorzio are its inspectors, masters of cheese whose wise judgments guarantee quality even as production of Parmigiano increases every year.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is made on farms in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna left of the river Reno and Mantua right of the river Po.  Cheesemaking follows a careful pattern: the evening’s milking is set aside overnight, allowing the cream to rise.  The following morning, the cream is skimmed off the top, and the skimmed milk is then combined with that morning’s whole milk in bell-shaped copper cauldrons.  The milk is heated and rennet is added to curdle the milk.  After a few minutes, the fresh curd cut with a long bladed tool called spino into rice sized grains.  It is then heated again, allowed to cool, and removed from the copper vat with a cheese cloth, yielding about two wheels worth of cheese.  Once these wheels have spent 25 days in a salt water bath, they are set in special temperature and humidity controlled rooms where they age for at least 12 months.

After a year of aging, the Consorzio steps in, sending inspectors out to test every single wheel.  This is a feat in and of itself, but more fascinating still is how the inspections are carried out.  Instead of using a cheese iron (the long tubular beak used to reach the middle of cheeses) to take samples, the inspectors use them to gently tap along the exterior of the cheese.  They are able to listen for sounds that indicate cracks, voids, or other undesirable faults in the cheese.  That’s right, listen for them.  Based on their determinations, the 80lb wheels of cheese are seared with one of two large and clearly defined oval brands—“Parmigiano-Reggiano” for top quality cheese that can continue aging, and “Parmigiano-Reggiano Mezzano” for lesser quality cheese that should be consumed young.  These lesser wheels are further branded with broad parallel lines, making it impossible to sell them as their worthier cousins.  If a wheel doesn’t meet the requirements to be called Parmigiano-Reggiano the smaller dotted inscription applied at the time the cheese was made is scraped entirely off the cheese, so it cannot be sold as the real thing.  After 18 months of aging, cheesemakers can have a Consorzio inspector come back to determine whether cheese can be further categorized as “export” or “extra” quality.  Export quality gets shipped around the world, extra quality is set aside to age for longer than the traditional 24 months, producing a dryer and more intense cheese.

We’ll be celebrating this auditory genius all month, and we’ve got enough wheels of export quality Parmigiano to circle the store, so please do come in for a taste.