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Behind the Rind: Project X

Behind The Rind Volume VI: Project X

Batches Being Offered: Batch “A”

Target: When this cheese is on point, we notice a distinctive cooked sugar note that reminds us of butterscotch. We also get a heavy dose of walnut, with a savory broth-like finish.

Actual profile: This batch was slightly high on the walnut side of the spectrum, while the rest of the flavors were a little more subtle than usual. We noticed that some of the flavors (butterscotch & Broth) and tastes (sweet & savory) were a touch muted. You will also notice that the firmness is a little high, which could help explain some of the slow flavor development. Low moisture (which correlates with firmness) will slow the enzymes that create flavor. However, all in all, this is a nice nutty batch of Project X with a short texture. It should continue to improve over time.

Figure 1 – Spider graph of Project X sensory attributes for batch “A”. Results are based on an average of 3 tasters. “Target Profile” represents a theoretical batch of Project X that is perfectly on profile

Cave Cheese Spotlight

The Funny, Weird Transformation of Project X

Project X is a difficult cheese to classify. As was seen in its flavor profile, it is equal parts sweet and savory. The walnut and butterscotch notes pull it in different directions as you taste it. From the affinage perspective, this deep yellow wheel is just as much a conundrum. Project X starts its life as a washed rind cheese and completes its cycle developing a natural rind. Along the way it receives a healthy dose of fennel pollen and Gewurztraminer wine – definitely not your typical path to maturity.

Project X is made by Spring Brook Farms who age it as a tomme de savoie style cheese called Windsor County Tomme. It arrives at Murray’s caves “green” (or in this case usually a bright yellow), and the affinage work begins as soon as it is unwrapped. The first step is to wash the cheese in a solution of Gewurztraminer, water and salt. This wash accomplishes three main tasks:

1) Washing the cheese keeps the paste and rind from drying out and cracking.
2) The salt in the wash helps retard mold growth while promoting bacterial growth on the rind.
3) The wet surface of the cheese helps the fennel pollen to adhere to the outside.

Before the wash on Project X has dried up and evaporated, a dollop of fennel pollen is added and rubbed over the surface of the cheese by hand. At this point the pollen is very delicate and can easily be brushed off the rind. Each tomme is then shelved, and a rind begins to develop.
For the next month Project X receives several washes in the wine/salt solution. This time the wash is applied without a brush to prevent the loss of pollen. During this process the rind develops a warm pinkish hue and starts to envelop the pollen. Once the pollen is fully embedded, the washing is stopped and a natural rind is allowed to develop over the next three months. The final result is a textured rind, with a mottled white dusting resembling granite.

Cheesy Science

Project X and Its Yellow Color

Those who see Project X as it’s released throughout the year no doubt notice variability in color and flavor between batches. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First of all, we need to address the lovely ladies that produce the milk used for this cheese. Spring Brook Farm has a herd of Jersey cows, familiar to many as the quintessential “little brown cow.” This breed produces less milk than the black and white Holstein, but the milk is higher in solids (particularly fat and protein), making the milk ideal for cheesemaking.

Not only is Jersey milk higher in solids, but it also contains higher levels of carotenoids than Holstein milk. Carotenoids are what make carrots orange, so milk from Jerseys may appear slightly yellow. Cheese, in turn, also typically looks a bit yellow if made from Jersey milk.
Other than a cow’s breed, her diet is equally important in determining milk and cheese attributes. Pasture is high in carotenoids, and so regardless of breed, a cow’s milk (and consequently, the cheese made from it) may slightly change color with season depending on how she’s fed. So, Project X made from milk when the cows were on pasture can be particularly yellow!

Normally it’s pretty difficult to see a yellow color in the fluid milk, but this change in hue may be more pronounced if, for example, comparing milk from a Holstein and Jersey fed different rations. Let’s take a quick detour to dairy cow nutrition.

Total mixed rations (TMR) are common not only as an efficient means to deliver a nutritionally balanced “salad” to the cow, but may also be essential in regions where access to fresh pasture is restricted by season. Although a TMR contains a grain component, these cows are not fed a “grain-based” ration (this term is only used when referring to finishing steers in a beef operation). Rather, a total mixed ration MUST be a minimum of 50% forage (hay, silage), typically up to 60-65% forage. Any less, and your cow’s rumen (and consequently, the cow) will be unhealthy. The rumen is the compartment of the cow’s stomach that serves as the fermentation vat, and its health is utmost in caring for the cow.
Normally it’s easiest to see the color differences due to a diet in the cheese. The same cheese made from milk from the same herd of cows, fed increasing amounts of fresh forage, would then often result in wheels that are increasingly yellow in color. Casein, the primary milk protein that constitutes cheese, also contributes to a cheese’s whiteness. Casein reflects white light (a reason why milk is white), buts this ability decreases as the cheese ages.

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