Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Affinage Controversy!

OsterCheese nerd post: A couple weeks back I linked to a blog post from Formaggio Kitchen about their trip to the Jasper Hills cheese caves, hoping to improve their "affinage" (i.e. aging of cheese) operation back in Cambridge. Well today we've got a foodie controversy about the practice laid out in the New York Times:
“This affinage thing is a total crock,” said Mr. Jenkins, the cheese monger at Fairway and the author of the pivotal 1996 book “Cheese Primer.” “All it does is drastically inflate the cost of cheeses that have benefited zero from this faux-alchemical nonsense.”

Mr. Jenkins, a New York retail pioneer, argues that affinage is ultimately about marketplace savvy. Long ago in places like France and Belgium, the affineur first stepped in to extract profits by acting as the middleman.

“It has nothing to do with making cheese taste really good,” he said. “It has to do with getting paid. And it’s morphed into a typical ‘French things are cool’ thing that Americans have bought hook, line and sinker. They all think, ‘I can even turn this into a marketing tool, so people will see how devoted I am to my craft.’ ”
It suffices to say that affinage aficionados disagree. My cheese knowledge consists of a cheese making course and putting together a few cheese plates on the advice of experts, so I really have no idea how true this charge is on the merits... but you should read through the article and see the results of their blind taste test. I tend to be a skeptic on most things, but I think it's pretty easy to see the difference aging makes in a cheese... so why would it be surprising that there are ways to do it right and ways to do it wrong? Which is not to say there isn't some "faux-alchemical nonsense" mixed in there, but that seems true of almost everything.