Taking a glimpse inside the world of local cheese

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By: Lisa Harris

Lisa Harris/Food Chronicles

I love cheese.

It’s one of the foods I treasure most because of the content of its character. And it can express a lot of character.

When you boldly take a leap beyond the neat, individually wrapped American slices, the user-friendly ropes of string cheese, and the orange and white bite-sized snack cubes, you enter a whole new world of textures, flavors, colors, aromas and tastes. It’s a veritable jungle out there.

This jungle is not for everyone. It can be a messy, pungent, stinky and yet delightfully surprising sensory experience. One that is best shared with friends.

Cheese transcends the common American preference for neat, uniform, tame and consistent. It dares to assault your senses, takes you by surprise and transports you to the fields where the animals grazed and the caves where the finished wheels were aged and stored.

According to a group called Slow Cheese: “Every milk speaks of a place, of an animal, of what that animal ate. So when milk is turned into cheese, these characteristics are transferred into the final product, a product that tells the story of a place and its distinctive nature, for better or worse.”

What better way to tune in to the world around you and travel to other places without having to leave your kitchen table, favorite restaurant or picnic blanket?

Lucky for those of us in South Bend, Oh Mamma’s On The Avenue can gently guide you through the jungle and hook you up with whatever kinds of cheeses suit your fancy.

Jody Klinedinst at Oh Mamma’s is my go-to when I have a cheese craving. She is always happy to talk to about the cheeses she and her husband Joe make at their J2K Capraio farm in Walkerton, and many others from around the world that they sell in their store. They even arrange them by age, texture and type in the display case so you can orient yourself for a tour de fromage.

For those of you interested in learning more before you shop, here is some basic information about cheese.

Artisan is a term used to describe cheeses made in small batches, usually by hand, using traditional methods of cheesemakers.

Specialty cheeses are made from all types of milk, sometimes include flavors like spices, herbs and other ingredients, and are limited in production. They also have natural flavor and texture profiles.

Farmstead cheeses are made on a farm using milk that is produced exclusively by the animals that are raised there.

Some cheeses are best served at room temperature. These soft-ripened cheeses ooze out of the paper and onto your hands, stick to the knife and anything with which they come into contact. The benefit of this rich and smooth texture, in my opinion, is that it coats your mouth and holds all the wonderful flavors there.

Oh Mamma’s On the Avenue
1212 Beyer Ave. 
South Bend
574-276-6918
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday

Oh Mamma’s carries a lovely soft-ripened cheese made by Tulip Tree Creamery near Indianapolis called Trillium. It was inspired by Camembert and Brie and I thoroughly enjoyed it smeared on Oh Mamma’s fresh baguettes.

J2K Capraio makes a beautiful mini Buche roll which is a soft-ripened goat cheese log with a delicate white bloomy rind, called Frosty Echo. It has a characteristic tangy goat cheese flavor which is still developing.

There are cheeses that are firm or hard, and can have an elastic or crumbly texture which is easy to grate or shave. They often taste sharp and pungent. Think Parmesan and Swiss.

Blue cheeses have a mold added that turns blue or green when it is exposed to air, and gives them a distinct flavor. Blues can be semi-soft, soft-ripened, firm or hard.

Fresh cheeses are moist, soft and usually mild flavored. Oh Mamma’s carries several of its own fresh Chèvre and cows milk cheeses from J2K Capraio, including goat cheese feta and cow’s milk brie.

Semi-soft cheese is usually smooth, creamy, and can be pungent or mild flavored. These include many of the types of cheese found in the Michiana region, like Havarti, Colby, and Monterey Jack.

Sometimes the surface of a cheese is washed with beer, brine, wine or other ingredients through the ripening and aging process. This adds different flavors and aromas to the cheese by encouraging bacterial growth on the rind. I tried a couple of cheeses from Oh Mamma’s that represent this type. Tulip Tree Creamery makes one called Foxglove, and its rind is washed with Hubbard & Cravens Porter from Thr3ee Wise Men Brewery in Indianapolis. This one is a bit more earthy than the Trillium.

The other cheese in this category at Oh Mamma’s is called Mattone, and is made in Fennvile, Michigan, by Evergreen Lane Farm & Creamery. The Jersey cows that produce the milk for this cheese are fed on pasture in Vandalia, and you can practically taste the fresh air in each bite.

If you’re the adventurous type, take a leap and try some new cheeses — especially those made in Indiana and Michigan. There are some wonderful artisan cheesemakers here who capture and share the unique flavors of this region.

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