7 Cheese Questions for Cheese Expert Carlos Yescas
As a cheese writer, consultant to Mexican cheesemakers, and international cheese educator, Carlos Yescas knows cheese inside and out. He may even be deemed a cheese god to those who religiously read his blog, Lactography. Carlos' day to day work, Mexican heritage and culture may give him an affinity for Mexican Cheese, but he's really a lover of cheeses of all nations. Needless to say, we are fascinated by his knowledge and experiences with cheeses from all over the world, which is why Alexandra Howard jumped at the opportunity to sit down with him and ask a few questions.
During all of your travels, have you come across any really unusual ways to eat or prepare cheese?
I think two of the most unusual ways of eating cheese actually come from Mexico. In Oaxaca City the people cut a piece of Queso Fresco (fresh farmer's type cow's milk cheese) and put it in salsa soup. The soup is basically just a simple salsa made with green tomatillo, onions, and serrano peppers. The salsa is cooked for a long time and then served with the cheese in the middle, some refried beans and a couple of tortillas. Really good to eat when it is cold outside or when you’re hungover!
The second way is from the south of Mexico. In Merida, people hollow-out an Edam and fill it with a mixture of pork, ground meat, spices, red bell peppers, onions and tomatoes. Then they put it in the oven for an hour or so. The cheese never melts completely, but some of it does, which makes the mixture inside gooey. It’s served with tortillas. This way of eating Edam comes from the time when the port of Merida, Quintana Roo was an active tax-free port, and vast amounts of Edam were available.
I know that in the US it’s unusual to grill cheese, but the Lebanese and the Yunnanes have been doing this for a long time with Halloumi and Rubing (乳饼 - youdbap)
What is your favorite Mexican cheese?
Quesillo is a cheese made in most parts of Mexico, but the original is from Oaxaca made with raw cow's milk. It is a pasta filata that is then braided into a little ball. The taste is milky and sweet, with a little bit of sourness from the leftover whey. In other parts of Mexico it’s known as Queso de Hebra or Queso Oaxaca. It is perfect by itself, but it is intended to go in tlayudas (the original quesadillas) with a little bit of asiento (pork lard) and salsa.
What is in your refrigerator at home right now?
I am in China at the moment, and here I have a big wheel of Yellow River gouda from Shanxi, China, some left over Fourme d'Ambert brought from Paris, (bought at Laurent Dubois) and Smoked Gubbeen, Cratloe Hills, Killeen Goat and Hagarty's Cheddar all from Ireland bought at Sheridan's Cheesemongers in Dublin.
You are eating cheese, what are you drinking?
I am a big advocate of beer and cheese, I like brown ales, pale ales, and stouts. Also, I love cocktails and have started to learn how to make some. Gin is my favorite hard liquor, but as I respond to these questions, I am having a Chinese whiskey, after a great meal of food from the DongBei province.
What inspires you when you are writing your blog?
Stories of cheesemakers, the way they live their lives and everything about the politics of food. I want to write things that go beyond the cheese and the restaurant review to incorporate culture and politics in our everyday.
What is one thing that you hope people take away from your blog?
I hope that people that come and read our blog get a more complex understanding of cheese, not just profile flavors and places to buy cheese, but also the background on how we end up eating the cheese we eat and everything related to those stories.
If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
I actually would rather have lunch with someone, maybe walking through a market and tasting all sorts of different foods from street vendors and enjoying the interaction with people. For this lunch I would love to go with Diana Kennedy, who I consider a real pioneer in Mexican cooking and a true academic about the art of Mexican food, I would choose a famous market in Mexico City called San Juan and would hope that Mrs. Kennedy would share tasting and cooking notes with me.