This month marks the 30th anniversary of my being a gainfully employed journalist. It’s only been the last 10 years when I have been focused solely on writing about sustainably sourced local food. For the first 10, I covered local and state politics. And during the middle 10, I wrote about the underlying computer networking technologies supporting our current ZOOM-driven school, work and social lives.

But funny enough, it was during those middle years when I made my most regular references to my absolute favorite food group: cheese. I had a colleague who was as big a turophile as he was an email security expert, splitting his time between his computer lab in Tucson and a long-term consulting gig in Rome, where his biggest client, the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization is located, not all that far away from one of his spots for procuring fine Italian cheese, Volpetti Salumeria.

Joel and I bonded over food in general, over cheese in particular. In the dozens of articles upon which we collaborated, we appropriately placed cheese references in most. There was the intrusion detection software that gummed up email delivery like congealed Velveeta, for example. And there was an IP telephony platform that was as rich as a broth made from Parmesan Reggiano rinds.

The addition of cheese to any article, occasion or afternoon snack can only make those things better, in my view. It’s an attitude that, if adopted by more locavores, would help Maine’s 80 registered cheesemakers weather the pandemic during which cheese sales to restaurants have been hit hard.

While local, artisanal cheese carries a lower carbon footprint than most grocery store offerings, it does carry a higher price tag. So knowing how to properly cut each type of local cheese you buy is a skill that can help you both savor the splurge without wasting a single ounce. Yes, people, there is a proper way to cut the cheese to get the most bang for your buck.

To portion a block of flavorful cheddar, like the many made by Pineland Farms, for example, do so knowing that a small, thin slice can go a long way in satisfying an eater. Cut an inch-thick block into 1/8-inch slices and cut each of those in half.

To divide a small wheel of bloomy rind cheese made in the Camembert style, cut it first into four triangles, as if you were cutting a cake. Then cut each quadrant into smaller wedges, each with the same apportionment of rind.

To cut a wedge of large bloomy rind soft cheese made in the brie style, slice it from the side, so each piece has both bottom and top edges of the rind. Lay each slice flat and cut it into three portions, and the high fat content of these cheeses makes them very rich.

To break down a wedge of hard, aged cheese, like Winter Hill Farm’s Everett’s Tome, lay it on one of the flat sides and trim the rind off both triangular sides of the piece, leaving the rind on the end. Then slice 1/8-inch thick triangular portions.

To slice a wedge of slightly aged Alpine-style cheese, like Fuzzy Udder Creamery’s Landslide, make perpendicular cuts along the smallest edge of the cheese to make long baton-like sticks. As the slices get bigger as you move toward the larger end of the wedge, cut each slice into two or three batons.

To divide a wedge of soft cheese like a gorganzola dolce, you don’t want to pull the mold from the veins, carefully slice (use cheese harp or wire if you have one) the wedge into triangles as thin as your cutting implement will allow.

For more crumbly blue cheese, like Winter Hill Farm’s Bradbury Blue, place it flat-side down and insert your knife or fork vertically into the cheese near the edge of the wedge. Wiggle the knife until large crumbles pull away from the piece.

And, finally, to properly portion a pyramid cheese, like Spring Day Creamery’s Evangeline, the cut starts like the cake cut of the Camembert rounds. But you lay each quadrant on its rinded or ashen back and cut each into triangle portions.

Practicing these cuts as often as you can should help secure a future supply of Maine-made cheeses.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Rudalevige pokes holes into Tiny Maine Cheese Crackers so that they release the air when they are in the oven. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Tiny Maine Cheese Crackers

I can’t call these Cheez-Its, as that would be a copyright infringement, but the final result of this recipe is a very close approximation of the Kellogg Company’s classic, and just as addicting, say my Maine taste testers. It’s a recipe I adapted from one printed in a book by Casey Barber called “Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats.”

Makes 180 crackers

1 (8-ounce block) extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded
1 cup (120 grams; 4¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons cubed unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon onion powder
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse 15-20 times to combine the mixture so that it resembles chunky sand. Run the processor while slowly adding 2 tablespoons of very cold water. When the dough coalesces, divide it into 2. Shape each piece into a rectangle, wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Roll one of the rectangles into a very thin (1/8 inch or less) 10×12-inch rectangle. Cut the rectangles into 1-inch squares, then transfer to the baking sheet. Repeat the process with the other block of dough. Use the tip of a chopstick to punch a hole into the center of each square.

Bake until the crackers are puffed and browning at the edges, 10-12 minutes. Watch carefully, as the high fat content of the crackers makes it a fine line between golden delicious and burnt. Remove from the oven and transfer the crackers to racks to cool. Crackers will keep for up to one week in a sealed container at room temperature.


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