Bring the Funk

It's not a flavor you want in your whiskey, but in cheese, it's as good as Gould.

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The intense color on distiller Stephen Gould's rind comes from his own grappa. / Courtesy Stephen Gould

The hospitality industry is full of multifaceted, talented, adaptable individuals. We’ve certainly proven that over the last ten months and with the challenges this year has brought, the importance of creative pursuits that sustain us outside of our day-to-day work is more crucial than ever. In this series, we highlight people who stand out not only for their contributions to our industry, but also for the passion projects that fuel them creatively.

Stephen Gould is the only self-proclaimed “frustrated cheese maker” I’ve had the pleasure of encountering. He’s better known as the co-owner and master distiller of Golden Moon Distillery and Golden Moon Speakeasy (in Golden, of course), but has been making cheese a couple times a year since his college days.

While he’s sometimes mused about opening a creamery, currently he crafts cheese for his own consumption. It’s finding the time to dedicate to his hobby that’s his biggest obstacle, so he says he is still on his “cheese journey,” still learning to make things that are unique and amazing.

Most of Gould’s time is spent managing a team of production distillers, traveling as the face of his brand, consulting, teaching, and judging (the joke among master distillers is that once you are dubbed such, you no longer get to do much distilling). Hearing him wax poetic about absinthe while helping harvest artemisia for Golden Moon’s spectacular Absinthe Redux is one of the most enlivening spirits experiences in Colorado (here’s to hoping it becomes available to the public again soon). 

When talking to Gould, you can tell he gives his cheese the same attention, care, and respect from start to finish as he does his spirits. He takes inspiration and products from his vocation for the process. “Making cheese is fermentation, after all,” he says. “There’s something very cool about using spirits distilled at my distillery to make my cheeses uniquely my own.”

Gould gravitates to soft, bloomy-rinded cheeses—think brie or camembert—made of cow’s milk from Longmont Dairy Farm. After making, molding, and forming the cheese, they take several weeks to mature, and without frequent and somewhat intense care during that time, they will easily be ruined.

“To do it right is a lot of work,” Gould admits. “It takes time and daily interaction for these cheeses to turn out correctly. In summer they can easily over ripen and be ruined.”

During maturation, Gould turns and washes his cheese in his own spirits twice every day. Washing (or moistening the outside of the cheese as it matures) changes the composition of the bacteria that grows on the product. The wash solution is often a salt brine, but in Gould’s case, Golden Moon’s grappa, white whiskey, or lightly aged whiskey provide the wash. 

This booze wash results in bacterial growth that gives the cheese a funk that can be quite hefty on the nose (though the resulting flavors are often gentler and more subtle than the aroma) and orange and ruby colors on the rind. 

Stephen Gould, frustrated cheese maker. / Courtesy Stephen Gould

Washed-rind cheeses can be polarizing for those who are overpowered by the olfactory results (though they should be included on any serious cheese board, if I do say so myself). Gould has also made cheeses with charcoal and herbs in the rind, so experimentation with flavor profiles and technique plays as much of a role in his cheesemaking as it does in his distilling.

“I’ve made amazing cheese and really bad cheese…and I learn from every batch,” he says.  

“One of the worst failures I’ve had is that I made a batch of an Epoisses-style cheese during the summer….I didn’t have any place I could age the cheese at the right temperature range (mid-50s), so I used aging boxes I placed in my basement where the temp was reasonably cool, in the mid-60s. 

“The problem was that the cheese aged too fast, ultimately developing a strong ammonia smell and taste. I had one piece that was awesome. The next day it was ‘meh,’ and the day later it was inedible.  It changed incredibly fast.”

Gould says a huge part of the joy in cheesemaking is watching, feeling, and smelling the daily changes as his cheeses mature: 

“These types of cheeses start white and almost look like compacted cottage cheese (which in a sense is what they are…they [also] sort of taste and smell that way). Over time they solidify and the rind, which is white mold, develops. As the process continues, with the cheese being washed twice per day with grappa, the rind begins to wrinkle and turn an orangish-pink…and it’s done.“

Though Gould hasn’t traveled since March, he says that normally cheesemaking requires him to be mindful about his travel, to slow down and take more time between trips. We’re hoping this forced travel break will inspire a new chapter in his cheese journey!

Jen Mattioni started working in bars and restaurants as a Philadelphia high school student and never left the industry. She moved to Denver in 2008 and has had the opportunity to manage, bartend, and serve at great spots including Q House, Leña, Prohibition, The Walnut Room, and Central Bistro; she is also the cocktail creator for Colorado FIVE 2019 and 2020. Currently, she’s completing her MFA degree and spends her free time eating as many breakfast sandwiches as humanly possible, creating oddball cocktails with ingredients she’s never used, fiending for dumplings, and reading too many books simultaneously.

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