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Cheese Expert and Car Donor Carla Graifer Talks Shop

Carla Graifer, ACS, CCP (cheese specialist, expert, and lecturer)

Cheese expert as car donor? The idea is not as cheesy as you think. Carla Graifer, ACS, CCP, a specialist and educator in the field of American and local cheese, has had a love affair with the cultured dairy product for over two decades. When Graifer’s daughter asked her to donate a car, it was a no-brainer for this artisan cheese expert: the car would go to Kars4Kids, where the proceeds would fund educational programs for children.

Graifer has had a most interesting career, and we were excited to learn more about cheese from this expert and lecturer. Carla Graifer’s generous responses to our many, eager questions about artisan cheese, are sure to intrigue the foodies among you. But don’t be surprised if, in reading this interview, you end up with a hankering for Limburger (yes, really).

“It’s all about the milk!”

Kars4Kids: What is it that makes an artisan cheese noteworthy, separating it from its more plebeian, everyday supermarket cousins?

Carla Graifer: It’s all about the milk! Quality cheese can be classified into categories: farmstead (cheese made from the milk of the farmer’s own herd), artisanal (cheese produced by hand using traditional craftsmanship with locally sourced milk), and industrial (mass-produced, sourcing milk from neighboring farms). Regardless of the source of the milk, quality is paramount. This starts with animal care: well-cared for happy cows vs. large, high-production herds used in the making of commercial cheese make the difference

Kars4Kids: You’ve lectured on the differences between the cheeses of the European Alps compared to those of the North American Rocky Mountains. Can you talk about that? Do cheeses produced at high altitudes have certain common characteristics?

Carla Graifer: The milk from cows grazing in the European Alps takes on a unique flavor representative of the different microclimates and varieties of grasses encountered on their annual pilgrimage. True Alpine cheese can only be produced by the milk from this region. Here in the United States we are producing some excellent Alpine “style” cheeses using classic production techniques and traditional copper vats.

Appreciating “Stinky” Cheese

Kars4Kids: How does the odor of a cheese impact its flavor? Are the more odiferous cheeses an acquired taste? How would one work up to an appreciation of the smellier cheeses?

Carla Graifer: Washed and smeared rind (stinky) cheese get their wonderful aroma and taste from a bacteria called “brevibacterium linens,” producing the reddish color and pungent smell. Practice makes perfect—the more we experience these wonderful full-bodied cheeses the more our palates will appreciate the flavor.

Kars4Kids: How would you advise a novice on cultivating an appreciation of artisan cheese?

Carla Graifer: I started by exploring different milk types. I then did a bit of culinary traveling by trying cheeses from different countries and their regions. Keeping a cheese log also helps to remember your taste experiences.

Kars4Kids: How did you come to know so much about cheese? What is your academic background?

Carla Graifer: I worked as a cheese monger (retailer) for Whole foods Market from 2000-2017. With their support I became a Certified Cheese Professional through the American Cheese Association in 2013. I am now an educator on all things cheese.

“Cheese Has a Beautiful Sacredness about it.”

Kars4Kids: In researching this interview, we discovered that you’re also an artist. Do you see a connection between cheese appreciation, and the art world?

Carla Graifer: Of course. I experience not only the beauty in a painting but the skill and the progression of the history that produced it. Cheese also has a beautiful sacredness about it: the skilled producers of our past handed down these recipes that our cheesemakers still honor today.

Kars4Kids: Can you tell us about your current activities as a cheese professional and connoisseur?

Carla Graifer: During the past year I took to Zoom and developed online classes and events for continuing education formats and private organizations. I look forward to once again doing in-person seminars and private tasting events.

Kars4Kids: Talk to us about the car you donated.

Carla Graifer: It’s a 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe. The car belonged to my daughter; it gave her many years of good driving. She asked me to donate the car on her behalf.

Why Donation?

Kars4Kids: Your daughter asked you to make a charitable donation of her car when she could have had you sell or junk this vehicle. Why donation?

Carla Graifer: My daughter knows there is a need for nonprofit work in my community. Kars4Kids will use this gift to stabilize and continue to help children and families.

Kars4Kids: Why did you choose Kars4Kids as the recipient of this donation?

Carla Graifer: Kars4Kids has been a (reliable and convenient) part of the charitable landscape for many years.