CLARA DIEZ & THE PERFECT CHEESEBOARD.
Clara Diez, VASQUIAT Innovator, and cheese extraordinaire is leading the way in the world of artisanal cheese. A fascination with cheese led her to embark on the project @formaje_, where artisanal cheese is appreciated and ethical consumption is promoted.
For many years, Clara Diez has been totally immersing herself in the cheese sector, growing her expertise, touring cheese factories, learning from producers, and championing good practices in artisan cheesemaking. Formaje’s physical store is based in Madrid, and as well as selling high-quality cheese, organizes activities, talks, and tastings. We had a chance to speak with Clara about the wonderful world of artisanal cheesemaking and her passion for it.
VASQUIAT HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN INTERESTED IN CHEESE?
CLARA DIEZ Not really, I wasn’t really interested in cheese until I discovered the culture behind it and began understanding the variety of cheese available, and that was around six years ago when I started working on my first cheese project. Before that, I wasn’t even interested in the product because I thought of it as "boring’’, but that was because the only cheeses I knew back then were the ones available at supermarkets, and those are not very nice…
V How did the cheese projects you’ve been involved with come about?
CD A family friend and cheesemaker proposed the idea of being involved in a new cheese company in Madrid. He needed someone who would run the company since he and his partners were not able to move to the capital, as they were running the business in the countryside, making the cheese that we would go on to sell in this new shop/project in Madrid. Back then I knew nothing about cheese, so I started training in different dairies up and down the country; visiting different cheesemakers, making cheese with them… basically diving into this new world I had no idea about. And of course, I fell in love with it.
V What was it about the process that made you fall in love?
CD It's important to point out that the only kind of cheese I work with is artisan cheese, so the admiration I feel for this industry comes from realising that cheese is such a cultural statement, it is the demonstration of how different cultures have interpreted the same raw material (milk), but have come up with different results: textures, ages, flavour profiles… developing cheese identities that respond to the way societies have understood the results of a fermentation process. This idea is so appealing to me: just one material but so many possibilities, so many different results.
"cheese is such a cultural statement, it is the demonstration of how different cultures have interpreted the same raw material."
V Can you tell us a few interesting facts about cheese?
CD Maybe the most shocking one to those who are not familiar with the fermentation processes is that cheese is the result of the action of bacteria: the process of ripening couldn’t happen without the action of the bacteriology that works in the milk and then from the surface of the cheese during the aging process. Bacteria are good and they allow us to have amazing foods that otherwise wouldn’t exist, plus they play such an important role in the digestive system, strengthening it and improving our gastrointestinal flora. We usually have this idea of bacteria as the ‘’bad guys’’ which cause problems in our bodies, but it is actually the opposite: by eating the right types of bacteria, we’re able to fight the bad ones. Fermented foods (and especially cheese) allow us to ingest these bacteria.
V Can you tell us a bit about your 5 favourite kinds of cheese of all time?
CD Queixo do País (a very old Galician recipe that is made in the small villages by old women who transform the milk of their little cow’s herds), Stilton (made in England, to me the best blue cheese ever), Capri d’argent (a tiny goat’s cheese made in Seville with raw milk), Ossau Iraty.
V Can you talk us through how to create the perfect cheeseboard?
CD First of all, trust the recommendations of your cheesemonger! Go to the local cheese shop and ask for the cheese that is at its best that day. Cheese is ever-changing; that means that it evolves every day so you need to ask what’s good that day! Once you’ve taken the cheesemonger’s recommendations, try to cover different types of cheese to have variety. I would start with some fresh, lactic cheese (these are a bit acidic, usually buttery, a bit peppery…), following with some creamy options, such as French Reblochon, Spanish Puigpedrós, Camembert …. then a hard-pressed cheese: Manchego, real Cheddar (real Cheddar means not a supermarket version which is not the same!), Gouda, Idiazabal (if you like a smoked version...) and I always add a blue one to end up with: Stilton is my favourite of all time!
V What is your favourite selection of summer cheese?
CD I’d probably go for fresh, goat cheese such as French lactic varieties (Saint Maure, etc) or even fresh mozzarella and burrata; yoghurty, acidic cheeses that are refreshing and go well with fruit in the summer.
V Can you tell us about the wildest cheese you’ve tasted?
CD There’s a cheese called Peñablanca that is made in Spain, in Castellón. It’s like licking a sheep, literally.
V Have you explored cheese from other parts of the world, outside Europe?
CD Yes, especially in Africa. I’ve been making cheese in Rwanda.
"Cheese is ever-changing; that means that it evolves every day so you need to ask what’s good that day!"
V What kind of wine do you like to pair cheese with?
CD I prefer whites because they are usually lighter and fresher than red ones, and I think they pair better with cheese because the more acidic the flavours, the more help is done cleaning the mouth and preparing the palate for new flavours.
V What are your favourite things to accompany cheese?
CD Figs, plain bread, maybe some good butter, and olive oils.