I can’t help myself. I’m basically obsessed with what dwarves in fantasy settings like D&D’s Forgotten Realms would feast on. I’ve mused about it before, but this time I’ve called in some reinforcements. We’re going to be focusing on milk’s leap to immortality: cheese. I’ve teamed up with Rose, a former world-class cheese monger, to get an expert perspective.
Me: First to give the readers a sense of why you’ve been tapped to talk some cheese, what are your cheese related credentials?
Rose: I was a cheesemonger at Cowgirl Creamery for almost two years, and then was a cheesemonger/cheese department head at Bi-Rite 18th Street for four and a half years. In addition, I competed in the Winter 2016 Cheesemonger Invitational and placed 10th out of nearly 100 domestic cheesemongers. I also taught cheese and chocolate pairing classes at Dandelion Chocolate from 2017 through 2018 and created jam and cheese pairings for Jamnation from 2017 through 2019.
Me: I’ve been thinking a lot about what Dwarves and other humanoid races who live underground would eat. Since they live in a cave-like environment, could you tell me a little about cave cheese? Does this impart any particular qualities over other cheeses?
Rose: Cave cheeses are pretty wild things; due to the moisture level underground/in caves, as well as the different materials in the area (dirt, wood/metal shelving, grasses/flora), cheese can become much stronger in flavor, as well more unique. You can get strong mineral flavors, earth flavors, and also particularly interesting strains of mold. Some flavors I have found in cave/underground cheeses: broccoli, fresh dirt, aluminum.
Me: A cheese with metal flavors? I don’t think I can think of a more dwarven thing. Could you imagine if they were able to get mithril flavor in a block of something? There’s be subterranean wars over it!
Moving on, I imagine dwarves would have a hard time getting a hold of cow or goat milk. Are there any weird alternate animals people make cheese from. If you had a limited supply of milk, what kind of cheese is most efficient from a resource standpoint?
Rose: You can make cheese from any mammal that produces enough milk to do so. Sheep are often used in mountain terrains, and they have a very high fat content in their milk, which allows for a hearty cheese. Buffalo is the other most common “alternative milk”. I would say if you are looking for a cheese that can provide extra nutrients, especially from living underground, the sheep cheeses will suit one best.
Me: Since it’s going to be a pain constantly going up to get surface cheeses, what cheese has the longest shelf life?
Rose: Hard cheeses will always have a longer shelf life, as they don’t require as much maintenance. This would included cheeses like cheddar, gouda, and grana padano/parm.
Me: What kind of cheese has the most ‘Dwarf’ feel in your opinion?
Rose: I would say cheddar, as they are hearty and very versatile. That being said, I would also consider these two Spanish cheeses as Dwarf-ish both in flavor and appearance: Garrotxa and Queso Abrigo.
Me: Are you kidding me? If you told me garrotxa was a purely fictional cheese from a fantasy setting, I would’ve believed you. In fact, I’m still not 100% certain its not.
Do you have any additional thoughts on the kinds of cheese that would be popular among subterranean creatures?
Rose: Again, sticking with hard cheeses would probably be best. You could do something like a washed rind, but as those require regular maintenance and moisture control, a hard cheese that has either a thick natural rind or a waxed rind or (if the dwarves are comfortable manufacturing synthetics) a plastic rind will probably fare best.
Rose no longer does much with cheese, but they are doing drag now if you’d like to follow on Instagram.