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03.09.10

Breast Milk Cheese

A Manhattan chef recently began serving cheese made from his nursing wife’s milk. Legendary critic Gael Greene samples the now-banned fromage.

I’ll confess I didn’t race to Klee Brasserie, a Manhattan restaurant run by Daniel Angerer, who once defeated Bobby Flay on Iron Chef, when I read that he was serving customers cheese made from his wife’s breast milk. In my 40 years of insatiably reviewing restaurants, I learned to love sea urchin, eat live shrimp, and never hesitated when they passed the deep fried-spiders around. This one, admittedly, made me a tad squeamish.

Once committed, however, to rendering the official verdict on the first restaurant dish made from human protein—unless you count Sweeney Todd—I ran into a little snag called the New York Health Department. After a story in yesterday’s New York Post, they’ve apparently forbidden the chef from not only making his breast milk cheese in the restaurant, but having it on Klee’s premises, much less serving it.

It’s the unexpected texture that’s so off-putting. Strangely soft, bouncy, like panna cotta.

So I made a few calls and a secured some of Angerer’s private stash, the excess “liquid gold” his breast-feeding wife and business partner Lori Mason had stored in their tiny home freezer. Nibbling fresh goat cheese and cow’s milk ricotta while I waited for the underground manna to arrive, I read about the human cheese’s genesis on the Austrian-born Angerer’s blog.

After tasting his wife’s milk from its natural vessel—“I was breastfed myself so I have that taste for it"—his mind went immediately to fromage. A little rennet. A clean cloth. Some aging. Simple, like any cheese. “It’s not like I was making Reblochon,” he wrote. “That would be trickier.”

His confession drew fans and bitter attacks on his blog. He was even accused of cannibalism.

That ultimate taboo in my head, the cheese arrives. I contemplate the tiny cream-colored square—doll size, barely enough to satisfy Minnie Mouse. It rides in on two house-made pickle rounds nesting on a thin slice of bread. I take… a bite. Eeeeew!

Surprise. It’s not the flavor that shocks me—indeed, it is quite bland, slightly sweet, the mild taste overwhelmed by the accompanying apricot preserves and a sprinkle of paprika. It’s the unexpected texture that’s so off-putting. Strangely soft, bouncy, like panna cotta.

Of course, Angerer’s ultimate critic is the food source itself. He wanted his wife to try her cheese, he tells me when I call him after my human lunch. “I gave her a taste but I didn’t tell her what it was.” And she liked it. “Well, we had a bottle of Riesling,” he adds, “and it worked very well with that.”

There’s room for experimentation: His wife is a vegetarian. If she ate meat, her cheese would have a different flavor, we agreed. The chef has also tried coating his human cheese in porcini mushroom dust with a burned onion chutney, or rolling it into a caramelized pumpkin cheeseball.

I do not think we will soon be lining up for breast-milk ricotta at Zabar’s. But if there is a reward for inspired recycling, toque’s off to the adventurous chef.

Plus: Check out Hungry Beast, for more news on the latest restaurants, hot chefs, and tasty recipes.

A New York restaurant critic for 40 years and author of seven books (two bestselling novels, a sex guide and a memoir: Insatiable: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess), Gael Greene’s reviews and archives can be found at her Web site.