Mar 10, 2010 10:04 AM by Michael Inbar
Human cheese may sound more Hannibal Lecter than haute cuisine, but it's an intriguing new menu item at a fancy New York City eatery.
No humans were harmed in the making of the novel new dish; rather, mommy's milk supplies the dairy quotient for the little canapé offered up by chef Daniel Angerer at his Klee Brasserie.
Noted chef Angerer, who once bested Bobby Flay on Food Network's "Iron Chef" reality competition, says necessity was the mother of invention for his new dish - and in this case, the mother was his wife, Lori Mason. The couple realized their freezer was overflowing with breast milk as their baby daughter Arabella turned 4 weeks old.
"We are fortunate to have plenty of pumped mommy's milk on hand, and we even freeze a good amount of it," Angerer wrote on his Web site. "Our small freezer ran out of space. To throw it out would be like wasting gold."
With his wife on board with the plan to offer a bit of herself in the name of culinary art, Angerer began experimenting with making cheese out of his wife's breast milk. Turned out it worked pretty well - two gallons of breast milk, some curdling and two weeks of aging produced a sweet cheese with a taste not far removed from the more familiar cow's milk cheese.
When Angerer posted a recipe for "My Spouse's Mommy's Milk Cheese" on his blog, customers began calling his eatery begging for a taste. So he began offering an appetizer of breast-milk cheese with figs and Hungarian pepper at Klee Brasserie. While response has been generally positive, Angerer and Mason admit the dish has been a decided turnoff to some.
"I think a lot of the criticism has to do with the combination of sex and cheese," Mason told the New York Post. "But the breast is there to make food."
TODAY tested how much of an "eww" factor comes from mommy's milk cheese Monday when hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb displayed a platter of the Klee's canapés to the show's crew. Kotb was amazed no one would take the bait. "Not one taker? You get 100 bucks for being on camera!" she said.
Finally, restaurant owner Billy Dec of Chicago eatery Sunda came onto the set and offered to be the human guinea pig, even though he had missed hearing the appetizer was made from breast milk. After tasting, he nonchalantly said, "It's cheese," and then was told of the special ingredient.
Dec, on set to watch his chef Rodelio Aglibot make a recipe on TODAY, looked shocked and made a beeline off camera. Still, he finished off the appetizer, which may show the power of cheese in any form.
Angerer said that it's all in the name of kitchen science. "Being a chef, you're curious about anything in terms of flavor," he told New York magazine's grubstreet.com Web site. "It wasn't like, ‘Hey, this is such an amazing cheese!' It's just like, ‘Can you use human milk? Yes, you absolutely can!' "
Angerer's wife Lori Mason notes that the restaurant has heard from a few prospective patrons who seem to have childhood issues. One person e-mailed asking for a sample, moaning that they were not breast-fed as a child. "I'm not here to walk people through their psychological problems," Mason told the New York Post.
As for Angerer's own Web site, response there has ranged from "I am LOVING this idea" to "Gross, who's supposed to eat this?" Either way, Angerer notes that this is surely a limited-time-only menu item - the milk supply, courtesy of Mason, isn't going to last forever.
Still, Mason is urging her husband to try out another recipe before the mother's milk supply dries up; she'd love to see a breast-milk gelato. In homage, Gifford and Kotb dug into bowls of gelato shaped like a female breast Tuesday, daring each other to dig in. After both took a mouthful, they admitted a ruse: No mommy's milk was used.
But the New York City Health Department seems less amused: It has told Angerer he would be well-advised to stop offering his wife's milk to the general public, even though there is no specific law on the books prohibiting it.
"The restaurant knows that cheese made from breast milk is not for public consumption, whether it is sold or given away," a Health Department spokeswoman told the New York Post.