Saturday, 9 November 2013

Elephant No. 68: Mini Babybel Cheeses

This idea was sent to me by Annie Carruthers, who always finds great ways to help me play with my food. Although I shaped things with the red wax on Babybel cheeses when I was a teenager, I'd never thought of cutting shapes into it. To see the original inspiration, click here.

I bought this small string bag of mini Babybel cheeses at the grocery store. I bought only the ones with red wax, as they provide a much better contrast than the yellow ones.

By the way, there's also a much larger Babybel cheese that's about four inches across, but my inclination today leant more towards a series of smaller works, rather than one big one.

The cheeses are bisected with a handy paper strip to help you peel them—handy, that is, when you want to eat them, but a bit annoying if you want to carve the wax beyond that strip. Instead of using the strip to "open" the cheese, I cut around it.

Because I lack confidence when faced with permanent results, I decided to score the wax lightly with a toothpick before cutting anything.

I used a sharp craft knife to cut the wax, peeling it away from the cheese with the help of a toothpick.

This looked okay to me, but I thought it would be more interesting if I made it slightly dimensional, so I carved around the ears and peeled them forward. To finish it off, I curled up the trunk. You can see a bit of the paper strip on the underside.

For the second elephant, I did more or less the same kind of thing, this time carving the trunk around the side of the cheese so that I could make it longer.

At the end of these two elephants, I had a tiny ball of red wax. Rather than waste it, I thought I'd try shaping a teeny elephant with my fingers.

None of these took much time at all, and I like the final results. Wrapping up the two cheeses for eating later was a bit challenging, but this was fun enough that I could be convinced to serve carved cheeses like this at a party. Or even tackle an entire scene on at full-sized Babybel.

Elephant Lore of the Day
I much prefer cheese made with goat's milk to cheese made with cow's milk, and I have a special fondness for sheep cheese. I've even had a sort of cheese made with water buffalo milk. Today was the first time, however, that I'd ever heard of anyone wanting to make elephant cheese.

French cheesemaker François Driard is known in Nepal for providing cow-milk cheeses to Kathmandu's finer restaurants and hotels. Using traditional techniques to create true French-style cheeses adapted to local conditions, Driard is considered something of an eccentric free spirit, game for just about anything cheese-related.

Now that he's perfected his Himalayan French Cheese—a Tomme de Savoie-style delicacy—Driard has been turning his attention to other animals. He rejected the idea of making goat cheese, since there are others already doing that; but then he considered elephants. "They must have so much milk," he thought.

Then he thought about it some more. There was the fact that pregnant elephants usually lactate in the jungle, meaning you'd have to go out and find them. There's also the problem of wild elephants generally not coming quietly, so you'd need domesticated elephants to keep the pregnant elephant calm.

Then there's milking them. A wild elephant is likely to be mighty annoyed at some stranger crawling underneath her to steal her milk, making this a very dangerous proposition. Even worse, elephant milk apparently goes off within an hour, so it would have to be a very fast cheese-making enterprise. For the moment, Driard has wisely decided to stick to various styles of cow cheese.

While travelling through Asia some years ago, the closest we ever got to actual cheese was some kind of canned cheese slab from Australia, and a kind of runny rennet-milk thing that we suspected might be very unhygienic. So I really like the idea of a French cheesemaker launching a European-style fromagerie in the Himalayan foothills. And if he ever does make elephant cheese, I'm ordering some.

To read more about Driard and his cheese, click here.

Phyo Phyo and her baby Kai Mook, born in 2009 at the Antwerp Zoo, Belgium.
Photo: EPA

To Support Elephant Welfare
Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (Thailand)
Wildlife SOS (India) 
The Elephant Sanctuary (Tennessee)

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
Big Life Foundation


  1. This post was very timely. We were attending a dinner party where the theme was seafood and we were on for dessert. Hmmm what to bring. Your post spurred me to try making some Babybel fish art as conversation pieces. Sadly, I started to late and lacked sufficient talent to make 8 of them but I took a couple of them and people were kind in their comments. As for the dessert we made what we called White Caviar Creme Brûlée with Maple Syrup Sauce.

  2. Love that, Barb! I'm sure your fish cheeses were fantastic!