Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best CheeseDreams of 2009

Everyone seems to be making a "best of 2009" list for this and that.  To see what local LA cheesemonger professionals think, check out this list.  Very excited to see my friend and personal cheesemonger Andrew at the top of that list.  Way to go Andrew's Cheese Shop!

I had so much fun going back though the blog this afternoon to see how far I've come since my first post on July 27, 2009.  While my memory is pretty great, I also wanted to remind myself of all the cheeses I've tasted since then!  Back then, I was pretty convinced that I would own my own goat farm by the end of the year, successfully husbanding my herd, and milking them for their tasty milk which I would make into delicious artisinal cheeses all by myself.  That brings out the LOLs now!  I certainly have learned a lot since then, haven't I?

Anyway, since then, I've tasted cheese with wine, cheese with beer, cheese with tea.  I've made amazing cheese toasts and fallen in love with sheep cheese in a way I wasn't expecting.  I've learned about cheese from Australia, Canada, Africa and Portugal not to mention California, Washington, Vermont and Massachusetts.  I've fed friends and family and gained a few pounds.  I've had lots of dreams about cheese!  How about you?

So, in a nutshell, here is a list of some of my favorites of 2009.  If you are highly motivated, go back and revisit the posts related to these amazing cheeses.  If you aren't, don't worry - there won't be a quiz!

Dalle Charentaise - 8/23/09 - A beautiful, delicate goat cheese.  Like an old French cathedral, but in a good way.
Roaring 40s Blue - Many times since 8/27/09.  Sweet, delicious blue from Australia
Hooligan - 10/5/09 - An incredibly complex washed rind cheese that really makes you work for it's love.  STANKY on the outside, sweet and delicious on the inside.
Avonlea - 10/8/09 - Cheddar from Prince Edward Island.  Beautiful "sunshiny" flavor.  One of Andrew's faves as well BTW.
Marisa - 11/28/09 - Fantastic sheep's milk cheese from Wisconsin

This list is in no way exhaustive.  Rogue River Blue, Birkshire Blue, Brillat Savarin, aged Gouda, Camembert, Muenster, Zamarano, Sao Jorge, LambChopper, Mt. Tam, etc. etc. etc.  also hold special places in my heart.  And let's not forget the cheese mites!  What's so exciting is that for every cheese that I have learned about and celebrated this year, there are so many more out there to explore and discover.  Hooray!!

Here's to a cheesy 2010!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cheese for a Wednesday, pt. 16 - Majorero

As we hurtle toward 2010, I look forward to many more Wednesday night cheese discoveries!  I think it only fitting that the last Wednesday night cheese of 2009 be something festive, spicy, creamy, exotic and dee-licious.  From the Canary Island of Fuertaventura comes Majorero.  This rich, creamy, smooth goat cheese is a beautiful white on the inside - par for the goat course, I think - with a beautiful red rind, courtesy of spicy pimemton pepper.  The pepper was originally used to keep the bad bacteria out during the aging process.  The fabulous side effect was a delicious spicyness that permeates at least 1/4" into the cheese.  The rich paste keeps it from being too overpowering, and don't think it's anything like Pepperjack (though I actually love a good Pepperack cube from time to time!).

This cheese is named for a word for special shoes made from goat leather (um - ew?).  Majorero is also the name given to the current residents of this Canary Island.  (Many thanks to Wikipedia for this amazing photo of the island - another place to put on the dream travel list!)  I think that I'm definitely becoming a fan of the cheese of the Canary Islands.

The happy goats on this island are protected/herded by local dogs of the same name (you must click this link for a picture of the cutest puppy ever!), and something about the grass on the island and the (perhaps inbred) goats themselves, the milk produced on this island is especially high in butter fat, which makes the cheese all the more tasty.

We enjoyed this cheese first with a tasty hard cider, and then with a delicious Tempranillo red (made from traditionally Spanish grapes.  Go figure.).  We finished up the ends by melting them onto a piece of toast for a tasty, spicy snack.  A great cheese for the last Wednesday of the year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cheese Makes Everything Even Better!

It has been a whirlwind week.  My parents are in town for the holidays, and well, there were the holidays!  So much fun was had by all.  The highlight so far has been an overnight in Santa Barbara wine country.  We visited Firestone vinyard for a tour and tasting - a nice intro to the area for the parentals.  Turns out they were having a MASSIVE sale, and so Darling Dad will have a case of wine waiting for him upon his return home.  The next day, we went to the little tasting room for Coquelicot, and enjoyed many tastes in their lovely garden area (don't hate on the Cali girl for her lovely Xmas weather...).
**Please note - the pic here is of Darling Husband at a wine tasting over the summer -the weather here isn't THAT great.  Neither Darling Mom or Dad would consent to having their pics on the web.

Because I am the cheese head that I am, I packed a Camembert and a bit of Birkshire Blue into a bag for the trip with a ice pack and some crackers.  As we sat down at the table for the first of three Chardonnay tastings, a Sauvignon Blanc tasting, I cracked out the Camembert.  Perfect!  Rich creamy cheese with rich oaky whites.  We got distracted by the multitude of tastings, and were well into the reds, when Dad commented that he didn't really like a particular Cabernet.  Remembering that everyone's taste buds are different, I didn't get defensive, but realized that it might be time to break out the Birkshire Blue!  Nothing like a bit of tangy cheese to help you focus on the fruity flavors of a perhaps slightly tannic red (tannic wine is the stuff that makes your mouth feel like all the moisture has just been sucked out by a high speed hair drier - not particularly appetizing).  It worked!  Upon further reflection, Dad decided that he didn't mind the wine as much with the cheese.  It is possible that he was just being nice, or that we were on tasting #7, but I think that there is definitely something to be said for the magic that happens to your tastebuds when you mix a little wine and cheese together.

Be it a cube of grocery store cheddar at a cheap art opening or a wedge of Camembert  at a winery, or a left-over nugget of whatever cheese for a night at home with the hubby, it all tastes good!  Celebrate the holidays or any day with a bit of wine and cheese!  Two great tastes that taste great together.  (I'll let your brain puzzle out which old marketing campaign that phrase comes from...)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Cheese Miracle - Brillat-Savarin

"Tell me what you eat, and I'll tell you what you are."  If you are a fanatic Iron Chef fan (Japanese version), you will know that this quote is by the famous French gastronome and politician Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.  He is also quoted as saying "A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye."  No disrespect to all the beautiful one-eyed ladies out there, but I have to agree with M. Brillat-Savarin.  

M. Brillat-Savarin was also one of the first fans of what we now know as the Atkins diet.  It makes sense, therefore, that the cheese created in his honor would be a triple creme (75% fat) bloomy rind with a sinfully delicious core that is sweet and delicious with a hint of mushroom in the nicest way - kind of like a super creamy cream of mushroom soup that has been thinned out with A LOT of heavy cream.  But it still has an incredible lightness to it.  Soooooo good!  Keep in mind that Andrew the cheesemonger doesn't really consider triple creme cheese to be cheese in the strictest sense due to the additional cream added prior to fermentation to make it a "triple" creme.  That said, I'll repeat it's sooooooooooooo good!  I can't believe I've never eaten this one before.  It is now on my "crowd pleaser" list.  

This was the cheese I took tonight to celebrate Christmas Eve with my family at my Mother-in-Law's assisted living facility.  It was a huge success with all, though the MIL did mention that she had been hoping for blue cheese.  Sigh.  She still had four crackers worth!  (our image today is courtesy of Wikipedia - the entire cheese plate was practically licked clean!) We also experienced a small Christmas miracle when she voiced supreme pleasure in the mince pies we brought.  Hooray!  

Merry Christmas to all celebrating, and may visions of cheese balls (and sugar plums) dance in your heads!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Cheese Planning!

Between work and being sick, my cheese life has been severely compromised.  It's been a hard few weeks!  But in my mind, I was planning what cheeses to share with my darling parents and slightly fussy mother-in-law over Christmas.

What to do?  I sort of feel like all the learning and tasting I've done over the last six months boils down to what and how I present to others.  I think that one of the most important things to be able to do as a cheese head is to figure out what works for others, as much as knowing what you love for you and your personal taste buds.  Perhaps Groundhog Day is a day to experiment with new, exotic, "weird" cheese, but I don't think that Christmas is necessarily the time or place to present challenging cheese to friends and family unless they are as cheesy as I am.  I know my parents both support me in my cheesy-ness, and even the mother-in-law likes talking about cheese with me from time to time.  That said, did I think they would really want to try that really tangy goat Bleu de Bocage?  Probably not.  This was the time for KISS cheese.  Keep it simple.

So, bring out the Camembert!  The challenge will be the Birkshire Blue (my current favorite blue - and I can tell a good story about it...).  And the cheese for the afternoon with the mother-in-law?  Brillat Savarin with Champagne!  I know, I know - we haven't yet discussed this triple creme, but stay tuned.

And if they are bored - which they won't be because all of these cheese are awesome - I'll just take them to Andrew's Cheese to pick out something new.

Happy happy everyone!  Enjoy family, good food and some tasty cheese!  Let me know how it goes!

Friday, December 18, 2009

All Cows Need is Love...

Everyone needs to have a place where everyone knows their name.   I always like it when people use my name when saying hello.  Don’t you?  It makes me feel like they care enough to remember.  I wish I was better at remembering names.  I remember faces, and I will probably remember when we met, and what we talked about, but chances are, I don’t remember your name.  It doesn’t mean I don’t care, but it does make me feel a little lame. 

Anyway, it turns out that cows also feel better when they are given names on the farm and aren’t just another number.  I just heard about a study released last January by Newcastle University in the UK that showed a correlation between cows being treated as individuals (having names, getting a little positive one-on-one time with the farmer, etc) and milk production.  According to the study, over the 10 month “lactation cycle” for the average dairy cow, those with names produced an average of 454 more pints of milk than those only referred to by the numbered tag in their ear.  Pretty amazing!  I'm a little concerned about this cow I saw at the LA County Fair.  She seems to be the numbered kind.  Let's name her Priscilla!

In an article in the Telegraph from January of 2009  60% of British dairy farmers claim to know all the cows in their herd, and 48% of them already kind of knew that happy, emotionally confident cows produce more milk.  Dr Catherine Douglas, one of the researchers on the project, pointed out an additional benefit of the study:  "Maybe people can be less self conscious and not worry about chatting to their cows."  Ha!  That’s right – talking to your animals doesn’t make you crazy, it makes you efficient!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cheese for a Wednesday, pt. 15 - Phlegm edition

This is the first Wednesday in 15 weeks that I am not eating cheese.  Mostly because I've been cooped up in the house all day dealing with sinus pressure.  Boo!  Even if I'd made it to the store, I couldn't taste anything anyway.    I don't really believe the old wives tale that dairy produces more phlegm, so if I had cheese, and I could taste it, I'd be eating it...

I knew there wasn't necessarily anything to the argument that cheese and dairy were bad for you when you were sick.  Of course, like everything else, every body is different, and everyone reacts differently when sick so there's my disclaimer.  Most of the internet searches come up with people talking about how dairy produces histamines in the system.  I don't have dairy allergies (thank goodness!), but I suppose that if I had a cold and then had a dairy allergy I would be doubly uncomfortable.  Then, I checked with the Curd Nerd (an amazing cheese resource BTW) who had found a 1990 study  from the Royal Adelaide Hospital in S. Australia that that says that there is no statistical relationship between dairy intake and mucus production.  There was a statistically insignificant reaction between drinking milk and a loose cough.

So, there you go.  I just always go for spicy Asian and Latin flavors over creamy dairy flavors when I'm sick in an attempt to taste something.  Hopefully, I'll be back in cheese tasting form soon with some great more cheeses to share with you.  Be well!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Get that 70s Feeling - Cream Cheese Spinach Dip!

Sometimes it's not about where the cheese is from, or how it's made, but what you do with it.  Cheese, however, is always about how it makes you feel.  I've been enjoying so many fabulous, exotic cheeses that my palate has had a little bit of overload lately.  So, when I was supposed to bring cheese to a party recently, I just couldn't bring myself to do it.  But my love of creamy dairy products got the better of me, and so I hit the grocery store for a package of original Philadelphia cream cheese and some sour cream.  I was going back to the 70s with the always lovely spinach dip!  Travel back in time without the polyester stretch pants with me, wont you?

Courtesy of the very last issue of Gourmet to ever be published, I bring you the following moderately adapted recipe:
- 4 shallots/spring onions sliced, 1-2 cloves garlic minced and sauted in 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- add to the pot a ten-twelve ounce bag of frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry along with an 8 oz package of cream cheese cubed.  Stir to combine
- when the cheese has melted in, add either 1-2 tablespoons of anchovy paste or 1 tablespoon Worcester sauce and 3/4 cup of sour cream
- when everything is heated through, add 1-2 tablespoons of fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon + of dried tarragon, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste

Eat with pita chips, crostini or for that really retro vibe, some Triscuits.  Yum!  All we need now are some Swedish meatballs and a sauna to complete the 70s experience.  Here's a party that could have used a little dip...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Grilled Cheese Night II - Chaumes

You know you are in for it when the texts from Darling Husband begin at 4 pm and follow this basic trend:  "Cheese"  "I want cheese."  "Grilled cheese"  "Grilled cheese and us."  Awww!  Perhaps I've created a monster, but a sweet one, none the less!  

OK, sorry for the nauseating digression.  Anyway, when I got home, Darling Husband had the Italian bread sliced and the cheese was warming up on the counter.  I threw together a little tomato lentil soup while he broiled the bread, buttered it and layered it thick with Chaumes.  Stupendous!  I would have taken pictures of the finished product, but it went straight from the broiler to the stomach in about 60 seconds.  

Steve Jenkin's Cheese Primer kind of talks some smack about Chaumes (shohm).  While he does point out that it is a very popular cheese, he focuses on it's mass-produced-ness, and complains that it doesn't have the "power nor the rusticity of the true Munster."  While that is true, the slightly less agressive nature of Chaumes is what makes is great for a Tuesday night grilled cheese.  It also makes it a great intro to washed rind cheese for those afraid of the stank!  There isn't any barnyard here, which I didn't miss.  There is a nice garlic/spicy thing going on with this cheese.  Sticky goodness!

Because it is mass produced, it is a pasturized cheese, which is great for anyone worried about little critters in their cheese (but really, you shouldn't be that worried unless you are buying cheese on the side of the road ...).  It takes four gallons of milk to make a single 4.5 pound cheese, which ages for two to three weeks before being sent to the store. Peel off the thin plastic coating before eating, but be sure to taste the actual rind.  It really makes this cheese special.  

We probably could have eaten the entire wedge straight, but heaven forbid we put it together with some tasty carbs for a fabulous feast.  I'll be dreaming about this one tonight!

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Lot Can Happen in 15 Years!

What were you doing in 1994?  It was a pretty exciting year for me.  Tony and Julie Hook had a pretty great year too.  That year, these two Wisconsin cheesemakers made a thousand+ pounds of cheddar that has been aging ever since.  Much like wine, all cheese ages differently.  Some taste great at 6 months or 18 months or even 5 years (delightful aged Gouda anyone?).  It is rare, though, for a cheese to age this long.  Not only is it hard to resist temptation to sell and/or eat it, if there are any weird flavors buried in the cheese, they will become obvious and ruin the cheese.  If everything is perfect, however, it could probably age indefinitely, only getting better with time.

Anyway, while Hook's Cheese Company has a regular 10 year and 12 year cheddar, this 15 year stuff is very rare, on the market for a VERY limited time and is selling for $50 a pound.  If you put money into an investment and waited for 15 years, you'd want a pretty good return too, right?  This cheese sat patiently on a shelf, aging peacefully, getting tested periodically, and not paying attention to much other than making itself tasty.  It aged itself through the dot com bubble, grunge music, a Presidential impeachment, two Iraq wars, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Harry Potter and the iPhone, not to mention the million much more important things that have happened in the last 15 years that I'm not thinking of at the moment.  I can't think of a better collectible to remind me of the rich variety of things that have happened in my life.  A rich, crystallized structure holding the memory of green pastures in a field when the ozone layer was just a little thicker.

While watching cheese age is a bit slower than watching paint dry, with a little help from time lapse photography, you can see how it really does change over time. Check this out!  Even over a year, a lot can happen.  The little core samples are the periodic taste tests.  I love how they fill in the plug after!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Quicke's Cheddar - Hurry Up!

Saturday was my quarterly food bonanza in Beverly Hills with my dear friends Man Who Sneers at Goats (Cheese) and the Shopping Queen.  So of course, we went to the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills (and the cupcake store, and the chocolate store...).  That place is crazy!  So many people, and so much cheese all crammed into a little space.  A little claustrophobic, but the cheesy smells kept me from loosing my mind while waiting for our number to be called!  It gave me a little time to snoop around and figure out what I wanted samples of.  Remember - even when it's busy, you are a customer too.  Take your time, ask your questions, get your samples, leave happy.

I decided that Darling Husband needed a little reminder of home, and asked for a nice English Cheddar.  Tony the Cheesemonger brought out this giant half wheel of butter colored goodness.  I could see from the crystalization that it was well aged (turns out it this one is 18 months old).  Look at the crumble!  Made by Mary Quicke and her Devon herd of grass fed cows, this cheese gets wrapped and rubbed with lard to keep it moist while it ages.  And, with many things, this just gets better the longer it sits!  You can still taste the grassy milk, and can almost picture Mary and her team of rosy cheeked cheese makers stirring the milk as it heats, slicing the curd, packing the molds...but the time aging on the shelf give it a nice crunch from the crystals, a great salt, and a hint of caramel.

There is something about a really dry cheddar that is just so satisfying.  Seriously, if this cheese wasn't named for it's creator, I'd think it was because it gets gobbled us right quick!  In desperate need of a snack this afternoon before going to the grocery store, I grabbed Mrs. Quicke's Cheddar from the fridge, chunked it up, munched on a Granny Smith, and was confident in my ability to stick to the list.  Which is important as my cheese budget grows!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Vacherin Nont d'Or - the Holy Grail of Cheese? Perhaps.

To every season there is a cheese, and winter belongs to Vacherin Mont d'Or (vash-er-ANN moan-DOOR).  This incredible cheese is only available during the winter months, and once it's gone, you have to wait till the next December!  When I got to Andrew's this afternoon, there were so many people there!  I didn't know what to do, and then I saw the guy in front of me getting this a Vacherin Mont d'Or it's darling wood box, and I knew that would be the perfect cheese to celebrate the end of a looooong week.  And lucky me - I got the last one!  Ha!  Collector's victory!

Every book I've read calls this part of the Holy Grail of cheese.  Andrew claims that it is "one of the finest achievements of human civilization."  I'd probably put it behind fire and the wheel, but it might come shortly after that on the list.  What else can I add?  Well, I can agree that it is pretty amazing, and it comes with some cool bells and whistles.  Even though it looks like a scary orange washed rind stinker, it isn't.  It's soft, fuzzy coral rind has beautiful ripples. It comes wrapped in Spruce bark from the mountain trees of Switzerland to keep it from falling apart in it's lovely softness, and is wedged into a safe little box for shipping.  I tried to bang it out of the packaging, but it was stuck.  Which is good because once I dug into the top of this cheese, it was so soft I could probably have used a spoon, and I would never have gotten it back in!

The spruce bark definitely gives this cheese a piny nose.  I also got a little pepper, and when I closed my eyes, I was almost transported to a Swiss mountain top covered in snow.  Unlike the milk in some of the cheese that I've talked about that tastes like grass, or flowers or whatever, this one has a purity to it that comes from cows eating nothing but fresh hay and grain.  It does have a bit of "barnyard tang" but really what you taste is beautiful milky, buttery goodness, a crazy pine tree flavor and a tiny bit of pepper.  Some people say it tastes like scrambled eggs.  I didn't get that, but who knows.  I like my eggs poached.

This is not a cheap cheese - you can't get less than a whole cheese (you'd probably have to pack it in a bag it would be so goopy!).  I spend $32 on it, but it we'll snack off it for a while.  It won't be an every day purchase, but it isn't an every day cheese.  It's a celebratory cheese - for a week survived, for an exam passed, for good times with friends.  Hey - if you're in the neighborhood, drop in, and I'll scoop you out a little on a piece of bread!   We'll share a glass of wine, maybe some figs...mmmm.  Better hurry!  The dog looks hungry!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lancashire - Three Milkings and Some Butter!

When is a blue cheese not a blue cheese?  When it's Lancashire.  Duh.  Or not.

I was looking for something fun from England - I didn't really want Cheddar, and I've had plenty of Blues for a while.  What to do?  So I went to Andrew's Cheese (again) and got the hook up with this Lancashire.  It's a creamy white cheese with a cool blue streak through it.  I guess that some people think that streak is a bad thing, because the cheesemonger was very quick to let me know that it wasn't really a "flaw," but something that comes with the territory for artisinal  cheese.  I think it makes it kind of cool.

Anyway, I love surprises, and this was a good one!  Lancashire has a nice tangy flavor with maybe a hint of lemon and a nice creamy crumble.  The flavor really hits in the back of your mouth if you break off a chunk.  "They" call it a butter crumble, and that's a pretty good description.  Each little bit that crumbles off is so soft and creamy.  What an interesting texture!  I think it may also be called a butter crumble because the cheese is rubbed in butter to protect it during the aging process.

Additionally, this cheese is made from milk collected over three days - an homage to the old days when a farmer might only have one cow, and it might take three days to get together enough milk  to make a cheese.  This might be where some of the tang comes from.  There's a great website devoted to Lancashire cheese, if' you're looking for something else to kill a few minutes on the internets.

While this was great on a cheese plate, it did cause a little confusion (Friend - Can you make me up a cracker with some of the blue cheese?  Me - Oh, this great Berkshire Blue?  Friend - No, the other one.  Me - That's not blue cheese, but it's tasty!  Friend - Really?  Ok.  I'll try that!  Oooooh Yum!).  I think it might actually make amazing cheese toast.   Mmmmm.  I've got a little hunk of this left.  That may be tomorrow nights dinner.  Darling Husband if you're reading - don't take this one in to school tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Great Gouda!

I love gouda.  It's so good!  Remember - it isn't actually pronounced "goo-da" but "how-da."  Whatever.  It tastes great!  When its been aging for five years, it gets crystals in it that give it a crunch kind of like parmesean and it has this incredible sweet butterscotch, nutty-ness.  I love it aged so much, that I have yet to really try some of the younger versions.  While the older cheese has a crunchy crystalline texture, the younger cheeses have a nice creamy, buttery texture that I can't wait to get to know.  I've got some guidance now.  The latest issue of Culture (an amazing magazine for cheese heads), has a sexy gouda centerfold!  Oh yes it does.  Want some statistics?

1)  All gouda has to be at least 48% fat.  Yum!
2)  Worried about little holes in your gouda?  Perfectly normal.  If fact, some cheese makers add enzymes to intentionally make the curd "burp."
3)  Think flavored gouda is weird?  Actually, since the Netherlands was an early spice trade hub, putting cumin seeds in the cheese has a great, old history.
4)  Wondering where the incredible sweetness comes from?  After the curd has been cut, and the whey is being released, some of it is drained off and the curd is rinsed with warm water to remove some of the lactose.  Less lactose minimizes lactic acid development, and creates a sweeter cheese.  Again yum!  This sounds like a pretty complex process.  In fact, if you change the temperature of the washing water by just one degree, you get a different flavor/texture profile.
5)  Wax on, wax off?  A real gouda isn't covered in red wax like the ones at the grocery store, but it is covered with a thin layer of plastic to keep the rind clean during the aging process.

As with all cheeses, the food the cows eat really impacts the flavor of the cheese.  While cows make more milk when they're eating "silage" (dry feed), grass makes for tastier cheese.  When you can close your eyes and feel like you're in the pasture with the beasties, that's  a good cheese!  Don't take it from me - check out these happy Dutch cows on the first day of spring!   Just remember this as the sun sets earlier, and the skies fill with clouds and snow!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Camembert - it isn't just a small Brie

I love Camembert.  You should too.  There is so much flavor wrapped up in this little bloomy rind.  Not when you get it from the grocery store when it's just Brie with a different name, but when it comes in a little wooden box and arrives straight from France it is just amazing.  (If you can't find it locally, you can always order online from or a cheese shop that ships like Murray's Cheese or the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills.  It'll be fine - it comes in it's own cute little box!) You must, must, must take it out of the fridge at least a half hour in advance to let it warm up and get gooey.  If you take that step, you will be rewarded with cheese that almost needs a spoon for serving.  Incredible on a bit of baguette.  *If your cheese has gone from gooey to runny, your cheese may be a little too over ripe,

Real Camembert only comes in an 8 oz disk.  If you're friends with your cheesemonger, you might be able to get a half round, but I'm telling you from experience that I got in trouble for only having a half at Thanksgiving!  It goes great with Pinot Noir, and has a great sort of sweet mushroom flavor with a bit of nuttiness in the background.  Apparently, if you eat Brie and Camembert in France blind folded, you might not be able to tell the difference.    I can't wait for that "Pepsi Challenge."  Keep in mind - while this isn't a "smelly" cheese, it does have a great cheesy smell, which you might not be prepared for if you are used to the stuff from the grocery store.  You should definitely eat the rind - for two reasons.  First, the rind in this case is really part of the flavor profile of the cheese.  Do your own taste test if you don't believe me.  Without the rind, the flavor is almost too mild.  Additionally, if you do do this test, you'll find that there isn't a lot of cheese left (especially if you let the cheese warm up as directed).  This little guy is really only a half inch thick, so if you cut the rind off, you'll be left with a sad little sliver of cheese.

Fun fact?  According to Steve Jenkin's Cheese Primer, the "Vimoutier parish archives [in] 1680 Camembert was already highly regarded: 'A very good cheese, well-suited to aid digestion after a meal washed down with good wines.'"  There you have it.  You can eat it (as I just did) at the end of a huge eating day like Thanksgiving.  Burp.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Beautiful Berkshire Blue

As part of my Thanksgiving "Pilgrim's Progress" cheese spread, I needed a cheese from Massachusetts.  Trouble was, Andrew's Cheese Shop only had one cheese from MA in the case on Wednesday when I went in to procure my dairy delights.  It always makes me nervous when I don't have choices, but the one cheese they had sounded kind of interesting.  I took Berkshire Blue home untasted.  What choice did I have?  It was all about location, location, location for this tasting.

I wasn't disappointed!  This blue cheese (on the right - duh) is a great find for anyone who loves blues.  It might not be a great cheese for introducing your blue cheese phobic cheeses to your obsession with blue mold.  It is a bit on the tangy side.  That said, it also has a great earthy sweetness, with a great creamy texture.  It was great on a bit of cracker (I tried to eat it without carbs, but it stuck to my fingers!  Not a terrible problem to have, but it was slowing me down.) with a glass of port.

The website for this great artisinal cheese betrays their love for their Jersey cows.  I can't say I blame them.  Not only are they adorable, with their big brown eyes, but their milk has a higher butterfat content, and they are apparently smarter than your average cow.  Kind of fun.  And really, if you devote your life to turning someone's milk into cheese, wouldn't you prefer if they weren't just a bunch of great udders?  I digress.

If you can find this one, buy it!  You won't be sorry.  It's only available in a few shops around the country, but they'll ship it to you for special occasions if you ask nicely (and give them your credit card number).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Have I Mentioned Marisa?

I've been meaning to share this sheep's milk cheese with you for a while, but I've been too happy munching on it!  This amazing cheese (named for the cheesemaker's daughter) from Carr Valley Cheese Company in Wisconsin is aged for six months and has an incredible earthy, nutty-ness.  Plus, as a sheep's milk cheese, it has a naturaly high butterfat content, which gives it a great richness.  I could snack on this all day (and I have been)!

I've now shared this cheese at two parties - a Pinot Noir tasting and at Thanksgiving.  (In the picture, it's the one in back.) It went great with the Pinot, and at Thanksgiving, even though it was competing with a lot of stunners (more on that later), it really held it's own.  The Professor appreciated it's mid-western roots, and I love the fact that it almost has the texture of a cheddar, but it is clearly something else all together.

I read a restaurant review lately that described one dish as "the nice sister that holds your hand after [another really strong flavored dish] has verbally assaulted you." Perhaps out of context it doesn't make any sense, but Marisa really is the nice, interesting sister who might not  be the one you notice first when you walk into the room, but once you meet her, you keep wanting to go back and spend more time with her.

If you can find this one, buy it!  Keep it around for snacking on and sharing with friends!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Post-Thanksgiving!

Happy post-Thanksgiving everyone!  I hope your day was full of friends and family, lacking in drama, and sporting a great cheese plate!  Even though all of my genetic family was hundreds of miles away, I enjoyed a beautiful day with friends, starting with turkey in the park under sunny skies, followed by a movie and a cheese course curated by yours truly.  The good part was that I didn't have to cook, the bad part was that now that I'm considered the "cheese expert" of the group, the pressure was on!

I couldn't just bring any old cheese.  The good news is, I am definitely feeling more confident about my cheese choices after six months of experimentation.  The only problem - there are too many great cheeses to pick from!  What to do?

Why, track the "Pilgrim's Progress" of course!  "Huh?"  you say?  Well, those poor persecuted Pilgrims started their journey in England (amazing cheese choices from there!), spent a while in the Netherlands (can anyone say 5-year Gouda?), and finally ended up on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts!  I am so clever!  Well, at least when I went into Andrew's Cheese Shop on that mission, they said they hadn't heard of that theme before...  Anyway, the RSVP list started out at 5 (including Darling Husband and myself).  I had picked up a Lancashire from England, a 5-year Gouda from the Netherlands, and the amazing Birkshire Blue from the Birkshire Mountains of Massachusetts (ok, the Pilgrims probably didn't get that far inland, but whatever!).  I had about a pound of cheese, which would have been fine, but then the list grew to 8 and then to 10.  Yikes!  Man Who Sneers at Goats (Cheese) jumped in with a few additional cheeses, including a Petit Basque from Spain.  I also brought along a Camembert from France.  We rationalized that the Catholic Pilgrims who traveled across Spain and France to the beautiful cathedrals during the Middle Ages were also Pilgrims (albeit not the kind that ate turkey and corn pudding with the Native Americans who hadn't yet realized that they were a threat to their very existance).

I'll be posting about a few of the cheeses over the next few days as you recover from turkey overload and start planning your holiday parties.  Are you planning cheese boards?  Let me know!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is that a cheese knife in your pocket?

When you have a cheese blog, and you are eating lots of cheese, you tend to have some left overs.  Left overs are great!  You can keep them in the fridge a few days to be a little memory of your new cheese discovery (allowing their delightful cheesy smell to permeate the corners of the deli drawer).  You can enjoy them again on a cracker, or you can get a little more adventurous the second time around (blue cheese with brussels sprouts anyone?).  Alternately, while you are getting around to figuring out what to do, your Darling Husband might squirrel it away and take it off to school to share at an English Department meeting.  Doh!

Usually this is ok, when it is actually a left over, but as you might remember from his guest post a while back, Darling Husband sometimes takes cheese that isn't actually a left over at all, but a $13 uncut Le Gariotin goat cheese from Soutwest France.  To be fair, I had gotten two of these cuties for a wine and cheese event (tastes great with Pinot Noir!), and there was an extra one left in the fridge.  But this was a whole cheese!  It may have been left over, but it hadn't been compromised, for crying out loud!

What's kind of charming is that this cheese ended up at a English Department meeting, where, as it turns out  many English teachers fantasize about dropping out and raising goats and making cheese.  Who knew?  As such, sharing a delightful, wrinkly, sweet, savory nugget of goat cheese (cut with the cheese knife that has been missing from my kitchen for about a month) with some incredibly hard working folks who regularly eat "shepherd's pie" of ground beef and mashed potato flake from the school cafeteria seems a small price to pay.

Sweet dreams teachers!  I hope you enjoyed that cheese!  It was my pleasure to share with you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cheese for a Wednesday, pt. 13 I've got the Blues!

Unlucky #13!  Sigh.  It has been quite a week.  I have been eating cheese, and taking notes, but between team meetings for class, late nights at the office, and a Basset Hound puppy visiting for the weekend drooling on everything and amping up the energy, I just haven't been able to share.  I've missed you guys!  Hope the feeling has been mutual.

Anyway,  I have been meaning to share with you the joys of Blue Cheese (again!).  I picked up my favorite Roaring 40s from Australia, and decided to compare it with Bleu de Bocage from France.  This was a crazy "Pepsi Challenge!"  The Roaring 40s, as you know, is a sweet blue that comes in a pretty blue wax shell.  I don't have to go on about that one again, other than to bore you with my undying love for it.  Blah, blah, blah.

Bleu de Bocage, on the other hand, was not an immediate love.  In fact, if you are a fan of CheeseDreaming on FaceBook, you might have seen me comment on how I had finally found a cheese I didn't like.  Egads!  This cheese is really unique.  It is one of the few goat cheese blues out there.  Obviously Man Who Sneers at Goat (Cheese) wouldn't be a fan.  I didn't even ask him to try this one.  My first taste made me tear up.  It is really "assertive."  I put it down and ran!  Embarassed, I went back to try again.  And again.  And again. It really grew on me.  There was a really interesting crunch to it from the salt crystals (I think that was the source).  There was a complex minerally sweetness underneath that tang that made me cry.  This one is not for the faint of heart, but give it a try!

So, in the "practical application" department, I put some crumbled Roaring 40s on my steamed Brussels Sprouts last night with some fresh ground pepper.  Yum!  The Bleu de Bocage on a cracker went really well with a Cosmo made by Darling Husband this evening.

Don't be afraid!  Get the blues.  Sometimes its ok.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sao Jorge - Like a Trip to the Azores

I seem to have lost my notes on the Sao Jorge, which is unfortunate since it was an incredibly amazing cheese.  The good news is that it was so memorable that I think we'll be ok.  Hailing from the island of Sao Jorge in the Azores and belonging to Portugal, this cow's milk cheese (according to our cheesemongeress) tends to get PMS.  Rather than having spikes in hormone levels, this cheese simply changes a lot during the aging process, going from sweet to tangy and peppery over time.  Our chunk was peppery, and so dry and crumbly that it broke in half on the way home from the store.  (It's at 2:00 on the cheese board here.  See how it crumbles!  Yum!

This is something that will really perk up your cheese board and make your friends think that you are ultra cool.  Just put some chunks out, and serve with a big red wine, and presto - people intrigued by what they're eating.  You might take a first bite and not really like it, but it will linger on your tongue, and you'll start thinking about it.  And you'll go back for another taste.  And then another one while you are trying to figure it out.  I've never tasted anything like it.  Maybe it's because the cows are eating in the Azores, and the grass there just tastes different.  There has been cheese making on this 95 square mile island of Sao Jorge since the 1400s, so they know what they're doing.  I've never been, but these pictures definitely make me want to go hang out with a good book and some hiking shoes for a month.

The Joe Matos Cheese Factory in Santa Rosa, CA makes a cheese called St. George in homage to this Portugese one.  I may need to go check it out.  It's a lot closer than the Azores, and sounds like a fun, hard working place.  Plus, I'm almost out of cheese.  Time for more!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cheese for a Wednesday, pt. 12

How insane is this cheese plate?  Perhaps a larger plate was necessary, but as previously discussed, our eyes were bigger than our plans.  This plate is actually backwards.  Traditional cheese plates go from mild to strong in a clockwise pattern.  I'm just contrary like that, and so (accidentally) this plate goes counter clockwise.

Anyway, please see the last post for discussion of the Brebirousse d'Argental and Lamb Chopper (12:00 and 10:00).  Both interesting and delicious.  Tonight, Berkswell and Zamorano (7:00 and 5:00).  The Sao Jorge (3:00) deserves its own post. Seriously, this cheese orgy was out of control.  Anyway, once Man Who Sneers at Goat (Cheese) got past the Brebirousse, he was a happy camper, as were Darling Husband and myself.

The Berkswell is from Neals Yard Dairy, and has the greatest shape.  It looks like a big grey flying saucer.  It is  a bit gritty, but there aren't the crystals that you find in Parmesean.  This sheep's cheese has a great nutty sweetness, and a tannic quality that dries out your tongue like a dry red wine.  And the flavor just stays in your mouth in an amazingly delicious way.

The Zamorano is from Spain has been here before, but only in a little taste.  This time, we managed to finish off the whole wedge with no trouble.  This sheep's milk cheese has a beautiful basket weave rind (not really edible).  This buttery, rich, nutty cheese made for a lot of conversation (we were also a bit further into our bottle of wine).  Quote #1 - "This cheese has that greasy lip sheep cheese thing going on, and I love it!"  Quote #2 - "Ze Spanish cheeze zat startz witz a Z."

Zat's it for tonight!  We're ztill detoxinzg from the butterfat!  Sao Jorge tomorrow, and then on to make new memories!  Cheese dreamz all!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Brebirousse D'Argental and Lamb Chopper: Sheep Cheese Party - Part 1

Cheese #1 from this past weekend's sheep's cheese orgy.  Brebirousse D'Argental is a double creame washed rind sheep's milk cheese with a beautiful orange rind with a nice bloom on it.  It has a very fresh taste and a very white paste.  Man Who Sneers at Goat (Cheese) could have sworn that it was goat's cheese until I looked up and proved to him that it was 100% ewe's milk cheese from Lyon.  To his credit, there was a teeny bit of back end barnyardy-ness that crawled up into your sinus cavity (which is what MWSAG(C) objects too).  I felt that it was a bit too mild, even with the "stealth goat" which was fun, if not a little underwhelming.  

As this cheese warmed up, it got nice and spreadable, with a great creamline.  It was a tad gummy for my taste, but Darling Husband enjoyed it (he likes to squish his cheese around on the bread), and a quarter pound was gone in two hours.  Not bad, but definitely not my favorite.

Cheese #2 was a much bigger personal success.  We went with Lamb Chopper, which was actually recommended to me in a comment here a while ago.  It had a great mouth feel - semi soft and mild, but sweet, and really lovely.  This cheese is made in Holland for Cypress Grove (the makers of Humboldt Fog and other great goat cheeses), so it has an international pedigree, and a California address.  While we enjoyed it alone with cornichon pickles and Zinfandel, we thought it would be amazing on a baguette with ham and arugula.  

In fact, Sunday night Darling Husband made grilled cheese sandwiches with the leftovers (yes, there were leftovers - we're not complete gluttons!).  A-maz-ing.  This is a great melting cheese.  Perfect with grilled bread and butter.  Even better than most things that are perfect with grilled bread and butter.  I wouldn't mind having a pound of this around on a regular basis.  Dee-licious!

Sheep Cheese Party

I was going to name this post "Sheep Orgy," but that just sounds naughty.  After the Friday cheese purchasing spree at Andrew's Cheese Shop, I wend out with my friend who shall from here on in be known as "Man Who Sneers at Goat (Cheese)" and ended up at the Silverlake Cheese Store where I continued withe the cheese buying orgy.  I've spent the last few days coming down from a serious butterfat overdose.  What can I say - some people buy too many purses, I buy too much cheese!

Anyway, I decided that since I was with Man Who Sneers at Goat (Cheese), I decided to go on a Sheep Cheese buying spree.  We ended up with FIVE varieties - four sheep cheeses and a cow's milk cheese.  I swear we were only going to get one or two.  OMG.  Don't fear - you will be learning about all of them in the coming days.  In the way squirrels save up acorns for winter, I eat cheese and save up the memories for the days I can't get out early enough to get to the cheese store.
With five cheeses in the bag, we threw an impromptu cheese tasting party, and Darling Husband, MWSAG(C) and I thoughtfully ate our way through close to a pound of sheep's milk cheese, washed down with a nice Zinfandel.  There are many ways to have a cheese tasting party.  You can focus on cheeses from a single country, cheeses from a single style (bloomy, washed, etc), you can have a cheese from each style, etc.  We decided to focus on cheeses from a single milk.  Hooray for sheep!  We started with a really mild soft sheep's cheese, and worked our way up to incredibly sharp aged pecorino (that's Italian for sheep).  It was pretty amazing to see who different aging and preparation methods create completely different cheeses.  They all had a great richness, and a great sweetness that made the tasting a lot of fun.

Afterward, Darling Husband was overcome by butterfat shock and had to go home to nap.  MWSAG(C) and I went out for healthy, detoxing salads.

So, a few mass tasting rules - taste from mild to strong, take a good sniff before you eat each one, pick a theme (optional, but fun), and stop eating before you start sweating butterfat!

Friday, November 6, 2009

I Heart Hartwell!

As you may or may not have noticed, I haven't gotten a chance to buy cheese in over a week.  It's been rough, I tell ya! You know you're a cheese addict when the reason you are cranky about working late is because you won't make it to the cheese store before they close!  I got out of work in time to make it to Andrew's Cheese before they closed today.  Happy Friday to me!  I kind of went on a buying binge.  (I have a Blue Cheese challenge planned for tomorrow night - stay tuned.) 

To celebrate surviving till Friday, I picked up a cute little cheese from Vermont's Ploughgate Creamery called Hartwell.  I had read this cheese somewhere, and was excited to see it at the shop, but didn't realize that I would have to buy the whole cheese (about 8 oz for $13- not that much, but still...).  It's ok though.  Money well spent.  What an delightful little cheese.  Darling Husband and I managed to work our way through half of it with no trouble at all.

When I first unwrapped it and took a whiff, there was a definite ammonia smell coming off this bloomy rind cheese.  Not too surprising, considering the spots of grey mold amongst the soft white bloom.  It was a little overpowering, but as it came up to room temperature, the smell seemed to dissipate.  It just needed to breathe a little (as all cheese does).

Ultimately, the smell is one of the most amazing things about this cheese.  When I took a little piece (including the rind) and stuck it right under my nose, I swear that it smelled like fresh raked leaves.  You remember that slightly damp, earthy, crispy leaf smell that would surround you when you jumped in a pile of leaves as a kid after you worked all afternoon to make the pile?  Maybe you raked leaves yourself recently  Sadly, there aren't that many delicious piles of leaves being raked up and jumped into in Southern California, but I still remember that smell, and the memory of those leaf piles came right back to me when I smelled Hartwell.  An amazing gift to get from a cheese.

This cheese is delicious spread on a little baguette with a glass of Merlot.  The paste is rich and buttery, with just enough tang.  Smooth and delicious, with enough complexity to be interesting without being difficult. Eat it with the rind.  Without it, it is almost too rich (not necessarily a bad thing, but I personally need the contrast).

Hartwell is made in Vermont at Ploughgate Creamery by two cheese artists who after years of making cheese for others, decided to start making it themselves.  They started in May of 2008, and their cheeses are made in small batches from milk they buy from neighboring Vermont farmers.  It's that kind of amazing story of knowledge, gumption and guts that I just love.  They are working so hard, and it's really paying off!

I now heart Hartwell, and I am pretty sure that if you can find it, you will heart it too.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cheese for a Wednesday, Nomad Edition (pt. 11)

Things got really interesting at the office around 5:00 tonight, and I didn't get out till after 8:00, so wasn't able to go to Andrew's Cheese Shop for my mid-week munchies.  Grr.  I haven't been to a cheese store in over a week!  Maybe tomorrow.

But in between spread sheet updates and manic printing jags, I was able to do a little research...and I found an awesome tidbit to share with you, my faithful cheeseheads.  Yes, on the edge of the Sahara in Mauritania lies Tiviski, a dairy that drives a milk collection truck around to find the nomadic herdsmen and bring their CAMEL MILK in to the dairy to be pasteurized and made in to CAMEL CHEESE.  OMG.  (Insert joke here if you are so inclined.  I am, but far be it from me to offend...)

Apparently, camel milk is low in lactose, so it's great for those of us with digestive issues.  The low protein content also makes it challenging to turn camel milk into camel cheese because it doesn't curd up in the way as other millks do.  It took a French cheese expert to go to Africa to figure out how to make it work (enzymes!).  Of course, it is also challenging to make cheese in Africa because of the lack of nice cool caves for aging ....

The cheese has a bloomy rind, and a brie-like consistency, and owing to the desert diet (a few grasses, little dry shrubs, etc) it has a definite earthiness!  Probably one of the best things about this dairy is how it has improved the lives of the nomads by giving them the opportunity to sell their milk, allowing them to provide more for their families in a way that totally fits in with their way of life.

There were 100 pounds of this cheese in New York in March of 2008.  I don't know if anyone has anymore, or if there is some for sale somewhere other than New York City, but I' going to keep looking!

(camel photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Wine and Cheese. Duh.

I love cheese.  I love wine.  I love to eat cheese and drink wine at the same time.  I know there are official/suggested combinations of cheese and wine that bring out the best in both, but I always forget the rules when faced with the decision.  Kind of like when I'm in the video store and totally forget what movie it was that I wanted to rent (it even happens now with Netflix...sigh).  If I'm planning a party, and know what the wine is, I can do a little research before getting the cheese.  There are some good websites, and a fun "cheese clock" that comes in kind of handy.

The good news is that in my world, if things aren't exactly according to the rules, knowing that there are some rules, and knowing what you like go a really long way.  I went to a wine tasting at Pourtal in Santa Monica, highlighting wine from Close Pepe Vinyard.  Amazing wine BTW.  If this was a wine blog, I'd have a lot of very complimentary things to say.  Point is, my friends bought my tasting, and I was in charge of picking out cheese (supplied for the restaurant by Andrews Cheese Shop!).  I knew there were Pinot Noirs on the tasting, but was sure there were other wines too.  I ended up with an Ossau Iraty sheep's milk cheese from the French Pyrenees, Zamarano cow's milk cheese from Spain (like Manchego, but in my opinion tastier!), and an Allegra goat's milk cheese from California.  They weren't quite right, but they were pretty good.  The richness of the Ossau Iraty really went well with the smoky Syrah with interesting herbal undertones.  Nice and rich, kind of floral, and perfect on a little slice of toasted baguette.  Yum!  The goat cheese went nicely with the Pinot Noir even though it probably would have gotten a better chance to shine with a Sauvignon Blanc.  Whatever.  It was a delicious cheese and a delicious wine!  A little tangy, a little sweet, creamy with a light ash coating on the rind.  The Zamarano was nice and nutty, with a sweet saltiness (is that possible?).

The point is not to panic when faced with the decision to choose a cheese plate.  Just remember what you like, try to remember why you like it - is it rich with butterfat?  Is it nutty?  Is it tangy?  Is it bold or mild?  What kind of wine are you drinking?  Is it bold and in need of something strong to go with it?  Is it acidic?  Full of drying tannins?  Bubbly?

What do YOU think it would taste good together?  Remember - that's the final test.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Grocery Store Score!

I love going to the cheese store.  All the samples, exotic smells, shapes and tastes.  I always enjoy chatting with the cheesemonger, learning a few weird cheese facts - about the animals, cheesemaking or even cheese distribution.  But sometimes, I just don't have time to get to the store after work, and I still need to get my cheese fix on!  (Though, to be fair, last night was all about tofu, brown rice and veggies - gotta get that fiber in!)

What to do, what to do?  Well, duh!  Head to the local mega mart.  Just shop smart.  Look for flavor and meltability.  I did bypass the giant orange chunks, but did think about extra sharp cheddar before settling on Kerrygold Irish Cheddar.  Creamy, with a nice flavor that explodes on your middle tongue and a rich finish.  

A little roux of butter and flour, milk and the shredded cheddar melted right on in.  To make it "healthy," I added some frozen peas to the noodle water.  25 minutes in the oven, and badabing!  

You have probably all made mac and cheese this way more than once, but man o man, when it gets made this way instead of the "box" way it is always kind of a revelation.  When I was a kid, my mom never gave us "box" mac and cheese.  It wasn't until I was on my own that I got lazy.  Time to get back to the home made place!  

I actually owe y'all a blog about cheese powder, but that's for another night. I'm off to bed, with plenty of carbs in my tum.  Wonder what dreams that'll bring?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cheese for a Wednesday, pt. 10

Here we are again.  A Wednesday night - the least exciting day of the week - always in need of a little bit of a perk-up.  Tonight we are featuring aged sheep's milk cheese from Spain named Ombra.  The rind on this is hard as a rock, but such a warm brown color, that I had to bring it home.  And, did I mention that it smells amazing!  Rich, salty, nutty.  Yum!

Because this cheese is aged at least 4 months, it is beautifully crumbly (more time aging = more moisture loss = crumbles!) with little air holes throughout the paste.  But even dry, it sports the oily sheen of a good sheep cheese.  It is so light and delicious, though.  Not a bit oily on the tongue.  It isn't overly salty, and I swear I can taste the fresh spring grass that the sheep were grazing on in beautiful Catalonia.  I can't tell you how much I need to go there!

Anyway, this cheese is subtly complex.  There is a sweetness to it - butterscotch maybe?  And near the rind, I swear I could taste a little citrus - grapefruit?  Further research was necessary - a few more bites.  Yup, a definite sweetness at the end, and it smells of the meadows.  Sigh.  I really likes this cheese - just don't eat the rind.  To hard.

This cheese would be amazing on a cheese plate - a little cube of surprise to enjoy with a Zinfandel. (Which I did!)  I also ended up grating a huge amount of it to put on a dinner of ravioli, broccoli, peas and a little olive oil infused with garlic, salt, pepper and basil.  A great alternative to Parmesan. Yum!

I'm dreaming of a cheese trip to Spain!  How about you?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

One Cow, One Cheese

Yes, "Wrapped and Covered Week" was officially over last week, but this one is just to special.  It comes from the Jackson Farm in Oroville, WA and expert cheesemaker and farmer Sally Jackson.  And this cheese is so special that the milk to make this cheese all comes from a beautiful Brown Swiss cow named Renata.  The cheese is, of course called Renata.  How great is that!  When Renata is sick, there is no Renata cheese (which happened a while ago when she nibbled on a wire and got a case of "hardware disease).  Luckily, Renata is doing well at the moment, and her amazing cheese is available if you know who to ask.  I asked my friend Andrew over at Andrew's Cheese Shop for a chunk to try.  I'd been wanting to try it, and since it is wrapped.

Anyway, Renata is one heck of a cow.  Whatever she's snacking on in the fields is amazing.  I swear she's eating herb salad rich in parsley and sorrel.  According to the website, all the cows graze in the farm's aspen pasture every day.  How dreamy!  This cheese has a bit of the tang that comes from a washed rind cheese, but none of the sticky-ness.  Darling Husband thought it was strong enough to compete with "the white part of a blue cheese."  I didn't think it was quite that strong, but it was really creamy, nutty, tangy and herbal.

The leaves certainly keep the cheese moist, which I think helps make it so creamy.  You can't eat them, though.  In fact, if you've ever rolled your own cigarette or smoked an unfiltered cig, picking out the leaf bits out of your teeth  whilst eating cheese reminds one of picking tobacco leaves from your teeth during your smoke.  A gross analogy, I know, but it's what came to mind.   (Yes, I used to occassionally indulge.  No more - clouds the ability to taste cheese!)  The mold layer under the leaves isn't really that tasty, and the texture is a little mealy.  Not for the faint of heart, but not terrible.

I think I might really enjoy Renata as a bit of cheese toast, but at $38/pound, it would be a little more extravagant than my current budget will allow.  For now, I'll enjoy it with a little Cabernet Franc and a cracker.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Packed in Rosemary, Flown in from Spain!

Continuing on the theme of wrapped and packed cheese for this week, for your drooling pleasure, Romao!  This sheep's milk cheese from Spain is rubbed in olive oil and rosemary during its eight months in the cave.  This cheese is 27% milk fat!  It is definitely a bit on the oily side, or at least the chunk I got from the end of a wheel was.  But you'd be oily too if you were marinated in olive oil  for eight months!  It looks really shaggy with all the rosemary stuck to the oil and cheese.  Romao comes in one pound wheels from the region of Cuenca, Spain in the center/east of the country.  According to Wikipedia (I know, I know...), this region is full of gorges, which I'm sure create a very exciting climate for the sheep!  This is definitely a sheep cheese.  Full of its own oils and nuttiness, it has a complexity beyond the rosemary.

Anyway, the rosemary flavor doesn't permeate the interior of the paste, but like the other cheeses this week, the flavor does go at least 1/2 inch in.  Because it is aged for as long as it is, it has that crumbly, almost crunchy texture.  The oil bath does reduce the crunchiness a bit, but it doesn't drown it out completely.

Perhaps the thing I was least expecting is that the shaggy rind wipes right off, due I suppose to the olive oil mixed with the rosemary crust.  Originally, I cut the rind off, but after the Darling Husband swiped the last TWO pieces at the same time, I needed to figure out a way to feed my own cheese hunger, successfully wiping it all off, and munching down on the completely edible rind dimpled with impressions left by the rosemary leaves.  Sigh.

Oh, and very tasty with a Cabernet Franc from the Santa Ynez Valley, though I'm sure a Spanish red wine would be perfect! Ole.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cheese for a Wednesday, pt. 9

This week has become "Wrapped and Covered" week. Everything I've brought into the house, shared with Darling Husband and tortured Perfect Dog with has been packed with something - peppercorns or grape sediment. Tonight, I visited with Andrew's Cheese with a very specific goal in mind - wrapped cheese. Cheeses wrapped in leaves during aging get a lot of flavor there, and I'm pretty sure the leaves help keep some moisture as well. Beyond my requirement for having wrapped cheese, I didn't have anything in mind. Goat cheese, blue cheese and many other cheeses come wrapped.

So I tell Andrew of my quest, and without blinking he says "Rogue River Blue." And with good reason! This award winner from Oregon was created by Tom Vella's son. Which didn't mean anything to me either until I learned that Tom Vella invented Monterey Jack! So we're dealing with cheese royalty here. This cheese is also the big brother of the Smoky Blue that I shared with you a few Wednesday's ago. It was, in fact, listed as one of the Best of 2009!

And here's why. This amazing blue cheese is wrapped in Syrah grape leaves and macerated in pear brandy during the aging process. It is so creamy, with just the right amount of tang. It just melts on your tongue. The blue and grey green streaks running through it are beautiful, you can definitely taste the pear and a little bit of sweetly salty nuttiness. With a little glass of port, this was the perfect way to end the day!

This grape wrapped blue isn't what I was expecting to walk away with this Wednesday, but I'm so glad it came home with me!

Sleep tight, wrapped in grape leaves and sweet dreams!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wine and Cheese - On a Cracker!

This week seems to be about how cheese can be influenced by what it's wrapped in during the aging process. Yesterday, peppercorns, today grapes! Beppino Ocelli's Piedmont dairy makes butter and cheese from cows, goats and sheep who graze on pastures full of wildflowers and herbs, and it really shows in his cheeses. In fact, according to his website, Sr. Ocelli is actively involved in research at the University of Turin to improve meadows for grazing.

The cheese I picked up at Say Cheese is one of Ocelli's "grand cheeses." My cheesemonger was so excited to give me a sample of this one, the Testun Ocelli al Barolo. This cheese is a combination of cow's milk and goat's milk cheese, and you can really taste the goat, and you can see it in the chalk white center. In this case, however, the milk is not even remotely the most exciting thing about the cheese. If you speak any Italian, or ever drink wine, you've heard of Barolo. Yes, dear reader, this cheese is covered with Barolo grape "must" during the last two months of the aging process. (After the grapes are crushed and the juice extracted for wine, the skins, seeds and pulp is left over. This is sometimes called the "must.")

If you look closely at the picture, you can see a pretty incredible cream line just under the grape encrusted rind. The grape flavor really, really infuses the cream line section of the cheese. It's unbelievable. I kept thinking of grape Kool-Aid, but in a really up-scale, mouth popping way. The interior paste of the cheese belies its goat's milk origins, but it is also very much an Italian cheese, with a bit of the crunch that comes from a cheese that is aged for seven months, and the richness of a cow's milk cheese.

This cheese is so much fun. There are layers of flavor and texture, from the creamy inner paste to the grape flavored cream line, to the grape must itself. Watch out for the seeds! If you are really OCD, you could probably save the seeds and grow yourself a vineyard of Barolo grapes!

If you can find this one, give it a try.

Sweet dreams of amazing cheeses eaten in a vineyard!

Monday, October 19, 2009

That's a Spicy Cheese-a-Ball!

I went on another urban cheese field trip this weekend and ended up at a great little cheese store called Say Cheese. The cheesemonger and I almost got my goat cheese hating friend to like goat cheese. And by almost, I mean that we got him to try a sample of a less goaty goat cheese and not spit it out. Whatever. more for the rest of us!

Just to spiteful (and because I honestly think goat cheeses are both tasty and adorable), I bought one of these little peppercorn covered goat cheese, wrapped up in raffia, with its own doily. Take that goat cheese haters! The little tag says Pevrin, and it hails from Piedmonte, Italy.

After reading the incredibly fine print on the back of the tag, and using Google translator to make sure I had read the Italian correctly, I realized that this spicy cheese-a-ball is actually a combination of goat, sheep and cows cheese. Not sure of the percentages, but interesting none the less. The cheese was crusted in red peppercorns and red pepper. I was a little worried that it would be too spicy (having blown out my spicy meter the night before on Southern Thai delicacies). Luckily, while there was a pleasant bite to the cheese, the soft creaminess of the inside paste really balanced the peppery crust. The peppercorns also added a nice crunch, which was fun!

The paste was definitely goaty, but the blend of milks kept it from being too tangy. The interior didn't taste of pepper at all, but it definitely permeated at least 1/2 inch. The thing that really struck me was the texture of the paste. While Darling Husband enjoyed the spreadability, I kept being reminded of a facial mask I bought once at a beauty supply store. A little sticky and very thick, almost like a beautiful chalk white clay.

Sadly, I have to say this wasn't one of my favorite cheeses. The flavor wasn't overly exciting, but it was very fresh and clean tasting, and the peppercorn crunch and spice was a great find. It was also completely adorable! I would absolutely get it again to add to a cheese plate for a holiday party. And now, I'm a little obsessed with cheeses rolled in other things. Stay tuned for tomorrow night's coated surprise!

Sweet cheese dreams all.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. Go Vermont!

I went to Vermont once. It was the middle of winter, and the icicles were beautiful, and I didn't feel my toes for a week. It was absolutely beautiful. I remember waking up with my aunt's dog's big cold nose in my face, and visiting the Ben & Jerry's outlet store. (When the machine doesn't mix the Heath Bar in very well, and you get a tunnel of Heath Bar down the middle of your ice cream, it gets discounted and you can buy it for half price. O.M.G.)

At the time, I wasn't cheesedreaming, and didn't realize that I should have been visiting creamerys, and learning how to make cheese the Vermont way. I'm sure I could have gone to Cabot Creamery. It's OK though. Because now I've tried Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. Made from a herd of Holsteins, formed into 35 pound rounds, wrapped and coated in lard to keep in moisture, housed at Jasper Hill Farm (gotta try their cheese too!!) and turned every day for three weeks before being turned monthly for 10-14 months. That's love.

Anyway, this is one tasty cheddar. Its beautiful straw color, and delightful scent of lemon is just the start. It is crumbly, but not dry. In fact, in your mouth, it practically oozes butter fat! Yum. It has an amazing nutty-ness, and actually reminded me a little bit of Parmesan. There is even a little bit of the Parmesan crunch.

If it lasts, I think I might try grating it into some savory muffins. If I was a real baker, I'd even try that cheddar on apple pie thing.

There's a nice dream!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cheese for a Wednesday, pt.8

It's been raining. This is a good thing, but getting re-acclimated to grey and wet is always a bit tricky. Last night, it was tomato soup, but tonight was grilled cheese night. I knew where to go. Andrew from Andrew's Cheese hosts monthly grilled cheese nights. I haven't been able to go, but I knew he'd be full of ideas. O.M.G. I wasn't wrong!

I brought home a 1/2 pound of Munster from Alsace. This stinker has an amazing coral colored, sticky rind and a beautiful straw colored paste. It's also a fast melter!

So here's the 411 on the best cheese toast ever...Take one baguette. Slice in half. Pop in the oven for a few minutes to dry it out a bit. Rub all surfaces with a sliced garlic clove and butter liberally. Pop back in the oven to melt the butter. Then, cover completely with slices of Munster. Melt in the oven at about 350 until you can't stand it any more. Then put it on broil for 30 seconds. Try to eat without making orgasmic sounds. Just look at the Darling Husband and Perfect Dog patiently (!) waiting for it to come out of the oven.

If you've never thought of using a washed rind cheese for grilled cheese, please reconsider. Remember - they usually smell scarier than they taste, and the flavor is just incredible, especially with the garlic background. It's so rich, but with enough tang to cut through and deliver a nutty creamy-ness. Plus, on top of a crunchy baguette...nothing better. That's it. Bread, butter, garlic, cheese.

I know what I'll be dreaming of tonight!