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!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

L'Ami du Chambertin - Better Eaten on the Sly?

*Life at the Cheesedreaming house has been a little hectic, and we had a delightful half round of L'Ami du Chambertin, a rare washed rind stinker from France waiting in the fridge for a thoughtful tasting. Granted, it was starting to stink up the fridge, but at no point did I tell Darling Husband that he could take this untouched nugget in to eat at the office! Today, I get a text telling me that he had taken in the cheese! Grrr. But, rather than get mad that I didn't have a chance to really enjoy this beautiful cheese, washed in brandy, ripening from the outside in, and hailing from Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy, his punishment was to write up the story of his snack, eaten on old bread and saltines. Here is his story.

"L'Ami du Chambertin is a cheese of a feather, meaning it is soft with an orange, wrinkled rind (don’t be afraid). It is said to be the stronger brother to the famed Epoisses de Bourgogne of France. Despite it’s royal heritage it’s not to be feared by any real lover of fromage. Sure, it’s strong. Stinky too, and creamy like butter wishes it could be. This stuff is so velvety, it’s a must spread. The ‘friend of Chambertin’ is a friend to all who love richness and creaminess. Do not miss this one!

The way I came across it may have been a little nefarious, and it was not eaten in the best of circumstances, but it was worth it! If you like soft, spreadable cheeses, prepare yourself for a flavor that will go from a textural experience, to a taste, to a smell all through your mouth. The pleasing flavor goes through the roof of your palette into your nostrils. More than barnyard-y. More than dairy. A bit eggy? The taste comes through on your nose, more than on your tongue. Its strength is in its richness, and that’s where the real delight is. Smooth on the tongue no matter what it rests on, a cracker or a piece of dry bread. Yes, it’s that creamy!

I came across this sovereign because I dared to take my wife, auteur of this blog, a bit too seriously. She’d worried out loud that about how long we’d let it sit, and mused that it might possibly be out-living it’s welcome in our fridge. Seeing this as an opportunity, I heisted it one morning as I ducked out to work. I admit that eating with such royalty, at your desk at work, would get you shunned in any European court. But, this concoction aux cow is so delicious that it deserves the respect of a plate, good bread, and a wine with a body to it. I had it with old bread and apple slices, greedily! I got in trouble for it too! Taste this precious Frenchie and you’ll understand!"

(Please feel free to suggest further forms of punishment for the gluttonous behavior exhibited here by Darling Husband. Somehow, eating 4 oz of amazing French cheese alone requires slightly more punishment than getting to write about it...don't worry - he's not sleeping on the couch!)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fall in love with Cheddar!

With the weather getting cooler, and the days getting shorter, I start to crave the flavors of Fall. I don't know what those flavors are for you, but for me, these flavors include butternut squash, brussel sprouts, apples and Cheddar! And not those grocery store blocks of orange, though they certainly have their place. These days, thanks to globalization and Andrew's Cheese Shop, I can aim higher - for more complex flavor, more crumbly goodness, less salty rubber.

Tonight, we feasted on Avonlea cheddar from Prince Edward Island. If the name of this cheese sounds vaguely familiar to you, and at some point in your early years, you longed to be Anne of Green Gables for just a day, there is a reason! This cheese is named in honor of the fictional village of Avonlea where Anne lived. Awww!

This is a prize winning cheese. And I can tell you why. After emerging from 12 months of aging, just the tiniest crumble of this cheese just explodes with sweet, sunshiny flavor in your mouth. And then you smile. Because even if you never had this cheese as a kid, it feels like coming home. My darling husband eloquently stated that it "tastes like a lullaby - after you take a bite, you just want to snuggle in for a nap." The recipe for this cheese comes from the Orkney Islands of Scotland, but it seems to be working its own magic with the Holstein cows of PEI.

We gobbled up our feast with some tasty Golden Delicious apples. If I had more of this tasty stuff, I think I might try grating it up and creating one amazing mac and cheese. I also, for the first time in my life, understood why people sometimes put cheddar cheese on apple pie. Sadly, it is almost gone (and will surely be gone before I get home from work tomorrow!), so I will have to go get some more in order to experiment appropriately.

Hooray for changing seasons and Avonlea Cheddar! Sweet dreams everyone.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cheese for a Wednesday, pt. 7 Gross Edition!

I was at work too late tonight to make it to Andrew's Cheese Shop before they closed, so I am without an official Cheese for a Wednesday Night. But don't despair! I learned about one of the weirdest and perhaps grossest cheeses ever the other day, and just have to share with you. You have been warned!

Andrew Zimmern's show on The Travel Channel, Bizzare Food, is just that. But on Monday, he introduced me to a "delicacy" that I'm just not sure I can get behind. In Nicaragua, there is a cheese born of necessity. Apparently, there is an insect that loooves to lay its eggs in milk. If the olden days, when insects laid eggs in all the milk, they would still need to use the milk - they'd just work around them. This went for the cheese too. I'm not quite sure how it works, but somehow, the eggs stay in the cheese and when the soft cheese gets served on a beautiful fruit plate with mangoes and star fruit, it is wriggling with maggots! O.M.G. Just a little too much. Ok, a lot too much. Apparently, the maggots in this "juicy worm cheese" give the cheese a certain pungent sweetness. Its a local specialty. Urf. I think I'll stick with other regional favorites if I ever get there. If you're braver than me, let me know how it is!

So, I thought it was just a really local, bizarre food thing. But no! When you Google "maggot cheese" Wikipedia (I know, I know...) pops up with Casu Marzu, a cheese from Sardinia that is fermented by little worms introduced later in the cheese making process to break down the fats in the cheese, making it incredibly soft. When it's ready to eat, it will have thousands of living, wriggling worms in it! In fact, if the worms have vacated, the cheese is considered too rancid to eat. Again, urf. I think I prefer my cheese with a little bit more built in inertia!

Somehow, the cheese mites in Mimolette seem positively tame! At least the bugs are gone before you eat it, and they don't make it past the rind!

Sweet dreams - if you can! Mwa ha ha ha!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Faux Cheese? I think not!

I spotted this little charmer sitting quietly on the shelf at the Cheese Store of Silverlake on Sunday afternoon, a little overshadowed by all the other bloomy rinded cheeses, but just waiting for me to find it. What intrigued me was the fact that the description pointed out the interesting edge rind. While you can see the traditional white bloom on the top, the edge is supported by a thin strip of spruce wood! You can sort of see this in the photo, but I just couldn't get a good angle. Sorry.

Anyway, this support comes in handy to keep this cheese from gooping all over the place, which is kind of cool. This cheese is (gently) pasteurized cheese, which means that it can be imported to the US when it is less than 60 days old/aged. Raw milk cheeses have to wait more than 60 days to enter the US. A similar French cheese, Vacherin, can't seem to get a visa because of it's raw, under age status. Some people call l'Edel de Claron "faux Vacherin." Now, I haven't had Vacherin, but I haven't been to France since I found out about it. I can't imagine that L'Edel de Claron is "faux" anything. It is fantastic! An easy, delicate, creamy cheese with an almost buttercup yellow paste. How pretty!

It doesn't small like pine, which I was kind of expecting because of the strip of spruce around the edge. It might have a bit of tangy, woodsy edge to it, but I might be imagining that because of the the packaging. It definitely smells a bit like green fields, lemons or lemon curd, and perhaps a bit of pepper. Because the flavors are more subtle, it really kept me guessing. It's good with and without the rind. I think I actually liked it better with the rind in this case! I kept pressing it up on the roof of my mouth to try and pull the flavor out. I've got to have some more tomorrow night! It is a confident cheese, but definitely not a show off.

If you are thinking about taking a Brie to a party, but want something that actually has some flavor, give this a try. And don't think you're cheating because it isn't Vacherin. You're eating l'Edel de Claron!

Sweet dreams of trips to France to prove to yourself that your pine wrapped cheese is just as delicious as some underaged curd!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Cheeses can be Delinquent Too!

The cooler weather has had me craving washed rind cheeses. Somehow, a little stinky cheese makes me feel all warm and cozy inside. How about you? No? Oh well.

Anyway, I was exploring the delightful Cheese Shop of Silverlake on Sunday, and found this little gem that I had previously seen on a list of washed rind cheese and had a little giggle. This is Hooligan, the prize winning washed rind from Cato Corner Farm in Connecticut. It's pretty wonderful, and if you can get past the initial rank, dirty barnyard smell (appetizing, I know), you are in for a real treat. Not only is it super stinky, but the rind is a cross between an old suede jacket and a moldy peach. But in spite of that, you can tell that this cheese was loved.

This raw cow's milk cheese is aged for 60 days, washed in a brine that includes buttermilk. And really, if you keep smelling it, it will stop smelling like a dung heap, and start smelling more like a grassy green, well worn pasture. I know that doesn't sound so great either, but you should try it. It's pretty incredible.

Anyway, this bad boy is really complicated. After the less than favorable first impression, the paste is incredibly creamy and smooth. Not surprisingly, my first taste was sans rind. It tasted almost tangy. Nothing like how it smelled. With the support of my always brave cheese taster husband, my next sample with with a little bit of rind. So much more depth! Tangy, rich, earthy...and when I squished it up against the roof of your mouth, I could taste some real herby-ness. Really delicious.

This Hooligan isn't for everyday. It isn't something that you will probably want to eat copious amounts of all at once. It isn't for gobbling. It is for savoring. Tasting all of the complex flavors, trying out on your palate, and probably amazing in grilled cheese with a bit of parsley and a rich beer.

Trust me - this is a dream cheese!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Uses for Grocery Store Cheese - Chevre

Goat cheese in the plastic tube at the grocery store is a great ingredient! I don't think it is necessarily a great addition to a cheese plate - it's a little goopy. In addition, I have read in more than one place that the curd for several major brands of plastic tube goat cheese is actually frozen at some point int he process. Eek! But, it adds a definite tangy creaminess to dishes, and that is not a bad thing however you get there.

The other night, I was late at the office, and didn't make it to Andrew's before they closed. *sad face* I was determined to have a cheesy dinner and was trolling the internet for healthy, cheesy recipes, when I happened across Sweet Potato & Red Pepper Pasta on The secret ingredient is a short tube of grocery store "chevre." To amp up the volume, I picked up the herbed "chevre." That's just my way of getting creative in a pinch...anyway...ready?

While boiling up some pasta, saute some garlic, sliced red pepper and one raw, peeled, shredded sweet potato. When the pasta is cooked, drain and add to the saute. Toss around with some tongs and add the goat cheese - crumbled up is good - it allows it to be incorporated more easily. Add a few tablespoons of chopped tarragon (or rosemary, or basil, or whatever you like) and a few tablespoons of chopped parsley. It its a little thick, just add a little of the pasta water to thin it out. Throw in some salt and pepper and Bob's your uncle! Dinner in 20+ minutes with a minimum of mess or fuss. You could definitely add a chicken breast or some spinach if you are looking to add even more veggies.

The tangy creaminess of the goat cheese combined with the soft sweetness of the sweet potato and pepper is pretty amazing. It's like you've made a cream sauce without all the fuss. The tube of cheese is perfect here. Plus, I would probably feel guilty using a Selles-sur-Cher, or some other exquisite artisinal goat cheese in this recipe. That little gem really belongs on a baguette with some Savignon Blanc. But, in this case, I think that the ingredients together elevate the lowly plastic tube of goat cheese to something so much greater than itself.

So, please, as you learn more about the wonderful world of cheese, don't totally shun your grocery store cheese counter. There are some tasty morsels there, just make sure to use them well, and accept them for what they are.

Cheese dreams all! Even in the grocery store!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Black Diamond Cheese - Gubbeen

This one's a bit of a challenge. The one on the left. Full of contradictions, slight of hand and international flair. What I call a Black Diamond Cheese. No bunny slope here, friends! But the rewards are many.

When we walked into Andrew's Cheese Shop yesterday afternoon, I was in the mood for something stinky! A strong, washed rind cheese to finish off the day and to celebrate fall. I spotted the Gubbeen and said "Yes! I want that!" The rind was a beautiful peach color, pressed with a quilted pattern that made it look soft and accessible. Then, I read the description. Crazy! The cheesemaker, Giana Ferguson, a Hungarian-Spanish woman, learned to make French cheese in the Alps, meets and Irishman, moves to County Cork, and creates washed rind cheese with a bit of a Spanish flair. Gotta have it. We got a sample, and it was perfect. The "nose" was a bit barnyard-y, but a clean barnyard. The bite was a little firmer than I was expecting (maybe the Spanish influence?), and I was told that it would never really get runny, which was ok with me. It wouldn't run out of the bag on the way home!

Once home, and through it's photo shoot, it was time to get down to business. The clean barnyard smell was augmented by a sort of smoky nuttiness-like burnt nutshells, and a comfortable earthiness - like Grandma's root cellar would have smelled like if she had had one. Deep inside, though, you could still smell the green hills of County Cork where the undoubtedly happy cows munch away.

I tried to eat the rind, but in my opinion, this rind is just there to protect the cheese during the ripening process and not for eating. The clean barnyard smell and taste of the paste is intensified to a pretty crazy place in this grainy rind. Go for it if you want, but it took several swallows of delicious Syrah and two pieces of baguette to get the flavor out of my mouth.

The rest of the cheese, though was really incredible. Complex and smoky, with just the right amount of earthiness and cow pasture, with a hint of wildflower field surrounding a charming crumbling cottage on a misty morning. I didn't even bother with the bread, and just savored each tasty morsel all by itself.

Give it a try when you're feeling up to a bit of a challenge, and looking for a special gem.

Sweet dreams - perhaps a happy Irish cow munching on clover, sipping on a soft red wine?