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.