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!