Saturday, June 5, 2010

Seal Cove Farm Cheve - bringing the family together.

The past few days have felt like a week and a half, they have been so full of family events.  I met my brother at the Portland, Maine airport in the middle of the night, and we drove up to Belfast to celebrate the life and remember the love my grandmother had for all of us and we for her at a lovely memorial service.  It was the first time the whole family has been together in longer than any of us could figure out, so it served as a family reunion as well.  

My brother and I rented a cottage at the same complex where we stayed as kids, skipping rocks down by the shore and chasing lightening bugs.  A little sentimentality is appropriate at times like this.  Unlike when we were kids, however, we were able to stop at the grocery store to pick up a six pack of beer, a bottle of decent Pinot Grigot and, of course, some cheese and crackers!  As you know, I'm always a little leery of grocery store cheese, but with a little snooping, I found something fun.  Seal Cove Farm herbed chevre from Lamoine, Maine.  Local and tasty!  Good thing too, because our cottage turned into the afterparty spot after dinner on Thursday night for the cousins and a few aunts and uncles.  Serious props to my brother for getting the fire going in the stove.  You warded off the chill and made things just a little more cozy.

It was a little tough to open the package with the giant ginsu knife that we found in the drawer at the cabin, but once it was open, almost everyone was nibbling.  This cheese, from  Seal Cove Farm near Bar Harbor, which comes from the 125 goats that happily grazing on the rocky coast was perfect for the party.  It is flavored with herbes de provence, and while it tastes like there is garlic in the mix, there isn't.  The little bit of tang from the goat's milk combined with the herbs just bring out this great blend of flavors.  It's not a really complicated cheese, but since most of the relatives aren't really aware of my serious obsession with the curd, it's probably better that I didn't have a cheese soapbox to lecture from during the party. What a drag that would have been.  Instead, we just had some laughs, and shared some great stories, and got to know each other again with a little cheese and wine to lubricate the love.  

By the time everyone left and my brother and I were alone with our jet lag and a serious game of Crazy Eights, almost all the cheese was gone.  We took care of that pretty well.  

The next day we gathered at the hillside cemetery to say goodbye to Gram, with the sun shining down and the wildflowers blooming across the way.  It was a beautiful service, and we all came together with love for her and for each other.  I think she would have approved.  

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt. 31 Camillia, a Farmer's Market Find

As the weather changes and the sun stays out longer, my tastes spin toward Sauvignon Blanc, Stainless Steel Charddonay and goat cheese. It's kind of a cliche, but it's how my palate and brain work.  Crisp, clean flavors help keep summer from getting too funky (though some might argue that goat cheese is funky enough...).  Another thing I love about summer is the Farmer's Market.  Around here, it's open all year round, but there is something much more festive about buying apricots and fava beans than rutabega and turnips.

So, the last time I went to the Farmer's Market with my re-usable bag and steel toed boots to protect myself from the profusion of strollers, I stopped by the Redwood Hill Farm stall and picked up a hockey puck sized Camembert style goat cheese named Camellia.  The dairy is up in Sebastopol (far from Los Angeles), but I got a chance to talk with a few people who had just been up at the farm to see the new kids.  I really got a sense that they really care for their herd, who all have names.

Camellia is one of their favorite goats, and the cheese certainly looks like a Camembert (other than the goat on the label).  The bloomy rind has the appropriate ammonia-lite scent, and there is a milky-ness to the nose of the paste.  What's different is the bone white color of the paste - normal for goat cheese but weird if you are expecting the butter yellow paste of a traditional Camembert.  The flavor has a wee bit of goat-y funk, but really it just tastes sweet and creamy with just a touch of salty.  Pretty fantastic!  We tasted ours when the cheese was still young, but it still had a nice richness to it, though it didn't ever get really gooey even when we let it set at room temp for over an hour, but it did get nicely soft. This cheese has won several gold medals at competitions, so other people think it's good too!

I saw this for sale up in Santa Barbara wine country at the local market, and I'll be enjoying it again the next time I head to the Farmer's Market during my continued celebration of longer days and warmer nights!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Science Project Update!

Science Monday has become Science Tuesday this week due to a last-ish minute trip to the beautiful Santa Barbara wine country.  If you'll remember, last Monday, I began a quest to reproduce the bacteria found in the fabulous Vendeen Bichonne.  I swiped a precious piece of this cheese across a petri dish and waited.  And waited, and waited.  And then...attack of the killer mold!!!  I must say I was impressed with the miniature world I had created.  I had the Professor look at my civilization, and he helped me realize that I've actually created two separate worlds - one of bacteria and one of mold.  The big blue-ish and white fuzzy circles are the mold and the smaller dots are bacteria.  The Professor recommended that while mold is an important part of the cheesemaking process, it might be a little more volatile than I am scientifically prepared to manage.  He did suggest that I try and grow the bacteria a little more, by transferring it to a clean petri dish with a (scrupulously clean - ha!) toothpick and waiting (again!) to get a little more bacterial growth.

Hopefully, in another week, my bacteria universe will be teaming with life!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt. 30 Carre de Pitou

I love goat cheese.  Not only is their cheese delicious, smooth, tangy and complex, goats are just darn cute!  And if I can find a goat cheese that also falls into the category of "spreadable" as defined by Darling Husband as something gooey that won't break your cracker when you try to spread it, I buy a lot of it.  A few weeks ago, my friend Andrew - cheese monger extraordinare - gave me a taste of Carre de Poitou a soft, spreadable Loire Valley goat cheese that some might consider part of the second coming.  I try to have a little restraint when tasting cheeses at Andrew's, but in this case, I found myself licking the paste right off the paper so as to get every last little bit!  This rare square (carre is French for square) is the perfect cheese to get any party started.  It is both sweet and tangy, and it's bloomy rind makes it a great brie substitute for anyone with cow's milk allergies.  But don't tell your guests that it's a brie.  This cheese doesn't have the unctuous creaminess of brie nor the ivory paste.  This is a bright white goat's milk cheese with a soft, edible rind and an almost milky interior.  See how it's starting to run after 10 minutes?  Andrew actually sent it home with an ice pack.  That's how sensitive this lovely is.  

I'd love to have a picture of it at full "run," but DH had gobbled most of it before it was fully ready even though I told him he would be able to taste even more of the fresh grassy flavor if he waited.  There were (miraculously) a few leftovers, which he enjoyed as part of a very upscale grilled cheese a few days later.  Look how sad the dog is that he won't be getting any of that cheesy goodness literally sliding off the bread in it's melty quest for greatness.  I didn't get any of these cheesy canapes either, though DH was kind enough to let me take a photo before he snuck out to the "man cave" to inhale his snack while muttering like Golem about his precious cheese.  

If you are lucky enough to find this cheese at your local shop, buy enough to share and enjoy with a nice crisp bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and good friends.  

Monday, May 24, 2010

Science Monday and Vendeen Bichoone

A while ago, the great state of Wisconsin voted to name Lactococcus Lactis that official state microbe in honor of all that it does in the production of cheese (according to the New York Times, Wisconsin leads the nation in cheese production).  How great is that?  A little weird, but pretty cool.

This got me thinking - there must be microscopic differences in the microbes that help various cheeses around the world make the transition from milk to fromage.  Cheeses are all so unique - based on the type of milk used, what the animal was eating before being milked,  what processes were used in making the cheese, what molds are introduces, how and where the cheese is aged.  What if I could do my own research to discover the molds and microbes in my favorite cheeses?  Ultimately, could I re-create famous cheeses in my kitchen?  (Well, no, probably not, but still...maybe we could create something new from something old - a hybrid as it were)  All I was lacking was a little equipment and know-how.

And then, I started talking with my friend the Professor, who has a PhD in biochemistry and a lab at CalTech.  He didn't see how it could be that difficult, and encouraged me to start my little science experiment.  So, last Friday, I visited his lab and returned home energized and with a bag full of petri dishes prepared with agar substrate to encourage bacterial growth.  All I needed was the right test subject.  Mwa ha ha ha!

I found it in an amazing Loire Valley cow's milk cheese - Vendeen Bichonne.  This semi-soft cheese ( it will totally gum up your grater - so just eat giant hunks of it) is aged in an abandoned tunnel, which explains the mealy grey rind and industrial basement smell coming off of it.  Don't let the outside fool you though.  The paste inside is sweet, rich and creamy with just a hint of the green pastures where the cows graze.  There is also an earthiness present in the cheese, but it doesn't taste anything like the rind smells.  Maybe a little bit of slate - if you were to lick a wet slate paving stone it might taste a little like this, but only if the paving stone was covered in rich, creamy, sweet cheese.  I can't say enough about how much I love this cheese.  I want to melt it onto a nice piece of home made wheat bread and enjoy it with a glass of a Spanish Tempranillo.  Bliss.

Anyway, in my attempt to harness to magic of this cheese, it became the first subject in my science experiment.  As you can see, under completely sterile conditions, a small slice of cheese was rubbed onto the plate, which was then labeled and placed in a temperate, dry location in the kitchen (on top of the tortillas and next to the coffee maker).  I can't wait to see what grows!  Hopefully, there should be some results soon.  The Professor has said that he might be able to help me take up close and personal pictures of my biological blooms.  Looking forward to having something fun to share with you!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Milk in the Raw - Miracle Cure and Tasty Treat or Bio-Hazard?

The raw milk controversy has been raging on the internet for a while now and the politicians are involved, so I'm sure there won't be a definitive answer for a while.  Each state has its own regulations surrounding raw milk.  Massachusetts allows people to buy raw milk only from the diary farm directly.  Wisconsin just yesterday vetoed a bill that would permit similar farmer to consumer sales.  In California, you can get raw milk in health food stores but it has to have a warning label.  Alaska has banned raw milk for human consumption - unless you are getting it from your very own cow.  You can see a list of state regulations here.

Why all the controversy?  Certainly the locovore movement has had a lot to do with it, along with people wanting fewer preservatives, pesticides, etc. in their food.  Small dairies are hoping for more leniency in order to improve their market share and promote their high quality products, while "big dairy" wants to keep the raw milk trend in check for more than medical reasons, and the government wants to keep people alive.  Raw milk - milk that hasn't been through the pasturization process - is full of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and pro-biotics that are believed by many to help "cure" people with medical problems from asthma to acne.  When milk is pasturized, or heated to 161 degrees F for at least 15 seconds, any bad microorganisims and bacteria present in the milk are killed, along with many of the healthy probiotics and enzymes.  In large scale milk production, milk from many farms is dumped together into vats, and it is always possible that nasties like sallmonella or listeria can get into the milk when a worker forgets to wash his hands, or something dirty falls into the vat, and it would be passed along to consumers if it wasn't pasteurized.  Salmonella has been in the press a lot lately thanks to spinach, etc., and pregnant women in particular need to be aware of listeria which has been known to cause stillbirth.  All of the bacteria affiliated with raw milk cause severe intestinal distress, some can cause paralysis, and they can all be particularly dangerous to kids, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.  It can be really bad.  Luckily (and a main part of the raw milk argument),  this isn't the case with small dairies where farmers name their cows, let them eat delicious, nutritious grass and flowers and a  whole lot of love goes into each milking.

Many of the world's great cheeses are made with raw milk.  Some say that cheese made with pasteurized milk lacks essential flavor, or oomph.  If you taste a grocery store cheddar and compare it with a Isle of Mull cheddar, for example, you will probably agree.  The grocery store stuff starts tasting a little bit like orange rubber.  Yum.  In fact, if you visit the Isle of Mull Cheese website, you will find the following quote: "We believe pasteurisation to be unnecessarily brutal way of treating milk to be used in making Isle of Mull Cheese.  Far too many of those organisms, which have the potential to create individualism and maturity of flavour are indiscriminately sacrificed in the process."

All raw milk cheeses imported to the US are all over 60 days old, which gives the any listeria (not likely) present the opportunity to die.  It is an anarobic bacteria, and thus can't survive beyond 45-ish days outside the milk pail.  In addition, raw milk cheeses (both in the US and abroad) are almost always made by small producers who name and love their small dairy herds and keep scrupulously clean facilities and detailed records, so chances of bacteria in the milk are limited.  Take, for example, the beautiful Avonlea Cheddar below - raw milk, aged and delicious.  If you are still worried, cheese makers and dairy farmers have been making great strides in a lower heat, longer cooking time pasteurization technique that retains more flavor in much safer milk.

The argument is that if you want to buy and drink raw milk for its medicinal properties, and are smart enough to buy it from a reputable, clean-as-a-whistle dairy that produces on a small scale, you should be able to do what you want, so long as you don't sue if you knowingly choose raw milk and something bad  happens.  I'm not sure where I fall in this debate.  Kind of like a Oiji board, I don't really believe the drama, but I don't know if I really want to mess with it either.  I do know that I am not one to turn down a cheese regardless of it's pasteurized status.  At the end, it's all about personal choice (and your state's desire to protect your gullet).

So there's your cheese politics for the day.  I'd love to see (polite) thoughts and dialogue to follow!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt. 29 Washington State's Seastack

My birthday was a while back.  As crazy as life was that month, I still needed to celebrate, and I wanted cheese!  Getting to Andrew's for my weekly fix had been elusive and what better excuse than a birthday!  I was going to need to share my cheese "cake" with others that afternoon, so I thought it might be a little dangerous to bring out the stinky blue cheeses or some muenster.  One needs to gently help people toward a love of the more "black diamond" cheeses.

I didn't have to think about it very long before realizing that Mt. Townshend Creamery's Seastack was the perfect cheese "cake" to share.  With a circumference a bit bigger than a hockey puck and about twice as thick (if my early memories of what the shape of a hockey puck is are correct), Seastack is the perfect size to share (or horde to yourself...).

Because of it's rind, it looks a lot like brie, which makes it accessible to those without a lot of cheese experience, but the similarity ends with the visual.  This edible rind is a result of rolling the cheese in vegetable ash and salt before the aging process as opposed to the bloomy bacterial rind on brie.  The folks at Mt. Townshend say the rind bears a "subtle resemblance to the picturesque islands sprinkled along Washington's northwest coast."  Reason enough to visit, I say.  The paste is rich and creamy, with a hint of sweet pasture and just enough saltiness to encourage you to grab a glass of crisp glass of Pinot Grigio.  Just look at the fantastic goo seeping out of the rind! It spreads beautifully on a cracker, and would probably go well with apples or pears if you had them cut in advance.  Wait until after people have had a taste, and there won't be any left by the time the wedges are ready!

This is my new go-to cheese.  Not only did I have it for my birthday, I've taken it to a baby shower with great success.  Ask for it by name.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Italian Cheese and Wine Pairings - with a nod to the martini!

Last night Darling Husband and I went to our first wine club meeting since December, and as luck would have it, the focus was on Italy.  Fantastico!  There are probably as many delicious Italian cheeses as there are delicious Italian wines.  Since we have both red and white wine drinkers in the club, I wanted to bring a little something for everyone to enjoy that would elevate the wine tasting to another level.  Plus, a cheese board isn't really a cheese board with just one cheese, right?

First up (on the right), was a delicious, mild, 4 week old goat cheese from the Piedmont region of Italy called Tumin Rutulin.  The edible ash rind is from the juniper plant.  The one that makes gin, yes.  But it turns out juniper also imparts it's sweet deliciousness to goat cheese.  The sweetness from the juniper was immediately obvious to me, but maybe because I knew about the juniper ash in advance, my mind was playing palate tricks on me.It can't hurt that the goats helping to make this cheese probably munch on nothing but sweet mountain grasses and flowers.  Perfect on a little slice of bread, and absolutely spread-able while retaining a soft crumble.  It would also be amazing in a salad with some spring greens and some blueberries.  In fact, I'm eating it right now with my fingers!  It also helped mellow out an angry little Pinot Grigio, giving it a nice smoothness.  Man Who Sneers at Goats (Cheese) will sadly never give this one a try, but my slightly cheese-phobic friend really liked this one last night (even before a few glasses of vino)!

On the left, cut into cunning little triangles, was the Pecorino Ginepro.  Pecorino identifies this as an Italian sheep's milk cheese, while Ginepro lets you know that the rind is washed with balsamic vinegar and juniper berries during the aging process.  I wasn't planning on having a juniper theme for the party, but there you go.  I must be craving a martini...  Anyway, the sheep's milk here is nice and rich, with just a touch of oiliness on the lips after, and the juniper and balsamic lend a woodsy, salty, sweetness to the cheese.  Sometimes, I find that rind coatings don't make a  huge difference in the flavor of the cheese, but this combination of acid and fruit really come through here.  This cheese was perfect with the red wine from Calabria that I brought.  The gaglioppo grapes in this wine had just enough tannin without being too overwhelming, and the richness of the cheese gave extra body to an already delicious wine.  I'll be snaking on those cheese leftovers after dinner.

I am thrilled to be turning the last few months of Cheese Dreams into cheese realities!  What have you been tasting?

The Cheese Dreams are Back!

And we're back!  Classes are done, the vile dental work that prevented me from adequately using my palate has healed and (fingers crossed) won't have to be repeated EVER!  I have missed writing about cheese almost as much as I have missed eating it.  But I digress.  Enough about me.  It's all about the cheese here folks.  

Now that I'm able to once again focus on my (non-sentient) true love, expect lots of mouth watering cheese reviews, a little political dialog (as pertains to cheese and dairy products), and if all goes well, some really cool in-depth education about how cheese comes into being.  Sound good?  Good.  I'm excited!  On with the show.  

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt 28 Cheese for an Insane Student

Dear CheeseDreaming Fans,
I miss you!  I miss gorging on cheese and telling you about how fun it was!  I miss talking about artisinal cheeses in depth, using poetic turns of phrase to make you hungry even if you've just had a 12 course meal!  I miss starting conversations about organic and raw milk and cheese production!

But until April 17, I am just swamped!  Swamped I say, with homework, papers, case studies, Excel spread sheets and other things that are sooooo not as much fun as cheese.  After that, I'll have a piece of paper that says that I did a lot of work and learned the difference between a Balance Sheet and an Income Statement and how to calculate Net Present Value.  That said, whilst attempting to finish all of this, I'm still procrastinating on the World Wide Webs, and have been finding lots of wacky fun facts about cheese that aren't necessarily worthy of a full post, but make for a great Facebook update.

So, please join me on Facebook if you are missing me as much as I'm missing you!  Look for me at CheeseDreaming and join the fun!  I promise to be back to long form entertainment as soon as possible

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt 27 Fol Epi and the Return of the Cheese Ghost!

Another long week.  Lots going on at work and at school.  I am in need of a little comfort food!  And I need cheese.  Like, really NEED cheese.  And then I realize that there is a beautiful wedge of Fol Epi in the fridge, waiting patiently for me to make grilled cheese sandwiches!  It's been waiting patiently for over two weeks, which I realize is a bit blasphemous, but it was carefully wrapped by the cheesemonger, so I'm not too worried.  So I go to the grocery store on my way home and pick up some bread from the deli counter, and select the reddest tomato available in early March at the grocery store, and head home to unwrap my Loire Valley cow's milk "swiss" cheese.  Much to my surprise, my wedge of cheese has turned into a, well, a wedge with the end cut off!  (Geometry buffs, please help me out here.)  The Cheese Ghost is back!

Thankfully, the ghost had the forethought that if he ate all the cheese, he might get a severe lecture around dinnertime!  There was plenty of cheese left to grate up to make some pretty yummy grilled cheese.  Thick bottomed skillet on medium high heat, plenty of butter on the bread, a good 1/3 cup of shredded cheese, a few thin slices of tomato, and melt.  I like to shred my cheese for grilled cheese because I think it melts more evenly.  Everyone has their own method.  Deelicious any way you melt it, and perfect with tomato soup, but I don't have to tell you that.

And Fol Epi is a great cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches.  This is a high protein cow's milk cheese is aged for three months, and has a very creamy, rich, nutty flavor.  It tastes a lot like a good Emmenthaler (swiss) cheese, but sweeter and with a little something special that I didn't figure out until I went searching for info on the web.  The rind of this cheese is really grainy, which really threw me as I started grating it.  It turns out that the rind is dusted with toasted wheat flour, adding "that something special" to the flavor of the cheese, and helps it stand out from the crowd. In fact, "Fol Epi" can be translated in French as "wild wheat stalk."    I'm not sure how much extra flavor comes from this coating, but I think it definitely has some effect.

As an aside, I always check out Wikipedia for basic info on all my tasty finds, but I didn't find a single entry for Fol Epi in English, though the Europeans are all over it in French and German!  Hmm.  Anyone up for the challenge?

I sure hope the Cheese Ghost hasn't eaten up all the leftovers before I get home tonight!  Sweet cheese dreams!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt 26 Happy California Sheep!

Oh my has it been a week.  And it won't be getting any better until mid-April.  Apologies in advance for the lack of posts, but I'm almost done with my MBA, and after that's done, I'll be extra cheesy!

In the meantime, it is a Wednesday, and so I owe you a new cheese!  La Panza Gold  is a sheep's milk cheese from Rinconada Dairy north of Los Angeles in San Louis Obispo County.  It is one of the few dairies that I've found in Southern California (the SoCal:NorCal ratio is heavily weighted in favor of Northern California).  They have 200 sheep and a small herd of goats happily munching away on the grasses of the chaperral overlooking the Pacific.  They also have a farm-stay program, where you can go for the weekend, milk goats and work on the farm.  It sounds like a lot of fun to me - I just have to convince the DH to come with me!

So - La Panza Gold is a hard sheep's milk cheese, with some crystalization, kind of like pecorino romano.  The rind of this cheese is washed with sheep milk whey as it ages, which gives is a really beautiful golden color.  The cheese is shaped in a basket mold, which gives it a really cool look.

You could easily serve this nutty, earthy, sweet cheese by just breaking it up into free-form chunks, and serving it on a cheese plate with some grapes to help bring out the sweetness in the cheese.  It also lends itself very easily to the same kinds of uses a pecorino romano or pamigiano-reggiano - grating onto pasta or what ever you grate hard salty/sweet cheese on.  The other night, I had made some mushroom barley soup that turned into a kind of pilaf when all the moisture was absorbed.  It still tasted great, so I steamed up some brussels sprouts (I just love how cute they are!), and used the carrot peeler to shave curls of this beautiful cheese on top, which really added to the dish.  See the little holes in the peels?

Sweet cheese dreams friends!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cheesy Oscar Party Ideas!

OK Cheesedreamers, I just got back from Andrew's Cheese Shop (thanks Andrew for appreciating my humor!), and am all set for the Oscars.  Pictures to follow, but I wanted to take a moment to inspire you to cook with humor and creativity for the Oscars.  If not now, when?  Oscars are about creative artists and talented technicians coming together to make something that is so much more than than the sum of its individual parts.

So, in honor of a few of the films up for Best Film, might I suggest the following snacks.  I apologize for the fact that I am not yet even remotely versed in real recipe writing, but I'm sure you can muddle through.  Just remember to take your French Bread loaf and slice it into 1/2" pieces, drizzle with a little olive oil and toast in the oven on 350 until a toasty, about 5-10 minutes.  Then, put enough cheese on each slice, and pop back in the oven to melt.

Bruschetta with Blue Cheese, caramelized onion and a fringe of scallion.  Neyteri and Jake Scully they're not, but they are blue, and they do have funny little fringe to connect with the earth (or your taste buds)

Saute sliced onion in about a tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat and stir until soft, golden brown and translucent.  Once the cheese is melted, layer on the caramelized onion and top with a little fringe of green onion.

Inglorious Basterds
Bruschetta with melted muenster (the real stinky stuff!) and garlic with a bit of chopped tomato to represent the aggressive strength of Brad Pitt's team of merry men.

After the bread is toasted the first time, rub each slice with a piece of sliced garlic and then top with the muenster.  Once that's all melted, top with a little fresh tomato

OK, this is a bit of a cheat, but there is a brand of Mozzarella at my grocery store called Precious, so how about a Tomato/Precious Mozzarella/Basil Caprese Salad.  Just slice and layer and drizzle with a little olive oil and dust with cracked pepper.

I'm kind of stumped with the others.  What cheese represents The Blind Side?  District 9?   An Education?  Up in the Air?  Up?  A Serious Man?  Hurt Locker?  I figure 3 out of 10 is pretty good for a small party.  Any one else doing something cheesy for their Oscar party?   Help me out with some more fun ideas!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt 25 The Mysterious Disappearing Cheese

There is a ghost in our house.  A cheese eating ghost.  We're not calling in Ghostbusters (though Fanboy Wife could probably hook us up...).  We're just going to have to get a more realistic about portion control.    See, Darling Husband fell in love with the La Florette cheese at the tasting we went to a while back, and under the influence of lots of Loire Valley wine we ended up with a quarter pound of this goat's milk "brie style" cheese (Easily identified by the cute goat on the label.)

Now, this tasting was kind of belated birthday present for DH, and as such, he decided that he was going to buy some cheese, and not let me eat any of it.  Rude, yes, but you've got to appreciate his passion. I, being a good wife, let him be the boss of this cheese.  Plus, I was at the tasting, so I wasn't completely denied.  DH is a big fan of sandwiches, and as a High School teacher, he enjoys freaking out his students with exotic cheese sandwiches, some with incredible "nose."  I love the fact that he doesn't treat his cheese with kid gloves.  It isn't precious to him.  It's food.  Food that is amazingly tasty, rich, and joy providing, but just food.  So, he made himself a LaFlorette cheese sandwich with some sliced ham.  I'm assuming that he slathered on the cheese pretty thick.  (It has a very soft, spreadable paste.)   He said it was an excellent sandwich, and effectively freaked out his students.  Mission accomplished.  

Unfortunately, two days later, when he went to make another sandwich with the La Florette, he accused me of eating some!  (I hadn't.  Sometimes, a promise is a promise)  His proof?  It was almost all gone!  Had it shrunk?  Impossible!  Had he simply forgotten how much he used on his uber-sandwich?  Ridiculous!  I protested my innocence, blamed it on the dog, and we finally decided that it would just remain a mystery.  So, if you pick up some La Florette, be forewarned!  It has a tendency to disappear.

It is quite a spectacular cheese, so I don't blame it for having a tendency to vanish.  See the sample at twelve o'clock?  With the waterfall of butterfat oozing out of the middle?  That's our cheese!  It's called a brie-style cheese because of it's gently flavored bloomy rind and soft, creamy paste.  It is a goat cheese, so it does have a little more tang - my tasting notes say "barnyard lite."  I would never try this cheese out on Man Who Sneers at Goats (Cheese), but it had a really lovely, delicate, complex grassy flavor that reminded me that spring was coming (eventually).  

We may have to get more La Florette soon.  Not only is a perfect, spreadable cheese for DH's lunchtime sandwiches, but it is great with a nice Chenin Blanc and good conversation too (when it isn't sneaking out of the fridge and disappearing all on its own!)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Cheese Curds in California?

I always thought the only place for cheese curds was Wisconsin.  Probably people in Wisconsin would say that anything calling itself a cheese curd that doesn't hail from Wisconsin is a total imposter.  But that isn't to say that they aren't available elsewhere. In fact, when I braved my local Farmer's Market this morning - dodging triplet strollers and huge stalks of lilies, focusing instead on the rainbow of beautiful fruits and vegetables - I stopped at the Spring Hill Cheese Company stall.  The creamery is in Petaluma (ie - Sonoma County and pretty far from LA!), so I'm not sure if the cheese drove down that morning, or was shipped to a local distributor.  Must check.  I'm assuming it took longer than a few hours for them to get to my Farmers Market.  Next to the quark (a kind of German yoghurt cheese.  I may need to try that next week), I spotted lumpy vacuum bags of cheese curds nestled in some ice.  White, not the traditional orange, but none-the-less, what a find!

I'll mention here that I am from Michigan, but have never been to Wisconsin, and have never eaten world famous Wisconsin cheese curds.  But I've always felt a little deficient because of this.  To understand some of the hype surrounding those bright orange Great Lakes curds, check out this awesome website.  This site comes complete with cheese curd etiquette including  "Never yell out that you have fresh Cheese Curds in a crowded Wisconsin theater."  The site also features info on how curds are made, and curd poetry.  It's a very extensive. 

Cheese curds are simply fresh curds (generally cheddar curds) that haven't been put into a shaped mold and let to sit and become aged cheddar cheese.  They have a characteristic squeak because there is still a lot of air trapped inside them.  There is a great quote from the New York Times that equates the squeaky sound to "balloons trying to neck."  How fun is that! 

The squeak is elusive, however.  Curds must be fresh, fresh, fresh!  That is one of the reasons you can't find them in many places.  They tend to start loosing their squeak within 24 hours, and extreme cold doesn't do them any favors.  They must be eaten at room temperature for full harmonic convergence.    Sadly, even after I got my curds home, broke them up into individual curds and brought them to room temperature, I couldn't detect the slightest bit of squeak.  And they needed salt.  I suppose they were already a little too old to squeak in the traditional way, though they still tasted very milky and fresh.  They might be tastier if I do another Mid-Western thing - dip them in beer batter and deep fry them!  What's not to love there!  If the DH doesn't consume all of them the minute he gets home tonight, I will give that a try and post the results.  

Any cheese curd lovers out there?  Apparently, you never forget your first one.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt 24 Breakfast Cheese!

It's been quite a week.  As nice as my dentist and periodontist are, I'm still terrified of the dentist's chair.    Lucky for you, this blog is about cheese and not about excruciating dental work that includes extractions and implants.  Sadly, however, my tender gums haven't been up for anything other than soup and soft, soft, soft food that can be easily chewed on one side of the mouth only.  I haven't really been eating cheese since last Tuesday's Loire Valley cheese orgy.  That has probably been more torturous than the healing process!

Anyway, I finally got bored enough to dive back in to the wonderful world of cheese, and decided to start with breakfast.  Why not?  It's the most important meal of the day!

That adorable little white hockey puck (above) is actually an incredibly soft, delicious French goat cheese from the Midi Pyrennes called Cabecou.  I know that Man Who Sneers at Goats (Cheese) won't like it no matter what I say, but this little cheese is so mild, sweet and spreadable that I knew it would be perfect for a woman sporting a bit more exposed gum than usual.  The goats who help make this cheese nibble on hawthorne, mulberry and juniper leaves, making delicious, complex milk and a cheese perfect on english muffin with a little honey and an espresso.  The flavor is subtle, and there isn't any of the "tang" that MWSAG(C) hates so much in goat cheese.

I tend to only think about cheese after dark, or in an elaborate omlette at Sunday brunch.  The closest to a simple cheese breakfast I usually get is a tub of cream cheese and a bagel.  If I could afford to have a refrigerator full of Cabecou, every morning would be as delightful as this one was!

How/when do you eat cheese for breakfast?  Let's start a revolution!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt 23 Celebrate Goat Cheese!

With all due respect to my dear friend, Man Who Sneers at Goats (Cheese), I just had a fabulous evening with my Darling Husband (who does not sneer at goat cheese) tasting many different goat cheeses from the Loire Valley at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills.  Just look at that bounty!  In the coming week or so, I'll be highlighting a few, thanks to the 10% discount you get for shopping for cheese after the equivalent of three-four glasses of wine. (Never underestimate the power of the drunken shopping spree at the cheese store!)

While MWSAG(C) may sneer at goat cheese, it is remarkable how many different flavors can come from lowly goat milk.  I also love the many shapes goat cheese comes in.  In front here (and obviously a goat cheese b/c of the cute goat on the label) is the grassy, and only slightly barnyardy La Florette, which is a perfect goat equavalent of Brie.  The big log is Bucheron, which has a dry, delicately sour flavor that would go wonderfully in a pasta with sauteed rapini or other "bitter green" and some sun dried tomato.  The four leaf clover is the Chevre Feuille, a true goat cheese with a tangy, almost ammonia scent that is made much more palatable by a slightly acidic Cabernet Franc.  The cute little nugget is a "La Bonde d'Antan" from the Poitou region (as are the others I've pointed out).  This one is quited well aged, hard and flakey.  you could probably paint it black and use it as a hockey puck for a few minutes!  I would much rather enjoy it with a little apple/vanilla jam.

Goat cheese is just so versatile.  It can be sweet, it can be tangy.  It can be mild and accessible, but it can also be complex and difficult to appreciate without careful pairing.  It is also great to serve to your friends who can't process cow's milk.  There are so many varieties out there - both from the Loire Valley and much closer to home.  Last week's Wabash Cannonball comes to mind!

Do you have a favorite goat cheese?  Let me know!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Alternative Valentine's Day Cheese - go stinky!

Ah yes, Valentine's Day.  A day of panic for men everywhere.  A day of hopeless expectations for everyone, in a relationship or not!  Might I recommend cheese as an alternative to chocolates (or perhaps as a first course to chocolates)?

I was going to introduce you to an herb crusted Corsican cheese called Brin d'Amour.  I mean - it's the obvious choice, right?  French love cheese.  But really, isn't that a bit tooo obvious?  Maybe I'll save that one for a time of year that needs a little extra love.  Instead, I'd like to suggest that in the same way that two lovers can share a plate of garlic pasta and share the bad breath, they can share some incredibly rich and pungent blue cheese with the appropriate accessories for an alternative, and creative cheese course.  Darling Husband and I tested this out tonight with a powerful Spanish Cabrales.

Look at the incredible blue marbling!  The amount of penicillium mold in this paste makes it very tangy and sharp, but with a dark sweetness hiding underneath.  This is a very rich cheese, and a bit challenging on its own.  When I did the initial nibble, I was almost overpowered, as was DH.  The goal for tonight was to remember to do pairings and not just gobble the cheese off the board, and so when a bit of honey was drizzled on the cheese which was softly spread on the bread everything just popped!  The underlying sweetness of the cheese came back to the surface, and was so much more accessible to the palate.  Dried apricots and a little port rounded out this perfect little dessert.

Enjoy your weekend with those you love.  Share a laugh, create a memory, and if you do it with cheese, all's the better!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt 22.5 Johnny Cash edition

As promised - video!!!  I believe that even people who don't like country music can't help but start tapping their feet when they hear Johnny Cash and the Carter sisters.  Feel free to disagree.  Did you know that the Carter Family were the first to sing Wabash Cannonball back in 1929?  Did you know that Capriole Dairy's Wabash Cannonball goat cheese was one of the first prize winning American cheeses back in 1995 - practically the dark ages in American cheese years?

Anyway, I've been waiting to share the Wabash Cannonball with you ever since New Year's eve when this was the "sympathy cheese" for my lactose intolerant friend who couldn't partake of the orgy of Emmenthaler, but whose delicate system is fine with goat cheese.  I was immediately chagrined by the fact I had promised to let him eat the whole thing and took back my promise - helping myself to two crackers worth for myself.

This little cheese is a perfect single serving cheese.  I would absolutely serve one per person (or perhaps one per couple) at an elegant dinner party.  At approximately 3 ounces, it's a little bigger than a golf ball.  If you are familiar with antique firearms, you might also see the similarity to a Civil War era small cannon ball due to its coating of vegetable ash.  But far from being a sad reminder of the War Between the States, this Wabash Cannonball is rich, tangy and crumbly, with just a hint of lemon.  The cheese makers at Capriole Dairy in Southern Indiana suggest it for dessert, served with figs or a simple syrup infused with lavender and vanilla bean.  It sounds like an elegant juxtaposition of tangy and sweet - a complex explosion of flavor.  I think a nice espresso or mint tea might really complete a final course.  Unfortunately, I read that suggestion well after having scarfed it down dry with crackers.  I always seem to forget the accompaniments.  Next time!

The legend behind Capriole Dairy is wonderful as well.  In an attempt to get back to the land and live a more sustainable life, the cheesemakers ended up buying property in S. Indiana that had belonged to the husband's great great grandfather many years before.  They built their home on the same spot where the original log cabin had been.  A really lovely story, I think.  A fine pairing for a lovely cheese.

Sweet cheese dreams all!  (and for those sticklers out there - please note that I'm posting at 11:06 PST on Wednesday, so I still haven't officially missed a Wednesday cheese!  Wish me luck on Friday for another exciting dentist encounter....

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt 22 It might be a Thursday cheese

For the first time since Wednesday cheese began, I've run into massive time constraints and might not be sharing my Wednesday cheese till Thursday.  So sorry!  Between the Darling Husband's birthday, fun with accountants (not!), and a broken tooth requiring me to go to the dentist for the first time in 7 years (I know, I know.  Sorry Mom!), I just don't think it's going to happen today.  Nobody is more distraught about this than I am, so rest assured that it is coming, probably tomorrow.  There might even be video! 

Much love and many cheeses!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Bowl Snacking!

Who dat?  Oh yeah baby.  I speak football.  I don't watch a lot of football, but when I do, I get kind of involved.  And, I tend to eat a lot of crap while I watch the game - chips, spinach dip (my favorite!!), nuts, more chips - nothing fancy.  I used to eat chili until the chili-maker retired from the business.  Since I'm now the cheese lady, I figured I could make this Super Bowl even more exciting with some great cheese.  The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills was actually a Super Bowl sale - 10% off if you said "Who Dat" when ordering cheese.  They were also closing early so they could get home, put their feed up, and root on the Saints while munching on some tasty cheese.  One of the owners is from New Orleans, so you can appreciate their enthusiasm.  I just love having another opportunity to bring cheese to a party and look like a rock star.

So, off I went to the game, cheese board cheese knives and cheeses in tow ready to share the cheese love and possibly to distract people from the game for a few minutes.  I think I succeeded, thanks in no small part to the good people at Andrew's Cheese Shop and Noord Hollander four-year old Gouda (top left with a rich orange color).  This Gouda tastes so sweet, I could chunk it up and put it in a candy bowl.  It has the crunchy texture of Parmesean thanks to the crystalization that happens during aging, and has a distinctive butterscotch flavor.

This Super Bowl is also brought to you by Marisa (top right).  This award winning sheep's milk cheese comes from Wisconsin and has a perfect sweet/salty balance.  The high butterfat content gives it a beautiful creaminess.  It is the perfect snacking cheese.

Finally, this Super Bowl is brought to you by La Serena (bottom left).  This was the "challenging" cheese, but even the 11 year-olds liked it!  This semi-soft sheep's milk cheese from Spain spreads great on a cracker when properly warmed up to room temperature.  It has a sharpness and an earthiness that makes it really interesting - one of those cheeses that make you stop and go "Huh.  What was that?"  I will need to spend more time on this one, as its backstory deserves its own post.  If you can't wait, please check out Angela's Food Love blog here for a great description.  I don't think it was as stinky as she thought, but we agree on the exciting flavor.

I think the only one disappointed by the cheese was my sweet friend Tessa (right).  Look how well she begs!  But none for her!  Sorry Tessa!  After the trophy was presented, all the La Serena was gone, and there was just enough Gouda and Marisa left for some good snacks this week.  Hooray!

No matter which team you rooted for on Sunday (or if you just don't care), I hope you had a happy, cheesy weekend!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Biotech Friday - not for the faint of heart

Recently, I've been fascinated by the idea of self-sufficient farms, perhaps in part because I've come to grips with the fact that it is highly unlikely that I will ever run a farm of my own.  That's not to say that I don't want to hang out with sheep and cows and the people who care for them.  And I'm enough of a tech geek to be fascinated with the juxtaposition between ancient animal husbandry techniques and high tech responses to current  environmental challenges. 

I've been a little obsessed with the idea of "anaerobic digestion" lately and how it can help a farm become self-sufficient.  All the non-scientific writing on the subject is a bit preoccupied with poo.   I have to admit that it is kind of fascinating that the back end of a cow can ultimately provide enough power to service all of a farm's electrical needs.  The problem is, it is a pretty complicated process, and the methane gas that is produced is highly flammable.  Luckily, the good people at Penn State's Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering have a great website to help those of us so interested to learn more about how to turn poo into power.  Using words like biogas, slurry and influent and mesophilic, they explain (and remind us) that the poo doesn't tend to go in solid, but is mixed with water to a maximum of 15% solids.  Eeew!  With a little heat, microbes in the air-tight tank break down the "slurry" or "influent" into biogas (methane and carbon dioxide) and nutrient rich "efflluent" that can ultimately be used in fertilizer. The biogas can then be sent to run generators, and the heat energy can be used to heat the "digester" or the farmhouse.  For a great case study, check out the Hillcrest Dairy Farm.  It is a really well written piece with some great photos to help you understand what's going on.

There are a variety of "digesters," but they are all sealed to keep gases in and have a way to move "slurry" through the system.  None of them can be built or run in a standard suburban backyard.  Of course, most suburban backyards don't have enough cows, sheep, goats or pigs to provide enough "influent" to make it work!

Even if you can't build one yourself, I hope that you can be just a little impressed with the ingenuity of some very modern farmers!  

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt. 21 Appeasement Cheese

I don't know how it works around your house, but if I bring treats (cheese, cupcakes, cookies, etc) into the house with the intent of serving them at a party or taking them to a friend's house, there will be some loss due to the Husband Tax.  Instead of 24 cookies, there will mysteriously be 23.  Instead of 1/4 pound of cheese, there will be 1/5 of a pound (very cleanly cut and put back into the wrapper...).  I don't mind really.  In fact, I've stopped worrying about it all together.  I just bring home a little extra something for us to enjoy together right away (I have impulse control issues too...)

So, last Friday, when I went shopping for cheese to take to meet our friends' new baby, I knew I needed something to take home and eat immediately.  When I explained my dilemma to Andrew, he laughed and called it the "appeasement cheese."  And that's just what it was.  In fact, the Brie from the Ferme de Jouvence in France could appease the most cranky troll.  A hungry husband wasn't even a challenge!

One rule about Brie:  make sure that it has warmed up to room temperature before serving, or you won't be able to taste all the complex flavors inside the bloomy rind.  (Actually, this is true for all cheese.)  The other problem with a cold Brie is that it doesn't have the requisite "gooey-ness" that my husband, and I'm sure legions of others, loves so much about cheese.  I know it's hard to wait (impulse control issues...), but it's really worth it.  In fact, do a little taste test.  Since you won't be able to wait, have a little bit right after you take it from the fridge.  See?  Meh.  Now, wait 30 minutes and try again...fireworks, right?  Told you.

This cheese is so delicious!  It is sweet and mushroomy, with just a little tang from the rind (Please eat the rind of Brie!  Have you ever seen a Brie where all the paste has been scooped out leaving the sad little rind?  Give it a try.  Just once.  It really adds to the flavor of the cheese - transforming it from just rich and buttery to rich and buttery and a little sassy!)  This particular Brie also features the amazing flavor of spring garlic - fresh and light and not enough to make you need to brush your teeth.  So much so, in fact, that I thought for a moment that our baguette was a loaf of garlic bread.  So creamy and yummy.  And when at room temperature, so gooey and spreadable.  The perfect cheese.

One more thing - as I've been kind of obsessed with self-sufficient farming of late, I'd like to briefly add that according to Andrew, this farm is completely self sufficient in energy, including the use of anaerobic digestion (from the cow patties!!).  I've promised a post on how this works, but haven't yet gotten around to doing the research.  Stay tuned!

In the meantime, keep your eyes out for artisinal Brie, full of flavor and ready to appease anyone!

Monday, February 1, 2010

What is Organic Milk, and Why Should You Care?

I've been following Ruth Reichel on Twitter for a while since I heard her speak about the demise of Gourmet Magazine, the incredible work done there during her tenure as Editor in Chief, and her thoughts on the future of food, food writing and food politics. Today, her feed led me to a great blog, Politics Of  The Plate. Food politics is definitely something that I have been thinking about for a while.  Where does our food come from?  Who makes it?  How is it made?  Is it safe?  Is it ethically produced, and what does that mean?  As the world's population grows and resources remain finate (or until we figure out how to make that Star Trek Food Replicator), I believe that these issues will remain with us, and become more and more important.

Anyway, the January 27 post on Politics of the Plate is about how big Agribusiness has taken control of the word organic. In theory, organic milk comes from cows who have "room to roam, clean air to breathe [and] fresh grass to eat."  Makes sense.  Unfortunately, the same way that most "free range" chickens probably don't have the opportunity to visit the small outdoor pen attached to the side of their giant, packed, indoor jail instead of roaming freely, pecking at grubs and enjoying sunshine on their feathers, many "organic" milk cows don't really have access to pasture in the traditional sense.  They might be outdoors, but they are probably walking around in dirt, not pasture land.  They might be eating grass, if you consider dried fodder as grass-like.  (There is one dairy that claims pastureland by laying hay on the dirt on a strip of land outside their giant barn)  They might be organic in the sense that they aren't pumped through with chemicals, but there is no way that they are the happy cows taking time to chew their cud while enjoying  a little clover, alfalfa and dandelion as part of their nutritious grass lunch we all dream of when we bite into a delicious piece of Avonlea Cheddar.

There are a few problems here that I can see (beyond the fact that it just isn't very nice to the animals!).   When big dairies are allowed to blur the lines regarding what constitutes "pastureland," dedicated family farms that have invested in their "staff" of cows and really believe and follow the tenants of organic farming just can't compete.  The cost of raising a truly happy organic cow on green pastures is astronomical compared with the cost of cows that might or might not get to go outside, and might or might not actually get to eat real grass every day.  Plus, the little guy might have 80 cows and the big guy has 2,000.  Economies of scale just don't tip in favor of the little guy.  I'm like you.  I'd love to buy the organic milk at the farmer's market, but man-o-man is it expensive.  I feel like I'm still being healthy if I'm buying Horizon brand organic milk on sale.  Problem is, buying like that is making the problem worse.  (And depending on why you are buying organic milk, you might be getting ripped off!)   (dairy image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Problem number two is an issue of taste!  I'm always writing about how I can taste the spring grass freshness in a cheese.  You can't get that if the cows don't actually eat fresh spring grass on a hillside somewhere.  If big agribusiness manages to shut down more and more small truly organic dairies, there will be less and less delicious milk lightly scented with daisies to make amazing cheese.  And that would really be a crying shame.

Anyway, there is a bill before the federal Office of Management and Budget to make the rules more specific regarding what is considered organic.  Needless to say, the big guys want to kill the bill to make a buck. Politics being what they are, who knows what will happen.  If you have time, definitely visit Politics of the Plate to learn more about what is going on, and get links to more great information.

And thanks for listening.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company - The Blues are going Green!

I picked up some Pt. Reyes blue at the grocery store last summer, and it created a creamy, salty, pungent base for a delicious steak salad.  It was one of the first blues I sampled as an official cheese head, and it definitely created the impetus for me to go out and boldly try all kinds of blue cheese.  Since then, I've introduced y'all to many of the stars in a world where the moon is, in fact made of blue cheese.

With my new Friday series highlighting some of my favorite cheesemakers (and my incredibly dull Wednesday night class allowing me time to do the internet research that I need...), I've started cruising the state cheesemaker organization websites.  Since I'm a Cali girl (omigod!  fer sher!), I've started at the California Artisan Cheese Guild.  They have a great list of California dairies, and a map of where all of these good people live, work, and care for the beasties that provide the raw materials for our favorite food.  Sadly for me, almost all of these guys live in Northern California, while I alternately bake and drown in Los Angeles.

So anyway - Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company.  The Giacomini family has owned and operated this dairy, milking cows since 1959 and started making cheese in 2000.  The ranch is located on the hills overlooking Tomales Bay in Marin County.  These are the epitome of happy California cows!  They've got a beautiful view.  It never gets too hot.  Their tasty grass is nicely salted by the morning dew coming off the bay.  You can taste all this joy in every crumble.

The Giacomini's have always been focused on their all natural production, but according to the "fun facts" section of the Artisan Cheese Guild, they have taken it to a whole new level.  And I quote, "Original Blue Cheese is now Green!  (Oh no, I thought for a split second!)  The production facility is fuled entirely by the methane gas that rises from the farm's collected cow's manure - delivering on the Giacomini's commitment to sustainability."   I'm not sure if they are totally off the grid yet like the Lazy Lady, but what a great start.  

I'd love to see that facility!  I'm imagining a giant pile of poo in a storage room with some pipes in the ceiling and a bunch of fans directing the stinky air into a processing room where the lights shine bright, and the workers are always smiling (because of their awesome personal ventilators!).  Must do more research.  Especially with the concerns about greenhouse gasses and global warming, the fact that these guys are helping protect their little corner of paradise.

Here's to the happy cows at Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company and their very clever keepers!  Way to go Bessie!  Keep it up!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cheese for a Wednesday, pt. 20 - Pirate Edition

Yarg!  A basic of pirate vocabulary is also the name of a great cheese from Cornwall.  A really beautiful, special cheese, this cow's milk beauty is an updated version of a 13th century recipe.  A cross between Welsh Caerphilly and English Wensleydale, Yarg is actually named for Mr. Alan Gray, the cheesemaker responsible for developing the modern recipe in 1984.  (Get it?  Yarg/Gray...those Brits are soooo clever!)

When I went into Andrew's Cheese Shop last week to announce my desire to bring back Welsh Rabbit, Andrew offered up Cornish Yarg, made in Cornwall, just south of Wales.  While we ultimately decided it wouldn't necessarily be good melted with beer, even if it was practically Welsh,  it is a great English cheese. At first sniff, you really smell the milky freshness of this cheese.  Then you realize how sweet and "green" it smells.  The green comes from a unique ingredient in this cheese - the Stinging Nettles it is wrapped in!  The good news is that the leaves are frozen to get rid of the "stinging," but there is definitely a tangy flavor that can be attributed to this natural rind. I did  eat the nettle rind, and it really did add extra depth to the cheese.  And it's so pretty!  Whole wheels make an amazing bottom layer of a cheese "cake."

The texture is both crumbly and a bit sticky.  Oxymoronic, perhaps, but it's true.  The flavor is very smooth, with a bit of tart on the middle of your tongue.  The milk that you smell is the dominant flavor of this cheeseThere is a bit of moldiness, and a little (tiny bit of) mushroomy flavor, but that just adds to the old fashioned flavor of this cheese.  And when you realize the original recipe is 700+ years old, that makes sense!

Cornish Yarg is only made at one dairy in Cornwall, but it's made its way around the world.  It's also a great thing to put on the "bucket list" if getting to Cornwall is on your list.

Or if you want to be a pirate...Yarg!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different...

*Apologies for no photos, but please, please, please click the links. They are hilarious!

Saturday night, I found myself in a dark basement sitting on an uncomfortable chair, laughing my a@% off.  Darling Husband and I had gone out to meet some friends and enjoy an evening of twisted drag queen frivolity.  We knew it was going to be a great night when Dina Martina's first song was the most ridiculous version of Duran Duran's Rio that I had ever heard.  At one point, she sang something about Rio being one of the longest songs ever (which it is, really...), after which she proceeded to eat a plate of spaghetti with Ragu and some Kraft Parmesean cheese (the kind in the cardboard tube).  A girl after my own heart - while waiting for Simon LeBon to finish singing something about the dusty land, Ms. Dina dumped a good 1/4 cup of powdered cheese right in her mouth, not needing spaghetti or sauce to sully the flavor of, well, whatever it is that that "cheese" tastes like.

I wasn't expecting cheese references in my evening of surreal, gender bending humor, but was certainly delighted!  There were several others throughout the night.  I think I'll save her story of her grandmother surviving the depression by milking the family pug and making delicious pug's milk cheese for another time - I want to look into the feasibility of this in the real world (I doubt that dog's milk has quite the level of butterfat necessary to make quality cheese, but...hey - it was the Great Depression!  Never mind the fact that the idea of milking a dog just seems a bit odd to me.  You?)

No, neither the spaghetti interlude at nor the story of how Pugsley saved the family compare to what happened during gift time.  An unsuspecting audience member bravely stepped onstage.  "Do you like cheese?"  Ms. Dina asked.  Of course, the answer was "Yes."  "Do you have chapped lips?" was the odd follow-up question.  The answer there was also "Yes."  Can you guess what product contains cheese and is good for your lips?

My answer would be a nice, oily Manchego or Zamorano sheep's milk cheese.  But I would be wrong.

What Ms. Dina pulled out of the bag for this nice audience member was...



Friday, January 22, 2010

Welsh Rabbit - Friday update

It kept raining today.  Then it started to hail.  HAIL!  In Los Angeles.  Armageddon is right around the corner.  

Since yesterday's post about the legends of Welsh Rabbit, I got a hankering.  Plus, I felt guilty writing about something that I hadn't recently eaten or made.  So, off I headed to Andrew's Cheese Shop when the bell rang at the office for a high quality cheddar and a little inspiration.  He was a bit surprised that I was making Welsh Rabbit.  Why?  I said.  Turns out, in his opinion people don't make it any more.  I suggested that he re-introduce it during one of his Grilled Cheese nights, where he pairs all sorts of grilled cheese with all sorts of beers.  It's perfect - cheese and beer in one bite.  He said he'd think about it.  We'll see...

So, updates to the recipie posted last night...
#1 - Be careful when grating your cheese!  I cannot emphasize enough how much you do not want grated fingernail and thumb in your dinner!  I managed to avoid any thumb, but there might have been some fingernail.  Patience people!  It will all get done, and in less than 20 minutes start to finish.
#2 - I don't actually have anything bad to say about 2 Tablespoons of butter.  I just wanted to show you my cute cow butter holder.  It's one of the few things I've managed to hang onto since my early bachelorette days.  Moo.
#3 - Flavoring and texture.  You might be better off with just 2 Tablespoons of flour.  Three Tablespoons make for a really, really thick sauce (and probably precipitated the need for more beer.  See #4)  Also, I tasted a little more mustard than I would have liked in the final product.  Maybe reduce dried mustard to  1/4 teaspoon and increase the Worcestershire sauce to 2 1/2 tablespoons.  But, perhaps that's just me.
#4 - I found that there was no way that 1/2 cup of beer was going to be enough to give the cheese sauce enough fluidity to spread over our extra thick sliced toast.  I added another 1/4 cup, and then another 1/4 cup.  So, in the end, about one cup  of beer seemed to do the trick.  We used a great British dark ale, courtesy of Andrew's newly instated liquor sales license.  Yay Andrew!  Even with the cup in the sauce, there was enough left over for us to each enjoy a small glass of this rich, hoppy, brew with just a hint of sweetness.  I wish I had a better taste vocabulary for beer.  In any case, it was really good.
#5 - Try to find a nice loaf of bread, and slice it yourself.  Darling Husband was in charge of slicing, and he went with one inch slices.  Toasted to crispy but not too dark it served as the perfect platform.

At the end of the day, Darling Husband and I enjoyed a great dinner of cheese, bread and beer.  A perfect food.  And - to add to the success, DH remembered the smell and taste of our concoction from his childhood when his dad (the Scot) would whip up a batch of this easy, cheap (well, not so cheap with fancy imported beer and cheese, but you get the idea) snack.  When you can tap into someone's olfactory memory, I'd say that's a job well done.  Look at that gooey goodness!  What's weird is that the flavors of Worcestershire, beer and mustard blend so well with the cheese that what you have at the end is an all new flavor.   I'm still working on what the profile is, but it is rich.  The mustard is crucial to keeping it from tasting flabby, and the Worcestershire adds it's magical blend of herbs and spices to make this cheese sauce so much more.  Who needs rabbit (or filet mignon for that matter) when you have cheese and bread?

I had bought some broccoli, but somehow it never made the steamer...

Welsh Rabbit - all the cheese, none of the bunny fur!

The rain is still coming down in Los Angeles, and my poor dog is terrified of thunder and wind - both of which we seem to have an endless supply of at the moment.  Did you hear we've had tornados?  Time for comfort food.

To mix things up a little, how about Welsh Rabbit?  Also known as Welsh Rarebit, it's basically cheese sauce on toast, but it's so much more!  There are many legends associated with this simple fare.  1) When my mom used to make it when I was a kid, I just thought that we were eating the vegetarian version, and that the glamorous Welsh used to have chunks of rabbit in their cheese sauce.  2) According to Mick, the British proprietor of our favorite local cafe, the name is a total slur on the Welsh, who the English perceive as inferior due to their coal mines and propensity for words with too many w's, and y's (see Aberystwyth).  His version contends that the Welsh were so poor, that they couldn't even afford rabbit - which used to be one of the cheapest proteins available.  They were so poor, they could only afford cheese and bread.  3) Another version says that Welsh rabbit hunters, after a successful rabbit hunt, would eat this fortified cheese toast upon returning home - thereby negating Mick's version of the legend.  4) Of course, there is another version where unsuccessful Welsh rabbit hunters have to eat cheese toast because they aren't very good hunters.  5) A really twisted version claims that a Welsh chef tried to pass off cheese toast as rabbit to unsophisticated Welsh diners.  While I have actually never eaten rabbit, I might argue that melty cheese toast is easier to prepare and perhaps tastier than rabbit.  Also, since Darling Husband is 50% Welsh, I'm not allowed to be to antagonistic toward  this noble people.

Legend aside, it is a perfect meal for a cold winter night.  Here's a recipe for Welsh Rabbit from Laura Werlin's fantastic book The New American Cheese:

Melt 2 Tbsp butter over medium heat in a medium size saucepan.
Add 3 Tbsp flour and stir for 1 minute
Add 1/2 cup beer and stir until the bubbles start to cook out, about 30 seconds
     (I would suggest a more flavorful, darker beer.  Alternately, my mom used milk.  Less body, but better for kids...)
Add 6-7 ounces of grated cheddar cheese, 2 tsp Worcestershire, 1/2 tsp dry mustard and a dash of cayenne.

Stir constantly until the cheese melts.

Toast up 4 thick slices of substantial bread (Wonderbread will not work!)

Toast on plate, cheese sauce on toast.  If you're trying to eat veggies with all your meals, add a tomato.

*You can always try other cheeses - whatever you have.  Try Gouda or Emmenthaler for some happy melting.  A little fortified Sherry could be tasty too.  If you use white cheese, a little Paprika would add color. a tablespoon of Dijon mustard could be a nice alternate if you don't have any dry mustard in the house.

That's it!  Easy enough for a Welshman to do it.

Sweet dreams!  May your dreams be full of cheese and sweet bouncing bunnies!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

National Cheese Lover's Day!

Apologies for the late notice, but I was just informed of this most joyous of occassions!  I can't believe we don't get the day off for is officially National Cheese Lover's Day!

Not sure why, not sure how, not sure if in fact it has been ratified by congress or just a marketing ploy, but I don't care!  Here's to you cheese lovers!

Cheese for a Wednesday, pt. 19 - A new sheep in the 'hood

Last week at Andrew's Cheese Shop, I spotted this ancient looking cheese sitting in the case.  "What is this," I wondered out loud.  Samples were proffered, and as per usual, stories were told and comparisons - both ridiculous and relevant were made.

While this cheese, Brebis du Lavort, may look like it's shape was designed by druids back in the 2nd century BC  it was actually created in the 1990s by cheese maker Patrick Beaumont in the Auvergne region of France.  I thought it was pretty clever of Mr. Beaumont to design a cheese that looked like it had been dug out of the ground, or stored in an ancient log  but was created during the Clinton adminstration, about the time that Shabby Chic was really hitting it's stride.  Andrew wasn't so sure that the good folk of the Auvergne are capable of that kind of marketing ploy.  It seems that this area of France is less modern than other areas.   Anyway...far be it from me to judge.  Especially when the cheese is good!

The design is modern, but the mold is borrowed  from a Spanish cheese called Tronchon (which Andrew also has - must get that one for a comparison.).  This mold is caked on thick.  The bark-like texture keeps the cheese nice and moist during the aging process, but I didn't even give it a taste.  Did I mention it's bark-like texture?  This cheese is aged in a in an old water tower, which is unique, I think.  Unfortunately, I learned about this before I tasted the cheese and so, in the back of my mind I was thinking "moldy water tower."  It was interesting how the shape of the cheese seemed to make a difference in each bite.  A bite taken from the top of the "volcano" reminded me of a nice sharp cheddar, while a bite taken from the bulge just made me think of a (tasty) old water pipe.  Very odd.  Andrew claims a definite flavor of hazelnuts.  Maybe I need to eat more hazlenuts.

I think this is one of those cheeses that tasted better in a sample at the store than in chunks.  The complexity of this cheese requires more than chunks and crackers.  Now that I'm full, and all the cheese is gone, I'm thinking that it would have been perfect on a baked potato.  The old water pipe flavor might have mellowed to an "earthy" flavor that would have rocked with some parsley and butter.  Next time.

Sweet dreams!