Monday, June 13, 2011

Yarra Valley Feta - My Marinated Addiction!

Has anyone else noticed that Haagen Daz ice cream is no longer being sold in pints? Yup, it is now a 14 ounce package, not 16 ounces - the officially approved measurement for a pint of ice cream. I noticed this last night when I was at the store picking up some vanilla to use as a base for some tasty rhubarb/orange/thyme sauce I had whipped up (Check out my other blog for updates on my new preserving fetish, if you haven't already!).  I didn't notice until I got home, and boy was I peeved! Everywhere you look these days, people are cutting corners to save a few bucks. I'm usually ok with that except when it comes to my gastronomic addictions.

The good news is that I have a new addiction, and it somehow feels less dirty and corporate than Haagen Daz - though just as creamy and delicious - just think savory, not sweet. Yarra Valley Dairy in Australia produces the most addictive marinated Persian style Feta cheese I have ever tasted. And at just $12 a pound, I can get my cheese on for cheap. A little goes a long way stuffed into baby peppers and spread on morning (and afternoon snack) toast. With a couple of baby tomatoes, it's a perfect fix. I have been pondering blending some of it up with a little more olive oil to make a tasty vinaigrette for an arugula salad, or as a topping for a nice skirt steak. Pasta primavera could be nicely tarted up with the addition of some of this dreamy feta too.

The good farmers at the Yarra Valley Dairy make a delicious, creamy, tangy-sweet cow's milk feta and then they go and gild the lily by marinating it in Extra Virgin Olive oil, garlic and thyme. The feta itself is so much better than anything you can get at your local megamart, and then after steeping in the bath of the gods (Can't you imagine Athena and Zeus getting comfy in a tub of olive oil? Just saying...), it is just to die for.

If you can find this marinated beauty, buy it, take it home and use and abuse it in as many ways as you can think of. After coming back from the cheese shop, I hit the grocery store for a few staples, and found Yarra Valley Feta in the fancy cheese section. Hooray! A little more pricey at $6.99/6 oz, but not bad in a  pinch. If you can't find it, you can perk up a little grocery store feta with olive oil, peppercorns, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, or what have you and be almost as happy. David Lebovitz has some helpful instructions here.

So now I have two dairy addictions - Haagen Daz and Yarra Valley Feta. (Well, and basically any cheese you put in front of me) Sweet and savoury. New and exciting cheese dreams, here I come!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Old Fashioned Cheese Sandwiches

The grilled cheese sandwich has been having quite a renaissance lately, hasn't it? I've been quiet on the topic, as I think that it is being quite well covered. There is a grilled cheese truck delivering cheesy goodness to office workers and foodies all over Los Angeles, and the Grilled Cheese Invitational  recently brought together over 200 cheese sandwich experts to compete for glory. One of my favorite cheese writers, Laura Werlin, has just put out her second book of grilled cheese goodness!  Now, I love a grilled cheese sandwich as much as the next person, but I'm having trouble with all the hype. It's gotten to the point where I ignore any cheese stories about grilled cheese...what can I say, I'm a contrarian!

Recently, I found an amazing little book in my mother-in-law's library: Hints to Young Housekeepers by Mrs. Black. Written in Scotland in the 1880s, some of the recipes are kind of gross, and include boiling cabbage for hours. Others sound very practical and tasty. (I have started a separate blog, if you're interested.  Check it out here.) Just this morning, I found the following recipe for cheese sandwiches, and found it a refreshing alternative to grilled cheese. Just in time for summer! I quote her recipe in it's entirety below.

"This is to my mind one of the most delightful things for a sandwich possible, and the season is approaching when sandwiches will be required. Have 1 egg boiled hard, which is for ten minutes, 1/4 lb. common cheese grated, 1/2 teaspoonful of salt, 1/2 teaspoonful of pepper, 1/2 teaspoonful of mustard, 1/2 teaspoonful of sugar, 1 table-spoonful of butter, 1 table-spoonful of vinegar or cold water. Take the yolk of the egg and put it in a small bowl and crumble it down, put among it the butter and mix it smooth with a spoon, then add the salt, pepper, sugar, mustard, and the cheese, mixing each well. Then put in the table-spoonful of vinegar, which will make it the proper thickness. If vinegar is not relished, then put cold water instead - give it a good mixing. Spread this between two biscuits or pieces of oatcake, and you could not desire a better sandwich."

Delightful, no? Mrs. Black was writing her helpful hints in the 1880s, from an office in Glasgow, Scotland. I can only imagine that "common cheese" at that time was incredibly delicious, made from local, organic milk, from cows munching on highland moor grasses. The cheese "mush" created from the blending 1/4 pound of cheese with egg yolk, butter, mustard and vinegar, mellowed with a little sugar sounds pretty tasty to me! You could add a little thyme or tarragon if you were looking to tart it up a little, but otherwise, this cheese spread sounds perfect for a picnic lunch!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Peaceful Appalachian Spring (Cheese)

Little did I know that last Friday was going to be the last peaceful day that I was to have for a long time (more on that perhaps at a later date). It is something to celebrate, therefore, that it was a fabulous day. I managed a good hair day, just in time for picture day at the DMV, managed to be in and out of that bureaucratic maze in less than half an hour (Helpful hint - always make an appointment. Always.), and had managed to walk away from a specialty cheese counter with many tasty packages for just $22.  I was enjoying a moment of bliss in my cheese wedge lunch. It was indeed such a tasty cheese that I was loathe to sully it with crackers, eating it with just a knife and my oh so dainty fingers. Plus, it's totally Atkins approved this way, right?

I was noshing away on Meadow Creek Dairy's Appalachian cheese. It is a semi-hard cow's milk cheese made from milk produced by a heard of delightful Jersey's in the mountains of south west Virginia. It sports a thin and lovely Pennicillum mold coat and melts oh so well on the tongue. Like sweet butter. Only with great undertones of earthiness and just enough funk on a rind that could have doubled for a delicate lichen growing on a stone wall. This cheese is delicious and sweet with a nifty peppery hint at the end, and definite citrus notes. When you eat it with the rind, you get the feeling that you are eating a cheese with an old soul that has seen the pristine forests and mineral rich pastures 2800 feet up in the mountains.

Not only do the folks at Meadow Creek have happy cows making milk so high in beta carotene that the cheese is naturally the color of butter, but they have happy pastures too. They rotate where the cows graze allowing the grass to re-grow before it becomes another tasty luncheon location for their talented herd. Very cool.

This was the first cheese that I had really savored in this way in a very long time, and what a treat it was. In fact, it was so delicious, I forgot to take a picture before it was mostly gobbled up. I hope you'll forgive. While the mountains of Virginia aren't necessarily the first place I would think of when it comes to cheese making, I have definitely been schooled! Check out this amazing cheese if you can find it.  According to their website, their cheese is available in 29 states, including plenty of Whole Foods locations.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cheese for Complicated Times

Arches Natl Park
Not quite desert, but you get the idea!

It’s been a while. I’ve been wandering the desert, in self-imposed cheese exile for months now. It’s a dark, unhappy place, let me tell you. And I’m full of excuses. First, I got a job that put me into rush hour traffic after the cheese shops had closed their doors for the night, and all of a sudden, it had been months since I’d smelled the inside of a cheese shop! And then, I wasn’t working. Finances took top priority and I stayed away, thinking I couldn’t afford the cheese I had grown to love. I convinced myself that I was being frugal, helping the family budget, etc. by eliminating cheesy goodness from our menu. Life was sad and blue – and not Roaring 40s Blue, but just an all around bummer! I tried to convince myself I didn’t miss it, but boy was that hard work!

But then, this morning, I was in town getting my driver’s license renewed and found myself near one of my favorite gourmet food and supply stores. Too tempting to resist, I went in with a budget in mind, and set to exploring the cheese case! The cheese monger was helping a mom and her kids pick out some Cesar’s Oaxaca Style String Cheese (made in Parma, WI) – yummy and very stringy! Watching 4 year olds excited about cheese just made me happier as I spied some old friends in the case and started calculating my budget in preparation for my number to be called. Ugh. Budgets.

But here’s the thing CheeseDreamers, just because an amazing cheese is made by a herd of happy Jersey cows eating spring grass in sunny, mineral rich pastures high in the mountains of SW Virginia (next post, I promise!), and carefully tended by a family that has been making prize winning cheese since the 1980s, it doesn’t mean that you need to blow your budget for your lunch! Yes, it may be $23 per pound, but for $3.50, you can get 2 ½ ounces of cheese – more than enough to satisfy your lunch time cheese cravings. And if the cheese is really good (trust me, this one is!), you don’t even need crackers with it – saving even more money and unnecessary calories! Don’t feel awkward about asking for smaller slices of cheese. Unless you are buying it for macaroni and cheese or for a dinner party, there is no need to get huge amounts of any one cheese.  Get a few ounces of 4 or 5 cheeses, and enjoy a new and different tasty lunch or dinner cheese course each night for a week. I walked out with a spring in my step, lots of tasty samples in my tummy, and 4 cheeses (1.3 pounds) for $22! Just slightly over my budget.

And when I sat down at the table, the laundry machine going in the background, coupons waiting to be clipped at my side, and list of potential career goals waiting for updating on my computer desktop, for a moment I was in another world - enjoying the funk and sunshine of a fabulous cheese, and feeling like a million bucks.