Monday, March 30, 2009

Snow Day Happiness

That is the scene I woke up to yesterday morning. You can't tell in the picture, but the snow was whipping around. It didn't add up to any real accumulation, but man, the wind was painful.

I went out to get a few things for my tummy (I just can't make people deliver to me in cruddy weather), came back home and starting cursing. I'd forgotten bread. I walked right past the adequate-only buy bread from there when you're too lazy to make your own-bakery and forgot the dang blasted bread! Nothing was going to get me out of this funk. Unless...

I opened the ice box and started rummaging through. Surely I must have some cheese that I haven't eaten yet. There she was. Hiding behind the raw VT Cheddar. My good friend Winnie. Don't worry, no more bad poetry-today at least.

I'm not a big alcohol drinker, and I did not want to open a whole bottle of wine for myself. But Lo! What is this I spy? An emergency Shandy soda! Thank you sweet Lord!

We recently started getting in Fentimans sodas at the shop, and even though they're a little pricey, I have a small one or two bottle emergency supply in my fridge.

The Shandy and the Winnimere were made for each other. Honestly. The Winnimere is washed in Matilda beer from Goose Island here in Chicago. The Shandy (which retains less than 1% alcohol) does a great job of bringing out some of the yeasty, musty, and dare I say slight fruity sweetness of the cheese that is sometimes hidden when you eat the cheese alone.

This was the perfect snowy day treat which I enjoyed as I flipped through the latest issue of Culture. To be honest with you guys I didn't eat the crackers. I thought I wanted them, but I just ate the cheese with a fork and knife. Sometimes the simplest things are the best.

There was just enough cheese to take away the ick of the day.

*Update: as of Tuesday afternoon the powers that be have decided to do this as our weekend pairing at the shop. First they take my mac n'cheese, then my cheesecake, and now my pairing. I kind of rule today.*

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cheesewench Sad

I just want to preface this by saying that today was a ridiculously cold day here in Chicago. Tomorrow it's supposed to snow. Snow! Damn! I am so done with snow. I want spring. I want my fresh illegal raw goat and sheep's cheeses. I want to be able to open my window and smell a spring rain, not the impending doom of snow. Damn! Ok, back to the cheese.

Cashel Blue is one of my favorite blue cheeses. A cow's milk cheese from Ireland, it is completely handmade by one family on one farm. Although we get other Irish cheeses throughout the year, we only get Cashel Blue for the month of March for St. Patrick's day.

This is a cheese with three different ages. Young and tangy, Adult and coming into it's blue, and my favorite which is wizened spicy mature blue. We sold the last of the cheese today. I thought we had another wheel in the back, but when I looked, it had been put on hold for a customer. I only got to eat the cheese a few times this month. Damn! I should have planned better. Oh well, should, would, coulda. I will have to wait until next year.

Oh my pretty, creamy friend I will miss you.

I've been thinking about going abroad to eat some cheese, see some sights, and then eat more food. Can I really design a trip around a cheese? I dunno. I'm a little jealous because our cheese buyer is doing a two week stint eating his way around Italy. Now I'm starting to get the traveling bug.

*4/20 update: I don't know if the customers were clamoring for it, or if the cheese Gods were smiling down on me, but we've been getting Cashel Blue this month! I don't know why. I don't care. All I know is she's a tasty beast and I am glad she's staying with us*

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

American Cheese

American cheese to most people means processed cheese food slices individually wrapped in soul crushing plastic and sold for about $3.50/lb. in the dairy case of your local supermarket.

To me, and to cheesemongers, makers, and enthusiasts around this country (and moving into other parts of the world) it means something different. American cheese is cheese made here in the U.S.A. from milk, enzymes, starter, salt, and molds. It is as different from K*&%@ singles as can be. Yes, to me that brand synonymous with "American cheese" is a curse word.

In a previous post I addressed "American cheese"

"American cheese has a legal definition. It is legal for it to have as little as 51% cheese . The rest is emulsifiers, enzymes, coloring, pixie dust , eye of newt and a wee pinch of despair. Velveeta is less than 51% cheese. I don't know what's in Velveeta. My guess is unadulterated evil and the tears of the innocent, but I could be wrong."

There is so much good cheese out there. Why go 51% when you can go 100%? Of course, you all know about my bias towards Vermont cheeses, but let's for a moment, go to the dairy land-Wisconsin. Last week the United States Champion Cheese Contest was held in WI. Jeanne at Cheese Underground can tell you more about it here. The winner was a Wisconsin cheese called SarVecchio Parmesean.

One of the things I like about SarVecchio is it's slight sweetness. Although you can grate it and use it just like it's Italian cousin, it has a slight flowery quality to it that I love. This summer when strawberries come into season try a few shavings of this cheese with some berries, a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar and a few twists of fresh cracked pepper.

Here is a trio for you. We have here from left to right,Parmigiano-Reggiano, SarVecchio from WI, and grated "cheese" that you find in the spaghetti aisle. Which do you want to eat?

Monday, March 23, 2009


I always knew it would come to this. That I would do a post on Roquefort. with all the big doings here in the States, how could I not?

Of course this cheese has a lovely story behind it. Rumour has it that a shepherd was tending his sheep over 2000 years ago, and wanted a shady and cool spot for his lunch so he put it in the caves. He then had to attend to his flock as there were some wolf shenanigans afoot. In the process of rescuing his sheep (and one can assume getting a new wolf pelt for the cold nights) he forgot about his lunch. Until three months later. The fruit and bread he'd left in the cave were moldy and inedible. But the cheese. It had these veins of blue and a nutty aroma. Being an adventurous man, he thought he would try it and lo and behold a new cheese was born.

While that story might be a bit fanciful, many do consider this to be the oldest cheese on record. This cheese can be dated back to the first century B.C.. Roquefort was the first cheese to get an A.O.C. designation back in 1925. The regulations for this cheese are very specific.
  • It must be made of sheep's milk
  • It cannot be pasteurized or homogenized
  • It cannot be heat-treated
  • It must be ripened in the caves of Mount Combalou for a minimum of 3 months
Although it ages in the caves and the molds must come from that source, the mold Penicillium Roquefortii is also added to the curds.

The cheese has a creamy ivory paste with veins that start out greenish and change into a bluish grey as it matures. The flavors are nuttiness, milky, salty, and a bit peppery. I have read that some people consider this to be a mild cheese. I don't think so. This is a huge cheese. Full complex flavors, and one of the biggest blues I know.

Many blue cheeses are wrapped in foil to help contain the moisture level of the cheese. Once you get it home, you should wrap it in wax paper and then in cling film.

If it doesn't have this "stamp of approval" it's not Roquefort, but instead a cheap bastard impersonator.

I've got to admit it, this cheese is gorgeous

I have a bit of a confession to make. Actually, two. First confession is, I am allergic to blue cheese. If I eat too much of it I start to get hives on my arms, and get a bit itchy. That has never stopped me from trying blue cheeses, and in fact blues are some of my favorite cheeses around. The second confession is this, I don't like Roquefort. I am not proud of this. I know that it's a wonderful cheese. I know about it's got a lovely romantic history. Being a lover of drama and cheese I should love this guy. I just can't. I apologize to all the sheep who give of their milk and all the shepherds who make what truly is one of the great cheeses of the world. I'm so sorry.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Revisiting a Cheese

Working with cheese everyday gives me the opportunity to care for it and to see how it ripens. The other day I picked up a Weybridge and was shocked! "Hey! Has anyone tried the Weybridge recently?" Everyone gathered round and we passed around the cheese. This cheese was incredibly difficult. Instead of being solid, it felt like...well, kind of like creme Anglaise stuck in a cheese.

I opened the wrapper to take a good hard look at the cheese. No ammonia smell, no funny molds that shouldn't be there, not wet, the cheese looked good. So I took one home. I was pretty sure that there was still going to be some kind of solid in there, but probably not enough to make slices like I did before.

I decided to cut the top off of the cheese. Similar to how you'd work with an Epoisses. The rind is no longer a white, it's gotten a beige, mottled tint to it. The flavors are a bit different as well. Instead of a walk in the woods after a rainstorm, it's become decidedly more barnyardy. Straw, musk, and animal husbandry are all coming into play now. Really exciting to see a young cheese and get to compare it to an aged version of the same cheese.

This cheese is obscene.

Ultimately, this cheese doesn't have much more to give us. It's just about reached the end of it's lifespan. I think that after tomorrow I would not eat this cheese. I think it's going to go into ammonia-bitter-yuck land soon. But man oh man that makes some good "fondue".

We couldn't stop laughing at how gooey this cheese was. I don't know why. We hadn't even opened the wine yet.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


No, I didn't just sneeze. Bijou is a lovely goat's milk cheese from Vermont Butter & Cheese Co. in the Green Mountain State. True, they don't make nearly as much cheese as Wisconsin or California, but VT is tiny. If VT was as big as those other states they would surely give them a run for #1 cheese-making state. BTW, look out WI, CA is coming after you.

I want you all to know that this post is 100% biased. I love goat cheese, I love VT, I love anyone who promotes goat cheese through creating, marketing, or eating. Enter Allison Hooper. If goats were to form a religion it might be called Hooperism. I myself am proud to be a "Hooperette".

Allison Hooper is the co-founder of Vermont Butter & Cheese. She is the creator of the Vermont Cheese Council. She is the president of the ACS. She is also really really nice. * I could go on and on about Allison Hooper, but my celebrity babbling, are not interesting to you, so I'll just say this, Allison rules. Hardcore.

Back to the cheese. So, recently Martha Stewart said that Bijou was one of her favorite cheeses.** But what is it? Bijou is a small goat's milk cheese aged for a little over two months. Flavors here are slightly sour, a bit citrusy, a wee bit goatish and little bit of grassiness when young. As it ages it....ok listen I've got to be honest. I don't eat this cheese aged very often. It doesn't last in the shop usually, and it certainly doesn't last in my crisper. I like it young. Young and creamy and sour and spreadable and yum. As it ages it becomes harder and more "Crottinesque", an intense goaty, sharp, saltier cheese.

Bijou comes in a two pack. You can eat one now, and then age the other, or you can be like me and eat them both with a fresh loaf of bread. Patience is a virtue, but cheese is tasty now!

It's so creamy and is aged, yet retains its fresh goaty goodness.

*To be honest, I haven't met Allison Hooper. I got all weirdly nervous last year and so I did say hi and she hi'd my back, but nothing more.

**When I picked up the Bijou from work I didn't know that Martha had given the official "good thing" thumbs up. I have been waiting for the Bonne Bouches to come into the shop. WAITING. STILL WAITING. In the interim I thought, well, a good Bijou is better than no VT cheese at all.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Food and Flowers

So, I've done demos before, but this one was kind of weird. I mean when you think of a flower show you don't think food do you? Me neither. There were tons of well respected industry people who did demos during the week the show was going on, and I was honored to be included. Of course, I have no pictures of the demo, but here are some random shots from the day.

This piece of art was made out of Lite Brite pegs. Amazing!

Even at the flower show there are reminders that the city of Chicago loves to tow.

Then C and I went to Bin 36 in Chicago for lunch. Service was sllllooooowwww and cranky, but the food was good. We started with the Gougeres which were served with a truffle honey. They had just a little bit of spice to them and were tasty.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Are you in Chicago?

If so, come to Navy Pier at 1:30 today, and watch me and my cheese buyer do a demo of the "World's Best Macaroni and Cheese" recipe that I posted here a few days ago. My recipe has hit the "big time"!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A link

This article came out yesterday. I think it's a really good explanation of what I and thousands of others do.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Best Macaroni and Cheese Recipe. Ever. Seriously.

A long time ago (at least it feels that way) I wasn't sick. I planned on making mac n' cheese. Then I got sick. I made nothing. I spent my days and nights with cold meds, tissues, the original theatrical release of the Star Wars trilogy and the LOTR extended edition trilogy.

Well, last night I got my spunk back. And I made mac n' cheese. And it was scrumptious! Possibly the best I'd ever made. Seriously. What follows is the single best recipe for macaroni and cheese known to mankind. My new name is "Egowench". It's only temporary I promise.

Please feel free to use this recipe and pass it along to people, I only ask one thing. When people ask you where you got this delectable awesome, sensual, sumptuous recipe from, tell them the truth: that your superior internet surfing and blog reading abilities are responsible for this Cheesy-wenchy dairy delight.


Panko breadcrumbs (4 oz.)
3T dried parsley
1T dried onion
2t dried thyme
2t dried oregano
2t kosher salt
2t dried minced garlic
4T butter, melted

You should make herbed breadcrumbs with the flavors you like, but they should be dried. Fresh hers are going to add too much moisture to the breadcrumbs resulting in a soggy mess more akin to french toast.

In batches (unless you have a huge skillet) lightly toast the breadcrumbs in the melted butter. You don't want them brown, just less Casper the friendly ghost looking. Set them aside to cool


I used a 16oz. box of whole grain rotini.

the spiral shape holds onto that sauce like nobody's business. Whole grain pasta is better for you, and sturdier. You can boil it for a while and bake it off and it doesn't go limp. Don't forget to salt your water before cooking the pasta.


8 oz. mixed mushrooms (shitake, portobella, button, oyster, whatever tickles your fancy)
1 whole onion diced
dried thyme, dried oregano, salt and pepper to taste
3T grapeseed oil

Heat up your pan and add the grapeseed oil. Then sweat the onions (cooking until soft, but not colored). Add the mushrooms when the onions are soft. then add your seasoning. Cook until all the moisture from the mushrooms is gone. Set this to the side.

Cheesy Goodness:

4T salted butter
1/2 head of roasted garlic
4T AP flour
4 c 2% milk
1/3# Pleasant Ridge Reserve (grated and at room temp) *If not available, use a high quality Gruyere in it's place*
1/3# Taleggio (cut in small chunks and at room temp)
2/3# Asiago Fresco (cut in small chunks and at room temp)

  • melt the butter in your pot.
  • squeeze the roasted garlic cloves into the butter
  • whisk to break up the garlic and incorporate it into the butter
  • *that smell alone is to die for*
  • next add your flour and whisk it into the butter
  • keep whisking for a few minutes making sure the butter, garlic and flour are all well incorporated
  • slowly add your milk to the roux-whisking constantly
  • *I would not advise you to use skim milk, or 1%. 2% has enough substance to it while cutting a few calories. Mac n' cheese with skim milk always tastes watery. 1% isn't much better.*
  • keep whisking until the sauce starts to thicken
  • when it has started to thicken, take it off the heat-immediately
  • while whisking add the grated Pleasant Ridge Reserve in small batches until it is incorporated
  • next, add your cubes of Taleggio and Asiago Fresco a little at a time, whisking like crazy and waiting for each batch to be incorporated before doing the next batch.
  • salt and pepper the sauce to your taste
  • now that the sauce is done, add your mushroom mixture to the sauce
  • then add your cooked pasta
  • pour that into a casserole dish, pie tin or bread loaf pan, add a generous heaping of breadcrumbs to the top and put into a 350F oven for 20 minutes
  • turn the oven off, and put it under the broiler for a few minutes to toast up those breadcrumbs real good.
  • Enjoy!
I find that the biggest problem with mac n' cheese is that the sauce breaks. This happens because people use a super hot oven, and the mixture ends up boiling. That's when you end up with gritty, curdled cheese sauce. Not good. Never let the sauce boil. Not when it's on the stovetop, not when it's in the oven.

Did I mention that I got a new camera yesterday? I upped those megapixels a bit, and I think it's noticeable.

Oooh. The new camera is working for me. Oh yes it is.

This serving was taller. Then some noodles fell. Into my mouth.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cheese update

I was sent an email by a reader that I want to share with you guys. The reader asked me what constitutes ripe vs. overripe? First off, thanks for the question. Now each cheese has it's own aging process, but I'll just stick to St. Felicien for now (same guidelines apply for St. Marcellin.)

Carefully and gently you pick up the cheese and put it in the palm of your hand. Take the thumb from your dominate hand and feel the cheese, going from the outside towards the center. If the cheese is firm, it is young. Some people like the cheese young. To me it has an almost goat-like quality to it that is tasty, but not what I'm looking for.

On occasion you will come across a St. F or M (apparently I'm lazy this time of night) that is soft to an almost barely set gelatin stage. This cheese is still good-for some people. I find that once it's reached that gelatin state I don't enjoy the cheese as much. I like having the creamy, oozy, gooey texture mixed in with the slightly firm but still deliciously spreadable texture.

As the cheese ages it becomes darker in color. It starts out white (when fresh) to an off-white/cream color, and then eventually,to a yellowish color.

Ultimately it's your palate that will decide at what stage you like the cheese, and I advise you to try each stage. Remember that once you cut into a cheese it will stop maturing, so you might have to buy this cheese a few times (quelle horreur!)

Bonus round:

Remember earlier when I said that you should touch the cheese? Let me give you some guidelines to cheese touching:

  1. Cheesemongers are protective over their "babies" and you should ask before you start groping.
  2. Don't grope. Gentle hands are a must. Remember that cheese is alive and really doesn't want to be poked and jostled all the time.
  3. Cheesemongers are protective over their "babies" and you should ask before you pick up a cheese. I'll usually pick up the cheese, test it in front of the customer and then invite them to do it. I do this because I want you to touch the cheese, but without damaging it.
  4. Cheesemongers are protective over their "babies" and your baby should NOT TOUCH THE CHEESE! I love children-in theory. Just kidding. I like kids. I love when people bring their kids in to taste cheese. Love might be too strong a word. Appreciate might be more appropriate. If your child picks up the cheese, they will smash it. Why? Because they are children. If your child attempts to pick up the cheese I will tell them "No". I will then remind you (tactfully) that kids shouldn't be touching the cheese. You'll get upset and think that I'm criticising your parenting skills and will get angry. I will become confused by your anger and start freaking out trying to find a way out of this situation. Your kids will pick up on the sudden weirdness going on at the cheese case and they'll start freaking out which will make other customers freak out and then my boss will come in and try to smooth things over but it's too late because now it's WWIII and your kid is still squeezing the Edel de Cleron and I'm freaking out man! Whew!
  5. Seriously. Don't let your kids touch the cheese.

St. Felicien

Bonjour mes amis! Today we are looking at St. Felicien. A raw cow's milk cheese from Southeastern France. If you've ever had St. Marcellin, this cheese is quite similar although with a slightly higher fat content.

St. Felicien is a soft-ripened cheese made from cow's milk. Don't let it's mild appearance through you off though. This is a big cheese in a little crock. Well, now I've got the song "fat guy in a little coat" stuck in my head. The only good part of the film Tommy Boy.

When young this cheese is tart and grassy. A little bit bitter as well. As the cheese matures and ripens it develops more of a sour milk taste. I like this cheese when it's soft and creamy on the edges but hasn't quite reached the center yet.

St. Felicien comes in a lovely reusable crock. It's where my Euros live.

We were so busy eating the cheese that I almost forgot to take a picture of the paste. Bad Cheesewench!

Monday, March 9, 2009


One of my favorite blue cheeses is Stichelton. From all accounts Stichelton is what Stilton used to taste like back in the day. Before the scare.

What was the scare? In 1989 there was an outbreak of food poisoning. The poison: staphylococcus. The suspect: raw milk Stilton. Although the cheese was proven innocent, the Stilton Cheesemaker's Association required that only pasteurized milk be used for making Stilton. In order for a cheese to be called Stilton, it must be made from pasteurized milk.

Pasteurized milk is good right? Well, kind of. I enjoy pasteurized cheeses, and think that many cheesemakers do them well. Like most turophiles, I am a big proponent of raw milk cheeses. I think that cheese make with raw milk have a much more exciting and complex flavor profile as those that have been pasteurized. I can almost always tell a raw milk cheese (I'm working on my palate.)

Raw milk tastes milky. I know that sounds silly, but think about it. Milk has flavor. Milk should taste like whatever the animal was eating. Let's say that your cows are grazing on organic fields. You milk them and then make cheese with that milk. That milk and subsequent cheese is going to taste like your cows were outside munching on grass. If the fields were lush and filled with clover you're going to taste that. Now, if you take that same milk and heat it what happens? Well, you lose some of the characteristics of the milk. Heating anything changesflavor profile and it's bacterial makeup, and you're going to taste that in the final product.

Don't take my word for it, try it yourself. Get a piece of Stilton and a piece of Stichelton. Try the Stilton first. A pastuerized cow's milk cheese. It's a lovely cheese. A very tasty blue. Now try the Stichelton. An organic raw cow's milk cheese. Wow! What a difference! The Stichelton is creamy and buttery and has an absolute mammalian quality to it. It tastes green and sharp and milky and salty and delicious. When people came into the shop I used to do this side by side with them-impossible to do now since we don't carry Stilton.

Back to the cheese. Stichelton is made by Joe Schneider (cheesemaker) on the Welbeck Estate in partnership with Randoph Hodgsen of Neal's Yard Dairy (affinage). Neal's Yard Dairy is the premium affineur in England. They promote small farm made cheeses and have the highest level of quality control. I don't care where you're from, you must know Neal's Yard Dairy, and you must try their cheeses. Why not start with some Stichelton. Mmmm...cheese from "across the pond".

Air is introduced to the blue cheese through an injecting machine. This helps to insure the consistency of the veins. *Please read the comments for clarification*

Whenever possible, I encourage you guys to do side by side tastings. They're not only fun, but they are educational too. When people come into the shop and ask for Cheddar, I usually pick out three. I get a big daddy cheese like Montgomery's or Keen's from England, an American clothbound cheese like Beechers, or Fiscalini and then a cheese like a one year Grafton Village Cheddar. If you don't taste how do you know? Plus, it's free. You get to taste cheese for free. It's one of the only times I can think of where you get to taste the product before you buy it. Take advantage of it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

New Cheese Sighting

So, today is Friday and a new crop of blogs will be posted on the Finest Food Friday section of the Foodie BlogRoll. Thanks so much to The Leftover Queen for mentioning me, and thanks to all the new readers that have found my little blog and think it's neat.

Ok, time to get back to the good stuff. Cheese. Once again we are going to washed rind land. I've been a little washed rind oriented lately, and today is no different. Today's cheese comes to us from Cato Corner in Colchester Connecticut. I love saying that out loud. Her name is Fromage d'O'Cow. Yup, their washed rind cow's milk cheese is called "cow cheese". They also have a washed rind cheese called "Hooligan". They are a bit cheeky and we love them for that.

In my family as I've mentioned we use words like "foot" and "hoof" to describe a stinky cheese. Well, I know have a new word. Stampede. Let's say that Red Hawk has a little foot and Winnimere has a hoof. Fromage d'O'Cow is a full on elephant stampede.

This cheese STINKS! Oh sweet mother of all that is good and true in this world this cheese is FUNKY! It smells a bit's undefinable. I have never smelled anything like this before. The day this cheese was delivered thank you UPS man we are forever in your debt. I smelled it from outside the store and one shop away. This is not the cheese for the novice or the faint of heart. This is the cheese for the true cheese lover.

The taste is also big. Huge flavors here at first, beefy, earthiness. After letting it sit out for a while the cheese becomes rather complex. The earthiness starts developing into moss and grass. The saltiness gets a bit bigger as well. Excellent.

Now I am a big pro rind eating girl. The rind is part of the cheese people. Eat it. At least try it. If you don't like it, fine. That being said, if I see one more person not eat the bloomy fluffy rind on a Brie, and scoop the paste out I might get get crabby. Back on topic. I couldn't finish the rind. It was just too much. All the moist, tacky funkatude is in that rind, and Wednesday just wasn't my day. I ate most of it. I swear.

For a moment I thought this cheese might defeat me. That in fact it might kick my butt up and down Lakeshore Drive. But it is I who am victorious! Take that you pungent disk of creamy goodness!

I tried the cheese again yesterday and was able to do the whole cheese, rind and all.

What a handsome cheese!


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cheesewench Frustrations

This post is just a mini rant, but not about cheese-kind of. So as I've said before, the ACS is having their annual conference in Austin, Texas this year. So, I'm reading my email, and there's a scholarship. The winner gets a full conference pass, and some other goodies. I know, it sounds awesome right? Wrong! So I'm looking over the application. typical stuff. Name, address, resume and all that stuff. Next comes the essay question.

Essentially they want to know "WHY". Why do I do what I do and what made me want to do it. Now, I am no stranger to the essay question. I love an essay question. They're fun. Usually. I just don't know how to write this essay in only 1-2 pages. Why do I do what I do? Because. How am I supposed to wrap it up all in two pages? It's hard enough to edit myself here yes, I know that I'm doing a poor job of it now.

I've been just sitting here for hours writing and re-writing and discarding and striking out and you know what I've ended up with? This post. Grrrrrr.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cheese is NOT scary

So this post is based on interaction I had with a customer the other day. We were tasting some cheeses and I hadn't found "the one" yet. I'd sampled out three or four and the customer apologized for being so picky and said he would just take some of the last sample. I explained to him that I expected him to be picky and not to apologize for it. Not every cheese is for every person. Then I asked him if he liked the last cheese we'd tasted. His face said "no" even as he nodded his head yes.

I did not sell him that cheese and I told him that unless he really liked it I wouldn't sell it to him. We tried a few more cheeses until he found what he was looking for. He left with a few cheeses that he really really loved.

The next time you come into your cheese shop I want you to be honest. You don't like every cheese. You know how I know this? Because I work with cheese and I don't like every cheese. I think that sometimes people say they like everything because they're afraid of saying the wrong thing. Cheese has this stigma of being a product for the food snob. NOT TRUE!

What is cheese? Milk that we purposely and carefully (with incredibly skilled hands) manipulate, heat, press and age into a yummy treat. Cheese ultimately, at the heart of it is often a whey tee hee hee of using and preserving excess milk. Just as canning is a way of preserving fruits and veggies. Some cheesemakers got into the business specifically because they had too much milk and didn't want to waste the product.

When you go into your cheese shop, think about the cheeses you've liked in the past. Were they creamy like a Brie, or creamy like Marieke Gouda? Sharp like an aged Cheddar, or sharp like Fiore Sardo? Do you like blue? Creamy blues, salty blues, crumbly blues? Don't be shy. Tell your cheesewench or cheeselad what you like and while you're at it be sure to tell them what you don't like. I certainly don't want to offer you a taste of the Langres that we're sampling out only to find out you really don't like washed rind cheeses.

I'm rambling. My point is this: don't be afraid to say what you want. Use colorful language. Montbriac to me tastes like Camembert and St. Agur got together and had a love child. And yes, I often say that to customers. I compare a five year Gouda to "adult pop rocks". There are no wrong answers. Seriously. Adjectives are great. They help us know what kind of cheese you like (I mean we do have a lot in the case we can't sample all of them-today.)


I don't care if you're in a rush for work, or you feel pressured by other people in your party, or staff, or the full moon. You are spending money on a product. Make sure its something you like/love/adore/want to have babies with.

Most importantly, have fun! Cheese is fun! Buying cheese is fun! Tasting cheese is fun! Finding a new favorite cheese is fun! Rediscovering an old friend is fun! Don't be afraid of the cheese. Unless it's Casa Marzu* in which case, be afraid. Be very afraid.

*Please feel free to google this cheese if you want to. I have. At the risk of offending anyone, I just don't know that I'm this adventurous. I don't want to spoil it for you, but feel that I'd be neglecting my wenchy duties if I didn't warn you One word: maggots.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cheesewech Babble

So first, let me say a hearty "Thank You" to all of you guys for your comments. I absolutely love reading them. The only complaint I have is sometimes they make me think of other things and then I go to write a comment and the comment is too long because I won't stop writing and then it has to become a whole new post, and I should be watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart because he's talking to former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, but I can't because I have to get this post out of my system. Phew! I would like to nominate this paragraph for longest run-on sentence. Ever.

I agree with both Lo and Simone. There are great artisan cheeses being made right here in the U.S.A. In addition, I do not want anyone to exclude any cheese based on where it's from. There are great cheeses all around the world, especially and perhaps obviously, in Europe.

Of course I am partial to "American Cheese". For what seemed like eons there was just supermarket cheese. If I see one more "Brie" in puff pastry next to the poppin' fresh dough I might flip my lid. You might have been able to find some goat cheese at a farmer's market if you lived in a place where a farmers market existed (big thank you to Alice Waters for being a proponent for change). Other than that, if you wanted "real cheese" you went to a restaurant and maybe, just maybe they'd have something. Usually it was a Brie or Camembert, maybe a Gruyere, Cheddar or blue of some sort.

It's only recently that American Cheese has meant something other than individually wrapped slices of cheese food that tastes like bleh and smells like nothing. How exciting that so many cheesemakers are making great product. It's wonderful. I mean, there is great artisan cheese going on all over this country.

The problem I have is that people will still come in and say that they don't like American Cheese. Grrrrr. How people can say that baffles me. Take a look at Cowgirl Creamery. They're one of the more well known cheesemakers here. They make Red Hawk. A triple cream washed rind cheese. Or Great Hill Blue out of MA. Or Green Hill from Sweet Grass Dairy out in Georgia. So many different cheeses to choose from.

I need to pull back a bit. I get really excited about this though. There are so many good cheeses out there and because of negative connotations, people are afraid to try American Cheese. that being said, sometimes you just need a good hunk of Stichelton from GB, or a Gouda from the Netherlands. Just don't disregard the cheeses here in the states is all I ask.

Now here's a little something a wee bit silly because that's the kind of gal I am. In Wisconsin there is a woman named Marieke. She moved here from the Netherlands in 2002 and has been making great American cheeses since. No, that's not the silly part. There are a select group of people who are fans of the Wisconsin football team the Green Bay Packers. They call themselves cheeseheads. They put ridiculous things on their heads and cheer on the third best team in the league. Go Bears! Go Giants! I am sure that this is not what you meant at all. Marieke and Rolf must have been quite shocked upon meeting Wisconsin "cheeseheads".

Monday, March 2, 2009

And the answer is......

Grayson is a New World cheese that is modeled after the Old World cheese Taleggio. I find Taleggio to be a milder cheese, while as I've described, Grayson is a big burly cheese. A lot of American cheeses are inspired by Old World cheeses. Bonne Bouche from VT Butter & Cheese Co. is a tastier (in my opinion) version of the French Selles-sur-Cher.

This has happened for a few reasons. First of all, this country is culturally speaking, a melting pot. Many American citizens have roots that can be traced to other cheesy parts of the world. When their ancestors came here, they brought their talents and knowledge with them. In addition, many cheesemakers go to Western Europe to learn how to make cheese. They bring those skills back and turn out American cheeses that are inspired by their travels.

The next time you're thinking about a cheese that's European, ask your cheesemonger if there's an American cheese similar and try them both. Compare the look, feel, smell and of course taste of the cheeses. You might find a new cheesy friend.

Trivia Time!

I did this completely unintentionally, but the past two posts (Taleggio and Grayson)have a connection. Yes, they are both square cheeses. Yes, they both got me a double seat to myself when going home on the bus. And yes, they are both delicious. They have another connection. A very interesting one.

The first person to email me the correct answer, I dunno. My admiration and respect? A pony? No, no ponies. You will win my admiration and respect, not a pony. What are you going to do with a pony anyway? I will post the answer by the end of day (CST) on Monday.

Good luck!

psst! You might be able to find the answer at the Meadow Creek Dairy website. You might also want to take a trip to your local cheeserie to get an answer (along with a luscious hunk of cheese of course)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

It's a stinky cheese weekend!

Taleggio. The stinky, milky, creamy, beefy, cheese of footy aroma that comes to us from northern Italy. I've had Taleggio when it's young and it has a really creamy milky flavor to it. I've also had it when it is just perfectly ripe and has some beefy qualities, and an almost olivey fruitiness to it. I've also tasted it when it was verrrrrrrrry ripe. Although the taste was nice (kind of like dry aged beef and warm milk) the smell.......oh sweet mother of cheese......the smell was......hard to describe, but I'll give it a shot. So imagine if you will the Bulls locker room at the end of game 7 of the series, that went into double overtime, and then they lost anyway so you have that smell of sadness and despair, and then all their jerseys go into one laundry bag. It kind of smelled like that laundry bag. And dirty socks. Tasty though.

I first met Taleggio when I worked at a northern Italian restaurant in Virginia. I used the cheese for sauce, cheese plates and for putting into my tummy. This cheese is delicious! It's also a super great melting cheese. Grilled cheese? No problem. Mac n' cheese? Absolutely. Cheeseburgers (last night's dinner). Heck yes! This cheese can do it all.

This is one of my all time favorite cheeses. When I can't figure out what to pick up at the shop, I know that a chunk of Taleggio is always going to be a good thing. Does Martha own that saying or am I allowed to use it?

Today at the shop I had cause to open one up and I realized that this is an interestingly shaped cheese for a two reasons.

  1. It's a square
  2. When we cut it we cut it into a diagonal (just like all squares-the Grayson is a square too)
How do you know that you've got Taleggio and not some Taleggio wannabee impostor that tastes like ick and smells like plastic? Ok, well if it tastes like ick and smells like plastic, it's not the real ting. But if your cheese isn't branded like cattle, it's not the real thing.

No, I don't know what the brands stand for. In my mind it's Taleggio, Taleggio, Taleggio Hey! I'll look into it though. Promise.

Mmmmmm...fresh cut Taleggio.

Once cut in half from corner to corner, the cheese is then portioned for each customer. Going from the center of the cut side we cut off wedges. Doing it this way insures that each customer is getting the same amount of rind and paste ratio with each portion.

I haven't decided if this wedge is going to be pizza, or mac n' cheese. All I know is I'm off today, and this cheese is going in my tummy.