Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cheese Pairing

I have a head cold. Specifically a nose cold. I feel fine except for the sneezing. Unfortunately, this means I can't taste a dang thing, so instead of a cheese tasting, today I'm going to talk about cheese pairing. I recieved an email at work from a customer asking about how to pair cheese with fruit and greens. After sending the email I realized that this would be a great post and would give me a little more time to get my nose back too 100%.

*Fresh goat and sheep cheeses (Prairie Fruits Farm, Feta, Capriole): figs (fresh,dried or stewed), honey, fresh peaches, plums. Although fresh goat cheese has a slight citrus zest flavor profile, we do not recommend eating citrus fruit with it. Great with peppery or tart greens like arugula or dandelion.

*Soft-ripened/ash goat cheese (Bucheron, Sofia, Humbolt Fog) do well with honey, figs and nuts like toasted walnuts or toasted almonds. Some light fruit jam like strawberry or blueberry can add to the cheese plate.

*Double and triple creme (Brie, Nancy's Camembert, Picolo): Try some dried fruit like apricots, cherries or cranberries. Most nuts try to overpower the cheeses, so I would stick with fruit; dried, fresh or preserved.

*Washed rind cheeses (Mont St. Francis, Ardrahan, Tallegio): these can be a bit trickier. Ardrahan has a bit of a peanut, smoked bacon, caramel flavor to it. You could try a few shavings of chocolate, some juicy pears, or We might suggest a big fruit jam or compote like spiced cherry.

*Blue cheeses (Stichelton, Rogue River Blue, Gorgonzola Naturale): Most blue cheeses have a natural sweetness to them and go very well with honey and fruit jams such as membrillo, apple, or cherries. If using fresh fruit I would stick with stone fruit, grapes, apples or figs. When using dried fruit your options are almost limitless. In particular we like dried apricots, cranberries and figs. They also pair well with caramelized walnuts or hazelnuts and toasted almonds.

*Cheddars (Cabot Clothbound, 6 yr Cheddar, Montgomery's): are a great category for cheese pairing. For fruit, apples (honey crisp are glorious this time of year), pears, apricots. Nuts are also nice (toasted or caramelized). Jams/compotes such as quince, apricot, fig, blueberry can be a great addition.

*Young Unsmoked Gouda and other semi-firms (Marieke, Chaubier, Lancaster Duet): These cheeses often have a buttery, creamy flavor and texture and can get overpowered by accompaniments. Stick with apples, quince, pears (fresh, dried or spiced and preserved).

*Smoked cheeses (Fiore Sardo, Smoked Mozzarella) Toasted hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts are nice. Tomato jams and vegetable tapanades also do well.

*Firm cheeses (Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino, Manchego): These can go with a multitude of things. Membrillo is a great pairing for a firm Spanish cheese like Manchego or Idiazabal. High quality Parmigiano-Reggiano has a tropical fruit flavor profile to it that we love with pineapple pepper confit, or anything with some sweetness and a little bite.

*Aged Goudas (5 yr, Golden Goat, Coolea): These cheeses already have some nice caramel flavor profiles. They do very nicely with apricots, apples, pears, cherries.

Whenever Using nuts on a cheese plate remember that nuts have a slight bitterness to them that is enhanced when served raw. The best way to use them is either when they've been toasted or candied/caramelized. Pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds or pine nuts are usually best for cheese plates.

As far as salad greens go, arugula is one of the nicest greens for cheese. It has a nice peppery flavor that lends itself very well to cheeses like fresh goat or sheep cheese, earthy Camemberts, Cheddars, or blue cheeses. Taste your greens first. If they are very bitter, you need a cheese to help balance that out. When in doubt, a bag of mixed greens does very well in any situation.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

California Cheese pt. 1

As you know I recently entered the Oregon Bounty contest for a cheese and chocolate cuisinternship. If you haven't seen the video, given me a bunch of stars for being awesome and written a comment, you should do so.So did quite a few other people. I was looking at everyone's video and came across one that made me angry. In this video the applicant talks about how when people think of good cheese they don't think of California.

I was shocked and appalled.

Of course people think of California when they think of cheese. Yes, Cali, like Wisconsin has a lot of good commodity cheese, but there are also some really good artisan producers as well. I mean come on guy, Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery (CA) won second place in the all around competition at this years ACS.

My response to this man is to do a few posts about cheese from CA. Today I'm starting off with Truffle Tremor from Cypress Grove Chevre in the NW part of the state.

Truffle Tremor won the golden Sofi (think of it like a food Oscar) at the summer Fancy Food Show in the Cheese/Dairy product category. This is a soft-ripened goat milk cheese studded with truffle bits. It has a tangy, goaty flavor that then mellows into an earthy mushroomy tasty morsel.

Eaten straight on a cheese board it's good, but it can be a bit overwhelming for my mouth. I prefer to cook with it. My plan was to use it in risotto for dinner, but this morning when I woke up I had eggs on the brain, so into an omelette it went. When melted this cheese turns into a delightfully silky smooth luxuriously saucy feeling on your tongue.

Here she is. Lovely, creamy, truffley, earthy, salty, tangy and tasty Truffle Tremor.

When the eggs are just starting to coagulate, add a little bit of cheese. A little goes a long whey I know it's a bad pun. I think this is about 1T of chevre for two eggs.

Okay, so you guys don't care that I made an awesome omelette without any color, but this was part of one of my practical exams at NECI years and years ago and I'm super excited that I can still rock it!

I ate breakfast in about 4 minutes today. Soooo good.
By the by, Mary Keehn is one of the women who helped bring goat cheese into the forefront of the American cheese board. She was also named Small Business Person of the Year. No good cheese in California? If I had the opportunity to do so, I would take off my glove and challenge the man who said that to a duel!

It can be hard to find artisan cheese from CA here in Chicago, but I'm going to do my best to showcase some tasty treats over the next few posts.

There is a great company called Bellwether Farms from CA and they got a great write up in Saveur. It is very very hard to get their cheese out here, but I will do my best.

If you're in Chicago and planning on going to the Chicago Gourmet festival I'll be working a cheese tent for work on Sunday morning. Stop by and say "hi".

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Caprese Salad

I love yogurt. I know I've mentioned this before (type yogurt into my blog search box and watch the drama unfold), but it bears mentioning again. In my fridge right now I have some cheese, condiments, wine and yogurt.

Traderspoint Creamery makes some of my favorite yogurt. It's made from milk from their organic grass-fed herd of happy cows right next door in Indiana. It has no stabilizers, so instead of being thick like a custard it's fluid like a smoothie. I was familiar with their milk and yogurt, but not the cheese.

This past weekend I went to the farmer's market for some grapes. Yes, grapes. I will travel 11 miles away from home for grapes because the market 5 blocks from my house has mediocre ones. Don't you judge me. While at the market I happened to walk past their stand and saw the Mozzarella. I realized that while I've had a few tasty tomatoes this year I haven't had a caprese salad yet. Thus lunch was born.

Here's what you need to make this lunch:

1. tomatoes-I got mine from the market.
2. mozzarella
3. basil
4. salt-kosher or sea don't you dare use iodized you need big fat flakes
5. pepper
6. olive oil (the good stuff that you bought on a whim and has been sitting in your pantry, neglected for too long)
7. the great balsamic vinegar that you bought the same day as the olive oil

Slice the tomatoes
Slice the cheese
Chiffonade (very thin ribbons) the basil
add s &p, evoo and balsamic to taste

It's one of my favorite meals, and I can't believe I almost let the summer pass without having it.

Traderspoint Creamery Mozzarella. I wish I could wax poetically about this cheese, but I can't. It was just a well made ball of mozz. Absolutely better than the b.s. in the supermarket, but not spectacularly outstanding. Good. Solid. I'll buy some more when I get to market this coming weekend.

The thing is, people don't realize how hard it is to make a simple product. Mozzarella, on the surface is a simple product. Making a good mozz is not easy. Knowing how hard it is to make this cheese well, I am very happy with their results

And here it sits in it's very own milky bath

I made enough salad for more than just three adults, but with fresh tomatoes from the farmer's market and nice mozz, no one was complaining.

All you need is some olive oil and some good balsamic vinegar to make this perfect.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Crater Lake Blue

Well, what did you expect? I did the video submission with Crater Lake Blue, so now I'm going to talk about it.

As I mentioned last month, Rogue River Blue from Rogue Creamery won best in show at the ACS competition this year. Great cheese. This post is not about that cheese. This is about Crater Lake Blue from the same guys in Oregon. Before you go any further, click here and read about this great creamery. I'll wait...

Okay, so now you know just how rad these guys are. Now let's get down to it. The cheese. I find that a lot of blue cheeses aren't well balanced. You get either a lot of blue, a lot of salt, or a lot of blue salt. This cheese isn't like that. It's a harmony of salty, blue-y, crumbly goodness with a milky, slightly sweet flavor.

Really good just eaten with some fruit, or in our case on top of some buffalo burgers.


I can't even believe that I'm doing this. I love have the anonymity of no one knowing just who I am. I can write what I want, how I want, and no one can come into the shop and say "I know you don't like Roquefort!".

Well, I've decided to put my video entry on the blog.

You should go here and vote my video as the awesome-ist thing you ever did see by giving it 5 stars. If you do, I might win a gift basket. there will more than likely be cheese in said basket. Cheese that you can eat vicariously through me. I put my dorkiness on view for everyone to see. Come on, vote for me!

A great big thank you to my brother for helping me put this together, my sister in-law for taking my 2 yr old nephew out while this happened, and my nephew for being the cutest little cheese eater in the entire world.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Vermont Cheese 4 little cheeses

There were four little cheeses. The dark green is a little button from Lazy Lady Farm. Underneath that is the Four Corners Caerphilly from Cobb Hill Cheese. On the bottom left is Dorset from Consider Bardwell Farm. Closing out our game of four square is Organic Champlain Triple from Champlain Valley Creamery.

The cheese on the left is the Dorset from Consider Bardwell Farm it's a washed rind, buttery, creamy, sweetly grassy, stinky lovely cheese. Congrats go to CBF for their third place win for their cheese Rupert. Luxuriously smooth mouth feel. On the right of the above photo we have the Four Corners Caerphilly from Cobb Hill Cheese. They make one of my favorite cheeses ever, Ascutney Mountain. They do a very good job of honoring the Welsh cheese Caerphilly. It's crumbly, salty, assertive and tangy on the tongue, leaving the tip of your tongue just a bit numb. I like putting it into a grilled cheese with a more mellow companion like Asiago Fresco or instead of a button of goat cheese, shave some of this onto your salad. For this wedge, my friends and I added a wee bit of honey. Delish!

I bought this at one of the co-ops in town and it was listed as a cow/goat blend button from Lazy Lady Farm. Anytime I see something from Lazy Lady Farm I am inclined to buy it, Laini makes such good cheese. This cheese was a bit hard to eat however. The cheese, or the leaves had been soaked in either too much alcohol, or the cheese had been aging in the leaves too long. There was a sensation of eating an alcoholic dairy product, but not much on the cheese itself.

It's like a little flower of cheese. Very similar in looks to the French Banon but about half the size. That cheese is a raw goat cheese that is aged for a few weeks, then dipped in fruit brandy and wrapped in chestnut leaves. I would imagine this little button cheese would be very good in something like a salad, or flan, but on it's own I didn't think it was very well balanced. That being said, the next time I'm in VT, or NYC I'm still going to buy Lazy Lady cheese. She is always coming up with new cheeses, tweaking recipes and forever finding inspiration. I love trying out her new additions.

Last one up, was the most surprising for me.
Organic Champlain Triple from Champlain Valley Creamery was sooooo good. You all know that I'm not a big triple fan, but this was different. I mentioned to a friend that it was like having a rockit compound butter on top of mushrooms. Rich and creamy with a slight peppery bitterness and an earthy quality to it, for a brief moment in time I forgot about my prejudice against the triples and found happiness in this cheese.
That's it for Vermont for now. I finished my entry for the Oregon cuisinternship contest, but haven't decided if I'm going to post the video. The words have not been invented yet to describe the supreme dorkiness that is me on a video tape.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Vermont Cheese 3 little cheeses

One of the best parts of my cheese vacations is when I get to come back with a cooler full of cheese. Going back to VT for the cheesemaker's festival was one of my favorites, because I got to come home with some of my favorite cheeses and I got to make some new cheese friends.

Today is all about the three little cheeses. The little round white one is Crottina from Blue Ledge Farm. the white square is from Willow Farm and her name is Alderbrook. Finally, the big orange mama up front is from Dancing Cow and her name is Sarabande.

Sarabande. I've never had this cheese before although I have had others from Dancing Cow. One of my favorites is the Bouree which spends some time in the JHF cellars. I was very eager to try this stinky pyramid of goodness.

Raw cow's milk cheese it is stinky on the outside and luscious, creamy, sweet like caramel, smokey, buttery, and is frickin' fantastic! It had quite a hoof on it, but I didn't care. We ate it up. Sooo good.

Why Willow Hill Farm? Why?! Usually all of their cheeses are delicious. I've had Alderbrook before. My memory tells me that it was buttery creamy, a bit grassy and had that wonderful fatty mouth feel that sheep milk cheeses tend to have. Unfortunately the piece I had didn't taste like that. The paste was...ok-ish, but the rind! It tasted like soap!

Was this an off batch? Had the cheese turned? Had the people behind the cheese counter ignored it for too long? Who knows. If I'd been back in VT I would have gone back to the Co-Op I'd bought it from and return it. Since I was in Chicago I had to throw it out.

Crottina. This was hands down my favorite cheese. I've never had a bad cheese from Blue Ledge Farm, and the Crottina is another one of their outstanding goat cheeses. Creamy, slightly sweet, a little bit of that green vegetal-grassiness that all VT cheeses have with a nice fudgy texture.

I have a few more cheeses from VT to talk about for next time. Right now I'm looking for some new cheeses to bring into the house. I'm thinking blue.

BTW guys, there are only a few days left to enter the Oregon Cuisinternship contest. I've got a few ideas for my video, and I'm doing it on Sunday. In an act of maybe foolishness I'm going to post the video on this blog for you all to see. I am a complete dweeb on film, but I'm okay with that if it means I get to make cheese at Rogue Creamery.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Jasper Hill Farm

I apologize if you've read this before. Today (9/9) I was deleting all of the drafts , and I deleted it like a moron/tool/stupid/technologically inept/stupid-head. Gone. I can't tell you the stress, panic, and fear I had at something I'd worked on for so long being gone. I've found it, and am posting it again, but I did lose comments. Sorry guys.

Jasper Hill Farm is one of my favorite businesses in the cheese world. Yes of course, they make phenomenal cheese but it's more than that. It's all about the cellars. Years ago they had a choice. Take Cabot up on their offer to collaborate, or stay small and independent. Some would say that they are still an independent company, and yes, on the surface they are, but they are partially dependent on Cabot to maintain and propel their growth so I don't know if that's independent really.

A lot of cheesemakers would and did say no when Cabot came knocking on their doors. JHF was not the first farm that Cabot approached. JHF was the only one who said yes. Now, because of that collaboration JHF has one of the most innovative aging facilities in the country.

How is the partnership with JHF and Cabot beneficial? For one, having seven vaults with 5600 wheels of Cabot in each vault means that you've got a financial portfolio that banks like. You can be a great cheesemaker with phenomenal product, but in order to get it out into the cheese buying public you need financial support. This largess allows the folks at JHF to help other cheesemakers in the state.

How do they help? To answer that you have to know the difference between aging and affinage. A lot of people use the word affinage, but are really not doing it. Aging is taking a cheese putting it in your warehouse for 'x' number of days, months or years and then selling it. Affinage is so much more.

If left to it's own devices, cheese will do what it wants to do. Affinage is trying to convince the cheese to do what you want it to do. Affinage is turning the wheels, brushing them, washing them, brining them, rotating and working with that cheese during every stage of it's age, using techniques to make it better, not just relying on the passing seasons to do the job for you. Affinage is recognizing that being a cheesemaker isn't just about making a cheese.

Since they are keeping such a close eye on the cheese, if a wheel isn't acting the way it should the folks at JHF can look at everything and every hand that has touched that wheel, they can call up the cheesemaker and ask them questions, or as Mateo related one story, they can go out and do water samples to see if the brine solution has a different component because of something in the water-which it did.

The folks at JHF are not just great cheesemakers, but they are excellent affineurs and through their hard work and dedication are helping other cheesemakers in the region to make better product, and get a bigger audience for their cheese. For a small state like Vermont I think this is incredibly important. Vermont has all sorts of wonderful cheeses, not just Cheddar. Getting those cheeses out of the state and into more mouths has to happen if the VT artisan cheese movement is to progress.

Take Hartwell for example. Ploughgate Creamery is a very small company. They make a few kinds of cheese and have only been making their cheeses for a little over a year. Normally this is a cheese that would just be local. With JHF behind them they are able to age more wheels, and get a wider distribution than if they were just going it alone.

The folks at Jasper Hill Farm are continually working on ways to improve and progress. Coming up with easier ways to read stat sheets, bringing in a robot to turn the cheeses for them some pros and cons to this but that's for another time or changing cheese formats to get better results for the cheesemaker. Is Jasper Hill Farm and the Cellars at Jasper Hill the American version of Neal's Yard Dairy? Only time will tell, but I think they're well on their way.

Periodically while driving through the most beautiful state in the union a sign will appear indicating a "scenic view". In my opinion this is redundant, and I rarely stop. I mean after all, almost the entire state qualifies as scenic. This particular time my brother and I stopped. Seriously scenic.

Cabot Clothbound sans cloth-binding

In the caves all the cheese is put onto wheeled speed racks that are rolled in and out of grooves similar to railroad tracks. Very efficient.

Mateo is certainly a rock star in the cheese world. My brother took the tour with me and afterwards we were pondering exactly which rock star Mateo is. At first my brother suggested Frampton. I strongly opposed the comparison. After a debate that lasted the entire trip back to home base we came to a consensus. Mateo is David Bowie.

Weybridge. I've written of this gorgeous, luscious cheese that tastes like Vermont and happiness. Apparently they're changing their format. As long as the taste is the same they can do whatever shape they want to.

View from Jasper Hill. Didn't I tell you that Vermont is gorgeous?

Wheels of Bayley Hazen Blue.

The newly formed wheels of BHB are sitting in their molds on the table. High tech bucketry catches all the whey as it drains.

Bayley Hazen Blue has a natural rind. In order for this rind to occur evenly the wheels must be smoothed out. Otherwise the rind would find all of those lovely nooks and crannies and start developing inside the cheese instead of outside.

Rack upon rack of Constant Bliss.

Right outside of the Constant Bliss aging room was a question. The answer to your question is yes. Yes it does.

This post has been kicking my butt for the past few weeks. Every time I sat down to it I would get all jumbled up in my head as to what I wanted to say. Unfortunately, I'm also insanely neurotic and so rather than go and talk about the fantastic cheeses I ate, I would worry about this post. Then I discovered the show Dexter on DVD. Whenever I got stuck on something I would put in some Dexter and pop open a Coke Zero. I'm now in season two of Dexter. Finally, after a ridiculous amount of tv on DVD, I've got my Jasper Hill Post down.

One of the things I'm goign to try to do in the future is to not get hung up on a post. If it happens, it happens, if it doesn't, I'll just move on to something else. Putting so much pressure on myself for a post just doesn't make sense. In addition to making me cranky, it also means that instead of a post, you get a week or more of silence. Sorry about that. I'll try not to do it again.