Thursday, October 29, 2009

Making Cheese and Cheesewench Rant

I love cheese. Shocking! I also am insanely biased and think that Vermont has some of the best cheese in the world. Another revelation! Consider Bardwell Farms is offering two classes that combine learning about cheese, and the Green Mountain State. Consider Bardwell Farms won 3rd place in the all-around competition for their cheese Rupert at this summer's ACS competition.

Unfortunately for me, the cheesemaking and affinage class is the week before Christmas or as I like to call it the "Sweet mother-of-pearl! It's the week before Christmas and we're so busy and I'm doing so much overtime that I've been existing on food I nibble at work and frozen pizza." But maybe I'll be able to get out there for the January class.

If you're in N.J. or close by, there's Valley Shepherd Creamery that does cheesemaking classes as well. Located just an hour or so out of Manhattan they offer a 1 day class, do the aging for you and then you can pick up the cheese you made 90 days later. They sell out super fast, so look at the schedule NOW, not a few weeks before you go to N.Y.

If you really want to get into it (which I do) and you've got the time and money (which I don't but I'm working on it) you can go to the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese. What is the VIAC?

"The Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese at the University of Vermont is the nation`s first and only comprehensive center devoted to artisan cheese."

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to become a cheesemaker. I'm happy as a monger. One of the best ways for me to learn more about how to care for cheese and to find out why it does what it does, how it does it, how to help it be better, and how to tell when something has gone wrong and possibly prevent future problems is by learning about cheese, not just in a hands-on making sense, but also learning more about the science of it.

This brings me to the topic of making cheese at home. I absolutely encourage people to make cheese at home. I've made Mozzarella, Ricotta and Farmer's Cheese while working in the restaurant industry, and have been thinking about doing some fresh cheese at home. My biggest hurdle is not having access to the kind of milk I want to work with.

Let me just rant about Mozzarella for a moment. This cheese when made well is a soft, milky, creamy, fresh cheese that makes me happy on four different levels. It is also really hard to master. I recall throwing my white lumpy piece of cheese at the walk-in door after my frustration level had risen to three inches above my head. When I had finally figured it out and made my first ball, and then my second, third, fourth and all that followed I had a ridiculous amount of pride. I conquered the curds! I made them do what I wanted them to do and wouldn't take no for an answer. That first bite of soft milky goodness made the previous anger and frustration I was actually swearing and yelling at the curds at one point totally worth it.

If I hear one more story about someone using their microwave to make Mozzarella I am going to freak out and lose it. Making cheese, any cheese isn't shouldn't be about shortcuts. It's not about microwaving curds.

This part of the post had a rant about using the microwave to "make cheese" and how I'm sure it's one of the signs of the Apocalypse and how people who do this need a swift kick in the soft fleshy part, but I deleted it. You don't need me to tell you it's wrong. You know, deep in your heart that using the microwave to make cheese is WRONG! EVIL! AND AN INSULT TO CHEESEMAKERS AND THE LOVING CARE THEY PUT INTO THEIR CHEESE, LAND AND ANIMALS! IMHO.

I hate ending on an angry, all caps rant so I'm going to be positive instead. Next weekend I'm going to Madison, WI for two days for a cheese festival. I am super excited to meet new-to-me cheeses and cheesemakers. Of course, I will be reporting back on my experiences and showcasing any especially tasty treats.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Uplands Cheese Co.

So many new cheeses have been coming into the shop lately. Of course we got the 1st place Best of Show ACS winning Rogue River Blue from Rogue Creamery. We've got some Beecher's Cheddar, and one of my favorite cheeses, Pleasant Ridge Reserve Extra Reserve. from Uplands Cheese in WI. Rumour has it that Uplands is coming out with a new cheese. A washed rind, stinky, gooey, soft wheel of yum. For right now though they only make one, Pleasant Ridge Reserve.

This is a farmstead artisan cheese. The animals are grazed on the land and the cheesemaking process starts mere minutes after the animals have been milked. The cheese is only made seasonally from spring through the fall. Why? Here is Uplands answer:

"Cows don't produce milk until they have a calf (a fact that may be obvious to you but you'd be surprised how many people don't know that). All of our cows have their calves in the spring and produce milk through the summer and fall. They are dry for most of the winter and then the cycle starts again the next spring. This spring calving, pasture feeding regimen is the way cows evolved and is no doubt more consistent with the rest of their life processes than the typical practice of confinement and machine harvested feed that most cows experience. We are sure our cows are more happy and content than their confined peers."

Letting cows be cows is such a simple idea, but in our current food climate, it feels almost revolutionary. Following the nature of the animal, and their commitment to their animals and land are some of the reasons I love Uplands Cheese.*

The other is the cheese. Pleasant Ridge Reserve is a washed rind cheese (it's been brined), aged for 6-10 months that has a lot of the same characteristics as a fine Gruyere or Comte. A bit nutty, grassy, milky and sharp it's good as a table cheese, or added into a hot dish like macaroni and cheese. The best recipe in the world can be found here. The Pleasant Ridge Extra Reserve on the other hand is aged anywhere from 12-18 months (the wheels in the store right now are 17 months) and is a taste explosion.

A bit drier and nuttier than the younger version it has a flavor like toasted nuts, wild grasses and clover. An acidity that gets your mouth watering for the second bite and a slightly soured milk aroma. Because of it's age it also has little crystals in the cheese don't worry, it's just crystalized lactic acid that pop just a little bit when chewing. I like eating this as a table cheese, or applying just enough heat to make it melt mmm...lightly toasted cheese.

The Extra Reserve should (according to their website) be around through the holidays. I would strongly recommend that you get some Extra Reserve, and some of the younger Pleasant Ridge Reserve to compare and contrast. Same milk, same cows, same land, but aging a cheese makes a world of difference.

*This year in Austin I had the opportunity to meet Mike and Carol Gingrich. They were beyond kind and hospitable. In my first year of membership and my first conference, not knowing anyone other than the 3 other people from work they made me feel at home. Super nice people who treat their animals and land well and make ridiculously tasty cheese? Yeah, I have a total cheese crush on Uplands Cheese Company.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cheesewench Gets A Day Planner

Dear Fellow Turophile:

Yes, it has been a while since I've updated. I'm working on a few posts now, but I had to drop you all a note.

I got a promotion at work! Woo Hoo! I am now the Assistant Buyer for the store which is pretty effing awesome. I mean, yeah I'm going to be ordering cheese and doing cheesy field trips and tasting cheese and making decisions (with the other Assistant Buyer and the Senior Buyer) about what we're going to carry in the store. That's the super rad part.

Being a buyer means I also get to order the paper towels and toilet paper. Not as exciting, but I look forward to the 1 ply vs. 2 ply debate. It's buying everything for the store. A daunting task, but I'm totally up for the challenge.

I'm also doing a lot more internal PR for the shop too.

Oh yeah, and I'm on an ACS committee.

So what does this mean to you my fine fromage friends? It means that instead of writing when the mood strikes me I am now going to be scheduling time to do posts so they will be happening on a more regular basis instead of the haphazard scampering squirrel way I've been doing.

I even bought a day planner. I think this means I'm officially a grown-up, although I'm still fighting it.

Some topics coming up:

Beecher's Flagship Cheddar
Rogue River Blue
Pleasant Ridge Reserve

Now I just realized what time it is so I've got to go to bed. A big cheesy day is ahead of me.


Monday, October 12, 2009

A Wench Shops in Brooklyn

One of the things I like to do when I go back home to Queens is to go to other boroughs to find tasty treats. You see, when I was growing up everything was soooooooo far away from where I lived. Trips to Manhattan were to go to plays on Broadway, a celebratory meal, or to get some bootleg tapes in Harlem after having lunch at Sylvia's. I'd been to all the boroughs even Statten Island,*shudder* but I was a Queens girl. Why go to any other borough when Queens has everything you need?

Now when I go back home I find myself drawn to Brooklyn. This time I decided to go to a cheese shop called Stinky Brooklyn.

I started out in the p.o.s. rental car and headed out. Wonder of wonders, I found parking right across the street. It was 11am and I was ready for cheese. Unfortunately the Stinky Brooklyn-ites were not ready for me. They weren't ready for anyone. There was some scaffolding right outside their door where a man was spraying water and schmutz all over the place and S.B. was taking the brunt of this "cleaning". Water was coming into their store, and they were clearly-and justifiably-upset. I was advised to come back at noon.

Now what? I know nothing of the area. I only know where the cheese shop is. I went up to Court St. and started strolling. First stop was Sweet Melissa Patisserie. I got myself a few madelines the best I've ever had a bag of cinnamon marshmallows and continued my stroll. Then I smelled it. A smelly smell that smelled smelly. Coffee. I followed my nose past the gelato stand, past the ridiculously priced baby store until I found it. D'Amico. I entered and was transported to a world of smelly coffee goodness.

The only thing better than the smells was the passion of the people working there. I got information on how they roast, where they get their beans, how the roaster works, and by telling him what I like in a bean had a perfect love match made for me. I now longer have to bring my coffee beans from Chicago to NYC when I go visit. I just have to go to Brooklyn.

What's better than the smell of 25# of coffee beans being roasted? The 1/2 # of Jamaican whole beans that I took home with me. My coffee guys in Chicago have got some serious competition.
With a tummy full of chocolate hazelnut goodness, and a bag of beans I headed back to Stinky Brooklyn for some cheese. I popped in and was pleased to see that the store hadn't suffered much damage, although their daily breads had been ruined by the "cleaning" outside. I tried a bunch of cheeses, and found some new friends.

This is usually the part where I would put up a picture and talk about the cheese. Um...well...I forgot to take pictures, so just more blabber for now.

First up is San Joaquin Gold from Fiscalini in California. Nutty and firm this cheese was OK by itself, but really shined when melted into grilled cheese. It had a round richness like browned butter. Quite yummy.

Next is another California cheese-Tulare Cannonball from Bravo Farms. This cheese is made in the Edam style which makes it a cousin to Mimolette in my mind. Slightly salty this cheese kind of tasted like the love child between a sharp Cheddar and a Gouda. Another good melter.

I picked up some tasty chocolate from Mast Brothers Chocolate. I got the dark chocolate with dried cranberries which was phenomenal. I also picked up the dark chocolate with salt and pepper. The pepper wasn't really noticeable, but it was a tasty treat.

Lastly, I picked up a wild boar cacciatorini from Salumeria Biellese which was gamy and chewy and spiced just right and so good I didn't want to share. They've got a write-up in the October issue of Saveur.

All in all, my outing to Brooklyn was very satisfying. Yes, I did take the scenic route home I got seriously lost but I had yet another tasty experience it what is fast becoming my favorite borough.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

California Cheese pt. 2 (with added pizza bonus)

Do you know how hard it is to find cheese from California in Chicago? After a vigorous search I found something new-to me. It's from Vella Cheese Company and it's called Dry Jack.

Technically it's called Dry Monterey Jack Cheese, but this isn't at all like the rubbery Monterey Jack found in your grocery store. Aged for less than a year with a rind that is rubbed in cocoa and oil the flavor profile is more akin to Parmigiano-Reggiano. Dry, a bit salty, nutty and tasty.

A better angle of tasty cheese.

This pizza has some sun-dried tomato tapanade, Mozzarella from New Jersey, Applegate Farms pepperoni and of course, some Dry Jack from Vella Cheese.

This pizza has some basil-fennel pesto, Parmigiano-Reggiano, red and ridiculously ripe tomatoes topped with heirloom tomato fresh chevre from Prairie Fruits Farm.

Speaking of Prairie Fruits Farm please read about the proposed "improvements" for the Champaign-Urbana area. If you know anyone living in the area, please ask them to sign this petition.

This is one of the frickin' coolest photos ever. I was flying into JFK Monday night and took a few photos of the moon and the lights of Queens. My hand must've jerked or something because I got this shot too. Frickin' awesome!