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Thursday, January 28, 2010

California Crottin and Book Giveaway Winner!

By this point you all know how I feel about goat cheese. My passion for the goaty goodness borders on the ridiculous. Today it's all about Redwood Hill Farm from California and their tasty little Crottin.

Before we get into the tasty cheese, let's talk for a minute about the actual farm and the cheesemakers behind some of my favorite goat products. Redwood Hill Farm is sustainably farmed. They are also one of the few certified humane-raised and handled and were the first goat dairy in the U.S.A. to be named such. That's all well and good, but what does it mean to be "certified humane"?

For Redwood Hill Farm it means
The label assures consumers that a meat, poultry, egg or dairy product has been produced according to HFAC's precise standards for humane farm animal treatment. Animals must receive a nutritious diet free of antibiotics or hormones and must be raised with shelter, resting areas and space that are sufficient to support natural behavior.
The standards can be found here if you're interested in reading more about it. Remember when the label "organic" meant something? Now it feels like everyone is doing "organic" food. Organic used to be a word primarily used for small farmers doing small production, not anymore though. Anyone with enough money can become certified organic.

I think that having the humane raised and handled label is a good idea-at least right now. When I see this label on a product I will know that the animals were taken care of from conception to slaughter. One of my favorite regulations is
Cages, crates and tie stalls are among the forbidden practices, and animals must be free to do what comes naturally. For example, chickens are able to flap their wings and dust bathe, and pigs have the space to move around and root.
What that means if you're a goat is that you get to be a goat. You can nibble, play, jump, be mischievous, get shelter from the elements, and chat with your goaty friends.

While I am happy for the new labeling, I am also saddened that it's necessary. Shouldn't all animals be raised humanely?

Ok, enough of my soapbox spewings, let's talk about the cheese. While I have enjoyed a few of their products before like their Camellia and Kefir, the Crottin remains my favorite. When young it is a creamy, acidic, citrus zesty, slightly earthy cheese. As it ages and becomes more firm (perfect for grating over pasta) the saltiness is brought up and the goatiness becomes more pronounced. Hay, barnyard and white mushrooms are more prominent as well.

Cheese is one of my favorite things for breakfast. Take a few slices of the crottin, put it on a crusty bread and put it under the broiler. The cheese melts into an ooey, gooey pile of earthy, milky, goaty goodness. At 3oz. you could share with a friend, or you could be like me and keep it all for yourself.


Now, for the winner of the Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin book giveaway. And the winner is...lucky #26, Nickolay! Thanks for all of you for telling me about your favorite cheese through comments and email. Some of them I'd written about before and some of them are going to be featured in upcoming posts. If you have any suggestions for me, cheesy books you love, a cheese I've just GOT to try, send me an email: cheeseisalive@gmail.com

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wisconsin Cheese and Book Giveaway

Yesterday was National Cheese Lover's Day and I celebrated with slightly stinky cheese from Wisconsin.

Since last year I have been having a rather tricky time finding perfectly ripened, stinky, creamy, gooey Les Freres from Crave Brothers. As luck would have it about 6 weeks ago I found a Petit Frere and decided to hold it for a while.

Like a good girl I kept the cheese in my crisper, and periodically would check it for any weird molds, or funkiness. Every few days I would open up the package, let it breathe, re-wrap it, flip the cheese over and put it back in the crisper.

Yesterday it was time. My inspiration was Brie en Croute. Something I've heard about, but never had. Essentially you take some soft-ripened, bloomy rind cheese, top it with something yummy like a fig jam, or fruit and nuts, wrap it in puff pastry and pop it in the oven.

So, yesterday at work I took the Petit Frere, put it in puff pastry, I forgot eggs for the egg wash popped it in the oven for 10 minutes on 425 and then bumped it down to 350 for 15 minutes more. When I opened the oven door I was knocked out by the smell. Sooooo good. The cheese which had a slight funk before going into the oven came out smelling a bit funky and a little flowery. It had also squirted out of the bottom a bit, so we opened up the top and put all that cheese right back in. The cheese had a sweet slightly tangy milk flavor with a little bit of a white button mushroom thing going on. We noshed on this with some balsamic onions and a bottle of wine made by a friend of one of the crew. Perfect way to end a day of work.

So, this all leads me up to the giveaway. This Christmas Santa got me a bunch of books, including the book The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin. I got a lot of cheese books this past Christmas and this one is a lot of fun to read. Look for a background on Jeanne from Cheese Underground on pg. 52 One of the things I like most about this book was learning about cheesemakers I didn't know before. The cheese world in general for good or for ill has a category for "Celebrity Cheesemakers". This book does a good job of talking about cheesemakers you might not have heard of, and how they started on the path to the tests, and commitment it takes to become a Master Cheesemaker in WI. One of my favorite quotes from the book comes from Joe Widmer
You saw my guys out at the vats flipping the cheese--a lot of that's done with machines now at other plants. We're still leaning over the vats. What do you want, Grandma's doughnuts, or Dunkin' Donuts?

Full Disclosure: Shortly after putting up the Limburger post I got an email from a representative for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board asking if I'd like to get a copy of this book and do a review of it. I told her that I'd already gotten a copy, but would pass it along to my readers if they wanted to send me one.

So, now I have this extra book and I want to send it to you. But how will I choose? If you want to enter all you have to do is tell me about either one of your favorite cheeses (hopefully not one I've already written about), cheesemakers, or cheese shops. That's it. Send me an email with your pick, a brief description why your pick rocks and your name. I will assign numbers to the entries based on the order I receive them, and pick the winner from a hat. I can't wait to read your suggestions!

p.s.
Yes, I will ship outside of the U.S.A.

p.p.s.
Yes, I still wish there was a Master Cheesemaker title that included and was available to all cheesemakers in any state.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cheese Sunday!

Thanks to CurdNerd for helping set off the cheese love for today. So how is Cheese Sunday different from any other day? I guess it's because we're all getting together to do cheesy things. Today is my day off, so I had to come up with cheesy things on my own. With some help from the twitter cheese community here are some fun way to enjoy Cheese Sunday

Sing a song


Visit a cheesemaker (Jasper Hill Farm sounds good)

Read a book on cheese. Don't have a book on cheese yet? Well, conveniently enough,there are some suggestions at the bottom of my blog page.

But above all I hope this Cheese Sunday finds you in the company of good friends, and good fromage.

P.S.
I will be announcing a contest this week. The prize is one of the books on my shelf.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

p.u.

There is a man I know. He's a good man. A bread-baking man. A macaroni and cheese loving man. A stinky cheese fan. One of his favorite cheese concoctions is Limburger with raw onions on toasted bread that has been spread with butter.

In the effort to understand what makes Pa so enamored of this stinky beast I purchased some Limburger a few days ago. It has taken me this long to be able to write about it without reliving the experience olfactorily yes I know it's not a "real word"

This Limburger is from the Chalet Cheese Cooperative in Monroe, WI. Besides being a ridiculously stinky cheese, it is also a time-consuming one. On page 45 of the book "The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin" thank you Santa Myron Olson-a master of Limburger says
"You have to salt the cheese by hand, you have to smear the cheese by hand, and then the wrapping is done by hand, the weighing out is done by hand, labeling is done by hand."

Such a hands on intensive process for a cheese that is ridiculed and hated more than any other cheese I can think of can only mean that the folks at the Chalet Cheese Cooperative have a passion for it. Since they are the only true makers of this cheese in the U.S.A. I decided that if I was going to go Limburger I'd go authentic.

The cheese has various stages of funk. In it's infancy the cheese is rather crumbly and feta-esque. As a teen a bit of earthy flavors come in. As an adult this is a big, agressive, stinky, hair-curling barnyardy funk bomb. I went with the mature cheese.


The cheese we tried was only 2 months 3 days away from the code date. There is a promise of a stink once opened.


I tried to entice my sister-in-law to get up close to it and take a whiff. She claimed that she could smell it from where she was. I followed her with cheese on a plate taunting her like a 6 year old.

Remember the show Miami Vice? Crocket and Tubbs never wore socks with their leather loafers, even in the sweltering summers of Miami. Imagine what odors would assault them when they took off their shoes after a hard day of drug lord busting. Now add with that a barn that hasn't been cleaned out quite yet and top it off with sour milk.

So yes, this cheese stinks. It stinks big. It smells even stronger than I'd anticipated. I cut a slice and took a bite. Here's a tip for you. When you bring the cheese up to your nose, start breathing through your mouth. The first time I went to take a bite my nose revolted and caused an abrupt halt to my movement.

Finally I popped the cheese in my mouth. WOW! The flavor profile isn't as stinky, but it is a funky cheese. Flavors of sour milk, dried hay, barn and a bitter bitter rind. Even as I sat there thinking of how I was clearly going to be defeated by this cheese, I started coming up with other ways I might eat it. Obviously I'm going to have to try it when it's a bit younger to get a clear sense of all that this cheese can offer. I also think that applying heat to it might bring out more of the milky flavors, and maybe even more pasture floral notes. Unfortunately I am not ready to do that. I'm going to have to wait a while for the apartment to air out before I bring "the Beast" back into the house.

I love cheese. I love my friends and family and they love me. I force encourage my loved ones to try cheese. All the cheese. From the mild Fromage D'Affinois to the insanely stinky Fromage D'O' Cow and Limburger. Cheese after cheese after cheese. Cheeses that should be eaten right away. Cheeses that should have been eaten two weeks ago. They all suffer for it and I am ridiculously grateful for their love and strong constitutions.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

The past year has been an awesome whirlwind of super rad cheesiness. I really loathe top ten" lists, so I'm not going to make one. Instead I'm going to mention a few of my cheese highlights from the past year.

  • Having a chance to interact with you all during the "cultural exchange" post. Thank you all once again for sharing your goodies. Mary (who makes the yum cheese studded chocolate) has moved on from her job at Marion St. Cheese Market. To where? I dunno. Keep your eye out for her and her delicious confections.
  • ACS conference. Totally intimidating and surreal to be surround by all of that knowledge and years of expertise. Can't wait for this year.
  • VT Cheesemakers Festival. A chance to see my New England family, eat cheese, meet water buffalo, go to Jasper Hill and be insanely happy. Going back for year two this July.
  • My blog quel surprise!. What a great therapy this has become. I've become even more passionate about my work, slightly obsessive about cheese, and interested in photography as a result. Best idea I've ever randomly put together on a whim.
  • Comments. I love hearing back from you all through comments and email. A lot of you agree with things that I say, and there are just as many out there who don't. I love hearing all feedback. They help me be a better writer, and help me advance my cheese education.
  • Being tickled by Judy Schad of Capriole. Yup. Tickled. Yes, I did giggle like the poppin' fresh dough boy. Telling Allison Hooper that meeting her was like meeting Elvis, and then acting like a 15 year old girl when I asked her to sign my book on the Bonne Bouche page. Embarrassing moments in my cheesy year.
  • London. There were three contenders for my vacation last year. London, Madrid and Frankfurt. After weighing the options and realizing that my vacation was to start in 7 days, I picked London because I would be able to go to Neal's Yard Dairy. Stayed in a shitty hotel, had a wonderful time! Met great people, tasted ridiculously tasty cheese and conquered my fear of heights and enclosed spaces for 30 minutes so I could ride "The Eye".
  • Brooklyn. As a Queens kid growing up, I didn't' explore Brooklyn. When I went to visit my Aunt it was a home visit filled with food, check-pinching and food. When I got older we'd take the LIRR to Manhattan. Now a trip back home isn't as fun unless I make a run to Brooklyn for cheese exploration. If for some reason I had to move back to NYC, I'd find a place in Brooklyn to call my home.
  • Working my butt off. Yes there are days when I hate my job. All I want to do is curl up, and stay at home, eating take-out and watching LOTR. There are some days when I don't even want to look at cheese much less sell it. But, then I go to work, and look at the case. Who needs re-wrapping? When was the last time I tasted this cheese? Who needs to be faced? What needs to move? What's coming in? What are we selling? What are we sitting on? At the end of the day I love my job and as exhausting as the past few months have been (with the holidays and trying to figure out what I do as assistant buyer, and how to do it well) when I have my day off and I realize that I'm just reading about cheese, or thinking about cheese, or tasting new cheese, I know that I'm in the right job.
I am very excited just thinking about the past year, and look forward to this coming one as well. There's so much more cheese out there to read about, taste and write about.