Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I love my job!

As an assistant buyer I have the opportunity to try all the samples that come into the store. Usually it's one or two new things a day. Yesterday was different.

We tasted at least a dozen potential new cheese case residents, including an old friend I haven't had in years: Berkshire Blue. I spent a summer cooking on Nantucket Island and one of the chefs' favorite cheese was the soft and supple blue from Massachusetts. I grew to love this cheese and put it on everything. Omelets, salad, toast, burgers, even mashed potatoes. By the end of the summer I had a great big cheese crush.

Berkshire Blue is a handmade cheese with a natural rind. The cheese is made with the raw, unpasteurized milk of Jersey cows. Why does the breed of cow matter? Butterfat my friend. It's all about the butterfat. Milk from those beautiful Jersey girls is richer in protein, calcium and sexy butterfat.

Oh yeah.

Upon first taste, you are seduced by the flavor of sweet, clean milk. Then in comes the blue. Mild, not too overpowering with just a smidgen of that peppery goodness that comes from the mold. Subtle. So far you may think that you've had very pleasant eating experience, but hold on to your hats because here comes the finish. The finish on this cheese is huge. The rind has got a bit of an earthy quality to it and the cheese finishes with a kick to your taste buds of greens. Swiss chard stems. Slightly bitter, salty, earthy, buttery, clean sweet milky goodness in a little cheese from MA.

Oh sweet Lord I love this cheese. I want to make out with it. I want to kiss it and whisper dirty things in its ear.

Oh Berkshire Blue you make me want to write ridiculously awful poetry in your name:

I know it's not right
To have relations with cheese
You're the exception

Come here you sweet thing
I'll do naughty things to you
Make you my supper

Awww yeah sexy beast
Come to mama, come here now
Must devour you

Cheese, you consume me
Now it's going to be my turn
Mouth, meet Berkshire Blue

All these Haiku are horrific. I will not apologize. Since this post is bordering on cheese porn, I do apologize for making this a bit dirty. To be honest though, when you taste this cheese you too will want start creating your own dirty homage to this sumptuous fromage.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Yogurt and butter had a baby. That baby is Creme Fraiche.

For about a week it felt like my most hated season of all: summer. To be fair, it's more love-hate than hate-hate. I hate the summer because it's ridiculously hot and humid and gross, and the cheese and I are always sweating. On the other hand, there's the produce. Spring and summer veggies and fruit make me gloriously happy. Asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, fresh peas, plums, cherries, blueberries and wild strawberries.

Every year I promise that I'm going to buy tons of strawberries and make jam. Every year I eat all the berries before they can be jammified. So far this year has been no exception. I've bought strawberries from this one stand at the Green City Market for the past 2 weeks. They are glorious. Sweet little berries just begging me to do something wicked with them.

So I did.

I opened the fridge and there it was like a beacon. A tub of creme fraiche from Bellwether Farms. I was so excited! It's hard to find their products here in Chicago. In fact I don't think I've ever found their cheese in the city. I have to wait for the ACS conference to get a taste of Carmody or San Andreas. The funny thing is that I didn't even remember buying it, or what I was going to use it for but none of that mattered. All I cared about was that it was waiting for me. For me and the berries.

You might be asking yourself what is creme fraiche, and why does this post read like a tawdry romance novel? It's not my fault. Creme fraiche is just a sexy beast. It is the brazen hussy cousin of sour cream. It's the Rizzo to sour creams' Sandy.

What makes it so scrumptious? To make creme fraiche you start with cream. Heavy, high fat, delicious cream then you add some starter culture and let it sit for a day. At the end of the day you have a thickened, luxurious, silky, buttery, melt-in-you-mouth sweetness that is just sexy and delicious. That's it. It's super easy to make. While working in a Virginia restaurant we made our own creme fraiche. Heavy cream+a smidge of buttermilk+24 hrs=creme fraiche.

If you search online you'll find articles where people describe it as being thinner than sour cream. It doesn't feel thinner to me. Saying it's thinner kind of gives it a negative connotation. Creme fraiche tastes airier and lighter than sour cream. The fatty, silky, naughty goodness melts on your tongue like butter. Sour cream just sits there. Heavy, sour, and tangy.

While there is a bit of nuttiness and some sweetness in the creme fraiche it's not a very sweet product. So I added a little bit of Savannah Bee Company honey. The rest of the "recipe" is simple:
  • wash and hull strawberries
  • cut the berries in 1/2
  • put the berries on top of the silky puddle of lactic goodness
  • crack fresh black pepper over the berries
  • drizzle on some black current balsamic vinegar-regular balsamic works nicely also but you should use a good quality balsamic with some body (thickness) to it.
In addition to being a great partner for berries, creme fraiche has one more trick up it's sleeve. It doesn't curdle. This makes it a fantastic way to finish off sauces, bisques, or soups.

Right before we had devoured everything I realize I hadn't taken a picture yet. Think of this as a miniature of the the portion size you want.