Showing posts with label Quince and Apple. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Quince and Apple. Show all posts

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Cheese

Now that it’s almost Christmas I’m finally going to write about our Thanksgiving feast. I celebrated with my 3 yr old nephew, my brother and sister-in-law (both vegan*) and two other friends. There was a tofurkey that word just looks really dirty in print for the vegans and a big ol’ bird for the omnivores. I made my world famous sweet potato pie with pecan butter crust and a veganized version that was bereft of the richness that can only be accomplished with two whole sticks of butter but was tasty nonetheless.

But you don’t care about that stuff do you? Of course not, you wanna know about the cheese. Before dinner we had a lovely little cheese course. The crackers were from 34 Degrees. The Apple Butter comes from Seedling in Michigan. The Fig and Black Tea jam from the amazingly awesome, super-cute and nifty husband and wife team, Matt and Clare of Quince & Apple.**

On to the cheese. First on the list is Bonne Bouche. You know my love for that cheese; my obsession with it’s silky, creamy, goaty goodness. I’m not going to expound too much except to say that goat cheese + fig and black tea jam = super awesome happy tumminess.

Next up is Quadrello di Bufala. You know that cheese from water buffalo milk is delicious right? Of course you do. You also know that water buffalo milk has a high butterfat content and makes everything super tasty right? Imagine if you a will a cheese made from the rich, fatty goodness of water buffalo milk, washed rind and inspired by Taleggio. What you get is this cheese that has a rough looking rind (a bit like tree bark), a soft (not gooey) paste and an almost indescribable taste. It’s a bit like butter and cream and sweet almond milk came together and had a delicious baby. It’s not as stinky as my beloved Taleggio, but it sure is delicious.

Here in the States you don’t usually see a lot of water buffalo cheeses, and when you do it’s usually Mozzarella. Tasty, but boring considering what is out there. Do yourself a favor and the next time you’re at the cheese shop/counter/auction ask your monger for a taste of anything with water buffalo milk . Delish!

Next is a cheese you won’t find for sale. A “Reblochon” aged for less than 60 days. Yes, it’s contraband cheese. I don’t care. A cheesemaker friend is experimenting and one of the benefits of having chesemaker friends (or in this case a friend of a cheesemaker friend) is that you get to try all manner of cheesy treats. Sometimes they’re delicious and your friend lets you cut a big chunk of treat and you share it with your friends on Thanksgiving. Some days I’m positive that I have the best job in the world.

While I’m not going to talk about this particular attempt at Reblochon (the flavor was there, but the texture needed work) I will tell you a bit about the actual AOC protected Reblochon from France.

The story behind the cheese is that back in the medieval days farmers were taxed based on how much milk their cows produced. In order to “mislead” the inspectors the farmers would milk the cows partially and then when the coast was clear would milk the cows again. The word reblocher loosely translates to the practice of the second milking. The second milking was used to make Reblochon.

Reblochon reblocher. Reblochon, reblocher. Uma. Oprah. Pretty nifty hu? Reblochon is also one of the most popular cheeses of France that you might never try in the States due to it’s raw milk, aged for less than 60 days status. If by some chance you get the opportunity to taste its luscious, creamy, paste please do.

Then there’s the BIG DADDY. My new bestest friend in the cheese world. Weighing in at approximately 12oz, coming from the rolling hills of Dodgeville Wisconsin from Uplands Cheese it’s RUSH CREEK!

About a month ago Rush Creek was released to much acclaim, and a frantic elbow-throwing desire by the public that I haven’t personally experienced since the Cabbage Patch Doll craze of the 1980’s. Yes, I'm that old. If you don't know what Cabbage Patch Kids are, think about the Tickle Me Elmo craze and you'll be on the right path.

What makes this cheese so special? I will try to speak of it critically, not emotionally.

  1. It's made by Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin. The folks who in the eleven years of entering the ACS conference have won 'Best of Show' an unprecedented 3 times including on their first time out.
  2. It's made of raw milk
  3. It is super uber soft and creamy almost like ready-to-eat fondue
  4. It's belted in bark
  5. Andy Hatch and his wife are nifty
  6. It's a seasonal cheese (come March nary a round shall be found)
  7. It's made from the fall and winter milk which is richer in fatty goodness and gives the cheese a sexy, slightly naughty feeling in your mouth
  8. Nom nom nom
Okay, so not completely without emotion, I can't help it, Andy and his wife (Mike, Carol and everyone associated with the farm and creamery) are super nice. Why does that matter to you? Here's my "logic".

People who are nice to people are also often nice to animals
Happy animals give you better quality product
Better milk = better cheese
Better cheese = happy people
Happy people are usually nice.
Nice people are nice to people
People who are nice to people are also often nice to animals

And that is my totally sciencey way of explaining why this cheese is so frickin good.

But wait! There's more! At the risk of making this my longest post ever and boring the stuffing out of you (that joke would've killed on Thanksgiving) I'm going to tell you more about Rush Creek in another post this week. There will also be a pooorly constructed video on how to remove the top rind. The video will also have unfortunate music to accompany it.

*Yes, they're vegan. Normally I would shun those who don't eat fromage, but they trust me and the cheeses I bring over and so cheese is the one exception in their otherwise vegan world.

**Matt & Clare are super awesome and their preserves are delicious. They make seasonal nummies, are very creative with new flavors (gala apple and sparkling wine is one of their newest), are wicked nice, bust their butts in their tiny workspace and are primed to be the next big thing in jam.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cheesewench goes to Madison pt.2

So, what's the deal with the World Cheese Championship Contest? Here's the thing. This is a competition based on technicality. Every entry starts with a perfect score of 100. Doing this guarantees that you will have a winner in every category. Points are deducted and at the end of the day winners are chosen based on the highest score.

Compare this to the way the ACS judges cheeses. Every cheese starts on a level playing field-zero-and is awarded points based on merit. There are minimum scores that must be reached in order to have a winner declared. Every year when the winners are announced at the conference (being held in Seattle this year) there are categories where there are no winners, or maybe there's a third and second place winner, but no one in first place.

So how does the judging at the WCCC affect cheesemakers? Here's the big thing: industrial-and even to some extent specialty-cheeses are often going to fare better than their artisan counterparts. Why? Artisan cheese often has more variation to it. Polly-O mozzarella-which won first place in its category-tastes the same. Every time. Every state. Every day of the year. It will never change, unless they change the recipe. Artisan cheese by nature will have a variation, and while I am certainly not saying that artisan cheese is automatically better, someone who produces on an industrial scale is going to have a bit of a leg up in my opinion.

Although there were quite a few specialty and artisan cheeses that won awards, I felt that this was a competition that awarded industrial cheeses a bit more. It also looked like there were a lot more winners from the U.S.A. this year compared to last. Are we really kicking everyone else's butt?

The bottom line for me is this: if cheeses from every cheesemaking country were entered in this contest, and K***T really does make the best Mozzarella and cream cheese, so be it. After all, what I really want in the long run is for American cheeses to be highlighted and recognized around the world for their fabulous deliciousness. But really, Sarge**o makes the best ricotta? In the world? Really?*

So what did I learn during my trip to WI?
1. Madison likes to party on St. Patrick's Day
2. Matt & Clare can boogie down
3. Willi can yodel
4. Bradbury's has the best morning crepe in the world
5. If I were to leave Chicago but stay in the midwest I would move to Madison
6. The capital building is gorgeous
7. The people at Fromagination are a bit odd-like most people involved in cheese-but are very friendly and love their cheese
8. Apparently, based on my morning after I also like to boogie down on St. Patrick's Day
9. You can make a lot of tasty product with two burners and a campstove AKA To make ridiculously tasty food what is importatnt is not the size of the kitchen, but the passion for your product.
10. I need a car so I can make more trips to Wisconsin

*You should take a look at the winners list for yourself. There are definitely artisan producers in the winners circle, but I wonder if the judging started at zero and went up if we would see different cheeses at the top.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cheesewench goes to Madison pt.1

Earlier this month a few co-workers and I went to Madison, WI for the World Cheese Championship Contest. The contest is held every year, although Madison is host only every other.

The first stop was to Quince & Apple where I got a chance to meet with Matt and Clare. This husband and wife super-duo make some of the tastiest preserves on the shelves of any store, and are winners of my highly coveted and completely made up "Holy Moly This Stuff Is Fantastic!" award for best orange marmalade I've ever had. Seriously.

When they say that they make small-batch preserves they're not kidding. Two burners and a camp stove. That's what they've got for cooking all their lovely preserves. During the Christmas season the two of them were making do with just two camp stoves. M & C of Q & A use local and seasonal ingredients whenever possible. They also have a wonderful creativity that goes into their flavor combinations, I mean who else do you know combining fig and black tea? They are friendly kind people who make exceptional product and I'm really glad I got a chance to meet them both.

Luckily our hotel was on the same block as Fromagination. Owner Ken and his crew do a great job of showcasing local fare such as delicious cranberry relish by Quince & Apple, and carrot graham crackers which taste like carrot cake in cracker form- minus the frosting -from Potter's. I ended up with some Q&A pear, honey ginger spread, volume 4 of cheese slices and some delicious Cheddar from Bleu Mont Dairy.

Madison is a very beautiful town. We spent some time walking around the city and spent some times just hanging out on the capital steps. It was a beautiful warm sunny spring day and for a brief moment I felt like I was on vacation. If I were to leave Chicago but stay in the Midwest I would surely try to find a place to live in Madison. For some reason it kind of reminds me of Vermont.

I love the Capital building on the square in Madison. Absolutely beautiful.

Moments after walking into the capital building we were asked by a woman if we wanted to sign her petition. Being Chicago residents and not quite understanding what she was chanting we declined.

Later that day we went to the event put on by Jeanne of Cheese Underground and Wisconsin Cheese Originals Fame. It was called Wisconsin vs. the World, and I have to be honest and say that in general, Wisconsin kicked the world's butt. My journey started in Japan and ended in the rolling hills of Wisconsin.

This was the first cheese I tasted at the event. Also the first time I'd ever had the opportunity to try a cheese from Japan, and well, I was a bit underwhelmed. For a Gouda I expect a bit more flavor, more oomph, more pizazz. The representative at the table told me that the cheese is made for the Japanese palate which likes cheese milder than their American counterparts.

It was St. Patrick's Day so I had to try the Kerrygold Cheddar. Yes, I would've rather had Coolea, or Ardrahan, or Cashel Blue, but the Kerrygold is what was there, so I tried it. Firm, aged for about 12 months, creamy and a little moist. Tasty little cheese. Side note: did you know that Kerrygold sells milk powder?

No. Nonononononononono. Here's what I know of New Zealand: LOTR, Flight of the Conchords, sheep, and based on LOTR gorgeous countryside. Yup, I know almost nothing about the country, it's people or it's cheese. I was very excited to taste the blue from New Zealand. Then I was sad. Very sad. And had to take a swig of my friends' beer to get the taste out of my mouth. It smelled like barn. It tasted like an unmucked sheep's stall. When I asked about the cheese, I was told that it was cow's milk, not sheep. I remain unconvinced. The cheese smelled like manure and old wet wool, tasted like a barn and old wet wool, and had a big fatty mouthfeel. In any case, it was a cheese that made my mouth sad, and a little angry.

Luckily, one of the best Cheddars in the world was also at the contest. Keen's Cheddar. This is a raw milk, farmstead cheese from Somerset. Nutty and a bit buttery with a finish that just won't quit this cheese made my mouth happy again. When I first started working at the cheese shop in Chicago we were getting Keen's and Montgomery's. Now we only get the Montgomery's. I'm trying to get that changed. I miss my Keen's. I miss her dearly. Yes, I went back for thirds.

I tasted a lot of WI cheeses that I loved. Some Gouda from Holland's Family Farm, Bohemian Blue from Hidden Springs Creamery, a lot of Hook's Cheddar, and a Brick cold pack cheese spread from Widmer's Cheese Cellars that knocked me off my feet. My favorite new to me cheese was from Bleu Mont Dairy. A three year bandaged wrapped Cheddar. Vibrant, staw, pasture, acidity, butter, and a long finish with subtle caramel notes made this cheese a first place winner for me. Unfortunately, Willi does not ship his cheese to Chicago. Yet. Our senior buyer is working on it. For the time being I'll have to go to the Dane country farmer's market, or to the source itself to taste his aged Cheddar. I think I see a road trip in my future.

Oh yeah, the man can yodel. I think everyone who was at Jeanne's event until the end got a video of this, but mine has really bad lighting so there! More on the actual contest in part 2.