Friday, April 27, 2007
More to the point, sheep produce a terrific milk for making cheese. It's underrated, but some of the world's great styles are made from sheep's milk. Roquefort, for one. So is Feta, usually. And a whole range of cheeses from the Basque region.
So why do cows get all the glory? Beats me.
In the Hudson Valley, a few hours north of New York City, the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company is trying to heighten our appreciation for the noble, if humble, sheep. The company's most famous contribution is its Camembert, which blends sheep's milk from its own herd and a bit of cow's milk from a nearby farm.
The result is a buttery cheese, with a nutty, earthy flavor. The addition of sheep's milk to a traditional cow's milk style actually levels out the taste. Sometimes, Camembert can be too buttery, sweet to the point of unctuous. Not so with the elegant, balanced Chatham, which regularly wins awards at cheese shows and tasting combinations.
What's the secret? None at all. It's the sheep.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
In the northern Asturias region, they make the incomparably assertive Cabrales. It is a pungent, earthy cheese whose salty, piquant flavor knocks your socks off and rolls up your pant leg to boot.
In nearby Leon, the locals also like their cheese to have some character. Their contribution is Valdeón, a bold, creamy blue that is ever-so-slightly tamer than its neighbor.
To be sure, Valdeón is no wimp. Its ivory colored paste is full of those signature blue veins, and its complex taste is at once sharp, and salty, and creamy. It's usually made from cow's milk, but in the Spanish style, producers often mix in other milks. Goat and sheep milk make their appearance, depending on the cheesemaker.
Wheels of Valdeón wheels often come wrapped in Sycamore leaves. Besides enhancing its appearance, the leaf-wrap adds yet another subtle flavor undertone to the cheese.
PAIRINGS: Valdeón goes well with Bierzo, a red wine variety from another northern region. It's also at home next to Rioja, particularly the less-musty modern styles of it. On the food side, think grilled red meat.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Today, though, I'm making an exception. If you want to read a great piece, full of plenty of useful information about pairing blue cheese with wine, follow the link below.
The story originally appeared in Wine Enthusiast (where this link will take you). I found it just wandering around the Web. It's a couple of years old now, but I think it's clear and concise, and full of news you can use. And the recipes look terrific.
To read the story by Karen Berman, click here.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Once upon a time, taxes were levied based on the volume of milk a dairy herd could produce. Legend has it that local farmers’ wives would deceive the tax collector into thinking their cows had gone dry. When the official was safely out of view, the women rushed out to relieve their cows’ udders.
That second milking produced a luxurious milk, high in butterfat and perfectly suited for this creamy, relatively under-aged family-style cheese.
Reblochon is a soft variety, about the consistency of Camembert, but with a stark white color. It feels velvety on your tongue, not runny but with just enough “give” to it. When ripe, the cheese is rather pungent, though in a tantalizing, never offensive, way.
Reblochon comes in thin (one-inch) disks, about five-and-a-half inches wide. The raw-milk cheese is ripened quickly (between 50 and 60 days, the latter being the legal minimum for importation to the United States), via a briny wash of the rind and curing it at high temperatures.
Because much of the Reblochon produced in France falls on the wrong side of the U.S. government's absurd aging rules, it can be difficult to import into the United States, leading to periodic shortages at the cheese shop.
PAIRINGS: The cheese can be quite sweet, and pairs well with fruit, but also bitter vegetables like radishes, or spread on celery. It also balances very nicely against tart apples. Wash it down with a young red wine, such as Beaujolais Nouveau, or an uncomplicated, but somewhat sweet, white. Not surprisingly, Savoie white wines are very neighborly in that regard.
Click here to buy.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
But perfection, it seems, is a fluid concept, at least in southern Italy. So in the early part of the 20th century, some cheesemakers from nearby Puglia actually improved upon their regional rival's signature cheese.
Enter Burrata, a mozzarella like no other.
Like all mozzarella, Burrata has a thin spun casing (called pasta filata by the cheesemakers), a firm outside shell that holds in place a wonderful, creamy, gooey filling. The word Burrata means, more or less, "buttery" in Italian, and that sums up this stuff.
It's a ball of the most perfect, wonderfully fresh Mozzarella that has been pumped up with the most perfect, wonderfully fresh cream on the inside. The combination is unbelievably rich, and unbelievably delicious. (Just take care not to eat too much if you have cholesterol issues.)
The cheese sometimes comes wrapped in a green leaf (from leeks), though you're just as likely to see it packed in plastic. Note that it is highly perishable (and expensive) so you should eat it almost the minute you get it home.
Of course, it's so good, that shouldn't be a problem.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Ever get the urge to watch cheese age? It's at least as fascinating as watching grass grow.
Now, thanks to the YouTube revolution, you can take part in the new spectator sport of watching cheese age.
It's CheddarTV. All Cheddar, all the time.
Click here to watch.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
It's a soft, cow's milk cheese that was invented in by Trappist monks in Belgium sometime in the 19th century. Besides its robust aroma, Limburger is very soft and somewhat salty, but not complex in taste.
Limburger is today primarily a cheese for Germans. They eat it in the old country, especially in Bavaria. German immigrants brought it with them to the Midwestern United States when they arrived there.
Wisconsin, in particular, was once a center for Limburger production. You might call it the cheese that made Milwaukee famous.
Today, however, Limburger's popularity in the United States has waned. Only one farmstead producer even makes the stuff, Chalet Cheese of Monroe, Wis. Other than that, you have to buy varieties made in Germany.
PAIRINGS: Limburger is a classic workingman's cheese, best paired with other flavorful things like dill pickles or sardines or a loaf of dense brown bread. Lager beer is the inevitable alcoholic accompaniment.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Like soccer, the sport of cheese-rolling may have begun in England, where the almost famous Gloucestershire cheese roll has become a tradition. That event, you'll recall, involves drunken Englishmen competing to roll a wheel of Double Gloucester cheese down a hill the fastest.
But just like in soccer, what the English invented, the Italians have perfected. Anyway, that is probably the opinion of many strange folks in the Umbrian hill town of Panicale. Each year on the day after Easter, they have an annual competition there called Ruzzolone ("big wheel").
It's an intense affair, in which people take turns rolling a wheel of Pecorino around the medieval town. The player who gets his wheel from point A to point B with the fewest rolls wins.
The blog See You in Italy reported on Ruzzolone recently, which in turn got the New York Times to follow suit, in a recent piece in the Travel section.
Though the game may be fun to play, I'm not sure it's going to surpass soccer soon as the world's favorite spectator sport. Here's how blogger Stew Vreeland describes the action:
The cheese rolls, the crowd runs along side of it and someone marks where it wobbles to a stop with bit of chalk on the street.It's not quite the World Cup, but the people of Panicale seem to enjoy it. Now, if they just set up a match against Gloucester....
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Sometimes, it's sort of both, as in the case of this creamy, oozy cheese from northern California's Bellwether Farms.
Crescenza is a soft-ripened cow's milk cheese, modeled after some of the traditional soft cheeses of southern Italy. It has no rind, so they often sell it in clear plastic bags.
Upon first opening, the cheese retains its shape. But let it sit for awhile -- and I recommend that you do, to draw out its full flavor -- and Crescenza evolves into a delightful, gooey wonder.
It is super-creamy, like the richest butter you ever had. The dairy flavors are pronounced, but because it's a young cheese, not overpowering. There is a hint of tartness to Crescenza, but not so much that you'd call it tangy.
What do you do with such a cheese? Spread it on anything -- apples, pears, bread, flatbreads. Or, just grab some with your finger, like you're sneaking some icing off a cake. It's messy, sure. But soooooo tasty.
Monday, April 9, 2007
I’m not sure if that explains a little bit about the wondrous Humboldt Fog, the signature goat cheese from the Cypress Grove dairy in Arcata.
“Classic” goat cheese, of course, comes from France. The chevre varieties from the Loire Vally, in particular, are standouts. A refined, elegant cheese from a wild-and-wooly part of the American West? The motivation to craft it must have sprung from some deep sense of individuality and rebellion.
Humboldt Fog is soft and creamy, with just a slight tang to its bite. In the middle of it, there is a line of edible vegetable ash, which splits the milk-white paste in two. Compared to the French varieties one encounters most often in the United States, Humboldt is ligher and cleaner.
This may be because the imported cheeses are a bit older, or it may be by design. Whatever the reason, the result is a perfect cheese for springtime: Light, creamy, delish.
PAIRINGS: Humboldt Fog pairs very well with all manner of fruits and vegetables, from celery to apples. Drink a California white wine with it, such as one of the growing number of viogniers that are hitting the market.
Saturday, April 7, 2007
First, there were the dazzling new wines from upstart Spanish regions like Priorato and Navarra, as well as recast Riojas. Then came the hams -- Serrano and the wondrous Ibérico.
For cheeselovers, Spanish varieties are becoming easier and easier to find. Roncal, though still tough to locate, is more widely available than it once was. And that is a very good thing indeed.
This ancient cheese has been produced and eaten in northern Spain for more than 3,000 years. In other words, when the Romans showed up in Navarra, their hosts might have given them some Roncal to nibble on.
It's a hard-pressed sheep's milk cheese, fairly dense and slightly pockmarked. It has a pale yellow paste, which darkens to amber with age. It's deeply flavorful -- think nuts and olives -- but not especially pungent.
PAIRINGS: Roncal goes very well with the great red wines of Spain's Navarra region. It's a sturdy cheese that perfectly complements all manner of cured or dried meats, such as the aforementioned Serrano ham.
Friday, April 6, 2007
Out in San Francisco, Fritz Maytag used his share of the family fortune to build a better world. He is the guy who rescued the Anchor Steam Brewery out of bankruptcy in the 1970s, eventually creating one of the world's great small brewing companies. (Now, as a further contribution to society, he has started making fantastic, artisanal gin and rye whiskey.)
Meanwhile, back in Iowa, another set of Maytags stayed down on the farm, a pretty nice one I'll bet. Because since 1941, the family dairy in Newton has been turning out cheese. Today, its most famous offering is Maytag Blue, one of America's finest blue cheeses.
The cheese is sort of a midwestern ode to Roquefort, although it's made from the milk of heartland cows, not French sheep. Maytag Blue is sharp and tangy, with a well-rounded body that balances out the spiciness. It is made from raw (that is, unpasteurized) milk, and aged for about six months.
That's a shorter aging process than Maytag Blue's French cousin -- but longer than most blues made in the United States -- which makes the cheese just a bit less sharp and complex than traditional Roquefort. No matter. It's still terrific.
PAIRINGS: Blue cheese and celery - simple, classic, tasty. If you're looking for something more substantial, pair it with fruits, such as pears and apples. On the alcoholic side, why not get the cousins together? Anchor Liberty ale and Maytag blue, now that is a combination that would make old Grandpa Maytag proud.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, veterans of such luminary East Bay eateries as Chez Panisse and Bette's Oceanview, decided in the early 1990s that what America needed was more homegrown artisanal cheese. So they started a company to make it.
Today, Cowgirl Creamery makes a wonderful line of cheeses, including the mellow, mushroomy Mt. Tam. It is a triple-cream variety, made with organic milk. It's relatively dense, so it's firm in texture (though not quite hard).
Mt. Tam is rich but not showy, full-flavored but not cloying. In fact, it's downright elegant in its complexity and balance.
PAIRINGS: Because it is so refined, Mt. Tam deserves to be tasted early on a cheese board, before you dig into the really stinky cheeses. If you're serving it on its own, pour some sharp, dry white wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris.