Thursday, September 27, 2007
There are times I wish I lived in England.
August, for example, when hundreds of high-quality beer makers descend upon London for the Great British Beer Festival. Or June, when hundreds of high-quality bands arrive at Glastonbury for a great, British, music festival.
Or this upcoming weekend, when hundreds of tremendous cheeses will be available, all in one place, at the eighth annual Great British Cheese Festival in Oxfordshire. It's taking place at the Millets Farm Centre.
There will be cheesemaking lessons, tastings galore, and even a School of Big Cheese, brought to you by Tesco, the supermarkets chain. There's also a Whisky Workshop (!), and the fair organizers promise that the "finest cider to the sauciest pies" will also be on offer.
Sadly, I'm half a world away, in sunny California. But I have half a mind to jump on that 4 pm Virgin Atlantic flight to Merry Olde, drive up to Oxford and join in the fun. Alas, I probably won't. But you should.
Here's more on the festival: Great British Cheese Festival.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
By the time Chenel sold the company in 2006, goat cheese had become as common as Kraft singles (and a whole lot tastier). And Chenel was widely known as a dairyland pioneer.
In fact, her company eventually became far and away the biggest seller of artisanal goat cheese in the United States. Even so, when she sold it -- for a seven-figure price -- to the French Rians Group, some might have worried that Laura Chenel, the cheese, would suffer even as the woman prospered.
Well, it's almost a year since the deal was announced. So I thought this might be a good time to try some of the cheese.
The verdict: It's just like I remembered it. Clean fresh tastes, a little bit crumbly. This goat cheese is more dry than tangy, but it has just enough bite to remind you why it is you love goat cheese in the first place. The version I had was laced with rosemary, which gave it a nice aroma and little extra complexity to its otherwise straight-up flavor profile.
To read more about Chenel and last year's sale, here's an excellent NY Times story from 2006: For American Chevre, an era ends.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Wedginald, which is the name for a big block of Cheddar that's currently being aged in the West of England, has become a bona fide Internet video star. More than 1 million people have logged on to watch the cheese age.
It's called Cheddarvision or Cheddar TV. Normally, people watch Cheddarvision don't see much action on the screen. After all, it's a block of cheese on a rack.
This week, Wedginald had a bit of activity. The process of grading -- basically, sticking tools into the wedge to judge how well it is aging -- is depicted in this brief YouTube clip.
For Wedginald's many fans across the Web, this flurry of motion was a real treat. Click the video to watch.
BBC News: Cheesy Web site attracts thousands.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Not even two weeks after the good citizens of Fond Du Lac, Wis., set the record for the world's biggest fondue, somebody is trying to break it. That's right, big-fondue fans, we have us a smackdown.
Some trash-talking Swiss are aiming to take Fond Du Lac down! Specifically, the folks from Emmi Cheese Co. (who are actually probably mild-mannered and polite) have announced plans to make the world's largest fondue in New York City.
On October 3, at the World Financial Center plaza, Emmi will go for the dairyland gold. Will they make it? Are they aware of the stakes in this game? And what will the cheeseheads of Wisconsin do to respond to the challenge?
Stay tuned, folks. There's much more to come.
Click here for the press release: World's Biggest Fondue (Emmi cheese)
Friday, September 14, 2007
It's a down-home place with picnic tables, occasional live country music, and bring-your-own beer (Shiner Bock is the preferred choice).
What does the Salt Lick have to do with cheese? Well, nothing. Except that besides barbecue, Dripping Springs is home to Pure Luck Dairy, makers of some mighty fine goat cheese.
Pure Luck is a completely farmstead operation -- their line of cheeses is produced entirely from the milk of a herd of cute goats wandering about their fields.
The dairy puts out a variety of types, from fresh Chevre (with a range of added herbs and spices) to the complex Sainte Maure, whose refined texture and subtle flavors will make you think immediately of the great goat cheeses of the Loire Valley, where the style originated.
Pure Luck also makes goat's milk Feta and a blue cheese, which can be hard to find unless you frequent the farmer's markets of Central Texas.
Click here for the Pure Luck Web site, which contains a touching history of the operation, along with ordering information.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
This time, we're off to the Pacific Northwest, more specifically to Oregon for the Wedge Festival.
Portland Celebrates Cheese on October 6. Mark your calendars. Sharpen your cheese knives. The Rose City presents its first-ever (so far as I know, anyway) tribute to all things dairy.
For details, click here.
Monday, September 10, 2007
You get the picture: It's a "fun" dairy product designed to stand out on the grocery shelf, but not exactly a Big Serious Cheese.
This weekend, I decided to give Fiscalini's Bandaged Cheddar a try. I wasn't sure what to expect. Playful? Accessible? And what's with the name . . . is it injured?
Actually, the bandages refer to an aging method in which the rind is wrapped, or bandaged, to ensure consistent flavor development across the entire wheel. The name might be quirky, but there's no kidding around going here. This aged, raw-milk variety is a Big Serious Cheese.
What defines a B.S.C.? For starters, you need to use traditional production techniques. This is a farmstead variety, which means all the milk comes from cows the Fiscalinis raise themselves. The Bandaged Cheddar is also made in fairly small quantities, and aged with care for at least 16 months.
The result, I have to report, is pretty spectacular. As another reviewer put it, Bandaged Cheddar "sings with a luxurious balance of buttery, grassy, and savory flavors."
I cannot disagree. Buttery, buttery, buttery. Sing along to that. What impressed me, too, was the cheese's remarkable balance.
Each bite hits you with 3 or 4 different tastes at once, each complementing the other beautifully. There's the dry sharpness of a well-aged Cheddar, rounded by the buttery texture, topped off by the cleanest milky flavor imaginable.
If you like the full-flavored cheeses of Ireland and the British Isles, you owe it to yourself to try this California version, made in Modesto.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
If you live in the Upper Midwest, you may be pondering what to do this weekend. Go to Wisconsin! You'll be glad you did.
There'll be bike rides, and pony rides, and a rock-climbing wall. There'll be bands, and trampolines, and face painting.
And, of course, the raison d'etre of the whole event: The World's Biggest Fondue.
The cheesemakers Roth Kase are donating something like a ton of cheese, which will be melted in a stainless steel kettle donated by Brenner Tank. The pot is capable of holding 2,500 pounds of fondue.
The recipe comes from The Melting Pot, a chain of fondue restaurants whose HQ is in Appleton, Wis. I'm not sure exactly what the proportions are, but it's something like this:
3 VATS of white wine
1,522 dashes of Kirsch
Melt the cheese and wine together in an enormous pot, until it becomes a piping-hot mess of yummy cheesey goo. Cook until the the fondue looks like something a villain in Batman would use as a murder weapon -- Holy Fon-death, Batman!
Meanwhile, chop all the bread in Wisconsin into bite size cubes. Attach the bread cubes onto three-foot skewers, and let everybody in Fond Du Lac start dipping.
The Fondue Festival takes place in downtown Fond Du Lac on Saturday, September 8. Get there early. They start serving up the fondue at 11 a.m.
For more information, click here.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Wisconsin: a big, cold peninsula (if you count Michigan) dividing Lake Superior and Lake Michigan.
What do these two land masses have in common? Well, very little. But they are both home to some great cheese. So Roth Kase, the award-winning cheesemaker from Monroe, Wis., is determined to draw a dairy link between the two with the Gran Queso.
"Muy bueno" I say to Roth. And also, "Muchas gracias."
Like a good Manchego, the Gran Queso has a yellow-ivory paste. It's a semi-hard, cow's milk cheese, aged six months before being released. It is slightly sweet, with an extra sharp tang. The inedible rind sports a red basket-weave pattern.
PAIRINGS: Try it with a sweet wine, like Port or Madeira. If that's not your style, put it up against a robust Spanish red like an old-style Rioja (plenty of tannins). Gran Queso also melts and blends quite well, so put it on top of pasta, or in a quesadilla.
Monday, September 3, 2007
The islands are also where Joe and Mary Matos, grew up and learned about cheese. When they arrived in Sonoma County in the late 1970s, the Matoses brought with them a craft honed from four generations of Portuguese cheesemakers.
St. George, named after the Matos' home island (Sao Jorge in Portuguese), is a semi-hard cheese made from unpasteurized cow's milk. It's a farmstead variety, so all the milk comes from the family's 50-strong herd of Holsteins.
It's a deeply flavorful cheese, that tastes sort of like a cross between Cheddar and a young Asiago. It has a light, clean aroma, with a slight tangy taste and an almost buttery texture. (Not quite buttery, since it's an aged cheese. But almost buttery, which is a mighty good thing.)
PAIRINGS: St. George is light enough to go with white wines like Viognier, but has a depth of flavor that would stand up to a Pinot Noir or other medium-bodied red. In Portugal, they often serve it with cornbread, which makes me think it would also be great melted into polenta.