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Greetings, Cheese Lovers!
It’s been awhile since I reached out to you, but that’s just because 2011 turned out to be wonderfully busy in the cheese world. My newest book, Grilled Cheese, Please! made its debut, and the grilled cheese love was almost overwhelming (in a good way). You may recall that I wrote another book about grilled cheese, Great Grilled Cheese, which is also surprisingly popular after seven years!
Now it’s time to look ahead at 2012. As you read on, you’ll learn about upcoming cheese events, some new cheese and wine pairing ideas, and several food items that make great gifts (or plain good eats) for any time of the year. Some of these may or may not have to do with cheese, but I just can’t help but tell you about them because they’re that good.
And I’m excited to introduce to you something I call the American Cheese Corner. Here, I will be writing about new American cheeses I’m discovering. I’ll also tell the stories of individual American cheesemakers, and I’ll pass along any and all American cheese news I can dig up. You can find the American Cheese Corner on my website http://www.laurawerlin.com as well as in this newsletter. First up, my hands-on cheesemaking experience at Sartori Cheese in Antigo, Wisconsin, photos and all. As with many cheese producers, the Sartori folks don’t usually open their doors to mere mortals like myself (and the other cheese folks I was with), but I’m glad they did. What an eye-opening and fantastic experience it turned out to be. I think you’ll find it pretty interesting too.
The Winter Fancy Food Show just concluded in San Francisco. I'll be back to you in the next newsletter with some new cheese and other food finds I discovered in the miles of aisles lined with all things edible. A Very happy New Year to you all. I hope to see you somewhere along the cheese trail in this, 2012!
Laura’s Food Picks
Whether you’re looking to create a low-key post-holiday cheese-focused get-together or you’d just like to know about a few fabulous food items (and books) you may not have heard of, read on for some of my favorite finds. >>
Grilled Cheese, Please!
Well, okay – a little shameless self-promotion, but this book really does make for some delicious reading – and cooking, of course. I mean, where can you get 50 delicious recipes (if I say so myself) for grilled cheese within the covers of the same book? Well, yes, you could get that if you got my first grilled cheese book, Great Grilled Cheese. Either way, if you want to create a great gift, then you might consider giving the book along with a sandwich maker (this works particularly well for weddings). The Breville Panini Press at Williams-Sonoma is my current favorite. And don’t forget great butter. My go-to? Without a doubt, Kerrygold.
Chef Vitaly Paley of the incomparable Paley’s Place in Portland, Oregon, combined his expertise as a chef and his passion for cycling and came up with his extraordinary Fruit & Nut Bar. He wanted quick nutrition for the long rides and created the bar just for himself and to serve with cheese at his restaurant. Once I tasted it a few years ago I knew it had to go viral, so to speak. Beecher’s Cheese Company owner and founder, Kurt Dammeier happened to be with me when we both tasted the bar, and the light went on. Kurt asked Chef Paley to make the bars, and he would sell them at his store in Seattle. The rest, as they say, is history. The bar pairs well with a variety of cheeses, but I like ‘em most with the salty ones – blue cheeses and washed-rind cheeses. They’re pretty darned good with triple-cremes too. Then again, what isn’t?
Happy Girl Kitchen Co. Apricot Chili Jam
“Simple, delicious, and farm-driven foods” is how the Happy Girl Farm folks describe what they do. Although often used these days, those words actually mean something when it comes to this operation. I love every one of their products (I’m a huge fan of their spicy bread and butter pickles) and think you will too. The Apricot Chile Jam, a winner in the 2010 Good Food Awards, is the perfect complement to fresh goat cheeses. The chili is pretty mild, and the sweetness of the apricots is just right for the tanginess of the cheese.
DePaula Confections Milk Chocolate Toasted Organic Sunflower Seeds
I found this chocolate bar at a small chocolate store in Portland, Oregon, inside the Heathman Hotel, and now I make a beeline there every time I’m in town. The toasted (organic) sunflower seeds seal the deal in the blanket of milk chocolate that surrounds them. All together, the toastiness of the nuts and creaminess of the chocolate is a perfect pair. If you want to add cheese to the mix, then go for the Sartori BellaVitano Gold. The cheese tastes almost sweet but the salt and crunch in the cheese match those same qualities in the chocolate perfectly.
Blackberry Farm Peanut Butter
I don’t often bring attention to peanut butter in the course of what I do, but lately I’ve been digging into this particular peanut butter with no concern for propriety (I use my finger) or my hip-size. It’s that good. Of course, Blackberry Farm makes extraordinary farmstead sheep’s milk cheeses too, so don’t stop with their peanut butter. I just wouldn’t pair the two together. Do consider pairing one of their magnificent jams with the peanut butter, though. (I’m a big fan of, yes, the blackberry jam). As for their cheeses, you can’t go wrong with any of them, although their down-home Aged Cheddar Pimento Cheese is the best version I’ve tasted of that southern specialty.
And while we’re on the subject of Blackberry Farm, let me bring the subject back to cheese for a moment and give a nod to their Singing Brook Popcorn. Have I ever tried it? No. Have I tried their delectable aged sheep’s milk cheese, Singing Brook? You betcha. How can combining such an amazing cheese with popcorn be bad? Go forth to Blackberry Farm (or at least to their site)!
Early Bird Granola
Okay, so this definitely has nothing to do with cheese, but when I find something that’s as good as this granola, I can’t help but tell you about it. I’m not sure whether I like the crackling crisp texture or the salty-sweet flavors better. What I can say is that all together, that texture and those flavors add up to the best dang handful of granola you’ll ever eat. My favorite is the Farmhand’s Choice, but that’s only because I haven’t tasted the Jubilee (pistachios and sour cherries) or the Choco-Doodle Do (dark chocolate and extra coconut). But really, how could you go wrong with any of them?
The year in cheese
2011 was the year when I was on the road more than I was home, all thanks to cheese. From the farm roads of Wisconsin to the American Cheese Society conference in Montreal , the Artisan Cheese Festival in Petaluma (Sonoma County), the Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival in Madison, various Food & Wine events in Aspen, South Beach, New York, Los Angeles, Pebble Beach, Santa Fe, and more, it was definitely a very good year for cheese lovers. The highlight may have been the first-ever American Cheese Month in October, which celebrated the spectacular cheeses being made here by way of cheese shops, special events and, by shining the spotlight on North American cheeses. For a calendar of some of the new year’s best cheese goings-on (that you too can attend!) read on for details and plan your year in cheese.
- Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference
February 25-29, Sonoma, CA
- The World Championship Cheese Contest
March 5-7, Madison, WI
- Oregon Cheese Festival
March 17, Rouge Creamery, Central Point, OR
- National Wine Experience
May 12, Washington D.C.
- Seattle Cheese Festival
May 19 & 20, Pike Place Market, Seattle, WA
Cheese I’m Eating
Although Stilton is traditional in winter (although beloved year-‘round), the Gorgonzola Dolce Artigianale I recently bought at Murray’s Cheese Shop in New York rocked my world. Can you say cream? Si!
True Gorgonzola can legally be made in just two regions of northern Italy: Lombardia and Piemonte. All I know about the particular version of Gorgonzola that I bought at Murray’s is that it’s made by a small producer (hence the word “Artigianale,” as in artisan) and is a DOP cheese. In other words, it’s made according to the standards set up by the European Union to legally be called “gorgonzola. Beyond that, I can tell you that Gorgonzola Dolce “sweet gorgonzola” earns its name in part because it is aged just two or three months and therefore doesn’t become overly pungent (its sibling, Gorgonzola Piccante, is much spicier). Also, Gorgonzola Dolce is, in fact, almost sweet to the taste.
The word “creamy” doesn’t capture the whole picture; think spoonable instead. In fact, the wheel sits on Murray’s counter and is basically spooned out by the order. It is a cheese lover’s cheese (blue cheese and otherwise) and will unquestionably convert the anything-but-blue-cheese cheese eater. It is mild, which doesn’t mean character-less. It’s just that the cheese doesn’t have as much obvious blue flavor as some. It is sweet with little hints of the signature blue “flavor" –slightly pungent, a bit of salt, and a tad beefy. Suffice to say this Gorgonzola Dolce Artigianale is the type of cheese that, if you were ever inclined to take a bath in cheese, this would be the one.
Cheese and Wine Pairing
I recently had the opportunity to pair a few California cheese with wines from the United States., New Zealand, and Australia. Read on for the specific pairings, but keep in mind that if you can’t find all of these cheeses or all of the wines don’t despair. I’ve given a few general guidelines for cheese and wine pairing that should help you find some great pairs.
Five outstanding cheese and wine pairings
Redwood Hill California Crottin (goat’s milk) – 2007 Argyle Brut
Laura Chenel Taupiniere (goat’s milk) – 2010 Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc
Bellwether San Andreas (sheep’s milk) – 2009 McCrostie Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast)
Matos St. George (cow’s milk) – 2007 St. Hallett Faith Shiraz
Vella Dry Jack (cow’s milk) – 2009 Argento Reserva Malbec
A few general cheese and wine pairing tips as demonstrated by these pairings:
• Goat cheeses (the first two cheeses in this case) go exceedingly well with sparkling wine and sauvignon blanc.
• Aged sheep and cow’s milk cheeses with a slight caramel-like flavor and semi-firm texture go very well with chardonnay (not too oaky, please!).
• Aged cheddars, Dry Jack and other particularly savory, meaty cow’s milk cheeses go best with bigger red wines
There’s no getting around it, winter is grilled cheese time. And with Superbowl coming, what better than to take the usual Superbowl fare and turn it into grilled cheese sandwiches? Take a look at this recipe from Grilled Cheese, Please! I call it Chips and Guacamole Grilled Cheese. Wait ‘til you get to the surprise. Hint: the chips are not between the two slices of bread nor are they a side dish. Where could they be? Click here for the recipe.