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Laura's Newsletter

December, 2008

Greetings, Cheese Lovers!
Over these past few months, I have traveled to creameries throughout the U.S. Along the way I have tasted cheese that have been nothing short of mind-blowing. In my "Notes from the Road" section I give you an account of these travels and several of the spectacular cheeses I was fortunate enough to taste. Also, I’ve added a few new things to the newsletter, including cheese and wine pairing tips and a seasonal recipe so that you can thoroughly enjoy cheese in every way.

In my next newsletter, I'll share with you my travels to Wisconsin and North Carolina, where a yet-unnamed cheese I tasted is still haunting me--in a good way! I’ll report on another cheese that I’m loving and think you should know about. I’ll also bring you the latest cheese news, and I’ll share with you a recap of cheese conferences I've attended in the past year to help you plan your cheese travel. Some of the upcoming events include the 7th Annual Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference and the festive Artisan Cheese Festival, both in Northern California.

Don’t forget: If you have any questions about cheese, its accompaniments, pairing cheese with wine, or anything else cheese-related, please send them to me. I’ll provide the questions and answers in the next newsletter.

Until then, say cheese!

Laura Werlin
Laura's Gift picks

Needless to say, we're all looking for ways to tighten our belts this year, even if eating too much cheese has the opposite effect. Consequently, I wanted to pass along a few holiday gift ideas that won't break the bank, but will almost certainly have the recipients saying cheese (and wine too).

Bread and Cracker Platter
My first gift pick is the Sausalito Fish Platter from Pottery Barn. A fish platter, you ask? Sure, you can use it for fish, but I like to use mine for bread slices or crackers alongside the cheeses I'm serving. I love the contemporary design and the fact it's long and narrow means it doesn't take up a lot of space on the table.

Cheese Knife
I'm always in search of functional cheese knives that look sleek too. The Wüsthof (and others like it) has proven to be one of my go-to knives almost all the time. It's an offset knife, which means that if you're cutting a creamy cheese, you don't have to worry about your knuckle getting buried in the cheese because the shape of the knife helps keep your hand above and out of the way of the cheese. I like the smaller size (4 1/2 inches), but they come in various lengths, so choose one (or more) that suit you.

Cheeseboards
When I was visiting some folks in Vermont, I came upon a store in Burlington called the Vermont Gift Barn. There, I found several very clever and good-looking cheese board and knife sets that were made by a company called Picnic Time. The basic idea with these is that the knives are stored in their own compartment that swings or pulls out from underneath the cheese board. Not only are they functional and look sleek (or in the case of the Swiss cheese board, cute too), they are also reasonably priced.
www.vermontgiftbarn.com

Wine glasses
These very cool-looking looks-like-glass-but-aren't wine glasses are great all the time (think parties and picnics) because they're shatter-proof. Best of all, they're cheap. A set of twelve is just a little over $35.00 plus tax and shipping. I say buy a set for yourself and one for all your friends. It'll be the best gift ever.
govinowine.com

Cheese Grater
I first saw this grater in Food & Wine magazine, and when I did, I knew I had to have it. I love the look of this cone-shaped grater, and it works great too. The only thing I do that's different from what it's designed for is that I take the grater off its wooden cradle and instead grate my cheese on a cutting board and/or a piece of waxed paper. The wooden base holds just a small amount of cheese, and I usually grate more cheese than it will hold. But once I've washed the grater, I set it back on its cradle and let it adorn my counter with its good looks.
www.amazon.com

GIFTS OF THE EDIBLE KIND

Rustic Bakery
I love this organic bakery, which happens to be located just one county away from where I live in San Francisco. They're always adding new products to their line, and one of my new favorites isn't as much a cheese accompaniment, as it is an all-in-one cheese bite. They call them coins, and they come in four flavors including one with the wonderful Bravo Cheddar cheese from California's Central Valley and another that combines the tangy Point Reyes Original Blue with walnuts.

In addition to the coins, Rustic Bakery bakes up gorgeous lavosh (a type of crispy flatbread), which has just enough flavor to make it interesting but not so much that it overwhelms the cheeses you put with it. On the sweet side, their new fruit-studded Pan Forte Crostini are particularly good with saltier cheeses like blue cheese and washed-rind cheeses. I particularly love the one with tart cherries, cocoa nibs, and almonds. Yum!
www.shop.rusticbakery.com

Wisconsin Natural Acres Honey
This year, I celebrated my fifth year as a speaker at the fantastic annual Kohler Food & Wine Experience in Kohler, Wisconsin. At the event, I met Doug Schultz, owner and founder, of Wisconsin Natural Acres Honey as he was scooping out samples in front of the Woodlands Market in Kohler. I took a taste and knew I'd have to put it alongside the Wisconsin cheeses I'd soon be showcasing at my seminar. Learning the Wisconsin Natural Acres story made it taste all the sweeter. You can read all about it on their website, but most of all, be sure to try some of this mostly alfalfa, basswood, and clover-based unheated and strained (not filtered) honey with your holiday Stilton; your nearby farm's blue cheese; or a hard cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Sartori Food's wonderful parmesan-like SarVecchio, or BelGioioso's American Grana. A drizzle of the medium-thick, crystal clear honey is all you need to create that cheese memory that until that moment, was just a dream.
www.wnacres.com

Mt. Vikos Sweet Olive Jam and Onion Fig Jam
Both of these cheese accompaniments from Mt. Vikos offer surprising sweet-savory flavors that go with a wide variety of cheeses. The Sweet Olive Jam is a combination of green olives, pomegranate juice, and other flavors. Probably not the first combination of ingredients you'd think to put together, but the result is a honey-laced olive-y taste that goes particularly well with some of the Greek cheeses for which Mt. Vikos is known, particularly their barrel-aged feta. It also goes nicely with fresh goat cheese.

The Onion and Fig Jam is also sweet, owing to the namesake ingredients. Onion jam of any kind has a particular affinity with blue cheese, and the added figs in this one make it exceptional. For a slam dunk holiday hors d'oeuvres, spread a little jam on some oil-brushed crostini and top with dab of blue cheese.
www.mtvikos.com

Lillie Belle Chocolates
Located on the same property as the unparalleled Rogue Creamery in the Rogue Valley in southern Oregon, this unassuming chocolatier puts out amazing chocolates. But for this cheese lover, it's the chocolate ganache mixed with Rogue Creamery's Smokey Blue cheese that is not only memorable, but also delicious. The little round gem combines hints of smoke, salt and cocoa (naturally). Its dusting of nuts on the outside make for a texturally exciting piece of chocolate too. Although there's no cheese in the Cayenne Caramel, I'm a huge fan of that spicy, buttery chocolaty gem as well.
www.lilliebellefarms.com

Among those who have tasted cottage cheese, few have fallen in love with it. And of those, even fewer rave about it. Cottage cheese has long had a bad rap for being either bland or diet food - or both - and not usually worth a mention let alone praise.

But ever since the revival of American artisan cheese a little more than a decade ago, cheeses of all types, even those that were previously nondescript, have been worked on and improved - including cottage cheese. This achievement was assured when California's Cowgirl Creamery introduced their spectacular crème fraîche-enhanced cottage cheese in the late 1990s. Finally, the words "good" and "cottage cheese" could dwell harmoniously in the same sentence.

Now, there's a new cottage cheese on the market that's joined the ranks of excellent artisanal cheeses. It is an unqualified great cheese (as opposed to a qualified "great as far as cottage cheese goes" cottage cheese), that is neither bland nor is it diet food. Instead, it is every bit as dreamy, complex, rich and downright delicious as any great cheese, whether fresh or aged. It comes by way of a southerner and a northerner who share a love and knowledge of cheese and a desire to bring old-fashioned cottage cheese to modern-day consumers.

Dave Potter, a Wisconsin cheese consultant and cottage cheese-making expert, had long been familiar with the Nordica brand cottage cheese, having worked for one of the South Dakota brothers that invented the product that was distinguished by its excellent taste and texture as well as a long shelf life. Dismayed by the turn for the worse that the brand took when a large company purchased it in 1989, Potter bought back the original Nordica name in 2004.

Meanwhile, Chef John Folse, owner of Bittersweet Plantation Dairy, a producer of excellent triple-crème cheeses and Creole cream cheese among others dairy products in Louisiana, met Dave at a cheesemaking seminar. Although initially dismissive of cottage cheese, Chef Folse tasted the Nordica version and knew in that moment that he had to rescue it from obscurity. Because he had the marketing means and Dave had the recipe, the two men joined forces to develop and distribute the original Nordica-style cottage cheese.

You might wonder (legitimately, I might add) what can possibly differentiate one cottage cheese from another, let alone garner adulation for it? The main characteristic that distinguishes one cottage cheese from another is the so-called dressing or creamy component that bathes the curds. The curds themselves are always made from skim milk and vary only in their size, either small curd (1/4 inch) or large curd (3/8 inch), according to USDA standards. The Bittersweet Plantation Dairy cottage cheese is small curd, and as their promotional material indicates, it is also a tender curd. What their promotional material does not say is that you won't find the rubbery curds that are partly to blame for cottage cheese's frequent disparagement.

For anyone that buys cottage cheese strictly because it is the least objectionable protein or diet food choice, this is not your product. But for most of us, a great cheese is a great cheese even when it's preceded by the quaint word "cottage." (Cottage cheese, which in all likelihood has its roots right here in America, was probably developed as a way to use the residual skim milk from butter-making and other cream-based products. It was first termed "cottagers' cheese" because of the small homes or cottages in which it was made).

The Bittersweet Plantation Dairy label proudly proclaims, "Premium Cottage Cheese with Cooked Cream Sauce." Surely the phrase "cooked cream sauce" is startling on a cottage cheese label (despite the fact it hails from a state where cream is practically a condiment), but of course it's precisely the reason this cottage cheese evokes such a high swoon factor. On the list of ingredients, cream is the second one (after skim milk). This equates directly to the richness quotient. The "cooked" part of the phrase translates to a faint and welcome caramelized flavor not typically found in cottage cheese.

All together, this cottage cheese satisfies the same things I look for in any good cheese. Visually, I love the way the delicate curds are suspended in the creamy dressing, looking like little white pebbles awash in a sea of white. When I taste it, I am moved to reverie as my taste buds reconcile the sweet and savory flavors that are bridged by a little salt and an underlying tang. And when I chew it, I am seduced by the texture because of the combination of the tender curds and the ultra rich dressing that pools at the bottom of my spoon.

This is decidedly not the cottage cheese I grew up on and probably not the one most of you did either, but for those who do remember the original Nordica product, its revival will undoubtedly be thrilling. And for anyone that's pretty much avoided cottage cheese, all I can say is if you love cheese (and I know you do), then give this one a go. Substitute the phrase "cottage cheese" with "artisan cheese," and the mindset you'll bring to it will be part of the battle. The taste will surely win you over.

You can find this cheese online at www.jfolse.com, as well as at select Whole Foods stores.

Notes from the Road

Pat Morford, River's Edge Creamery

Oregon Creamery Tour
Ever since I participated in the annual Oregon Cheese Festival last March, I have been talking about the impressive cheeses that are coming from Oregon. I finally got to visit the lion's share of the creameries in October, thanks to the Dairy Farmers of Oregon, as well as the generosity of the Oregon Cheese Guild and Rogue Creamery. The word that comes to mind is transformative.

Oregon Cheese Guild president, author, and chauffeur extraordinaire Tami Parr and I set off from Portland on a rainy morning (surprise, I know), our destination: Ancient Heritage Dairy. Owners Kathy and Paul Obringer make sheep's milk cheese near Salem in the Willamette Valley, but the cheese they're making is every bit big city. All of their cheeses, including their soft-ripened cheeses (popular Adelle, a rather rare mixed cow and sheep's milk cheese and their all-sheep's milk cheese called Valentine), their harder cheeses (including a cow's milk washed-rind called Opal Creek), their semi-hard cheese (a mixed milk called Hannah Bridge), a 100 percent sheep's milk cheese (Scio Heritage--very Manchego-like), and their washed-rind cheese (Rosa), demonstrate they are artisans who love the farming life and the craftsmanship that cheesemaking entails. Portland farmer's market-goers are the lucky ones, because they can buy the cheese, but lucky for all of us, it's beginning to get wider distribution as well.

Here are a few of my notes about the cheeses we tasted: Hannah Bridge: Very cheddar-like flavors; softer texture from the sheep's milk and savory-grassy and hay-like flavors from the cow's milk Scio Heritage: Nutty with a long finish; delicate texture owing to the sheep's milk Opal Creek: Creamy mouthfeel, semi-firm texture, buttery flavors Adelle: Subtle but present buttery flavors with slight grassy notes on the very long finish

Our next stop, a good 70 miles away, was Tillamook Cheese Company. Ever since writing The New American Cheese, I had wanted to visit these folks, but I'd never had the opportunity. To be sure, Tillamook isn't tiny (they make several million pounds of cheese a year), but the milk that goes into making Tillamook, the attention to detail in cheesemaking (despite the fact that much of it is automated, there is still a good amount of hands-on involvement along the journey from milk to cheese to market), and the final product are all excellent. The cheese for which they are known is, of course, cheddar, and their newly released three-year white cheddar is worth taking a trip to Oregon (or the Internet) for. It's really, really good.

Unlike many factory-made cheeses, the Tillamook cheddar takes a total of about 3 1/2 hours to make. According to Bill Luth, VP of Quality Assurance at Tillamook, the industry standard is 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Tami and I were lucky to be treated to the cook's tour of the Tillamook plant. Although they have a large cheesemaking viewing area for the 1 million people that visit Tillamook each year, we got to go into the cheesemaking area (once we donned special hats, coats, and hairnets). There, we peered into the closed vats as they stirred the curds, and then saw the amazing cheddaring machine. I likened this to a cruise ship because each level of the multi-leveled machine has a different function, and there are observation portholes on each level. Once the curds are funneled to this machine, they slowly mat into one massive sheet, which is then slowly conveyed slowly to the next area, where they will be milled or cut into tiny little pieces within the same machine. Throughout this very slow process, the curds are reaching the desired acidity level. Finally, the cheese is ready to be molded into 40-pound blocks, vacuum-sealed, and aged until ready for market.

After our tour, we had a cheese tasting. There, we sampled the "new" three-year white cheddar (hard to call a three-year old cheese new, but it's a new product for Tillamook), which was a superbly balanced cheese with lovely little crystals, a desirable sweetness, and a perfect semi-firm texture. This cheese had all the flavor and none of the exaggerated sharpness that are characteristic of many American cheddars.

I also enjoyed Tillamook's riff on a smoked cheese. Instead of smoking the cheese for their smoked peppercorn cheese, they smoke the peppercorns. While the peppercorns impart a smoky flavor, the smokiness is less dominating than in most similar cheeses. Their 15-month cheddar, which we watched being made, is much sharper than the three-year version, but it isn't bitter. Its texture is a bit snappier than the three-year version, and unlike the longer-aged cheddar, this one has annatto dye added to it to make it orange.

After all these years of wanting to visit Tillamook, I was thrilled to finally get the chance. My only regret: saving my appetite for the dinner that was to come, thereby passing up the opportunity to taste the famed Tillamook ice cream. Next time.

As dusk descended, we headed west to the coastal town of Newport. Our reservations were at the storied Sylvia Beach hotel, and although showing signs of age, it had its own unique charm. Each room is named for and decorated in the style of a famous author. I chose the Jane Austen room, but I've yet to analyze what drew me to that... The family-style meal that evening was also at the hotel and was generously hosted by River's Edge Goat Cheese owner and cheesemaker Pat Morford. The meal was just the antidote for us, the road-weary travelers.

The next morning, we arose early and drove inland to pay a visit to Pat Morford at River's Edge Chèvre in Logsden. Pat's farm, called Three Ring , is home to about 100 Alpine goats, as well as the house she shares with her husband, George, and a veritable animal menagerie.

When we arrived, Pat's daughters, Spring and Astraca, were painstakingly wrapping each button of cheese with cellophane, ribbon (they cut each one by hand), and finished off with a sticker. Each package took about five minutes to complete. The contents - the Siletz River Drums - all reflected Pat's artistry and attention to the clean-tasting goat's milk she insists upon. I don't quite understand how she makes so many cheeses - about 14 or so - but she does it as breezily as the river that flows across the road.

Among those cheeses is her washed-rind creation called Mayor of Nye Beach. This cheese is getting loads of attention, and although I didn't get to taste it, I could see that it was at least a beautiful-looking cheese just like her others including the ash-dusted Humbug Mountain.

After a short visit with the goats, we went inside Pat's house expecting nothing but a chance to talk a little more. Instead, George greeted Tami and me with glasses of fresh goat's milk. One sip and I was convinced I was drinking liquid sugar. It was sweet, clean, and not goaty in the least (for those of you who might wonder). Milk would almost surely become the new ice cream if it always tasted like that.

By now it was time to leave the river and head over the hills to Fraga Farm in the town of Sweet Home. Like River's Edge, Fraga Farm enjoys a bucolic setting next to a river. When we arrived, owners Jan and Larry Nielson greeted us and whisked us straightaway to the cheese room. Jan's new Argentinian cheesemaker, Mariano Battro, was about to make a batch of their newest cheese, an aged washed-rind cheese called Rio Santiam. I couldn't wait to taste it, so Jan grabbed a finished piece from her cooler and after taking us on a quick tour of the cheese room and the goat barn, escorted us into to their home for a cheese tasting.

We started with her goat mozzarella, which is not a cheese you find in too many places. Although firmer in texture than cow's milk mozzarella, it still had that exceptionally clean flavor that makes mozzarella memorable. Next up: her so-called Farm House Cheese. Ever since my first taste of this fresh cheese a little over a year ago, I've been haunted by it. The cheese starts out like a fresh chèvre, but it becomes firm because it is drained quite thoroughly of most of its whey before it is packaged. Jan also works her magic by adding certain cultures that give it more flavor than regular chèvre. I don't know how she does it, but all I know is that it takes the concept of fresh cheese in a new and welcome direction because of its long-lasting flavors.

The Rio Santiam I had anxiously anticipated not only met but in fact far exceeded my expectations. Tangy, nutty, savory, buttery, with a slight chalkiness toward the center, this cheese captured all the qualities that a well-made aged goat's milk washed-rind cheese should have. Cheesemaker Battro comes from a cheesemaking family in Argentina, and his background and expertise are clearly evident in this excellent cheese.

We reluctantly bade our goodbyes to the Neilsons and once again took to the windy and now snowy roads. (Never mind it was early October). We were headed to the high desert and the town of Bend to pay a visit to Flavio Decastilhos, owner of Tumalo Farms. Although cheesemaking was done for the day, cheese aging is never done. So after paying a visit to his 320 or so goats, we walked up the hill from the cheesemaking building to the cave-like aging room. Built into the side of the hill, the room retains a natural coolness, although Flavio leaves nothing to chance and controls temperature and humidity very carefully.

His flagship cheese called Classico is a kind of cross between an Italian-style aged cheese and a gouda. While both Tami and I had tasted Classico many times before, we'd never tasted a two-year old version - until this moment. (Normally, that cheese is aged just a few months). Flavio generously cut off a few chunks for us to try, and after one taste I went mildly nuts. It reminded me of a four-year old farmhouse gouda with that cheese's distinctive caramel and butterscotch flavors combined with the slight pungency and pronounced nuttiness of its Italian-like cheese brethren. There were also some blue mold-like flavors interspersed, but to my palate, these were not the dominant flavors. Tami and I tried to urge Flavio to age more of his Classico to this stage, but since we weren't willing to pay for his cheeses to rest on the shelves for two years before selling it, he gave us a flat no.

Dinner that night was with Flavio in the charming town of Bend at the restaurant Blacksmith, and along with it, my first taste of the spectacular Deschutes microbrewery beer, "Mirror Pond," It is with this beer company's hops that Flavio makes his unusual cheese called Pondhopper, also a spectacular and I daresay unique cheese.

The morning came all too soon, and with it the freezing temperatures of the dawn. We packed everything up and headed south to the Rogue River Valley to visit Rogue Creamery, our final destination. What a treat that turned out to be. Although I'd been there before, I hadn't seen the creamery in full operation. We got to see cheddar being milled and salted, and the creamery's flagship cheese, Rogue River Blue, being made.

Like all cheeses, this blue cheese starts off as white as a cloud. After a period of time and the introduction of oxygen to the inside of the cheese by way of special puncture needles, though, the cheese begins developing its distinctive blue veins. After a period of curing and aging, the cheese is wrapped in grape leaves that have been harvested from a nearby vineyard and macerated in pear brandy for several months. All together, this cheese will be aged for about a year before it is sent to market. The end product is a creamy cheese with tiny but distinct crystals that lend a desirable crunch. Its flavor is a little smoky, kind of like mild bacon, salty (though not too much so) and sometimes a little caramel-y too.

Just as special as the Rogue Creamery tour was our late afternoon visit to Rogue View dairy where all of the milk for the Rogue Creamery cheese comes from. The creamery's owners, David Gremmels and Cary Bryant, have worked closely with dairy owner Delmer Brink to achieve the characteristics they're looking for in their milk. Part of that has been David and Cary's insistence that the milk be certified sustainable, which it is. If anyone ever questioned the art of dairying, one stop here and that question would be allayed forever. I practically set up a tent in the fields of clover and wildflowers where the Brown Swiss and Holstein cows graze.

That evening David, Cary, Tami and I celebrated the end of our Oregon tour over dinner and glasses of Oregon wine at the very good Medford restaurant called 38 on Central. Here, the emphasis is on locally-sourced products, so naturally the Rogue Creamery cheeses were part of the lovely menu.

The next morning the four of us met for cheese-filled croissants at Ashland's spectacular bakery and café called Mix, where we raised a coffee cup to the magnificent cheeses being made throughout the state of Oregon. I flew home with a few of those cheeses and even though I'd just left, I couldn't wait to taste them the moment I landed.

As someone who rarely eats cheese without a little wine alongside, I can tell you that I've had a few cheese and wine combinations in my day. Following are three tips for successful cheese and wine pairings that you can take to your holiday table. I've also included pairings that I've had recently that I thought were exceptional.

Tip 1

  • Pair a creamy cheese with a full-bodied unoaked or lightly oaked white wine.

What to Pair
Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam
2006 Liberty School Chardonnay
Because the Liberty School Chardonnay is so nicely balanced, it's very cheese-friendly. But together with a triple-crème (and delectable!) cheese like Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam, the wine's medium-bodied texture and creaminess makes a perfect match.

Tip 2

  • Pair semi-hard cheeses with medium-bodied red wines such as merlot and pinot noir

What to Pair
Abbaye de Belloc (Pyrenees sheep's milk cheese)
2005 Duckhorn Estate Grown Napa Valley Merlot
I enjoyed this lovely combination thanks to the nice folks at Duckhorn Winery, who offer well-done cheese and wine pairings on a regular basis at their beautiful Napa Valley winery.

Tip 3

  • Pair contrasting flavors (sweet wine and salty cheese) but be sure the cheese isn't much saltier than your wine is sweet and vice versa.

What to Pair
BelGioioso Creamy Gorgonzola
Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine
This pair is the perfect capper to any winter meal. The cheese is meltingly creamy, just as its name suggests, its flavor is a little sweet, and yet there are also savory notes that are a little like prosciutto. There's just enough salt to provide the proper contrast with the honey-like wine to make a combination that begs to be enjoyed over and over.

Acorn Squash with SarVecchio and Swiss Chard
You can find this recipe in my most recent book,
Cheese Essentials.

SarVecchio parmesan is a Wisconsin cheese aged at least 18 months, that, to me, is one of the best hard cheeses made in the United States. It has complexity and a firm, yet granular, texture that is reminiscent of some of the best hard cheeses made in the world. In this dish, the cheese's assertive flavors and toasty texture create the perfect contrast with the sweet flesh of the squash. If you cannot find SarVecchio, use any hard cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano, Pecorino or Aged Asiago.

  • 2 large acorn squash (about 3 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large leeks (about 1 pound), sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices, then cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound ruby Swiss chard, washed, coarse stems removed, cut crosswise into 1-inch wide strips (or use green Swiss chard)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces SarVecchio, finely grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Cut the squash in half crosswise. Scoop out strings and seeds and discard. Line a baking sheet with foil and grease it with a little vegetable oil. Place the squash upside down on the baking sheet and cook until the pulp is soft but the outside of the squash is still firm, about 35 to 40 minutes. Let sit until cool enough to handle. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl. Using a spoon, scoop out the pulp into the strainer, leaving a 1/4-inch thick wall. Let squash drain while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Place an oven rack about 6 inches below the heating element and turn the oven to broil.

In a large sauté pan, warm the oil over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and cook until limp but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the chard, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, or until it is cooked through and is no longer coarse. Add the squash pulp and salt to the chard mixture and mix well. Add 1 cup of the cheese and the red pepper flakes. Mix well. Taste and add more salt if necessary. (Since hard cheeses are often quite salty, don't overdo the salt). Stuff the squash shells with the mixture. Top with the remaining cheese. Broil until the cheese has browned, about 2 minutes. Let cool about 15 minutes, and then serve.
Serves 4.