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Greetings! It's hard to believe it's April already. 2010 has been a busy year in the cheese world, and there's no sign of it slowing down. I'll tell you more about that in a moment. But let's start with right now.
In case you've been hiding under a slice of cheese, you probably know that April is National Grilled Cheese month. That means grilled cheese sandwiches are being fired up all over the country including in my own kitchen. Check out my recipe for a grilled goat cheese sandwich on a crisp, buttery croissant.
Also, I've discovered some amazing products including a few new cheeses that I wanted to share with you. And you can check out the Cheese I'm Eating to read about a cheese that isn't brand new but somehow always amazes me each time I taste it. I suppose it doesn't hurt that the people that make it are so darn nice.
As for what's ahead, I'll be hitting the cheese trail in various parts of the country teaching, sampling, talking -- you name it -- all about cheese. I'd love for you to join me along the way. And don't forget, the ultimate cheese extravaganza-- the American Cheese Society annual conference -- in happening in just a few short months in Seattle, so start making your plans now.
Finally, I've attended a few incredible goings-on over the last four months that I thought you'd want to know about including the spectacular Pebble Beach Food & Wine. Read about them in my Notes from the Road so that you can plan ahead for those same happenings next year.
For now, Happy Cheese Trails to you!
Grilled Goat Cheese and Spinach Croissant Sandwich
This creamy, buttery, oozy recipe comes from my book, Great Grilled Cheese, and all I can say is that using a croissant to make grilled cheese brings the world's best sandwich to a whole new level. This is one you definitely want to experience. Click here for the recipe.
Because I've got grilled cheese on the brain, I have a challenge for you. Join my Facebook fan page and post your favorite childhood grilled cheese recipe by the end of April. If I pick yours as the most unusual and yet tasty-sounding, I'll send you a signed copy of my book Great Grilled Cheese.
Cheese Bar, April 20, Portland, Oregon, 6pm-8pm
I'm heading to Portland (a great cheese town) for the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference, and while I'm there, I'll be doing a book signing at cheesemonger Steve Jones's new place called The Cheese Bar. I'll be there with Tami Parr, author of Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest and founder of the Pacific Northwest Cheese Project and Tumalo Farms's owner, Flavio DeCastilhos, who will be sampling his unparalleled aged goat's milk cheeses. Craft brewer Upright Brewing will be on hand to complete the tasting extravaganza.
Grilled Cheese Invitational, April 24, Los Angeles, Noon - 6pm
Just call it a grilled cheese orgy 'cause that's what this is. 10,000 people will convene on a studio back lot in LA to eat, cook, and revel in grilled cheese sandwiches. I'm sure it's one of those have-to-see-it-to-believe-it types of events, which is exactly what I plan to do as a judge this year. And just in case there aren't enough sandwiches to go around, Tillamook Cheese Company will be on hand with their Love Loaf handing out grilled cheese sandwiches to everyone. Seriously.
Cheese School of San Francisco, April 26, 6:30pm-8:30pm
Join me for my "All American Cheese and Wine" class in my hometown. We'll be tasting , discussing, and exploring the stories behind a selection of world-class American cheeses all perfectly matched with American wines.
Salsa, Cheese & Wine, San Francisco, May 2, 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm
What's not to love about cheese, wine and salsa dancing? They'll all come together at Café Cocomo where I'll be signing books alongside Marin French Cheese Co., who will be sampling out their delicious cheeses. There will be salsa lessons and afterward, a chance to work off all that cheese and revelry by practicing what you learned in the salsa lesson... What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?
Omnivore Books on Food, San Francisco, May 8
For anyone that loves food and loves reading about it this a must-visit destination. And if you're looking for an out-of-print, impossible to find cookbook, chances are you might very well find it here. On this day, I'm lucky enough to have been invited to talk about the rise of American cheese. I'll be serving a little of it too. Since the publication of my first book, The New American Cheese a decade ago, the American artisan cheese scene has been changing and growing at mach speed. I'll be sharing my thoughts about the American cheese movement and would love to hear yours too.
Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tennessee, May 16 - 19
If there's a more exciting ongoing food and wine program than the one at the spectacular Blackberry Farm, I'd like to know about it. I am thrilled to have been invited to lead a two-and-a-half day celebration of cheese, which will include cheese education, cooking, eating (lots), cheese and wine pairing, and a tour of the farm where cheesemaker Adam Spannaus makes his award-winning spectacular sheep's milk cheeses. By all accounts, Blackberry Farm is a very special property, and I can't think of a better place to focus on and celebrate cheese than one where it all begins: the farm. Please come join me for what will surely be an unforgettable weekend of cheese, great food, and spectacular beauty.
Food & Wine Classic at Aspen June 18 - 20
Grilled cheese gets top billing this year at one of my two cheesy seminars at the Classic, while French cheese and wine gets the nod at the other. I'll be presenting four sandwiches from my book Great Grilled Cheese, pairing them with four wines, and providing tastes of each of the cheeses in the sandwiches alongside. As usual, I'll be showcasing a few brand new cheeses, which I'm very excited to introduce. And once again I'll be teaming up with Chicago's fantastic wine guru, Brian Duncan, for a seminar on French cheese and French wine pairing. I've discovered some unbelievable cheeses from our Gallic friends that I can't wait to share. Mais oui!
American Cheese Society Annual Conference August 25 - 29, 2010
It may only be April, but start making your plans now for what is surely going to be the best American Cheese Society conference to date. Author and food provocateur Michael Pollan will be the keynote speaker, but the real stars will be the 1,400 or so cheeses that will be on hand for tasting at Seattle's gorgeous Benaroya Hall. Check out this comical video, which pretty much tells the whole story of the upcoming conference.
Last spring, I sent an email to cheesemaker Pat Ford of Beehive Cheese Company in which the subject line was "barely conscious." That pretty much tells the story of the high I experienced following my dual tasting of his company's cheese, "Barely Buzzed." Pat was nice enough to send me two ages of this cheddar-plus cheese (I'll explain the "plus" in a minute) so I was able to taste the five-month and one-year old cheeses side by side. Each displayed its own magnificent characteristics, proving once again that age doesn't necessarily make for a better cheese; it just makes 'em different.
The "plus" part of the cheddar-plus phrase is the basis for the name of the cheese. Barely Buzzed is rubbed with the unusual mixture of espresso and lavender. Not exactly a likely combination but one that was inspired by the main ingredient of a family member's business. And hey, there was a little lavender sitting around too, so why not add it? Bingo. The cheese won a blue ribbon in the annual American Cheese Society competition last July, and it's gone on to become a cult-like cheese. (cult-like because unlike so many wildly popular cheeses, this one actually DOES have distribution).
Part of what makes Barely Buzzed so awe-inspiring is that the base cheese - a traditional cheddar - is flavorful, balanced, and delicious all on its own. The espresso-lavender rub is gravy (as it were). That is, in fact, the mark of any exceptional flavored cheese. If flavoring has been added to a mediocre cheese, the cheese will never be remarkable. (Think lipstick and pigs.) The Beehive cheddar, however, is excellent with or without the rub.
I must say that it was a lot of fun tasting the five-month next to the one-year old version. At first, I thought the one-year was the better of the two for its sharper, tangier, nuttier and even musty flavors. Also, there was another flavor that I couldn't quite identify but finally did when I tasted it again (repeatedly). I'll reveal that in a moment.
The five-month is altogether different but equally enjoyable. Rather than the sharp (though balanced) notes in the older cheese, the younger version has a creamy mouthfeel, is mellower yet still has plenty of interesting flavor, and finishes on a tangy note. What I like about it is that for all its relative subtlety ("relative" being the operative word. This cheese is no shrinking violet), its finish is long-lasting. The espresso flavor from the rub is readily apparent but not overwhelming, which is a very hard balance to strike in flavor-rubbed cheeses, particularly those with strong flavors like coffee. The lavender notes come at the end; they're subtle but unmistakable.
As for the flavor I couldn't identify in the older version, it turns out that somehow the espresso rub was like charcoal to me - not burned, just smoky. When I tasted it, all I could think of was the slightly charred (though not blackened) part of a piece of grilled beef. It was a bit smoky and, as I said, charred-tasting. Strange for a cheese I realize, even one with an espresso coating, which might explain that charred flavor, and I loved it. It was intriguing and totally compelling.
This cheese comes from the unlikely cheesemaking locale of Utah, although like every other state in the country, Utah is continually adding cheesemakers to its ranks. Besides, cheesemaking is not unprecedented there, just lesser known.
As for Pat Ford and his brother-in-law Tim Welsh, who started Beehive Cheese Company, they simply had the quirky idea of trading in their white-collar jobs for lives centered on a milk vat and bringing back a local creamery in the process. In 2005, the company was born. So too was a collection of really impressive cheeses that we cheese lovers are all the richer for including their newest called Butter Bound. If you're wondering about the butter part of the name, one taste will reveal its origins. The cheese is, in fact, rubbed with butter, and while other cheeses get a similar treatment, these folks have figured out how to infuse the cheese with real butter flavor (let me hasten to add, it is not butter flavoring. It's the real deal). Remarkable.
Fromagination's Quince & Apple Cranberry Relish
When I first tasted Ken Monteleone's Cranberry Relish, made under his Quince and Apple label, it wasn't with cheese. Instead, it was with turkey. But frankly, I didn't need anything but a spoon because this was a remarkable relish. Sweet but not too sweet, a little spicy but not overwhelming, a little tart owing to the cider vinegar that's in it, and a perfect ratio of chewy fruit and gel around it made this a must-have for me. Fact is, I could throw a dart blindfolded in Ken's Madison, Wisconsin, store, Fromagination and know that it would land on something I'd want to have. Ken has sourced some of this country's best food products, whether crackers, honey, cheese accompaniments- you name it - and, of course, has one of the best cheese selections in the country as well. His specialty is Wisconsin grown and made foods, but the merchandise isn't limited to that. Located across the street from the state capitol, Fromagination is a natural go-to lunch spot for legislators and is standing room only during the summer months when the famous Dane County Farmer's Market that encircles the Capitol is in full swing.
I love dried apricots in my pan forte because the super sweet dried fruit and nut confection requires the tartness that the apricots provide. So when I saw Chelsea Britt's Apricot Panforte at The Pasta Shop in Berkeley, I knew I had to taste it. One bite, and I was hooked. It's tart, not too sweet, and is amazing with a variety of cheeses from mild fresh goat cheese to salty blue cheeses. Few cheese accompaniments span the cheese spectrum like this product does, especially other pan fortes, which are typically very sweet. When I first tasted Chelsea's pan forte and raved about it to her, she told me the story of how her dad had created the recipe and sold it at the Chico, California, farmer's market. When he passed away, she decided to carry on her dad's legacy and make a go of the product. No question her father would be proud.
Savannah Bee Company Raw Tupelo Honey
The folks at this company describe the Tupelo honey as a "parade of melon, crème brulee, butter and dried pear with a long smooth finish." Who am I to disagree? It's all that and more. My favorite thing about this honey is that it's one of those products that tastes exactly as you would expect it to taste based on what it is. The label says honey, and it's as much the essence of honey as anything I can think of despite the fact that honeys differ tremendously. In terms of flavor, I love its tempered sweetness. Some honeys are cloying, but not this one. It's both sweet and earthy, and because of that, goes great with a wide variety of cheeses, not just the saltiest ones as you might expect. April is honey harvest time in southern Georgia, where this product comes from, so I guess things must be a-buzzing in the Peach State as I write.
Master sommelier Evan Goldstein is a master in many ways when it comes to wine. Not only can he explain wine in a manner that newbies to experts enjoy hearing, but he also is a master at pairing wine with food. In his newest book, Daring Pairings (don't you just love that title?) he teaches us about lesser known wine varieties (arneis, anyone?) to the point where we feel almost as if we've tasted the wine even if we never have. To cement our understanding of the wine, he asked well-known chefs such as Suzanne Goin, Dan Barber, and his mom, Joyce Goldstein to create a dish to pair with each wine variety he profiles. Best of all (from my perspective, anyway) each chapter includes cheese suggestions for each wine too. So, if you want to learn about wine, learn about how to pair wine with food, or just have a great read, then to my way of thinking, buying yourself a copy of Daring Pairings isn't daring at all. Just do it.
If you haven't already discovered Culture magazine, it's time you check it out. Almost every cheese going-on around the world gets a mention in each issue, and the in-depth stories on cheeses, the people who make them, the places where they're made, and more will capture the imaginations of cheese and non-cheese lovers alike. For the spring 2010 issue of Culture magazine, I wrote an essay on my personal discovery of the burgeoning American cheesemaking movement in northern California and beyond ten years ago and how it led to my first book, The New American Cheese. The changes between then and now are jaw-dropping. Read it here (pdf).
Cheese and wine pairings with Duckhorn Wine Company
What an amazing opportunity I had to put together some of the world's best wines, made by the brands that comprise Duckhorn Wine Company, with their perfect cheese partners. Click here to see what I came up with and try 'em at home.
The first four months of 2010 have been cheese-filled and ever exciting. Here are a few highlights:
Fancy Food Show, San Francisco
As always, the Fancy Food Show is full of cheese, and the January show was no exception. I concentrated a lot on French cheeses in anticipation of my upcoming French Cheese seminar at the Food & Wine Classic at Aspen, although I certainly found a couple of American ones along the way worth noting. Among those:
Hook's 15-Year Cheddar - This anomaly from one of Wisconsin's best cheesemaker isn't about hype (a 15-year old cheese?), it's the real deal. Crunchy calcium crystals define the texture but so too does a surprising creaminess. Long, lingering, tangy yet earthy and caramel-y notes round out the flavor. Big thumbs-up.
Bellwether Farms Whole Milk Ricotta - For years, cheesemaker Liam Callahan has been making one of the best ricottas in the country from his farm's sheep's milk as well as cow's milk from a nearby Jersey cow farm (read: source of some of the best milk for cheesemaking). Always made in the traditional way using whey, Liam has now added a new ricotta to his line-up that uses whole milk instead. Can you say creamy? Although this ricotta would find a happy home between layers of lasagna noodles, this is a ricotta that requires just one other accompaniment: a spoon.
4th Annual Artisan Cheese Festival, Sonoma
Just four years old and this Festival has managed to capture all the excitement that the new American cheese itself represents - innovation, dedication, and most of all great cheese. Over the course of the weekend, thousands of cheese lovers strolled in and out of the Petaluma Sheraton to attend cheese seminars (including my core Cheese Essentials class and a Washington Cheese Trails taught by cheese entrepreneur Kurt Dammeier Beecher's Handmade Cheese in Seattle and myself), attend the dinner featuring great cheeses, great food, and great wine, and the big Sunday Marketplace, which is the ultimate opportunity for cheese lovers to taste the newest cheeses, some not even on the market yet, and meet the cheesemakers themselves. Everyone should give some thought to going to next year's Artisan Cheese Festival. You'll be so glad you did.
Pebble Beach Food & Wine
What an incredible food and wine extravaganza this turned out to be. Although in just its third year, Pebble Beach Food & Wine has all the excitement and big-time feel of an event that's been around for years. This was my first year as a speaker there, and I felt like queen for a day. In my cheese and wine seminar, I introduced new cheeses and wines including the seductive Vermont cheese called Oma made by von Trapp Farmstead, the always thrilling Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery cheese called Bonne Bouche and Cypress Grove Chevre's unparalleled Fog Lights. What a great match that is with the Bernardus Sauvignon Blanc. You can read the entire cheese and wine lineup here (link to pdf) The highlight was sitting with Jacques and Claudine Pepin at the Best New Chefs dinner (PHOTO) as well as attending the Top Chef Masters dinner. That night I got to sit with the most charming and fun Emilie Love, wife of chef extraordinaire Tim Love, owner of Fort Worth's Lonesome Dove among others. Nothing like wandering around and casually saying hello to the likes of Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter, Jacques Pepin, the ever-entertaining and wonderful Claudine Pepin, Iron Chef Michael Symon and Michael Chiarello. All I can say is make your plans for next year.