Saturday, August 29, 2009


This morning, I had a revelation. There were fresh peaches on the counter, a basket of figs in the fridge, and a tub of mascarpone soft cheese had just arrived at my door. In five minutes, I was singing "Là ci darem la mano" and tossing together a gorgeous breakfast.

I can’t think of too many cheeses that I’d want to eat first thing in the morning. Maybe a Cashel Blue after a night of debauchery, as long as I could scare up some pears and good bread. Maybe a shmear of Tomme Fleur Vert, a Loire-Valley chevre rolled in herbs and pink peppercorn.

But ideally, if I’m going to eat dairy at dawn, I’ve decamped to the yogurt department, or I’m staring down the Neufchatel that has been sitting in the crisper for far too long. Now I have a new darling, a true breakfast cheese: Mascarpone.

This is the cheese you know from too many leaden Tiramisus, but no, in small doses, with fresh fruit, honey, and a little nutmeg, this cheese is perfect to wake up to after a rainstorm. It’s mild, creamy, and the mouthfeel brings to mind certain mousses I have eaten that made me tremble, a particular pots de crème that never leaves my mind.

Monsieur called it “cocoa butter and cream cheese.”

In Italy, people serve mascarpone with anchovies, mustard, and pickles—or so I’ve read. I can’t imagine dubbing over the sublime notes of flowers and grass with anything so harsh. With berries, it would be beautiful. Slathered on scones, too. Or any sweet bread. I’m already thinking of how I’ll eat it tomorrow for breakfast, maybe on top of raspberries and a waffle.

Mascarpone and Peaches for Two

1 sliced peach

3 figs


Toasted pecans (optional)

Mascarpone (I used Crave Brothers)

Wearing your nicest bathrobe, descend the stairs and slice peaches. Ask your boyfriend to halve the figs. Toast the pecans, together. Take turns with the mascarpone. Fight over the honey. Eat it on the back stoop or in bed while listening to a scratchy recording of Don Giovanni.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Baby Mozzarella

Okay, okay, maybe this is a little cute, but I am in love with putting bocconcini on top of pasta in place of meatballs. Bocconcini, or baby mozzarella, in general, has always made me crazy-happy, especially when it’s fresh. I like that springy mouthfeel, and I love how the mild taste plays off tomatoes and basil.

Last August, my old landlord taught me to make uncooked tomato sauce, using raw garlic, chopped basil, and warm-from-the-garden tomatoes. He said it was the perfect summer food to make for company, because you don’t have to heat up the kitchen (except to boil the pasta), and the sauce only gets better if you let it sit covered on your counter for an hour or so.

Now, it’s September, and I’m pulling in the last of the heirlooms – Cherokee purples, green zebras, and oodles of romas. All I want to do is savor these last glorious toms before I succumb to store-bought varieties with their tough skins and mealy centers. It’s a perfect week to throw a dinner party in honor of tomatoes, and what better cheese to serve alongside than mozzarella?

Bocconcini (“little mouthfuls”), come in tubs of whey and water, and they’re available at most groceries. If you can find a cheesemaker who makes fresh mozzarella, that’s even better. The sooner you eat fresh mozz, the better it tastes. If you want to impress your friends, roll the bocconcini in fresh pesto before you toss the balls on top of your pasta dinner. Even unadorned though, they taste like goodness itself.


3 large garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup chopped fresh garlic, more if you feel zesty

8-10 tomatoes, romas or a combo

3 Tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

12 baby mozzarella balls

Fresh spaghetti or linguini

Chop your toms and throw them in a big clay bowl with garlic and basil. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pep, and stir with a wooden spoon. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let sit for 1-3 hours so the flavors meld. Boil your pasta, rinse it with cold water (so that you don’t put too much heat on the tomato mixture), and mix it into the sauce. Plate it, top each plate with 3 fresh mozzarella balls, and add a grind of black pepper. If this doesn’t make you weep, something’s wrong. If your friends aren’t completely smitten, ignore them until winter.

Serve with red wine, a crusty baguette, and some Astor Piazolla playing in the background. SERVES 4.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Truffle Tremor

The birth of Cypress Grove’s Truffle Tremor warranted a cheese party. The California goat-cheese empresarios are well-known for their award-winning Humboldt Fog–a cheese with a layer of ash between the morning and evening milk (to eat it is to float away)—so the company’s new release, a truffle-laced goat cheese that won a gold medal at the Fancy Food Show, sent me off to the cheese man for a gorgeous wedge.

Last night, I invited several cheese hounds over for nibbles and drinks. No one wanted to miss a taste.

I set out the Tremor at five ‘o clock for a photo shoot on a slab of marble. By 5:10, it had oozed an inch, releasing itself like a snail from its shell. By six, it was melted ice cream. We scooped it up with espresso spoons and spent a good half hour oohing and decoding its layers.

The Blue Cheese Goddess detected “earthy swirls” in the center, the taste of “unsalted butter laced with mulch.”

Monsieur Camembert went right for the peppery rind, which he called “the crust mantle,” deeming this part most delectable.

The Blue Cheese Brit, a regular at these follies, ate a core sample and was moved to screech, “It’s like truffle-hunting naked!” As if. Thank goodness he left his truffle pig at home.

Truffle Tremor has superb layers of flavor. The whiskery bits of truffle are barely visible but as alluring as a man with fine stubble. The texture is topographic–from ultra-creamy, to liquid, to leather-soft. The experience is much like eating a chocolate truffle, one that breaks nicely on the teeth to reveal a soft center.

If you like complex cheese, one that blooms slowly in your mouth rather than bowling you over, this is worth tasting. Invite some close friends, open a good white wine (we enjoyed an Oyster Bay 2008 Sauvignon Blanc that was light and citrusy), and turn off all the lights. Then wait for a subtle earthquake.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Caña de Cabra

Around the corner from my house in Philly, there’s a wonderful mother-daughter shop that sells Spanish cheeses. Nicole Marcote and her mother Joan Sauvion, of Quince, introduced me to Mahon with quince paste this summer, and today I stopped in for my second round of Caña de Cabra, a soft-ripened goat cheese that I have come to think of as the cheese-lover’s salted nut roll. The rind is firm and tangy, while the center is soft and slightly sweet, like the nougaty filling of my favorite truckstop candybar. Hey, in a pinch, you know.

Earlier this week, I took Nicole’s advice and baked this cheese in a crock, then sprinkled it with toasted pine nuts, drizzled it with honey, and served it alongside some toasted baguette rounds. It’s served this way at Bar Ferdinand, a local tapas bar, and – I squeak inside, as I write this – it was delicious, every sweet-salty lover’s dream. If you eat it with your eyes closed, it tastes like a salted nut roll à la Julia Child.

Caña de Cabra wasn’t listed in Steven Jenkins’ Cheese Primer (horrors!), but Cowgirl Creamery’s Library of Cheese gave me the DL (a thousand bows to those lasses). Caña de Cabra is made in Murcia, an orchard-laden, mountainous region of southeastern Spain. If you’ve ever eaten French Boucheron, you know this style of goat cheese. It looks like it fell off a lumber truck. There is something earthy and mushroomy about it, and it’s so adorable, you’ll want to make felted pillows resembling it.

Please do. And send me one. In return, I will send you a box of salted nut rolls and a beautiful log of Caña de Cabra.

If you live in Philadelphia, stop by Quince Fine Foods, 209 W. Girard Ave., for a cheese-tasting this Thursday, August 20, from 2-4 p.m.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


The tomatoes in the garden are ripe, and all I want for supper is some good bread, some creamy ricotta, and a hand-full of fresh herbs.  This month, I’m keeping my cheese choices simple as the humidity sets in, and whipping up a quick ricotta spread has become my new way of tying together a quick patio snack.  Slice the tomatoes, grill some bread, and set a dish of herbed ricotta in the center of the table.  Everyone’s happy. 

Ricotta has always been white noise in the cheese aisle, as far as I’ve been concerned, until I started buying fresh ricotta and adding things to it. With some chopped herbs, freshly ground black pepper, a little nutmeg, a drizzle of olive oil, and some lemon zest, it makes a dreamy dip for cherry tomatoes.  Stuff it into grilled zucchini boats or roasted Poblano halves, and you’ve got something extra special.  You can even spice it up with some red pepper flakes. 

Because it’s low in fat, ricotta is a perfect summer cheese.  It’s not hard to make either, and you can do it right in your kitchen.  Ricotta is essentially cooked whey that cheesemakers reserve after the curd is separated out.  Then the whey is fermented, and then heated.  If you feel brave, try making it from scratch.  There are a number of recipes on the Internet--I’d recommend David Lebovitz’s recipe at Simply Recipes. Otherwise, just pick up a tub at the farmers’ market and start adding some fresh herbs from your garden.

If you want to blow your mind, try it on grilled peaches with a drizzle of dark honey.  Shazam.

Dreamy Ricotta Spread

½ lb. fresh ricotta

1 Tablespoon fresh herbs, chopped (thyme, basil, chives, etc.)

1 Tablespoon lemon zest

1 Tablespoon olive oil

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Salt & pepper to taste

Leisurely chop some herbs and mix it with olive oil and ricotta. Wander out to the patio, preferably with a baguette under your arm and some freshly picked cherry tomatoes in your shirt pocket.  Cut the baguette lengthwise and grill it face-down.  Drizzle olive oil on the bread, if you’re a glutton.  If you want panache, rub a clove of garlic across it.  Then spread the ricotta, nice and thick.  Watch the birds.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Culture Magazine

Mmmm, what a pleasure to discover a bit of cheese porn. Culture, a magazine devoted to serving, making, and savoring cheese, debuted last autumn, but I only stumbled across an issue recently, and now I have a new love.

How I missed the first issue -- on blues, no less -- means that I must have my head in a curd vat. Clearly, I need a subscription. The latest issue includes recipes for making cheese-based ice creams (Roquefort-honey ice cream, anyone?) and a cheese tour of Austin, TX, along with profiles of cheesemakers, cheesemongers, and a really dazzling photo spread of cheeses wrapped in leaves. Yes, I have a wedge of Valdeon -- a Spanish cheese wrapped in Sycamore leaves -- now sitting in my fridge.

The reigning mavens of Culture have hooks in the cheese world. Founders Kate Arding and Thalassa Skinner are dairy-world veterans (Arding has worked at London’s Neal’s Yard Dairy and California’s Cowgirl Creamery; Skinner works at Napa’s Oxbow Cheese Merchant). As an added bonus, the web site features a Centerfold Club (no, no, it’s not what you’re thinking), through which you can sign up to receive seasonal shipments of hard-to-find cheeses selected by the editors. The cheeses appear to correspond with each issue, so – what, cleverness – you can sample a round of Dafne, from Goat’s Leap in Napa Valley, an artisanal cheese profiled in the current issue.

The photos are enticing, the writing is strong, the layout clean and appealing – all things I look for in a food magazine. Best of all, I appreciate learning about cheeses and the people who make them. I like cheeses in context. It’s one thing to pick up a random wedge here and a random wedge there and develop your own palate, but it’s nice to have guides, I’m discovering, people who can help steer your cheese board. Culture does just that. Now I’m off to search for a puck of Robiola di Incavolata, a soft cheese wrapped in fresh cabbage leaves -- wouldn’t Peter Rabbit love that?!