Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Since my last post, several of you have written to me about the cheese that stars in my steamy Youtube video. Friends, it's no ordinary Parm. It's aged by Giorgio Cravero, a 5th-generation cheese man in Bra, Italy. Moist and sweet, Cravero's Parmigiano Reggiano is a classic pairing for aged balsamic, the other heart-stopper in the film.
When I started looking for a Parm to play the lead, I asked around at a number of cheese shops. Turns out, there are over 500 producers of Parmigiano-Reggiano in and around Parma and Bologna. Many are mass-produced, bur Cravero's is not. He selects the best wheels from a number of small family producers, then ages them himself, producing a grand total of about 9 wheels per day. "Miniscule," said Ezekial Ferguson, a knowledgeable South Philly cheesemonger.
When Zeke passed me a sliver, I knew Garbo had found her Astaire. This is a cheese with umami. My nibble was sweet, nutty, full of crispy amino acid crystals -- the sign of a well-aged cheese. Midway through the bite, Cravero released a faintly pickly taste, a thrilling twang.
I knew Zeke was right. This was a cheese that would pair well with a plummy aged balsamic.
This particular bottle of Balsamico Suite is my first grown-up bottle, I must admit. I sampled some cloying, syrupy versions in the $20-$30 range before I fell swooning to the floor over this one. I love its choclatey notes, its velvety feel. It tastes like a cross between port and pickled ginger. When you eat it with this Parm, your mouth goes from nutty-sweet to tangy-salty to bitter-dark chocolate in a wave.
Glorious. I can't think of better tub mates. I may get a mini fridge for the bathroom.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
No, I'm not making nude art films in my free time, I'm entering a contest to win a trip to Italy, and the contest required making a 3-minute film that involved balsamic vinegar.
If you are curious, if you like silent movies, if you want to see my bathroom...here you have it.
Many thanx to the spectacular producer, Aimee Knight.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
I thought I'd seen it all, from cheese packed in espresso grounds (Beehive) to cheese rubbed down with cocoa (Cocoa Cardona). Then my friend Scott yanked open his fridge, pulled out a brown paper package, and unwrapped a wedge of cheese that looked like it was encased in gizzards. No, it wasn't gizzards, but it looked like a bloody mess. Instead, it was Testun al Borolo, a mixed milk cheese that is packed in grape skins. And grape seeds.
Eating Testun al Borolo is a little bit like eating trail mix, because those grape seeds are crispy -- and yet, the grape skins are damp. Faintly. They made me think of tobacco, dry and yet moist. All in all a perplexing, delightful experience. I can't think of a cheese that tastes, smells, and feels more rustic. Break out the camping equipment; here is a cheese that is best eaten under the stars next to a musty tent.
The grapes that encase Testun come from the Nebbiolo grape, used in making Borolo wine. Mano Vino, a wine and travel blog, described pairing this cheese with a "Super Umbrian" wine, Sportoletti's 2006 Assisi Rosso -- an earthy red with flavors of tobacco and cherries. Sounds marvy. Others recommend a Lambic. Could be a little sweet, although me thinks that a bottle of New Glarus' Belgian Red, made with Door County Cherries, could be a sickeningly good match.
Scary-intense as this cheese might appear, it's actually pretty mild. Complex, yes, but subtle. The texture is very dry, not quite like a Parm, but it crumbles nicely. Scott had it on a salad at a fabu-dabu neighborhood restaurant, Modo Mi, and he said it was all he could think about for the rest of his meal. It's certainly arresting. If I ever go on one of those Jersey Devil tours in the Pine Barrens, I'm definitely taking a baguette and some Testun. I think it could scare off a Yeti.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Last night's tasting at Quince was full of drama. The basement flooded, the power snapped off, and some of our guests got stranded in the rain. But with a few candles and some deep breathing, we prevailed. One of the brewers from Philadelphia Brewing Company, Dean Browne, still managed to traipse over to join us, and so did David April, leader of the Fishtown Beer Runners. And so we drank beer and ate cheese, and we learned a few things about hops and estrogen -- like that IPAs are good for the ladeez. More on that later.
Here are our three pairings, for those of you who stayed home and nibbled brie in bed:
Ale: Rowhouse Red
This sheep's milk cheese from the Basque region is mild and fruity with an aroma of freshly milled wheat. Traditionally, it's served with cherry preserves, so we gave a nod to that sweet, tart pairing by pouring a red ale along side it. With a few olives and Marcona almonds, it made for a mellow, well-rounded combo.
Cheese: Humboldt Fog
Ale: Walt Wit
Our favorite pairing: the citrusy notes in this unfiltered Belgian wheat ale cozied up so nicely to this slightly acidic, perfectly balanced goat cheese, easily recognized by its layer of ash (the ash is supposed to represent the coastal fog near Cypress Grove in Humboldt County, CA where this cheese is made). Joan and Nicole served each plate with a shard of Rosales torta, an olive oil cracker that tastes faintly of anise and burnt sugar.
Cheese: PA Noble
Ale: Newbold IPA
Bitter beer calls for sharp cheese, so we played on this pairing rule by selecting a local cheddar-style cheese made from raw, grass-fed milk right here in Pennsylvania. We think this local cheese from Green Valley Dairy is stellar, and we were excited to pair it with a local brew. This cheese pulled honey notes out of the IPA, and it was terrific served with mango chutney from Stonewall Kitchen.
All of these cheeses are currently available at Quince Fine Foods, and you can find PBC beers at most distributors around Philadelphia or buy it directly from the brewery, which is open for free tours and tastings every Saturday, noon-3 p.m. I visited back in January, and I have never been the same. I'm drinking those hoppy beers all the time now, ever since brewer Dean Browne told me that the estrogen in hops are good for women's bones.
Ladeez, maybe I'll see you at the bar. I'll be the one with the cheddar and chutney.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Monday, March 8, 2010
Was I happy about this? Bien sur. In fact, I learned something very interesting from Beth Kennett, one of the dairy farmers on hand at the Cabot Cheese table. Not only is Cabot a farmer-owned cooperative -- pretty cool -- but their aged cheddar is lactose free, which means all the people I know who are lactose intolerant can actually eat this cheese. Hallelujah!
"Natural aging breaks down the lactose," Kennett explained, so the the simple sugars are easy to digest. Kennett says this does not apply to all aged cheddars, only those that are "naturally aged." (Some aged cheeses are injected with chemicals, or so I've read, to speed up the aging process.) If you want to learn more, check out this link at the Cabot Cheese web site.
I was also excited to learn about some cheese-related hospitality up in Vermont. Beth Kennett actually runs a Bed & Breakfast at her dairy, Liberty Hill Farm Inn, so you can meet the cows that produce Cabot cheese. Rates are reasonable, and Beth cooks meals for the guests herself. Sounds to me like a perfect cheeselover's getaway. I may just have to take Monsieur Fromage. Puh puh puh.
Friday, March 5, 2010
Monte Cabra is a Spanish goat cheese (from Catalonia), very mild with a pleasant, sweet, pasturey taste. Like its black shroud, its story remains something of a mystery: I couldn’t find squat, not on the Net, not even in my go-to cheez books. Everyone who has written about Monte Cabra compares it to feta, which doesn’t make any sense. It’s dryer, like Manchego, with a firm, not-quite-crumbly texture. I didn’t taste salt, which is what comes to mind with feta; I tasted hay, wood shavings, an ashy sweetness with a tart hook.