Monday, August 30, 2010

Giveaway: Guide to West Coast Cheese

Last week, a dear, dear intern at Timber Press mailed me this smarvelous book by cheese expert and one-time blogger, Sasha Davies ( If you follow Madame Fromage, you know I have a wah-wah-weakness for certain West Coast cheeses, namely Humboldt Fog, Red Hawk, Rogue River Blue, and any little puck that Sally Jackson wraps in chestnut leaves. So, it was a pleasure to nibble on this guide over the weekend, when I wasn't prepping syllabi. In the spirit of the new semester, I'm going to give this book away. To win, just leave me a comment and tell me why you must have it.

On the whole, I just want to say that there are a staggering number of good cheese books out at the moment, and this is one of them. It's useful, as any guide should be, and strikingly efficient. The preface offers background on cheese-making, notes on animal breeds, graphic depictions of cheese styles, and suggestions for buying and tasting cheese. Then, Davies offers an alphabetical index of over 300 West Coast cheeses with wine pairings and a few tasting notes on each. If I lived on the West Coast, I'd keep this book in my glove compartment, along with a bread knife and some grainy mustard. Why not add this book to your cheese travel-kit?

For armchair travelers, this guide offers a dizzying range of cheese names that are fun to say: Franklin's Rinconada Teleme, Cougar Gold, Jupiter Moon, Petit Marcel, UFO, Pianoforte, Brewleggio. One can can dream.

The winner of this treasure will also receive a copy Essential Wines and Wineries of the Pacific Northwest, by Cole Danehover. Why? Because if you're going to drive around sampling cheese, you'll need to know where to stop for vino.

I'll announce the lucky winner on Monday, Sept. 6, 2010 at 6 p.m.. Preference goes to anyone with a VW bus or built-in cheeseboard-dashboard.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Black Castello: Matchmaking with Blues

Yesterday, I teamed up with Marisa McClellan of to pair cheese'n pickles. It wasn't easy to find cheeses that could stand up to a vinegary mate, but we put together a beautiful tasting for about eight people at my neighborhood cheese shop, Quince. The real hit of the party was this luxurious blue, a Danish triple-creme with a shock of black mold for a rind. It cries out for fresh figs, but it also cuddled right up to pickled cherries. Marisa's batch was woodsy, thanks to the bay leaves in her recipe.
Pairing cheeses can be like setting your friends up on blind dates -- you have to take a few risks. I knew that Marisa was keen to crack into some pickled garlic scapes she made in spring, but I wasn't sure exactly what kind of cheese could handle that much snap and pucker. Turns out, a clayey goat cheese called Leonora was game. Leonora, an aged goat cheese from a single maker in Spain, had just the grassy, citrusy notes to tangle with a scape. (A scape is the green shoot that roars out of planted garlic in spring.)
With the fruits that are in season this time of year, these two cheeses should be your single friends. Pair them up with Asian pears or peaches -- Leonora would love that. You could add a drizzle of dark honey, and she'd lose her mind. Fresh figs or ripe plums would work, too. Black Castello takes to figs and honey, but you could also nestle it against ripe pears, toasted walnuts, fig-onion jam, apple chutney.

Black Castello is a triple-creme made from a mixture of cow's milk and sheep's milk. It's a perfect blue for beginners and tweens. No sharp hook. No bitter zing. It's all cream and conversation, and the taste doesn't linger in your mouth. If you want to impress your friends, spread it on toasted bread with pickled cherries or ripe fig halves, and top it with a sprig of rosemary. Now, that's love.

If you live in Philly and you'd like to join me for a tasting at Quince, come out of hiding! Here's a list of upcoming dates, along with with a few photos from yesterday.

Upcoming Tastings
September 18, Cheese, Apples & Ale
October 23, Warm Cheese Appetizers
November 20, Thanksgiving Cheese Plate
December 18, Holiday Cheese Pairings
January 22, Fondu
To reserve, please email Nicole at

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Cheeses of Summer: A Retrospective

On Monday, I become a desk dawg again. I’ll be posting office hours, going to class. Not like I don’t love it, but it does mean that the sweet, sprawling days of summer are over. So here’s my paean to the last few months, which were full of good meals, good friends, and treks through cheese rooms near and far.
Summer began with my brother and a giant latte...
followed by a Gruyere Croissant from Batch Bakery in Madison, WI...
and a stroll through the Willy Street Co-op cheese case, my old haunt...
and a few sniffs at the Dane County Farmers' Market.  Purrr.
Then I toured some cheese factories: Roth Kase, for one...
and cheesed around with writers at an artist colony in Minnesota. 
We went to the Pizza Farm in Stockholm, WI, a major highlight.
Come July, it was time to return to the figs of South Philly...
and meet my sweetie for dinner at Southwark.
The pork belly with blue cheese sauce was as good as everyone said it would be.

And so the fall semester begins. Soon, my students will learn about Chaucer and cheese, and while they delve into their studies, mine, too, shall continue. I've got book reports to write (from my summer cheese-reads) and a few recommendations to hunt for: Moses Sleeper, Grafton Cheddar, Cato Corner's Rapple Ree, Piper's Pyramid, Noble Run, Coomersdale...and the list runs on.

What's on your list of cheeses to try this fall?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cheesy Scalloped Okra

Well, kittens, it's week #14 of my CSA share, and I just hit freshness fatigue. Not that I don't luvvv the veg, but sometimes I can't face opening the fridge -- all those greens waggling their tongues. To add to my growing guilt, I inherited some second-hand okra this week from my friend Josephine, who also confessed to CSA slump. She showed up at a party with a bag of okra, and next thing I knew it was coming home with me. 

And so, last night, I had an okra nightcap. I got home late, popped a can of Yuengling, dragged out the collards, started frying yellow zucchini, and then I trolled the Net for okra recipes. Most people I know are okra-averse because this vegetable releases a mucousy film when you cook it. I've always found okra intriguing -- the slime is a bit sci-fi, but if you watch a little "Dr. Who" while you're cooking, you can shrug it off.

Okra is related to the hibiscus, and the edible part is actually the fruit of this beautiful flowering plant. I grew it last summer. Stunning to see: okra rises out of the soil like a crown of thorns, with huge yellow blossoms and a ring of pointy pods. When you cut them into rounds, they make these lovely pinwheels. 
I like to grill okra. Just toss it in sesame oil, skewer it, and let it crispen over the coals. Last night, though, I read a recipe for scalloped okra, and I knew I had to go casserole. I made a few substitutions, and oh mama, I found myself with a new fave hot dish. Cheese and okra? I know, it takes a little getting used to if you've thought of okra as a gumbo-only ingredient. But trust me, this dish tastes perversely like mac'n cheese. You could easily serve it to okra haters and they'd never know.

With a side of vinegary collards and some fried zucchini, my okra nightcap rounded out one of the best CSA meals I've ever made. I'm already scheming to make it again -- for Thansgiving, peut-etre? As for cheese, I used some leftover Grana Padano, which added a luxe sweetness that I loved, but you could also use a good Parm or cheddar.

Cheesy Scalloped Okra

2 cups chopped okra
1 can corn 
4 Tablespoons butter
1 cup milk, at room temperature
2 Tablespoons flour
1.5 cups Grana Padano or Parmesan
1 cup breadcrumbs 
Fresh chives, chopped (or scallions)
Salt & pep

Heat 2 Tablespoons of butter in a skillet and fry the okra rounds on medium heat until the edges begin to brown. Then, butter a small casserole dish and layer the corn and okra, sprinkling salt and pepper after each layer.  

In a saucepan, melt the rest of the butter over low heat. Whisk in the 2 Tablespoons of flour, and add the milk in dribs and drabs. Don't add too much milk at once or it will get clumpy. This takes a steady hand, lots of stirring. When the mixture begins to thicken, sprinkle in the cheese. 

Pour the sauce over the layered corn and okra, top the mess with breadcrumbs, and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes -- until the edges bubble and the breadcrumbs brown. Garnish avec chives or chopped parsley.

Additions: This recipe would also be good if you added sauteed onions or mushrooms. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ardrahan: An Irish Beauty

If ever there were a “sensuous” category for cheese, Ardrahan just might rock top placement. It is, in a word, plush. Picture a round cushion of a cheese, give it a satiny gold finish and a rich texture, then meditate on this: peanuts, wild mushrooms, a whiff of pasture. It’s cheese nirvana.

Ardrahan hails from county Cork, Ireland, where it’s made by reknowned cheesemaker Mary Burns. Mary began making cheese at her family’s eighteenth century farmhouse back in the early ‘80s. To read on, please click here.

Full disclosure: This post is part of a series I'm writing for Di Bruno Bros., one of my fave cheese haunts in Philly. The deal is, on Wednesdays I get paid to guest-blog on the store's site (

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lush'n Wild

This one goes out to my friends, the drag queens. I know, I know, cheese and lipstick don’t mix, but I couldn’t help myself. When cheesemonger Paul Lawler told me that Keswick Creamery’s latest release was named “Lush’n Wild,” I time-traveled back to fourth grade when I wore Maybelline Lipsmacker on a rope and lip-synched Pat Benatar. Yeah, the ‘80s loved me.

Lush’n Wild is, awesomely, just that. Its sharp, feral notes made me caterwaul the other night when I put out a selection of Keswick cheeses to taste with my neighbor Emily. Emily is a fashion designer who always travels with a miniature dachshund in tow, and usually they are both wearing rhinestones. Even the dachshund caterwauled when we bit into Lush’n Wild. It was a primal experience.

Here’s why Lush’n Wild is my favorite Keswick cheese (and I’ve tried many since my visit last week): it’s sneaky. It smells mellow and faintly citrusy, but it tastes tack-sharp and salty-sweet. Sneaky, yeah. It’s also a Tomme, an Alpine style of cheese, but it tastes vaguely like an English cheddar. For instance, there are bitter notes that I associate with cheddar, and the consistency bears similarities, too: dry to the touch, creamy on the tongue. I swear, it’s a cheddar cross-dresser.

Lush’n Wild also has awesome rind. After being pressed, the wheels are rubbed with Cabernet Sauvignon grape must from Adams County Winery, a vineyard near Gettysburg, Pa. The must infuses the rind with a dark cattail-like hue, and yes, I ate the rind. It was delicious. With some crusty bread and a bottle of IPA, this lush went wild.

Keswick Creamery is known for its ricotta, but I’m excited about its curious Tommes. Several, like Tommenator, are washed with beer from Troegs Brewing Co. The creamery also makes Happy Jack, which is a Tomme bathed in hard cider. Seeing beautiful cheeses bathed in local spirits – well, it’s hard not to get light-headed. I’ll have to reign myself in for future photo shoots with these cheeses, or this blog will turn into Raw-Milk Runway.

But reallly...would that be so terrible?

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Visit to Keswick Creamery

Cheesemongers are some of the nicest people in the world. In fact, I’m tempted to say that as a profession they do more to promote small farmers and artisans than just about anyone else in the food industry, except maybe chefs. Take Paul Lawler, a local cheesemonger I’ve gotten to know primarily through this blog. Last week, he invited me out to a dairy farm in Cumberland County, where he was “babysitting the cheese room” for a pair of cheesemakers. How many people do you know who will babysit a cheese room?
Paul, who works at the Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal Market, has advocated for Keswick Creamery over the last several months as this family farm struggles to stay afloat. Recently, the owners hatched a plan to raise some much-needed capital by offering shares of a dairy CSA. Paul, who interned at the creamery last year, wanted me to check out the operation so I could see, first hand, what goes into making quality raw-milk cheese. And he had a hunch I just might want to write about it.

Keswick has made a name for itself locally but also in D.C., where the creamery has a stand at the DuPont Circle Farmers’ Market. The creamery’s ricotta and quark (a dense, creamy wonder that spreads beautifully on bread) have gained favor with chefs and made headlines in the Washington Post. The Fair Food Farmstand and Greensgrow in Philly also carry these products. These small-batch cheeses are especially flavorful because Keswick cows graze on pesticide-free pastures in the Cumberland Valley. Happy cows make for excellent cheese. That’s a fact.
I got to meet some of these happy cows on Tuesday, when I rode out to the creamery for a tour of the cheese room with Paul. I’ll be honest, I’d never petted a cow before, and I was bowled over by how friendly these Jerseys were – Cappucino and I hit it off when she came over to lick my toes (painted blue, so can you blame her?), and soon Chai was nudging my arm, eager to be petted.

“Our cows love to be around people,” said Susan Dietrich, the farm’s matriarch and head milker. Her attention to these animals was more than a little touching; she knew all 48 cows by name. “That’s Freya,” she said at one point, “But her nickname is French Fry.”
I hung out with Paul and fed alfalfa to the calves. Then we set off to explore the cheese cave, which was really an old veal shipping container. It was lined with wheels of raw-milk beauties, from glowing rounds of cheddar-like Lesher to dark circles of something mysterious rubbed in grape must.
When we started tasting, it was easy to understand why Paul has stood by Keswick’s line. The Blue Suede Moo packed a spiky wallop that reminded me of Cabrales, and the Tomme Sweet Tomme had the addictive quality of a gorgeous Alpine melter. Best of all, though, was the ricotta that Paul made that day – pillowy and light, ethereal as cloudcover.

I left Keswick Creamery with a new appreciation for the farmstead cheesemaker. It takes work to milk 48 cows twice a day and a lot of extra care to turn that milk into cheese on site. At Keswick, that’s handled by just three people – Susan Dietrich and her daughter Melanie and son-in-law Mark. There’s no distribution manager or marketing guru like you’d find at a commercial cheese plant, which is why it takes a dedicated cheesemonger like Paul to make sure you hear about Keswick’s ricotta and ale-washed Mad Tomme (it’s washed in Mad Elf beer).

If you’re interested in supporting one of Pennsylvania’s farmstead cheesemakers, check out Keswick Creamery’s CSA program – for a small investment, you’ll receive baskets of cheese by mail over the next several seasons. The cheeses are unusually rich and tasty, rustic in a way that only raw-milk cheese tends to be. They’re also a taste of the lush life that 48 cows enjoy…and will, hopefully, continue to enjoy for years to come.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Word on Rinds

Brawling Cat, Birchrun Hills Farm
I like to say that I’ve never met a rind I didn’t like. Give me your bloomy mold, your orangey washed rinds, your funky gravel carapace around a cloth-bound cheddar. I was raised to eat those things, to fight over them, but I realize not everyone is a rind lover.

This week, par example, I got an adorable email from Cassaundra in California, who wrote:

I’m fairly new to the cheese scene and while I’m figuring out which types I really love, the rind becomes a bit of a distraction. Even after reading up and trying to decipher between bloomy, wash, wax etc…it gets a little murky as to when you should eat the rind and when you should pass.

So here is my advice: eat the rind when it calls to you. Once you start to dig cheese, once weepy wedges of Reblochon chase you in your dreams, you’ll know it’s time. I work with Jesuit priests, who often talk about callings. They’re “men of the road,” as I learned a couple years ago on a pilgrimage through Spain. “We walk until we’re called,” one Jesuit explained.

I try to adopt this come-hither spirit when I’m at the cheese counter. I stare contemplatively at the cheeses, and when one makes sad eyes at me I pick it up. Usually, it’s pretty funky looking, but that’s my taste. Don’t be embarrassed if a real beefcake like Cato Corner’s Hooligan doesn’t call out to you. It’s just not time. But soon....

Keep in mind that bloomy and washed-rind cheeses ripen from the outside in, so the area near the rind has the most flavor. When you sample cheese, try a slice that includes some edgy bits along with some innards. That way, you can taste the full range of the wheel. Some cheeses, like Gorwydd Caerphilly, taste completely different depending on which part of the wheel you sample. Near the rind, Gorwydd is pungent and firm, but closer to the center of the wheel it becomes melty and mellow.

Interestingly, Patricia Michelson speaks to rinds in her fabu book, The Cheese Room (now on my nightstand). She claims that most of the fat in bloomy cheeses gathers in the rind. Can this be true? I happen to love the baby fuzz on a good Brie or Camembert – that rind houses the zippy taste. The oozy center is lovely, too, of course, but I’d sooner blind myself than eat the gooey middle and leave the casing. That would be like eating the marshmallow fluff out of a chocolate egg. No, thanks.

If, like Cassaundra, you are rind curious, allow me to recommend a few teasers. Testun al Borollo is a hard cheese packed in grape must. Highly interesting, even crispy. This, in my book, is a rind worth eating. Cloth-bound cheddar: try toasting the rinds on bread. They soften into something bacony. For Cassaundra, who lives in the great cheese-making state of California, I have one recommendation: Red Hawk. This washed-rind cheese is a nutty cruller; imagine a glazed doughnut with triple-crème filling. Once you nibble this rind, you will receive my own personal Girl Scout Badge that reads, “I eat rinds.”

Because that’s how I roll. With the rinds. I’m just sayin’.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Point Reyes Blue

In summer, I love to serve blue cheese, sherry, and dark chocolate. They are tastes that go well with overgrown patios, marble stoops, and moon watching. On a hot night, the flavors cut through the muggy air and cure me of my air-conditioning hangover. I’m a blue-cheese-on-the-patio kind of girl.

Because it’s made in a hot state (California), Point Reyes Blue seems to pair well with warm weather. To read on, please click here.

Full disclosure: This post is part of a series I'm writing for Di Bruno Bros., one of my fave cheese haunts in Philly. The deal is, on Wednesdays I get paid to guest-blog on the store's site (

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dante: Sharp & Sheepy

Lately, I’ve had a thing for aged sheep’s milk cheeses. Their nutty profiles pair well with stone fruits (cherries, apricots) and they’re perfect to serve on a muggy evening alongside a glass of white wine. Most sheep’s milk cheeses I see in stores are European imports – Manchego, Idiazabal, Abbaye de Belloc. Back in May, though, I tasted the best aged American sheep’s milk cheese I’ve ever eaten: Dante.

Dante comes from the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Coop (WSDC), reputedly the largest sheep dairy in the U.S. The milk is gathered from just over a dozen small farms, and the cheese is made by hand. The same dairy also produces one other cheese, Mona, a mixed-milk wheel. Dante is 100 percent sheep’s milk, hormone-free.

Many sheep’s milk cheeses tend to have a mild flavor profile; their soft notes take time to develop on the tongue. To my mind, they’re like acoustic music – gentle and nuanced without the electric twang of, say, a farmhouse cheddar.

Dante, however, is a bit amped. There’s a pronounced sheepiness that I love, along with toasted nutty riffs that bring to mind marcona almonds. It’s got more chutzpah than your average Manchego but not as much sweetness as Idiazabal -- two Spanish beauties that would be fun to try alongside Dante, if you wanted to put on some Peter, Paul, and Mary and enjoy a sheep’s milk trio.

With its earthy, salty notes, Dante would be a great match for hard cider. A glass of Cava pairs well, too.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bridgewater: From Michigan to Moi

The latest issue of Culture Magazine got me hot and bothered. The cover story on ricotta was gorgeous, and the profile of Zingerman's Creamery made me want to pack a cheese valise and hitch a ride to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Luckily, I didn’t have to. A good friend happened to be on her way home from the Great Lakes state, and she offered to swing by Zingerman’s for me. Just send me a list of the cheeses you want, she wrote in an email.

Bridgewater, I wrote back. Just bring me Bridgewater.

You see, the picture of Bridgewater in Culture was irresistible. It looked like a snowball with peppercorns. With the heat wave we've had in Philly, I yearned for a snowy cheese. Bridgewater also had an interesting inception: the cheese came about by accident when someone left a bag of farm cheese in the trunk of a Honda. I love a good birth story.

When my Michigan friend returned last week, we had an impromptu cheese party pour deux and made ourselves half sick on Zingerman’s cheese. Zingerman’s is actually a famous Ann Arbor deli, known for its glorious cakes, sandwiches, and bread. The company also runs a creamery. Bridgewater is just one of many artisanal cheeses made in house by cheesemaker John Loomis.

If you’ve ever eaten spicy French Gaperon a.k.a. “the salami of cheese,” Bridgewater is similar. It’s much tastier than imported Gaperon, in my opinion – less gummy, more pure in flavor. The recipe Loomis uses to make Bridgewater is actually based upon Gaperon, so said the Zingerman's cheesemonger I talked to on the phone while I was nibbling. "This is so good!" I told him. "I had to call and tell you."

Bridgewater is a double-cream, made from cow’s milk. The texture is like packed snow, and there’s a frostiness I love. The cheese tastes cool and icy, but the peppercorns add heat, so there’s a little bitta that Vicks-Vapor-Rub thing going on – icy hot, ya know?

Imagine a peppercorn snow cone. Yes, that’s it! A perfect cheese for a 90-degree day. Try it with fresh nectarines and a wheat beer (a Michigan microbrew would be ideal).

If you have friends traveling to Ann Arbor, ask them to bring you some. I also recommend City Goat, a beautiful round of bright, citrusy goat cheese that tastes like pillowy sleet. When you don't have central air, you have to make do somehow.
Many thanks to Aimee Knight for ferrying this cheese across the country. For folks without Michigan friends: Zingerman's has a bangin' mail-order business. Both of these cheese are available online.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Grana Padano: A Pesto-Perfect Cheese

Last weekend, I decided it was time to bushwack the basil growing on my patio and make pesto for the neighbors. I had everything I needed – garlic, pine nuts, good olive oil – but no cheese, except for an expensive sliver of Parmigiano Reggiano that I keep in the back of the fridge to drizzle with truffle honey when I need a mood-changer. For making pesto, I didn’t want spend $30/lb, so I turned to Grana Padano, which costs a third of the price and still tastes like joy itself.

Grana Padano looks a lot like Parm. It’s dry and crumbly with a fruity smell and golden color. What’s the difference? To read on, please click here.

Full disclosure: This post is part of a series I'm writing for Di Bruno Bros., one of my fave cheese haunts in Philly. The deal is, I get paid to guest-blog on the store's site ( on Wednesdays. Woo hoo!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Cheese'n Pickles Tasting, August 28

It’s canning season! Please join me for an afternoon with canning sensation Marisa McClellan (of for a workshop on pairing cheese with homemade pickles. Marisa will dip into her favorite jars for samples (pickled garlic scapes, anyone?) and talk canning basics. I’ll show you which cheeses go well with sour dills and which ones pair nicely with sweet pickled cherries. We'll have a three-course tasting, a little wine, and some conviviality.

This all goes down at Quince Fine Foods, 209 W. Girard Ave., Philadelphia, on Saturday, August 28 at 4 p.m. Please call or email to reserve your spot: (215) 232-3425 or Workshops are limited to 12 participants and cost $12.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Mount Sterling Raw Goat Cheddar

In this latest heat wave, goat cheese has become my cold compress. No, I don’t apply blocks of it to my forehead, but I do find it cooling – one glance at this icy white goat’s milk cheddar from Mount Sterling and my core temperature drops. I begin to hallucinate snow in the air, mountain goats bleating in the distance.

Really, I’m just happy to discover a new raw-milk cheese, one that’s made from goat’s milk no less. Raw-milk goat cheese is hard to come by. That’s because most goat cheese on the market is fresh – think of those crumbly, spreadable logs. Fresh goat cheese is always pasteurized because it’s only a few days old and American law requires that raw-milk cheese be aged sixty days or more. Mount Sterling, a producer-owned cooperative based in Wisconsin, is one of just a few creameries that make a variety of aged raw-milk goat cheeses.

I’m partial to this mild goat cheddar because it’s versatile and mellow – grate it into scrambled eggs, serve it alongside berries or peaches. It makes for a good hot-weather appetizer, especially in the company of a wheat beer. Citrusy notes often pair well with goat cheese. That’s because goat cheese has more acidity than cow’s milk cheese. Some people find this acidity off-putting, but Mount Sterling’s cheddar is exceptionally balanced -- it’s not the least bit goaty or sour, just smooth with gentle nutty notes. A good choice for children and the goat-cheese averse.

Mount Sterling Cooperative has produced goat cheese for 30 years, but it’s only gained national recognition in recent years. In 2009, the company’s cave-aged cheddar (Sterling Reserve) won gold at the Los Angeles International Dairy Competition. Their Country Jack and whey-cream goat butter have also gained attention.

Even if you’re not a goat-cheese lover, you just might have a conversion experience. Blame it on the hot weather.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Zeke Ferguson: Cheesemonger Illustrated

Hometown: Harveys Lake, Pa.

Years at Di Bruno Bros.: 7

Number of cheese tattoos: Two currently – a Parmigiano stiletto and a label from Montgomery’s Cheddar.   

Fave cheese of the moment: Renata. It’s probably the coolest cheese in the shop right now. Renata is actually a Brown Swiss cow, one of three that cheesemaker Sally Jackson milks at her farm in Oroville, Washington...

Full disclosure: This post is part of a series I'm writing for Di Bruno Bros., one of my fave cheese haunts in Philly. The deal is, I get paid to guest-blog on the store's site ( on Wednesdays. Woo hoo!

Sunday, August 1, 2010


I love pairing cheese and fruit, but I’d never heard of combining feta and watermelon until I talked to Lori Sollenberger from Hidden Hills Dairy last week. She makes a raw-milk feta that I’ve been swooning over ever since it arrived in my CSA share last week.

Lori's feta reminds me of saltwater taffy: sweet on the front end, salty on the finish. It also calls to mind a woman my parents used to know, who sprinkled salt on her watermelon. Her name was Mrs. Davidson, and she lived in Leipzig, Ohio – I can still see her lipsticky grin and remember how she taught me to latchhook. We used to visit her whenever my father needed to get his violin fixed; her husband was a violinmaker.

Mrs. Davidson always fed us well. She was a ‘50s era cook – a fan of molded jello served with a blob of mayo, that kinda thing. I got the feeling salted watermelon was part of her bouffant-and-big-smile past.

If you try this sweet-salty combination, wrangle some mint if you have it in the yard. It's strangely refreshing. Epicurious suggests taking things a step further and adding both ground pepper and red pepper flakes. Somehow, that’s oddly appealing, too. Don’t ask me why, child, don’t ask me why.

Below, you’ll find a few other cheese-and-fruit combinations that I love. With fresh fruit in season, these pairings are especially luscious, and they make for an impressive dessert on the fly when comp’ny comes over.

Delice de Bourgogne + strawberries
A gorgeous triple crème. Serve with bubbly and candied pecans.

Blue cheese + figs
Picky a salty blue. Set out hunks of honeycomb and toasted walnuts.

Goat cheese rolled in ash + blackberries
Valencay is widely available. Humboldt Fog is the real meow.

Aged cheddar + apples
Dress up with caramelized onions, crisp baguette rounds, and fresh rosemary sprigs.

Chevre + Asian pears
Crisp meets crisp. Drizzle with buckwheat honey.

Nectarines + fresh ricotta
For breakfast, top with brown sugar. For dessert, almond biscotti.