Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Extra Aged Pleasant Ridge Reserve

Here’s the wedge every cheesemonger is talking about: Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Earlier this month, it won “Best in Show” at the American Cheese Society Awards – a.k.a. the Oscars of artisanal cheese.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve has taken this top honor not once, but three times. Incroyable. If you want to try the “it” cheese of the moment, hail a cab to the nearest cheese counter. Then call a handful of your closest friends, and sequester yourselves away like a jury. As with all small-batch cheeses, supplies are limited.

To read on, please click here.

Full disclosure: This post is part of a paid series I write for Di Bruno Bros., one of my fave cheese haunts in Philly. I choose the topic, and the posts run on the store's blog (

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bitter Greens, Eggs, and Cheese

Here is my idea of a perfect breakfast: sautéed mustard greens with bacon, a poached egg, and a nice dusting of Parmigiano. This combination is like Feng Shui for Sunday morning. You’ve got your bitter, your salty, your sweet; and texture-wise, you’ve got crispy meets soft meets damp-leafy.

C’est harmony.

Dandelion greens or chard also work in this recipe. Don’t be afraid to add a few red pepper flakes if you want to create some heat. Word has it that bitter greens are good for you during a change of seasons. They tonify the liver, so says my Chinese herbalist. I find them very cleansing the morning after, oh, a Manhattan and an enormous cheese plate.

Mustard Greens w/ Poached Egg & Parm

1 bunch leafy greens (about 3 packed cups, chopped)
4 strips bacon
1 Tbsp. vinegar (Balsamic works well)
1 small purple onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 egg
Grated Parm or Grana Padano

Fry up the bacon, and reserve a teaspoon or two of bacon grease in your skillet for sautéing. On medium heat, soften the onion and garlic in the bacon grease. When the onions are translucent, add the chopped greens. While the greens cook, simmer a saucepan of water and crack your egg into a cereal bowl. Add a teaspoon of any old vinegar to the hot water – this will prevent the egg whites from fanning out into an octopus. Gently slide the raw egg into the hot water and let simmer 3 minutes or less.

When the greens are good and wilted, sprinkle them with a Tablespoon of good vinegar, add some crumbled bacon, and give them a final stir. Then arrange them on a plate, top them with your poached egg, and add a few cranks of pepper and as much grated Parm as you can handle. The sweetness of this cheese goes perfectly with the other flavors.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Midnight Moon: A Class Tasting

I love introducing The Unsuspecting to goat cheese. Yesterday, I brought this minor miracle into my Food Writing class – a group of curious but tentative college juniors and seniors. I knew they’d buddy up to this hunk because it looks like a cheddar, and who can resist a cheese wrapped in black wax? They sniffed it, savored the first bite, then returned for more. That’s the magic of Midnight Moon – it’s lovable. A perfect first kiss.

“I want to melt it,” one student murmured.

“I keep thinking of Chicken Parm,” said another.

Well, my goslings were onto something. Midnight Moon has the fruity smell of really good Parmigiano and the buttery texture of quality cheddar – ideal for baking, especially a revved-up mac'n cheese. It's bold without being sharp, sweet without being cloying, and not the least bit sour.

They’re eating goat cheese, I kept thinking. Will they be horrified?

I know what my students eat. Lean Cuisine. Granola bars. Kraft Singles. A few weeks ago, our class logged every meal for seven days so that we could take stock of the typical college diet: processed food, almost entirely. No one logged any goat cheese.

So, after yesterday's tasting, I told them, “You have just eaten aged goat cheese from Cypress Grove Dairy.” There were a few perplexed smiles. Then someone nabbed the last bite.

Goodnight, Moon. Right?

If you're interested in following what our class is up to, you can check out our class blog, Ramen Holiday. I've posted the syllabus and a few photos from our recent field trips to Reading Terminal Market and the seasonal French BYO in Bala Cynwyd, Avril.

Next week, maybe I'll bring in another Cypress Grove cheese to sample with my students. Humboldt Fog, perhaps. Or will they fall for the favorite of last semester's Food Writing class: Purple Haze?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Scharfe Maxx: Swiss Power

Going into October, I find myself craving Alpine cheeses. They have an earthy quality I associate with root vegetables, like turnips and rutabagas. And oh honey, can they melt. Of the Alpine ilk, I have a weakness for Scharfe Maxx, a cow’s milk teaser with all the nuttiness of a Gruyère but the creamy texture of Raclette. I like it straight, with a glass of popping red wine, no plate, no condiments. To read more, please click here.

This post is part of a series I write for Di Bruno Bros. on Wednesdays. The deal is, I choose a cheese to write about each week, and I get paid to post on their site.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cheese'n Shmooz Calendar

Honestly, there are so many opportunities coming up to talk cheese, eat cheese, and meet cheese lovers that my calendar is beginning to look as scribbled upon as a 7th-grade Trapper Keeper. Here are some dates for dairy entanglements in the Philadelphia area:

October 3, Slow Food “Dig In”, noon-3 p.m., World Café Live
The Philadelphia chapter of this artisanal food alliance hosts an afternoon of culinary demos and tastings by local food producers and chefs. Tickets are a mere $10. Dock Street provides the brew, and live music is on the menu, too. I will be there with Debbie Mikulak of Amazing Acres Dairy. Join us for some goat cheese’n chat.

October 16, Cherry Grove Cheese Tour
Check out one of the area’s most interesting sustainable dairies, Cherry Grove – makers of Maidenhead. The Fair Food Farmstand leads this excursion. Lunch is included, and so is a tour of Griggstown Quail Farm – yup, you can reserve your Heritage breed turkey. The whole shebang is only $20 – you’ve got to get yourself to Princeton, NJ, but then you’re golden. For more info, contact, or call 215-386-5211, ext. 106

October 28, The Big Cheeses of 2010, Tria
This is just one of two cheese classes that Tria has on offer in October. Cheesemonger Rich Morillo highlights the best cheeses in America, showcasing recent winners of the American Cheese Society Awards. Don’t forget that Tria has a “Sunday School” menu every Sunday to feature a great cheese, wine, and beer pairing – all at a deep discount. Alas, this class is sold out, but you can still get on the waiting list: (215) 972-7076

Beer’n Cheese Happy Hour, Di Bruno Bros. (South Philly)
It happens every Wednesday, from 5-8 p.m. – where have you been? Free brew, free cheese, and if you ask nicely, you just might get to see some skin (meaning: cheese tattoos). These pairings are often exquisite – stop in for a minor revelation. I’m usually there, moaning audibly near the olive bins.

Ohhh, and I almost forgot to mention...the list of tastings I co-host at Quince, my neighborhood cheese shop, is posted on the store's website. On October 23, we'll be baking with cheese. Join us for hot cheese appetizers and conversation. More on this later.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cheddar and Apple Paste

This pairing might just be my new fall favorite: Quickes Farmhouse Cheddar and Mitica Apple Paste. I sampled the two together at yesterday's Cheese, Apples, and Ale tasting. Gorgeous. Imagine earthy autumn smells, plus the cidery taste of apples. Then add the musical texture of crumbly cheddar and sticky-smooth fruit puree.

Quickes Cheddar takes especially well to sweet condiments. Made by Mary Quicke of Devon, England, this farmhouse cheddar has a hint of cigar box. In other words, it's musty. Or, to use the words of writer and cheesemonger Liz Thorpe: "it's cellary."

You can tell that this cheese was wrapped in cloth, larded, and then stored in a damp place. Those earthy notes are what make a cheddar a true "farmhouse cheddar." If you don't like boot-stompin' goodness, you're better off with a different style, a cheddar without the word "bandaged" anywhere near it.

Quickes Cheddar has a caramel-sweetness that I love. It makes me think of eating a caramel-covered apple in a leaf pile. The blend of toffee notes and autumnal leafiness is just lovely. If you eat the apple paste first, the slightly bitter notes of this cheese disappear. And the mustiness gets tamped down.

I found Mitica's Apple Paste at Quince, my neighborhood cheese shop, but you should be able to find it at various gourmet shops or online.
The same company also makes membrillo paste and those glorious rounds of chocolate, wrapped in waxed paper, that are so good for baking. Fresh apples are always a lively companion for cheddar, but when you want to vary the experience...well, a little apple paste on an espresso spoon sparkles it up.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hidden Hills Old Gold

Gouda is one of those cheeses that can be frightfully dull or wickedly good. I never buy a wedge without road-testing the wheel at the cheese counter. When it’s young, Gouda is mellow and buttery. Aged, it turns nutty and sweet. Cave-age it, and you’ve got musty madness. Too often though, it’s a khaki-pants cheese. Meh. Goes with everything, but doesn’t really jazz ya.

Here in Pennsylvania, Lori Sollenberger makes wonderful Gouda from the raw milk of her Jersey cows. Her herd is small -- only eight head. And Lori only makes Gouda during the summer months, when her girls are grazing on pasture. The Beta-carotene in the grasses imbues her cheese with a golden glow – check out that amazing color (no photoshop tricks, I swear). Her aged variety, which Lori nurses for a year, is called Old Gold. It’s sharp and bright with a twitch of caramel sweetness. Oh honey, no khaki Gouda here.

If you want to try some of Lori’s cheese and you live in Philly, put on your hot pants and trot down to Di Bruno Bros. Lori just sent the store a shipment. She also sent me a sample in the mail a couple weeks back, and I have been gnawing on this bright goodness for ohhh the last five nights. When I come home, I crave its sharpness -- it’s like caffeine.

To read more about Lori Sollenberger’s cheeses, check out my column in the October issue of Grid Magazine (p. 24). Her feta is another star.

Lori's cheese is available under the Hidden Hills Dairy label. Her dairy is licensed for raw milk, and she makes half a dozen cheeses, including Ivory Lace (a Havarti-style cheese) and Allegheny (made from wintertime whole milk). For anyone interested in seasonal cheeses, Hidden Hills is a great example of a small dairy that adapts its cheese recipes to the seasonal variations of its milk.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wensleydale: A British Classic

Besides being a star in Wallace & Gromit cartoons, Wensleydale has a great story. It’s made by a single creamery in Yorkshire, England that relies on a recipe from twelfth-century Cistercian monks. Production has been up and down over the years, but right now there are gorgeous wheels to be had, making this mild, toothsome cheese the Clothbound Must-Have of the moment.

To read more, please click here.

Full disclosure: This post is part of a paid series I write for Di Bruno Bros., one of my fave cheese haunts in Philly. I choose the topic, and the posts run on the store's blog (

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Save Your Parmesan Rinds (For Soup)

Today was soup weather, but I didn’t have much in the fridge, except fresh vegetables from our CSA share. No soup bones. No stock. Then I remembered reading a comment on Chowhound about tossing Parmesan rinds into a soup pot. Supposedly, the rind added flavor, similar to a ham hock. Okay, I had rinds. Oh, did I have cheese rinds.

So, in one went, along with water, bouillon, and lots of chopped celery and onion. I was making soup. It was time, friends, to put some of that leftover cheese to use.

I did a lot of Internet surfing while the cauldron bubbled. Would the rind melt? Would it crumble into a lot of unappealing bits? Every half hour or so, I swirled the wooden spoon around in my soup-to-be and saw a crusty half-moon of Parmigiano Reggiano surface. The rind stayed in tact, but it grew rubbery and amber-colored. It looked like a hunk of pork fat.

Then, I tasted. Ohhh…this experiment was coming together. The stock had layers of flavor. Beneath the soft, sweet onions and celery, there was another taste: a salty note. A rich, buttery accent. Could this be the secret to great vegetarian soups? I wondered.

How simple. How fantastic. Now I will always save my Parmesan rinds. And I will probably save the rind of any hard cheese, as long as it’s not coated in wax. Some people recommend storing these old rinds in the freezer so they don’t mold – not a bad idea, although dry cheeses don’t mold very fast, as long as you wrap them in wax paper and refrigerate them in a plastic bag.

Before serving my soup, I dug out the rind. I tasted it to see if would be good to cube and add as a garnish, but many hours of cooking had rendered it flavorless. All the taste was in the soup I’d tossed together – white bean and escarole, alas. And to think, when I looked in the fridge this morning I thought for sure I didn’t have any ingredients to make soup.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Cheese, Apples, & Ale Tasting

The weather lately has been sweatery, and that means apple season is upon us. Join me for a tasting of cheese, apples, and ale next Saturday, September 18, at 5 p.m. at Quince, 209 W. Girard Ave., Philadelphia. We’ll taste three cheeses with fall fruit, and we’ll have a little brew alongside, to match.

If you’ve never come to one of these monthly tastings, you’re in for a treat. The tastings are a great chance to meet other cheese lovers (and usually a local food blogger or two). I’ll be there, along with Joan Sauvion and Nicole Marcote, who own the shop, and together we offer Slow Food-style tastings – 3 courses, lots of conversation, without any fuss or rush.

Please call or email to reserve your spot: (215) 232-3425 or Tastings are limited to 12 participants and cost $12. All proceeds go to the store. Please note that this tasting starts at 5 p.m., an hour later than usual.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Martinis and Pecorino

I started back to work this week after summer vacation, and believe me when I say: Grrrl needed a martini. That put me in the market for an after-work cheese, something strong enough to stand up to gin. Enter Pecorino di Pienza, a Tuscan sheep’s milk cheese that loves olives, cured meats, and, oh yes, martinis.

Pecorino tends to get lumped among the grating cheeses – a shame. While it’s great on pasta and sautéed mushrooms, it’s an uncomplicated loner – salty, nutty, robust…worthy of cocktails and a stand-alone role. To read on, 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 for the store's site ( on Wednesdays. I choose each topic myself.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cappucetto Rosso: Pair with Fangs

Take one look at this cheese and tell me it doesn't make you think of the Twilight series. It's a little bit virgin, a little bit vampire -- the white paste, the fir bark wrapped around the rind. It's also mild, sweetly so. I want to call up Stephenie Meyer. I do. I think this cheese would look awesome on a book cover.

Cappucetto Rosso is a creamy raw-milk cheese from Lombardy. The name actually means "Little Red Riding Hood," which is only part of the reason I bought this bloomy dream. The other reason is, of course, the rind. The writer in me loves a pretty cover, and this cheese just might just have the hottest surface mold I've ever seen. Fir bark aside, check out the lines running across this little wheel. Looks like fine print, right?
Okay, textural metaphors aside, this cheese tastes and smells like a walk in the forest. It has a milky front end and a woodsy finish. It's mild, even near the bark, although it gets a wee bit sprucey. Think white truffles, pine sap.

I like cheeses with Personality, but so often that makes for blazin' strength. Happily, this character-driven cheese is flavorful without being too bitey. Tell your children it's fairy brie, and serve it with bread cut into the shape of toadstools. Or slide it into the lunchbox of your tween, along with a bookmark. She'll get the picture.

Note: I bought this cheese at Di Bruno Bros. on Philadelphia's Chestnut Street. I don't see it for sale online, but I bet you could beg a cheesemonger to mail you some, if you ask verrry nicely.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Food-Blog Stalking

In honor of Labor Day, it just makes sense to point out the good work of several bloggers whose work inspires. Used to be I flipped through cookbooks before bed, now I've become a fan of the digital nightcap. Here are a few food blogs I adore this second, oh this very hot second:

Here's a guy who makes cheese in his Brooklyn kitchen and ages it in a storage space. If you've ever dreamed of making Epoisses in your closet, this blog is your new inspiring to read for anyone with a musty basement.

Never mind that the ingredients are listed in grams, this beautiful food blog makes me want to make “set goat’s milk pudding." The pics here are gorgeous. Even the Malted Prune Loaf looks sexy.
Here I am, drooling over beef fat and Buddha’s Hand lemons, and could I be happier? Non, decidedly non. This recent spin-off from New York Times Mag -- my greatest still-in-print indulgence -- is all about ingredients. How to use them, who is using them…excuse me while I ransack my spice drawer to make room for Vadouvan.

Food News Journal
So it’s not a blog -- more like an aggregator of food articles 'n particles with some blog posts thrown in. I read it every morning as I take my vitamins.

A new Philadelphia food blog with an emphasis on local eating in North Philly. When I feel grouchy, I just look at the post on grilled peaches with goat cheese.

Di Bruno Bros. Blog
The site I write for on Wednesdays just got a lift. The new design looks grand, and the posts about last week's American Cheese Society conference are a must-read for anyone who dreams of cheese travel. They're written by Hunter Fike, marvelous writer and cheesemonger.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Otterbein Acres Camem-baaa

This little cupcake may just be one of the most exciting cheeses to come out of eastern PA. It’s Otterbein Acres' raw sheep’s milk Camembert, made by an Amish family in Cumberland County (namely, young Katie Fisher and her mother, Lena). I visited their stand at a farmers’ market in Carlisle, PA a few weeks ago, and I nearly wept when I tasted a sample. It’s mushroomy and aromatic with a gorgeously creamy texture.

You know I have a soft spot for sheep’s milk cheeses, and lately that emotional attachment has been nursed along by a new book, Liz Thorpe’s The Cheese Chronicles. Thorpe is the queen bee of the cheese case at Murray’s Cheese Shop in New York, and her new book has a fascinating section on sheep’s milk cheeses that explains why they are so rare. Ewes produce the richest milk, but they also have the shortest lactation period.
Interestingly, Thorpe spent some time in the Cumberland Valley visiting several Amish cheesemakers, which she describes in her book. She doesn’t mention Otterbein Acres, makers of Camem-baaa, but she clearly knows that those hills harbor glorious cheese. She talks at length about Goot Essa cheddar (which I saw in the fridge at Greensgrow last week, for all ye Philly locals). I’m sure that, by now, Liz has sniffed also out Camem-baaa.

If you like Hudson Valley Camembert, you’re in for another domestic sheepy treat. First of all, Camem-Baaa smells like snap peas. It has a vegetal smell that is just pure front porch. The texture is creamy but also springy, owing to the plush rind. I don’t want to put anyone off, but imagine a Camembert circus peanut. Now forget I said that.
The flavor notes of Camem-baaa: mushroomy, complex and earthy, with a hint of wool – “lanoliny” is how Liz Thorpe describes the sheepy quality in these cheeses. Still, there’s remarkable balance and complexity. Camem-baaa didn’t have any of the watercress-pepperiness that I remember from my mad nibbles of Hudson Valley Camembert. I could have let this downy snowball ripen longer, but I was too eager to cut into it.

Camem-baaa is not easy to find, but I happen to know that Paul Lawler is harboring some at the Fair Food Farmstand. And I’d wager that Murray’s has a stash. The Carlisle Farmers’ Market is adorable and worth a day trip if you live in the area – it’s the only market I’ve ever seen that sells whole-roasted Amish chickens. Plus, there’s a great little restaurant in Carlisle that serves local, seasonal food – more inventive than most in Philadelphia (I had in-house kombucha and sourdough chocolate cake.) Look for it: The Green Room.

Please, if you get a chance to try this exquisite little dome of cheese, let me know. I’d love to relive every sheepy note with you.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hunter Fike, Cheesemonger

Hometown: Philly

Years at Di Bruno Bros.: 14

Fave cheese of the moment: Anton’s Red Love. It’s a washed-rind, brie-style cheese from Germany, and it’s made by a guy named Anton. He named the cheese after his wife, who is a redhead. Pair it with a Riesling, and you have to spread it on Faragalli’s Bread.

Best utensil behind the counter: My chef knife. A lot of people use a wire to cut cheese, but the chef knife does everything.

Condiment of choice: I’m really into Tait Farm jams...

To read more, 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 for the store's site ( on Wednesdays. I chose each topic myself.