Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Blue Cheese Party

It was a gorgeous afternoon yesterday, perfect for ripe cheese on the patio.

Picture cherry trees in blossom, birds canoodling on telephone wires, carpenter bees weaving in loopy script around gutters. Such was the scene at yesterday’s Blue Cheese-Off in Center City Philadelphia, hosted by Blue Cheese Goddess Tracy T. She met her guests with ice-blue nails, a full skirt, and a bandana dotted with constellations.

When I arrived with my valise of blues, guests were sipping demi cocktails in the kitchen – thanks to the exquisite liquor cabinet that BC Goddess recently inherited from her landlord’s deceased kin. I enjoyed a thimble-full of something that tasted like my grandmother’s 4711 eau de cologne and began unwrapping my selection. Our man, the Blue Cheese Brit, followed close on my heels, full of gusto, as he had just paid a visit to his personal cheese boy at Di Bruno Bros., acquiring “a blue that would change our lives.”

A little background: the Blue Cheese Brit is a sciency sort with impeccable table manners and an elegant palate. When he snaps his fingers, fabulous cheeses seem to fall from the sky. Every few weeks he hosts a last-minute bash that is never to be missed; his cheese board is always immaculate, as in immaculately conceived. It is revelation.

Out in the garden, the BC Goddess pulled out her blue lawn chairs. Her guests – a pair of whippety boys – reclined and sipped in the sun. Our photographer, Fusty Camembert, readied his camera. In the kitchen, the Blue Cheese Brit and I dueled over placement on the cheese platter. Toothpicks were sent for. Scorecards were distributed. One of the whippets – a boy I’ll call the Official Cheese Bearer – offered his services as waiter.

As the sun dribbled low and the birds got down to business, Madame Fromage uttered a few grandiloquent things into the atmosphere, and began, for lack of better word choice, to cut the cheese. The Official Cheese Bearer passed out the first selection, followed by a dish of palate-cleansing baby carrots. Over the next hour, the six of us sampled 5 blues, ranging from mild to “life-changing,” with only a single near-fatality. Alas, the Official Cheese Bearer had to withdraw himself from the tasting after he suffered tongue-burn.

Here is our cheese flight, from mild to mondo:

  1. Blue Suede Moo, Keswick Creamery of Newburg, Pa. (cow’s milk, raw)
  2. Cremificato Verdi Capra, Italy (goat’s milk, raw)
  3. Birchrun Blue, Birchrun Hills Farm, Chester Springs, Pa. (cow’s milk, raw)
  4. Buttermilk Bleu Affinée, Roth Käse, Wisconsin (cow’s milk, raw)
  5. Cabrales, Spain (goat and cow milk, raw)

The Blue Suede was a crowd-pleaser, likable and friendly. The blue-cheese novice in the group found this delightful. The Cremificato was the most beautiful cheese on the plate, a snow-white slab with pencil-thin blue lines; it was frosting-wet with a delicate bite at the finish. Birchrun Blue was deemed “most tempting for repeat samples,” while the Bleu Affinée garnered the most raves for tasting like a “true blue” – buttery and sharp with a strong slap at the end, plus an “incredible mouthfeel.” Alas, the Cabrales did change our lives.

We tasted it on spoons, as directed by the cheese boy at Di Bruno Bros., scraping the hard surface to loosen multi-hued crumbles. Friends, it was so blue, it burned. The Blue Cheese Goddess compared it to a “topical anesthetic,” while the Official Cheese Bearer ran into the kitchen, claiming he couldn’t feel his tongue. The Blue Cheese Brit simply inhaled deeply, as if from a fag, and declared, “This takes me into the cave.”

The sun went down, and the sky shifted from blue to blue-black. New guests arrived. Ceviche was served. Cucumber martinis appeared between the blue-tipped fingers of our lovely hostess, and when the night was almost over – as the gumdrop course arrived – I looked over at the cheese platter to see that it had been reduced to a few rinds in the moonlight. Ahhh, beautiful. What is better than strong cheeses in spring, eaten among friends? I think I will raid the crisper and read some Rimbaud.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blue Sue Fudge

Gertrude Stein would be proud.  Philadelphia’s own Betty’s Tasty Buttons has created the most tender buttons of all: little rounds of blue cheese fudge.  Oh, I kid you not.  

This fudge is made with organic cane sugar, butter, goat’s milk, marshmallow, vanilla, and…oh, yes…raw milk blue cheese, the same blue cheese I sampled yesterday and gushed about in my blog.  I had Birchrun Blue Cheese for breakfast on an English muffin, only to read about someone else who slathered it on madeleines.  It seems that every person who tastes the blue cheese made by Birchrun Farms experiences a collaborative flare, a desire to start mixing it with everything in her path.  Just thinking about it makes me want to brew Birchrun Blue beer, or try it on s’mores, or shmear it on a bagel.  Maybe I will slather it on my…well, let’s not arouse Gertrude Stein from her slumber.

Suffice it to say that Betty’s “Blue Sue” Fudge knocks my clogs off.  Heck, I don’t even like fudge all that much – I’m more of a brownie daydreamer – but this fudge is luscious, and the hint of blue cheese (it’s just a whisper) has me completely smitten, utterly swooning.  I like how I can taste blue cheese with the first bite, then – pwoof – it’s gone.  It’s a two-second transport and then, whoa, hullo, I’m tasting chocolate…it’s getting more chocolatey now…wow, so creamy, no, yes, no, yes, don’t melt.  Tender buttons.  Tender buttons, tender buttons, tender buttons.  Sweet sweet sweet cheese.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Birchrun Blue

Okay, so I know what you’re wondering, luvs: what kind of blue cheese should I eat for breakfast?  Oh come on, you drink black coffee to snap your eyes open, why not add a jolt of blue cheese, occasionally?!  I already told you about the nighttime cheesecap, so good with a cucumber martini – it only seems right to dispel today’s gray skies with my new fave on an English Muffin.  With some fig jam and a pot of lavender Earl Gray, this combination makes Mme. Fromage very happy.  Maybe one day, she will host a blue cheese tea party.

What makes this a good blue for breakfast?  Ahhh, let me count the ways.

1.     It’s creamy and spreadable.  Let it sit a spell so that it softens up while you boil your tea.

2.     It opens like a meadow on your tongue, then becomes salty and almost floral.  There’s a gentle finish – no biteyness, whatsoever. 

3.     It goes well with jam.  I bet a rose petal jelly would be nifty.  Fig is a little heavy, but one has to make sacrifices.

4.     It’s cozy.  

Birchrun Blue comes out of a small farm in Chester Springs, Pa., Birchrun Hills Farm, that only produces two kinds of cheese, this one and a gruyere-style.  This is a raw milk beauty with a gorgeous, reptilian rind and a faint speckling of blue color.  I’m learning an awful lot about blue cheese these days, including how the mold (Penicillium roqueforti) gets into the mix – often by inserting long skewers into the ripening cheese.  In the early days of Roquefort, farmers stored bread in damp caves to create mold, then grated the moldy bread into vats of curds.  Mmmm, sexy.

If you follow news of the fromagiosphere, then you've probably heard that roquefort, the original French cave-aged blue, is likely to become obsolete in the States, or at least very pricey.  Yesterday the BBC ran a story about the 300% tariff increase, and Our Lady of Wisco Cheeses at Cheese Underground offered a post about it -- it also includes her blue cheese love- list.  The tariff goes into effect April 23, so get out your blue veils.

Today’s breakfast comes with a toast to Albert over at the Fair Food Farm Stand, who gave me a nibble of Birchrun yesterday a.m. (this is his “second favorite blue”) as I was passing by his stand on my way to work.  That means I’ve officially had blue cheese for breakfast twice now, and given the amount of cheese in my crisper, I think this will become a sneaky habit. 


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Blue Suede Moo

All day I’ve been thinking about it: the triangle of crusty-edged blue I bought yesterday at the Fair Food Farm Stand in Reading Terminal Market.  After launching this blog with a Wisconsin blue, I felt the need to pay homage to something local.  At the Farmstand, Albert – who is also known as “Picky” of Messy & Picky blog fame – gave me an approving nod and said, “That’s a good blue.  It’s nice and mild.”

With a name like Blue Suede Moo, I did not expect “nice and mild,” but today was a warm spring day and I took a walk under the cherry blossoms, so a spot of mild cheese seemed like the perfect nightcap…er…cheesecap? 

Blue Suede Moo comes straight out of Pennsylvania cheese country, from Keswick Creamery in the Cumberland Valley.  Keswick runs a raw milk CSA – yeehaw!— and would you believe this blue is one of the few true raw milk blues made in the U.S.?

Alas, I had such high hopes for Blue Suede Moo.  You know how I love a sharp blue, one that’s creamy and not too dry, with a nice balance of sweetness and tang.  Well, the Moo was just as Albert had prepared me to expect – it was mild.  It was not the least bit like Elvis.  The rind has a fabulous leathery look, and the cheese has the most elegant blue veins running through it, but the texture is grainy.  The flavor doesn’t gyrate the way the flavors of a deep, dense blue do.  Even Monsieur Fromage frowned behind his whiskers.

Well, I’ll tell you what I did.  I made myself a wee martini, using the cucumber gin I love from Hendricks.  It has a touch of rose water.  Just a touch.  And when it’s spitting cold and served with a salted cucumber slice, it’s better than a sitz bath.  Wouldn’t you know that cucumber martini – so icy, so delicate – was just the thing to bring out the croony notes in this blue?  I flopped down on our velvet couch and had a proper duet of cheese & martini, and something occurred to me: maybe there is an optimal time of day to eat certain cheeses.  The Blue Suede Moo is definitely a nighttime cheese.  It’s perfect before bed – not too sharp, not too stanky.  You can steal a nibble and still be ready for sweet kisses. 

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Billy Blue

When I saw all the blue cheeses in the Dean & DeLuca case during a recent trip to New York, I got weak in the knees.  There is almost nothing I love as much as a bitey, bitey blue.  I have a friend (call him the Blue Cheese Brit) who is always wowing me with his blue cheese prowess.  When he puts out a cheese board, he usually has the latest, most incredible blue cheese from his “cheese boy” at DiBruno Brothers, the finest cheese counter here in Philly.  I’m always terribly envious, and just once, I’d like to present BCB with a blue that will knock him on his arse.


Dean & DeLuca’s seemed like the perfect place to scoop him.  “Give me the stinkiest, most exotic blue,” I told the cheese baroness.  She rolled her eyes, bit her lip, and sauntered over to the cooler.  It must have contained two dozen wheels of moldy, beautifully marbled blue.  If I hadn’t had a bus to catch, I would have asked to try every earthy one of them (someday, I’m going to travel to New York with a valise full of costumes, and I’m going to spend the entire day making incognito trips to Dean & DeLuca so I can try all their blues without looking like a freak…or sort of). 

The cheese baroness gave me a slice of her “stinkiest, most exotic” blue, and it was a revelation.  It smelled beasty.  It tasted sweet and salty and oniony, and did I mention it melted on my tongue, leaving the taste of caramel?  Here was my blue cheese challenger!  Here was my swan song, the long-lasting, deep-textured, breath-haunting blue that would make BCB fall back on his teak porch chaise and rasp in his British accent, “I have to have that.  Where’d you get it?”  Then I’d be able to smile smugly and say something like, “Oh, it’s just a rare, impossible-to-find Blibbety Blue made in a sea cave off the coast of France. ”

“It’s a goat cheese blue,” the cheese baronnesss told me.  “Yes!” I said.  This was even better.  I knew BCB had never presented me with a goat-cheese blue, so it was certain that he would never have put his muzzle around this little crumble of heaven. 

Reader, I bought the blue, ran for the bus, boarded it, got home, pulled the cheese out of my purse, and would you believe that cheese was from my home state of Wisconsin?  I was agog.  And then I laughed.  Of course.  Where else would the most fabulous domestic goat blue come from?  I’ve been hooked on Carr Valley's Billy Blue ever since. 

And guess what?  It’s so good, I haven’t shared it with BCB.  I’m not sure he’s mature enough to handle it.



2 medium onions, thinly sliced

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 pound bison (or beef)

1/2 cup crumbled Billy Blue Cheese

salt & pep 

Heat onions in oil for about 3 minutes over medium heat.  Then turn heat to low and let them soften for about 15 minutes, until they are translucent.  Add vinegar and sugar and stir to coat. Cook about another 2 minutes, then remove from heat.

Combine raw, thawed meat with caramelized onion, 1/4 cup of blue cheese, salt and pep.  Shape into patties.  Grill. Top with remaining cheese and add condiments.  (Dean & DeLuca's Balsamic-Shallot Mustard and a swoosh of mayo make a gorgeous combo.)