Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cheddar Notes

Friends, I write to you from the state of Minnesota, where I plan to squirrel myself away for the next month to finish a novel. I've got a cooler full of cheese to sustain me, but internet access will be spotty, so consider this my postcard.

Madame Fromage will be back to talk cheese smack on July 1.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tasting Notes: Picnic Cheeses

1. Marinated Chevre, Shellbark Farms 
This artisanal goat cheese is made by Pete Demchur, a longstanding cheesemaker from Chester County who is famous for the quality of his goat’s milk. He sells at local farmers’ markets (Piazza, Chestnut Hill), where his herbed spreads and Extra Sharp Chevre are especially popular. This year, he and his wife Donna debuted three kinds of marinated chevre in jars. These marinated “biscuits” taste wonderful on top of salads, and you can use the herbed oil they're packed in as a dressing – just add a squeeze of lemon and toss. This chevre is especially good in a salad of oranges, red pepper, purple onion, and greens. 

2. Saint-Marcellin, France
This bloomy cow’s milk cheese oozes satiny cream. With its clay crock, it’s especially pleasing to take on picnics – a perfect cheese for two. If you let Saint-Marcellin sit in the sun while you nap, it liquefies and releases truffly notes. Bring along plenty of crusty bread a spicy Syrah.

3. Petit Basque, Spain
The fruity, nutty notes in this sheep’s milk cheese make it a beautiful accompaniment to stone fruits – think apricots, fresh cherries – or savory picnic fare: cured meats, green olives, almonds. Try it with a dark lager, a Burgundy, or Bourdeaux. Petit Basque comes from the Pyrenees, along the border between Spain and France, the same region that produces Ossau-Oraty and Idiazabal – two other fine Spanish cheeses.

The above cheeses were featured at our Picnic Cheese Tasting on May 20, 2010 at Quince Fine Foods, a small mother-daughter gourmet shop in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. To find out about upcoming tastings, please join the Facebook page for Madame Fromage.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Trout-Apple Salad with Horseradish Cheddar

I’m a horseradish junkie. In my last life, my boss grew it in his backyard and every summer he would bring me a jar of his own homegrown horsey – a highlight during each of my five years in the newsroom. It was so fresh and pungent, I spread it on crackers at my desk and fueled myself through whole afternoons of fluorescent listlessness.

LeRaysville Cheese makes a horseradish cheddar that I sometimes dream about when I’m stuck doing some pooh-blah thing at work. Yesterday, I was typing up some minutes, and I had a horseradish brainstorm: trout…apples…fennel…yes….and horseradish cheddar. I think I actually released endorphins just thinking about it, because I breezed through those minutes and was on a train home in no time, reaching for the cheese knife before I had even set down my bag.

The beauty of this salad is that it takes deux minutes to throw together, and it looks fancy. It’s also a miraculous balance of salty, sweet, zesty-sour and crispy, which means, well, that it’s jazz. I put on a little Lionel Hampton, in fact. Horseradish cheddar and vibes, man. It does not get any better than that.

In Philadelphia, you can find LeRaysville Horseradish Cheddar at the Greensgrow Market in Fishtown and at the Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal. It’s a pasteurized whole milk cheese made by the Amish in LeRaysville, outside of Scranton, and would you believe these folks also make Limburger? (Must investigate.)

Elsewhere, you should be able to find horseradish cheddar at the grocery. If not, just choose a medium-sharp white cheddar and add a little extra jarred horseradish.

Trout-Apple Salad with Horseradish Cheddar
(serves 2)

½ apple, chopped
1 filet smoked trout
½ cup fresh fennel
¼ cup horseradish cheddar cheese, cubed


3 Tablespoons ranch dressing
1 teaspoon apple-cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon prepared horseradish
Ground pepper

Whip up the dressing, then chop your salad ingredients and arrange them in two bowls. This is the sort of salad where you can be haphazard about measuring – just put in as much of each ingredient as you want, and feel free to add some purple onion. The key is to use plenty of apple so that the saltiness of the fish doesn’t take over. I cheat by using ranch dressing, but you could easily make a homemade horsey dressing using 2 parts mayo to 1 part sour cream. Serve with a glass of rosé.

Note: fresh horseradish is pretty strong -- it looses its sharpness the longer you keep it around, so taste it before you add boat-loads, eh?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wholesome Dairy Gouda

Until yesterday, I'd never eaten a raw-milk gouda. Then, I picked up my work phone and heard a breathless voice, "Madame Fromage, I went crazy at the Kimberton Whole Foods. I'm on campus with a ton of local cheese." The voice belonged to a colleague of mine I know only via email. Amy Lipton, who works in the business school, heard about my cheese blog via an inter-office memo several months ago, and we've been shooting cheese notes back and forth ever since.

Yesterday, she appeared in the flesh, Mary Poppins-style, with a little insulated suitcase containing...oh, about 10 local cheeses she'd picked up in Berks County near her home. This gouda, made from the raw milk of Ayrshire cows, came from a farm she passed on her way into the city, Wholesome Dairy Farms in Yellow House, Pa. (Doesn't that sound like a pretty place?) Amy Poppins saw the farm's roadside sign for "Raw Milk," and she descended upon its farm store to do a little sleuthing.
"They've got raw milk yogurt, grass-fed beef, and gouda," Amy said, unloading her cheese pack onto my desk. There was a pepper-flecked hunk of Dragon's Breath from Keswick Creamery, a brick of mild cheddar from Amish cheesemaker Benuel Stoltzfus, and an assortment of yogurt cheese and port-infused cheese from a farm in Winfield, Pa.

The gouda from Wholesome Farms intrigued me. It didn't have a label, and it looked rustic. We rummaged for knives and napkins, then dug in. Young gouda is mild, smooth-textured, and salty. This one had a firm, crumbly texture (like an aged Provolone) with a fresh milky taste that turned tangy and yogurty at the finish. A slice of apple gave it balance. With some dark bread and a nutty ale, this would make a fine table cheese.

Someday, I'd like to visit Wholesome Dairy, where farmer and veterinarian Mark Lopez practices some interesting sustainable techniques, including a methane-reducing dairy feeding strategy. Curious. If you don't have a Mary Poppins-esque colleague to brighten your desk with cheeses, you could always check out this video of Lopez demonstrating his milking technique on his very companionable cow, Princess.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cheese Reads for Summer

Next week, it’s Bon Voyage, Madame Fromage!  I’ll be packing my cheese valise and flying to Wisconsin to make a little cheese tour, then I'll hole up along the Mississippi at the Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minn. and finish work on a book – no, no, not a cheese book. I wish! In preparation, I’m compiling a reading list of dairy distractions. Here’s what I’ve got so far – let me know if you have any suggestions.

Mastering Cheese, by Max McCalman
            This has been on my nightstand for weeks, and I’ve been savoring it page by page. McCalman’s chapter on raw milk is brilliant, and the full-page photographs make me purr.

The Real Cheese Companion, by Sarah Freeman
            A recommendation from Zeke Ferguson, cheesemonger extraordinaire. When I saw his much-thumbed copy, I took note.

The Cheese Room, by Patricia Michelson
            Another Zeke Ferguson recommendation. Looks like great writing, and Michelson is just about to pop out a book with Jamie Oliver. Fancy.

The Cheese Chronicles, by Liz Thorpe
            Thorpe is the resident cheese maven at Murray’s Cheese in New York. Steven Jenkins of The Cheese Primer calls it a must-read -- when have I ever disobeyed Steven?

            I can’t stand the punny subtitle, but I’ve heard this is interesting. I’ve been following Edgar’s blog, Gordonzola, for a while now.

            Truthfully, I’ve already watched this, but few things make me happier than cheese and nuns, so I’ll take it along in case my cloistered month along the Mississippi makes me lose faith. Benedictines and mold…mmmm, 4 stars.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Imagine the opposite of a breath mint, a cheese so oniony and powerful that even mice would retreat into their holes. What you have is America’s own stink mint, a take-off on Limburger that was once known as Liederkranz, named after an all-male New York singing club. 

Liederkranz disappeared from the American cheese scene in 1985 but was recently revived by some folks in Wisconsin, DCI Cheese. As my boyfriend cried out after the first bit, “Whoa, this is grandfather cheese!” True, Liederkranz calls to mind hairy-legged men in lederhosen running through the Black Forest. It’s not a cheese for the faint of heart, but then, if you like Raclette, sweat, and the thought of hairy men in lederhosen, chances are you will love Liederkranz.

Given the number of online comments responding to the story of Liederkranz in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – there were only three, but they were enthusiastic – I’m not sure I see a Liederkranz revolution exactly, but I do know there will be at least a few snack-cheese-lovin’ seniors relishing its return. 

Liederkranz looks a little bit like a Jersey Cow in the form of Velveeta. When dislodged from its foil wrapping, the surface appears stippled with pale brown markings, and the texture looks creamy. One bite and its pungency shoots across your tongue, where it forms a long-lasting seal across the roof of your mouth. Beefy. Oniony. Barnyardy. Ooo, I quite like it!

The key to enjoying Liederkranz is…well, other people who enjoy Liederkranz. My boyfriend left the house; I didn’t mind having a Liederkranz party for one, but next time I think I’ll call in the stink lovers and serve up plenty of dark beer, rye bread, and pickles. Then we’ll crack the windows, put on some polka, and chomp away.

If you're keen to try this stinky cheese, you can find it for sale online at the West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe. Its distribution appears to be fairly limited. Interestingly, the Liederkranz singing society is still alive. There's even one near my neck of the woods in Pennsylvania -- I highly recommend watching the Lancaster Liederkrantz singing video while you nosh.  

Full disclosure: a sample of this cheese was provided by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing board.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Strathdon: A Blue for the Beach

If ever there was a blue cheese destined for ocean-side enjoyment, it’s Strathdon. It even sounds like the name of a beach – much better than Stichelton Shores or Roquefort Cove. Yes, Strathdon Beach. I think I’d like to have my ashes scattered there.

I picked up this wedge as an accompaniment to a bottle of oyster stout I had cooling in the fridge. Lucky me, my cheesemonger knew the beer and said, “I have just the thing.” He disappeared behind the counter and rose again with this salty blue, assuring me it had a hint of the seaside.

“It’s from Scotland,” he added, and this clinched it, because as you know, I have a dotty Scottish friend who I adoringly call the Blue Cheese Brit, and he was coming to dinner. I darted home, called together my cheese hounds, and soon we were glugging stout and gorging on cheese, and it was like a beach party without the sandy legs and the smell of Coppertone.

Strathdon Blue is a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from the tippy-top of Scotland, by the North Sea. It’s made by cheesemaker Ruaraidh (pronounced “Rory”) Stone in an old brewery, then aged by the brilliant affineurs at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. Wrapped in blue foil, Strathdon has a craggy look with furry blue pockets that suggest it will be a bitey beast, but no, it’s much milder than stilton and marvelously creamy with notes of seaweed and shell.

“That blue told me it was taking me home tonight the minute I walked in the door,” the Blue Cheese Brit bellowed as soon as he carved off a bite. Then he moaned, turned flustered, and whispered, “Silk on my bare skin.”

The Blue Cheese Goddess, a.k.a. Future Federal Defender Tracy Tripp, had to translate as the Brit fell onto the cheeseboard, scratching for more. “I taste Scottish sea cave," she said, "with slate on the front end.” 

The monger was right. Strathdon was glorious with Flying Fish’s Bayshore Oyster Stout. The malty and salty, it just doesn’t get any better.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Picnic Cheese: A Tasting, May 22

It's blanket-in-the-grass weather. Time to toss the cheese in a hamper and head to the beach. That's why we're dedicating our next tasting to easy packers, cheese that doesn't require utensils or even an ice pack. Join us for a Slow Food-style sampling of three picnic cheeses, including a marinated chevre, an easy-to-cube Basque beauty, and a runny French dream that comes in its own crock -- perfect for two. 

For the summer season, Quince is offering take-out picnics -- reserve a vintage basket and blanket, then order a selection of sandwiches or tapas items that will be packed and ready for pick-up on your way to the park. Call for details: 215.232.3425

Picnic Cheese Tastings, Saturday, May 22, 4 & 6 p.m.

Quince Fine Foods, 209 W. Girard Ave., at 2nd Street
$12/person, includes complimentary glass of wine
email reservations appreciated 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sharp Chevre+Buckwheat Honey

Last night, my friends Cat and Ben hosted a birthday fete for our mutual friend, Shanta. It was a steamy night here in Philly, and I wanted to bring along a cheese that would be cooling and yet fabulous, since Shanta is a sharp-cheese lovin' gal.

I wanted texture, too, because Cat and Ben live in an architectural-feat-in-progress, an old brewery that they have spent the last two years rehabbing into a music studio cum living space, and I'd heard this was a beautiful place -- full of gilded light, rusty curiosities, and cupola-views of the city.

Chevre and buckwheat honey. There was no other choice. What else says "rust and resurrection"? What other pairing could bring together light and dark, new drywall and exposed brick?

I love Shellbark Hollow's Sharp Chevre because it is a creamy goat cheese with depth, with feistiness. It tastes apple-clean and yet rich. Drizzle it with some toasty buckwheat honey, and this cheese gyrates.
My bruschetta were gone in seconds, and they were so simple. I made two kinds: toasted walnut and fig. Incorporating fresh lemon thyme from the garden was a last-minute burst of inspiration -- a green kick to brighten those dense little figgies. And the toasted walnuts -- mmm, baritone goodness.

Shellbark Hollow makes a variety of goat cheeses, including fresh chevre, crottin, marinated goat biscuits, and herbed chevre spreads. You can find their products at Headhouse Square Farmers' Market and the Piazza Market. I bought mine at the Fair Food Farm Stand, along with the honey from Two Gander Farm in Berks County.

I don't know of anyone besides Shellbark's Pete Demchur who makes Sharp Chevre. When I talked to him a few weeks ago, he said it was his specialty -- his personal fave. Donna, his wife, told me she loves to serve it with sliced Asian pears. It's a great choice for anyone who finds plain chevre a little too mellow. I think the Sharp would be great to cook with, especially as a topping for grilled meats, bitey salads made with watercress, and as an accompaniment to olives and fresh herbs.

All I know is, Shanta's friends liked it.