Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Madame Presents: Cheese TV, Episode 1

Pssst, it’s finally time to show you a little project I've been working on my with coworker, Dr. Knight (she looks like a school nurse, but she is really a Doctor of Media). For our first episode, we bring you inside the Blue Cheese Kitchen for a tasting of Bridgewater, a glowing double-cream orb from Ann Arbor, MI. We hope this 7-minute vlog broadens your dairy horizons. Comments? Suggestions? Madame F. is all ears.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Yuletide Cheese Tasting, Dec. 10

Noble Road, Calkins Creamery (PA)

Darlings, isn’t it about time we sat down and ate cheese and drank beer together? On December 10, I am co-hosting an all-local cheese-travaganza with cheesemonger Paul Lawler at the Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal Market.

Paul is my go-to man for local cheese, and he has appeared on this blog, usually in the presence of cows or runny raw-milk treats. If you want dairy trivia, he is the man to call. He is also a whiz at pairing cheese and spirits.

Join us from 6:30 – 8 p.m. for a 5-course feast of farmstead cheeses from around Pennsylvania, along with local beer and accompaniments. We’ll feature the cheeses from my column in Grid this month, a two-page spread of dreamy delicacies, including the heart throb pictured above.

Tickets cost $35 and can be purchased at the Fair Food Farmstand. Seating is limited to 15. All proceeds benefit the Farmstand. Dig out your holiday sweater and come on down.

What: Yuletide Cheese Tasting
When: Dec. 10, 6:30-8 p.m.
Tickets: $35 in advance at the Farmstand

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Goat Cheese or Night Cream?

That’s what a certain Scottish cheese fanatic asked on Thanksgiving as he bit into this glorious powderpuff from Capriole Farm. Actually, this goat cheese is called Wabash Cannonball, but I’m not sure I can ever call it that again. To me, it will always be Night Cream, a cheese so fluffy and light you might as well smear it under your eyes, especially if you’ve been up half the night cooking.

That was the case for the Blue Cheese Brit, caught here on film, between mad dashes to the oven. The royal BCB, as he’s called on this blog, hosted a mini expat T-giving, and it fell upon Yours Truly to pull together a cheese plate that would illustrate the glory of American values.
The Blue Cheese Brit

Yours Truly, Madame Fromage
I also paid homage to a few foremothers by wearing Great Grandma’s glittery smock. Where there is great cheese, there must be couture. The BCB backed me up with an impeccable table setting – note the vintage glassware.

Oh, what a spiffy creature.

The turkey was tender, the BCB’s mashed “tatties” were divine, and by the time the cheese board was unveiled I feared everyone would be too full.

But lo, the Brits have bovine cheese stomachs, and out came the port, the baguette, the heavy Brogue.

(models: Fusty Camembert and Sweet Cheese Lass)

Of the 4 stellar cheeses sampled, there were two sparkle causers – cheeses that lit up our mouths:

Both of these cheeses come from matriarchs of the artisanal cheese movement in America. Wabash Cannonball is made by Judy Schad of Capriole Farm, owner of 500 goats and a Ph.D. in Renaissance lit. She lives in southern Indiana, where she has made cheese since the ‘80s. In between reading books and raising kids (goats and humans), she’s been active in Slow Food and in the foundation of the Raw Milk Cheesemakers' Association.

Her Cannonball is so airy and light that if you press on the downy surface, it bounces back like a sponge. The rind is etherial, thin as silk, and the center is the consistency of Nivea.

Tomme Dolce comes from the fingers of a Bay Area pianist and scientist, Soyoung Scanlan. Her light touch turns goat’s milk into the most delicate dreams, garnering praise from Saveur and Thomas Keller of The French Laundry.

Andante Dairy's Tomme Dolce

The Tomme Dolce was exquisite -- nutty and soft, with a caramel finish. Washed in plum wine, it tasted like a flowering tree in your mouth.

So what am I thankful for? Night cream, flowering plums, lady cheesemakers, and dairy-loving expats who know that the heart of any meal is a hand-made cheese.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Époisses: Tiger of the Cheese World

I can still remember the first time I tried Époisses – it was at a party three years ago, and when it appeared on the table a hush fell over the kitchen. “Who brought the Époisses?” someone whispered. It was as if a tiger had entered the room.

In the cheese world, Époisses is a big cat. As one cheesemonger told me recently, “If I had to pick a favorite French cheese, it would be Époisses. It’s good at any age.”

To continue reading, please click here.

Full Disclosure: This post is part of a weekly series I write for Di Bruno Bros., one of my fave cheese haunts in Philly. I choose the topics, but I get paid to guest-blog on the store's site.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Working Man's Cheese Board

The cheese board at Kraftwork 
I have been meaning to do a study of Philadelaphia cheese boards for a long time. This week, with a little incentive from Philly Homegrown, my tour starts here, at Kraftwork, a neighborhood pub that marries industry and artistry -- from its exposed brick interior to its wrench-handled cutting boards.

The cheese board at Kraftwork glorifies all things hand-hewn. The selections showcase artisan cheesemakers from around the U.S., and Chef Brian Lofink (formerly of Matyson, Sidecar) has enough heart to include at least two local stinkers each week.

It’s all part of what owner Adam Ritter had in mind when he opened Kraftwork earlier this year – a bar with communal tables and industrial touches that pay tribute to the Fishtown neighborhood’s industrial roots. Don't be surprised to see an enormous saw hanging over the bar, and table legs made from augurs.

“Everything here lends itself to community,” says Ritter (pictured above). “You can come in and share a cheese board, try a sampling of beers, order a plate of house-made charcuterie. Everything is designed to be shared.”

The cheese board is definitely worth a special trip up to the hinterlands of Fishtown. The selections are unusual – you won’t find these cheeses at the grocery – and Chef Lofink’s pairings are spot on, especially where nuts and cheese collide.

Local Buttercup Brie with spiced almonds

Here are the dairy blue prints from a recent Kraftwork expedition:

Cherry Grove Buttercup Brie (NJ) + paprika-spiced almonds

Hendricks Farm Monel (PA)+brandied cherries

Keswick Creamery Happy Jack (PA)+olive tapenade

Berkshire Blue (MA) + honeycrisp apples, clover honey, black pepper

Parmesan Flan

I can’t think of many cheese boards in Philadelphia that boast 5 selections, including an ethereal flan made from Parmesan rinds simmered in cream (a trick Lofink learned while working at Brasserie Perrier). Though the cheese selections change, the flan is always the centerpiece, and oh, it is a thing of beauty 

Here’s why I am Lady Gaga over this cheese board:

1.    It doesn’t shy away from robustness. The raw goat Monel flashes some major tang, and while this 2010 American Cheese Society winner might be too goat-tastic for some, the accompanying cherries temper the acidity and make this puck lovable. 

2.   Most of these cheeses, with the exception of Buttercup Brie, are made from raw milk. That means that the milk used to make the cheese is unpasteurized – I think that you can taste much more complexity in raw milk cheeses. Take the Berkshire Blue – wow! This is a blue cheese that will clear your sinuses. But it’s got subtle notes, too – imagine lichen and horse radish.

3.   There’s a progression to this cheese plate. Start with the softies (the Brie and the flan) and move into the heavies (Monel, Jack, then Blue). Textures build and flavors get more pronounced. Like any good cheese plate, this one offers variety on many levels.

I’ve eaten this cheese board 5 or 6 times now, and it’s consistently excellent, even as the selections change. The craft beers on tap also come and go, which means you can pair booze and cheese in all kindza ways. 

Gather some friends, order a couple cheese and charcuterie boards and you’ve basically got a meal for four. If you’re still hungry, there’s always a cheeseburger. 

Kraftwork burger with onion-bacon jam and Grafton 2-yr  Cheddar

Full disclosure: my cheese board was comped by Philly Homegrown, a web site that promotes local foods in and around Philadelphia.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Two Thanksgiving Cheese Boards

American Frontier Cheese Board
A Tribute to Monasticism Cheese Board

This Thanksgiving, I'm not roasting a turkey or making cranberry sauce. I am curating a pair of cheese boards for two sets of friends: a group of expats, and a former monk.                          

I photographed these beauties today, and I couldn’t resisting posting a preview. I get excited about cheese, as you know. When I can’t sleep, I dream up cheese boards in the dark. I’m especially excited about these two:

     American Frontier Cheese Board

Wabash Canonball - Capriole Farm, Indiana
A glorious goat snowball rolled in ash, it looks like a Russian teacake.

Tomme Dolce  - Andante Dairy, California
A rare goat cheese washed in plum brandy from cheesemaker Soyoung Scanlan

Marco Polo Beecher’s, Seattle
Award-winning Flagship Reserve speckled with green and black peppercorn.

Bay Bluemaker unknown, Maryland 
A flinty raw cow’s milk blue with a salty finish.

     Monastic Cheese Board

Epoisses – France
A pudgy cow's milk stinker washed in brandy, of Cistercian origin.

Frumage Baladin – Italy
A Trappist raw cow's milk cheese with flecks of nutty-tasting barley malt.

Pecorino di Fossa - Italy
A firm sheep cheese buried in the ground and removed on the Feast Day of Saint Catherine.

As you might imagine, my fridge looks like a cheese shrine. Every crisper drawer is full. Which is how I like it.
Questions about Thanksgiving cheeses? Drop me a comment. I'd love to hear about the Thanksgiving cheese boards of your dreams.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Shepherd's Basket: A Simple Supper

This is what my favorite meal looks like: a hunk of cheese, some good bread, roasted garlic, and some fresh herbs and vegetables. As winter comes on and holidays approach, I’m entering my lean cheese phase. All that means is that I forego meaty meals and heavy sauces for simple cheese boards at night.

Take yesterday, for example, I scrounged through the fridge and found this little wedge of Shepherd’s Basket, a cave-aged raw sheep’s milk cheese in the style of Romano. Cheesemonger Albert Yee, who sold me this hunk, told me he’d used it in a wonderful risotto for his wife. Risotto, I thought! Oh, risotto…

But then life got hectic-shmectic, and risotto became a pipe dream, so I set out to eat this cheese alone. I remembered that Shepherd’s Basket had a distinct smell of brown butter and lamb chops, so I poured some wine and went on impulse. What would I fix with lamb? Hummus. Garlic. Something green.

Out came the cast iron skillet, and soon I was roasting brussel sprouts in a little olive oil (350 for 30 minutes) with a few scraps of bacon. Then, I dug out my last radishes and sliced them up to garnish some hummus.

Lit the candles. Put on some jazz. And oh, what a feast. Of course, I had to ruin it by turning on all the lights and snapping a bunch of photographs, but then we sat down, and we ate, and the day darkened, and it felt like something essential had descended: warm food, rustic cheese, the smell of bacon.

Tell me, what is better?

Shepherd’s Basket comes from Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley, New Jersey. It is a beautiful cheese, robust and sheepy with a walnuty hook. It paired so well with roasted garlic and olive bread that I don’t think I will ever eat it any other way again, unless it’s with chestnuts and honey.

Something for another supper perhaps.

Shepherd's Basket is available at the Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal Market and at farmers' markets around Pennsylvania and New Jersey. For a full list, visit Valley Shepherd's website, or stop by the farm for a tour.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Anton's Red Love

If you’re a fan of Taleggio, chances are you’ll have a mini meltdown when you try Anton’s Red Love. This bloomy rind cheese from Bavaria is pudgy and fudgy with a yeasty taste that calls to mind fresh baked bread or, better yet, a bismarck.

Anton’s Red Love really is made by a man named Anton: cheesemaker Anton Holzinger. If you thought Germans were humorless, take a look at Anton’s labels. You’ll see him doing his best Fabio impression, alongside buxom fräuleins and big squares of cheese – at last, bloomy rinds are the new Harlequin Romance.

To read on, please click here.

Disclosure: This post is part of a weekly series I write for Di Bruno Bros., one of my fave cheese haunts in Philly. I choose the topics, but I get paid to guest-blog on the store's site.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Anne Saxelby: My American Idol

Anne Saxelby of Saxelby Cheese in New York

One of my favorite things to do while I cook is listen to “Cutting the Curd.” It’s a weekly radio show about cheese – yes, such a thing exits – and it’s hosted by one of my cheese idols, Anne Saxelby.

Maybe it’s her Midwestern lilt or the fact that she records in a Brooklyn storage shed, but when her voice comes on I feel like I’m back in Wisconsin – amid the weirdness and the down-to-earth DIY soul of that state.

Lately, Anne’s been hosting a “State of Cheese” series. Last week, I listened to her episode on New Hampshire. Before that, you better believe I tuned in for her Wisconsin show. My fave ever episode, though, is her interview with British writer Patricia Michelson, who conducts her side of the interview from a garden shed.   

So, who is Anne Saxleby? Since I stalk her, I can tell you a few deets.

She used to work for Murray’s in New York. After that, she did a stint at Cato Corner making cheese – including my fave, Hooligan.

Now she runs a cheese shop called Saxelby Cheese in Manhattan’s Essex Street Market. Her stand is about as big as a small cabin cruiser, and it’s only stocked with American dreams. No Kraft. Just artisan cheese from the U.S. Realllllly good artisanal cheese.

Anne Saxelby's cheese case, all American cheese

Anne Saxelby is to artisanal cheese what Starbuck is to Battlestar Galactica – in other words, a fighter pilot. Not everyone believes in American cheese, but Anne Saxleby does. Take a look at her web site, which includes trips into the rural beyond, an almanac of American cheese (her blog, basically), and various beauties for sale. 

Next time you’re in New York, consider stopping by the Essex Street Market to meet her in the flesh – I did, and I got really sweaty palms. I stood around gaping for so long that I missed out on ordering the day’s special: sozzled pearls (cheese marinated in booze).

If you want to sample a flight of fracking good American cheese, Anne is offering a Thanksgiving deal (I know because I get her e-newsletter) that costs under $50. Here is her description:   

Our small turkey day selection features three delectable cheeses: Caspian, a creamy cows' milk cheese made exclusively for Saxelby Cheesemongers by Jasper Hill Farm (each wheel is wrapped in grape leaves soaked with Eden Ice Cider, a local sweet cider made from heirloom varieties of apples), Coomersdale, a bright and nutty sheeps' milk cheese from Bonnieview Farm, and Twig Wheel, a succulent mixed milk stinker (goat & cows' milk) washed with hard cider from Twig Farm.
If you type in the word ‘thanks’ as your promotion code, you can get 15% off.

On the other hand, if you just want to salivate while you're tending the turkey, cue up a little "Cutting the Curd." You'll never think of American cheese the same way.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cheese-adelphia: Hoofing it with City Food Tours

Eric Matzke, City Food Tour Guide

Whenever I go to a new city, I always try to eat my way across town. It takes planning, though, and sometimes I just wish I could pay a good-natured, food-loving stranger to show me around. In Philadelphia, Eric Matzke is that person. He and his partners launched City Food Tours in 2007, and now they run a series of treks designed to connect foodies to the guts and gizzard of Philadelphia.

On Friday I had the pleasure of eating my way around town with City Food Tours as part of a promotion for a new tour. It’s a 2-hour “Philly Homegrown” extravaganza that starts in Reading Terminal Market and ends with a blind tasting of artisan gelato at Capogiro. In between, we hiked over to Tweed to meet Chef David Cunningham and nibble a 3-course tasting of locally raised pork, beets, and trout.

The best thing about the tour was that it was exactly what I hoped it would be: educational but also entertaining. For two hours, I ate local cheese, dipped apples into local honey, and learned about how to source pork and milk, but I was never bored. The tour moved at a comfortable pace, and along the way we met folks involved in the local food world, from cheesemongers to ice cream makers.

If you’ve got foodies visiting during the winter season, you might find this tour appealing – it’s a good way to get people off the couch and onto the sidewalk. The Philly Homegrown Tour will be offered over the next several Saturdays (Nov. 27, Dec. 11, and Dec. 18). Just be sure to make reservations ($35/person) in advance through the City Food Tours website, or call 1-800-979-3370.

If you’re a cheese'n beer lover like I am, check out the following tour which runs throughout the year:
            Runs 1st, 3rd & 5th Saturday of every month: 3:30-5:30 p.m.
            $45/person (8 beers, 4 cheeses at 2 Old City locations)

Full disclosure: I participated in Friday’s tour as a free guest, but I would happily fork over the $35 to walk it again, if only to wallow in seven kinds of gelato. 

Gelato samples at Capogiro

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cheese & Jam: November 20, 2010

For this month’s cheese tasting, Marisa McClellan of Foodinjars joins me once again with a selection of her preserves…apple-pear chutney, pear-ginger jam, and quince jam. Why not pair them with triple-cremes?

Come join us on Saturday, November 20 at 4 p.m. We’ll help you ring in the holidays with our favorite moldy goodies – 3 cheeses, 3 jams, and a little bubbly wubbly. Marisa will be on hand to talk about canning, while I talk you through the dairy highlights.

As always, tastings are held at Quince Fine Foods in Philadelphia. Seating is limited so please reserve in advance by calling or emailing the shop: (215) 232-3425 or quince@quincefinefoods.com.

Tastings cost $12 and include three courses. All proceeds go to the shop.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Turducken of Cheese

If you only serve one cheese at Thanksgiving, let me make a suggestion: try Gorwydd Caerphilly (pronounced GOR-with CARE-fully).

Not only is it spectacular, it’s essentially three cheeses in one. If you want to have a little fun, treat your friends to a three-part tasting by giving everyone a thickish slice and instructing them to identify the three parts: (1) the rind, (2) the gooey layer below the rind, (3) the cakey white center. 

To read the rest of this post, please visit the Di Bruno Blog.

Disclosure: This post is part of a weekly series I write for Di Bruno Bros., one of my fave cheese haunts in Philly. I choose the topics, but I get paid to guest-blog on the store's site.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Granite Hill: Impressions of a Museum Dinner

A week ago today, I was on my way to dine with Steven Starr at the art museum. A media dinner. A preview of Starr’s latest project: a makeover of the restaurant inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

I happen to be one of those people who likes to eat at museums and often remembers the food as vividly -- if not more so -- than the exhibit (not that I’m proud to admit it). I still dream about the pumpkin waffle I ate at MOMA last October, and I will never forget the perfect cheese sandwich I once devoured at the Guggenheim Museum Balbao as I sat overlooking the reflection pool, jet-lagged and drunk on Richard Serra.

So off I went to the Philadelphia Art Museum on Monday night with high expectations. Would there be pink chandeliers? Booths recessed inside picture frames? Starr venues snap, crackle, and pop. As the concert master of 13 restaurants in Philadelphia (Buddakan, Parc, The Continental, etc.), Starr is known for glamorama – themey spaces with reliable, skillfully prepared food. Camp meets haute cuisine.

If anyone could put the "muse" into museum, Starr could.

How strange then to find myself seated in this room: a surgical space with a Hopper-esque chill. Where was the Renoir-inspired drama that the press release promised?

Ahhh, it was in the food. Soon, rafts of chicken schnitzel sailed into the room, each potato-encrusted slab gleaming with a perfectly poached quail egg. Then came crab cakes placed like costume jewelry on either side of a carrot topiary. I caught a glimpse of Renoir, I did: his ladies in their high hats.

For dessert, a fall fruit crisp brandished a leaf. The butter cookie melted on the tongue, though the compote was a bit sugary. A s’more pots de crème rounded out the culinary theme – French, but not cloyingly so.

A media dinner is a media dinner – who can say how the real menu will hold up? The flavors were bold, the food well-prepared, but the dining room of Granite Hill seemed, well, curiously uninspired. Perhaps Starr is attempting the deeply understated, but oh how a flower on the table (instead of the fancy mustard crocks) would have been a cheering touch.

Oh Steven, how come no rhinestones – not even one?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My Life in the Blue Cheese Cult

Confession: I haven’t told you about all the blue cheeses in my life. There are times when I have three, sometimes four, little blue cheese romances going on all at once. On a Friday night, I might eat a hunk of blue cheese with honeycomb at 6 p.m., then shmear another blue on a piece of dark chocolate at 8 p.m., and then carry a different blue up to bed, along with a snifter of port.

I want to be open with you, but I also know that a few of you have something against blues. You don’t want to hear about my little blue crushes every time you visit this blog. But you need to know: it’s November, and this is my high season. I am going to be bringing a lot of blue cheese home from now on, and you might as well know the gnarly truth.

Here are three recent infatuations:

Think of a ham hock, then superimpose blue cheese over it. This porky tasting blue from Common Folks in Leola, PA is dense, creamy, and salty as hell. I fell for the beautiful scarification on the rind, which comes from the basket in which this cheese is aged. A shout out to Albert Yee of the Fair Food Farmstand who writes about Incanestro on his blog, Messy and Picky, this week.

Harbourne Blue
I took this pasteurized goat blue to a party, and every body wanted a bite – once they saw the price tag anyway. At $40/lb, it’s much too spendy to buy regularly, but on a sparkly occasion, it’s worth procuring a minor shard and eating it unadorned. This is a bright, bold blue from the UK – a little spicy, but icy, too. Imagine incredibly fresh snow with a dusting of chive blossoms.

Don’t be put off by the coat of many colors here – this gorgeous Italian sheep's milk blue is packed in grape must, which imbues the paste with grapey, floral notes. It’s sweet as far as blues go and very fudgy. I can’t even write about it without purring. Cheese fan and journalist Janet Fletcher suggests serving it with a "silky dessert wine." Thanks to Gil of the Philly Market Cafe blog for recommending this dream.

There, I've come clean. Mostly.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Chabrin: Today's Lunch

Yes, this really was my lunch. I had the day to work at home and I was photographing cheeses – pudgy, stinky things – when I remembered that I had a hunk of this gorgeously nutty French goat cheese in the fridge, left over from a department party.

I also had a pile of fruit and veg on the counter, so I decided to forage for a perfect combination. A little crusty bread, some grapes, a mellow breakfast radish. When I ate this little plate, I thought, “Why do I ever eat anything else?”

There is no better lunch than a hunk of bread, a wedge of cheese, and something sweet and crispy on the side.

Chabrin is a perfect lunch cheese – it is mild without being inert. (So many “mellow cheeses” get lost on me; I want to like them, but they are like so many of the people I knew in high school – no personality.) I love a cheese that can wear bangles. Chabrin can wear bangles; she can wear big fake eyelashes. This is a goat cheese with razzmatazz.

The texture is exquisite – smooth and not at all gummy (or gamey) the way aged goat cheeses can be. The flavor is all hazelnut and toffee. Chabrin calls to mind salt caramel. Smooth, pleasantly salty, creamy.

Chabrin comes from the French Pyrenees, the same region that produces Ossau Iraty. I bought this wedge at Downtown Cheese in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, where, sadly, the monger couldn't tell me much about it -- although he consulted his Cheese Primer.

If cheeses were CDs, this would be on heavy rotation. Chabrin -- she is my new BFF.

Chabrin, posing for pics at a Jesuit function