Friday, September 30, 2011

Cheese Journal Giveaway

Dave Selden is a cheese frau’s dream. Okay, this cheese frau’s dream. The Portland beer blogger (he's the author of 999 beers) has developed a series of pocket-sized tasting notebooks for beer, whiskey, wine, coffee and – oh, bless him – cheese.

Each book contains 33 pages, hence the name of Selden’s cottage industry out of Portland, Oregon: A beer-blogger by night and graphic designer by day, he’s pretty much the perfect guy for the job of tasting-book developer.

I have 4 books to give away, and one lucky winner will also receive a complimentary cheese board (pictured below) made by Seldon himself. If you use the book, I hope you’ll let us know how you like it. Pop it in the pocket of your jeans vest, and jot down a few notes at the cheese counter or at a resto when you order a cheese plate.

The notebook is so cleverly put together and so compact, it’s a little frightening. (Does Dave Selden live in my brain?) The top of each page offers room for notes about the origins of each cheese – there’s even a line for a rind descriptor. Thank you, Dave.

The bottom of each page is comprised of a dairy dashboard – there’s a flavor wheel and a texture meter, along with a 5-star rating system. Don’t be scared. The diagrams are self-explanatory. The inside cover also offers some useful notes.

Good design and good cheese? I can’t think of a better pairing. Drop me a comment if you want me to send you a freebie. I’ll draw four random winners on Sunday, October 2, 2011 and ship these off to you tout de suite. 
Dave's tasting journals are also available online for $4 each, or 3 for $10. Stocking stuffers? Yup. Each book is made of recycled paper and printed with soy ink. Cowabunga! I hope I start seeing these on retail shelves soon.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Puddle Duck Creek

My October cheese column in Grid Magazine features this pretty duckling, known as Puddle Duck Creek. It's a bloomy cheese from Hillacres Pride in Peach Bottom, PA. When I first picked up Puddle Duck at my local Green Aisle Grocery, I was struck by it's golden interior -- it looks like banana pudding. That's a good sign. As I mention in my column (see below), that gold coloring tells me that the cows were pasture-raised. Cows can't digest beta carotene in grass, so it shows up in the milk and subsequently in the cheese.

This is the first season I've seen Puddle Duck Creek. It's a great addition to the local cheese world -- dense and fudgy. It joins a couple other notable Brie-style cheeses from the area, namely Buttercup Brie, Noble Run, and Sue Miller's Little Chardy. If you live in the Philadelphia area, check out the Hillacres Pride stand at Headhouse Farmers Market. You'll see Sue Miller's Birchrun Hills Farm stand there, too. It would be fun to try her Little Chardy alongside Puddle Duck Creek since they're made from different breeds of grass-fed cows. Hillacres raises Jerseys, while Birchrun milks Holsteins.  

In fact, that's just what I might do this weekend.

If you find yourself with a puck of Puddle Duck, try serving it with cherry preserves and a sparkly wine or Duvel. You could also toast slices of Puddle Duck on top of baguette rounds and layer some sauteed mushrooms on top to pick up on the earthy notes. Add a sprinkle of chives, too.   
Below: A screen shot from the October issue of Grid Magazine, p. 13


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Close Encounters With Coulommiers

Certain cheeses, like certain rare albums, attract die-hard fans. You’re looking at one here. I would show you others if I weren’t just a wee bit worried about getting caught. See, the cheese pictured before you isn’t actually legal, and that’s because it’s unpasteurized. It came into this country, like so many pirated Michael Jackson cassette tapes, via a suitcase.

I’ve always wanted to try a raw-milk French Brie, which is why I biked to an undisclosed parking lot several weeks ago and did the unthinkable: I ate raw Coulommiers out of the trunk of an unmarked minivan. It’s just as nefarious as it sounds. There were knives, illicit cutting boards, cheese thugs.

I risked my life. And I’d do it again.

Coulommiers is a cow’s milk cheese from near Burgundy – an area of the world that is known for its glorious dairy. Epoisses? From Burgundy. Delice de Bourgogne? From Burgundy. Both  are sold to the U.S. as pasteurized cheeses because of our stringent raw-milk laws. They’re very good cheeses, mind you, but as a diehard cheeselover, one has to wonder: what would the raw-milk version taste like?  

This is why I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try raw Coulommiers – the real deal from France. If I’d been in Paris, I would have shmeared it on a baguette without hesitation, without looking over my shoulder, without first putting on a Lone Ranger mask. 

I wouldn’t even be telling you about this experience except that…well, I feel I owe it to you. I mean, we have come so far together.

So here is my close encounter with Coulommiers: Imagine the taste of a thousand splendid mushrooms, sautéed in butter and herbs to silky perfection. Envision the crepe-de-chine creaminess on the tongue, the pasturey aroma of wet hay. Multiply this by 10,000 flashing taste buds and you have, well, a cheese supernova.

I am here to tell you that this Coulommiers was so far from every other gummy, slightly furry, tongue-coating Brie experience I’ve ever endured, that I literally moonwalked across cobblestones and fell into a planter pot, stunned.

I am ruined, reader. If you ever go to France, order Coulommiers. Make sure to get a ripe one. If it doesn’t run down your sleeve, step away and move to the next cheese shop.

And if you ever get a phonecall in the middle of the night from someone with a husky voice who says, “Meet me in a parking lot tomorrow at 2 p.m. I have some dangerous, irresistible French cheese,” please let me know. I will go in your place. 

Note: This post is not intended to advocate cheese smuggling. Raw milk cheese is legally available for purchase in the U.S., but it must be at least 60 days old. Young cheeses, such as Brie and Coulommiers, ripen in a few short weeks so they are not available in stores as raw cheeses. It is legal to eat them, just not to buy them. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On Blue Cheese & Food Blogging: Two Classes

"Black Castello," by Mike Geno's happening. I'm teaching a class on tasting blue cheese. Yeah, I know, blue cheese is not everyone's bag, but you and I know that most people get hung up on "crumbles" at the grocery. We don't like those either. But we love a soft, purring blue like Gorg Dolce (which would be a very good name for a cat) and we get rowdy when someone brings out a big blue bruiser like Stilton. 

On Friday, October 28, I am going to sing the blues at Tria's Fermentation School. I hope you'll grab the hand of an adventurous friend and join me for an around-the-world, multi-milk tour. We'll start in the U.S., with some award-winning blues, then fly to Italy, France, Spain, and England, enjoying pairings with each bite. It's a flight of 7 blues, my loves. There will be dark chocolate, there will be sherry. Let's all wear silk stockings. 

Click here for tickets.

Food Blogging Workshops I & II

You've been asking and asking, and now this dream comes true: Marisa McClellan and I are teaming up to teach two workshops specifically for food bloggers. Whether you're just starting out or deeply engrossed in the blogosphere, we think this set of two hands-on classes will be smashing. Come to one, or both. We're holding them at Indy Hall, a unique co-working space in Old City, Philadelphia. Both workshops will be intimate (12-15 people), and we're providing coffee and baked goods for breakfast. Our goal is to provide you with community, creativity, and croissants, along with new skills and a boost of confidence. 

Sat., October 15, 10-1 p.m.
Indy Hall, $75, includes brunch
Instructors: Marisa McClellan ( & Tenaya Darlington a.k.a. Madame Fromage 

Want to launch a food blog, or spice up the one you’ve already started? Spend a morning developing your culinary identity. We’ll give you an anatomy lesson of good blog components, talk photo gear, explore trends and niches, plus brainstorm future posts with you. This is a hands-on class. You will eat muffins. You will take lots of notes. When you leave, you’ll have all the tools to start blogging with a clear vision of the food story you want to share. 

Sat., Nov. 5, 10-1p.m.
Indy Hall, $75, includes breakfast
Instructors: Marisa McClellan ( & Tenaya Darlington a.k.a. Madame Fromage 

So you’ve been blogging for a while, but you’re wondering how to get noticed. And you’re worried your posts might be too long. And you think you might want to run advertising? In this 3-hour workshop, we’ll run through Blog Ethics 101 and help you think through the choices ahead. We’ll also look at several case studies of successful bloggers who have landed book deals and launched full-blown careers in writing. It’s not just about branding, it’s also about understanding the ethics and etiquette around posting recipes, photos, and comments. Consider this your baptism into the pro blogger community.

Note: The image of "Black Castello" at the top of this post is a new work by Mike Geno. His cheese paintings will be featured in the winter issue of Culture Magazine.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cheese, Ale, and Jam Recap

Yesterday was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, perfect for tucking into jam, nibbling cheese, and sipping beer. Marisa of joined me on the back patio at Wedge & Fig, Old City's new cheese shop, for a little catechism. Since several of you wanted to be there but couldn't, here are a few photos along with a menu of our pairings. 

Later this week, Marisa and I will be posting about our upcoming Food Blogging Workshops -- we've got two (one for newbies, one that's advanced), and I've got details to share about my all blue cheese class at Tria in October. Click the links for a sneaky preview. More verbiage to come.

Now, for yesterday's tasting...

Humboldt Fog + Honey-Sweetened Apricot Lavender Butter
Walt Wit, Philadelphia Brewing
This iconic goat cheese from Cypress Grove’s Mary Keehn is layered with a line of edible ash, separating morning milk from evening milk. A light-bodied wheat beer with plenty of effervescence is perfect. So is a Sauv Blanc.

Delice de Bourgogne + Pear Vanilla Jam
Duvel Belgian Ale
One of the most decadent triple cremes, Delice is often served with Champagne, but a spritely Duvel does the job, too. In fall, serve Delice for dessert with dried cherries, pears, and spiced pecans. 

Epoisses+Cara Cara Ginger Marmalade
90-minute IPA, Dogfish
Meaty Epoisses hails from Burgundy, where 16th century monks developed this unique brandy-washed cheese. Try it before Thanksgiving dinner, served with crudité and a big beer with plenty of malt and hops.

Quickes Cheddar+Peach Chutney
Saint Botolph’s Town, Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project
Mary Quicke makes traditional clothbound cheddar at her home in Devon. Its sweet earthiness matches the malty caramel notes in this rustic brown ale made by gypsy brewers outside of Boston. Try the Duvel, too. 

Beemster Aged Gouda +Fig Jam
Bam Biere, Jolly Pumpkin
This Gouda-style cheese from the Netherlands is toasty and smoky, a good foil for for an artisan farmhouse ale made from wild yeast in Dexter, MI. You could also try a smoked beer or a stout.

Black Castello+Pickled Cherries
Life & Limb, Dogfish/Sierra Nevada collaboration
This friendly Danish blue made from cow and sheep’s milk is notable for its black rind. It has a supple, salty profile that stands up to dark beer, in this case an American Strong Ale sweetened with maple syrup. It’s strong (10% ABV).

Table settings w/ menus and tasting notes 
Beer selections, from local to far-flung
Pickled cherries, etc. in the Wedge & Fig kitchen

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Beer and Cheese Pairings

In the last year, I've popped a lot of bottle tops at cheese tastings. One thing I've noticed: beer is forgiving. It's hard to find one that doesn't like at least one style of cheese, and many brews go with multiple cheese styles. Take stouts, for example. They're such good matches for salty blues, and they're willing to double-bunk with triple cremes. That's great for someone like me who loves blues but hangs out with a lot of Brie heads.

Interestingly, most cheese books don't offer pairings for beer, only wine. Bummer. I like Sauv Blanc with soft goat cheeses, too, but sometimes that age-old classic feels like a rewind. Ever had Humboldt Fog with a wheat beer? Mesmerizing.

Lots of tastings that I follow around the country -- remotely, mostly, I'm not like a Phish Fan who follows cheeses across country, although I do like the thought -- are highlighting craft beer and artisanal cheese. Maybe it's the economy. Popping a cap rather than pulling a cork tends to be easier on the debit card.

On Sunday, I'm co-hosting an autumn cheese class with beer and preserves, so I've spent a lot of time nosing around the internet for interesting suggestions. If you, like me, like monkeying around with dairy and hops, here are a few highlights and little ol' rules of thumb.

Beer Pairing Tips & E-Sources

-Heavy beer draws out meaty flavors in cheese, while lighter beers highlight creamy textures. Many thanks to Slashfood's Belgian Ale 101 for that one.

-Alpine cheeses with bocks and Oktoberfest? That makes sense -- why wouldn't Germans reach for native cheeses to pair with their malty creations? Beer Advocate called that one.

-I lean on my home cheese counter, Di Bruno Bros., for most of my beer pairings. I've never forgotten Hunter Fike's recommendation for Marcel Petit Comte and Dogfish Head Punkin Ale.

-At the Artisanal website, there's a list of cheeses that pair well with a variety of beers, from saisons to lambics. I'm curious to put a meaty Epoisses against an IPA.

-Ever tried Rodenbach Red Ale? It's wildly complex -- sour, oaky, with a big fruity pop to the eye. I've been mulling over an appropriate cheese. Thanks to Brewtopia, I'm off to try some French Munster.

-For pairing basics and a beer glossary, check out The Nibble. They offer a useful chart with some interesting combos, like Provolone and pale ale.

-Back in spring, I pulled a local beer blogger into my kitchen and asked him to advise on beers for a plate of fabulous cheese. His research notes at In Search of Beer are pretty great.

-If you want a fun tasting prop, print out the beer-and-cheese pairing placemat from Cypress Grove. These guys make gorgeous goat cheese, and they've got the marketing down.

Other useful pairing tips? Shout me.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Strange Beauty of Scamorza

On appearance, Scamorza (ska-MORT-sa) is one of the ugliest cheeses. It looks like the belly button of a giant baby – dried out, pale, and slightly waxy. For years, I avoided it. No one I knew ate it, and the only person I ever saw order it in the cheese line was an old man with very large ears.

Turns out, that old man knew something I didn’t know. Scamorza is good company for the end of summer. When all that your garden offers is a few lonely herbs, you might as well pluck them and make Scamorza toasts with olive oil, herbs, and black pepper. To continue reading, please click here.

Full disclosure: This is part of a paid series I write for Di Bruno Bros. Twice a month, I select a cheese and develop a post for their blog. This is how I cover the cost of my dairy habit.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Blue Cheese Cherry Burgers

Recently I took on the challenge to create a “hometown burger” for Labor Weekend, a request from Wisconsin Cheese Talk. Since I still think of Wisconsin as home – Madison, specifically – I thought back on two of my favorite summer flavors from that state: Door County Cherries and Black River Blue from North Hendron Dairy Co-op. If you’ve ever paired Stilton with port, you know that these two flavors make beautiful music in the key of sweet-salty.

Black River Blue is a great burger topper – it melts well, and the flavor is sharp without being too aggressive. If you have any left over, sprinkle it in a spinach salad or tuck it into a BLT. The cherry-onion relish can be made in advance, and it keeps well. The tartness of the cherries alongside the caramelized onions balance out the saltiness of the blue, making for a truly stunning burger.

Back when I lived in Wisconsin, I used to bike down to North Hendron Dairy from my favorite little writing cabin at a place called The Christine Center, which was run by nuns. Props to Sister Margaret and Sister Johanna who turned me onto this cheese. When I see it on the East Coast, it makes me think of rural Wisconsin and kind Franciscans.

Blue Cheese Cherry Burgers

For the cherry-onion relish
¼ cup dried cherries
½ cup warm water or dark beer
1 medium-sized white or yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
Ground black pepper
Sea salt

For the burgers
4 ground beef patties
4 whole wheat hamburger buns
Baby spinach
Black River Blue Cheese (or Gorgonzola)

1. Soak cherries in warm water or beer and set aside to soak for half an hour or more.

2. Melt butter in skillet and add thinly sliced onions. Cook on low to medium heat, about 20 minutes. If they brown, they’ll get tough, so be sure to let them cook down slowly. Once onions are transluscent, add balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, and turn off heat. Add a pinch of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Drain cherries, and add to onion mixture.

3. Salt and pepper ground beef patties, and grill. If you cook them on a stove, get the pan hot and cook them in a little butter, 5-7 minutes per side if you want them to be rare – closer to 9 or 12 minutes per side for well-done.

4. Top burgers with cherry-onion relish and a hunk of blue. For additional condiments, try some baby spinach, a shmear of mayo, and a little whole-grain mustard. Serve with a dark, smoky beer and sweet-potato chips.

Note: You can use dried cranberries in place of cherries in this recipe. If you like a smoother relish, put it in a food processor.

Friday, September 2, 2011

September Cheese Horoscope

Equinox Gougere, Wooden Spoon Bakery, Phoenixville, Pa.

If you start to feel lazy or listless in the early part of the month, consider raising your derriere off the couch to attend a cheese tasting or farm tour. Expect creamy waves of pleasure as well as new thought patterns around chevre and personal fortune. Here’s a taste of what Mercury brings, especially around the full moon on the 19th:

September 9-11
Yellow Springs Fall Open House
Friday noon-6, Sat & Sun. 10-4
1165 Yellow Springs Rd., Chester Springs, PA 19425
Catherine and Al Renzi have one of the prettiest goat dairies in Chester County, along with a native plant nursery of fall-blooming shrubs, wildflowers, and trees. Their fall open house is a great time to meet some adorable loppy-eared goats and sample some remarkable handmade cheese. If you missed out on their goat cheese CSA this year, you can scope out the coolers for a selection of tender morsels (try Red Leaf and Nutcracker). If you plan to make a day of it, stop by Kimberton Whole Foods to check out the selection of local foods, have lunch at The Wooden Spoon Bakery in downtown Phoenixville for a sandwich and a cookie (the homemade Oreos and Oatmeal Smileys are not to be missed), and pop by Talula’s Table in Kennett Square to pick up dinner-to-go and grab winter provisions. For more info, visit

September 16
Autumn Pairings Class: Cheese, Beer & Homemade Preserves
Wedge+Fig, 160 N. 3rd St, Philadelphia, 19106, 4-6 p.m.
Join Marisa McClellan ( and Madame Fromage for the ultimate evening of snacking at Philadelphia’s newest cheese café and patio garden. We’ll teach you how to pair flavors and give you plenty of tips for holiday entertaining, using cheese and homemade preserves (pickles, chutneys, and jams), along with local brews and more. This is a great Cheese 101 for anyone interested in developing a palate, and if you’re a home canner, we’ve got recipes you can use for parties and gift giving. If you’ve never attended one of our cheese’n pickle parties or cheddar’n chutney events, this is the grand bomb.
To reserve tickets ($65), click here.

September 17
Adams County Orchard Tour
Bus departs Reading Terminal at 8:30 a.m.
The good folks at the Fair Food Farmstand (in Reading Terminal Market) have been rolling out some great road trips to local farms this summer – a terrific deal if you’re a car-free city dweller in search of green pastures. Board a bus, eat some nibbles on the way, and visit several area growers that supply food to the stand. You can bet there will be some cheese at this hoe down, which stops at Beechwood Orchards and Three Springs Fruit Farm for tastes of heirloom apples and other regionally grown fruit. A picnic is provided, along with live music. You may even see cheesemonger Paul Lawler trip the light fantastic. For tickets ($75), visit Eventbrite.

September 20
The Brewer, The Farmer, The Chef, and The Goat
Upstairs at Di Bruno Bros., 6-8 p.m.
It’s a nose-to-tail fete with Stoudt’s Brewing and 7th Heaven Farm of Tabernacle, NJ, a local purveyor of rare and heritage livestock. Chef Rob Sidor goes to gorgeous extremes on his tastings (witness the Fermentation Dinner), so this meal is not to be missed. Dinners at Di Bruno Bros. are casual, and this one will feature tasting stations with special pairings of all things goat. Meet all the characters involved in brewing, farming, and cooking this meal. To reserve tickets ($45): call 215.665.1659 or email

For more area cheese events, check out...

Anne Saxelby's Cheese Calendar (For all things relating to artisan cheese in NYC)
Cheese Classes at Artisanal (For master classes with Max McCalman)
Murray's Cheese Events (Note the Stinky Cheese & Wine tasting and the Cave Tours)
Tria's Fermentation School (Note the Cheese Happy Hours at this Philly institution)