Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I've Moved to Wordpress

Hello Darling,
I've moved to a new site, www.madamefromageblog.com. If you haven't meandered over for a peek or changed your RSS feed, please do. I'd love for us to keep our cheesy heads together.

For the record, my site here on Blogger now functions as an archive of my posts from spring 2009 through spring 2012. I elected not to migrate my old posts over to the new Wordpress site, so you can always come here for old time's sake.

Shimmy shimmy,
Madame Fromage

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Unveiling of a New Blog

Come on, let's take a peak. My new blog at www.madamefromageblog.com is all ready for you. I hope you like it. Keep in mind, it's still new, barely out of the cave.

Note: All of the content on this site will remain here as an archive. Madame Fromage has now jumped blogospheres. See you on the other side. Cheers, dahhlink. And never fear, there is lots more cheese where we are going. xoxo

Friday, February 24, 2012

Parting Words

Dear reader, it’s really happening. My cheese valise is packed, and I’m off like a gypsy to a new blog on Wordpress. On Monday, I hope you’ll join me for a tour. If I’ve seemed absent lately, that’s because I’ve been playing with font sizes, learning a smidge of html, and preparing the virtual finger food for our next rendez-vous.

It’s been almost three years since I began writing on Blogger, and it does feel a little bittersweet to take down the curtains. This site will remain in place as an archive while I start fresh on the new blog. I like clean sheets, clean slates.

I’ve learned an awful lot since all this started in 2009. I never imagined I’d be this deep into dairy and so far from fiction (my original love, my advanced degree), but I find that when doors mysteriously open it’s best to pop through them, even if the hallway beyond looks dark, strange.

Blogging has led to so many good things. A place to commune online. Cheesemonger friends. Adventures in the wild. Many of the people I meet in the artisan cheese world are escapees like me, people who left ordinary lives for a risk, a whim. Some buy goats, I guess I buy urls.

I don’t think of what I do here as a job, but it’s created work for me. Good work. Freelance opportunities. A chance to teach classes on cheese and on blogging. Even a book is afoot. Yes, yes, it’s been a lovely surprise.

Lately, I meet a lot of new bloggers and blog-upon-a-star wishers who ask advice. Here is a speck of insight in parting: don’t worry about generating traffic or revenue. Figure out what your purpose is first.

When I started as a blogger, I pictured this site as a pillowbook where I would record tasting notes for myself. Over time it grew into a small universe, like a second home – more than a chronicle of eats.

A blog is an education. As you write, you discover. As you discover, you teach. As you teach, you meet other teachers. It’s like microbes gathering on a rind to break down a bloomy Brie. Mmm, yes, I’m hungry already.

For all these things, I am grateful to you. Yes, you out there in the ether. People say our culture is dying from lack of connection, and yet I feel more connected than ever. Merci beaucoup.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Eggs Tarentaise in Butternut Squash

I'm crazy about soft-boiled eggs. I eat one just about every morning, which is how I got the idea to bake an egg inside the cavity of a butternut squash with a little bit of Tarentaise. Tarentaise is a sweet, nutty cheese from Spring Brook Hill Farm in Vermont, made by the same folks who produce Redding Raclette

Today on the Di Bruno Bros. blog, I write about this cheese and offer a recipe for Eggs Tarentaise. It involves a few steps, but it's a fairly easy and very eye-catching dish. Here are a few photos of the process. To see the recipe, click here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

How To Get A Cheese Education

Cheesemonger Ezekial Ferguson working with a customer at Di Bruno Bros.

This week, I’m thinking about a question from a reader named Mia. She wants to live the golden dream -- to work in the cheese world as either a maker or a monger. She wrote to me asking how to gain experience. When I put the question out on Twitter recently, several cheesemongers fired right back: "Tell her to get a job at a cheese counter!"

For Mia and others who are sniffing along the dairy periphery, below are some useful resources. I should note that Mia has already explored some of these books and opportunities. She’s clearly a woman ahead of her time. I hope to meet her soon -- hopefully, over a stack of wheels.

Essential Readings

Steven Jenkins, the man who launched Dean & DeLuca's cheese program, surveys European cheese and offers the expertise of an importer. His primer feels a little out of date now, but I still see dog-eared copies behind every cheese counter. His regional maps are essential to understanding terroir.

Artisanal's Max McCalman approaches cheese as a master taster. His book on the subject includes fascinating insights into animal husbandry, chemistry, and pairing principles. Best of all, he assigns specific cheese boards as homework so you can learn about milk types and aging periods in a very hands-on way. 

Liz Thorpe, of Murray’s, taught the staff at The French Laundry how to serve cheese. Her book focuses on the cheese renaissance in America and highlights pioneering cheesemakers from California to Maine. She offers keen personal insights, and her "Cheddar Lexicon" is brilliant.

Fletcher writes about one cheese per week in The San Francisco Chronicle. Each column offers a glimpse into a new import or recent release. Read her for a year and look for the cheeses she recommends; her discoveries and pairing suggestions are spot on.

Worthwhile Pursuits

Make friends with a local cheesemonger.
Find a mentor in your community. Visit a local cheese shop regularly and ask to taste the cheeses that you read about. People who work in cheese generally love to share knowledge.

Go to bootcamp.
Check out the courses offered by Murray's and Artisanal next time you're in New York. These come highly recommended, and they’re the equivalent of an SAT prep class on the subject of cheese. In Philadelphia, Tria's Fermentation School leads the way in cheese education for enthusiasts. If you want a hardcore class for mongers, check out The Cheese School of San Francisco. If you want a class for makers, visit The Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese (VIAC).

Get to know your local cheesemakers.
Visit farmers’ markets and ask cheesemakers about volunteer opportunities if you’re interested. Many makers hire interns, assistants, and market helpers.

Vacation in cheese states.
Wisconsin, California, and Vermont are the biggest cheese producers in the U.S. Make a pilgrimage along Vermont’s Cheese Trail or follow Wisconsin’s Cheese Map. All three states host annual cheese festivals. You can also go on a Vocation Vacation with a cheesemonger named Steve in Portland. Curious.

Attend the American Cheese Society (ACS) Conference
This is the equivalent of the Cheese Oscars, a show that everyone in the scene attends -- from cheesemakers to cheese retailers. Go! You’ll eat mountains of cheese and meet makers from all over the world. You can volunteer to offset the expense of the ACS Conference. The ACS recently developed a Cheesemonger Certification Exam, but you need documentable cheese experience to take it.

Apply for a job at a cheese counter
As long as you’re curious and willing to learn, you have the basic credentials to work at a cheese counter. Apply for a position and see where it takes you. Good Food Jobs is a useful resource for anyone searching for openings.

For more on this subject, listen to Anne Saxelby's radio program on Cheese Education and visit the ACS homepage for a list of cheese educators

Friday, February 10, 2012

Parsley Creswell Returns (with a Giveaway)

                                                                                                               Parsley Creswell's "Virtuous Salad," Photo by Linda Olle

On the Upper East Side, in a breezy apartment, Parsley Creswell lives a cheese-inspired life. She has a parrot named Gougère, and she dates men with names like Mario Provolone (a renowned tenor). Of course, I’m making this up, or, well, Linda Olle is.

Linda Olle, a regular reader of this blog, pens faux gastro-memoirs – a genre she may have invented. The Upper East Side Cookbook: Main Course is the second book in a trilogy that she’s writing, a series that combines rich prose and even richer recipes: Haggis Meat Loaf, chocolate nib smoothies, Chartreuse à la Thomas Jefferson, and something called Virtuous Salad.

In the spirit of Ruth Reichl, Parsley Creswell eats her way around New York, but not as a writerly gastronome – no, Parsley is an eccentric ex-fashionista who wears corsets and collects exotic recipes. She’s Gretta Garbo with a splash of Ru Paul.

Here’s an excerpt:
With an expensive pair of birding binoculars around her neck, a gift from a swain, Parsely foraged in Central Park for mushrooms sprouting high up on a tree trunk….She placed her treasure in tissue paper and a recycled orange-and-white Zabars bag, then dined alone...

If there were a Grey Gardens cookbook, this would be it. Linda Olle has once again revived her enchanting heroine, Parsley Creswell, and this time we follow her through dumpsters, across Riker’s Island, and to Japan. With each episode, she becomes more complex, more tragic, and more quintessentially New York.

I relate to her upbringing: “…Parsley grew up in the Midwest and believed that she experienced a form of hypoglycemia if she didn’t get a constant infusion of calcium in the form of milk, cheese, or ice cream, especially in the winter.”

Giveaway: So that you can enjoy this curious odyssey -- and perhaps try your hand at Onion Pie or Angels on Horseback -- I’m giving away one copy of The Upper East Side Cookbook: Main Course. To enter, simply name the richest dish you’ve ever eaten. Get your comment in by Feb. 14, 2012. I’ll draw a winner the next morning.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Soup Cheese

I never grew up eating Pecorino, but this winter it’s become my go-to cheese to serve with winter soups. The nutty flavor of this quintessential Italian specialty comes from sheep’s milk, and because it’s a rich, fatty cheese, a few curls shaved onto a broth adds beautiful dimension.

This week on the Di Bruno Bros. blog, I touch on several different Pecs and offer a recipe for Swiss Chard Soup. Full disclosure: Twice a month, I freelance for Di Bruno Bros., one of my fave cheese shops in Philadelphia. I pick out a cheese to feature on their blog, and I run a wee teaser here. The money I earn from this venture supports my dairy habit.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Valentine’s Cheese Advice

With the economy in the toilette, it’s an awfully good year to be a loving spendthrift. Instead of bedazzling a sweater and going out on the town, I suggest you bedazzle some goat cheese and stay in with some Steely Dan.

It’s as easy as picking up these chevre hearts—available at the Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal—or making your own. Come on, you can find some fresh goat cheese and figure out how to press it between sheets of waxed paper for some easy molding. Pete Demchur of Shellbark Hollow rolls his cuties in fresh lavender buds and pink peppercorns, but you could roll yours in some paprika, craisins, or za'atar. That a grrrl, Martha.

Below, I've listed all the scrumptious sides you could ever want for a lover’s cheese board. Pick up some goat cheese, a weepy Brie, and a sweet hunk of Valdeon, then lock the door. Turn off all the lights, scramble for a candle, and feed your naughty cherub these tender morsels:

  • Cherry preserves
  • Spiced pecans
  • Dark chocolate
  • Honey
  • Dates
  • Baguette
  • Champagne

Don’t forget to relax the cheese! What I mean is: while you’re taking a warm bath, leave the cheeses on the counter. You'll want to serve them at room temperature. Otherwise this whole exercise is pointless.

Cheese & Champagne Class: Bone up on the finer points of serving bubbly and Brie at a Cheese & Champagne Class at Di Bruno Bros., 1730 Chestnut St., on Friday, Feb. 10, at 6:30 p.m. The swarthy Richard-Luis Morillo will demo and discuss. Tickets: $20. For more info, call 215-665-1659 and ask for "Catering."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Cheese Portraits at Wedge and Fig

Just a heads up about Mike Geno's stunning cheese portraits. They'll be up at Philadelphia's Wedge & Fig through March, 2012. The opening is tonight. Here's the postcard. Love it up!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Haunted by Handkäse

Readers, you know how I feel about stinky cheese. I always welcome it into my home. That is why there is a funeral-sized incense burner in my living room. Alas, my last Stinky Cheese Mission went awry, and I am still puzzling over it. Did I eat a bad piece of cheese, or is Handkäse really and truly intolerable?

The tip came from a reader who heard about Handkäse during a German conversation class in New Jersey. She asked if I knew of it, then sent me instructions on how to find it. “My German teacher calls it Handkase mit musik,” she wrote. “The musik comes afterward.”

Okay. I like a fart joke. I’ll eat a farty cheese.

So off I went to Rieker’s Prime Meats, a German specialty foods store in the neighborhood of Fox Chase, Pa. I pictured a meaty fright wig of a cheese with a devilish rind, something akin to Limburger. I did not expect Handkäse to look umbilical, like a glassy Tootsie Roll. But, there it was in the cooler: slightly cloudy, tubular.

Let it be known that I loved Rieker’s Prime Meats. I loved the cuckoo clocks, the German cookies, the fresh spaetzle and rouladen in the dairy case. I bought bags of fresh pretzels, wursts, mustard in a toothpaste tube – all the family favorites. 

The only item I didn’t love when I got home? Handkäse. And it wasn’t the musik.

Handkäse is a specialty of Hesse, Germany, where it was originally rolled by hand, hence the name. According to Cookipedia, it’s a “smeared acid curd” cheese made from sour milk that is ripened for several days in a “sweating room.” New terms for this cheese geek. Acid curd? Sweating room?

You get the picture. Handkäse did taste sweaty and acidic – like sour cream mixed with rubber cement. My first bite stuck to my front teeth like a fetid gummi bear. Terrible. I tried melting it, added onions – as others on the internet suggested – but oy vey, that only made Handkäse turn slimy. 

If Tolkein’s Golem character had tried ripening a cheese in his cave, it might have looked like melted Handkäse. Look at it. Tell me you don't think of Lord of the Rings.

I’m headed back for some Limburger. I think I like cheese that smells like feet better than cheese that looks like a severed finger. But, readers, set me straight. Is there something I’m missing? Are there magical nuggets of Handkäse out there, or am I stinktarded?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ubriaco To Chase Away Doldrums

Now that the holiday parties are over and more sleet is in store, a person can easily turn gloomy. If you find yourself prone to despair, I suggest a nice wedge of Ubriaco as a cure-all.

Ubriaco, which means “drunken,” is a cheese that understands darkness. It spends months in a wine barrel before it comes to market. Originally, Italian cheesemakers hid wheels from tax collectors this way in order to avoid their fees. Eventually, these drunken cheeses became popular. Lucky for us!   To read on, please click here.

Full disclosure: I freelance for Di Bruno Bros. Twice a month, I pick a wedge of my dreams and develop a post for their blog. This is how I cover the cost of my dairy habit.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

How to Make a Downton Abbey Cheese Plate

I can’t seem to get enough of the PBS series, Downton Abbey, and neither can you. This became clear at the Cheddar class I taught on Friday night at Tria’s Fermentation School. It was a Masterpiece Theater-loving crowd (lots of beards and one waistcoat); Lady Grantham would have fit right in.

By the end of the night, we’d eaten seven Cheddars, and there was hardly a crumb on the tables. After everyone left, I couldn’t help but imagine them settling in on their settees at home with a spot of port and an episode of Downton Abbey cued up for a nightcap. Since today is Sunday, and you’ll surely be watching, let me offer you a few crumbs of wisdom about building a Downton worthy cheese plate.

Photo credit: JBUK_Planet
First off, Downton Abbey is shot in Cheddar country, in Hampshire, just one county over from Somerset. Highclere Castle (above) is the actual name of the palatial estate, and it’s just a jaunt from London, home to one of Europe’s best affineurs, Neal’s Yard Dairy. Should you decide to holiday in Hampshire, make sure you pop into Neal’s Yard for a whiff and a nibble. Lord Grantham would insist.

Secondly, you’ll want to serve some traditional farmhouse West Country Cheddars, which would have been fairly easy to come by in 1912, before the advent of Britain’s agricultural depression in the 1920s and ‘30s. Before World War II, Britain developed a Milk Marketing Board that streamlined industrial cheese production, decimating small cottage industries. Many great cheese recipes were lost, but a few have been revived.

Lady and Lord Grantham lived during a veritable Cheddar heyday, you might say. For a taste of some of these extraordinary cheeses, scout out the following wedges for your next Downton Abbey viewing party:

Mrs. Kirkham’s Tasty Lancashire
A gentle, citrus-bright clothbound cheese made from milling the curds of three days’ milking. The texture has earned it the nickname “floofy monstah.” You’ll understand why. Character: Mrs. Patmore

This wickedly creamy goat’s milk cheese has a layer of beautiful surface mold and a decadent, fudgy center. It’s a bit naughty and a tiny bit two-faced. Character: Lady Mary

Montgomery’s Cheddar
One of the best loved traditional West Country Cheddars, this is one of three recognized by Slow Food. It’s made by hand by Jamie Montgomery at his farm in Somerset. It’s a cult cheese for anglo-loving Cheddarphiles. Character: Lord Grantham

Keen’s Cheddar
To rival Montgomery’s, a traditional Cheddar that’s earthier and more aggressive. This clothbound beauty is made by George Keen, a legend in cheesemaking. Character: Mr. Carson

Lincolnshire Poacher
This smoldering character is named after a 17th century ballad. It has Cheddarish traits, but there’s a bit of Gruyere lurking in the background, making it a bit of a split personality. So of course, you can guess which character it best represents. Character: Thomas the Footman

This piquant, ultra traditional version of Stilton is made with raw milk, unlike other Stiltons on the market. It’s very feisty and worth every penny for its craggy, churlish nature. Character: Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham

For more ideas, pick up a copy of Great British Cheeses , by Jenny Linford (DK, 2008). Downton Abbey, Season 1 is available for streaming on Netflix. Season 2 streams on PBS.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Scenes From The Cheese Ball

                                                        Yours Truly with Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm

You may have heard. On Saturday, I held a Cheese Ball in Philadelphia. It was everything I hoped it would be. And more. There were cheeses from Holland, London, and New York. We had guests from Spain, France, Norway, and Green Bay. Admission? A wedge of cheese. By the end of the night, I counted over 100 cheese tags left on the table. Amazing. Here is a glimpse into our wonderful feast.

The Cheese Board at 8 p.m.

The Cheese Board at 9 p.m.
The Cheese Board at Midnight

There were friends. And there were strangers. Cheesemongers brought dates and wedges. Couples came in gowns and tuxes. A king and queen were crowned at the end of the night. Here are a few outtakes. There are lots more on flickr.

A Beautiful Pair from Di Bruno Bros.

A Jesuit Digs In
Blog Readers from New York City (Columbia Students)

The night was truly an Alice in Wonderland of Cheese. Everyone brought beautiful wheels and wedges. Not a single block of Velveeta. Many thanks to the following cheeses houses for donating wheels and for sending emissaries: Di Bruno Bros., Quince, Fair Food, Wedge and Fig, Greensgrow, and Downtown Cheese. And many thanks to all of you who contributed so much!

Many thanks to the staff at RUBA, the Russian Social Club of Northern Liberties, for hosting us. The bartenders were quick'n dirty. The taxidermy was perfect. The kitsch behind the bar was spot on. I can't think of a better place to host a cheese ball in 2013!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Reading Raclette

So many award-winning cheeses are made in Vermont these days that it’s easy to feel Green State envy. One Vermont cheese that’s got cheesemongers buzzing this winter is Reading Raclette. Now, the Swiss make Raclette and so do the French, but until Spring Brook Farm introduced its artisanal version from Reading, no American cheesemaker had come forward with a melt-away Alpine stinker this good.

Reading Raclette has another thing going for it. All of the proceeds go to a Vermont nonprofit called Farms for City Kids that offers urban school children a chance to explore farming and cheese making. To continue reading, please visit the Di Bruno Blog

Full disclosure: I am a freelancer 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, January 8, 2012

Blog Redesign with Stef Patrizio

Designer Stef Patrizio works on a Mood Board at Madame's kitchen table.

Behind the scenes here at Madame Fromage, there has been a lot more than cheese on the table. Over the past few months, I have been working with Stefania Patrizio on a site redesign. Come spring, this blog will get her wings. Even a new url. 

To start, Stef created a new logo, which appears on the Cheese Ball invitation (see last post) I put up last week. Yes, that invite was all her idea. She is a dream. She's also taught me a lot about how to think visually, set a mood, and re-envision this site. Here's how we got started:

Building A Better Blog: PART I

Step 1: Gather Ideas
Stef asked me to collect all of the things I own that gush Fromage -- from cheese graters to business cards. Upstairs in the Cheese Command Center, where I do most of my writing, I got started with a bulletin board. Max McCalman's business card, a personal treasure, was one of the first things I pinned to the board.

Step 2: Build a Mood Board
Stef and I spent an afternoon creating a "mood board" -- a process of brainstorming the aesthetic look and feel of the new site. She collected a bunch of images and put together a slide show so we could brainstorm color and tone; the images ranged from black-and-white mug shots of women from the 1920s to vases of flowers. 

I gave a thumbs up to the mug shots, a thumbs down to the flowers. The process was much like going to the eye doctor and trying on lenses. The fun part was conceiving of a new look for the blog by exploring -- not text -- but photos and drawings. Of course, we had a cheese board to go with it.

Step 3: Design a Logo
Stef developed four new logo designs. Each one had a different look and feel. The unveiling, which took place at her apartment over breakfast, was exciting. I was so curious to know what she had come up with. After all, she had snapped oodles of photos at my house, and we had looked at dozens of food blogs together. I knew I wanted a logo with personality and a new site with some theatrics -- after all, what is a cheese board if not a stage?

Step 4: Create Images For a New Site 
Stef and I made a cheese trek. She wanted to snap some pictures and shop for cheese. So, off we went to Di Bruno Bros., a Polaroid in tow. We snapped some photos of the mongers who are so essential to this project, then came home to plate our wares and shoot a still life or two. Stef turned into a DSLR ninja. You can't see it here, but at one point the tripod was propped on a piano bench and Stef was hanging by a toe from the ceiling. 

Step 5: Keep Collaborating
The best part of this whole process has been sharing ideas with Stef. I met her at a cheese tasting, so I knew she valued some of the same things I did: handcrafted food, cheesemakers, exploration, stories. It's been great to find someone who is as passionate about images as I am about writing. Stef has given me ideas for posts, suggestions for blog features, and an understanding of how to build this site as a stage for sharing, educating, exploring, and entertaining. In the meantime, I've introduced her to a few new cheeses. 

Stefania Patrizio (stefaniapatrizio@gmail.com) is a freelance designer in Philadelphia. She specializes in logos and branding for restaurants, food bloggers, and food producers.