Bon Bouche

A Good Mouthful…of Cheese

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Speaking of beer & cheese…

Esquire has a quick and handy guide to pairing that looks good (and makes a lot of sense) to me:

How to Pair Beer & Cheese – Esquire

This is a super simple guide (if you’re looking for detail and lots of options, look elsewhere), but their pairings sound and look good to me. Well, except for one: Blue Cheese & IPA. But that’s because I’m not the biggest blue fan, and I really hate IPA! Gouda and Porter, on the other hand: Sign me up!

Another Vermont Creamery lover. I don’t know Pranqster, but soon I will!

Straight Outta Comte

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North Coast Brewing and Vermont Creamery are pioneers of their respective fields. Long before it was cool to make awesome beers and high quality cheeses, these guys were already doing it the right way.

Bonne Bouche is the flagship cheese from Vermont Creamery. Lightly dusted with tree ash, they are put in their little crates and shipped off after only ten days of aging . VC sources their high quality goat milk from farms in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Ontario. VC are unrepentant Francophiles, so it is no small compliment to make comparisons between Bonne Bouche and the goat cheeses of the Loire Valley (a region that is the provenance of some of the world’s best goat cheeses and my favorite white wines). Soft and runny, with a rind more like a skin, Bonne Bouche is mild when young. With a few weeks of age the cheese becomes more firm…

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Eat This: Rupert

Looking to try some new cheese? Well, if you aren’t, now you will be. I’ve added another cheese to my growing list of favorites.

Consider Bardwell Farm – Rupert (Raw Jersey Cow’s Milk from West Pawlet, Vermont)

A few weeks ago, some old Kaufman family friends were in town for a brief San Francisco visit. Alec and Meena both went to Miami University with Sister Bouche (Laura), and they are now a sophisticated (and decidedly gourmand-y) married couple living in Evanston, Illinois. While Alec was busy working all day, Meena enjoyed what the Ferry Building had to offer and, when we met for drinks, arrived with a turophile’s dream gift bag: a box set of cheese-serving accoutrements and 3 pieces of cheese. Two of the three were old favorites (Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam & Jasper Hill Farms Winnimere), but there was one I’d never seen or heard of before: Consider Bardwell Farm’s Rupert.

Consider Bardwell is a 300-acre cheesemaking co-op in Vermont (and it’s a beauty), first established in 1864 by a man named Consider Bardwell Stebbins. Nearly 150 years later, Consider Bardwell is owned by Angela Miller and Russel Glover. Using raw milk from their own herd of Oberhasli goats and the milk from a neighboring farm’s Jersey cows, cheesemaker Peter Dixon makes small batches of cheese by hand.

Rupert (which is named after one of the oldest towns in Vermont) is a raw Jersey cow’s milk inspired by the classic Alpine style cheeses of Europe like Gruyere and Comte. Sitting next to the Mt. Tam and the Winnimere, it didn’t look (or smell) like much, but the Rupert packs quite a punch. Aged for a minimum of six months, the thin and earthy rind gives way to a titillating paste. While the color is buttery, the flavor tastes more like cream, with sharpness, complexity, and the definite hint of onions. The texture is firm, but not hard, and there are a few pleasing chloride crystals scattered throughout. This cheese would be great on plain crackers, but I had no trouble taking it down all by itself.

 

Cheesy Lunch

I forgot to mention that while I was writing that blog post earlier, I happened to be eating a delicious and cheese-filled lunch!

I went to a local favorite, Atlas Cafe (strongly recommended to SF locals), where I know the food is good, the coffee is good, and the WiFi is free! I’d  heard great things about their Beetloaf sandwich, but it’s always been sold out when I tried to get one. Not this time! And it was as good (if not better) than I’d imagined. The sandwich is a golden beetloaf with aged gouda, arugula, red onion, Dijon mustard, and house-made mayo. I thought that the gouda might get lost in all that, but you couldn’t miss its unique, caramel flavor. I would have gotten a side salad, but the potato salad just looked too good to be true: caramelized onions, blue cheese, and toasted pecans? Sold. And…it was delicious.

Back to School 2: Cheese Masters

That’s going to be the name of the screwball cheese comedy that I eventually pen. Not bad, right? Now, I just need to pick my perfect cast.

Annnyyyyyways. As previously mentioned, I attended my second course at The Cheese School on March 13th (over a month ago now! what a blog slacker I am). However, this was a different class of experience (yuk yuk), as it was a Master Class (aimed at cheese professionals, not just enthusiasts) on Identifying Cheese Flavors and taught by a Bay Area cheese legend, Cowgirl Creamery’s Peggy Smith (take a minute to read that bio — it’s worth it). Not only do I love me some Cowgirl Creamery cheeses (just the thought of some Mt. Tam makes my stomach grumble), but I’m also a huge fan and regular user of their online cheese library. That library has been an incredible resource in my dairy discovery, and that made me even more excited about the opportunity to learn from this lady. But, in addition to being excited, I was also a little bit scared. Me? At a Master Class? While I’d like to believe that I’ve surpassed the ‘enthusiast’ level (and even that just barely), I’m certainly no master nor am I, technically, yet a professional. I furiously studied my Cheese Primer in anticipation of the course but, when the time came, I still wasn’t sure that I was ready. Well, there would be only one way to find out!

As I climbed the entry stairway up to The Cheese School, I was immediately hit by the buzz and energy in the building. It was more lively — and more crowded — than the previous class that I had attended, which I attribute to the celebrity and credibility of the teacher. At this point, I had already been offered (and, of course, accepted) the Cheese School summer internship position, and as I entered I received an especially warm welcome from co-owners Kiri Fisher & Daphne Zepos, which served to alleviate some of my anxiety. After I grabbed a complimentary glass of white wine (since I’m saving up for the cheese change, I’ll take just about anything that comes free), I spotted two familiar faces: cheesemongers from Mission Cheese, my favorite next-door neighbor and one of my employment dreams. I’d received tons of information (and cheese samples) from both of these two people, but I’d always been too nervous and embarrassed (are you seeing a pattern here?) to admit to my aspirations. Well, not this time! I sidled up and introduced myself to these two, who I then learned were Steve Hall and Liz Rubin, two of Mission Cheese’s O.G. opening crew. And you know what? They are awesome and lovely!  I spent the next 10-15 minutes detailing my upcoming career change (and excitedly bragging about the internship) and they, in turn, treated me to adorable sheep pictures from a recent Mission Cheese dairy farm field trip. Interacting with animals on farm field trips? Yeah, I think I’ve made the right decision.

At that moment we were asked to find our seats in the classroom, and so we did. I found myself seated across the room from Steve and Liz (allowing us to exchange silly looks and knowing smiles) and next to a chatty woman who promptly informed me that she had been to over 20 such classes. When I asked her what she did for a living, I was surprised at her response: She’s a cardiologist! She laughed as she told me that she actually warns her patients against the dangers of eating too much cheese, and then she proceeded to clean her plate!

I have to admit that the rest of the class is somewhat of a blur in my memory. It might be because a month has passed since the occasion, or it might be because I’m a lightweight and I had two glasses of wine. Probably both. I do remember that Peggy got right down to business welcoming the students (many of whom appeared to be old friends and colleagues, the faces of whom I have seen on various cheese & dairy websites and in cheese industry event pictures posted on Facebook) and letting us know what she in store for the next two hours. I immediately felt welcomed and at ease, and I was so enthralled by Peggy’s words and the friendly chatter in the room that I barely even glanced at my cheese plate!

Peggy explained her cheese tasting process: Look, Touch, Smell, Taste. For each cheese we ate, we went through each step. First, we LOOKED at each cheese: What color is the rind? What color is the paste? Where does the color change? Is the cheese more transparent or opaque? Are there bubbles, eyes, mold, etc.? Then, we’d TOUCH: How soft is the cheese? How hard? Is it grainy, smooth, or oily? Not only is it good to know how the cheese feels, but this is also a helpful trick for bringing the cheese up to temperature! Then, we’d SMELL: We’d smell the cheese first while whole, then break the cheese down the middle and immediately give it another sniff. Wow! That second smell, while similar to the first, is about a thousand times more intense (that’s a rough estimation) and provides an amazing preview for what you’re about to taste. Ah, TASTE! We put a small piece of cheese in our mouths and let it rest a moment on the tongue. Then, we were actually instructed to smack our gums, as it helps to turn the cheese into a paste and spread it across the tongue and the roof of the mouth. Fun! A room full of grownups all playing with their food and having a great time with it. I learned to pay attention to flavor waves, letting the cheese linger in my mouth long enough to experience a few. So great.

While I had definitely tasted cheese before, I had never tasted cheese in this way. Not only did we examine and savor every piece, but we also discussed and explored The Cheese Aroma Wheel with the use of some incredible “flavor aids” — white mushrooms, raw peanuts, wet and dry hay, stones, truffle salt, onion confit (mmmm), bittersweet chocolate, roasted pineapple, and toasted almonds. While obviously these aren’t all things you can eat, they all have flavors and/or aromas that can be cound in cheese. As we touched, smelled, and tasted each, we were encouraged to also smell and taste the flavor aids we thought might help to enhance and coax out cheese flavors. It was both enlightening and so enjoyable to mix and match cheeses and flavor aids and the challenge (and the wine) definitely added to some teamwork around the room.

Well, I bet you’re wondering what we ate, huh? I’d encourage you to use the list below, as long as the flavor aids mentioned, to put together a tasting of your own!

While I now have a hard time making heads or tails of my notes, one thing is clear: I had an incredible time. As I boarded the bus back south to my neighborhood, I texted Mike (still home in Massachusetts) that it had been one of the best nights of my life. Why? While eating cheese was great, it was so much more than that. That master class was, really, my first experience as an industry ‘insider’ and I was overjoyed to finally be part of this new community. This cheese thing is no longer just a dream, it’s a reality, and it’s a reality in which I’ll be surrounded by inspiring, intelligent, and kind, caring people. I can’t wait to start my work at the cheese school, to be responsible for putting together the classroom and the plates, to get to welcome cheese professionals and enthusiasts and to help them further their education. I’m even looking forward to washing the dishes!

Bonne Bouche Compared to Lay’s Potato Chips?

Bonne Bouche Compared to Lay’s Potato Chips?

This blog’s namesake gets some (much deserved) love from Cheese & Champagne. Personally, I would have gone with the Pringles analogy, though: Once you pop (cheese into your mouth), you can’t stop!

Cheese Tasting: Birthday Beauties

Happy Easter! Since this holiday marks, among other things, the end of the fasting and sacrifice associated with Lent (thank you, Jesuit education), I thought I’d treat you to a visual feast!

Two of my best friends has birthdays in February but, due to complications and vacations in everyone’s schedules, we weren’t able to properly celebrate. But, since I wanted to do something for these special ladies, I invited them over in late March for a belated birthday cheese tasting! As is my cheese tasting custom, I woke up (relatively) early, grabbed an iced coffee (tip for SF locals: Faye’s Video on 18th street has delicious cold-brewed coffee), and headed to Bi-Rite. I had some idea of what I wanted in my spread, but I was also prepared to let the selection (and the staff) speak to me. And both did!

I was very happy to see some tried and true favorites: L’Amuse Aged Gouda (I think I am officially obsessed), Ardi Gasna, and Jasper Hill Farm Winnimere. They had a great deal on the Pt. Reyes Farmstead Toma, which I’ve heard is crowd-pleasing table cheese (a term that refers to any cheese that can be served as an accompaniment all on its own, or as part of soups, salads, sandwiches, etc.), so I snagged some of that, but I was at a loss when I discovered that they were all out of Vermont Butter & Cheese Bonne Bouche AND Cremont. What to do? Bi-Rite Wine & Cheese expert Sarah must have seen the sadness and confusion on my face, and she very patiently proceeded to describe and sample the soft goat cheeses she recommended instead. In the end, I was torn between the Italian Brunet and the Andante Dairy Vivace, a seasonal and unique mixed-milk cheese from Soyoung Scanlan. After much deliberation (did I mention Sarah’s patience?), I decided on the Vivace, which had only one downside: It’s so rare that there’s almost no information on this cheese online! So, I’ll do my best to remember what that was all about, and we’ll see how it goes. Overall, I was extremely happy with the selection. It was a chilly and overcast day, and I wanted a hearty number of comforting cheeses for us to enjoy. Not only was there plenty to eat, but there was quite a variety of milk types, textures, and strength of flavors.

The Cheeses (clockwise from top left): Andante Dairy Vivace, Pt. Reyes Farmstead Toma, Jasper Hill Farm Winnimere, Ardi Gasna, L'Amuse Aged Gouda

After my Master Class on Identifying Cheese Flavors (I am still going to write about that, I promise), I wanted to do a bit more than I have in the past to provide accompaniments that serve as flavor enhancers, not just yummy treats (ideally, both). In that aim, I picked up some dried nectarines, some dulce de membrillo (quince paste), roasted marcona almonds (my new favorite snack), dark chocolate covered rye crisps, and a sweet baguette. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking (and tasting) around cheese and bread pairings and, I’ve got to say, I’m in favor of a sweet baguette. In most dining situations I’d go for sour, but as a vehicle for cheese, I just think sweet is the better option. At the end of the day, it’s cheese and bread, so you can’t really go wrong. But if you’re looking to let the cheese shine, put it on a sweet baguette…or nothing at all! I don’t know how well I did explaining just how and why to use the flavor enhancers, but it was my first try and…it’s the thought that counts?

Some Flavor Enhancers: Dried nectarines, roasted Marcona almonds, chocolate coated rye crisps, quince paste.

I’ve already written pretty extensively about two of the aforementioned cheeses: The Ardi Gasna and the L’Amuse Aged Gouda. You can read about them here. Now, on to some cheeses that are new to this blog!

Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese – Toma (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk, Pt. Reyes CA)

The Pt. Reyes Farmstead Toma is, as previously noted, a table cheese. A table cheese is generally a mild mannered crowd-pleaser, one that can stand on its own as a snacking cheese or that can be added, for delicious effect, to salads, sandwiches, and other meals. Given the strong flavors of some of the other cheeses, I wanted a palate cleansing table cheese, and the Pt. Reyes Toma proved to be the perfect choice. Famously known for their delicious Pt. Reyes Original Blue, the Giacomini family expanded their line of cheeses to include the Toma in 2010, “for people who don’t like blues.” Sounds like someone I know! The Toma is reminiscent of a young Asiago or a Havarti, but with a sweet, buttery flavor and tangy finish. Cheesemaker Kuba Hemerling uses a Gouda technique known as curd-washing — draining the whey from the fresh curds and adding fresh-water in its place — which limits acid development and results in a sweeter cheese. This cheese really lives up to the ‘table cheese’ moniker. It’s easy to eat, and I can’t imagine it ever going to waste. Having people over? Pick some up.

Andante Dairy – Vivace (Goat’s Milk, Petaluma CA)

So, remember when I said that it’s nearly impossible to find information on Vivace online? Well, I was wrong…about the ‘nearly’ part. It’s just plain impossible! So, instead, I’ll share some information on Andante Dairy and cheesemaker Soyoung Scanlan, pictured above. I first learned about Soyoung and Andante during my Desert Island Cheeses class, when we tasted the Crottin, and Anthea raved about Scanlan. Soyoung Scanlan started Andante Dairy in Petaluma, CA in 2009. The dairy is named after a musical term (as are many of her cheeses) as a reflection of the tempo and harmonious nature of cheesemaking. Scanlan was first a biochemist, then a dairy scientist, and now a cheesemaker. It was on a trip to France that she first became hooked on cheese, and she has continued to travel to France throughout her career. One result of these travels is now a major part of her business: Scanlan imports cheeses from France and ages them in Petaluma. Those that she makes on-site in Petaluma contain only Jersey Cow’s Milk and goat’s milk from the dairy farm on which her plant is operated. As it says on the Andante website, “All of her cheese is designed to bring out the magical property of milk and to reveal the essence of terroirs with which the milk and cheese are produced.”

So, that’s that. I’ve searched high and low for a shred of information on the vivace, and I can’t find a thing! All I can remember is that it was good: A bit more crumbly and more tart than what Vermont Butter & Cheese has to offer, and aged with a little bit of ash. I would have liked something just the teensiest bit creamier, but I think that both of my friends picked it as their favorite of the day.

Update: Bi-Rite Cheese Buyer Anthea Stolz was kind enough to answer my “HELP! WHAT IS VIVACE?” email, and here’s what she had to say. “Glad to hear that you enjoyed the Vivace.  This is a new favorite of mine, and a relatively new cheese for Soyoung.  A few months ago, she found a source of local ewes milk that she liked well enough to start using for cheesemaking and we’ve had two new cheeses from this exploration, one being Vivace.  You remembered correctly that the Vivace is mixed milk (sheep and goat).  I love the bright lemony quality of the Vivace that is balanced with that tell-tale roundness of sheep’s milk cheese. In my experience so far, the geotrichum rind is developed, yet thin, and the paste dominates the flavor.” Thanks, Anthea! This is yet another example of just how wonderfully helpful everyone at Bi-Rite is. I’m a real fan!

Jasper Hill Farm – Winnimere (Raw Cow’s Milk, Greensboro, Vermont)

Well well well, let’s talk about Jasper Hill Farm’s Winnimere. I first had Winnimere on a cheese flight at Mission Cheese, while I was still daydreaming about making my way into the cheese world and not really believing it was an actual option. The truth? This cheese played a critical role in making me change my mind. Which is not to say that I automatically loved the taste of it, because that’s not quite how it went down. Winnimere is a….strong cheese. It’s a seasonal cheese only available from November to April, made from raw Ayrshire cow’s milk that’s washed with lambic-style beer and wrapped for aging in spruce bark. That’s right, lambic and spruce bark, both of which infuse the cheese with some pretty full flavors, to say the least. Over it’s two-month maturation, Winnimere develops a thin and slightly crunchy surface, and a supple, creamy, and runny interior. Given enough time, the paste breaks down, and goes from ‘runny’ to ‘oozy.’ I’ve heard that, at that point, you’d best cut the top off entirely and scoop the paste out with a spoon, but I’ve never done so myself. The smells and tastes of this cheese are pretty similar: woodsy, musty, mushroomy, with notes of garlic, mustard, and..meat. See what I mean by full-flavored? When I first had this cheese, I didn’t think it was delicious. But I did think it was interesting. So interesting, in fact, that I looked it up when I got home, and learned all about Jasper Hill Farm and their jazz-listening Ayrshire cows and their farm, and their cellar, and the beer that is brewed on site, and much much more. And, in learning about that one farm, I came closer to the realization that there is a lot that goes in to cheese and that, as such, there are a lot of ways in which people can be involved. And I want to be one of those people.

Putting Winnimere on the menu that day was a brave but risky choice (a sentiment echoed by Bi-Rite’s Sarah when she saw it in my basket) and, luckily, one that paid off. Grace and Suzie LOVED it, and I loved that they loved it. Now I know that I’ll have those two by my side whenever a bold tasting opportunity presents itself! Mike? Not so much. He detested the smell so much that he implored me to throw the leftovers away. Instead, I ate them.

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