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A Good Mouthful…of Cheese

Archive for the tag “blue cheese”

Long Time No Cheese

Writing my first blog post in a really long time feels a little bit like showing up to a party empty-handed. I’m excited, and certainly happy to be here, but also feeling a bit sheepish. And, as when I show up to a party without anything to offer, I know that guests aren’t interested in excuses. What do you really want? Cheese. So, I won’t bother with justifications or explanations. Instead, I’ll get to the good stuff: A long & detailed history of what I’ve been up to since last I wrote. Ha! Kidding.

But, briefly: About one year ago, I left my job at Cowgirl Creamery’s Ferry Building shop. In my time there I learned so much about cheese, how best to serve and care for it, made a handful of incredibly inspiring friends,  and grew my passion for education and customer service. If I could live in San Francisco on that wage (and maybe get a Saturday off every now and again), I might still be there. But, in May of 2014, it was time to move on. I jumped to the wholesale & distribution side of things, briefly working for a small company that imports and sells Italian and other European delicacies before settling in comfortably at GreenLeaf, a powerhouse in the world of Bay Area Food Distribution. Best known for our amazing produce, GreenLeaf recognizes the innovation and excitement happening in the world of cheese, and hired me to join a team of smart and enthusiastic curd nerds to grow the line and the program. These days, I spend my time helping to source and sell high quality cheeses from all kinds of producers, sharing my knowledge and recommendations with chefs, caterers, and really anyone who will listen. It is challenging and enlightening and rewarding and it keeps me very busy!

So busy, in fact, that I have little time for actual cheese eating. Sure, I do tastings with customers for work and quite regularly I’ll get to sample something we’re thinking of bringing in to sell, but it’s been a long time since I sat down to eat cheese like the consumer I am at heart. Or, it had been a long time, until last night.

Mission Cheese, my favorite neighbor, is celebrating their 4th Birthday this week with a string of events and offers that are hard to resist. Tomorrow there will be goats! Last night they had $4 beers, which was enough to get The Noodle off the couch and out into the daunting world of a Valencia Friday Night. Me? I was looking for cheese, and specifically some that I’d never had before. I found three. These are their stories.

(DUN DUN)

Aged Chelsea – Pasteurized Goat’s Milk,  Zingerman’s Creamery, Michigan

AgedChelsea

This cheese could, quite literally, be the icing on a cake. Inspired by the classic cheeses of France’s Loire River Valley, the straight-up geniuses at Zingerman’s Creamery created Aged Chelsea, a bloomy-rinded goat log coated in edible vegetable ash. Oh, ash-ripening, you are one of my favorite things! This centuries-old tradition comes with a number of benefits. Want to keep the surface of your aging cheese free from microbes and mold spores? Add some ash! Worried your lactic beauty will become overly acidic? Add some ash! (When it comes to cheese, it’s not always bad to be basic). Ash-ripening also brings a lot to the table, aesthetically-speaking. Usually utilized with a bright white goat cheese, the stark contrast between rind and paste is strikingly lovely, and Aged Chelsea is no exception. The round discs presented on our cheese board looked like fat, snowy coins, and the taste was money also. This cheese is light and luscious, letting the subtle flavor of the goat’s milk do all the talking. It’s tangy, bright, and yeasty, calling out for a sweet supplement. I like to play with my food, so I crushed up a few dried cranberries and smushed them right in there. Just as I suspected, it was a perfect pairing.

Battenkill Brebis – Raw Sheep’s Milk, 3 Corner Field Farm, New York

3-Corner Field Farm, Shushan, NY

Mike thinks that all sheep’s milk cheese “tastes like an eraser” and, for this reason, I force him to try new ones whenever they present themselves. I wish I could say that this one changed his mind (honestly, I wish I could say anything had changed his mind), but what I can say is that I happily ate both of our portions. While I had not previously heard of 3 Corner Field Farm, I now know that it is a sheep dairy and farmstead creamery in the Battenkill Valley of New York (which is basically New Hampshire). Former Manhattanites Karen Weinberg and Paul Borghard bought the farm in 1990, and they’ve been doing some serious sheep work since then. Their East Friesian tenants are grazed on fresh pasture every 24 hours, exposing the sheep (and, hence, the milk) to a wide variety of forage like clover, trefoil, and wild oregano. These flavors are then reflected in the finished product, especially considering that the cheese is made from raw milk. Battenkill Brebis is a tomme-style aged cheese with stunning complexity. The milk’s savory vegetal flavors are paired with a damp stone quality imparted by 4 to 6 months of cave-aging. Despite what others may think, this delight will not soon be erased from my memory.

Vermilion River Blue – Raw Cow’s Milk, Ludwig Farmstead Creamery, Illinois

VermillionBlue

Remember when I said that I sat down to eat cheese “like the consumer I am at heart”? Well, you can take the girl out from behind the cheese counter, but you can’t take the ‘monger out of the girl. One taste of Vermilion Blue, and I was overcome by the urge to just sell the hell out of it. Memorable name? Check. Semi-soft kid-friendly texture? Check. Little-to-no evident blue veining and a flavor mild enough to trick unsuspecting blue-phobics? Check and check! Damn, I want to throw on that apron and sling this stuff all day. The cheesemakers at Ludwig Farmstead Creamery have a money-maker on their hands with this raw Holstein cow’s milk “triple creme” but…do I like it? That is, quite honestly, hard to say. At the risk of sounding like a total jerk, the qualities that make this cheese so easy to sell are the same qualities that give me pause. Shouldn’t a self-described triple creme actually be creamy? Shouldn’t a raw milk blue be absolutely bursting with flavor? I didn’t get any of that with this cheese, but I did get to try a new (to me) crowd-pleaser. And, for the record, Mikey liked it.

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Making Waves: Bay Blue

My roller-coaster of a relationship with blue cheese has been well-documented on this blog, but that love/hate dynamic has recently reached new heights. I have found my cheese crack…and it comes from a very unexpected place.

Have you guys heard of Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.? If you’re reading this from California, my guess is that you have. Throughout the country, really, these guys are a big deal. The creamery was founded in 2000 by Bob Giacomini, his wife, and their four daughters, on the family dairy farm in beautiful Marin County, California. There’s a lot to like about Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.: A true family-run operation, the Giacominis are dedicated to preserving the area’s natural environment, serving as stewards of the land (check out this great write-up about their compost company & super-cool methane converter) and very active members of Marin Agricultural Land Trust. Plus, they raise hella-cuta (that’s Northern Californian for ‘very’) pasture-based cows! With all this going for them, and considering their popularity here in San Francisco, you can imagine the weight of my secret shame: I don’t like their flagship cheese. There! I said it!

Point Reyes Blue Wedges

Point Reyes Blue Wedges

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. filled a huge gap in the market when they popped on the scene in 2000 with the first-ever California-made blue cheese. Point Reyes Original Blue is famous, in-demand, and highly regarded…just not by me. I’m picky with blues! You already know that. The sharp, metallic, and persistent push of Original Blue is just too much for me. Amazing and mysterious cheese-blogger J ( Straight Outta Comte) perfectly described this flavor as ‘steely‘, an apt characterization that I recall every time we receive a new case of crinkly, pre-wrapped silver wedges. While that guy likes this cheese, I don’t. I’ve tried, and I’ve tried, and I’ve tried (often unintentionally, that cheese is so ubiquitous around here), and I just can’t get into it.

Sidenote: For those of you who love Point Reyes Original Blue, please don’t feel bad. By all accounts, I seem to be in the minority here, even in my own household. A certain boyfriend of mine maintains that this is the PERFECT cheese for a bacon burger, but we’ve managed to make things work despite our differences.

Suffice it to say, I’ve been looking for another California blue alternative and, in the meantime, put on my best poker face while talking with customers. So, you can imagine my mixed feelings upon learning that there was another local blue about to hit the market…from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. I heard rumblings and rumors about Bay Blue for months before I ever encountered it in the wild. It was on it’s way…and then it wasn’t. It was out, but impossible to find. And then one day I was out shopping, putting together a cheese plate for a friend’s visit. I had everything I needed, minus a nice, taste-ending blue. I asked one of the cheesemongers at my local little grocery for a suggestion and she pointed to a few small pieces of something tucked away in the corner of the case. And there it was: Bay Blue.

I have to admit, I felt chills. At the time, I thought I was nervous, but in retrospect I recognize that feeling as love-at-first-sight. I told her of my apprehensions and confessed my opinion of Bay Blue’s precursor, but she assured me that this cheese is almost that cheese’s opposite. If I was looking for a dessert cheese, this was IT, and she wouldn’t let me walk away without it. What a saint. That night, I ate Bay Blue for the first time…and I haven’t stopped eating it since.

Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.’s Bay Blue (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk from Marin County, CA)

Bay Blue

The love that I have for Bay Blue is without parallel. It’s crazy to imagine the old me, ardently declaring myself anti-blue, when you see me now, happily spooning Bay Blue into my mouth (small, taster spoons, mind you). I have found my blue and, like I said, from an entirely unexpected source.

Where Point Reyes Original Blue is creamy, tangy, and intense, Bay Blue is dense, fudgy, crumbly, sweet, and mellow. This natural-rinded wheel is slightly yellow and jam-packed with little bits of crunchy blue mold. It looks killer, but it only kills you with kindness. Bay Blue is modeled after Stilton, but its salted caramel taste and slightly chocolatey finish remind me more of warped aged Gouda…gone buttery and blue. SF Gate cheese expert Janet Fletcher calls the flavor “a blend of toasted walnut, praline, caramel, brown butter, and saltine cracker.” Yes! That saltine bit is spot on and something I never could have pinpointed myself. Ms. Fletcher and I aren’t this cheese’s only fans. Only months after its debut, Bay Blue was named a 2013 Good Food Awards winner. I like to say that I knew it before it was famous.

Now go get yourselves some Bay Blue! I’ve been fantasizing about turning this cheese into a flavor of ice cream or gelato (especially if sandwiched between two gingersnap cookies) but, until that dream becomes a reality, simply smear some on a cracker (Effies Oatcakes, if you can find ’em) and drizzle with a little bit of honey. Feeling savory? A few weeks ago, I put some Bay Blue in a salad of Romaine, Arugula, cherry tomatoes and red onion with a simple dressing of balsamic vinaigrette. Delicious!

Bonnie Blue?

Let’s take a minute to talk about soup, shall we? It may sound crazy to you, but until 2012 (yep, this year), I didn’t like soup. “What?,” you’re probably saying. “Who doesn’t like soup?” Now, don’t get me wrong: Like all sane humans, I enjoy a grilled cheese dunked in tomato soup from time to time and, before I went veg, I frequently fed a cold with some chicken noodle (I have tendency to get sick). But…that’s about it. To me, soup was always just an excuse to eat something else: a delicious bread bowl or croutons and cheese. I would proudly proclaim that “I like to chew” and end any discussion. That makes it sound like I lead an exciting life full of soup discourse but, really, it’s only come up from time to time. Anyhow, this year, something changed. I don’t know what prompted the decision but, at a local salad and sandwich spot, I ordered the soup. It was carrot dill, and it changed my life. Dramatic language aside, it was so delicious, I can’t even tell you. The ingredients tasted so wonderfully fresh and the soup was so flavorful, I didn’t dunk anything in it! Since then, my eyes have been opened to the world of soup. Potato leek, lentil, minestrone, corn chowder, and on and on and on. My point is: There’s a whole world of soup out there, and to think that I didn’t like all soup, just because I didn’t like some soup, was crazy! And, if you think there’s a wide variety of soup out there, just wait until you start to learn about cheese.

Ah, yes, cheese. Back to the point. I have a coworker who is a self-professed cheese lover. There’s only one problem: According to him, he doesn’t like goat’s milk cheese. He insists and, still, I refuse to believe it. “I didn’t like soup,” I say. “Now, I love it.” Is this making sense? What I’m trying to say is that there are literally thousands of different kinds of goat’s milk cheese. My coworker has had some he doesn’t like, that’s all. One day, with my help, he’ll find the ones that he does! It’s not like he’s lactose intolerant. This guy eats brie almost every day. And if you think that I don’t know what I’m talking about, let my own story be a lesson.

Before about, oh, 6 months ago, I would have sworn to you that I don’t like blue cheese. If I saw anything on the menu that came with blue cheese, I automatically passed. If I saw blue cheese at the grocery, I grimaced. Just the thought of “blue cheese” offended me. Now, I realize that I was wrong. I didn’t like some blue cheeses, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like any of them. My limited experiences with French Roquefort and salads decorated with Gorgonzola had misinformed me! While I appreciate these cheeses and what they (pun intended) bring to the table, I’m still not a fan of that peppery cheese taste and I prefer not to have rich goop weighing down my lettuce (unless, of course, that goop is Ranch dressing). The difference is that now I know there’s a whole world of blue cheese out there, and I’m basically determined to try every one. In fact, my past ‘distaste’ makes each new delicious discovery even more amazing, and it’s taken less than a year to realize that I’ve been a blue lover this whole time!

First, I found the delightfully sweet and sour Bohemian Blue. Then, I became quite fond of the rich and tangy Colston Bassett Stilton. I realized I’d been converted when I tried the smooth & savory Fourme d’Ambert and, when I had that washed rind Tilston Point, I briefly considered never eating anything else. Well, there’s another breathtaking blue to add to that list.

Strachitunt Val Taleggio (raw cow’s milk from Lombardy, Italy)

The first class I worked at The Cheese School last week was ‘Cheese & Wine of Lombardy’ with Italian cheese expert Andy Lax and wine aficionado Naomi Smith. We tasted an incredible variety of Lombardy’s delicacies (one ticket to Italy, please!*), but nothing stunned the crowd (or my senses) like the Strachitunt. This cheese is often called “The Jewel of the Val Taleggio” and it’s not hard to see why.

Where to start? Well, Italy! And the alpine valley of Val Taleggio, to be exact. Strachitunt has been made in this part of Lombardy since the late 1800’s using raw local milk taken only from the Bruna Alpina cows that live at an altitude of nearly 3,000ft. (or, as they say there, 900 meters).

This guy’s just chillin.

Strachitunt is the product of a unique making process: The cheese is made with the combining of two different curds, worked (i.e. produced) 12 hours apart. Meaning, una Bruna Alpina is milked once in the morning and then again that night. The curds from these two milkings are then combined to make this treat. But, first, it’s aged in limestone caves for over two months. Trust me, it’s worth the wait!

As you can maybe see in the picture above, the Strachitunt doesn’t even look that blue. There are some eyes and clustered pockets, but not too many. The piece that I had was completely cream colored! If it weren’t for the appearance of the rind, I wouldn’t have known that it was a blue…until I tasted it. Oh, that taste! This is an aromatic cheese, and you get a good informative whiff right before you pop it in your mouth. The texture is a delightfully confusing mesh of soft and firm (perhaps as a result of the mixed curds?) with an insanely wonderful creaminess on the palate. Known as a ‘dolce-amaro’ (sweet & sour), I found it to be more of a sweet & salty cheese, but in a very delicate and balanced way. Does that make sense? This cheese is hard to describe, it’s magic is so elusive. Here’s an idea: Get some for yourself and let me know what you think. I bet it would be great for dessert, paired with port or some fruit and honey.

*I’m sure my father is ready to kill me at this point. We took a family trip to Italy in 2005 or 2006, which marked my last summer as a meat-eater. I spent the whole trip downing steaks. Now, I’m a vegetarian cheese enthusiast – I should have been eating formaggio instead!

Eat This: Tilston Point

Uh oh. Move over, Mike, because I have a new love: Hook’s Cheese Tilston Point Blue.

No, no. Luckily, my man is a blue lover too, so this is a friend that we can share. Okay, this is coming out creepier than I’d imagined. Let’s get to the cheese!

Hook’s Cheese – Tilston Point Blue (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk Blue from Mineral Point, WI)

Image

Last night, I had the extreme pleasure of working a two hour “trial shift” at Mission Cheese, a delightful cheese shop/restaurant/bar that also happens to be my neighbor.  Everything was great: The staff, the customers, and especially the cheese. As I “studied” the menu the night before, I kept getting stuck on the Midwest Cheese Flight, which featured (at that time, the cheese flights are always changing): Zingerman’s Detroit St. Brick, Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative’s Dante, and Hook’s Tilston Point Blue. I had never tried any of these 3 cheeses, and they all sounded amazing.

Well, now that I have tried these 3 cheeses, I can confirm that they all taste amazing, too.  So why the extra love for Tilston Point? If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I’m not, traditionally, a blue fan. But you guys? I think I might not be able to say that anymore. That’s how much this cheese rocked my world.

Hook’s Cheese Company’s Tony Hook and wife Julie have been handcrafting cheese like cheddar, Colby and Monterey Jack for more than 30 years. In 1997, they began perfecting a series of blue cheeses and in 2004 created Tilston Point, their sole washed-rind cow’s milk blue, which is super-aged for 10 months to a year.  Tilston Point is made in the style of an English blue (the name is, in fact, an anagram of Stilton), but there are many ways in which this cheese differs from its namesake. This cheese is denser, and it’s washed with B. linens, surface bacteria created by whatever is used to wash the cheese (Hook’s keeps their recipe secret). Bacteria? Yum! That bacteria is also responsible for orange coloring on and around the rind, as well as Tilston’s somewhat stinky aroma (to me, the smell is mild, but I could see someone more sensitive feeling differently).

So how does it taste? I guess if I just said “incredible” that wouldn’t really be helpful. Tilston Point has the complex and luscious texture of French Roquefort, but tastes different. It’s rich & earthy, like Stilton, with some sweetness and minerality that lingers on your tongue. Spicy? Not at all, and that’s why I like it!

Added bonus: At approximately $12/lb., it’s very affordable! A little goes a long way…if you can find it.

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.

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