October 2009


I guess it’s Old Europe week here on C+C, a brief interlude from our normal fall fare of cheddar, cheddar, and um, cheddar. Oh, and gouda. And washed rind stinkers. Okay, we love it all and we’ll eat it no matter the season. Today’s cheese was actually handed to me as I browsed in Whole Foods* last weekend. Thanks to the wonder of AT&T wireless coverage, I can’t use my iPhone in the store to access my handy “cheeses unsampled” list while I shop, so I didn’t even realize until I left the store that this was, in fact, one of the ones left on our list. A second trip to the store later, and I brought home this cute little package of tangy French goodness.

A classic cheese from France’s Alsace region, Grès des Vosges is technically a washed-rind though it is much less pungent than you might expect. It has the familiar yeasty fragrance, but a milder bite. It is rich and silky, like a good triple-cream turned deliciously sour. You’ll want to keep the accompaniments on the lighter side — think fresh fruit — so as not to overwhelm its flavors. Janet Fletcher suggests one of the “spicy, racy whites of Alsace, such as Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris.”

*I don’t know if there’s a connection, but it seems that cheeses Janet Fletcher writes about find their way into Whole Foods soon thereafter. First there was Quadrello di bufala, now Grès des Vosges

Advertisements

Parmigiano-Reggiano

When I first saw Parmigiano-Reggiano on the Wine Spectator list, I admit the first thought that came to mind was, “Duh!” It’s a no-brainer to include the cheese that sits tabletop at every Italian restaurant in the country. But many Americans likely associate it with a green can, and if you think I’m referring to that shredded junk, honey, you’re reading the wrong blog.

The real Parmigiano-Reggiano comes from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region and is D.O.P. (Protected Designation of Origin), which means that any wheel of Parm sold with that symbol is the real thing. Ask your cheesemonger to show it to you when he or she cuts you a wedge. Made from pasteurized cow’s milk, the cheese is shaped into 80-lb. wheels and aged for a minimum of one year and 20-24 months on average. The longer it’s aged, the grainier and crumblier the cheese becomes and different flavors come through more strongly. Younger wheels of Parm often have notes of vegetables or grass, while older wheels gain fruitier and spicier tones. Personal preference (and cheese shop availability) can determine which kind you buy.

Though Parmigiano-Reggiano is often grated onto pasta dishes or salads, it can also have a place of honor on your cheeseboard. Guests can tear off small hunks for snacking with fresh or dried fruit. Try thin slices with apple wedges – it’s a nice change from the traditional apples and cheddar combo. Wine pairings are all over the map. Wine Spectator recommends a sparkling wine, like Champagne or Prosecco, if you’re nibbling the cheese as an appetizer and Port for after dinner. The Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano suggests dry white wines for younger versions, building to full-bodied reds for the super-aged varieties.

I recently got to spend 48 hours in the wonderful foodie mecca of San Francisco. Unfortunately, I failed to consult the event calendar at the Cheese School of San Francisco until after booking my flight, an oversight I’ll be sure not to repeat in the future. It turned out that that very evening, as my flight was due to arrive, the School would be hosting a fundraiser for the California Artisan Cheese Guild. Needless to say I was determined to hightail it to the event. While I arrived too late to meet the cheesemaker behind the @BellwetherFarms Twitter handle, I did luck out and meet Mariano Gonzalez, the cheesemaker from Fiscalini Cheese Co., whose bandaged cheddar was one of the few cheddars we hadn’t yet secured from the 100 cheeses list. I had a lengthy discussion with Mariano about the challenges of doing business in California. With the added problems in the dairy industry, Califonia’s happy cows are not as happy as they used to be. 

There were several other California cheesemakers represented whose names might ring a bell… Cowgirl of course, Redwood Hill, Cypress Grove, Bellwether as mentioned (oh, their creme fraiche is delightful) and a brand new producer, Barinaga Ranch. I enjoyed sampling Marcia Barinaga’s wonderful Basque-style sheeps-milk cheeses and chatting about her small start-up farm in Marin. (Check out her website and try not to be jealous of those sheeps’ gorgeous home!) And of course it was a privilege to chat with Jennifer Bice of Redwood, founder of the Cheese Guild and one of California’s artisan cheese pioneers. (In good company with Mary Keehn at Cypress Grove, Laura Chenel, and the Cowgirls …. hmm, see a theme here? Not that men don’t make good cheese, but there are quite a few notable women in the cheese world.)

 

Fiscalini cheesemaker Mariano Gonzalez

Fiscalini cheesemaker Mariano Gonzalez

And the Who’s Who of cheese didn’t stop at the cheesemakers. I picked the brain of Canyon of Cheese blogger Bryce about his favorite California cheeses, and met Gordon Edgar, S.F. cheesemonger and author of Gordonzola and an upcoming book. Before leaving San Francisco I paid homage to the Cowgirl Creamery shop in the Ferry Building, naturally, and brought home some more California treats. Here’s a sneak peak.

 

Now to the Cheese-of-the-Day: Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddar. Fiscalini’s cheese making began in 2000, when John Fiscalini, a third generation dairy farmer, was inspired by a visit to his ancestral home in Lionza in the Swiss Alps. He added a cheese plant to the Modesto, CA, farm,  hired master cheesemaker Mariano Gonzalez away from Shelburne Farms in Vermont, and quickly began winning awards for their farmstead cheeses. The bandaged (a.k.a. clothbound) cheddar, like their other cheeses, is made in small batches from their raw cows’ milk. Click here for a slide show of the cheesemaking process.

Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddar (photo courtesy of Bryce Allemann, Canyon of Cheese)

Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddar (photo courtesy of Bryce Allemann, Canyon of Cheese)

 Having tasted Vermont cheddars in a relatively short amount of time before my western trek, I was amazed at the difference between the two. Fiscalini’s has a creamy, dense, granular texture, sweet yet salty, with a bright flavor that makes the cheese dance on your tongue. I’m not going to make judgments about the relative happiness of cows in California vs. Vermont, but I swear you can taste the sunshine in this cheese. It goes wonderfully with a red wine, like Zinfandel (from California, naturally). 

Fiscalini also makes the unique San Joaquin Gold — following the European tradition of naming cheeses after the place where they’re made — which is excellent. Do give either of these Fiscalini cheeses a try if you happen upon them, and let us know what you think!

 

with Bryce of Canyon of Cheese

with Bryce of Canyon of Cheese

 

(A big thank you to Bryce for allowing me to use his picture of Fiscalini’s cheddar, above — in my haste to sample every bit of cheese before closing time, my meager iPhone pictures turned out even blurrier than usual. And thank you to Mariano, who generously sent me home with a doggy bag full of cheddar, which was my breakfast and midnight snack for the weekend!)

Pont L'Eveque

Pont-l’Évêque is a true table cheese – a staple on the Normandy sideboard for hundreds of years along with other regional foods like apples, butter, cream and cider. Not showy or high-maintenance, this pasteurized cow’s-milk cheese would round out any hearty meal nicely. Its meaty paste and nutty flavor could stand up to a number of rich dishes, French or otherwise, and would ensure that you don’t leave the table hungry.

Like many washed-rind cheeses, Pont-l’Évêque is quite pungent. The wedge I bought at Surdyk‘s began stinking up my refrigerator as soon as I brought it home, and I actually finished the cheese in two sittings so the smell wouldn’t linger in the fridge any longer. However, with this cheese, its bark is worse than its bite – the paste itself is fairly mild and shouldn’t overwhelm those with delicate palates.

Pair Pont-l’Évêque with a fruity white from Bordeaux, as per Wine Spectator‘s suggestion, or go bubbly with Champagne. Of course, cider would make a stellar match as well.

Did you hear? A Canadian won the 2009 World Cheese Awards , Le Cendrillon (“Cinderella”) from La Maison Alexis de Portneuf. Let’s hear it for North America! I’m not sure if winning a world medal is enough to clear US customs, but here’s hoping those of us in the States get a chance to try it soon. (Or perhaps I’ll have to send Jill on a mission across the border!)

American cheeses fared fairly well themselves. Out of the 2,440 cheeses, from 34 countries, the Americans earned 78 medals. A few highlights:

  • Cypress Grove (CA) took home several awards, including golds for Humboldt Fog, Purple Haze and fresh Chevre, and silver for Truffle Tremor and Fog Lights. Marin French Cheese Co. cleaned up with seven medals, probably the largest single winner outside of the major commodity cheese companies (see Sorrento and Sartori).
  • Smaller farms that stood out include Rivers Edge Chevre (OR) with two silvers, one for Sunset Bay (see below for the second); a gold for Estrella Family Creamery‘s (WA) Grisdale Goat; Bellwether Farms (CA) with silver for Carmody and bronze for Pepato; silver for Uplands Cheese Co. (WI) Pleasant Ridge Reserve; and gold for Crave Brothers (WI) Mascarpone. 
  • In small farms outside the traditional cheesemaking states: gold for Haystack Mountain (CO) Camembert; silver for Firefly Farms (MD) Cabra LaMancha; and bronze for Sweet Grass Dairy (GA) Asher Blue.
  • For “extra mature traditional cheddar,” Cellars at Jasper Hill earned silver for Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and Fiscalini Cheese Co. (review later this week!) a bronze for Bandage Wrap Cheddar.
  • And perhaps the most exciting categories, new cheeses (first marketed after 01/10/2008), a silver went to Rivers Edge Chevre‘s Astraea (pictured above) and a bronze to Willow Hill Farm (VT) for Vaquero Blue — two excellent cheeses I was able to sample this summer.
  • Click here for the full list of American winners, and here are the official winners lists.

And elsewhere in the caseophere…

  • Locally, in the Mid-Atlantic: WeLoveDC recently ventured across the river to explore Alexandria’s Cheesetique. (Astute readers may note that the picture, by yours truly, is actually of the old storefront.) Red, White & Bleu in Falls Church is now carrying Jamie Stachowski’s charcuterie, perfect for pairing with local cheeses. 
     
  •  Locally, in the Upper Midwest: A Simple, Good and Tasty Local Foods Dinner in Minneapolis this weekend featured Minnesota’s own Shepherd’s Way sheeps-milk blue cheese, among other scrumptious dishes. And the Wisconsin Originals Cheese Festival, coming up Nov. 6-7, is already sold out! 
     
  •  On the Cheese Blogs: I missed out on meeting the blogger from La Vie Soleil when we attended the same event recently in San Francisco, but was happy to learn about her from Bryce’s recap at Canyon of Cheese. Her home cheesemaking experiments are truly something to aspire to. Check out the Camembert she recently took to France to share with family …  gorgeous!

Calling all Cheesemakers: got news to share? email dccheese @ gmail.com to be included in our weekly news highlights.

World Cheese Awards 2009 — American winners
see official results 
 or click “more” for the list of American medalists

(more…)

I must be on a Dutch streak because my cheese this week is another aged Gouda hailing from the Netherlands, though it’s often confused for an Italian cheese similar to Parmigiano. Roomano, not Romano, offers a delightfully sweet, butterscotchy taste like L’Amuse, but unlike last week’s cheese, this one features crystals scattered throughout the paste. Personally, I’m a big fan of crystals because I love foods with texture, so I happily crunched my way through this cow’s-milk cheese. The Roomano you’ll find will vary by age, anywhere from two years up to six.

While all Goudas are suitable for snacking, I imagine Roomano would be an excellent cheese for grating and using in an autumn gratin, like with the squash pictured above. This recipe from Allrecipes.com calls for Gruyere and Cheddar, but I think the Roomano would make a fine substitute for one or both the cheeses. Pinch My Salt also has a recipe for a butternut squash and sweet potato gratin that sounds divine (and my 2-year-son might even eat it), and swapping out the Manchego for Roomano would be an interesting variation. If you get your hands on a piece of Roomano and use it in a recipe, share it with us!

Next Page »