November 2009


A cornucopia of cheese!

My family was never one in which we all went around the table and said what were thankful for that year. Truthfully, I always thought that tradition was kind of cheesy. But since this is a cheese blog, Colleen and I thought it would be appropriate to craft a short list of thanks as our blog celebrates its first birthday.

  1. We are thankful for Wine Spectator for creating the 100 great cheeses list. The idea for our blog came this magazine’s Sept. 30, 2008 issue, which Colleen discovered one day last fall, and we snowballed on it. Though we haven’t agreed with the magazine on the merits of each cheese on the list, it gave us a wonderful starting point for tasting new cheeses and relishing old favorites. Special thanks are due to Wine Spectator features editor Owen Dugan, whose kind words have meant a lot to us. Sorry we missed you when we were in New York last summer, Owen! We’ll definitely come again.
  2. We are thankful for the generosity of the cheese community. When we started this project last year, we didn’t have any special connections to the industry. We were just two cheese-obsessed women who wanted to do something fun and find an excuse to eat even more cheese. So it has been all the more gratifying to meet and correspond with many of the top cheesemakers, cheesemongers, cheese writers and bloggers and cheese lovers across the United States (and beyond). Everyone has welcomed and encouraged our interest in cheese and made us feel like we belonged. Being generous with samples is always appreciated, too!
  3. We are thankful for our readers. Anyone can start a blog, but there’s no guarantee you’ll have an audience. Hell, we’re pretty sure that our parents don’t read this blog. (Husbands, maybe?) So it has been fun to hear from readers through comments and e-mail, exchange links with other cheese and food bloggers and continue the conversations on other excellent cheese blogs. If you’ve been visiting regularly over the past year, thank you! If you’ve come a few times, thank you! And if this is your first time, thank you, too!
  4. We are thankful for Twitter. A technology that was under the radar screen until a year or so ago has much to do with the success of our blog. Not only does it bring readers to our site, it has made it easy for us to connect with other caseophiles on the Web. Twitter is how we met Tia, who scored us prime-time seats at Casellula and made sure we had cheese coming out of our ears by the time we left the restaurant. Twitter is how I reserve cheese with my cheesemonger friend Benjamin at France 44. And Twitter is how we keep on top of the latest cheese and foodie news. (No, we were not paid by Twitter for this.)
  5. We are thankful for cheese. What would this world be without cheese? Boring and less delicious. We’re lucky to be passionate about a food that offers so much variety and excitement that there is no end to the amount of tasting and talking we could do on the subject. Yes, we might have lower cholesterol levels or a few pounds lighter, but what fun would that be?

We hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday!

Colleen and Jill

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My friends and Heavy Table colleagues Jim Norton and Becca Dilley have a new book all about my favorite subject – cheese! More accurately, it’s about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers (like the Obi-Wans of cheese) and it is awesome. You can read my interview with Jim and Becca on Heavy Table today, and be sure to buy their book, too!

In case my totally biased opinion doesn’t sway you, perhaps other opinions will. Our dear friend Madame Fromage gave the book a rave review in the Madison newspaper The Isthmus, and today Jim and Becca are profiled in the Wisconsin State Journal. Check out their blog for more reviews and information on their book tour.

Do you know how you can make a good cheese taste even better? Let it sit out on the counter overnight. That’s what ol’ preggo brain here did last night, and the outcome wasn’t bad like I had feared. Actually, it makes sense – if all cheese are supposed to left at room temperature an hour before serving to heighten their flavors, 10 hours at room temperature must make a cheese 10 times as good, right?

Anyway, the cheese we’re talking about today is Gruyère, the Swiss cow’s-milk cheese that, to me, is Swiss cheese. Though you won’t usually find holes in Gruyère like the commodity “Swiss cheese” features, this is the quintessential Swiss cheese – sweet, nutty and rustic. And while cave-aged versions, such as the 15-month one I bought, typically have a stronger flavor, I found my piece to be pleasingly light and creamy on the tongue. If I had a loaf of crusty bread around, I could have had the entire wedge of Gruyère and bread for breakfast and be totally satisfied. Alas, I’m eating oatmeal. Yawn.

Gruyère melts well, so you’ll find it in a range of dishes, like gratins, quiches and soups. But to me, Gruyère means one thing – fondue. I’m all for trying new cheese combinations when making fondue, but the classic version features Gruyère as a main ingredient, and you can’t argue with that kind of star power. No matter how you prepare it, though, enjoy Gruyère with a light wine wine such as Riesling or a sparkling apple cider.

Trugole

Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of Trugole before. I hadn’t, but now I’m glad I found it. This Alpine cheese is made in Italy’s Asiago region – ah! you say, I’ve heard of Asiago – but it’s nothing like the cheese you find on bagels at Bruegger’s. Instead, it has a creaminess typical of cheeses made from cows that roam rich pastures. Way better than those stale bagels.

Trugole is a raw-milk cheese that is aged and washed for at least two months, but it has no funkiness or yeastiness. In fact, the taste is so smooth and mild that you’d think I’d be bored with it a la last week’s experience with Morbier. But there’s something about that creaminess that keeps me coming back for more tastes. I can imagine Trugole melted over a rich, brothy soup like French onion or draped over a piece of nutty toast alongside a mug of tomato soup. Suggested wine pairings are Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco, but to me, this cheese tastes so pure and basic, I’d skip the wine and focus on food pairings instead.

Last week, the Martha Stewart show aired an episode focused entirely on cheese — cheese from Vermont, to be precise. Emeril has been to Vermont recently as well. We’re tickled to see the celebrities discover what we discovered ages ago (you know, way back in August) … namely, that Vermont makes some damn good cheese. So much so that I wore myself out recapping my Vermont road trip and never got around to posting the final installment of my travelogue, our visit to Fat Toad Farm in Brookfield.

I discovered Fat Toad at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival; their rich and creamy goats-milk caramel sauces, made in the tradition of Mexican cajeta, provided one of the sweeter complements to the many samples of cheese on display. Their fresh chevre was refreshingly pure and tangy. As I chatted with Fat Toad’s Josey Hastings, she mentioned that they were located not far off of I-89, our planned route back south to New York. Because of our rush to get to the festival on Sunday (after driving from Virginia to Albany, via Queens, on Saturday) we hadn’t built in much time to visit any farms but hoped to at least stop by one before leaving the state.

Judith Irving and her goat greeters

The next day, we decided to spend some time enjoying Lake Champlain and got a later start back on the road than anticipated. I called the farm and was cautioned that they were beginning evening chores, but would try to give us a quick tour. As we navigated the country roads to the farm, we passed rolling hillside meadows full of dairy cows, including those of Neighborly Farms. It was the sunniest day yet of our road trip and a perfect day to take in the Vermont countryside. When we arrived, Josey had extracted herself from putting up zucchini and graciously gave us the full tour. The quaint farm didn’t take long to navigate, as they are a small, family-run operation with about 40 Alpine and Saanen dairy goats. It was milking time, so we missed out on seeing the goats frolicking in the meadows but got to visit with them as they awaited their turn in the milking chamber.

kissing goats @ Fat Toad Farm

Josey and her family produce most of their own food on their property, including a few pigs (who are fed excess whey, naturally) and fresh produce. The maple for their maple chevre comes from a neighbor. They’ve been making cheese commercially for only about two years, and have clearly developed a winning formula for high quality fresh chevre. The mild cheese can be used as a dip or spread (try on bagels in place of cream cheese), or in recipes like their Fat Toaders’ Caramel Goat Cheese Swirl Brownies.

The caramel sauces come in several flavors, coffee bean, cinnamon, vanilla bean, and original — and if you’re like me and can’t pick just one, you can order a gift box of all four. I bought several for holiday gifts and already gave one away to our hosts in New York; the jury is still out on whether the others will actually be gifted or remain tucked away in my pantry. (Perhaps I’d better order another set to be safe.)

the self-serve farm store

Incidentally, my new secret to the best BLT sandwich you will ever have? A generous schmear of Fat Toad Farm maple chevre in place of mayonnaise.  Pure bliss.

Thank you to Josey and family for allowing us to poke around the farm. We hope to make it back again soon!

Fat Toad Farm
787 Kibbee Rd
Brookfield, VT
802.279.0098 — call now for holiday orders
www.fattoadfarm.com

Save the Date: The 2010 Vermont Cheesemakers Festival will be held in July, Sunday the 25th, back at Shelburne Farms.

Morbier

I recently read an article (don’t ask me to remember where) that compared Morbier to Humboldt Fog. Naturally, I was intrigued since my love for the Fog is well-documented. But it turns out that the only thing the two cheeses have in common is the thin line of vegetable ash running through their centers. Otherwise, not so much. Humboldt Fog is a goat’s-milk cheese; Morbier is made from cow’s milk. Humboldt Fog is from California; Morbier is French. Humboldt Fog is amazing; Morbier is not.

I’m not saying Morbier is a bad cheese – it was perfectly pleasant enough with a soft, slightly rubbery interior and stinky but not-too-funky aroma. But the taste was so mild that my tastebuds said, “OK, next, please.” Maybe it’s because a leftover cheese – some producers, like Jean d’Alos, make it from the leftover curds from the Comte they also create. Morbier is the meatloaf while Comte is the steak.

But don’t cry for Morbier. It’s an innocent cheese just trying to make its way onto your cheeseboard. And since it’s so mild, it’s a good choice to serve if you don’t know how adventurous your guests are with cheese. Pair it with a Beaujolais, Gewurztraminer or Pinor Noir.

Recently in the cheese world …

American Goat Cheese Awards: The American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) annual cheese competition was held last month in New York. Congratulations to Bonnie Blue Farm (TN) for the Best in Show award for Tanasi Tomme, and to Split Creek Farm (SC) for Reserve Best in Show for Farm Feta in Olive Oil. Familiar names on the winners list include Maryland’s Firefly Farms (four awards) and Spriggs Delight Farm; Oregon’s Rivers Edge Chevre (1st in flavored hard cheeses for Astraea); California’s Redwood Hill Farm (cleaning up the yogurt & kefir categories) and Fat Toad Farm in Vermont for their goats milk caramel sauce. View the complete results here.

MSLivingNov09Craft Cheese in Mainstream Media: Martha Stewart Living’s November issue features Vermont’s artisan cheesemakers, and the cheese episode airs this Thursday, Nov. 5, featuring Liz Thorpe. Emeril Lagasse is also on the bandwagon, recently visiting Jasper Hill Farm and Bellwether Farms in California for the Emeril Green show. The Bellwether episode (“Pass the Cheese, Please”) first aired last night, Nov. 2, but check the listings for a re-run if you missed it.

Tillamook Mac ‘n Cheese Competition: Last month was the 5th annual Tillamook Macaroni and Cheese competition in Portland, OR. The winner? Ann Jones from Littleton, CO, with her “Rustic Fried Sage and Chicken Apple Sausage Mac ‘n Cheese with Autumn Chutney.” She took both grand prize and people’s choice (and, I presume, longest recipe name!). Congrats!

Free Cheese! Bellwether Farms is giving away a $100 gift certificate to one lucky winner. To enter, create an original recipe using Bellwether’s creme fraiche and submit the recipe and a photo by December 1st. View complete details here.

On the Cheese Blogs: Madame Fromage selected Meadow Creek‘s Grayson as her Halloween cheese (great pick!) … The Cheeselover Fiona Beckett is served a unique cheese course … View pictures from the 2009 PDX Wedge Festival … Check out this recipe for Savory Onion and Gouda Dutch Baby from Herbivoracious (perfect for any bits of L’Amuse or Roomano you may have around).

American Cheese on Twitter: Now that Twitter has launched their lists feature, we’ve set about to create the ultimate list of American cheesemakers/sellers/enthusiasts. If you’re interested in America’s craft cheese movement, these are our must-follows. And if you make, sell, or promote cheese in America and we somehow aren’t yet following you on Twitter, drop us a note in the comments or @100cheeses.

Cheese of the Month: The most viewed cheese review we posted for the month of October was… Coach Farm’s goat medallion (third from left, above).

Remember to check our DC and MN Cheese Event listings for classes, tastings and more … we’ll be updating as holiday events are announced. And if you have cheese events or news to share, drop us a note at dccheese@gmail.com or mncheese@gmail.com.