Sweets


It’s no secret that sweets make ideal accompaniments for many cheeses — chocolate, jams and honey are popular condiments on a cheese board for a reason. So why not take the next logical step and add Christmas cookies for the ultimate holiday cheese board?

I made lingonberry tart cookies, perfect for balancing the fruity yet tangy bite of the Rogue River blue. The sweet Prima Donna gouda tasted even sweeter after a nibble on a gingerbread cookie. Earthy yet mild Cabra de Cana (a Spanish version of Rebluchon) was a creamy palate refresher, and the board is rounded out with some dried fruit and chocolate salted caramels (Kingsbury Confections, a local treat).

Cana de Cabra (Spain), Rogue River Blue (Oregon), Prima Donna (Netherlands)

Jill makes white chocolate-coffee-cashew biscotti that is perfect with aged gouda or a decadent triple-cream. I’m still pondering what to match with my cranberry-pistachio biscotti, but I might go creamy there too. I plan to set these out on Christmas day to nibble on with coffee and perhaps a champagne cocktail in the afternoon.

We hope you have a cheesy holiday — and if you’d like to share your holiday cheese board, please send a picture to dccheeseATgmailDOTcom or Twitpic to our attention @100cheeses. We may post the best ones here. Merry Cheesemas!

Last night the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah began, and it is customary for the holiday meals to include apples dipped in honey to symbolize the hope for a “sweet” year ahead. As your C+C bloggers are 1.5 parts Jewish (yours truly is only Jewish-by-marriage), we thought we’d take a moment to reflect on some of our favorite cheese and honey pairings*. While it’s practically passé to sample blue cheeses with honey, its sweet touch brings the best out of a wide range of cheeses. One of my favorite breakfasts is a piece of toast spread with ricotta cheese and honey. The tang of goats’ milk cheeses, sharpness of an aged cheddar, and bite of a stinky blue can all be tamed and complemented with a little drop of sweet honey.

And it just so happens one of the reviews I’ve had in store is Sally Jackson goat cheese, pictured here with … honey.

Sally Jackson is one of the pioneers of American artisanal cheese, having started her small Eastern Washington dairy farm during the Carter administration. Her small herds of goats and sheep are joined by three dairy cows, and she makes small batches of hand-crafted raw milk cheeses which are shipped to a select handful of retailers. I snatched up the Sally Jackson goat cheese at La Fromagerie earlier this summer, and wasn’t disappointed. (There are no cutesy names here, the cheeses are simply known as goat, sheep, or Guernsey.) This lovely round, made from the milk of Alpine and Nubian goats, is wrapped in grape leaves which enhance the fruity, herbal flavors in the milk. The cheese is dense, moist and creamy with an unexpected bright flavor. And as mentioned, it goes wonderfully with a drop of honey — and some wine.

A few other cheeses we’ve enjoyed with honey here on CheeseandChampagne:

Cashel Irish Blue, in a radish and pear salad with honey vinaigrette

St. Pete’s Select, a Minnesota blue

Narrangasett, Rhode Island ricotta, which I consumed by the bowlful topped with honey and berries

Cabot Clothbound Cheddar with a honeycrisp apple

and of course you can’t go wrong with the honey-rubbed Sea Hive cheddar from Beehive Cheese Co. (review coming soon!)

What’s your favorite cheese to drizzle with honey? L’Shana Tova!

(*of course, if you keep kosher, you’ll have to reserve the cheese board for dairy meals. also, these cheeses are not necessarily kosher themselves, as they may contain animal rennet. end disclaimer.)

My allusion to the now-famous 15-year Cheddar produced by Wisconsin’s Hook’s Cheese Company a couple of weeks ago occurred before I got the notion to ask my friends Jim and Becca, who have spent the better part of November and December in our home state promoting their fabulous book, to pick up a chunk for me to taste. Alas, by the time they made it back to Wisconsin, it was hard to find this extra-special cheese anywhere in the state. But ever resourceful, Jim and Becca brought me back a tiny sample cup containing two chunks of the Cheddar from one of their book-tour stops, and it made its way safely back to Minnesota to my eager mouth. Was it worth the wait? Oh yes!

This is, quite simply, the best Cheddar I’ve ever tasted, and you know how many Cheddars we’ve tasted over the past year. It’s the epitome of what a Cheddar should be. It is rich, creamy and caramelly with a few tiny crystals thrown in for good measure. Definitely worth its $50/lb. price tag, the 15-year Cheddar should become an award-winning cheese this summer at the American Cheese Society Annual Conference in Seattle. If not, those judges don’t know cheese.

I’m guessing this Cheddar would make a fabulous mac and cheese or grilled-cheese sandwich, but I think it would be a crime to desecrate it by grating and melting. Just carve off little chunks and enjoy with a big red wine.

If you can still find it in your area (as of yesterday, Surdyk’s reported via Twitter that it had 5 lbs. remaining), Hook’s 15-year Cheddar is the perfect holiday gift for the cheese lover in your life. But if you can’t get your hands on it, here are some other last-minute gift ideas:

  • If you know the recipient is a big fan of soft-ripened cheeses, a whole wheel of Brie, Chaource or Camembert makes a great gift, especially when paired with fruit preserves or chutney.
  • Crowd-pleasers like Gouda or Cheddar are always a safe bet. If you’re still uncertain about your cheese choice, revisit our post from last year, with gift advice from Ken Liss, the owner of the recently departed Premier Cheese Market. Ken is also a wealth of information about unusual cheese pairings – my Heavy Table profile of him from last spring may give you some fun ideas.
  • We know y’all love cheese balls because we get a ton of traffic to this blog from people searching for recipes. If you haven’t already, try Colleen’s version with Old Bay seasoning.
  • The gift doesn’t have to be cheese itself. My husband gave me a beautiful marble cheese board for Chanukah this year, and fondue pots are always a hit. Every cheese lover needs a quality set of cheese knives, and babes will look fabulous in Murray’s “little cheese” bibs.
  • And if you still have space on your tree, get one of these adorable cheese ornaments from Sur La Table. They almost make a Jew wish she had a Chanukah bush!

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.

On Wisconsin! Yes, it’s the state song, but it’s the also the attitude I hold toward Wisconsin’s blue cheeses. Though blues may not be the first cheeses you think about when you think of America’s Dairyland, Wisconsin is proving itself to be a champion blue-cheese-producing state. I picked up a couple of blues during my jaunt to Madison late last month at the fantastic cheese shop Fromagination (wow, the weight I would have gained in college if this store existed then!) and hope I’ll be able to find them here in Minnesota once my stash runs out.

The first cheese, Ader Käse Reserve from Seymour Dairy Crest, is a particularly creamy and salty blue that takes it cue from German blues by going through an intensive aging process. This pasteurized cow’s-milk cheese is carefully monitored for six months, and the result is a fragrant but not overpowering blue. Port is the no-brainer pairing, and you could echo the cheese’s saltiness by serving it with cured meats or mitigate the tang with a handful of unseasoned nuts and dried fruit.

When my Ader Käse Reserve was being cut and wrapped, the cheesemonger offered me a sample of another local blue, Moody Blue from Roth Käse, and I almost fell over from the sumptuous smoky flavor. Made from local cow’s milk and aged for a minimum of four months, this cheese is smoked over fruit wood, which makes it smell like a campfire and taste like no other blue I’ve had before. It has a much stronger flavor than the Ader Käse Reserve but offers a similar level of saltiness and creaminess. Dark chocolate would be a decadent pairing, while fruit compotes or chutneys would provide a lighter touch. Roth Käse recommends serving Moody Blue with Côtes du Rhône red wines or – if you prefer beer – stout, porter or Belgian Lambic.

Well if you haven’t heard by now, cheese loving friends, August is National Goat Cheese Month, and we intend to celebrate to the fullest with some of the remaining goats-milk cheeses on the list. (Can’t wait? Check out the goats we’ve loved thus far.) But first, a blue cheese from Spain that has a bit of goat, the esteemed Valdeon.

Valdeon is a mixed-milk blue, made from goat and cows milk, hailing from Northern Spain. The cheese is wrapped in sycamore leaves and aged for 2-3 months; the leaves impart an herbal complexity in both the smell and flavor. The cheese is dense, sweet and creamy and full-flavored, but less sharp than other blues. It’s a perfect dessert cheese and/or well suited for pairing with fresh summer fruit. I enjoyed it with the sweet-tart flavor of my sister-in-law’s homemade strawberry rhubarb jam. I could also see it matched with some in season fresh figs. You’ll definitely want to go with a sweeter wine pairing, such as port.

Despite our patriotic leanings, one of the good things about undertaking the Wine Spectator 100 challenge has been taking the time to meet or get reacquainted with classic European cheeses. Unfortunately, our local cheese shops tend to share our pro-American bias, so some of the Europeans on the list have been harder to come by. As Jill mentioned, Portuguese cheeses have been particularly hard to find, so we were lucky to find Nisa at Stinky Bklyn on our chzday09 adventure. This lovely Italian cheese, Pecorino Foglie de Noce, we picked up at Murray’s for that photo shoot in the park:

 

thats it, work it...

that's it, work it...

(That’s the pecorino on the right, gabietou on the left.) Incidentally, while labeled foglie de noce in the shop, online Murray’s lists this cheese as “foja de noce.” A traditional raw-sheep’s-milk pecorino, this hard cheese is crumbly but not sharp, sweet and lightly salty, with muted grassy, earthy, almost woodsy notes from the walnut leaves the cheeses are layered with to age, after being “bathed daily” for three weeks. It has just a bit of the trademark oiliness of  sheep’s-milk cheese, but smooth-flavored all around.

 

A lovely cheese for snacking, I took this one on a second picnic date with my son where we enjoyed the leftovers with some fresh-picked Virginia raspberries and blackberries. I’m thinking it would be a great dessert with some sweet wine and yes, lots of summer berries.

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