Cheese Ball Week continues here on C+C. For today’s ball, I wanted to create one that could pull double duty as an appetizer or in a dessert line up. I started with the fresh, floral Purple Haze chevre from Cypress Grove, laced with lavender and fennel pollen. Instead of the usual cream cheese, I used ricotta as the mixer, and then added a hint of cocoa powder. My “ball” was a late addition to my Friday night dinner menu and didn’t chill as long as it should have, resulting in more of a blob-like appearance. But it still tasted delicious! And went nicely with the champagne we opened for dinner. Should you find yourself with leftovers, it makes a delicious spread for toast, too.

Cocoa-Lavender Cheese Ball

Ingredients:
1 4-ounce package of Cypress Grove Purple Haze
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon cocoa powder, plus additional tablespoon

Instructions: In a mini food processor or mixing bowl, combine the Purple Haze and ricotta cheeses until smooth. Add 1 teaspoon cocoa powder and mix until combined. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon cocoa powder on small plate. Form the cheese mixture into a bowl and gently roll to coat in the cocoa powder. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. Enjoy!

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Congrats to Mary Keehn and our friends at Cypress Grove Chevre for being named a silver finalist in the Classic category of the 2010 sofi™ Awards! Cheese+Champagne favorite Humboldt Fog is the only cheese in this category, and if we had our way, it will be named the winner. We’ll find out at the 2010 Summer Fancy Food Show, to be held in New York on June 27-29. As you may recall, last year Cypress Grove came out on top in the Cheese/Dairy category for its delicious Truffle Tremor.

The 2010 finalists in Cheese/Dairy are:

Other cheesey finalists include:

It looks like we have some new cheeses to add to our ever-growing to-do list! Since Colleen and I won’t be able to attend this year’s Fancy Food Show, we’ll have to seek out tastes elsewhere. (Samples are always welcome!)

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!)

It’s been an exciting week here at C+C. Not only did Colleen and I get to see each other for the first time in more than a year (!), we spent a fabulous three days eating our way through New York City. We’ll have lots more to share about our NYC cheese adventures next week, but we won’t keep you waiting any longer for our report from the big gig: the 2009 Fancy Food Show.

yes, that is a humboldt fog wedding cake

yes, that is a humboldt fog wedding cake

The Fancy Food Show is the biannual event of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT), and it’s like Nirvana for anyone who loves food. Since it’s a trade show, it’s not open to the general public, but as the co-writers/publishers of a top 10 cheese blog, Colleen and I were able to attend as part of the press corps. (We felt very official.) Unfortunately, our busy schedules allowed us to spend only four hours at the show and we barely scratched the surface, but we did get to visit a number of cheese-centric booths and taste lots of cheese.

The high and low points of the show:

Hits

  • Meeting some of our favorite cheesemakers, like Mary Keehn from Cypress Grove Chevre and Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm. Both were generous with their time and samples, and Mateo even mentioned that he put a link to our
    talking cheddar with Lucy of Neals Yard Dairy

    talking cheddar with Lucy of Neal's Yard Dairy

    Winnimere review on Jasper Hill Farm’s Facebook page. (Thanks, Mateo!) Mary posed for a quick photo with us just hours before it was announced that her Truffle Tremor won the sofi for best product in the cheese/dairy category at the show. A well-deserved honor! We also had fun chatting with the folks from Faribault Dairy and Grafton Village

  • Learning about new cheese partnerships, such as Faribault Dairy and Grafton Village’s new collaboration on Clothbound Cheddar. Vermont-based Grafton Village now sends its Clothbound Cheddar to Minnesota to age in Faribault’s famed sandstone caves. British cheese powerhouse Neal’s Yard Dairy is also working with Colston Bassett Dairy to age its Stilton, and the union results in a creamier, tangier blue cheese that we really enjoyed.
  • Finding some untasted cheeses on our list, like the triple-crème Brie from the Marin French Cheese Company and the Rogue River Blue from Rogue Creamery. (Washed down with a gulp of Rogue Chocolate Stout, yum.) Watch for our upcoming reviews over the next few weeks!
  • Discovering new products to pair with our cheeses. You’ll have to stay tuned for specifics, but let’s just say there was no shortage of chocolate, crackers, oils, teas, coffees and more. (Imagine if we’d had time to sample all the adult beverages, too!)

Misses

  • Unfriendly French cheese exhibitors. The only way we were able to sample any French cheeses was to linger around the cheese displays for approximately 10 minutes before the person working the booth would even pay attention to us. Memo to the French: The reason why people come to the show is to taste your cheese. It’s really hard for them to do that if you ignore them.

    perfect pairings from rogue and rogue ale

    perfect pairings from rogue and rogue ale

  • Absent American cheese exhibitors … and too much floor space. We had hoped to try more new American cheeses, but were disappointed to find the Capriole Goat Cheese booth unmanned. Others we just didn’t make it to (Utah’s Beehive, Coach Farm) in our short amount of time. It would’ve been nice if the American cheesemakers’ booths were less spread out (own pavilion next year, perhaps?), though I imagine people with more time to spend grazing benefited from other snacks between cheese samples. 
  • Our wimpy stomachs. We didn’t eat breakfast that day in order to leave room for lots of cheese samples, but we still became full relatively quickly. Perhaps it was the dozen or so cheeses we had sampled the day before. Or the large iced coffees we drank on the walk to the show. Or the three desserts we shared during the previous night’s dinner at Casellula. Anyway, we were stuffed much earlier than I had anticipated. I managed to recover in time to try a Magnolia Bakery cupcake at 10 p.m. that night. Colleen said she choked down half a sandwich during her bus ride back to D.C.

Did you attend this year’s Fancy Food Show? Any stories or tidbits to share? Spill them here!

(And another miss, from Colleen – using the iPhone instead of a real camera. Um, duh. Will bring better equipment next year!)

We could recommend some of our favorite hoity-toity American cheeses to mark our nation’s 233rd birthday, but let’s be honest — the only cheese most Americans will be chowing down on on Saturday are those slathered over a juicy slab of beef* (or turkey or tofu). The New York Times today offered advice on creating the perfect burger, but in our not-so-humble opinion, the real ingredient to watch is the cheese. You might enjoy a healthy dollop of Roquefort or an Irish cheddar on your every day burgers, but needless to say the 4th of July calls for more patriotic selections. Fortunately, American cheesemakers are a force to be reckoned with (and they were a large contingent of the cheese crew that made up the largest single food category at this week’s Fancy Food Show).

If you prefer a classic burger, try a cheddar from Vermont’s Grafton Village, and you can’t go wrong with Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen or Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue.

For a Greek-American burger, dress it up with Hidden Hills Dairy Bolton Feta (from Pennsylvania) or goats’ milk feta from Mozzarella Company of Texas. 

Stink it up with Meadow Creek’s Grayson, an American tallegio (the 2009 batch has just been released), or go for total sensory overload with a dollop of Cypress Grove’s Truffle Tremor.

If you really just have to have individually-wrapped slices of pre-cut cheese — well, you probably aren’t reading this blog. But just in case, let me point you toward Tillamook’s cheddar cheese singles so you can still enjoy the convenience without compromising on a “cheese food product.”

If you need additional incentive to seek out artisanal American cheeses for your July 4th celebration, see the “Cheese as an Act of Patriotism” post at The Saxelby Almanac. And tell us, what’s the best cheese and beef pairing you’ve ever had??

(*I’m going to assume you’re using local, grassfed and e.coli-free ground beef, but here’s some advice if you need help finding a local beef provider – and check out the craft beer finder to find a good patriotic beer to wash it down.)

We’ll have more to say about the 2009 Fancy Food Show — our first as credentialed members of the cheese press — soon, but we wanted to bring you the breaking news fresh from NYC that Cypress Grove’s Truffle Tremor won the “sofi” tonight in the cheese/dairy category. The Fancy Food Show, put on by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT), hosts the annual competition for specialty outstanding food innovation (sofi). Out of nearly 2,000 entries in 33 categories, 128 finalists were selected by a panel of judges, and the winners then determined by votes of buyers attending the show — the Oscars of the food world, so to speak.

with CGs Mary Keehn

w/ Cypress Grove's Mary Keehn

 

Cypress Grove has a special place in our hearts here at Cheese + Champagne, as their iconic Humboldt Fog was the launching point for our exploration of (some might say obsession with) artisanal cheese. Truffle Tremor is their newest product, a lightly-aged goats-milk cheese with, as the name suggests, the additional earthy flavor imparted by a generous helping of black truffles. This sweet, musty, velvety cheese is truly unique — the distinctive flavor still lingers in my taste memory even after a day spent sampling dozens of cheeses. Don’t just take my word for it; Murray’s calls it sexy, too: “Dense, cakey pasteurized goat cheese with a fine bloomy rind takes on a sexy richness with a few weeks of aging and fungi.” Be sure to give it a try if (when) you happen upon it. And congratulations to Mary and all at Cypress Grove!

Humboldt Fog and I first made each other’s acquaintance sometime in 2005, I believe. I think it was at Colleen’s house during one of our TV-watching parties. (“The Apprentice” season premiere? Help me out, C.) We hit it off right away, and soon we were seeing each other regularly. In fact, if you sent my husband to a cheese shop to have him pick out a cheese for me, this is one he’d likely choose because he’s heard me talk about it so much.

One of my favorites.

One of my favorites.

Humboldt Fog is part of the California-based Cypress Grove family of fine goat-milk cheeses, and it’s distinguished by the layer of vegetable ash (edible, of course) in the middle. It’s soft and surface-ripened and oh-so-good. The creamy, crumbly cheese coats the mouth nicely, but the flavor isn’t so strong that you’ll need to cleanse your palate after a few bites. On the contrary – it’s really hard to stop eating it once you’ve started!

I guess this is what Humboldt Fog on crackers would look like to an ant.

I guess this is what Humboldt Fog on crackers would look like to an ant.

I often spread room-temperature Humboldt Fog on Carr’s whole wheat crackers, and Cypress Grove recommends serving it with pears and honey and a glass of crisp white wine (such as a Chenin Blanc or Pinot Grigio), on top of a spinach salad or with a mushroomy dish. But I also like to just stand at the counter and cut myself little slabs to eat solo. Why should Humboldt Fog share its glory with another food? It easily shines on its own.

The Cypress Grove Web site is also one of the best cheesemaker sites I’ve seen yet, with a day-by-day guide on the cheesemaking process, nutritional information and fun cheese trivia. For example, did you know that Americans, on average, eat more than a half-pound of cheese each week? I think I’m above-average in that category.

You can order Cypress Grove cheeses directly from the Web site or at most fine cheese shops and well-stocked grocery-store cheese counters.