Sunday, July 7, 2013

Gouda and Caramelized Onion grilled cheese

I love the taste or caramelized onion and it is a flavor that pairs well with cheese. At Cheesetique, one of our most popular cheeses was a caramelized onion cheddar. I think you get a better flavor by caramelized the onions yourself and adding a nice Gouda.  I picked up this Boerenkass raw milk farmstead Gouda at Trader Joe's for $7.99/lb. Boeren is Dutch for farmers and kass means cheese.  This cheese is made with raw milk from cow's who live in the same place where this cheese is made. Most cheesemakers are not dairy farmers. Making cheese is hard, being a dairy farmer is harder, and doing both is awesomely difficult. But I think it makes for an exceptional cheese. the freshet milk makes the best cheese and some people think that the less the milk is agitate before making cheese the better the final product.  
This grilled cheese was made using caramelized onion, Boerenkass, a touch of dijon mustard, and rye bread. 



Caramelized onion




Mild Italian grilled cheese


For this grilled cheese I used Santa Teresa which is a semi firm sheep's milk cheese and Bel Paese, a semi-soft cow's milk cheese.  Both have a creamy mild flavor and melt well.  I combined these mild cheeses with what I thought would be a very flavorful peperonata spread.  This spread was a huge disappointment as it was very bland and lacking in flavor.  I used my panini press for this grilled cheese. We received this press 7 years ago at our bridal shower. At first we wondered what we would do with it but it didn't take long for us to realized that it really easy a kitchen equipment must have.    



Mama's grilled cheese and baby grilled cheese (no peperonata on the baby cheese and I added sharp provolone which made the baby grilled cheese taste better than the adult version!)



Summer drink 2013

I would like to give to the world a new and wonderful cocktail. I call it the "Sittin' Pretty" and it only has 2 ingredients. St. Germain, which is an elderflower liqueur and Peach-Pear La Croix sparkling water. Please enjoy responsibly.

Pour 3 fingers of St. Germain and top with La Croix 

This is the result, delicious and simple.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Grilled Cheese Season has begun!


Now that the weather is getting cold and fall is in the air, most people seem to have pumpkin spice on the brains. But we turophiles are dreaming about grilled cheese.  I will eat grilled cheese year around but there is something so comforting about a gooey grilled cheese with a side of soup on a chilly day.  We all have childhood memories of grilled cheese and tomato soup on a chilly day.  I was very excited a few months ago to give my baby boy a taste of his very first grilled cheese.  (He liked it but I still have not had much luck getting him to eat cheese, he does love yogurt and ice cream so I think there is hope for him yet)   

About a decade and a half ago, my dear cousin wrote a zine (remember those? Before blogs!) piece about quick and easy grilled cheese.  The basic recipe involved toasting the bread in a toaster, then add cheese and microwave, voila!  We have come a long way from that but making grilled cheese is not complicated.  Buttered bread + cheese + hot frying pan = grilled cheese.  It is possible to take grilled cheese to a whole ‘nother level.  

I have learned a lot about making grilled cheese from family and friends over the years.  My mother taught me to add weight on top of the sandwich while it fries in the pan.  She would use a mason jar (which was actually an empty tomato sauce jar that we normally used for drinking glasses) but you could also use one of those bacon presses if you have one.  An old boyfriend taught me to cut the sandwich diagonally to help cooling and oozing.  I know cheese is salty but one of my oldest friends would sprinkle just a bit of salt on his finished grilled cheese and I think it was a wonderful improvement.

There are a few other things you must consider when making a grilled cheese.  Grilled cheese is made from the combination of bread and cheese so let’s talk about these two simple ingredients that come in countless varieties.

Bread – for grilled cheese you want soft crust bread.  If you use a baguette to make a grilled cheese then you might be a masochist.  That hard crust when made crispy will cut up your mouth and leave you sore for days.  I love to use pumpernickel or rye bread but the ultimate bread is buttermilk bread from Mom’s Apple Pie Company.  This is a gigantic, tall, fluffy loaf of white bread and makes the best toast.

You do need to butter or oil your bread to get nice browning. My father used mayonnaise which added a touch of tart vinegar flavor.  You can butter your bread before it hits the pan but make sure your butter is soft or you will ruin your bread.  You can also add butter or olive oil (or any other kind of oil) to the pan then add the bread, move the bread around to soak up oil, then when you flip, add more butter or oil and move around again to soak.

Cheese – when we cook with cheese the flavor becomes milder.  I like to start with a stronger cheese for this reason.  When I was young we used American cheese more often than not but sometimes it was government issued cheese (which has a very special place in my heart with its enormous brown cardboard box case) but I know some used Colby jack, Monterey jack, or munster (not the stinky, yummy French stuff) which are decent melters but they don’t have enough flavor for my grown up taste buds.  I even find Cheddar a bit boring for a grilled cheese.  Here are just a few great cheeses (most are readily available at your local supermarket) for grilled cheese: Raclette, Appenzeller, Fontina val d’Aosta, sharp provolone, Gruyere, and Comte.  I do recommend shredding whatever cheese you choose to use to help it melt before your bread burns.  You can also combine cheeses which can be a great way to keep your food cost down.  You can mix a mild cheap cheddar and splurge with a more expensive Comte. 

It might be tempting to use Brie for a grilled cheese but a soft ripened double or triple crème cheese is too high in fat and too soft to withstand frying.  Cheeses that are very high in fat (even Cheddar) are more likely to leak oil while frying.  You want a gooey grilled cheese, not a drippy one.  You can add a soft cheese like Tallegio but you should pair it with another cheese (like Fontina Val d’Aosta) to provide more structure. 

Aged cheeses also do not melt as well as young cheeses because cheese loses moisture as it ages.  Parmigiano-Reggiano can make a great crunchy cheese cracker but it will not give you a gooey grilled cheese. You can add a touch for sharpness and flavor but it must be paired with a good melter.  Think about mozzarella, it is a wonderful melter and a very young cheese.  This cheese is made and consumed within weeks of being made which means it does not lose moisture and melts beautifully.  If you have a cheese and want to know how it will melt, make cheese toast for breakfast.  Take bread (a sliced baguette will work for this) add cheese, and put it under the broiler for a few minutes and see what happens.  If the cheese does not have an elastic give to it, it will not make a gooey grilled cheese.   

You might be tempted to use a flavored cheese to make grilled cheese but the cheese will lose flavor while it cooks.  If you want to add flavor use mustard, jam, chutney, relish, or any addition.  You could add tomatoes, pickles, bacon, herbs, onion jam, or Dijon mustard.  I think any sandwich (grilled cheese or even burger) is made better topped with a gooey egg.  A classic example is the Croque Madame

Some days I will buy plain sliced cheddar from the deli counter and use whatever bread I have on hand to make a grilled cheese.  I am usually disappointed by this cheese and the sandwich but they can't all be winners.  Sometimes I want a special grilled cheese and will put more thought into my cheese selection.  One of the tastiest grilled cheeses I ever enjoyed was Tallegio and Fontina Val d’Aosta with a sweet and sour onion jam sprinkled with thyme.  Here are 40 suggestions for grilled cheese.  What is your favorite grilled cheese? 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Kiss My Curds Cheese Consulting


Kiss My Curds is the name of my cheesemaking operation which has been on hiatus in order for me to focus on caring for my son.  Cheesemaking is very time consuming, especially when you are driving two hours for the freshest milk.  Babies are also very time consuming, who knew?  I attempted to return to cheesemaking this summer but found I was spreading myself too thin and was not very good at multitasking.  Someone once told me that multitasking was just doing multiple things badly.  I have missed making cheese, selling cheese, cutting cheese, packing cheese, and talking about cheese. I wanted to get back into cheese in a way that would be more flexible. I am happy to announce a consultation arm of Kiss My Curds!

Kiss My Curds is an artisanal cheese producer and provider of personal Cheesemongering services in the Washington, DC metro region.  Kiss My Curds specializes in one-on-one cheese consultation and in-home cheese making and cheese tasting demonstrations for anyone with a passion or curiosity about the many fantastic cheeses available today.

Kiss My Curds is now offering a variety of educational cheese experiences and workshops:

Cheese Adventure with a Personal Cheesemonger

I will accompany you and a friend to a great local cheese counter and demystify cheese shopping, pairing, and serving. I will answer any cheese related questions you might have on topics such as artisanl cheese production, pairing, seasonality, storage, and presentation. I’ll make recommendations tailored to your personal preferences, and send you home with a selection of three cheeses to enjoy later.
Cost: $150           Duration: around 2 hours

Fresh Mozzarella Workshop

We will make and enjoy mozzarella in the comfort of your kitchen.  I will supply the milk, ingredients, and equipment all you need is a microwave and stove top.  This is a really great workshop for children who are interested in cheese or cooking.  I will also answer any questions and let you know what some great books are and website to get you started making cheese at home.
Cost: $150           Duration: around 2 hours (including a half hour to setup)

Cooking with Cheese

Cheese is wonderful to enjoy on its own but is also a staple of cooking.  We will talk about cooking with cheese, which cheeses are best suited for different recipes, how to save money on cheese shopping, and I will provide recipe ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.  We will also make and enjoy and a simple cheese-centric snack or I may bring along on of my favorite cheese dishes.
Cost: $150           Duration: around 2 hours

5 Months of Holiday Cheese Consultations

This entitles you to unlimited cheese advice via phone from October 25th 2012 - March 25th 2013 and anytime by email.  I will present you with cheese plate themes and ideas for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine's Day, and St. Patrick's Day, all tailored to your palate and dietary needs.  This also includes one cheese adventure for 2 to your local cheese counter (see description above), and an in-home cheese platter making demonstration. 
Cost: $750

In home Cheese Tasting

A guided cheese tasting for you and your guests, conducted in the comfort of your own home!  Tailored to your preferences and interests, your party will be lead through a tasting of a series of fantastic cheeses expertly paired with accompaniments such as wild honeys, nuts, preserves, beers, wines, or spirits.  The theme of tasting can be constructed around any theme (seasonality permitting), such as a given milk type, region, style.  For example:
·        Great New American Artisanals
·        DC Locals
·        Rustic Traditions
·        Up and Down the Pyrenees
·        Craft Brew Pairings
All you’ll need to do is provide the tableware and workspace, then sit back and enjoy with your guests! 
Cost: $50-100/person, depending on theme                       Duration: 2 hour event, with 1 hour setup prior

About Kiss My Curds Consulting

Kiss My Curds is Charlotte McConnell, a professional Cheese expert, Cheesemonger, and Cheesemaker based in Northern Virginia.  Read more at charlottescheesedreams.blogspot.com

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Banana Walnut Brownies of Chocolate Deliciousness


I love cheese but sometimes what you really need is chocolate.  After a hard week with a fussy baby and being disappointed to miss out on a nice dinner out with friends because Orion was sick, I required chocolate.  I called Patrick to task him with picking up some chocolate deliciousness on his way home from work.  He needed more specifics and I was helpful enough to say “no ice cream, maybe something cake like or a brownie but nothing from Whole Foods as their sweets never satisfy me and nothing from Wegman’s, and not the standard chocolate cake from Santini’s”.  With instrusctions like that, it is no surprise he came home empty handed.

That night around 8 pm, I checked the cupboard to see if we had anything on had to create something yummy.  Cocoa powder-check, butter, we have that, brown sugar- yup, all of which I can transform into brownies.   I found an Alton Brown recipe, who I love, but he often makes things a bit complicated in his quest for food perfection.  His recipe had way to much sifting going on (how do you sift sticky brown sugar?) so I skipped it.


Here is my recipe for Banana Walnut Brownies adapted from Alton Brown’s Cocoa Brownies recipe By Charlotte McConnell adapted from Alton Brown

Ingredients:
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
8 ounces (2 sticks) melted butter
11/4 cups cocoa
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon 
1 cup of walnuts
1 ripe banana, mashed and mushed

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan.
Beat the eggs then add brown sugar and granulated sugar.  
Mix in everything else and pour batter into pan.
Bake 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean or you can no longer wait.

I love that Alton Brown says “resist the temptation to cut into it until it's mostly cool”.  Obviously, he is not a woman, and I did not wait.  Yes, they fell apart a little but it was near 10pm and I had been waiting many hours for a chocolate fix and I knew they would be cool tomorrow.

These really hit the chocolate spot and were so easy that I really can’t understand why anyone would make brownies from a box.  Plus they were almost, kinda, sorts healthy with the one banana and all its potassium and the healthy walnuts who are full of good fats and omega-3!  I know this picture really does not do these brownies justice but I was busy eating them.  I made them Thursday night and this was the only bit left on Sunday morning.  







Sunday, July 1, 2012

Blues and Bay



Over two years ago my father gave me all his canning equipment.  I finally got around to using the equipment this week.  I bought myself a new cookbook for canning inspiration and was very excited to make the cover recipe.  I made the Blues and Bay recipe from The River Cottage Preserves Handbook.  As it is blueberry season, it was perfect timing.  I had a lovely time blueberry picking but had to cut it short because someone had cranky pants.  I did pick just enough for this recipe.  I hope to make it back out to pick if this insane heat ever subsides.


Please keep in mind that this was a first time attempt at canning and I really don’t know what I am doing.  I do know how to read and follow a recipe so I did just that.  It seemed way easier than it should be which leads me to believe that I did something wrong.


I was excited by this recipe because of the combination of blueberries and bay leaf, something I would not think to put together.  I really wish this recipe had a yield.  The amount of berries filled 4 jars but the amount of liquid only filled 2.  I did spill some liquid and maybe I could have fit more berries into fewer jars but I did not want to smoosh the berries.  The recipe said not to smoosh, actually “Pack them firmly, without crushing”. 



I was eager to try out the fruits of my labor and was not disappointed.  We enjoyed this canned fruit with some fresh homemade chevre.   It was also delicious with coconut pancakes and later enjoyed with vanilla ice cream. The liquid was watery, not sure if it is supposed to be that way.  The recipe said to make a “fruit syrup” but not how much to reduce it by or how long too cook it.  I am excited to try out the other jars and see if the bay leaf flavor intensifies. My first attempt was not a totally success or failure but it was a delicious start.

Back in the saddle

On May 25th 2012, I decided to get back into cheesemaking by making my favorite, rosemary feta.  I opened up my cheese notebook to discover that the last time I made cheese was September 8th 2010!  At the time I was about 4 weeks pregnant.  I took a break from cheesemaking because I did not have to time to devote to making cheese or driving 2 hours to get the milk.


This first attempt at cheesemaking after 20 months off was a total failure.  What I made was a milky slop that would not coagulate because my rennet and cultures were dead.  Rennet and cheese cultures do have expiration dates and they are not a joke.  Everything I had was expired but I wanted to see if there might be some viability.  I had a lot of supplies that had to be trashed, very sad.  I wish I had had the forethought to give it all to someone who would use them instead of letting it all go to waste.

I did learn to buy my rennet and cultures in smaller amounts.  Liquid rennet will last for a year in the refrigerator and most cultures will last about 2 years in the freezer.  I have since made some chevre, I should have let it drain longer.  I also made some rosemary feta but added to much salt to the brine so the texture was too soft.  But at least I am getting back into the swing of things.

I did make some cajeta which was a delicious success!  Sometimes I don’t know what to do with just 2 quarts of goat’s milk but now I do.  I think I will be giving everyone on my Christmas list a jar of this decadent caramel.  Another failure was this rosemary honey goat milk ice cream, I left out the strawberries.  The texture was icy and I had never seen one whole egg used in an ice cream recipe.  The recipe did not say to strain the mixture before turning but I did because the egg white left an unappetizing film.  I will keep attempting to recreate the delicious rosemary honey goat milk gelato from Capogiro and once I have it cracked, I will tell you all about it!  

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Surprisingly delicious!

I have never been a big fan of combining alcohol and dairy products. I am not sure how The Dude managed to drink all those White Russians. The idea of an alcoholic float would gross me out but then I tried one. I was really surprised by the deliciousness of this adult float. Combine ice cream (vanilla) and Lambic (raspberry) and you may garnish with fresh berries if you are wearing your fancy pants.



You could try chocolate ice cream with Kahlua but I think the fizz in the Lambic makes something special occur. Any flavor of ice cream + your favorite alcohol = yummy potential. The possibilities are endless but I wouldn't drink too many. This is perfect for a hot summer day or any day that you wish had a summery feel.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Dark side of Chocolate

What Christ rising from his grave has to do with bunnies, eggs, and chocolate, I may never understand. Even though I do not celebrate Easter, this holiday has gotten me thinking about chocolate. I never really though about how many chocolate holidays we have, Valentine's Day, Easter, and Halloween. Halloween is the kick off to get fat season and what Thanksgiving or Christmas would be complete without a bit of chocolate.

I pay a lot of attention to where my food comes from and what is in it but chocolate somehow is not held to the same standard in my mind. I look forward to this time of year so I can indulge in Cadbury Mini Eggs and White Chocolate Reese's Eggs. I only recently learned that Monsanto owns Cadbury (they also own Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines, Peppridge Farms, Hershey's Nestle, and Famous Amos just to name a few). This means this year was the last time I will enjoy those Mini Eggs because I do not want to give my money to Monsanto.

The ingredient list for the aforementioned Mini Eggs looks pretty tame, but where does their chocolate come from? Chocolate is another example of you get what you pay for. Why is some chocolate really cheap and other chocolates are really expensive? The cheap stuff might be filled with flavor additives, high fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenates oils and the actual chocolate might be of a lesser quality, while the expensive chocolate is made of the "good stuff". Nothing is cheaper because of the goodness of the company, usually the opposite is true.

How would you feel knowing the chocolate stuffing your Easter basket was made with child labor? Chocolate is made from cocoa beans and 43% of cocoa beans are grown in the Ivory Coast. Working on a cocoa plantation is no easy job and often this work is being done by children who were basically tricked into slavery. We need to start asking ourselves where does our chocolate come from, how was it harvested, and what are the conditions for the workers. Cocoa beans do not grow in Virginia so you could also consider the food miles involved in getting that bar of chocolate into your Easter basket.

Chocolate should be a special treat, not an impulse buy at the cash register. This is an item that really should be purchased in a socially responsible way. Not to mention that we really do not need any help fattening up America. Granted, buying Fair Trade chocolate to give out on Halloween may get really expensive and you don't want to be the house giving out toothbrushes for fear of being egged. Maybe Halloween is the only day of the year when you buy low quality chocolates. If everyone did this, it would make such a huge difference in the world.

Personally, I would rather have something that is really good infrequently, then more of something that is low quality. I love these Earl Grey chocolate bars from Chuao. They are expensive and hard to find but for Christmas my husband bought me 3 bars and gave me 3 more for my birthday a month later. I can make one of these chocolate bars last almost an entire month. I keep them in the freezer and take one bar out a month and savor their flavor as I nibble away. I may be paying $8 a bar after shipping but that is only $8 a month for delicious, indulgent chocolate. That works out to about $0.26 a day for something that is delicious and I can feel good about buying.

And you really shouldn't bother with cheap chocolate on Valentine's Day. The Whitman's sampler picked up at the gas station does not say "love" it says "Oh, shit, I forgot". One thing I can really respect about Easter is Lent. I like the idea of giving something up for 40 days and then treating yourself after. It also helps to have Fat Tuesday or what we called Donut day, before the start of Lent. If you are going to have an Easter basket filled with cheap chocolate, I hope you would consider giving up chocolate for Lent.

I know things will soon get complicated when my now almost one year old son starts noticing Easter, Valentine's, and Halloween. I do look forward to celebrating Valentine's and Halloween with him but Easter will be hard to explain. I was raised Catholic so I do have fond memories of Easter baskets and egg hunts. I do not want to deny my son fun experiences and happy childhood memories. I also do not want those moments to come at a high cost to others, especially children. Also, Easter is a religious holiday and we aren't religious. I think it is funny that there is a whole put Christ back in Christmas campaign but I have never heard of a put Christ back in Easter campaign. I guess the slogan isn't as catchy.

Remember to vote with your dollars and carefully consider what you buy and who profits from your purchase as well as who suffers from that purchase.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Foie is not your Foe

I am so happy that I do not live in California! Recently, I learned that the state of California is banning Foie Gras. As of July of this year, foie gras will be illegal in California. This makes me feel bad for Californians. They get to vote on all sorts of different matters and enact real changes in their state and this is how they use their voting power. I don't understand why they would waste their time on foie gras. Does PETA run the state? People have a right to chose what they want to eat and foie gras is not dangerous.

I love foie gras! It is like delicious meat butter. It is creamier than bone marrow but they share that deep, rich, umami flavor. Foie gras is French for "fat liver" and it is just that. The fatten liver of a goose or duck. Foie gras does not have that iron metallic flavor found in most other livers. Foie gras is rich in iron, vitamin A, and good healthy fats (unsaturated) while being low in bad fats (saturated and trans fats) and low in sugar. I wonder how many voters in California have actually tasted foie gras.

The controversy is not that foie gras is dangerous to consume but that the farming practices are inhumane. Foie gras is farmed using a practice called gavage. Yes, gavage is a fancy French term for force feeding through a tube. Force feeding sounds really bad but when you don't have a gag reflex and are a total glutton it really isn't. Ducks and geese have no gag reflex and swallow whole fish that are bigger than the feeding tubes used in gavage. They also breath through their tongues which sounds insane but makes suffocation by feeding tube impossible.

The fattening of animals is nothing new. The cattle industry fattens up beef cows and feeds them food that is not even in their natural diet. A cows natural diet is grass but factory cattle farms feed them a steady diet of corn along with some really gross shit. The conditions of feed lots are overcrowded and disgusting with cows knee high in their own feces. These feed lot practices are not only bad for the animals but they are also bad for the meat. Yes the meat may be better marbled, more tender, and flavorful but it also has higher amounts of bad fats and less of the good Omega 3 fatty acids. They also create massive amounts of run off waste which can end up polluting local rivers and water supplies. Why didn't California outlaw commercial cattle feed lots?

Why is foie gras being singled out? Because foie gras is not an industrialized mega farming endeavor. Mom and pop farms do not have the muscle and money to lobby and protect themselves. The cattle industry is massive and has a lot of pull and protection. Making foie gras illegal is a strike against small independent family farms. This ban will definitely have greater affects than what you are able to eat. For one, a family farm will lose their livelihood.

What we need to do is go back to the time before industrialized farming. Your food does not need to travel thousands of miles before it arrives at your local mega supermarket. Food has a season and we should respect that. Food also costs money and you get what you pay for. The dollar menu sounds like a bargain until you start to wonder where that beef patty came from. I know that almost everyone is having money issues and it can be hard to pass up a bargain but sometimes it is better to walk away.

You also do not need to eat meat at every meal every day. Find your local farmers, go to your neighborhood farmer's market, and enjoy their bounty. You can feel good about supporting a local family, saving gas on food transportation which is good for the environment, and supporting a local patch of land that will not be turned into a strip mall plus providing good healthy food for your family.

You should care about where all your food comes and how it was raised. Were your apples sprayed with pesticides? Was your chicken shot full of antibiotics? Did your bacon come from a pig that was kept in a cage so small that it couldn't turn around? When it comes to foie gras, I think people are getting hung up on gavage. It think it matters more what environment the ducks and geese are raised in and how they are treated. Also as important is how the human workers are treated on the farm. I understand that not every foie gras farm is idyllic but I am sure the percentage of cattle/pork/chicken farms with worse conditions is much greater.

We are Americans and we were founded on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Taking away my right to choose to eat something like foie gras is taking away my right to choose. They have already taken away our right to raw milk, whats next? Will they take away our sushi?

Read more about foie gras at:
Serious Eats
The Village Voice

Want to learn more about your food?
Read:
What to Eat
Real Food
The Omnivore's Dilemma
Watch
Food, Inc.
King Corn
Supersize Me
The Dive
Check out Slow Food USA

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Raclette

You may recall that I love Raclette. I think it blows fondue out of the milk! You don't have to worry about hot splash back or losing your chunk in hot lava cheese. Fondue also has limited creativity and combinations. The basic principal is skewer chunk (meat, veggie, fruit, bread) and dip in cheese, oil, or chocolate. It is hard to factor much else into the equation.

Raclette is full of possibilities. You take some Raclette cheese and add anything to it and keep adding different ingredients. You just don't want to pile on so much that the food will be touching the heating element because it will either burn or catch on fire. One trick to Raclette is to forget about it, then you will achieve that golden crunchy cheese yumminess.

I think of Raclette as a winter activity and was very happy to get a cold spell this weekend. We hadn't used our Raclette grill since last winter and I wanted to use it before next winter. We planned a small gathering of about 8 people total. You don't want too many people running around with hot cheese when you have 2 dogs and a baby underfoot. It was fun for everybody to come up different combinations and share "recipes".

The cheeses we had were Raclette as well as Beemster goat Gouda (which is a nice melter) and Robiola Bosina (not a good melter as the fat content is too high). The meats were a goose liver pate, Landjaeger which is a dried hunters sausage, Porchetta which is pork loin wrapped in pancetta, and Finnochionia. There was also crispy kale, olives, marinated mushrooms, portabello mushrooms, cornishons, melba toast, baguette, and of course boiled potatoes. I also offered a selection of salts, smoked Maldon, green herb salt, and a red spice salt.

The standout highlight combination of the night was Raclette with marinated mushrooms and crispy kale. I can't stop thinking of it even though I ate a ton that night. I am gonna put that combination into a grilled cheese. I could even do an open face grilled cheese under the broiler! What a great way to get in your greens.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My cheese dreams are not dead

I am sorry that I have not been blogging more often. I am trying to get back into the swing of things but my life is much less cheese filled these days. I do intend to get back into cheese making this spring. In the meantime I have started a new blog about other aspects of my life.

http://sofriggincute.blogspot.com/2012/02/yes-another-blog.html

I will continue to blog about cheese and food on Charlotte's Cheese Dreams.

Mokomandy



A few months ago, we moved to Sterling. We had been pretty disappointed by neighborhood food establishments until we went to Mokomandy. I still can't believe such a great restaurant was hiding in our town. Mokomandy is a small Korean/Cajun restaurant. Seems like an odd mix but the chef has family roots in both ethnicities and spicy is also a common thread. Their menu is divided into small, medium, and large plates with a large selection of $3 snacks and sides.

We ventured out on a cold windy Friday night with baby in tow who slept through most of the delicious meal. I started with the Foie Gras Dumplings pictured to the left. These little pockets of yum where a wonderful start to a great meal. They were rich and luscious with that umami thing I hear so much about.



Any visit to Mokomandy would be incomplete with out a side of Cracklins. They came hot and popping to the table. Dusted with a touch of what I think was paprika. Our order during our second visit was spicier than our first visit. If you don't like hot spicy food I am sure you could request them without or just a tad of hot dust.



The first visit I had the Korean Karnivore Ssam, this was a pile of shaved beef shortrib and lettuce to wrap the meat. It was served with delicious and not too spicy kimche and yummy veggies. Patrick ordered the Wild Boar Bowl which was hearty and even though it was a medium plate, he was unable to finish it and brought home the leftovers.

This first visit I forgot my camera so all the pictures are from our second visit which took place on my 32nd birthday. Unfortunately, Orion was awake for this visit. He was almost asleep when we parked the car but was awake once we got into the restaurant. This made the meal stressful and less enjoyable as baby boy had on his fussy pants cause he was tired and wouldn't sleep. He didn't make too much of a scene but I know when to throw in the towel.

On our second visit I ordered the Oyster Poboys. These local oysters had a cornmeal crust and were served on delicious housemade brioche. Very yummy as I love cornmeal and brioche but it could have used more Oyster.



I also ordered the Gator Croquette. These were tasty balls but they could have been anything. They are made with house made bacon but I really couldn't tell. I have had gator before and felt there was a bit of that gator texture in the croquette. But by this point I was being distracted by a fussy baby boy.



Patrick ordered Steak Frites which was cooked perfectly to his taste and how cute are those lil' lumps of meat. I found the fries and bok choy to be really delicious, the carrots were a bit too crunchy for my taste.



The service at this place is wonderful. On our first visit we were told they were a man down so food left the kitchen more slowly but our server was very attentive. The place was packed during this visit and they put us in a table I assume they don't usually use when it is cold as the frigid air blows right inside. The table was by the front door and they turned the space heater in our direction to fight the cold front. The heater wasn't really necessary and we enjoyed our spot much more than waiting for a table. during our first visit, Patrick ordered a ginger ale. When they discovered they were our of the ginger ale one employee offered to run up to the supermarket to get him a Goya. We declined as they seemed busy enough.

Our second visit was on an unseasonably warm Thursday night, only a few other tables were occupied. When I took the baby out to the car, the hostess offered their bathroom for a diaper change. But I knew what he needed was a little booby snack and a nap. When Patrick eventually finished his meal and left, he had been given some free Chocolate Caramel Chicory pudding for our troubles which were of no fault of the restaurant. It was tasty pudding and gave me a bit of a late night sugar shock. The cane syrup salted caramels should be sold by the bagful!

Our first visit I ordered the Triple Chocolate Cake which was frozen dark chocolate mousse squares and devil’s food cake squares swimming in hot fudge with passionfruit sauce and the cake was topped with orange segments. It was just an OK dessert. The mousse was too frozen to eat, the cake was dry, and there was too much sauce but I did love the passionfruit.

Mokomandy has a very interesting cocktail menu. On each visit I ordered a different cocktail and enjoyed them both. I look forward to no longer breastfeeding so I can drink with abandon, not like I'm an alcoholic but I would like to try both their wine flights. The first cocktail i had was the Hibiscus 75 made with local Catoctin Creek Gin, Sparkling wine, Hibiscus, and Elderflower. I am not much of a Gin drinker but I do really like Catoctin Creek's gin. It is less juniper but more complex. The second visit, I enjoyed a Pomegranate Currant Fizz made with Pama Liqueur, Absolut Kurrant, Lavender Syrup, Lime, and Sparkling Rose. This may have been my favorite and I wish they came in bigger glasses.

I highly recommend this restaurant and believe it is worth the drive from DC. There are a number of menu items I want to try so I will be back. If you go mention my name, Charlotte the cheese lady!
http://www.mokomandy.com/

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Feasting on Figs!



Figs are a magical and elusive fruit that I had no interest in until a few years ago. I had only know Fig Newtons, until my husband introduced me to the real thing. He loves figs fresh and cannot tolerate them in any other form. He thinks Fig Newtons are sacrilege and prefers to eat figs au natural. However, he did love the fig ice cream I made a few years ago. He was a bit skeptical before I made the ice cream that I was wasting some very yummy figs but I successfully elevated their deliciousness.

Figs are a perfect example of seasonal eating. We wait all year for fig season and then we can't get enough of them. Because they do not ripen after they are picked, it is important that you get your hands on nice ripe figs. An under ripe fig is so sad because its life was cut short and it will never reach its full flavor potential. They also do not travel well as they bruise easily which is a major hurdle for fig growers and why they are often dried. I have gotten fresh figs from the supermarket but they were a shadow of the real thing. Want delicious fresh figs? Now thanks to Ticonderoga Farms you can go to the source for figs.

Ticonderoga farms began their first foray into growing figs in 1988, when I was 8 years old and a fan of the Fig Newton. It started as a hobby on their family farm where they grow apples, pumpkins, bamboo, and Christmas trees to name a few of their crops. Growing figs involved a lot of trial and error as their are not many figs being grown east of the Mississippi. It wasn't until about 8 years ago that they really got it down and another 4 before they had fruit to harvest. Thank you Ticonderoga farms for sticking with it! Today at the Fig Lovers Feast, we enjoyed all their years of hard work and perseverance.



It was my first time at Ticonderoga farms and I was immediately impressed. They have fun for the whole family and the kid at heart. There is a giant balloon trampoline which can be bounced on by young and old alike as well as slides, goats, chickens, a suspension bridge, playgrounds, and much more. I look forward to taking my son there when he is older and maybe even having his birthday party there.

The Fig Lovers Feast festivities were held in the blue barn. I was very impressed with the set up! Their were lovely tables and chairs which made me feel under dressed at fig prom. Not sure what I was expecting but it was lovely and quite comfortable. I had not left the house for about a week so it was a great outing for mom, dad, and baby.

Everyone working the event was friendly and we never went thirsty or hungry. This event had been scheduled to take place on September 10th but it was postponed on account of rain. I am so glad they did not cancel the event all together. It was not all smooth sailing as their Chef informed them at the last minute that he would be unable to cook for the event. Even so, the event went off without a hitch. I am curious how the food would have been had the chef actually been on hand.

Now on to the food! There was home made fig conserve on the table with bread and home made salsa with chips. The conserve was very sweet and I really wanted a nice chunk of blue cheese to go with it. We had a salad of arugula and spinach with orange, walnut, red onion, and fig. The salad greens were very under dressed, actually they did not seem to be dressed at all. Everything else seemed to be dressed then put on to dry greens but it was still tasty.



We also enjoyed baguette with fig, feta from Cherry Glen goat cheese in Maryland, honey, and walnut. This was tasty but the bread did get a bit soggy and once again I found myself wanting blue cheese but hey I am a cheese freak and I do like my blues.



The pizza was made by Fireworks in Leesburg and was delicious. I loved the bacon fig pizza and lucky me there were a few no shows which gave me seconds!



The biggest disappointment was the wine. I tried the white and it was awful and I heard the red was just as bad. No clue where the wine was from but maybe next year they can team up with a local vineyard to provide libations. But I was not there for the wine, I am all about the fig.



After some time digesting, we took a hayride out to the fig grove. I was able to enjoy Donna's company during the hayride. She works on the farm and was extremely knowledgeable and answered my many questions. They grow different varieties of figs including but not limited to mission, brown turkey, champagne, verte, and green delicious. We picked, which is not easy work up a steep hillside. You have to watch out for bees and wasps which are naturally attracted to the juicy fruit. I was determined to get some mission figs but they were not easy and managed to only get two.



I would have loved a simple tasting of the different types of figs available. How fun, a flight of figs! Once they were picked and in my "bucket" I had an impossible time telling which was which variety. I did not eat any figs while we were in the groves because I wanted to wash them as my almost 5 month old baby would be eating them in a few hours when I nursed him. Donna did explain that they do not use any herbicides or pesticides on their figs. This was great to hear but I was sad to learn how little control they have over what utility companies do around their farm.

When we got back to the barn we enjoyed some Moorenkos vanilla ice cream with fig, honey (also from the farm!) and walnuts. This was wonderful because I had gotten a bit sweaty while picking figs in the heat and humidity. There was also a cooking demonstration of the baguette with fig that we enjoyed as an appetizer. This was a wonderful event, $30 (a $5 discount for being a member of Slow Food DC) and you got all the food you could eat, all the wine you could choke down, a pound of fresh figs and a cool bamboo Ticonderoga Farm bag. I look forward to attending this event every year and think it will only get better!


For more:
http://charlottescheesedreams.blogspot.com/2009/08/figs-figs-everywhere.html
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ticonderoga-Farms/91806057538
http://www.ticonderoga.com/
http://www.fireworkspizza.com/FireWorksLeesburg.html

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Farewell Father


My father, Thomas, passed away on June 12. He went very quickly and peacefully. He did get to meet Orion but Orion will never remember him. I have included the obituary and eulogy that I wrote with the help of my wonderful husband.

Thomas Crossley, age 66, succumbed to cancer on Sunday, June 12th, 2011. ‘Big Tom’ was known for his kind heart, his ready sense of humor, and his robust laugh. Tom is the beloved father of Thomas Crossley, (Maki) and Charlotte Media (Patrick). In addition to his children, he is survived by his sisters Marion Victoria Skarbek (John), Clarice Elizabeth Skinner (Rod), and Francis Naomi Robinson, and his three grandchildren Thomas Crossley (Kairi), Mary Rimi, and Orion. Tom was the loving husband of Susan Maria Small, who passed away in 2005.

Son of the late Media and Thomas Crossley, Tom was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA, later living in Collegeville and spending his final years in East Greenville. He graduated from Girard College in 1963. Tom worked in various sectors of the local finance and banking industry. He completed an Associates Degree in Science Business Administration from Montgomery County Community College in 2002, making Deans List throughout his studies. He thoroughly enjoyed his academic experience and desired to continue his education.

Nationally ranked throughout his life and holding regional and national awards, Tom was an avid marksman, trap shooter, and a lifetime member of the Lower Providence Rod & Reel Gun Club. He also was an accomplished photographer and devoted fish enthusiast. Tom was an eternal pursuer of a proper cup of coffee, and was an accomplished cook and a great lover of world cuisines. A voracious reader, music lover, and movie watcher, Tom was a daily patron of the East Greenville Public Library. Tom was also a committed technologist, embracing the digital age from its earliest days.

In addition to visiting his family whenever possible, Tom adored spending time roaming The Cańada del Oso Ranch in Peru, Kansas, visiting his dear friends Arturo and Janet Pacheco and employing his weather-eye to keep down the local rabbit population.

He is greatly missed by all who knew him.

My father, Thomas Crossley was a man who enjoyed the simple things in life. He could do anything and knew everything. And if he didn’t know the answer, he would make up a story that I would usually fall for. He had a great sense of humor, a robust laugh, and enjoyed pulling your leg. He was crafty and clever and made the most of any situation. He never backed down from a challenge. He was very content in his solitude and loved his freedom.

I could not have asked for a more wonderful father. I thought he was superman. He was my giant teddy bear at 6’6” with a robust belly. I remember his massive hands and when walking with him in the snow I would hold just his big thumb. It was partially because of how small my hands were, but also in the event that he fell, he wouldn’t take me with him. When I wanted to learn how to paint my fingernails, he showed me how using his big thumb as an example and painting it pink. Later when we were checking out at the grocery store in the Andora shopping center, my dad’s big, pink thumbnail really amused the checkout girl.

He was always there for me even though I wasn’t the easiest child and I asserted my independence very early on. I know I made him worry on more than he few occasions but he rarely ever let me know how worried he was. When I was 21 and backpacking alone around Europe, I got an email from him that he couldn’t sleep at night because he didn’t know where I was. I kept in touch with home but I guess not as often as he would have liked

He loved to read and visited the library on an almost daily basis. He loved listening to music and had a very eclectic taste from Aphex Twin to En Vogue to ZZ Top. When I gave my Dad a call and asked him what he was doing, the reply was often playing solitaire on the computer. He embraced technology and was interested in computers since the early 80’s.

Dad was an avid photographer. Before my brother and I were born, he worked as a wedding photographer but his biggest source of photographic inspiration was my mother. Once us kids were born we were his models. His apartment was filled with photographs. He had that big bulletin board which is on display, hanging next to his desk. Many framed photos and photo albums. On his kitchen table he had a large framed photo of Thomas the IV and one of Mary Rimi, his grandchildren. He may have lived alone but he ate his meals with his grandkids, even though they lived in Japan and everywhere he looked in his apartment were faces of his loved ones.

Being one of 4 kids raised by a single mother living below the poverty line, he was sent to Girard College, a boarding school. There is a huge wall surrounding Girard college and my father told me stories about how he would scale that wall to buy cigarettes. In his youth, he wasn’t much interested in his education but that changed late in life. He was never able to afford college but after being laid off he seized the opportunity. My father and I went off to college around the same time. He loved his college experience. He wished he had enjoyed his educational experience more in his youth. He had a voracious appetite for learning and had a great desire to continue his education. He read fiction and non fiction and surfed the net for interesting news. He even attempted to read my husband’s dissertation, which is something I haven’t even attempted.

He loved the outdoors. Our family vacations were spent camping, May in Harper’s Ferry and October’s in Hickory Run. He loved to go rafting and kayaking, until the day he got into an Eskimo roll he couldn’t get out of. I remember many 7-11 picnics with Big Gulps and hotdogs, spent in Valley Green. And of course, his favorite place on earth was the Kansas ranch owned by his dear friends Arturo and Janet. Time and health permitting, he would spend long stretches of time there in the spring and fall, ranging across the pastures and culling the over-abundant rabbit population.

My dad was an expert shooter. He won many medals and awards for it and even tried out for the Olympics for shooting. I can remember living on Arcola Road, and helping him reload shotgun shells in the garage. The first time my husband met my father was on Father’s Day, 2004. We went to Gun Club, did some target shooting then went to shoot some trap. When my dad opened the box that housed the arm which throws the clay disks, the spring loaded device went off, catching my dad’s hand and taking a significant chunk out of one of his fingers. I was freaking out, but Dad was calm and collected. The strongest statement he made during the entire ordeal was, “Man…that smarts.”

He loved food and loved to cook as much as he liked to eat. He had an adventurous appetite and would try anything. He loved cuisines from all over the world, especially Japanese food. On his last couple of visits down to Virginia, he spent a lot of time looking at the photo album of our Japan trip to drool over the pictures of the meals we ate in Okinawa.

My dad valued family above all else, and one of the ways he showed that love was by taking diligent care of any person, pet, or thing that needed him. He took good care of his mother during her life. He took amazing care of my mother throughout her fight with breast cancer. And even after her passing, he enjoyed being one of the many, many merry-makers at any gathering of the Small family.

I never liked my father living alone but he did have family close by. I was comforted knowing that his sister Marion came by once a week and took him out to shake off the cobwebs. My husband and I had asked him to live with us on many occasions and he would say yes but not now, later because he liked living alone and wasn’t ready to give up that independence.

My dad was very happy that my brother and I found such wonderful people to share our lives. All he ever wanted was for my brother and me to be happy, and to eventually give him some grandkids. He was so happy when we went to Japan last year. All he wanted to do was hold his new granddaughter, Mary and spend time with the family. Dad came to Virginia to see Orion when he was about 2 weeks old. I’ve never seen a man happier to hold a crying, screaming baby. I am so glad that they spent sometime together but I’m sad Orion will never understand just how wonderful both my parents were.

Though our parents are now both gone, in a way our babies bring them back. I am so excited to discover traces of my father and my mother in my son, my nephew, and my niece.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Creme Fraiche

One of the secrets of French cooking is Creme Fraiche, pronounced "krem-ˈfresh". This cultured milk product is made by letting the natural lactic bacteria in the cream develop. I love seeing a very short list of ingredients and Vermont Butter and Cheese Creme Fraiche has two ingredients, cream and culture. Creme Fraiche is similar to sour cream and can be used in much the same way. But the secret of Creme Fraiche is that it will not separate like sour cream does at high temperature or when wine is added.

Creme Fraiche does not taste as sour as sour cream. Its flavor is nuttier with a hint of almond and has a deep richness and creamy body. It can be used for baking, added to salad dressings and dips and even made into ice cream. It will make sauces richer and is a wonderful compliment for fish. You can also add a dollop to any soup or use as a topping for fresh fruit. Creme Fraiche can be whipped and if you like things a bit sweeter you can add sugar or honey and cinnamon and serve with strawberries.

This is a versatile staple of French cooking worthy of space in your refrigerator. It may be more expensive than sour cream but it has more uses and holds up when heated or reheated in the microwave. I took some Salmon into work with a sour cream based sauce and after I zapped it in the microwave I was left with a chunky curd accompaniment. If I had used Creme Fraiche, the sauce would have stayed the same.

Here is a recipe for a Blue Cheese Dip which can be thinned with half and half or milk to be used as a salad dressing. For a lower fat version, use skim milk and reduced fat mayo but never skimp on the cheese or Creme Fraiche.

• 1 cup Maytag Blue cheese, crumbled (or your favorite blue cheese, Buttermilk Blue will add more tang)
• 1/4 cup Creme Fraiche
• 1/4 cup mayonnaise
• 1/2 cup half and half
• 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
• 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
• 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• Freshly ground black pepper

Combine above ingredients and allow flavors to marry for a day or two to provide optimal flavor. Don't worry, it will stay fresh for about a week.

Sorry for my disapperence!

I have been a very very bad blogger. I am sorry that I have not posted in months. I have been very busy being pregnant but now Orion is out of the womb!



He is amazing and breastfeeding is going very well! It is astonishing seeing my body make milk to feed this little life. I have milked goats and now have had a more personal experience. His delivery was not ideal (induced only to have a c-section) but he arrived healthy but a bit angry. He immediately peed on a nurse.

He is not letting me sleep much at night and being awake for 20 hours a day will, hopefully, provide me with more time to work on this here blog. Because I do want to blog and think it will be nice to take a break from baby and indulge in some cheesy dialog.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Raw Milk Review

The debate over raw milk and cheeses made from raw milk has been heating up this winter. This past December, Sally Jackson Cheese recalled all of their cheeses due to the possibility of E. coli 0157:H7 contamination. This causes diarrhea and bloody stools with most healthy adults recovering within a week. It is possible to develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome which is a form of kidney failure. The elderly and young children are more likely to develop this condition which can lead to kidney damage and death.

So what went wrong? Sally Jackson makes cheese from raw or unpasteurized, cow, goat, and sheep milk. These cheeses were found to be made under conditions that create a risk of contamination when the facility was inspected by health officials. The cheeses were identified as one possible source of E. coli infection. There were 8 reported cases between September and November of E. coli in Washington and Oregon which could be traced to Sally Jackson cheeses.

Seven patients were able to provide food histories and one reported eating Sally Jackson cheese. Four patients said they may have eaten Sally Jackson cheese, three of these ate at restaurants which served Sally Jackson cheese. The 4th of these ate a variety of artisinal cheeses which may have included Sally Jackson cheese. Two patients had consumed artisanal cheese but were unsure if any of it was made by Sally Jackson.

Sally Jackson began making cheese after receiving a "Small and Appropriate Technology Grant” during the Carter administration. They tended 140 acres in Oroville, WA and raised goats, sheep, and a few cows. They made cheese exclusively from the milk of their own herds. All cheeses were made from raw milk and aged for 60 days as per FDA regulations. I was able to try one of their cheeses at a Slow Food event in which Cowgirl Creamery provided a handsome cheese plate. I remember being very excited to finally get to taste some of the well know Sally Jackson cheese. I was impressed by its clean taste and supple paste.

Sally Jackson closed its doors in December. Their website, http://www.sallyjacksoncheeses.com has a very brief statement which does not go into detail but says that, "Many factors went into our decision to retire the business." Among these must have been heartbreak and frustration. The possibility of even one person getting sick from a cheese I made is a risk I do not want to take. I do not know the conditions of their cheesemaking operation but having a government agency come in and declare it unsanitary must have been very painful.

Bravo Farms in Traver, CA also had an outbreak of E. coli in which 38 people in 5 states became sick. This outbreak was traced to their raw milk Gouda which was sold by retail giant Costco. Investigators cite Bravo Farms with packaging their cheese for sale before the 60 day aging period ended. In the case of Sally Jackson, the facility was found to be unsanitary.

In both cases, investigators are unable to clearly state that the contamination has been traced to the raw milk used to in making the cheese. Contamination can occur at any part of the cheesemaking process regardless of whether the milk is raw or pasteurized. The issue these cases has brought to the forefront is the effectiveness of the 60 day aging rule. It has been widely accepted that cheese made from raw milk and aged 60 days will naturally destroy any harmful bacterial during that period. The bacteria, acid, and salt in cheese will consume any harmful bacteria within that 60 day time frame. But it is not just raw milk cheesemakers getting recalled. In 2009, nine cheesemakers in the US issued recalls and five used pasteurized milk and the other four made raw milk cheeses.

What we are learning now is that the 60 day time frame was an arbitrary decision. This rule was created in the 1940's after outbreaks of typhoid fever were linked to cheese. Scientists knew that as a cheese dried out it was no longer an ideal environment for bacteria. This lead to the 60 day rule which is now being seen as simplistic. Cheese has changed a lot since the 1940's and they are many different types of cheese currently being made in the US. The pathogens in cheese have also changed, making E. coli and listeria more dangerous threats.

Recently a paper was published which showed that E. coli could survive in cheese for more than a year. A study from 2008 showed that levels of listeria increase in soft cheese as it aged. This style of cheese becomes less acidic as it ages and moisture increases which are good conditions for bacteria. So what can we do to ensure that cheese is safe?

Food safety has become a major issue with recent outbreaks in spinach, celery, and eggs. The Food Safety Modernization Act was passed by the U.S. Senate December 22, 2010 and President Obama signed it into law on January 4th 2011. This bill aims to prevent food borne illness outbreaks before they occur. Some provisions of this bill include:

*Enables the FDA to issue a food recall. Previously, the company had to issue a voluntary food recall.
*Evey two years, the FDA will identify major threats to food safety and provide science based outlines and regulations to deal with these threats.
*Create offices in at least 5 forgien countries that export food to the US to improve food oversight.
*The FDA will inspect high risk food production facilities every three years.

I didn't see any mention of raw milk or raw milk cheese in the information given about the Food Safety Modernization Act. This legislation seems to focus on produce and imported food. But it is agreed that the cheese industry does need to improve food safety standards which go beyond aging. Raw milk should be tested frequently as well as the finished product throughout various stages of aging. It is also necessary to improve hygiene and stress its importance.

The raw milk I get from my local farm is tested daily and the results are posted. I have never been concerned about their milk and have every confidence in their cleanliness. I was surprised when a dairy farmer told me about an exchange she had with a neighbor farmer. The neighbor was shocked that they dairy farmer consumed raw goat milk. The neighbor thought it was too dangerous of a substance for family consumption. But when you are so involved in every step of the process from raising the goats, feeding them, breeding them, and milking them, why not drink the raw milk? There is nothing inherent in raw milk which makes it dangerous.

Milk and cheese must be tested and these regulations vary from state to state. Do we need to make these regulations uniform as the end product does cross state lines? Cheesemakers should not fear testing and inspection as this will ensure food safety which is good for the cheesemaker and consumer. It can be difficult dealing with new regulations when you are so accustomed to doing things the way they have always been done in your operation. Changes can also be costly which is very difficult to afford in this economic climate. I would hate to see more wonderful cheesemakers go out of business.

I was at a conference recently (more on this in a later blog) and was surprised when a lecturer said that there is no good and bad bacteria, just bacteria. She was teaching us about pH and TA testing. Preforming these tests throughout the cheesemaking process will ensure a safe end product. This is a practice I have yet to apply to my cheesemaking, but now that I have learned of its importance I will put it into practice.

I do not know the future of raw milk cheeses but I do not think we need to outlaw all raw milk cheeses. If you were to do that, you may as well outlaw all cheese. Raw milk cheese in various stages have been consumed in France for ages but even the European Union is starting to crack down on raw milk and cheese made from raw milk. It would be a shame to lose the traditions of raw milk cheese. You could kiss your Parmigiano-Reggiano and your Roquefort good bye!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Rind time!

To eat the rind or not to eat the rind, that is the question. A woman was very perplexed recently when I offered her a taste of Bonne Bouche; she said "it's blue!” She was lacking confidence in her knowledge of cheese rinds and in her cheesemonger. Bonne Bouche is an ash ripened goat cheese that has a grayish blue rind that is completely edible. The rind is coated with vegetable ash which is often used in cheesemaking. Humboldt Fog and Morbier are two classic examples of cheeses that use ash. Both have a line of ash through the center of the paste.

Many that night were calling Bonne Bouche a blue cheese but it's not, it just has a striking look which makes it a great addition to any cheese plate. I love Bonne Bouche, the ash coating helps the cheese age, prevents unwanted molds and intruders, and helps the paste get crazy runny and gooey. This cheese won best goat cheese at the 2010 American Cheese Society conference. You can learn more about Bonne Bouche at http://www.vermontcreamery.com/bonne-bouche/

Some cheeses have a natural rind like bandaged wrapped cheddar. This means that the truckle (term for a wheel of cheddar which refers to its shape) was wrapped in cheesecloth which is often coated in lard and then aged. Before the cheese goes to market the cheesecloth is removed but you can still see the hatch marks on the rind left behind from the texture of the cloth. You can choose to eat this rind if you like but it will be a bit dry. Similarly, other cheeses get a paper coating to their rind. If won’t kill you to eat paper but it won’t add much flavor.

Blue cheeses like Cashel blue and Mountain Gorgonzola have a natural rind. The rind on Mountain Gorgonzola can be dry and brittle. Often the natural rind on a blue cheese can be more concentrated in flavor. You can decide to eat them if you want. Some blue cheeses like Buttermilk Blue and Maytag blue have no rinds. Their rinds are removed before packaging.

There are a few rinds that you really don't want to eat. If a cheese is covered in wax, don't eat it unless you are nostalgic for the wax lips of your childhood. It won't kill you to eat wax but it also will not taste very good. Some chesses have a thick wax coating and others like Manchego or P’tit Basque have a very thin waxy coating. You can cut off these rinds and enjoy your cheese. When serving this type of cheese on a party platter, it is best to cut the wax off the sides of the wedge but leave the wax along the back as it will provide a bit of support while guests cut off chunks.

If a cheese has a wooden belt like Petit Sapin or Winnimere, do not eat the wood. These types of cheeses are best served in the whole with the top rind peeled back and the glorious goo spooned out. But a wedge of Winnimere can also be delicious but as it is a washed rind cheese, the rind will have a more concentrated flavor. The rind is exposed to multiple washings in a brine solution which may contain some kind of alcohol. The salt and flavor will concentrate on the rind with a specific type of red mold called Bacteria Linens. This type of mold is intentional and gives washed rind cheeses their stinky nature. When you see mold whether it is red, white, or blue ask yourself if it was intentional and if it was give it a taste.

Things can get confusing when a cheese is covered in leaves. Valdeon is a wonderful Spanish blue cheese made from goat’s and cow’s milk with a covering of Sycamore leaves. These leaves make a pretty presentation but are not edible. Once again, this will not kill you but won’t help the flavor. Rogue River Blue is a raw cow’s milk blue made in Oregon that is covered in grape leaves soaked in pear brandy. These leaves are edible and offer a unique flavor and texture to the cheese. If the leaves are dry, I would avoid them but it they have been drenched in some kind of alcohol, I may taste them and then decide if they are worth eating.

Really when it comes down to the rind it is a matter of taste preference. Try the rind first and if you don’t like the taste don’t eat it. But please take the rind with you, I hate seeing a sad slice of brie being hollowed out at a party. It is unattractive and leads others to think that the rind is not edible when they might enjoy the taste. It’s like asking someone else to clean up your mess.

The rind on Soft Ripened cheeses like Brie, Camembert, and Humboldt Fog are edible and made from a white mold which is often penicillium candidum and/or geotrichum candidum. Some inexpensive bries and camembert have a rind that is papery and a paste that is firm. That is not what I look for in brie so I skip them. I love d’Affinois which has a very mild rind which lends body to the very creamy paste. But the rind on a soft ripened cheese can become bitter with age. When that is the case, I may choose to discard the rind. Pierre Robert is an indulgent triple crème from France but I often find the rind too bitter and will scoop out the runny paste.

If a cheese has mold that was not intended and has developed with time you might not have to trash the whole chunk. If you have a chunk of cheddar that has gone a bit moldy, cut off the mold until the paste is pure and enjoy. Do not eat a cheese that has cat fur mold, unintended red mold, or smells like urine. If the cheese is a soft, fresh cheese, or a surface ripened cheese, you might have to let it go as it can be hard to remove unwanted molds from these creamy cheeses.

I hope this provides some rind confidence and remember what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger! And a tip, Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds aren't edible but they can be added to soups, stocks, and stews to add a wonderful salty, cheese flavor.