Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cheese is good but is it good for you?

With the New Year comes a clean slate. And on that slate we want to write a new set of rules for ourselves. This is the time of year for New Year's resolutions. We may say to ourselves this year I will lose that 20 pounds, or go to the gym, or eat healthy. These resolutions have the best intentions in January but are often forgotten by July. Why is it so hard to keep a New Year's resolution? I think it's because we can be too hard on ourselves and get frustrated and give up. Maybe you shouldn't set yourself up to start the New Year with multiple resolutions, just try one. And it's OK if you don't stick to it 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Just don't beat yourself up and give up when you fall off the wagon.

One great resolution is to eat healthy. By eating healthy you may even lose weight and have more energy and maybe even want to go to the gym. Eat more fruits and veggies and avoid sugar and processed foods. But where does that leave cheese? We know that cheese tastes good but it is good for you? I argue that yes, cheese is good for you but it does depend on the cheese. First I will argue why cheese is good for you, then which cheeses are the best for you and which should be avoided.

Cheese is a wonderful source of protein and calcium packed in a small size. A little bit of cheese goes a long way. One ounce of Cheddar cheese has 9 grams of fat, 6 of which are saturated fat but it also has 7 grams of protein and 20% of the USDA recommended serving of calcium. One ounce of Brie has 8 grams of fat 5 of which are saturated fat but it also has 6 grams of protein. This information came from http://nutritiondata.self.com.

Do not fear fat, we need it for many reasons. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble which means they cannot be absorbed without the aid of fats. We also need fat to convert carotene to vitamin A. Keep track of your fats but do not avoid fat altogether. The Truth about Saturated Fats is an article written by Mary Enig, PhD, and Sally Fallon which explores fats and saturated fat in depth. You can read more at:
http://www.health-report.co.uk/saturated_fats_health_benefits.htm

In order to unlock some of the nutritional benefits of certain vegetables like spinach, fat must be consumed as the nutrients are fat soluble. Eating a salad with fat free dressing is rather pointless unless you have some cheese sprinkled on top. Moderation and variety are very important in a healthy diet. Eat cheese with fruits, veggies, and whole grain bread.

Cheese can make you feel good. A diet lacking in animal fat may also increase depression. Cheese contains tyrosine which is an amino acid that exists in high concentrations in cheese. Ever have an aged Gouda with yummy lovely crunchy bits? That is tryosine which becomes crunchy during the aging process. During aging, the amino acid chain unravels leaving behind crunchy tryosine. Tryosine can help you sleep, reduce effects of stress, ease depression as well as PMS, and increase energy. Another fun cheese rush comes from casomorphin. Our bodies turn casein into casomorphin. This is an opioid which may account for the addictive nature of cheese and why you want a nap after a cheese feast. But I have never heard of anyone going into rehab for casomorphin.

The best cheese comes from animals that are grass fed and cheeses that are made with raw milk. Eating cheese made from the milk of grass feed animals provides more CLA's, conjugated linoleic acid. This fat is believed to have anti-cancer properties, help maintain a healthy weight and be good for you heart. Cheeses made from the milk of animals who have been grass fed have more omega-3 fats and a better ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats. These cheeses are also higher in nutrients like Vitamin A, D, and E, as well as beta-carotene which gives butter made from grass fed milk its bright yellow color.

Raw milk cheeses are wonderful because they are easier to digest and have more nutrients. Pasteurization kills the good bacteria and heat sensitive nutrients along with the bad bacteria. Some of these good bacteria help us digest cheese. Cheese is easier to digest than milk because it is lower in lactose and the bacteria added to create cheese are digesting it before we are. Raw milk cheese has more of these helpful bacteria. I think raw milk is wonderful to drink and for cheesemaking. Some argue that raw milk can cure allergies. If you drink raw goat milk from goats that eat poison ivy, you can develop an immunity to poison ivy.

Cheeses that I would avoid at all cost are overly processed, individually wrapped, come in spray form, and imitation cheeses. I do not like the taste of processed cheese and find they usually taste like plastic. I hate when a cheese says processed cheese product, or cheese food. Processed cheese and imitation cheeses tend to contain too many ingredients, additives, and preservatives. One great thing about cheese is that it usually has just a few ingredients.

I try to avoid anything that is overly processed especially soy. I am fine with tofu and edamame, natural soy products but am distrusting of partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Soy cheeses are usually lacking in flavor, meltability, and filled with additives, preservatives, and oil. Cheese made from tofu and soy are unnatural. Processed soy products can have negative health affects and disrupt estrogen. You can read more at: http://www.drlam.com/opinion/soyandestrogen.asp

When dieting, do not give up on flavor. Why eat something if it is fat free but tasteless. Why not just skip it all together and save it for something worthwhile? Flavor comes from fat and it is fat that satisfies us and gives a feeling of fullness. There are many cheeses on the market that are made with skim milk. They may not be advertised as low fat but are lower in fat than cheeses made with whole milk. One example would be Jarlsberg, a Norwegian cheese that has a "swiss" cheese flavor. I have also enjoyed Kerrygold Reduced Fat Cheddar. It tasted like the real thing whereas many other reduced fat Cheddars have a plastic taste. I have not yet found a fat free cheese worth eating and think one does not exist.

If you are trying to lose weight and love cheese, don't cut cheese out all together but let the cheese stand alone. Leave the cheese off your sandwich, burger, eggs, fries, and skip the pizza. If you want to indulge in cheese, have a small amount of the best cheese you can find and enjoy it simply with fruit, veggies, and bread. May your New Year be filled with delicious cheese and all your resolutions come true!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cheesecipe #2

Who doesn't love popcorn? Who can sit through a movie without popcorn? Well, I personally have worked in too many movie theaters to order popcorn at the movies. Cleaning up empty theaters, popcorn and soda would combine to create a smell that was most unpleasant. But I love making popcorn at home and my puppies love this treat. I always make sure they get a small bow all their own. Popcorn is great as a base for flavors, you can make it spicy, sweet, salty, or buttery. I, of course, had to add cheese to my popcorn. Here is a treat that is great for game day, a girlie movie night, party snack or holiday gathering.

Blue cheese popcorn with honey roasted peanuts

Your favorite blue cheese, I used a strong Italian blue cheese, Mountain Gorgonzola. You can use any type of low moisture blue cheese. Stilton would work very well or a Danish blue cheese.
Honey roasted peanuts, I used Planters peanuts
Popcorn, I used a microwaveable popcorn with low butter and salt. It would be ideal to pop your own corn using little oil and salt, air popped popcorn would be a nice option. Blue cheese and peanuts tend to be salty so there is no need for all that extra salt. You can always add more salt but it is very hard to take any away. And there is no need for that butter flavor as you want the cheese and nuts to stand out.

Pop the corn, add crumbled blue cheese and honey roasted nuts. Use as much cheese and nuts as you like. If you want to sweeten your corn drizzle some honey over the mix. Serve in a bowl and eat it with a spoon to avoid sticky fingers.

What could be easier than that? You could also make Cheddar cheese popcorn with smoked almonds or Parmigiano-Reggiano popcorn with oregano or Mahon (a hard, sharp, Spanish cow's milk cheese) popcorn with Rosemary and olive oil. Basically, take any cheese you like and shave, shred, or crumble and add any complimentary nut or spice. The possibilities are endless.

Cheesecipe!

What is a Cheesecipe!? It is a Cheese Recipe and I will be giving you great ideas on how to use cheese and other lovely dairy products. Every Saturday my cheesemongering takes me away from my cheese counter and puts me in chef shoes. I spend a few hours creating a wonderfully cheesecentric item and then let it lose on the public. I love exposing people to a new cheese and a new way to use cheese.

One of my favorite cheese adventures was a Smoked Gouda and Nutella grilled cheese. This was one of my favorite treats in high school. My parents did a good job of keeping me in Nutella and asiago bagels. One day I put them together and was pleasantly surprised by the sweet salty combination. So I decided to take it to the next step and combined Smoked Gouda and Nutella. It was an even better combination, the smokey cheese with the sweet chocolate nuttiness. So here is my Cheesecipe for you:

Smoked Gouda and Nutella Grilled Cheese
Bread, 2 slices, you may use any type of bread but keep the bread neutral and avoid bread with holes
Smoked Gouda
Nutella
Butter

Heat a frying pan over medium heat or plug in panini press. Butter the outside of your bread then spread the Nutella on one piece of bread. Add a couple slices of smoked Gouda and add reaming slice of bread butter side up. Place sandwich in pan or on grill over medium heat. Toast both sides until golden brown and enjoy!

Many people were shocked and confused by the combination of chocolate and cheese but once they tasted this treat they were won over! I could not make these sandwiches fast enough and there were a few disappointed faces when I ran out. During that time I got a lot of feedback and only received one negative comment. I was told that it had a bad aftertaste. This sentiment was not echoed again during the nearly three hour tasting. Taste is subjective and everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

I hope that you will try this unusual grilled cheese and if you do, I would love to hear all about it! Sorry there are no pictures, I will try to include some in the future.

The good news on lactose

While working as a cheesemonger I have had many people ask for lactose free cheese. The good news is many cheeses are naturally lactose free. So what exactly is lactose? Lactose is milk sugar and accounts for about 5-8% of milk solids. People are lactose intolerant when they cannot break down the lactose. The small intestine produce an enzyme called lactase which breaks down the lactose so it can be absorbed into the bloodstream. If you are lactose intolerant, you do not produce enough lactase to break down lactose.

Unlike other mammals, humans have adapted the ability to continue to produce lactase as they age. However, some people do not maintain this same ability and become lactose intolerant. There are many products available to help with this deficiency such as lactose free milk and lactase supplements. Cheese can be a great way for lactose intolerant people to consume their recommended daily dose of calcium.

The great news is that the wonderful bacteria that make cheese love to eat lactose! When making cheese, a bacteria is added to milk and the milk will separate into cuds and whey. Most of the lactose will be left behind in the whey and whatever is left in the curds will be consumed by bacteria during the cheesemaking process. The older a cheese is the less lactose will be present because the bacteria have more time to eat up all those yummy sugars.

Some cheeses are made from whey such as ricotta and gjetost. These cheeses will contain lactose. When looking at the nutritional label of any cheese notice the amount of sugar. This listing of sugar could also be called lactose as lactose is milk sugar. If a cheese has no sugar it has no lactose. Some cheeses are labeled lactose free but many are not labeled so read the facts if you have any doubt.

What I didn't know is that lactose is often added to products as a filler such as bread, baked goods, cereal to prevent caking and may also be added to frozen or canned vegetables to prevent discoloration. Be sure to read your labels if you are lactose intolerant because it may be hiding in the product as lactose or dry milk solids or whey.

Some people who consume a cow's milk cheese such as cheddar and have an adverse reaction may think they are lactose intolerant. If there is no lactose in the cheese you cannot be reacting to the lactose. You may be reacting to something else in the cow's milk. You may want to try goat's milk or sheep's milk cheese. Goat's milk cheeses are generally considered easier to digest. You may also find that raw milk cheeses are easier to digest because there are more natural bacteria present doing all the hard work for you.

There is a big world of cheese out there, so try a little bit of something new. Try a goat cheddar, a goat Gouda, or a goat mozzarella. (Yes, I do LOVE goat cheese) You may be surprised by a delicious cheese that makes your body happy!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cheese and Pregnancy

While working as a cheesemonger, I have had many customers voice the need for pasteurized cheeses because of pregnancy. Once, I even had a male customer confess that his wife was pregnant and I was the first person he told the good news. I also had a very upset woman asking for cheese she can eat while pregnant who went on to say that she could not have any goat cheese, or soft cheese, or raw cheese. She was very dismayed by her lack of cheese options.

I don't know who her doctor was but I have never heard of avoiding goat cheese during pregnancy unless it was made from raw milk. I was very happy when I visited my OB for the first time and was given a short list of foods to avoid during pregnancy. Currently I am 13 weeks along, which has been part of the reason I have not been posting as much as I would like. I have just spent so much time sleeping! I was told to avoid alcohol, raw fish, predatory fish, undercooked meat, raw eggs, and raw milk as well as cheeses made from raw milk. No mention of soft cheese, hot dogs, smoked fish, or deli meats. And I go to a high risk obstetrician due to health complications so I thought I would have a longer list of things to avoid.

I have had a raw cow milk share for two years and have been using raw goat milk for a year and a half. All the cheeses I have made to date have been raw milk cheese. This includes some aged wheels that were aged for over 60 days as well as some fresh cheeses and fresh raw chevre. When I told this to the OB during a consultation before I was pregnant, I could see the look of concern on her face while she told me it would be best to avoid raw milk. I have never had an issue with my milk and cheese and I think this is because of the wonderful quality of my raw milk. I know my raw cow's milk is tested often and my raw goat milk is collected in small batches.

Once I asked my cow farmer if she drank raw milk while she was pregnant. She kind of laughed and said she did during each of her 12 pregnancies and nothing was wrong with her kids that they knew of yet. I also had a boss who consumed raw milk cheese with gusto and did not shy away from tasting wines during her pregnancy and they seem to have turned out alright. So what is the threat of raw milk and raw milk cheese?

After getting a copy of What to Expect When Your Expecting, I signed up for their email newsletters and received a list of foods to avoid during pregnancy just last week:

www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/eating-well/week-13/not-to-eat.aspx?xid=nl_YourDailyNewsletterfromWhattoExpect_2010102


"Soft cheeses: Saying cheese is one of the tastiest ways to score calcium. But to make sure you don't also score Listeria, which are bacteria that can easily be passed on to your fetus, say no to any cheese that's unpasteurized (or "raw") — including soft cheeses like queso fresco, Brie, Camembert, feta, goat cheese, or Roquefort. Any pasteurized soft cheeses are fine, but if you're desperate for a chunk of Brie, make sure it's domestic and pasteurized — or cook it until it's bubbling before you dig in (for the same Listeria reason, heat cold cuts until steaming before serving, too). The ban on anything raw also applies to other unpasteurized dairy products and juice (including fresh-off-the-farm-stand cider)."

The above paragraph should not have started with "Soft Cheese" but "Raw Milk Cheeses". At first glance you would think that you had to avoid soft cheese during pregnancy but all soft cheese in the US must be aged for a minimum of 60 days if they are made from raw milk. I know Kenny's in Kentucky makes a raw milk brie called Awe-Brie but it is really hard to make a creamy brie and then age it for 60 days.

The threat is listeria which is a bacteria found in water and soil. Listeria may occur in uncooked foods such as meats and vegetables as well as raw milk and raw milk cheese. Pasteurization and cooking will kill the listeria bacteria. But listeria can also occur in processed foods and ready to eat foods like hot dogs and deli meats if contamination occurs after the food is cooked and before packaging.

The illness caused by ingesting Listeria is called Listeriosis. This is a rare illness but pregnant women are more susceptible to it other people.

www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancycomplications/listeria.html

"According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 2,500 persons become seriously ill each year in the United States and among these, 500 will die. According to research, pregnant women account for 27% of these cases. CDC claims that pregnant women are 20 times more likely to become infected than non-pregnant healthy adults.

Symptoms of listeriosis may show up 2-30 days after exposure. Symptoms in pregnant women include mild flu-like symptoms, headaches, muscle aches, fever, nausea, and vomiting. If the infection spreads to the nervous system it can cause stiff neck, disorientation, or convulsions. Infection can occur at any time during pregnancy, but it is most common during the third trimester when your immune system is somewhat suppressed. Be sure to contact your health care provider if you experience any of these symptoms."

Listeriosis can cause miscarriage, premature delivery, infection of the newborn, and death to the newborn, as well as death to the mother. This illness is treated with antibiotics and must be caught in time to prevent infection to the baby.

This site recommends you eat hard cheeses instead of soft cheeses but does not mention raw milk. There are plenty of hard cheeses made from raw milk and few people seem to realize that Parmigiano-Reggiano is made from raw milk. There seems to be some conflicting information regarding cheese and pregnancy. The CDC recommends you avoid soft cheese and blue veined cheese as well as raw milk and products made with raw milk. www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/pregnancy_gateway/infections-listeria.html

"It is very important that pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems avoid eating foods that are more likely to contain the Listeria bacteria, such as soft cheeses—including Brie, feta, and Mexican style soft or semi-soft cheese—unless the product clearly states it is made with pasteurized milk,” Dr. Damon state director of public health, said, reported Medill."
www.newsinferno.com/legal-news/chicago-listeria-outbreak/

The most recent outbreak of Listeria was linked to chopped celery killing 4 people in Texas. www.foodpoisonjournal.com/tags/listeria-outbreak/ Should I just cook the shit out of everything? No more fresh, crisp salads, all my veggies must be steamed and wilted with a loss to vitamins and nutrients?

So, what is a pregnant girl to do? This one has cancelled her raw cow milk and goat milk shares for now. Personally, I already have a high risk pregnancy, I can stay off the raw milk for 9 months. I have consumed small amounts of raw milk cheese here and there but have been seeking out pasteurized options. I have not given up on my soft cheeses and make sure they are make from pasteurized milk. I still enjoy my salad but avoid salad bars and processed veggies like precut celery and baby carrots.

I just wonder if they tell pregnant women in France to avoid raw milk cheeses and they have many raw milk soft cheeses. Do they tell pregnant women in Japan to avoid sushi and sashimi? After this baby is born, I will celebrate with some sushi and get back to making my raw milk cheeses but until then, I will err on the side of caution because there is something growing inside of me that is way more important than my food preference. It is also helpless and dependent on me and my choices for its survival. And there is plenty of good cheese out there to enjoy!

Friday, September 10, 2010

I've got a soft spot for cheese!

There is nothing more indulgent then a nice, soft, ripe cheese. Soft cheeses have a decadence that few hard cheeses can match. Their creaminess may make you feel like you are being really bad but in actuality soft cheeses tend to be lower in fat than hard cheese due to their high moisture content. But when I am indulging in cheese I often don't think about fat and calories.

At my cheese counter, people will often ask if a certain cheese is a "Brie cheese". We have become obsessed with Brie, but what is Brie? Brie is a region of France that lies 30 miles east of Paris where Brie cheese originated. They have been making Brie in Brie since the 8th century. Brie cheese is a soft ripened cheese which means they ripen from the outside rind into the center or paste of the cheese. When looking at a cross section of Brie you can notice the rind, under that is the creamline and then the paste in the center. You can tell how ripe a soft ripened cheese is by the size of the creamline. A soft ripened cheese can become so ripe that the interior becomes liquid. I have held whole wheels of soft ripened cheese that feel like a bag of cream.

Brie and other soft ripened cheeses have white bloomy rinds. This rind is created by Penicillium Candidum, Penicillium Camemberti, and/or Geotrichum Candidum. The rind is edible but it is a matter of personal preference if you want to eat the rind. I suggest you try the rind first then decide. Sometimes when a soft ripened cheese becomes overripe, the rind becomes bitter. But I do hate being at parties and seeing that a nice Brie has been hollowed out and the shell of a rind is left to waste.

A true Brie will be named after the town where it is made such as Brie de Meaux which has AOC designation. AOC is Appellation D'Origine Controlee which lets you know that this is the real deal. A Brie with an AOC is like a Gucci handbag and one without is a knockoff. Sometimes you can't tell the difference but its in there. The term Brie gets applied to all sorts of cheese in the United States. Many of these "Bries" are factory made, have papery rinds, and firm centers. I would rather not waste my time or money on these imposters though they tend to be less expensive.

Sometimes the rind on a soft ripened cheese is orange. This is cause by Brevibacterium Linens or Red Bacteria. This bacteria is added to the cheese much like a white mold mentioned above but the growth is encouraged by washing the wheel of cheese is a salt solution in which liquor may be added. This family of washed rind cheeses are also know as stinky cheeses. Some wonderful soft ripened washed rind cheeses are Langres Chalancey, Chaumes, and Saint Albray.

So basically a Brie is a specific type of cheese in the family of soft ripened or bloomy rinded cheeses. A Brie is always a soft ripened cheese but not every soft ripened cheese is a Brie. One cheese that I love which isn't technically a Brie is Fromage D'Affinois. This double creme cow's milk cheese has a very mild rind and an ultra creamy smooth center. For more information on soft ripened cheeses check:
http://charlottescheesedreams.blogspot.com/2009/11/running-of-cheese.html

Here are some cheeses that often get mistaken for Brie.



Gres Champenios is a soft ripened cow's milk cheese made in France by Fromagere de Chevillon. The green leaf on top is made of plastic but once was a real leaf used to tell how old the cheese was and where it might be in the ripening process. I find the rind on this cheese a little bitter. The paste was very smooth and creamy with notes of butter, mushroom, and a slight sour lactic flavor.



Pico is a French goat cheese that I absolutely love! This cheese is made by Picandine en Perigord and worth every penny. It has a very mild rind and a supple paste. It is definitely a goat cheese and has flavors of yeast and minerals. This cheese is hard to find so when you do, buy one (maybe even two) and savour it.




This Robiola due Latti is made by Luigi Guffanti in Italy exclusively for Whole Foods. This cheese is a blend of cow's and sheep's milk. It is very creamy and smooth with a nice mild rind and a milky sweet paste with a slight tang and mushroom flavor. This cheese did feel like a square of cream before I cut into it. I remember looking forward to coming home and eating this cheese everyday it was in my fridge.

And as always, serve your cheese at room temperature if you want to get the full flavor. What's your favorite soft ripened cheeses?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Halloumi



Halloumi is a wonderful and unusual cheese. It originated in Cyprus and is popular all over the Middle East, Greece, and Turkey. This cheese is unlike other cheeses because it can be flambeed, fried, grilled, broiled and baked without losing its texture and shape. Halloumi is not the only cheese which can be fried but it may be the oldest.

When enjoying Halloumi it is not necessary to apply heat, it can be enjoyed as is right out of the box. This cheese will be squeaky on your teeth before frying and more so after frying. You can use this cheese fresh in place of Feta and is often served with watermelon. But the real glory of this cheese does not surface until heat is applied.

This cheese can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even dessert. You can stud the Halloumi with pine nuts and fry it, or toss with garlic, lemon and dill and grill it. You can sweeten it up by serving the cheese with a drizzle of honey, sprinkled with almonds, mint, and grilled peaches. It is great with olives, seafood, and veggies. It is also popular for breakfast with bacon and eggs. Halloumi can be chucked, skewered, and grilled like a cheese kabob. If you are BBQing this summer and worried that some vegetarians might crash the meat fest, this will make them happy.



This cheese can do almost anything but melt. I usually do not advocate the freezing of cheese but http://www.cyprushalloumi.com/ states it can be "frozen for up to one year". They also suggest grating it on pasta, salads, and using it as a ravioli filling. This cheese will pair well with a minerally Sauvignon Blanc as well as a fruity Chenin Blanc, a medium bodied Pinot Grigio, and a light Edelzwicker Wines from Alsace.

When making Halloumi, the curds are cut and pressed into molds then removed from the molds and reheated in hot water or whey. The warm cheese is kneaded by hand and shaped. This is very similar to making mozzarella or pasta filata cheeses. The cheese is often sprinkled with mint but I have yet to find that it imparts any noticeable flavor. It may have been used at one time to tell how fresh the cheese was like burrata being wrapped in a leaf. If the leaf was brown the cheese was old. In these modern times, Halloumi is vacuum packed with a much longer shelf life.

Halloumi can be enjoyed the day after it is made but is often ripened for about a month. Halloumi is a salty cheese but you can make it less salty by soaking the cheese in water. I have tried two types of Halloumi, Shepherd of Cyprus 100% Sheep's milk Halloumi and Mt. Vikos Halloumi which is a blend of sheep and goat's milk. I much preferred the Shepherd of Cyprus Halloumi. It had a better texture, flavor, and browning. The Mt. Vikos was a little gritty.



Halloumi is a protected cheese which can only be made on Cyprus. They take their Halloumi very seriously and have a Halloumi police force. They make sure that Halloumi is being made within regulations and using traditional methods. There was an uproar recently when it became known that many producers were making this cheese entirely from cow's milk. The Sheep and Goat Farmer's Association is also working to remove the term Halloumi from low fat and light options that are being marketed.

Halloumi is made with sheep's milk and can be blended with goat's milk and cow's milk. As of 1985 when a law was passed, cow's milk cannot exceed the percentage of goat's milk. But there seems to be some debate regarding the interpretation of current standards for Halloumi production. Standards may not change soon as that would affect the pending application with the European Commission for a Product of Designated Origin.

Sidqui Effendi was a Turkish writer who wrote a cookbook and called Halloumi a "good food which enhances sex". I cannot see any scientific reasoning behind that comment but it is amusing. But maybe we need to conduct some studies on this matter, maybe there is a grant out there for some such study....If you conduct any research of your own, please tell us all about it by commenting below!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Crazy Japanese Kit Kats

While visiting Okinawa I read an article on wasabi. The article said that Kit Kat made a wasabi flavor which I then became obsessed with finding. I looked everywhere for these alleged wasabi flavored Kit Kats. While we were visiting Okinawa World, I found Beni Mo kit Kats and bought a box. Then at a Family Mart gas station I bought what I thought was a wasabi Big Kat Kit Kat bar but it turned out to be green tea. I had bought 3 of them so I shared one with my nephew and brought the other two home with me. My nephew got the green chocolate all over his face which looked usually gross.



Then in Tokyo I found a much larger selection of Kit Kats, I found Soy Sauce, Sweet Potato, Corn, Deep Roasted Soy Bean, and Green Tea with Cherry Blossom. I spotted the elusive Wasabi Kit Kat just as a shop in Tokyo station was closing its gate. But I was able to finally track down the confection at the Naritia Airport along with a few of the previously mentioned varieties.

I had also seen raspberry flavor Kit Kats, and citrus Kit Kats but I chose the most unusual to bring home. I never thought I would return from Japan loaded with Kit Kats. I have only seen the classic Kit Kat, the Big Kat, and white chocolate, and dark chocolate variety available in the US. Now I wonder why they would only offer such crazy flavors in Japan? After all, corn is an American staple and we love sweet potato pie. I would love to see some more interesting flavors available in the US.

With way too many Kit Kats to enjoy with just my husband, I invited a few friends over for a Kit Kat tasting. I apologize that I did not photograph this event as I got carried away by candy. But this pic comes from a friends cell phone.



We started with the Green Tea Big Kat, then moved on the the Green Tea with Cherry Blossom. This was a favorite of the ladies with its sweet floral notes. In the past, I have even added Sakura (cherry blossoms) to goat cheese. Sakura is a flavor more commonly used in Japan, like the Sakura Moochi (an ice cream rice ball) I enjoyed in Tokyo.

Then we tried the Corn Kit Kat, which had a different kind of sweetness and was very enjoyable. The sweet potato and Beni Mo were both very good. But it was the Deep Roasted Soy Bean and the Soy Sauce flavors that were surprisingly delicious. The Soy Sauce tasted like a maple candy and the Soybean was very nutty. The Wasabi was surprisingly mellow, at first it tasted like white chocolate then at the end there was a bit of a kick. Most of them had a white chocolate base so that flavor was always underlying.



One thing that was very surprising was the packaging. The smaller Corn and Green Tea with Cherry Blossoms were packaged to be mailed. The packaging reminded me of Valentine's day candies which space on the back to write "To" and "From". The other boxes were much bigger and did not have space for an address but inside every package were individually wrapped candies. The big box had 12 individually wrapped Kit Kats each containing two half sized sticks and the smaller box had 4 to 6 individually wrapped Kit Kats each containing two mid sized sticks.

Wonder what kind of classic American flavors Kit Kat could produce? Philly Cheesesteak, Soft Pretzel, Maryland Crab, Sour Apple, watermelon? I would just like some more of the Deep Roasted Soybean flavor. I did have a bit of a belly ache after all that candy.


Sidebar Observations

The Japanese really seem to love their packaging. We bought some "wheat germ" crackers and inside the box were wrapped packs of crackers that were more than an individual serving. I bought some McVities Salt and Chocolate biscuits and they too contained little packets of wrapped cookies. I guess they don't want them to go stale? My sister in law sent me home with some Okinawa Fashion Cookies and that big box contained 8 individually wrapped cookies.

And every store wants to give you a bag that they then tape closed. Some of the bags were very pretty and of course I saved the paper. Oh, and did I ever mention that they had hand sanitizer everywhere?! Don't even get me started on that shit.

Monday, July 5, 2010

I have a Passion for Fish

We live in Reston and often walk our dogs around Reston Town Center. It is a great place to people watch on Friday and Saturday nights as people pour out of the patio at Jackson's and hang out near the fountain. There is plenty of al fresco dining options and the recent nice weather put me in the mood to eat outside.

I went to PassionFish for lunch with a girlfriend shortly after moving to Reston. We had a really great lunch and I knew it was a place I wanted to take Patrick. Someone near us had ordered the Oyster Po Boy and I knew it was a sandwich Patrick would love. We often walk our dogs by there and try to keep them from peeing near the patrons. It felt a bit odd being on the other side of their patio.

It was Friday evening and the place was packed. We were told 30 minutes for a table outside and waited in the crowded bar. The interior of the restaurant is very clean and modern with great paintings of fish. I love fish, love to eat them, look at them, even feed them or swim with them. Lady luck was with us and we got seated outside in no time. This was a relief as the crowded bar had started to frustrate me and Patrick was very hungry.

We had a nice table outside with a great breeze to enjoy. Patrick had a beer and I indulged in a glass of Cava. One glass of Cava is enough to get me buzzed and not give me a migraine the next day. I asked our server if the grilled baby octopus was breaded and was happy to hear that is was not. He asked if I had a wheat allergy and I said yes which is easier then explaining that I avoid wheat because I have arthritis and wheat is inflammatory and when I eat wheat my joints hurt worse than they already do. He said they would be happy to cook my food separate to avoid any possible contamination. Wow!!! I have never had such wonderful gluten free service before.

We ordered our food and shortly our server returned to tell me that the blue crab and corn chowder was roux based and did have wheat if I wanted to ordered something else. I guess their computer ordering system has space for food allergies and if something conflicts it will come up on the screen and notify the server. Gotta love technology!



We started with the Grilled Baby Octopus with Greek Salad, Grilled Halloumi and Tzatsiki. I love Halloumi and last weekend I did a Halloumi demonstration at work which I will blog about later. The octopus was wonderful, tender, well seasoned with a taste of char from the grill and was complimented by the salty Halloumi cheese. The Greek salad and tzatsiki sauce was fresh and made me wish I ate wheat to sop up its goodness.



Patrick ordered the Beet Salad with Farm Fresh Goat Cheese, Greens and Spiced Pecan Vinaigrette. It was a nice salad, the cheese was tangy and fresh and the pecans were really nice but it was light on the beets. I had never seen beet carpacio before and wondered if the price of beets had suddenly sky rocketed or maybe they were running low on beets. It was a nice salad but not quite 9$ nice.



Patrick asked our server what the Big Daddy was for $69 and we were told it was 8 oysters, 8 clams, 8 shrimp, lobster, and crab and maybe some other stuff, I forget. The server told us they also offer the Little Dingy which is half a Big Daddy for half the price. Patrick was overwhelmed by a crazy week at work and too many great choices on the menu and went for the Little Dingy. It was a fresh and delicious monstrosity. It was served with 3 sauces which seemed to be a classic red sauce, a creamy white horseradish, and an overly sweet vinaigrette. The horseradish was the best of the 3 but the sea food did not require much sauce. The lobster tail however was very chewy and overcooked.



I got the Macadamia Nut Crusted Halibut with a Green Papaya Salad and Passion Fruit Panang. This item is usually breaded with yummy yummy Panko but the fish is breaded to order and they could do it without the Panko. I was so happy to hear this and enjoyed the dish. It may not have been crusted exactly but the flavors were wonderful. The Panag was really delicious and I was tempted to lick my plate but controlled myself.

Our server came with the dessert menus and the bad news that the only gluten free dessert was the Caramel Creme Brulee. They offered sorbet but they add a gluten stabilizer which was disappointing but I was happy that he was so knowledgeable about the menu. We skipped dessert and I had made Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream the day before and was looking forward to eating it when we got home.

This was a wonderful meal which made me feel special. PassionFish has a great atmosphere, wonderful food, and a great staff. They are very accommodating which was proven when they tried to arrange the patio furniture for a party of six and after many configurations took a table inside. But it showed that the staff was willing to do whatever it takes to make their patrons happy. I highly recommend this restaurant and recently Washingtonian Magazine said they had the best clams casino.

Club Co Co

My husband, Patrick and I went to see Exit Through The Gift Shop (which was totally awesome and you should see it if you are at all interested in street art) at E Street Cinema in downtown DC. The movie got out around 9:30 pm and we were looking for a place to eat. We headed over to Co Co Sala as I had heard great things about the place which is a "Chocolate lounge and boutique".

When we got to the restaurant we were hoping for a table outside as it was a nice night but the last open table had just been snagged. We did not have reservations but we were free to sit at the bar but by the time we checked the other side of the bar for open seats, all available seats had been filled. So we walked out of the restaurant to discuss plan B.

As we were standing on the sidewalk, the restaurant manager came out and asked if we were leaving because he had arranged a table for us if we could come in and have a look. We went back in and found a table near the front door that was crammed into an odd little corner. But it would do and plan b had not materialized.

The interior of the restaurant was very dark which made it hard and awkward to read the menu. You had to huddle close to the tea light candle on the table. It was also loud with some head bobbing Night at the Roxbury music. But it was posh with a huge bar and cozy seating. But then it got worse, around 10 pm the DJ went on and played some 70's/80's funk which would have been better left alone. Once he let the beat drop with a most horrible sound. But we were there for the food, not a club night.

We started with a flight of their Hot Coco. You pick three from their choice of six options. I wanted the pumpkin but was told they only have it in the fall which lead me to wonder why was it still on the menu in May. So we got the dark chocolate, peanut butter, and salted caramel. The dark wasn't that dark and we were told it was blended with milk chocolate but the salted caramel was very good and I loved the peanut butter. You can order the coco hot or cold but the flight is only served hot, not really sure why.

On to the food, Patrick ordered the charcuterie platter which was standard but served cold which is sad as salami and cheese are always more flavorful at room temperature. I got the Alaskan black cod that was marinated in honey then crusted in bee pollen and served with creamy lemon lime asparagus risotto. I like my fish to flake apart but I actually had to use my knife to cut it and was unable to tell if it was under cooked because it was too dark to tell. The fish also did not seem to be crusted with bee pollen but sprinkled. The risotto was more chunky then creamy which left me wondering if it was really risotto. The dish was saved by a generous amount of micro cilantro and citrus flavor.

I was really looking forward to dessert and had heard customers exclaim that this or that was the best thing they ever had. I asked our server which items on the menu were gluten free and he came back with a disappointing answer. The only gluten free dessert option was sorbet. Chocolate itself is gluten free but most of their desserts consisted of cookie, crumbles, and cake. I know I could not have been the first person to come in who does not eat wheat and I was disappointed but their lack of options.

So I ordered the trio of sorbets which included passion fruit, green apple, and pear. They were good but nothing special and easy to do at home. Patrick got the Basil and Berry Shortcake and the best thing about it was the basil foam. If you are living gluten free, don't bother with Co Co Sala. It is a tease of things you cannot eat.

I had hoped for a nice romantic late night nosh but it turned out to be a most stressful event. We should not have walked back in that night but you have to learn these lessons. It was a Saturday night and the place was packed but even still it took a ridiculously long time to get our food, then longer to get our dessert. Considering the only dish that needed to be cooked was my cod and everything else laid out on plates, our dining experience really should not have take an hour and half.

We were told there was a computer error but we really didn't want to hear excuses. Our server was nice and attentive even thought he seemed less than knowledgeable about the menu items. We were rather unhappy and ready to get the check when our dessert was finally served. We did complain to our server about the volume (which made me wish I had an app for a decibel meter) and long wait for our food. He must have mentioned it to the manager who lured us back in because he came over to our table to hear our grievances.

He was very nice and told us that after 10 pm it turns into a lounge atmosphere and the music is loud to keep people awake. OK that's fine, it was our fault for coming in so late at night but do you really have to deafen us? He would not let us leave without a goody bag and his card. Inside was chocolate dipped bacon. I do love bacon but I would rather have a Mo's Bacon Bar from Vosges.

I also hate restaurant websites that have music, especially lame club music. But it is not surprising that http://www.cocosala.com/ has a great example of this and no silent button on the site. Their website takes a bit to load even with a fast connection then tries to invoke a seizure with some flashy photos most of which you can't figure out what the image is even supposed to be. The set up of their site does not work well with my small lap top computer as it cuts off the top navigation bar and when I hit the back button I have to start all over and flash through the opening of their site.

Co Co Sala might be a great place if you are on a third date and have exhausted all conversation but still want to get your date into bed or really love to eat while clubbing. It is a trendy place that is all flash and no substance. It was a great place to people watch which was nice as conversation was difficult over the loud music. They need to decide if they want to be a restaurant, bar, lounge, or club. Do they want to focus on food or atmosphere because so far they are not living up to their potential.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

You Ate What!?!

While in Japan, I suspended my wheat free diet leaving me free to eat as I pleased. I tried to stay wheat free for the first few days but realized I would be limiting myself from foods I may never be able to try again. One of these is called Fu which is an Okinawan speciality that is made entirely from wheat gluten. It is like a big soggy noddle and not much to write home about, but my brother loves.



What I loved was the Tonkatsu which is a fried pork cutlet with panko breading. This was one of the best meals during our visit. It was served with sesame seeds which you had to grind and sprinkle on the cutlet then drizzle in sauce. Yummy, I want some now!

We also went out for conveyor belt sushi which was delicious and cheap. By the end of the meal we had a tower of plates and they just came by and scanned the tower to gives us our bill. They had some speciality sushi like Taco rice which is an island classic and is just what it sounds like.


I had the natto sushi and liked it much better than when I tried it for breakfast, it is very spider webby. Natto is fermented soybeans which have a strong smell and flavor. Very popular for breakfast it really isn't something I want to wake up and eat.

We had lunch at Shuri Jo (castle) and I really enjoyed the jiimamii-dofu which is a peanut tofu. I was almost like a custard with a mild savory peanut flavor. The meal also came with Okinawan Soba, marinated seaweed, and Mimiga which is marinated pig's ears. The ears were very chewy and had a crack pop to them similar to seaweed. Can you guess what is what from the picture below?



And every where you go to eat you are given a moist towelette to wash your hands before you dig in. I often could have used one for afterwards as well. And the kids meals always came in these fun dishes. Some were shaped like a car or a cartoon face, that kept my two year old nephew happy. And boy can that kid eat! After two servings of Grandmom's delicious Curry rice (which is very different from Curry off the island) he ate 3 tangerines and tried to steal his mother's for a fourth.

I also enjoyed Benimo which is a purple sweet potato that grows only on Okinawa. They make it in to potato chips, tempura, ice cream, cakes, and candy. This potato cannot be shipped off the island in its whole potato form but I was able to bring home some Benimo Kit Kats. I enjoyed a soft serve twist of Benimo and Okinawan Brown Sugar at the Blue Seal Big Dip. The combination was almost too sweet but very enjoyable. I really loved that ice cream shop and wish I had eaten there every day.

Okinawa also produces some interesting fruits like Shikwasa which is like a lemon/lime/tangerine and is made into juice, jello, and sorbet. I really enjoyed the juice. I also had the tastiest pineapple while visiting Okinawa. I had pineapple that was great in Hawaii but the pineapple in Okinawa was more tart and juicy. As it is a sub-tropical island they grow many fantastic fruits but it was the pineapple which surprised me every morning at breakfast.

And how can I almost forget to mention Goya. Goya is a very bitter melon that grows in Okinawa. Our hotel had a huge breakfast buffet that included a salad bar on which there was often corn (which is a favorite pizza topping on the island), tomatoes, onions, and Goya. I find Goya too bitter on its own and needs to be balanced which corn is perfect for. We also had a Goya Chanpuru which is a Goya stir fry. They offer many different kinds of Cahnpuru on the island and I missed out on Papaya Chanpuru but there is always next time.

Now I started us off gently, but it is time to get into the more unusual fair. We visited the fish market in Hewia Dori and upstairs there is a food court where you can have any of the fish from the market cooked. I ordered the Yaki sashimi and Ikasumi-jiru.

Yaki means goat, I ate raw goat. It was very chewy and seemed to still have the skin attached. The meat was slightly sweet and served at room temperature. Please know that I never experienced any stomach or intestinal discomfort the entire trip. In Okinawa they say almost everything is good for you and has medicinal purposes and they do have the longest life expectancy so they must be doing something right.



This meal we also had goat fried with greens that was also chewy and Yaki Goza which was yummy but who doesn't like a fried dumpling.

The real surprise winner of this meal was the Ikasumi-jiru which is a soup of squid and squid ink. The squid ink had a very mineral taste similar to the iron taste of liver. The squid itself was incredibly tender and delicious. I love squid and octopus but usually it is overcooked and chewy but not this time. It was so good, I wanted to eat more of just the squid. I could go for some of that now but I am making London broil for dinner.



We went out to an Izakaya which is basically a bar that serves food. We were way more focused on the food except for my brother who drank many beers and I drove his monster van home. (It was weird driving on the wrong side of the road) We enjoyed a lot of good food during that meal but I couldn't leave well enough alone and ordered the basashi which is raw horse.



It was served frozen with thin slabs of horse fat and a dipping sauce similar to soy sauce. The meat was marbled like kobe and tasted good but I couldn't help but wonder if it would be more flavorful if it wasn't cold. It seems they only eat horse raw and frozen on the island. I have always been curious as to the taste of horse and was very amused as I live in horse loving Virginia. The fat however was very chewy and took much more effort to get down then the meat. I wanted to take the fat and fry some potatoes in it.

I will try anything once and I am always excited to try new foods. Okinawa was a wonderful place to visit and where I tried an American classic for the first time. Yes, I am talking about Spam. I do not know what is with Pacific Islands and their love of this canned pork product. Spam is extremely popular in Okinawa and one of my brother's favorites. I had some in an egg, rice, and seaweed wrap. It was good but bacon is better and I won't find myself craving the taste.

I was surprised by the Japanese love of pork. I expected lots of fish and sushi but on our way home the plane offered your choice of pork or pork for the in-flight meal. So much was pork and even the Miso Onigiri Grandmom made had pork inside, they were so yummy. I wish I could get a decent Onigiri at home and my only meal in Tokyo consisted of 3 delicious rice balls. Japan is not a good place for those who are Kosher, Muslim, Vegan, or vegetarian especially if you do not know the language. Good thing I am none of those things but I do prefer my pork with a bit less fat.

I can't wait to return to Okinawa and I hope to spend more time eating on mainland Japan. Maybe by then my nephew will speak some English so I can finally understand what he says. Regardless of language, he is a cute lil' devil.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Okinawa Cheese Scene

I have just returned from two weeks in Japan, which is why I have not been posting. I spent one night in Tokyo and the rest of the time visiting family on the island of Okinawa. I was excited to explore the cheese scene in Okinawa. Whenever I travel, I like to explore local markets big and small. I visited Heiwa Dori in Naha and visited a few different Jusco store locations and a few other smaller supermarkets. I am embarrassed to say that I only just discovered Cheers!! http://www.okinawahai.com/my_weblog/2010/01/cheers-cheese-shop.html which looks like an actual cheese shop in Okinawa. I must admit I did not plan much for this trip as it was really focused on seeing family.



Visiting supermarkets, the cheese scene reminded me of what the American cheese landscape must have looked like in the 70’s. There might be a Camembert or smoked Gouda but for the most part it was processed cheese. I did find some Boursin and Mimolette in a gourmet food store. I did not see a cheese plane to go with the Mimolette as this cheese must be shaved thin or the texture is not delicious. Some of the cheese offerings were individually wrapped processed cheese squares with flavor additions like salami, black pepper, and jalapeno. They did offer Philadelphia cream cheese which is nice to see as I am a Philly girl at heart. The best cream cheese is made by Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, MI but that is hard to find outside of Michigan. All the cheeses seemed to be made from cow’s milk. I knew the island had goats so I kept searching for some goat cheese. While visiting a Jusco near Naha, I found some.



Pinza Blanc is an Okinawan goat cheese made in Nakagusuku. I used Google to translate their website http://www.hagoromo-bokujo.co.jp/ with some interesting results. The packaging seemed full of information but alas, it was all in Japanese and I have been unable to translate it into English. Goats seemed to be raised mostly for meat but this farm also makes and sells goat milk, goat yogurt, and soap in addition to the cheese.

Pinza Blanc goat cheese is hand made in a French style with a bloomy rind. The texture was slightly chalky and dry. It was more aged then brie and tasted similar to a crottin but not as yeasty. The rind was mild and did not have any bitter flavors which I often associate with brie that has aged past its prime. The Pinza Blanc did not have a strong goat flavor and was milder then Humboldt Fog. We demolished the round during a picnic and everyone, Japanese and American, really seemed to enjoy the cheese.

I was also searching for cheese in restaurants. Our first dinner out was at Kenny’s which offers Japanese, Chinese, Italian, and American cuisine. They had quite a number of cheese offerings on the menu and we tried a few of them. We enjoyed a fried cheese and potato ball which was served with fried Camembert and both were tasty. We also ordered an artful plate of cheese, ham, and avocado and a cheese plate.



The cheese plate was very dainty and consisted of a very processed cheese square which may have been cheddar, mozzarella, a standard smoked Gouda, a Camembert, and a tasty blue cheese. The plate was adorned with olives and tomatoes which were filled with cheese. Our hotel, EM Coastal Vista also offered a cheese plate but I never got to explore their rendition.

We also had a great dining experience at Cheese Cheese Cheese http://r.gnavi.co.jp/fl/en/f476301/, Okinawa’s first cheese restaurant. They did not have an English menu so my sister-in-law was nice enough to order for the group.



I am not sure what exactly we ate but we enjoyed Fondue, some roasted cheese and rice balls (onigiri which I love!), a salad with smoked Gouda and other cheeses, a cheese and potato gratin, as well as a chicken and cheese stew which was presented table side. There was a large hot stone in the pot with chicken and veggies then a rich creamy cheese sauce was poured into the bowl. We also enjoyed another dish with a table presentation but there was no cheese in this one. It was black pig that was steamed at the table and very delicious. When it comes to restaurants we visited and ambiance, this one took the cheesecake!

Japan may have the best cheese crackers I have tasted which are not 100% cheese. Cheeza crackers, http://www.glico.co.jp/cheeza/ come in 52% Cheddar cheese, 51% Camembert, and 51% Gorgonzola. I did not taste the Gorgonzola but did try the other two varieties. They are packed with real cheese flavor and have a great texture, way better than any Cheez-It. I brought home 6 packs and wish I had brought home more. I really want to try the Gorgonzola variety but did not see them until I was boarding the plane at Narita airport and I was all out of Yen.

Cheese has a place in the belly of Japan and the market seems to be growing. I watched many Japanese people enjoying tall glasses of milk during the breakfast buffet at our hotel. I have never been one to sit down to a tall glass or even a small glass of milk unless it is chocolate or accompanied by cookies. I find it strange to see an adult drinking milk with a meal but I was happily surprised by the number of people enjoying milk with their breakfast. Plus, our hotel offered a local organic milk.

One of my biggest regrets was not trying the Orange Cheese Moochi ice cream ball while I was in Tokyo. I had hoped to find one elsewhere but have had no luck. It will have to wait until my next trip along with the Gorgonzola Cheeza crackers and my visit to Cheers!!. Can't wait to tell you about everything else I ate during my trip...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What it takes to coagulate

Cheese is made when milk separates into curds and whey. But how do you get a liquid to become solid? Yes, I know you can freeze a liquid to make a solid but that would not work if you are trying to make cheese. Milk can be coagulated many different ways, some of which are simple and others confusing

Milk can be coagulated by the addition of acid such as lemon juice, vinegar, or citric acid. This raises the PH of the milk and causes small, soft curds to form. Acidification can be used to make fresh cheese that included heating the curd. This is how lemon cheese, Ricotta, and paneer are made. These are very simple quick cheeses which anyone can make at home.

Time can coagulate milk and will create a product know as Bonny Clabber. Bonny Clabber is sour raw milk that is thickly curdled and comes from the Gaelic words bainne which means milk and claba which means thick. It is similar to yogurt or Quark and has a sour flavor. This is a traditional food enjoyed in the American South as well as Scotland and Ireland. But time will not produce a strong curd for making hard or aged cheeses. If you want to make cheddar you need rennet.

Rennet is a complex enzyme that occurs naturally in baby animals to aid the digestion of mother’s milk. It can be made from calves, lambs, or kids while they are only consuming milk. Calf rennet comes from the fourth stomach, which is known as the abomasums. Rennet contains chymosin and lipase as well as other enzymes. Animal rennet is 90% pure chymosin. Rennet breaks down the kappa casein protein which keeps milk in liquid form.

Animal rennet is preferred for making aged cheeses because its additional compounds can further breakdown proteins. Some people think it is cruel but I see it as using the whole animal. The animal is not killed only for its stomach. Rennet production is a natural by-product from veal production. It is also a traditional way to make cheese which I find very comforting. A cheese like Roquefort which has been made that same way for centuries could never be made with anything but animal rennet.

But let us explore the varieties of “rennet” which are being used to make cheese. This is where confusion comes into play as some of these terms are used interchangeable.

Microbial rennet is often called Vegetable rennet or Vegetarian rennet. Microbial rennet is made by fermenting fungus, bacteria, or yeast. Fungi often used are Mucor miehe, Mucor Pusillus, and Endothia cryphonectria and common bacteria are Bacillus subililis and Bacillus prodigiosum. There is no mold contained in the final product. It works as well as animal rennet but can have a bitter taste when used in cheeses that are aged over six months and does not always produce the firmest curd. Microbial rennet is suitable for vegetarians but it is not true vegetable rennet.

True vegetable rennet is made from plants such as fig tree bark, cardoon thistle, mallow, Ground Ivy, nettle and even pineapple and papaya. They can be unpredictable and bitter and there is no industrial production of vegetable rennet. If you want true vegetable rennet you must make it yourself. I have experimented with nettle and fig bark with no success. Some cheeses made cardoon thistle include Cardo from the UK, Serpa DOP from Portugal, and Caciofiore from Italy. These cheeses can range from soft and creamy to hard and aged.


The newest coagulating option is fermentation produced Chymosin Rennet also know as microbial chymosin which is made by removing the rennet producing gene from an animal cell’s DNA and then inserting it into the bacteria, mold, or yeast cell’s DNA. This will force the host to produce the chymosin enzyme which is then cultivated and fermented. It can be made cheaply and in an unlimited supply. It also does not have the bitterness often associated with microbial rennet. This is seen as a vegetarian friendly option but is derived from animals. The downside is that it is made from Genetically Modified Organisms, GMO.

In 1989, microbial chymosin was recognized by the FDA as Generally Regarded As Safe or GRAS. After a 28 month review, the FDA approved the first genetically engineered product for human consumption with the approval of microbial chymosin. It is estimated that between 70-90% of cheese produced in the United States is made with bioengineered chymosin. I personally try to avoid anything that is GMO because I do not trust its safety. But it can be hard to tell what exactly is in cheese.

The FDA does not require cheesemakers to label their cheese with the type of rennet used during production. Labels will often say “enzymes” which could include rennet made from animal, plant, microbial, or genetically engineered. They do not need to label their cheese as GMO when Fermentation produced Chymosin Rennet or microbial chymosin is used.

There are some great cheese producers in America that are happy to tell you they use vegetarian enzymes or rennet such as Cypress Grove and Cowgirl Creamery. But few seem willing to admit to the use of GMO rennet. I had no idea about GMO rennet until I researched this article. I would like to know who is using the stuff if upwards of 90% of cheeses made in the United States use microbial chymosin. Why label an item if you are going to be vague about it?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hunting Morels

A walk in the woods is nice and can also be fruitful. If you know what you are looking for, the forest can be full of wonderful living produce. Dandelion greens, garlic mustard, and mushrooms are wild, edible, and tasty. I had been looking longingly at the mushrooms in the supermarket but forcing myself to walk away because I was going mushroom hunting. I have been told that wild mushrooms are much more delicious than any mushroom you can buy in a supermarket.

Slow Food DC recently teamed up with M.A.W (Mycological Association of Washington) to plan a Morel Foray in Wheaton, Maryland. We were a group of 30 with 4 identifiers from M.A.W. As a first time mushroom hunter, I did not want to pick anything unless it was identified by a professional. Mushrooms can be tasty but also deadly and I did not want to take any risks.

The first mushroom I spotted was black and growing off a tree.
It did not look tasty and an identifier was not around so I let it go. Next I spotted some mushrooms growing on a fallen tree. After my bounty was identified as Oyster, they were cut down and bagged. I got close to three pounds of Oyster mushrooms for the price of looking. Nice, but no Morel.



Morel mushrooms have a short season and are difficult to identify. They blend in so well to the forest floor which makes them easy to miss. I was searching by a large Tulip Poplar when the first Morel appeared to me. I yelled “Bingo!” as is the custom in order to get the identifiers attention. Then I noticed another Morel near by, I was so excited! A woman came over and said she had just been looking by that very tree and did not see them. Then another person in our group spotted another Morel behind me.



I only found two morels that morning but others in our group were much luckier. One man found 43 Morels! Where there is one there are more unless someone else has come along before you and cleared them out. I couldn’t help but worry about all the yummy Morels that may have been accidentally crushed under foot that morning. Walking in the woods with 30 people split into 4 groups, I didn’t really expect to find much.

It was amazing to be walking in the woods, billy goating over fallen trees, searching the floor for the elusive Morel and then look up and not see anyone around. There was a moment where I was alone in the woods and slightly worried that I had lost my husband and the rest of the group.

It felt like an overwhelming Easter egg hunt. Searching for Morels seeing nothing, wondering if I had already searched this patch of leaves which looks exactly like that patch of leaves. It was a bit dizzying keeping my head down searching for the elusive fungi. I can get vertigo just turning around in my kitchen or wearing a patterned shirt. Maybe I was too wired on coffee to relax as I also felt a bit rushed and excited to find some Morels.

We brought home our booty and enjoyed out Oyster mushrooms in a frittata with onion, spinach, and chevre. The Oyster mushrooms tasted richer, meatier, and freshier than one I had enjoyed before. Honestly, I didn’t like mushrooms until I was 21 and backpacking through Europe. At the time I was pretty poor and would eat anything no questions asked. Maybe I just had to get over the shit factor.

Unfortunately, we did not get to enjoy the rest of the mushrooms as they were not properly stored. They were in the fridge left in the brown paper foraging bags. The Morels were totally desiccated when I took them out four days later. I tried to reconstitute them in water then pan fry them but it didn’t taste like much. The Oysters had a furry white mold growing on them that I did not notice before and did not want to take a chance.

I learned a valuable lesson and have a whole lot more I need to learn about mushroom hunting. Next time, eat immediately and store with air and moisture. Now, all I want to do is hunt Morels. The season is short and the clock is ticking. I hope to get out into the woods a few more times and hope to bag a bigger lot.




Oyster and Morel mushrooms on a bed of garlic mustard.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cheese Demonstration!

Yesterday, I hosted the first of what I hope to be many cheese demonstrations. As an active member in Slow Food DC, the event was open to 15 Slow Food DC members. My kitchen was just big enough to accommodate 15 people plus my husband and me. We started the event with a milk tasting. I get my raw cow's milk from a farm in Catlett and I pick up my raw goat's milk in Nokesville. Many people were surprised by the sweetness of the goat's milk. The cow and the goat's milk were both very fresh as the animals had been milked only two days before the event.

We talked cheese and everyone was really great at asking questions. It is always fun to interact with new people and I love talking cheese. We then moved into making 30 minute mozzarella. I used a gallon of raw cow's milk to make the cheese and added citric acid and rennet. The milk is so good and fresh that I forms a curd easily. I pulled and stretched the 110 degree curd by hand which is hot hot work. A few attendees tried their hand at pulling the curd. I couldn't seem to decide if I wanted to make a ball, small balls, or a braid. It may not have been the prettiest mozzarella but it was tasty. I did not add any salt but will in the future.

Then we tasted some cheese! We sampled some of my chevre which was made 5 days prior to the event. The next cheese was a commercially available chevre from a producer in Maryland. Many were surprised by how mild and creamy my cheese was especially when compared to the goatier commercial chevre. It all comes down to the freshness as chevre will become goatier as it ages. Then we sampled Gervais, a fresh French cow's milk cheese that is enriched with cream. This cheese had a wonderful butter yellow color which comes from the beta carotene in the grass fed cow's milk. Next we tasted Bondon which is very similar to Gervais but without the added cream. We moved into our flavored cheeses with Porcini Bondon and Rosemary Feta. I had been unhappy with my last two batches of Rosemary Feta but everyone at the event really loved this cheese just the way it was. The last cheese we tasted was Gjetost which I made from boiling goat's whey for about 12 hours and added cow's cream around hour 6. This cheese surprised a lot of people with its sweet savory flavor combinations.

It was so valuable for me to get feedback on my cheeses from a room full of strangers. Sometimes I think my husband and friends are just saying they like my cheese because they like me. At the end of the event, people wanted cheese and I had some to give them. I collected some donations and people were very generous. The event was fun and mutually beneficial. I hope to host another one in June and all proceeds will go toward opening my cheese making facility.

This is the recommend reading list from the cheese event. These books really helped me learn about cheese and how to make cheese. I must also mention culture magazine which you can follow on Facebook and Cheese Enthusiast, another great publication.

The Atlas of American Cheese by Jeffrey P. Roberts ISBN 978-1-933392-34-9 This book lists cheese producers by state and includes information on touring cheesemakers.

Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll ISBN 978-1-58017-464-0 This book has many wonderful recipes including the 30 minute mozzarella recipe. I also get most of my cheesemaking supplies from her website http://www.cheesemaking.com/

Making Artisan Cheese by Tim Smith ISBN 978-1-59253-197-4 This book has 50 great recipes.

The Cheese Chronicles by Liz Thorpe ISBN 978-0-06-145116-4 This book is such a fun read and you learn a lot about American cheesemakers.

Cheese & Wine by Janet Fletcher ISBN 978-0-8118-5743-7 This book in beautiful and informative.

Cheese by Max McCalaman & David Gibbons ISBN 1-4000-5034-0 Another cheese porn book full of pretty pictures and great information.

The Cheese Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst ISBN 978-0-06-053704-3 This is a cheese dictionary and covers a variety of cheese related terms.

Fundamentals of Cheese Science which is an Aspen Publication and 4 co-authors which is why I am not listing them all ISBN 0-8342-1260-9 This is my hardcore cheese textbook.

If you would like to host a Cheese Demonstration! at my place or yours, send an email to cheese4charlotte@yahoo.com or post a message below. The demo runs about 2 hours with an additional hour and a half for set up and includes making mozzarella, milk tasting, cheese tasting, and a cheese discussion with Q&A. The total cost for the event is $100 for a group of up to 15 people and covers the cost of all cheese making ingredients, equipment, and time. Travel may be additional depending on location.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Little Moir’s Food Shack

Ever look at a menu and wish you had five stomachs? The menu at Little Moir’s Food Shack makes you want to pig out. So instead of ordering everything on the menu, we came back for a second visit. But that only left a few items from their vast menu which I actually got to taste. This is a place I look forward to returning to and wish there was one in Virginia.

On our first visit we enjoyed a frosty mug of Monk in the Trunk Organic Amber Ale while we waited for a table. The place was packed and usually is so be prepared to wait and you will be reward with yum. This beer is made locally in Jupiter and was light and crisp with notes of citrus. Once we were seated, we started with an order of Toasted Coconut Shrimp with Spicy Fruit and a Sweet Chili Ketchup dipping sauce. These were some fat tasty shrimp and I got so excited I forgot to take a picture until it was too late.

The Spicy Fruit was a mix of pineapple, honeydew, cantaloupe, and watermelon with a bit of a kick. I never would have thought to spicy up fruit like this and don’t enjoy super spicy hotness but this was nice and didn’t burn. Some other starters that caught my eye but didn’t hit my belly were the Homemade Potato Chips Tossed in Lemon, Garlic, Black Pepper, Olive Oil, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Red Onions, Capers, and Shaved Parmesan Cheese. Then there was the Fried Tuna and Basil Roll with Wasabi Dipping Sauce and the Warm Bruschetta with Sweet Balsamic Marinated Tomatoes, Hearts of Palm, Red Onion, Artichokes, Green Olives, and Feta Cheese and I wish I had tried the Grilled Sea Scallop Tostada with Roasted Corn and Poblano Pepper Salsa, Melted Manchego Cheese, Avocado, and Smoked Jalapeno Pepper Aioli. I love how the names of the menu items include all the ingredients.

For dinner I had the Sweet Potato Crusted Hogfish which was served on a bed of greens, green beans, and a garlic lime dressing. This was a special and I no longer remember all of the ingredients on my plate but I do remember it being delicious. The fish guide on http://www.littlemoirsfoodshack.com describes this fish as “Very Mild, very white, slightly sweet and buttery.” I was unfamiliar with this fish but heard a server recommend it to another dinner.


Their menu changes daily and they often run out of featured fish. I see this as good thing because it means they get their fish daily and in small quantities. I was told by my friend’s sister that it wasn’t fish season which made the prices more expensive but the fish didn’t seem any harder to come by. They have so many tempting items on their menu that if they run out of something you can rest assured that there will be something else on the menu that won’t disappoint.

On our second visit they had just run out of Tripletail and some in our party were very dismayed but they did have Wahoo which made my friend very happy. They offer so many different types of fish that it was almost overwhelming because I had never heard of most of them. You could pick your fish and get it grilled or blackened and served over coconut rice with a side of Cucumber Pineapple slaw and Spicy Fruit salad. You could also pick your fish and have it battered and fired in the style of fish and chips or get your fish crusted a variety of ways and served on greens. Their menu was so vast and tempting that I only looked at the long list of specials from which to order my dinner.

I had adjusted to the their bountiful menu by my second visit and ordered the Wahoo grilled over coconut rice. As I had never tasted this fish which my friend had talked up I really wanted to focus on its flavor. I know this is a cliche but it tasted just like chicken. It is described as "mild flavor, low fat content, steak-like and white. Recommended undercooked" on their website. It was basically flavorless and I regret not getting it crusted.



I did familiarize myself with their take out menu while we waited for our seat but sometimes when I look at a menu with too many words I shut down and can’t read. Which is why it’s a good thing that I brought the menu home with me, I only wish I had snagged the list of specials. Some highlights from the menu which I did not get to eat include No Name Pasta with Chicken, Mushrooms, Artichokes, and Asparagus in a Toasted Macadamia Nut Roasted Pepper Pesto with Coconut Cream Topped with Shaved Parmesan Cheese as well as the Far West Paella with Mussels, Fish, Shrimp, Calamari, Bacon, Chicken, Sweet Peppers, Okra, and Pineapple with Tandoori Seasoning and Coconut Rice.

On our first visit I managed to leave enough room for dessert and was impressed by their offerings. I enjoyed a cup of coffee and was happy to get more refills there then I did at Denny’s the day before. My friend wanted to order something very specific which she had enjoyed there before but there was some confusion. Was it the Chocolate Whosiwhatzit?!? or the Dark Chocolate Nut Mash. After our patient and busy server described the items it was clear that she wanted the Nut Mash. This was similar to a mousse or an unmeltable ice cream. I opted for the Sweet Potato Cake which made we stop after the first bite and force everyone else to try some. It was wonderful, similar to a carrot cake but a touch drier, sweeter, spicier, and just a thin layer of cream cheese frosting. It had just the right amount of cake to frosting for me as I hate thick layers of sugary frosting.


Aside from the food being great, the ambience was nice too. As it was called The Food Shack, I had expected it to be a little hut on the beach but I was totally wrong. It was located in a strip mall. They had a hostess stand outside to take names and a few benches outside on which to sit and wait for your table. You could go in and order drinks to enjoy outside as you waited for the gatekeeper to call your name. Inside, there was a surfboard table at the end of the bar which is their most popular table. The bar itself had a tiki hut feel to it and on the other side of the bar was the kitchen.

I love an open kitchen and many restaurants will charge top dollar for the privilege of dining in the kitchen and watching the magic. At Little Moir’s Food Shack you can sit at the bar and enjoy the show free of charge. I did not get this opportunity but had plenty to look at as I faced the wall. Covering almost every inch of wall space were pictures and paintings of sea life and tropical scenes. The place had recently been remolded and the floors were brand new. The bathroom was clean and single serving which I like.

As this place is so busy, they know how to use the space creatively without exceeding maximum capacity. They will turn their tables sideways to accommodate parties and what I would take as a two top comfortably sat our party of three and we each had our own side of the table. On our second visit we were a party of 8 with 3 kids and we were all comfortable, happy, and well taken care of. The kids all ordered the mac and cheese from the kids menu and loved it. I tried a bite and was impressed by its creaminess.

Little Moir’s Food Shack is a place that really knows what it is doing and how to please their customers in surprising ways. You don’t have to worry about not getting enough fruits or veggies when you order here. You can please any type of palette and be impressed by their flavor combinations. If you are ever in, around, or driving through Jupiter, Florida be sure to stop here, just come hungry.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I've got the blues!

Early last week, I thought Spring had arrived despite the occasional pile of snow here and there. The sun was bright, the weather warm, and I could leave the house in just a short sleeve shirt. But it was too good to last and the sunshine has been replaced with rain. I am thankful that it is not snow but I am tired of gray weather. As The Carpenters said "Rainy days and Mondays always get me down". The lack of sun and vitamin D has forced me to seek comfort in cheese. But not just any cheese, I find myself craving blue cheese more and more on these rainy gray days.

Blue cheese is a family or type of cheese, not a specific cheese. When I see a container of blue cheese crumbles, I have to wonder what kind of blue cheese is actually in there or did they just let some other cheese get moldy. There are many different types of blue cheeses. Some are made from cow's milk, sheep's milk, a combination of milks, and the use of goat's milk is becoming more popular. There are blue cheeses with natural rinds, foil wrapped blues without rinds, and blue cheese with bloomy rinds. There is even one blue cheese with a black wax rind called Roaring 40's from King Island Dairy is Australia. There are soft creamy blues, crumbly blues, and drier styles of blue cheese. Some blues are mild like Regina and really abrasive blues like Tilston Point. There is even a blue cheese that is cold smoked over hazelnut shells, Smokey Blue which is made by the blue cheese masters at Rouge Creamery in Oregon.


This is an up close look at Verde Capra which is an Italian goat's milk blue

There are a couple of different ways to make blue cheese, the first few steps are the same as any other cheese making process. The big difference is the addition of a mold culture. You can add the mold to the milk when making the cheese or you can spray on the mold after the wheel of cheese is made. Either way, the cheese must be pierced to create air channels to promote the growth of the mold. Air is necessary for the creation of mold because mold is alive. Sometimes these air channels are made by piercing the cheese with wheat stalks but more often stainless steal needles are used. When a wheel of blue is cut into for the first time, the green streaks of mold become more blue due to the exposure of air. I love to watch this magic happen.

One of the most famous styles of blue cheese is Roquefort which is made from raw sheep's milk. When you eat Roquefort, you are eating history. This cheese has been made using the same methods, same molds, and aged in the same location for centuries. No one is exactly sure how Roquefort was first made but there has been speculation. A shepherd sits down at the mouth of a cave to enjoy his lunch of bread and cheese when a beautiful woman saunters by and distracts him from his lunch. They run off to romp and by the time the shepherd returns, his bread is moldy and that mold has infected his cheese. This does not deter the man from enjoying his cheese and he finds the taste of the cheese to be improved by the mold.

The enjoyment of blue cheese is very much like wine appreciation, you have to develop your palette. The more blue cheese you eat, the more you will enjoy this moldy cheese and the more adventurous your tastes will become. If you are not a fan of blue cheese or find them intimidating, try a milder sweeter blue like Gorgonzola Dolce. Another way to enhance your blue cheese palette is to pair the cheese with the right beverage or food. Blue cheese will pair well with sweeter wines and ports. Port and Stilton is a classic wine and cheese combination. Blue cheese is great melted on a steak or burger and makes a wonderful addition to sauces and salad dressings. Try a bit of blue cheese with a sweeter bread like raisin walnut bread or Raincoast Crisps. You can also drizzle your blue in honey or Saba or with pears and walnuts.

Friday, March 12, 2010

From Whey to Cheese!

Earlier this week I made some Feta cheese with farm fresh goat’s milk. When you make cheese, the milk breaks into two parts, curds (cheese) and liquid whey. Whey can be great for the garden and is often feed to pigs. Seeing as I don’t have any pigs, I have given it to my dogs and my Pomeranian loves it while my Chinese Crested hairless throws it up as his digestive system is very delicate.

Every time I make cheese, I also make whey and hate to waste it. I like the idea that one gallon of milk can produce two different products. Whey is ready for consumption and was commonly enjoyed in coffeehouses and inns in the 18th century. You can add some lemon and sugar to make whey lemonade. Today whey is often sold as a nutritional supplement in the form of a dried powder.

Whey can also be called milk plasma which sounds a little gross. Whey contains proteins, vitamins, minerals, lactose, and a trace amount of fat. Studies have shown that whey can stimulate insulin production and can assist in regulating and reducing spikes in blood sugar. The protein in whey is more easily absorbed then the proteins in egg whites which is apart of the body building appeal. Whey can also prevent the atrophy of muscular cells which is another attraction.

After making the Feta, I decided to experiment with the whey. Whey can be made into cream, butter, Ricotta, Brunost, Gjetost, and Mytost. These last 3 cheeses are very similar and names can vary by regions. Brunost is Norwegian for brown cheese and Gjetost and Mytost are types of brown cheese. Gjetost is a goat’s milk version and Mytost is made from cow’s milk. I found a recipe for Mytost that included substitutions to make Gjetost. Gjetost is pronounce like "yay toast" which I think is a very fun cheese name!

One issue with making cheese from whey is the short window of time. The whey cannot be more that 4 hours old for the production of Ricotta or Brunost. I had finished making my Feta around 6 p.m. and began to boil down the whey. The recipe said that foam would rise to the top and to skim it off and reserve it for later but this did not occur in my pot. Adding the foam back was supposed to help thicken the whey. Once the whey starts to thicken, I poured it into a blender and blended for about a minute. This is supposed to make a smoother cheese but it also made it foam and thicken.

The recipe also had an option to add cream to the mix but seeing as I didn’t have any I left that step out. Boiling down the whey can take 6-12 hours and by 11 p.m. I was a very sleepy girl who did not want to leave the whey unattended on the stove. The whey had drastically decreased in volume so I hoped I was getting close to cheese. At first the whey was a thin liquid with a cream colored tinge, as the whey boiled down and I stirred the liquid, I could feel it thickening.

I spent an hour stirring my hot pot with the intention to give up at midnight. At about 11:45 p.m., the whey began to turn into the consistency of caramel sauce. Time will produce more caramelization and the color would become a deeper shade of brown and the flavors more concentrated. At midnight, I placed my pot in a cold bath and stirred some more until the thick cheese sauce had cooled. I then poured it into a buttered tupperwear and put it into the fridge where it will keep for up to four weeks.

As my time management skills were lacking, my cheese was a tan color. I know step by step photos of this process would be nice but I did not take any, sorry. But here is the finished product.



My Gjetost was softer and creamier then store bought versions which tend to be semi-firm. The texture of my Gjetost was similar to fudge but it did have some sandy grains despite the blending but maybe I should have blended it longer. I think it tasted just like the innards of a Lance’s sour cream & chive wheat cracker but without the chive. It was sweet and tangy with notes of caramel and salt. Next time, I will start my cheesemaking process earlier and let my whey go longer.