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.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Raclette is a type of cheese and a way to enjoy the cheese. Raclette, the cooking method, is believed to have originated in the Swiss Alps when shepherds would move their herds up the mountains. The shepherds would build a fire and place a half wheel of cheese on a stone near the fire. Once the cheese was bubbling, it would be scraped onto a plate with potatoes and gherkins. Raclette comes from the French word racler which means to scrape.

Raclette the cheese has also been called Valais, named after the region in Switzerland. This cheese dates back to the Middle Ages but was not well know outside of Valais until the 19th century. Raclette is often made in wheels ranging from 13-24 pounds. It can be made from raw or pasteurized cow’s milk. Raclette is a washed rind cheese this is semi-firm with a natural edible rind. This cheese is a pressed cooked cheese that is dense, compact, and supple with a pale yellow to ivory color paste which has a few eyes. The smell is strong due to its washed rind nature but the flavor is a blend of meaty, earthy, and floral with notes of mushroom, fruit, and nuts. Of course this cheese melts well but it loses its strong smell when heated becoming milder.

But not all wheels are created equally. There are French and Swiss varieties as well as Raclette and raclette, Raclette du Valais (AOC), and other Raclette named after the region where the cheese is made. This cheese can be factory made or produced in small artisnal batches. In 2003, Raclette de Valais was awarded Appellation D’Origine Controlee (AOC) by the Swiss Department of Agriculture. This has been greatly criticized by cheesemakers outside the Valais region and appeals have been launched objecting to the move. I prefer AOC cheese and wish this had happened sooner as their might not be so many substandard wheels of cheese calling themselves Raclette.

The raclette we sampled was purchased, as were most items in my spread, from Wegman’s. It was the only raclette they had and it was a disappointment. As it was the only offering, I expected it to be held to the standard of a high end supermarket. But it wasn’t, I would expect this cheese to be found at any supermarket. This wheel was made by Emmi, a Swiss cheese factory, it was young, soft, plasticy and pasteurized. I much prefer the raw milk style we sold at Cheesetique.

But the cheese melted well and got the job done pairing well with all the accompaniments. These included marinated mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, roasted red peppers, marinated artichokes, cornishons, seedy mustard, boiled pee wee potatoes, roasted ruby pee wee potatoes, roasted carrots, parsnips, and golden beets, Olives – Cerignola and Castelvetrano. The meats included Landjaeger, Finocchiona, Saucisson sec, Speck, and Mousse Royale au Sauterns Pate by TPC and the cheeses aside from the raclette were Beemster XO Gouda, Roth’s Private Reserve Gruyere, Brillat-Savarin frais, and Mozzarella. It was fun to mix and match different combinations and wonder just how many possibilities they were to expirement with. Our meal was well complimented by a few tasty beverages, Le Berceau Blanquette De Limoux Brut, France Maison Vergines and Lindemans Peche Lambic. But allow me to digress and talk about 2 of the other featured cheese.

Emmi has an American cheese making arm, Roth Kase and I think they make far better cheese than Emmi. I even prefer the Roth Kase Gruyere’s to their Swiss counterpoints. We enjoyed a chunk of the Roth’s Private Reserve Surchoix Gruyere which is a raw cow’s milk cheese exclusive to Wegmans. This cheese is made is small batch using Swiss copper pots and aged for at least nine months. This is a good cheese, I really like their Grand Cru and had hoped the Roth’s Private would have been aged longer, more complex, and better overall. The other cheese is the elusive Brillat-Savarin frais. I have only seen this type at Wegmans and what sets it apart from other triple crème cheeses is its lack of a bloomy rind. This is a young fresh cow’s milk cheese made by Delin in France. It is like a rich creamy butter cheesecake.

The campfire has been replaced by electric Raclette grills. There are a number of different styles, for Christmas I got a Swissmar grill with a marble top. The grill is heated from the top and the bottom and heat resistant dishes are placed in the middle. The dishes can be filled with cheese or cheese, potatoes, and any number of things. Raclette is traditionally accompanied by small boiled potatoes, pickled onions, gherkins, salami, onion, peppers, tomato, mushrooms, pears, and sprinkled with paprika and pepper. Raclette is often served with hot tea, beer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Sparkling wine.

A Raclette party is a social gathering to leisurely enjoy this cheese and experiment with different flavor combinations. A Raclette dinner can last many hours. Just imagine yourself in a Swiss chalet, lounging by a roaring fire, cozy on fluffy pillows, with a Raclette grill and spread of cheese, meats, and vegetables. Why rush your enjoyment? Savor the flavor of the cheese and enjoy your wine and conversations. I like to leave my cheese on the grill until the top begins to brown.

Any cheese that melts well can be used on a Raclette grill such as Emmental, Appenzeller, Fontina, Mozzarella, and Gruyere. Feel free to experiment with different types of cheese like Midnight Moon or Chipotle Cheddar. I prefer to slice my cheese as needed to reduce waste and prevent the cheese from drying out. A Raclette grill is a great way to bring the family around the table and enjoy a fun and interactive dinner that is easy to assembly. It is the perfect solution when you don’t feel like cooking. Also, the top of the grill can cook kabobs, fish, mini-burgers, hotdogs, pizza, and quesadillas.

The only Raclette grill no no seems to be non-stick cooking spray. Do not use non-stick cooking spray as it will burn on to the grill. Also, don’t pile your Raclette dish too high as it has to fit in between the heating elements. Other types of Raclette grills include Raclette melters which can hold a wheel of cheese that has been cut in half and exposed to a heat source. These can be massive and can serve as the centerpiece in some Swiss restaurants.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


I love Jose Andres! He has some amazing restaurants in the D.C. area as well as his own cooking show "Made In Spain". I love his show because he has a big personality and interjects cooking at home with scenes from his travels in Spain. He is also the Chairman Emeritus of DC Central Kitchen which is a wonderful program in DC that not only feeds the hungry but offers job training.

We have enjoyed the tasting menu at Cafe Atlantico which included some Mini Bar treats. One of those treats was a beet tumbleweed which was delicious but the show stopper of that meal was the Foie Gras soup. I tasted the grilled octopus at the Zaytinya table at an event, Sweet Charity, last year and kept going back for me. We have been to the Jaleo in downtown and recently visited the Crystal City location where we enjoyed the following.

Papas arrugas - Canary Island-style wrinkled baby potatoes served with mojo verde (cilantro, cumin, garlic, Sherry vinegar and olive oil sauce). Those little potatoes were delicious and creamy inside and I loved the sauce.

Dátiles con tocino ‘como hace todo el mundo’- Fried dates wrapped in bacon. I didn't expect them to be breaded in fried which was the turning point in the meal when I tossed out any hope of being gluten free. The dates inside were melted and their sweetness played well with the salty pork of the bacon.

Butifarra casera con ‘mongetes’ “Daniel Patrick Moynihan” - Homemade grilled pork sausage with sautéed white beans. The sausage was incredible, I love pork and the flavor of this sausage was comforting on such a cold winter night. I could have done without the beans as their flavor didn't speak to me.

Codorniz con salsa de romero y alioli con miel - Grilled quail with rosemary sauce and honey alioli. This was one of my favorites! I love to eat little birds and this one was so tender and the sauce was sweet and savory. I was happy to mop this sauce with some bread. The bread was disappointing as I do not often indulge in bread I always want it to be fresh, crusty on the outside with a softness inside. This bread seemed dried and old but a decent vehicle to eat more rosemary sauce and honey alioli.

Arroz cremoso de setas - Wild mushroom rice with Idiazábal cheese. This was my other favorite of the evening. As you can see I forgot to take a picture until it was mostly enjoyed. I love Idiazábal which is a firm smoked sheep's milk cheese but it does not have a strong smoked flavor.

Pato con peras - Marinated duck confit with pear sauce. If you haven't noticed, we love meat and like to eat a variety of animals both cute and ugly. The duck was tender and complimented by the pear sauce. I prefer my duck skin crispy while this one was heavy and fatty which was not so good once it got cold.

Conejo en salmorejo con purée de albaricoques - Canary Island-style rabbit confit with apricot purée. We eat a lot of rabbit as I can pick them up fresh from the dairy farm I visit on a weekly basis. I understand they are boney but I was not expecting to be served what amounted to a section of backbone which was more bone than meat. The chunks of white meat were slightly dry but very flavorful. I would not consider it confit as if it had been cooked in fat I would expect it to be more tender.

Cordero a la brasa con salsa de romero* - Grilled lamb chops with rosemary sauce. They were tasty, hard to share among 3 which is the issue with a few of these tapas. Some can be shared, some tasted, and some are best enjoyed alone. It is easy to rack up a big fat bill at Jaleo and still want to order more food as the selection is so appetizing.

This was one of the specials, I believe it was grilled eel served on mashed potatoes with balsamic onions. It was very delicious, we love eel, and the mash was very creamy.

Espuma de avellanas y chocolate - Chocolate and hazelnut mousse torte. I loved the hazelnuts they were crunchy, nutty, and sweet. But the cake did not seem very chocolatey or hazelnutty. I should have ordered some cheese.

Flan al estilo tradicional de mamá Marisa con espuma de crema Catalana - A classic Spanish custard dessert with ‘espuma’ of Catalan cream and oranges. Basically a flan and decent.

Pastel Vasco con helado de leche merengada - Basque cake with semolina cream, cinnamon-vanilla sauce & ice milk. This was interesting and the inside of this cake fascinated me. The stand out dessert was the ice cream served with this dish. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out its flavors as it was more than ice milk. There was vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, and something familiar.

I highly recommend Jaleo but when we visited the downtown location we were dissapointed by the Paellas. Be sure to go to Jaleo with people who are willing to share and have good taste.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Prairie Breeze

Prairie Breeze is made by Milton Creamery in Milton, Iowa. Milton Creamery sources its milk from five local Amish family dairy farms where the cows are milked by hand. The milk is of exceptional quality and produced using time honored methods. The cows graze on grass seasonally and are not treated with rBST.

Much like the farms producing their milk, Milton Creamery is a family business. Husband, wife, and children are involved in the business. Owner, Rufus Musser grew up in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania and in 1992 moved to southeast Iowa with his wife and five children. Rufus was approached by two Amishmen in 2002 who wanted Rufus to buy their milk and use it to make cheese. They started making Cheddar and fresh curds and their first batch of cheese was made on May 8, 2006. They now make Colby as well as some flavored Cheddars, Prairie Breeze and Prairie Rose.

In February 2007, Rufus's 16 year old son Galen took over the cheese making process enabling Rufus to focus on marketing and deliveries. I am amazed that such a young person is making such incredible cheese. Prairie Breeze and Prairie Rose were introduced in the late summer of 2007 and have been getting a lot of attention. It helps that they use exceptional milk and traditional methods to produce such delicious cheeses.

Prairie Breeze is a rindless cheddar that is aged for a minimum of six months. The block I enjoyed was made in the spring of 2008, giving it additional time to develop yummy flavor crystals. This cheddar is creamy and cruchy with notes of nuts, a touch of salt and a hint of sweetness and pineapple. This cheese pairs well with Champagne, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and your favorite beer.

When I first saw this cheese I couldn't help thinking, "Oh great, another Cheddar, just what we need". After tasting this cheese I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I think this Cheddar differs from others because of the milk, the hand milking of the cows, the short distance the milk travels to the Creamery as well as the traditional time consuming methods that are used to make this cheese. If you come across this Cheddar, give it a try. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.