This guy arrived a few weeks ago straight from France, as a gift from the best (cheese) friends a gal could ask for.
It appeared suspicious in it's plastic wrappings, and I was nervous all their efforts had been in vain...
Until the aroma hit me and I knew I had a treasure on my hands.
An alpine style for sure, but more onion on the nose than my usual Gruyere. Top notch mystery cheese!
Delicieux. C'est tout.
Are you a ham-lover? Meat-obsessed? Well you haven't had ham until you've had jamon iberico. This ham is so highly respected there's an international competition centered around creating a tapas plate to compliment it. That's one special meat!
The cured spanish ham has only been available in the United States since 2007, so it's still a hot commodity in NYC (read about it's arrival here). It can only be made from pigs of a very particular breed and diet, with a very particular manicure.
Another word for the ham is pata negra, a reference to the unique black nails sported by all pure Iberico pigs. I'd like to think that these pigs are the punks of the hog world, but given their fancy diet I'd assume they're probably more the aristocratic types.
Pata Negra is also the name of an adorable restaurant in the East Village that would be the perfect setting for an impressive first date. We learned that the difference between the various hams on the menu came down to how many acorns the pigs had eaten during their life: the longer they have been fed acorns, the more expensive (and delicious) the ham becomes. Since the pata negra was twice as expensive (read: twice as many acorns?) and the waitress described it as a ham for special occasions, we opted to try the regular jamon iberico.
As soon as the ham arrived, I understood what all the fuss was about. The smell wafting up to us from the table was almost that of cheese, but the first bite was all tender meat with hints of butter and smoke. The ham paired perfectly with the three Spanish cheeses we ordered: a classic Manchego, an ashy Monte Enebro and a special that wasn't on the menu and was extremely salty, smokey, and crumbly (and wasn't my favorite, to tell the truth.)
I highly recommend the restaurant Pata Negra to anyone looking for an intimate, authentic meal of true spanish tapas. And I highly recommend the ham pata negra to anyone looking for a rich, flavorful meat to pair with Spanish cheeses!
Now go out and eat some ham and cheese.
Have you ever watched someone take their first bite?
When we taste a food for the first time, we embark on a totally new experience. In that moment we surrender a part of ourselves to the unknown, and accept that our taste buds might just detest what we are about to put in our mouths. Tasting a new food is an adventure, so it's not surprising that many people shy away from this daring act.
While a foodie can use a thousand adjectives to describe a given dish, she can only have one first bite. By observing this bite we can experience the emotion that it evokes from within.
And so I present to you "First Bites", a photo collection of my first encounters with some of the most exciting cheeses I've eaten in the past few months.
Installment 1: Icelandic Cheeses
I am so lucky to have friends that contribute to my love of cheese by bringing back bundles of dairy joy from all over the world.
Recently, my incredible coworker Valdis brought back two cheeses from her visit home to Iceland. Given that the country is cold and covered in snow most of the year, I wasn't surprised that the Icelanders produce fat-packed
cheeses that melt in your mouth and warm you to the core.
Brie med hvítlauksrönd
Google translate tells me that "Brie med hvítlauksrönd" means "Brie with garlic stripes", and indeed it was a beyond buttery brie rubbed in herbs and striped in garlic.
"Stóri Dímon" or "Blue and White Mould Cheese" had both a bloomy white rind and blue mold inside. The Icelanders aren't keeping any secrets about their cheese!
Now go out and eat some cheese, and make sure to savor that First Bite.
1. Brillat Savarin
The famous gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said, "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." I wonder what he would say about the people who eat this cheese. Creamy is an understatement for this oozing delight, aged only a few weeks in the Murray's caves before sold at peak perfection. I served it to partygoers on a slice of baguette with a semi-sweet fig jam. Part cream cheese, part butter, this cheese is all parts delicious.
Hint: If you start with fresh milk you have a much better chance of ending up with great cheese.
6 cups (1.5 quarts) whole milk
4 cups heavy cream
1 cup plain cultured yogurt
1 rennet tablet (or, 1 teaspoon liquid rennet, normal strength)
¼ cup cool water
- Combine milk, cream, and yogurt in a large pot and stir well. Warm to 100 degrees F over low heat. Check temperature with thermometer. Remove pan from heat.
- Dissolve rennet tablet in the water in a small bowl. Add to warmed milk mixture, and stir thoroughly for 3 minutes (or until curd starts to set). Cover and let stand for 1 to 1.5 hours or until curds are firm and break away from the sides of the pan. The temperature should drop no lower than 85 degrees R, slowly reheat to correct temperature.
- Cut curds into 2 inch cubes. Let stand 15 minutes undisturbed. Lina a colander with a double layer of butter muslin. Pour or, using a perforated shallow ladle, spoon the mixture into a lined strainer. Fold the excess cloth over the curds and set the colander in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate to drain 8 hours or overnight.
- Transfer the drained cheese to a clean bowl, season to taste with salt, and stir well. The cheese is ready to be used in flavored cheese spreads or for cooking.
Instead of filling a colander, Jessica had us spoon the curd into squares of cheese cloth and instructed us to hang them over a sink to drain overnight. To achieve this, I created a contraption involving a hanger and a bottle of rum. That little cheese ball stank! I anxiously awaited the morning, wondering how something that smelled so bad could ever taste good.
The next day, still holding my nose, I took the drippy cloth to the kitchen and dropped the cheese into a bowl. Adding some salt, I sniffed and sniffed. Then the the toaster popped and I began to smear the new creation over my oh-so-toasted bagel.
Now back in New York, Lea suggested we take advantage of restaurant week (still happening!) and pay a visit to Artisanal Fromagerie, Bistro and Wine Bar, the leader of the high-end New York cheese scene. I had heard it recommended by financiers, lawyers, and the swankiest of New Yorkers, so I knew we were in for a treat.
Terrance Brennan opened the bistro in 2001, almost ten years after the start of his first restaurant, Picholine, which is said to have introduced the European cheese course into American fine dining. While the cheeses at Picholine are presented on a traditional cart, in Artisanal Brennan took the presentation a step further and planted an entire cheese shop in the center of the restaurant.
Unfortunately, we made a mistake by choosing the Artisanal blend fondue instead of a cheese plate, even though our server suggested a cheese plate quite a few times. I relearned that I should always listen to the suggestions of the staff during new cheese experiences. I was not impressed by the fondue (I'm a hard critic, having lived in the fondue capital of the world), and though I did have a wonderful chat with the cheesemonger Charles, who also told me I should have let him make me a cheese plate instead of ordering the fondue, I left with a feeling of immense disappointment.
I knew that if I approached the situation differently I could have a fantastic meal, so I paid Artisanal a second visit. This time, I was lucky enough to meet Terrance Brennan himself, since a mutual friend email-introduced us a little while back. Terrance took a few moments out of his busy day to chat and show us the special cheese caves that maintain the perfect temperature for the restaurant's cheeses. I asked Charles the cheesemonger to make us a plate of the cheeses he deemed best, and I requested the same of Matthew the sommelier, who chose three wine pairings for the six cheeses.
The presentation of the wines and cheeses was a truly grand performance. Matthew spoke in depth on the history and flavor of each wine, and Charles shared the stories of each cheese complete with personal anecdotes. I listened in rapture, overwhelmed by the full plates and glasses set in front of me.
These cheeses and wines contained so much complexity and knowledge! I couldn't believe I had the privilege of eating it.
When I finally took my first bite of Chaource I was greeted by the perfect combination of consistency and flavor: it was tart, but smooth, buttery, but bitey. The Truffle Tremor, Bavarian Limburger, Tarentaise, Roomano and Valdéon each impressed me with their distinct personalities, while serving as the perfect compliments to each other.
I left still in awe of the experience we had just had, beginning with a conversation with Terrance Brennan and ending with Charles and Matthew's harmonious cheese and wine pairings. Artisanal Fromagerie, Bistro and Wine Bar was by far the swankiest cheese experience of my life.
Now go out and eat some cheese.
In April I took my first trip to Barcelona. It wasn't the warmest time of year to visit the seaside city, but my traveling buddies and I thoroughly enjoyed the sun, art, palm trees and culture.
In three short days we visited the main tourist attractions such as Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's epic masterpiece of a church, Las Ramblas, a main street leading to the ocean filled with shops and restaurants, and Barrio Gotico, the old city of Barcelona. Wandering the skinny streets of the Barrio Gotico was by far my favorite part of the trip, and I would recommend that anyone spend most of their Barcelona time in this area. In the maze of tiny alleyways you can find the most obscure shops, restaurants, and people, all coexisting successfully despite their shockingly close quarters. While exploring these countless twists and turns, I discovered a myriad of exceptional cheeses from Spain and beyond.
This cheese plate is an example of the random awesome cheese we came across. We snacked on these cheeses and other tapas from a carry-out restaurant while watching a Barcelona vs. Madrid football match at a tiny bar in the old town.
The plate was made of cardboard and the cutlery was plastic and flimsy, but the cheeses were delightful. I wouldn't have expected so much flavor from such an unassuming presentation.
Bauma (Leeida) (Cataluna):
so f***ing good, smoked rind.
Brillat Saverin (France):
melt in your mouth. sooo
delicious. like liquid.
Payoyo (Cadiz) (Spain) :
softer than expected, very "spanish". payoyo = name of the sheep.
SO SPICY. with sherry it is SO GOOD --> perfect blend of sweet and spicy smooth.
"I couldn't eat the cheese by itself and I couldn't drink the sherry by itself but together they compliment each other... it works." - Lea G.
All the cheeses were intriguing but I was most excited by the Shoppshire Blue. I made sure this cheese was included on my plate since Dimitri Saad had recommended it by name. Even though it's technically a blue cheese, the color is orange, with greenish streaks of mold running through the creamy body. It hails from the British Isles but is obviously a favorite in Barcelona. As my notes say, the cheese is quite spicy but mellows out when paired with a good sherry. I brought a block of the Shoppshire Blue back home and shared it with my friends, and by pairing it with a random American sherry I was able to achieve the same third flavor that so amazed me at Vila Viniteca.
I left Spain with a great appreciation for Spanish culture, weather, food, and cheese. I hope to return in the very near future to eat and experience even more.
Ahora salga y comer un poco de queso.
|Found in my friend's apartment.|
There is nothing cuter than a Swiss cheese shop. My favorite one is located on Plainpalais right next to my old apartment and though it was closed the day I visited, I took a variety of photographs anyway. Then I ventured over to Les Halles des Rives, a marketplace complete with three different fromageries. I tried all three in search of my beloved 24 month gruyere, and I found it at Bruand S.A. Fromagerie were I ordered more than a kilo to ship home. On the way, I encountered Müller & Fils where I purchased some Mont Vully cheese, winner of the Swiss Championships in 2006. This cheese contains white wine and a hint of paprika, which can be found in a variety of Swiss foods from fondue to potato chips (I shipped these home too).
Looking for the perfect dessert after a delicious Swiss meal? Look no further than this perfect collaboration of beyond-creamy double crème de gruyère and melt-in-your-mouth meringues. The blend of tart, thick cream and sweet, crumbly cookie create a perfect harmony in every bite. Plus, I've never seen a more aesthetically pleasing dessert.
As luck would have it, a Swiss arts organization owns the apartment across the hall from me and runs a program that gives emerging Swiss artists the chance to spend a few months creating in NYC. The current artist living there is Mischa Camenzind, a brilliant guy who makes amazing pieces that provide a uniquely Swiss perspective of NYC and the world. Check out his artwork below.
We ordered a large tapas plate and a selection of three cheeses that the waitress suggested. All three were utterly delicious, but the cheese that stood out to me was the Gjetost, a Norwegian cheese that tasted more like caramel fudge than a dairy product. Gjetost is made from the whey in curdled milk, while most cheeses are made from the curd. This difference gives it a dark brown color and a sugary flavor. I couldn't believe how great the cheese tasted, but I also couldn't believe it was cheese.
It has an unusual, sweet flavor due to the way in which it is processed. The milk is cooked until the sugars in it have caramelized, giving the cheese its distinctive brown color and sweet flavor. The milk is then curded and pressed. The cheese became popular as a skiers' snack and thus the label on the whole cheese is emblazoned with the words "Ski Queen". It is widely popular among Scandinavians, and children in the United States are drawn to its sweet flavor.
And speaking of incredible experiences...
The only thing that could have made mine better would be to have beaten twelve world records during the celebration, like cricket player Freddie Flintoff attempted to do in only twelve hours:
Now go out and celebrate broken records by eating some cheese.
Yes, I am. And studies show that I might have an even stronger attachment to cheese. Not only am I obsessed, but I have an actual physical addiction to the delicious dairy products. People have long discussed how chocolate and other foods have addictive qualities, whether it be psychological or physical. Everyone that gets headaches when they don't have their morning cup of joe knows how addictive caffeine can be, and even use this fact as reasoning for consuming many cups each day.
I'm not surprised at the news of cheese's addictive quality. What comes as a shocker is the ingredient that is responsible for this phenomenon: morphine. MORPHINE?! That's right. Morphine is a natural ingredient in both cow and human milk, serving the purpose of creating a special bond between mother and child, and ensuring that babies get the nutrients they need. I'm serious! Learn more here:
Addicted to Cheese? Here’s Why (care2.com)
But I probably won't, and that's ok. On the list of addictive substances, a protein-packed dairy product is probably one of the least damaging. And most delicious.
And speaking of addictions..... Another on the list is chewing gum. In the U.S., people chew an average of 182 stick equivalents per person per year. This doesn't seem terrible. What's awful, though, is the amount of gum that ends up on the sidewalks of our cities. I've seen many train stations that have a chewing gum "carpet" on their platforms, due to years of wads of gum being discarded after they lost their flavor.
Now one artist has come up with a solution for all these disgusting gum marks. He's making them beautiful! Check out these awesome designs that Ben Wilson is creating on some of London's gum-infested sidewalks:
Now go out and eat some (addictive) cheese.
Here's a sampling of briny, illogical, and always fun cheese events that I've participated in lately:
Mozzarella Making Class
|Cheese with some leftovers from class.|
|Me eating the mozzarella|
Giant Whale Shark Reeled In By Pakistani Fisherman (abc.com)
The Stinky Cheese Festival
I attended the annual Stinky Cheese Festival, hosted by Tour de France, which is a group of French restaurants in New York City. For one week, each restaurant offers a special cheese-filled menu, featuring delicacies such as Welsh Rarebit Tallegio, Poached Pears with Gorgonzola, Raclette Savoyard, and Fourme d'Ambert Ice Cream. It was difficult deciding which of the nine restaurants to visit, but finally I settled on Pigalle, because I had never even heard of it before. Most of the dishes were truly impressive, although I was slightly bothered by the small proportion of cheese to pairings and garnishes. Then again, I'm a cheese-a-holic, and it's always hard to have enough cheese to please me.
Raclette with a selection of charcuterie, cornichon, and mustard.
A fresh cow's milk cheese dip with chives.
A Fourme D'Ambert ice cream served with a wine-poached pear and maple-walnut brittle. You can see that it was our favorite, because we gobbled it up before I could even take a picture.
Homemade Baked Brie
Some of the best cheese experiences take place at home when you create your own cheese dish with friends. I whipped up this Baked Brie with Leah on a rainy afternoon last week, following her friend Emily's recipe. The spatula got stuck, a few "flowers" fell off, but the finished product tasted spectacular. It was made all the better by the fact that it wasn't a mass produced item, but instead a unique product crafted by our own hands.
Fun: Creating your own cheese dish at home is both delicious and fun. It could be almost as fun as shooting a marshmallow gun around the white house with the president.
Now go out and eat some cheese.
|Look at all this incredible cheese that I didn't even get to try!|
Then a very unfortunate turn of stomach events led me to the sad conclusion that I should try cutting out cheese for a while. It may have been the greatest challenge I've ever attempted (harder than eating maggot cheese) and I must admit that I failed at the challenge after a very short amount of time. I love cheese too much to abandon it, even for a very temporary period.
|More cheese! So hard to resist!|
|Soy cheese. Look how boring it is.|
As I expected, I completely agree with all the cheesers who claim that soy cheese is not truly cheese. It's an acceptable food, and if I hadn't eaten cheese in years I could see myself enjoying it. However, I do eat cheese daily and savor every morsel I pop in my mouth. So I cannot say that I like soy cheese in the least.
Here's a week filled with a new breed of cheese and stories that are beany, fake and daunting.
6 new breeds debut at Westminster dog show, but history shows rookies face long odds to win (washingtonpost.com)
Beany: This man was crowned "Captain Beany" when he took a bath in baked beans 25 years ago. Based on his name, I think he might be one of the only people who would prefer soy cheese over its dairy-filled parent. For his next fundraiser he'll be bathing in a large bath of tomato soup, but maybe he could be convinced to bathe in soy cheese in the future.
Captain Beany turns soup-a-hero for day (thisissouthwales.co.uk)
Sanna Dullaway's Colorized Series Of Historical Photos Creates Controversy (huffingtonpost.com)
Now go out and eat some REAL cheese.
This Gruyere, the original and the best, is produced by the Swiss company "Le Gruyere." They only export cheese up to 12 months in age to the USA. Cheesemongers have told me this is because there isn't a market for the deeply aged Gruyere here in the states, but that's hard for me to believe! The 12 month can be quite delicious, especially when aged by great cheesemongers like Murray's Cheese, but to me it doesn't represent the true Swiss taste. When I lived in Geneva, my favorite Gruyere was the 24 month, which is TWICE as old as the Gruyere in the USA and arguably twice as delicious.
tasting Gruyere may vary from week to week.
Donc allez-y et mangez du fromage.
It's been a few years since I had Reblochon, but I can't imagine that it's much better than this gem. The consistency is ridiculously gooey, the flavor is pungent yet smooth, and the overall experience is as near to perfection as a pasteurized, legal cheese could be. It's no wonder the name translates to "Favorite from our Mountains".
Oh Préferé de Nos Montagnes, I hereby crown ye Cheese of the Week.