Monday, June 13, 2011

Yarra Valley Feta - My Marinated Addiction!

Has anyone else noticed that Haagen Daz ice cream is no longer being sold in pints? Yup, it is now a 14 ounce package, not 16 ounces - the officially approved measurement for a pint of ice cream. I noticed this last night when I was at the store picking up some vanilla to use as a base for some tasty rhubarb/orange/thyme sauce I had whipped up (Check out my other blog for updates on my new preserving fetish, if you haven't already!).  I didn't notice until I got home, and boy was I peeved! Everywhere you look these days, people are cutting corners to save a few bucks. I'm usually ok with that except when it comes to my gastronomic addictions.

The good news is that I have a new addiction, and it somehow feels less dirty and corporate than Haagen Daz - though just as creamy and delicious - just think savory, not sweet. Yarra Valley Dairy in Australia produces the most addictive marinated Persian style Feta cheese I have ever tasted. And at just $12 a pound, I can get my cheese on for cheap. A little goes a long way stuffed into baby peppers and spread on morning (and afternoon snack) toast. With a couple of baby tomatoes, it's a perfect fix. I have been pondering blending some of it up with a little more olive oil to make a tasty vinaigrette for an arugula salad, or as a topping for a nice skirt steak. Pasta primavera could be nicely tarted up with the addition of some of this dreamy feta too.

The good farmers at the Yarra Valley Dairy make a delicious, creamy, tangy-sweet cow's milk feta and then they go and gild the lily by marinating it in Extra Virgin Olive oil, garlic and thyme. The feta itself is so much better than anything you can get at your local megamart, and then after steeping in the bath of the gods (Can't you imagine Athena and Zeus getting comfy in a tub of olive oil? Just saying...), it is just to die for.

If you can find this marinated beauty, buy it, take it home and use and abuse it in as many ways as you can think of. After coming back from the cheese shop, I hit the grocery store for a few staples, and found Yarra Valley Feta in the fancy cheese section. Hooray! A little more pricey at $6.99/6 oz, but not bad in a  pinch. If you can't find it, you can perk up a little grocery store feta with olive oil, peppercorns, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, or what have you and be almost as happy. David Lebovitz has some helpful instructions here.

So now I have two dairy addictions - Haagen Daz and Yarra Valley Feta. (Well, and basically any cheese you put in front of me) Sweet and savoury. New and exciting cheese dreams, here I come!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Old Fashioned Cheese Sandwiches

The grilled cheese sandwich has been having quite a renaissance lately, hasn't it? I've been quiet on the topic, as I think that it is being quite well covered. There is a grilled cheese truck delivering cheesy goodness to office workers and foodies all over Los Angeles, and the Grilled Cheese Invitational  recently brought together over 200 cheese sandwich experts to compete for glory. One of my favorite cheese writers, Laura Werlin, has just put out her second book of grilled cheese goodness!  Now, I love a grilled cheese sandwich as much as the next person, but I'm having trouble with all the hype. It's gotten to the point where I ignore any cheese stories about grilled cheese...what can I say, I'm a contrarian!

Recently, I found an amazing little book in my mother-in-law's library: Hints to Young Housekeepers by Mrs. Black. Written in Scotland in the 1880s, some of the recipes are kind of gross, and include boiling cabbage for hours. Others sound very practical and tasty. (I have started a separate blog, if you're interested.  Check it out here.) Just this morning, I found the following recipe for cheese sandwiches, and found it a refreshing alternative to grilled cheese. Just in time for summer! I quote her recipe in it's entirety below.

"This is to my mind one of the most delightful things for a sandwich possible, and the season is approaching when sandwiches will be required. Have 1 egg boiled hard, which is for ten minutes, 1/4 lb. common cheese grated, 1/2 teaspoonful of salt, 1/2 teaspoonful of pepper, 1/2 teaspoonful of mustard, 1/2 teaspoonful of sugar, 1 table-spoonful of butter, 1 table-spoonful of vinegar or cold water. Take the yolk of the egg and put it in a small bowl and crumble it down, put among it the butter and mix it smooth with a spoon, then add the salt, pepper, sugar, mustard, and the cheese, mixing each well. Then put in the table-spoonful of vinegar, which will make it the proper thickness. If vinegar is not relished, then put cold water instead - give it a good mixing. Spread this between two biscuits or pieces of oatcake, and you could not desire a better sandwich."

Delightful, no? Mrs. Black was writing her helpful hints in the 1880s, from an office in Glasgow, Scotland. I can only imagine that "common cheese" at that time was incredibly delicious, made from local, organic milk, from cows munching on highland moor grasses. The cheese "mush" created from the blending 1/4 pound of cheese with egg yolk, butter, mustard and vinegar, mellowed with a little sugar sounds pretty tasty to me! You could add a little thyme or tarragon if you were looking to tart it up a little, but otherwise, this cheese spread sounds perfect for a picnic lunch!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Peaceful Appalachian Spring (Cheese)

Little did I know that last Friday was going to be the last peaceful day that I was to have for a long time (more on that perhaps at a later date). It is something to celebrate, therefore, that it was a fabulous day. I managed a good hair day, just in time for picture day at the DMV, managed to be in and out of that bureaucratic maze in less than half an hour (Helpful hint - always make an appointment. Always.), and had managed to walk away from a specialty cheese counter with many tasty packages for just $22.  I was enjoying a moment of bliss in my cheese wedge lunch. It was indeed such a tasty cheese that I was loathe to sully it with crackers, eating it with just a knife and my oh so dainty fingers. Plus, it's totally Atkins approved this way, right?

I was noshing away on Meadow Creek Dairy's Appalachian cheese. It is a semi-hard cow's milk cheese made from milk produced by a heard of delightful Jersey's in the mountains of south west Virginia. It sports a thin and lovely Pennicillum mold coat and melts oh so well on the tongue. Like sweet butter. Only with great undertones of earthiness and just enough funk on a rind that could have doubled for a delicate lichen growing on a stone wall. This cheese is delicious and sweet with a nifty peppery hint at the end, and definite citrus notes. When you eat it with the rind, you get the feeling that you are eating a cheese with an old soul that has seen the pristine forests and mineral rich pastures 2800 feet up in the mountains.

Not only do the folks at Meadow Creek have happy cows making milk so high in beta carotene that the cheese is naturally the color of butter, but they have happy pastures too. They rotate where the cows graze allowing the grass to re-grow before it becomes another tasty luncheon location for their talented herd. Very cool.

This was the first cheese that I had really savored in this way in a very long time, and what a treat it was. In fact, it was so delicious, I forgot to take a picture before it was mostly gobbled up. I hope you'll forgive. While the mountains of Virginia aren't necessarily the first place I would think of when it comes to cheese making, I have definitely been schooled! Check out this amazing cheese if you can find it.  According to their website, their cheese is available in 29 states, including plenty of Whole Foods locations.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cheese for Complicated Times

Arches Natl Park
Not quite desert, but you get the idea!

It’s been a while. I’ve been wandering the desert, in self-imposed cheese exile for months now. It’s a dark, unhappy place, let me tell you. And I’m full of excuses. First, I got a job that put me into rush hour traffic after the cheese shops had closed their doors for the night, and all of a sudden, it had been months since I’d smelled the inside of a cheese shop! And then, I wasn’t working. Finances took top priority and I stayed away, thinking I couldn’t afford the cheese I had grown to love. I convinced myself that I was being frugal, helping the family budget, etc. by eliminating cheesy goodness from our menu. Life was sad and blue – and not Roaring 40s Blue, but just an all around bummer! I tried to convince myself I didn’t miss it, but boy was that hard work!

But then, this morning, I was in town getting my driver’s license renewed and found myself near one of my favorite gourmet food and supply stores. Too tempting to resist, I went in with a budget in mind, and set to exploring the cheese case! The cheese monger was helping a mom and her kids pick out some Cesar’s Oaxaca Style String Cheese (made in Parma, WI) – yummy and very stringy! Watching 4 year olds excited about cheese just made me happier as I spied some old friends in the case and started calculating my budget in preparation for my number to be called. Ugh. Budgets.

But here’s the thing CheeseDreamers, just because an amazing cheese is made by a herd of happy Jersey cows eating spring grass in sunny, mineral rich pastures high in the mountains of SW Virginia (next post, I promise!), and carefully tended by a family that has been making prize winning cheese since the 1980s, it doesn’t mean that you need to blow your budget for your lunch! Yes, it may be $23 per pound, but for $3.50, you can get 2 ½ ounces of cheese – more than enough to satisfy your lunch time cheese cravings. And if the cheese is really good (trust me, this one is!), you don’t even need crackers with it – saving even more money and unnecessary calories! Don’t feel awkward about asking for smaller slices of cheese. Unless you are buying it for macaroni and cheese or for a dinner party, there is no need to get huge amounts of any one cheese.  Get a few ounces of 4 or 5 cheeses, and enjoy a new and different tasty lunch or dinner cheese course each night for a week. I walked out with a spring in my step, lots of tasty samples in my tummy, and 4 cheeses (1.3 pounds) for $22! Just slightly over my budget.

And when I sat down at the table, the laundry machine going in the background, coupons waiting to be clipped at my side, and list of potential career goals waiting for updating on my computer desktop, for a moment I was in another world - enjoying the funk and sunshine of a fabulous cheese, and feeling like a million bucks.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Seal Cove Farm Cheve - bringing the family together.

The past few days have felt like a week and a half, they have been so full of family events.  I met my brother at the Portland, Maine airport in the middle of the night, and we drove up to Belfast to celebrate the life and remember the love my grandmother had for all of us and we for her at a lovely memorial service.  It was the first time the whole family has been together in longer than any of us could figure out, so it served as a family reunion as well.  

My brother and I rented a cottage at the same complex where we stayed as kids, skipping rocks down by the shore and chasing lightening bugs.  A little sentimentality is appropriate at times like this.  Unlike when we were kids, however, we were able to stop at the grocery store to pick up a six pack of beer, a bottle of decent Pinot Grigot and, of course, some cheese and crackers!  As you know, I'm always a little leery of grocery store cheese, but with a little snooping, I found something fun.  Seal Cove Farm herbed chevre from Lamoine, Maine.  Local and tasty!  Good thing too, because our cottage turned into the afterparty spot after dinner on Thursday night for the cousins and a few aunts and uncles.  Serious props to my brother for getting the fire going in the stove.  You warded off the chill and made things just a little more cozy.

It was a little tough to open the package with the giant ginsu knife that we found in the drawer at the cabin, but once it was open, almost everyone was nibbling.  This cheese, from  Seal Cove Farm near Bar Harbor, which comes from the 125 goats that happily grazing on the rocky coast was perfect for the party.  It is flavored with herbes de provence, and while it tastes like there is garlic in the mix, there isn't.  The little bit of tang from the goat's milk combined with the herbs just bring out this great blend of flavors.  It's not a really complicated cheese, but since most of the relatives aren't really aware of my serious obsession with the curd, it's probably better that I didn't have a cheese soapbox to lecture from during the party. What a drag that would have been.  Instead, we just had some laughs, and shared some great stories, and got to know each other again with a little cheese and wine to lubricate the love.  

By the time everyone left and my brother and I were alone with our jet lag and a serious game of Crazy Eights, almost all the cheese was gone.  We took care of that pretty well.  

The next day we gathered at the hillside cemetery to say goodbye to Gram, with the sun shining down and the wildflowers blooming across the way.  It was a beautiful service, and we all came together with love for her and for each other.  I think she would have approved.  

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cheese for a Wednesday - pt. 31 Camillia, a Farmer's Market Find

As the weather changes and the sun stays out longer, my tastes spin toward Sauvignon Blanc, Stainless Steel Charddonay and goat cheese. It's kind of a cliche, but it's how my palate and brain work.  Crisp, clean flavors help keep summer from getting too funky (though some might argue that goat cheese is funky enough...).  Another thing I love about summer is the Farmer's Market.  Around here, it's open all year round, but there is something much more festive about buying apricots and fava beans than rutabega and turnips.

So, the last time I went to the Farmer's Market with my re-usable bag and steel toed boots to protect myself from the profusion of strollers, I stopped by the Redwood Hill Farm stall and picked up a hockey puck sized Camembert style goat cheese named Camellia.  The dairy is up in Sebastopol (far from Los Angeles), but I got a chance to talk with a few people who had just been up at the farm to see the new kids.  I really got a sense that they really care for their herd, who all have names.

Camellia is one of their favorite goats, and the cheese certainly looks like a Camembert (other than the goat on the label).  The bloomy rind has the appropriate ammonia-lite scent, and there is a milky-ness to the nose of the paste.  What's different is the bone white color of the paste - normal for goat cheese but weird if you are expecting the butter yellow paste of a traditional Camembert.  The flavor has a wee bit of goat-y funk, but really it just tastes sweet and creamy with just a touch of salty.  Pretty fantastic!  We tasted ours when the cheese was still young, but it still had a nice richness to it, though it didn't ever get really gooey even when we let it set at room temp for over an hour, but it did get nicely soft. This cheese has won several gold medals at competitions, so other people think it's good too!

I saw this for sale up in Santa Barbara wine country at the local market, and I'll be enjoying it again the next time I head to the Farmer's Market during my continued celebration of longer days and warmer nights!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Science Project Update!

Science Monday has become Science Tuesday this week due to a last-ish minute trip to the beautiful Santa Barbara wine country.  If you'll remember, last Monday, I began a quest to reproduce the bacteria found in the fabulous Vendeen Bichonne.  I swiped a precious piece of this cheese across a petri dish and waited.  And waited, and waited.  And then...attack of the killer mold!!!  I must say I was impressed with the miniature world I had created.  I had the Professor look at my civilization, and he helped me realize that I've actually created two separate worlds - one of bacteria and one of mold.  The big blue-ish and white fuzzy circles are the mold and the smaller dots are bacteria.  The Professor recommended that while mold is an important part of the cheesemaking process, it might be a little more volatile than I am scientifically prepared to manage.  He did suggest that I try and grow the bacteria a little more, by transferring it to a clean petri dish with a (scrupulously clean - ha!) toothpick and waiting (again!) to get a little more bacterial growth.

Hopefully, in another week, my bacteria universe will be teaming with life!