Philly Chef Conference Redux

Cheese Groupies Philly Chef Conf

Here’s what a kitchen full of cheese groupies looks like. This is a shot from yesterday’s Philly Chef Conference, hosted by Drexel University’s Center for Hospitality and Sports Management. It brought together chefs — yes — but also writers, cookbook agents, students, restaurateurs, bakers, brewers, bartenders, food producers, and cheesemakers. What a thrill to be asked to select a special cheese pairing for a panel on “Building a Cheese Program.”

Our panel’s task: to to show aspiring chefs how to incorporate cheese boards into a restaurant menu. You’re looking at — from right to left — Sande Friedman (Tria), Yours Truly, Mary Grace Hodge (Flying Fish Brewing, moderator), Aimee Olexy (Talula’s), Sue Miller (Birchrun Hills Farm), and Julianne Scott (Drexel student helper).

Our panel’s goal: to give aspiring chefs a taste of great American cheeses. Most of the cheeses we selected were from around Pennsylvania to illustrate the vibrant dairy renaissance that is happening around us. Here’s what we served…

Goat cheese “truffles” + fresh marmalade

Restauranteur and local-cheese lover Aimee Olexy of Talula’s Garden and Talula’s Daily in Philly rolled Shellbark Sharp II into pinballs and topped them with a smidge of marmalade to play off the acidity of goat cheese.

Try this at home: Use any chèvre, roll it into balls, and serve it with marmalade (homemade or prepared) that has been mixed with a little fresh orange zest. On the side, serve a sweet cracker like Carr’s Whole Wheat, Lark Oat Bark, or Effie’s Oat Crackers. Pair with sparkling wine or green tea.

Cheese Plate I

Valley Milkhouse Thistle + Spruce Hill Blueberry Bourbon Jam

I’ve been enamored with this gooey bloomy cheese (think Brie), called Thistle, that has emerged from Oley, PA. To play off its fatty goodness, I chose a tart berry jam. It just so happened that Molly Haendler from Spruce Hill Preserves was at the conference, and she offered up a Bourbon-tinged sample. Woodsy and not too sweet, her jam was an excellent match.

Try this at home: Serve a gooey vixen (look for Brie de Meaux or Harbison from Vermont) and crack into a jar of berry preserves — cherry, blueberry, blackberry, loganberry, and strawberry all work well. For interest, swirl a splash of bourbon into your jam, or serve a bourbon hot toddy on the side.

Sue Miller Prepping Cheese

Nutcracker Goat Cheese + Honey Brittle

Sande Friedman who runs the cheese program at Tria, a series of wine bars, presented Yellow Springs Nutcracker, a firm goat cheese washed in walnut liqueur. Her house-made honey brittle was an outstanding touch — crisp and carameline. It illustrated how contrasting textures can create balance on a cheese board. You could serve her honey brittle with any cheese, and it’s a great alternative to nut brittles for those who have allergies.

Try this at home: Recipes for honey brittle are easy to make and require little more than local honey and baking soda (to make it puff up). Serve it with a firm goat cheese, like a goat Gouda or Midnight Moon.

Marieke Gouda with Fenugreek + Apple Mostarda

Aimee Olexy snuck in a second pairing to add a twinge of sweetness. Gouda, like Marieke’s from Wisconsin, can be a great last or second-to-last cheese on a board because it swings both sweet and savory. Aimee illustrated this with apple mostarda, a sweet-hot condiment from northern Italy.

Try this at home: Next time you serve Gouda, offer a sweet and savory pairing that can easily be combined, like bacon and maple syrup or apple butter and coarse mustard. You can also make mostarda (this looks like a great recipe from Marc Vetri) or find it in specialty food stores. I love mostarda with cheese and cured meats — Di Bruno Bros. carries an incredible line in their stores.

Cheese Plate 2

Red Cat + Flying Fish Abbey Dubbel

Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm presented her funky washed rind cheese, a style based on a monastic recipe. Beefy cheeses always pair well with complex abbey-style beers that are malty and effervescent.

Try this at home: Pick up a washed-rind cheese (it has a sticky orange rind), such as Taleggio or Epoisses. Serve it with an abbey dubbel. A savory spread, like onion jam or tomato jam, pairs beautifully.

Cheese Board Fixings

Milkhouse Sheet

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