It’s been an exciting couple of weeks in Book Land — allow me to gush like Rush Creek? Yesterday, Serious Eats ran a terrific review (big thanks to cheese columnist Stephanie Stiavetti), and Real Simple put The Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese at the top of their recent gift guide.
We also found our book on the shelves of Anthropologie, which called for a cheese party and signing at the Philadelphia flagship store on Rittenhouse Square last night. What a pleasure to nosh on triple cremes and candied pecans with Jessica, Laura, and the rest of the stellar staff.
We signed a record number of book copies (54!) and loved toasting this particular set of faces — the whole DiPrinzio clan, a family of wildly exuberant cheese lovers.
Thank you to everyone who came out last night, and to everyone who has kissed this little cheese book with a mention…merci. Every time I sign a copy or flip through its pages, I remember how I sat down one day at this very laptop and thought, “hmm, maybe I should write a cheese book?”
That was, oh, almost three years ago now. It still feels surreal to see copies of it sitting around the house. And it’s even more surreal to see it at other people’s houses, especially when it’s bursting with sticky notes.
A round of sticky smooches to all…
Note: Copies of The Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese: Recipes, Wedges, and Pairings are available online from numerous vendors, including Anthropologie, Di Bruno Bros., Host the Toast, The Cookbook Stall, Powell’s Books, Barnes & Noble, Cooking.com, and Amazon.
This year, my brother André quit his job to become a wine writer. I’m very proud of him for plunging into the juicy void — the decision was inspired by a scholarship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in Napa. Before the scholarship, he was part of a secret coalition of studious drinkers that met to share knowledge and bottles — call it the Distance MFA for Sommeliers.
All this to say: his zeal for wine and my obsession with cheese conspired to turn our family Thanksgiving into a 3-day tasting that involved spreadsheets, carefully selected wines, a suitcase full of cheese, and bathrobes. Why bathrobes? One must sweat out the toxins. (Conveniently, our newly retired dad installed a “therapeutic” Jacuzzi — it’s supposed to be good for arthritis.)
From last Thursday until this Sunday, we ran our parents through unparalleled pairing experiments. Here was the set-up:
I brought 9 cheeses.
My brother brought 9 wines.
We had Cheesegiving for 3 days.
Here was our plan: I wanted to find wines to pair with two of my favorite winter cheeses, Epoisses and Marcel Petit Comté, and André wanted to find the perfect wedge to pair with Cru Beaujolais, which comes into season in November.
We tasked each other with ferreting out the best pairings. First, we emailed ideas back and forth, then we ended up grab-bagging a few extra wines and wedges to experiment with. My brother tracked down the best white Burgundy to pair with Epoisses, and he uncovered a mysterious recommendation for something called “Vin Jaune” (yellow wine) — a rare bottle from the Jura that was supposed to make us ache with joy when eaten with Comté and walnuts.
The Epoisses Challenge: I picked up a feral Epoisses from The Cheese Shop of Des Moines, not far from our father’s house. It tasted like steamed cauliflower and liverwurst, like unctuous pâté. André nailed it with a beautiful Meursault — a glowing white Burgundy characterized by oak and lime. The results were magnificent.
The Beaujolais Challenge: A lone wedge of Cantal from Di Bruno Bros. in Philly proved to be a stellar match for the bottle of Jean-Paul Brun Fleurie that made all of us see stars — big rubyfruit stars. In fact, Cantal was the showgirl who could kick over any glass we put before her — I’d never been all that fond of this rustic Frenchie, but I was mesmerized by how this workhorse can-canned with every bottle.
If you ever need to grab a wedge on the fly to pair with unknown substances, make it Cantal.
The Vin Jaune and Comté Stumper: The only puzzle we couldn’t solve was this pairing. We saved it for last because we were so enamored of this rare “yellow wine” once described as “one of the few wines that can stand up properly to cheese” by The New York Times.
Alas, Vin Jaune did not work with any of our cheeses at all. Not the Comté. Not the Bleu de Gex — also from the Jura — that I’d picked up as a back-up wedge.
Vin Jaune was an oddball swing dancer, more sour than sweet — like an exotic vinegar mixed with a splash of sherry. It was intriguing, in the way that sour beers are intriguing. I couldn’t help but wonder if the Comté I purchased was too young, too mild — not aged or wild enough?
If you have tried Vin Jaune with Comté and walnuts, let me know.
We are still scratching our heads as we reminisce about Cheesegiving 2013 from 900 miles apart.
My brother lives in Wisconsin; I live in Philadelphia. In December, we’ll meet again for Cheesemas.
Everywhere I go, I carry a little cheese valise. On trains. On roadtrips. And especially on airplanes. I will never understand why cheese counters don’t offer porta-cheese-plates this time of year for the on-the-go dairy lover.
Someone, please, hear my cry!
Say you get stuck in Detroit on Thanksgiving — it’s happened! — wouldn’t you want to cheer yourself up with a little goat cheese and green apple? Or, say you want to start your Thanksgiving feast on board? Why settle for plain pretzels with your plastic cup of white wine when you could dip them into a mini Camembert?
For the season, Pico is the ultimate in-flight cheese. It’s contained, practically odorless (if you care about your seat-mates), and capable of transporting you very briefly to the French countryside. Under its veil-like rind, you’ll find a creamy layer that’s absolutely divine — buttery, grassy, and perfect for shmearing on celery sticks. To me, this is a good “light” choice since it’s goat cheese.
I learned about Pico from cheese diva Jenny Harris at a recent Whole Foods book signing in Devon, PA. During a brutally long day at work this week, I ate it for breakfast (with fig jam) and lunch (with apples, celery, and a dried cranberry/cashew snack mix) at my desk.
I felt it simulated a cramped plane.
All I yearned for was a little bubbly. Next Wednesday, I will be packing Pico in my carry-on to Des Moines (gulp). I hope you sit next to me.
Tips For An In-Flight Cheese Board
- Don’t even think about substituting packets of string cheese. Come on! There are so many great little porta-cheeses: Banon, Saint Marcellin, Purple Haze, leaf-wrapped robiolas, or goat cheese buttons.
- If you have a long travel day, pack your soft cheese inside a frozen mitten. Or anything else in your carry-on that you can pop in the freezer the night before.
- Don’t want to fuss with my mitten-trick? Pick a low-moisture cheese that will hold up nicely without refrigeration. An aged Gouda, say — like Beemster or L’Amuse. Pecorino is excellent with almonds and an in-flight martini.
- Trader Joe’s snack packs of dried fruit and nuts
- Dates or figs for stuffing with blue cheese or slivers of Pecorino
- A take-out container of celery sticks, sliced apples, and grapes
- Effie’s Oat Cakes or a box of Carr Crackers
- Pretzel crisps, baked pita chips, or Nut Thins
- A small jar of jam from a hotel buffet
- A pack of Oloves (olives on the go) or a few gherkins wrapped in wax paper
- Sea salt caramels or caramel popcorn
Look for Pico at specialty cheese counters, including Whole Foods. Ask for a ripe one, or give the cheese a squeeze to make sure it gives a little. If you have the good fortune of staying home all cozy, try using Pico in this baked Camembert recipe from the BBC.
Lately, I’ve been staking out kosher dairy. It started with an inquiry from the Hazon Food Festival, where I gave a little talk. Then I heard about a Philadelphia caterer who requested a kosher cheese board from a cheesemonger I know. Kosher dairy? I was totally unschooled, so I skittered down to Di Bruno Bros. on a dead Monday and got a tutorial from Ian Peacock who pointed out every kosher product in the Italian Market store.
Big surprise: many of my fave products on the shelves carry a kosher symbol — from olive oils to dulce de leche — but I learned a hard truth about the cheeses at the counter. Even wheels that are certified Kosher lose their K-rating when they are cracked open in a non-kosher environment. Case in point: Point Reyes Blue. (Keep in mind that meat and dairy co-mingling is definitely NOT kosher — and at DB’s, Brie and prosciutto love to make out in the walk-in.)
Here’s where I am going to plug Vermont Creamery for what feels like the hundredth time this year (I think cheesemaker Allison Hooper slipped a chip in my brain when I stayed at her blogger chalet over the summer): Hooper makes kosher-certified cow’s milk products that stay kosher because they are individually packaged and therefore not exposed to the unkosher elements of your local cheese shop. Just look for the “k” rating on the back of the tub.
You want to have a Kosher-pa-looza? Grab your granny basket and load up on kosher crème fraiche, mascarpone, quark, fromage blanc and cultured butter. You can find Vermont Creamery products across the U.S. in markets big and small, and they are dreamily, creamily kosher. In a recent email to me about her kosher products, Hooper stressed that she uses milk and cream that are hormone-free, and she does not use any preservatives or stabilizers.
Hooper maintains her kosher certification — at her own expense — by following guidelines, like keeping kosher and non-kosher equipment separate. Her goat cheeses, for which she is famous, are not kosher for this reason. Honestly, this was fascinating news to me. I envisioned daily visits from a holy man who would bless stock rooms full of Vermont Creamery dairy. Hooper ensured me that there’s no such dial-a-rabbi.
In the spirit of Thanksgivvukah, I used Vermont Creamery’s kosher crème fraiche to top sweet potato latkes. They were remarkable, I must say. To read more about kosher cheeses, check out my post on the Di Bruno Bros. blog this week. I detail a few fabulous firm cheeses that are kosher certified, along with some vegetarian cheeses (no animal rennet) that aren’t kosher but are definitely in keeping with the spirit.
Sweet Potato Latkes with Kosher Crème Fraiche
This recipe comes from Serious Eats — I made very few changes. Note: these latkes are gluten-free. I’m a baguette addict, but I liked the idea of using rice flour instead of wheat flour here. I imagined that this little nuance would make the latkes lighter. So key! I have eaten my share of leaden latkes. Indeed, this recipe produces latkes that are almost billowy. Thwack a spoonful of crème fraiche on top, and you’ve got a sweet-savory supper.
1 pound sweet potatoes (two biggies), peeled and grated
1 large yellow onion, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white rice flour
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 scallions, minced, for garnish
apple or cranberry sauce (optional)
Peanut oil or vegetable oil, for frying
1. In a large bowl, combine the grated sweet potatoes and onions. Your eyes will be red and stinging from grating the onion, so pour yourself a little nip of something before the next step.
2. Take an old but clean kitchen towel (or some cheese cloth) and lay it in the counter. Pile the onion-potato mixture onto it, gather the edges, and carry this over to the sink. Wring it out while you weep. The amount of juice that comes out will be pleasantly startling.
2. Set this messy business aside. In your large bowl, combine the salt, flour, and black pepper. Whisk in the beaten eggs. Then add your gratted tatties and onions.
3. Get out a frying pan and pour 1/4 inch of oil into it. Crank up the heat to medium-high, and get it good’n hot. When you think it’s ready, sprinkle a little water on the pan: if it sizzles, you’re ready to fry.
4. Form patties, using 1/4 cup batter per pancake. Fry latkes 2-3 minutes on a side, or until both sides are golden.
Serving Tip: If you put a cookie sheet in your oven and turn it on low (about 200 degrees), this makes a lovely warming tray. You can fry all your latkes at once, then serve them topped with creme fraiche and scallions. A little warm apple sauce on the side is nice, but these latkes are sweet enough without it. Cranberry sauce would be better and more Thanksgivvukah-appropriate.
For the last several years, I’ve put together a holiday cheese sampler from the local area for Grid Magazine. This year’s board appears in the current issue, and I’m just dazzled by the selection. Look at those rinds, kittens! Look at that leaf-wrapped tuffet! Back in 2005 when I moved to Philadelphia from Wisconsin, the cheese scene was a sad landscape.
Now, eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey are churning out some luxe cats. Here’s what we’ve got on this cheese rink, moving counter-clockwise from the top of the board:
This zazen cushion of sheep cheese is such a find. It caught my eye at Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal Market, and I could hardly wait to get it home and slather it on homemade grahams with Tait Farm Fig & Olive Relish (also from PA) — what a lush trifecta.
This creamiscle-colored lover is trying to be a Gouda — not convinced, but we can pretend it’s a young one even though it looks like a Cheshire in drag. With Victory Dirtwolf IPA, it’s a dream.
I love a rubbed rind. This firm goat cheese coated in paprika has nutty hotness — it’s terrific with fig or date cake and a little sherry. I nabbed it at the Valley Shepherd stand in Reading Terminal.
Take a little round of goat cheese, wrap it in boozy fig leaves. That’s what cheesemaker Paul Lawler did when he invented this gorgeous bunting at Cranberry Creek. It’s ripe and runny inside.
I am a sucker for the woosh of licorice I taste in this cheese. You’ll find a hint of pepper, sometimes a hint of chocolate. I love to stuff BSM into dates.
To read the full dish on these cheeses, check out Grid Magazine. It’s on stands around Philadelphia this month.