Cheese Pantry Favorites for Summer 2016

Blue Cheese with Effies Oatcakes and Strawberry Fig PateMany moons ago, I promised you a regular pantry series on Madame Fromage. Then I fell into a martini glass and am just now resurrecting myself. Let me share three of my favorite pantry discoveries of the last several months.

Effie’s Homeade Oatcakes

If you’ve followed this blog for some time, you’ve heard me diss on crackers. The purist in me likes to eat cheese naked (the cheese, that is) or with a slice of baguette. Crackers distract. Effie’s Homemade Oatcakes, however, provide a textural featherbed for cheese that leaves me swooning.

Made with simple ingredients, these biscuits are toothsome. Paired with Stilton or cheddar, they make me think of the classic oaty-biscuits-and-cheese combination that the Brits are so fond of. I like to keep these oatcakes in my desk drawer at work for spontaneous summer cheese picnics. I also love to pack them for in-flight cheese boards, alongside apple or pear slices and a spot of crumbly clothbound cheddar.

Effies Homemade Oatcakes Cheese Board

Effie’s Homemade Oatcakes first appeared before me at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival a few years ago, where I met owners Joan Macisaac and Irene Costello (the oatcake recipe belonged to Joan’s mother). Recently, I sent a fan letter to their Boston HQ and they were kind enough to ship a box of oatcake varieties. I am a sucker for their classic oatcakes, but here are a few combinations I adored:

  • Effie’s Corncakes: with chevre + lavender honey
  • Effie’s Cocoacakes: blue cheese + strawberry-fig jam + Treat spiced pecan
  • Effie’s Ryecakes: Red Cat (or any funky, fudfy cheese) + kraut + rosemary sprig

Treat Bakeshop Candied Pecans

Sarah Marx Feldner makes some of the best spiced pecans I’ve ever tasted. A perfect balance of sweet-savory with a flash of heat on the finish, they’re delicious with sharp cheeses. When Feldner first emailed me and offered to send me samples, I thought, “wellllll, okay?” After all, I’ve eaten plenty of spiced nuts on cheese boards over the years, and I didn’t imagine that a spiced pecan made in Milwaukee could be revelatory. Cue the trombone: whah wahhhhh. 

Treat Bakeshop spiced pecans, candied pecans, spiced walnuts -- great for cheese!

Well, I was wrong. These pecans are beautifully spiced. Feldner apprenticed with nationally known spice company, Penzeys, and has a long history of working in the food world (she’s also the author of A Cook’s Journey to Japan). I enjoyed sampling her jar of spiced pecans and her 3-bag gift set of spiced pecans, candied pecans, and candied walnuts. Spoiler alert for my dad: I’ll be ordering these for his birthday in August.

Oregon Growers Fruit Patés

Using fresh fruit from the Columbia River Gorge, these jarred fruit patés from Oregon appealed to my love of cheese and jam, plus their size is just right for packing into my cheese valise on little trips. Here are a few things I loved about tasting these fruit-forward spreads: they’re made from whole fruit without additives or preservatives, and the company cultivates long-term partnerships with regional growers.

Oregon Growers Fruit PateStrawberry Fig Pate from Oregon Growers

When you check out the Oregon Growers website, you’ll see suggested cheese pairings for their whole line. I was partial to the strawberry-fig pate, for pairing with blue cheese and goat cheese. The pear-hazelnut was excellent with Comté.

I’m glad the folks at Oregon Growers reached out. I wasn’t familiar with their products, but now I’ll look for them and try pairing them with some of my favorite Oregon cheeses from Rogue Creamery.

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Full disclosure: I review products from time to time in order to explore new pairings. The products reviewed here were sent to me as samples. I only request and review pantry items that I truly adore.

 

Pairings: Alpine Cheese and An Old Fashioned

Hornbacher and ChallerhockerOne of my favorite drinks in The New Cocktail Hour — the recent book I wrote with my brother André — has to be the Old Fashioned. Its flavor profile is aromatic, earthy, and sweet-spicy, thanks to a mix of whiskey or brandy, bitters, sugar, and orange peel. That, friends, is a true Old Fashioned, the first cocktail on record and the prototype for all cocktails to come.

Years ago, when I visited Wisconsin on a cheese media tour (yes, these exist), I remember Uplands cheesemaker Mike Gingrich declaring that he liked to drink an Old Fashioned alongside his famous Alpine-style cheese, Pleasant Ridge Reserve. I thought he was being funny, since the Old Fashioned is Wisconsin’s state drink. It’s what you order on Friday night at a fish fry — another Wisconsin institution. When I think about what I miss most about living in the state (I spent 10 years in Madison), it’s those Friday nights. You rolled into a supper club after work, nursed a couple of Old Fashioneds — usually made with Korbel brandy, muddled oranges, and cherries — then slid into a booth for a couple of beers and a basket of fish.

Alpine Cheese and Old Fashioned Cocktail Board

After researching the Old Fashioned for the book, I no longer order Brandy Old Fashioneds or expect muddled cherries in the mix — I’ve switched to whiskey and to the traditional recipe. BUT, I still like to settle back with an Old Fashioned on a Friday night. Recently, I doubled down on a pair of Alpine cheeses, and what a dreamy night that was. I believe Mike Gingrich was a prophet.

An Old Fashioned pairs beautifully with Alpines.

Here’s why: great Alpine cheeses tend to be earthy and herbaceous (think: beef broth and rosemary) with deep caramelization (think: caramelized onion). An Old Fashioned is also earthy (from whiskey) and herbaceous (from bitters) with a slight caramel sweetness (I use Demerara sugar, which has a hint of molasses). See where this is going? Now, get ready for some magic. This cocktail and this style of cheese, they want to dance cheek to cheek.

Old Fashioned Cocktail

Here’s how..

  1. Bring home a couple of Alpine cheeses on a Friday night. Me? I picked up Hornbacher and Challerhocker. Yeah, they should form a grrrl band. Hornbacher is all candied hazelnut and very dry. Challerhocker wears a crown of rosemary in her hair and has beef stew on her breath. Of the two, she is saltier.
  2. Fix an Old Fashioned.
  3. Taste a bite of cheese, savor it, then swallow. Follow it with a sip of cocktail. Repeat with the other cheese. Believe me, this could go on allll night.
  4. Note: don’t fret if you can’t find Hornbacher and Challerhocker, though they are dreamweavers, I’m telling you. Ask your local cheesemongers for the most interesting Alpine cheeses at their counter, and if they don’t know what an Alpine cheese is, storm out of there and call me. (Alpine cheeses are made in the Alps. Gruyere and Appenzeller are easy-to-find examples. They’re made in enormous wheels, and they’re often washed with wine or spirits and rubbed with herbs — kinda like a very refined barbecue sauce but for cheese.)

Old Fashioned Cocktail Set-up

 

Old Fashioned Recipe

2 ounces (60 ml) whiskey or brandy (I used Buffalo Trace)

1 Demerara sugar cube (I used 1 teaspoon of Demerara sugar)

2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters

1 teaspoon water

Orange peel, for garnish

Instructions: Drop the sugar cube into a chilled rocks glass. Dash in the bitters and muddle with the back of a spoon, coating the bottom and the sides of the glass. Drop in a large cube of ice, or a couple of ice cubes (use fresh ice made from filtered water, friends). Then add spirit and water. Stir. To garnish, use a paring knife to shave a whisper-thin strip of orange peel, avoiding the pith. Twist the strip of peel over the drink to express the oil onto the top of the drink. Then, slip the peel into the glass. Enjoy.

Old Fashioned Cocktail and Alpine Cheeses

The Old Fashioned is one of the recipes in my new book, The New Cocktail Hour (Running Press 2016), which hit shelves on April 26, 2016. For more information, check out my BOOKS page. To see where I’ll be in the next few months, visit my EVENTS page.

 

The New Cocktail Hour Book Release

A Gin Basil Smash from The New Cocktail HourIn a few weeks, the basil will be abundant. You’ll spend your day at work dreaming of fresh mozzarella, of compact goat cheeses that can be eaten in one sitting, like a petit fillet. May I present a lovely combination – a Gin Basil Smash with a gooey Cremont?

Andre and Tenaya with Cocktails at ShootToday, I am celebrating the official release of The New Cocktail Hour, a book I spent two years writing with my brother André. We have been anticipating this day for a long time!

André lives in Wisconsin, which means we spent a lot of time on Skype — shakers in hand, notebooks open on our respective tables — in order to write this book.

The Gin Basil Smash is one of our favorite drinks. Fresh basil, muddled in the glass, gets a hit of lemon, a splash of simple syrup, and a shot or two of gin.

Summer rises from the glass.

The smell of citrus surrounds you.

Herbaceous gin leans in.

It’s a slow dance.

Over the weekend, I tested out an interactive Gin Basil Smash party with a bunch of friends.

My friend Mike Geno, who paints the most beautiful cheese portraits, hosted the event at his studio.

It was so much fun, I can’t wait to do it again.

If you are yearning for summer, may I suggest you throw your cares to the wind and host a Gin Basil Smash Party? Forget cleaning your house this weekend. Let the shoes pile up by the door. Don’t scrub the tub. Let the dishes sit in the sink, as long as you have a few clean cups.

Gin Basil Smash in The New Cocktail Hour

Grab some lemons, some basil, and a bottle of gin. Pick up a few spring goat cheeses and a baguette or two. Then, make a little simple syrup (1:1 sugar and water), and let the smashin’ begin.

It’s quite cathartic. And your house will smell like freshness itself.

Mike Geno in his Studio

Artist Mike Geno sipping a Smash in his studio

The Gin Basil Smash is just one of the drinks in The New Cocktail Hour.

If you’d like a book plate signed by my brother André and me (shown below), just drop me a line. I’d love to send you one in the mail. Just email me: tenayadarlington@gmail.com.

The New Cocktail Hour book release

If you’re a retailer interested in carrying this book, please email: katie.gallagher@perseusbooks.com.

Want to join me for a cocktail? Check out my Book Events Page. Big tasting this weekend!

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Huge thanks to those who donated cheese and drink to Saturday’s smash: to Dean Brown at Rowhouse Spirits, to Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm, to Betsy at Vermont Creamery, and to Mike Geno who spiffed up his studio and invited me in to get his floors sticky!

Ouleout and Endive

Vulto Creamery OuleoutI’ve been meaning to tell you about my new favorite way to eat stinky cheese. With endive. Each leaf is a perfect cheese canoe. Here, I am using Belgian endive leaves to portage Ouleout, my latest beefy dreamboat. I’ve added a sprig of dill and a sprinkling of walnuts for freshness and crunch. Glorious. Forget your crackers, your bread, your gluten-free rice cakes. Plant worshipers, come hither. I believe endive will save us all.

A member of the chicory family, Belgian endive is a bitter green. It’s easy to find at the grocery and the perfect size for picnicking or packing as a snack. Before I run off to work, I like to lob a wee head of endive into my tote, along with a hunk of beefy cheese and a handful of nuts. Then, when I’m hungry, I relish peeling off each slender leaf and preparing a desk lunch of endive boats.

Ouleout and Endive with Walnut and Dill

Vulto Creamery’s Ouleout is an ideal endive passenger because the boldness of the cheese cuts through endive’s slight bitterness. Can’t find this cheese? Try any muscular washed rind that makes eyes at you over the cheese counter. Oma. Epoisses. Even a heady Taleggio. These cheeses are all of the same ilk, the same style: burnt-umber rinds, fudgy paste. Cheesemakers moisten the surfaces of these cheeses with brine (or booze) to create a sensuous texture and to foster a rosy glow on the rind.

Are you panting yet? Look below, Ouleout is giving you the stink eye.

Ouleout From the Side with Dill and Pears

About Ouleout (OH-lee-out): Like paté, this raw cow’s milk cheese from the western Catskills of New York is rich and beefy. When I met up with cheesemaker Jos Vulto of Vulto Creamery at a Di Bruno Bros. tasting recently, he laughed and told me that people who taste his cheese often ask, “Why do I feel like I am eating meat?” Vulto, who is a sculptor by training, has achieved cult status in the cheese world for his rustic raw-milk cheeses. He began as an urban cheese hobbyist in Brooklyn, then found such a warm response to his project that he built a small creamery in Walton, New York, where he produced his “first legal batch” in 2012. Ouleout is named after a nearby creek (which is named after an Iroquois chief). To read more about Vulto Creamery, check out this terrific story on Cheese Notes.

Pairings: A Belgian Dubbel, a brothy pu-erh tea, or for a cocktail? Something tells me this cheese-and-endive combination would be exquisite with the gin-and-onion chord expressed by a Gibson.

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Today is Raw Milk Appreciation Day! How are you celebrating?

 

The Greensgrow Mule with Goat Cheese

Greensgrow Mule with Bluecoat and Press Gang Ginger BeerWith The New Cocktail Hour on the brink of release, I find myself in a frenzy of cocktails and cheese pairings. What could be better? The weather is dreck, and a person needs bright drinks, bright dairy.

I offer you my notes from the weekend, where I served an all-local cheese board with a mostly local cocktail at the Philly Food & Farm Fest. This combination involved deep collaboration with old friends and new, in no particular order: Philadelphia DistillingPress Gang Ginger Beer, Greensgrow Farm, and cheesemonger Matt Buddah of Weaver’s Way Coop.

The drink was inspired by farmer Katelyn Repash of Greensgrow Farm, who offered me some “sweet, tender rosemary” I couldn’t resist. Since Greensgrow is my local urban farm — home of CSAs, workshops, and nusery plants that I enjoy — I wanted to honor the farm with a special cocktail. I played off Audrey Saunder’s Gin-Gin Mule, which appears in the “modern classics” section of my new book.

My discovery: savory rosemary works better with cheese than mint (mint lingers too long on the palate, I think). The Greensgrow Mule pairs beautifully with a range of cheeses and pairings, particularly honey and goat cheese. It’s a beautiful patio drink — gin, ginger beer, simple syrup, lime, and rosemary.

Here’s the recipe, along with the list of cheeses and pairings we paired with it on Saturday. Huge thanks to everyone who helped this dream board come together. Want a taste? I have more upcoming cheese + cocktail tastings listed on my events page.

Greensgrow Mule & Goat Cheese II

Greensgrow Mule

Lightly adapted from the much-loved Gin-Gin Mule recipe by Audrey Saunders (Pegu Club), this sipper uses local gin, local ginger beer, and fresh rosemary. Try seeking out as many local ingredients as you can find — or use your favorite gin and ginger beer.

11/2 ounces gin (I used Bluecoat Gin)

¾ ounce fresh lime juice

½ ounce simple syrup

1 to 3 ounces ginger beer (I used Press Gang)

lime wheel

rosemary sprig, for garnish, plus 8-10 needles for muddling*

Instructions: Muddle rosemary with simple syrup and lime juice in a shaker. Add gin, shake with ice, and strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with lime and a sprig of fresh herbs.

*For a true Gin-Gin Mule, use mint in place of rosemary.

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The Cheese Board

Recreate this board using cheeses similar in style from your area: a fresh goat, a local Brie, a fudgy-wudge (think Taleggio), and a firm mixed-milk cheese. 

Shellbark Sharp II

A fresh goat cheese made by Pete Demchur of Shellbark Hollow Farm, Honey Brook, PA

Farm notes: Chester County’s first artisan goat dairy

Pairings: great with honey and orchard fruit, figs, nuts

@shellbarkhollowfarm

 

Buttercup Brie

A pudding-soft bloomy made by Paul Lawler at Cherry Grove Farm, Lawrenceville, NJ

Farm notes: Visit the cows and the farm store right on rt. 206

Pairings: try stone-fruit jam or sautéed mushrooms

@cherrygrovefarm

 

Fat Cat

A gateway stinker, made by Sue Miller at Birchrun Hills Farm, Birchrunville, PA

Farm notes: raw-milk farmstead cheeses

Pairings: serve with charcuterie, stone-fruit jam, toasted sourdough

@birchrunhills

 

Creamery Collection Batch #11

A firm beauty made by Sam Kennedy and Matt Hettlinger of Doe Run Farm in Chester County, PA

Farm notes: pasture-raised pasteurized farmstead cheeses

Pairings: made with a trio of milks, pair with guanciale and a Spanish red

@thefarmatdoerun

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The New Cocktail Hour officially drops on April 26! You can read more about it over on my sibling blog, Sprig+Spirit.