I am off to England this week for my first tour with Cheese Journeys! If you’d like to tag along, follow @CheeseJourneys on Instagram. Our travel odyssey begins tomorrow and runs through October 4, and we’ll be hitting some of the best cheesemakers and cheese shops around Devon, Somerset, and London.
My co-conspirators include Di Bruno Bros. VP Emilio Mignucci, cheesemaker Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm, and a few other mystery guests. A huge thanks to Anna Juhl, fearless leader and founder of Cheese Journeys. From owning a cheese shop to launching her own travel company, she is growing artisan-cheese appreciation in a way that thrills me.
My goal for this trip is to tell you the story of original British Cheddar (we’ll meet Mary Quicke of Quicke’s Cheddar and stay at the estate of THE Jamie Montgomery of Montgomery’s Cheddar). I’m planning to use Instagram for the crumb-by-crumb version of the tour. Then I’ll offer highlights here, upon my return. Here is our itinerary.
Curious about Cheese Journeys? There are more trips in the works, including a 2016 Tour to France and the 2016 Tour of the Oregon Coast! I’m participating in an Enthusiast Tour and will be offering a workshop on digital storytelling and food photography. Cheese Journeys also offers tours for industry professionals and arranges custom food tours.
Purrrr. That was my first response when a box of French goat cheeses arrived on my rowhouse stoop in Philadelphia. A pair of them, like a bride and groom. Soft, delicate. The scent of the French countryside still detectable on their rinds.
Yes, this post is going to get romantic. If you’re eating lunch at your desk, you may want to close the door. You see, I have spent the last week with this pair in a little threesome – picnicking, drinking cocktails on the sofa, making eyes at one another other over breakfast, sneaking into the kitchen at night for love bites. It’s not often that such perfectly ripe goat cheeses appear in one’s life.
And so Sainte-Maure de Touraine and Chabichou du Poitou seduced me. Utterly.
Cocktails with Chabichou du Poitou
Chabichou (pronounced like shabby shoe) hit the wet bar right away. The bottle of Chartreuse was in her hands before we were properly introduced. No surprise. Chabichou is one of France’s oldest and most honorable cheeses – likely developed by the Saracens in the 8th century A.D. It seemed fitting, then, that she reached for Chartreuse, a historically French liqueur created by Carthusian monks. With its many wild herbs, it’s a perfect match for goat cheese, especially in an afternoon sipper.
A Chartreuse Cocktail for Chabichou
- 11/2 ounces genever (I used Boomsma)
- 1/4 ounce green Chartreuse
- 3 ounces tonic water
- Cucumber slices and fresh mint, for garnish
Instructions: To prepare the cocktail, fill a rocks glass with ice. Add genever and tonic. Float the Chartreuse on top, then garnish with abandon. Serve with crudité, almonds, olives, fruit.
Note: Genever, a precursor to gin, has malty notes – perfect for underscoring the nutty, yeasty flavors in Chabichou.
From my Tasting Notebook: Chabichou du Poitou
Appearance: imagine a mochi ball cheesecake
Aroma: yogurt, bread, wet hay
Taste/Texture: I love how the fudgy middle yields to a cream line just below the rind, which is veil thin. As the cheese relaxes, the cream line melts, weeps a little. Ah! I taste a rush of damp hay, butter, yeast, black pepper on the finish. It’s like taking a rainy fall walk in the country while eating a butter sandwich.
Pairing Ideas: Cucumber, mint, and marcona almonds. Honey and Dates. Crumbled atop sautéed cabbage or greens. Woven into scrambled eggs. Needs a crisp white wine (Sancerre).
A Salad with Sainte-Maure de Touraine
Sainte Maure was soft-spoken, more fragile. He reclined on the couch in his gray fur coat and murmured in his sleep about a salad. “Pistachios,” he whispered, his whiskers twitching. “Apples, grapes.”
I darted into the kitchen and rummaged for my mandoline. A cheese so delicate requires a salad of thin shavings, I think. I am in a phase of shaving everything (now, don’t take that the wrong way). Using a mandoline, I shredded cucumbers and apples, a few green onions, and then I tossed these with greens and some lemon. Nothing more.
Instead of adding pistachios on top, I climbed into the fridge to root out a jar of pistachio butter for smearing under the salad. The inspiration came from a salad I once ate that was served on a swirl of homemade pistachio butter — I love the memory of the fork tines catching on a little bit of that cream as I swept up each bite of salad.
Sainte-Maure de Touraine Salad with Apples and Pistachio Butter
- 1/2 green apple, cored, thinly sliced
- 1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
- 1 green onion, thinly sliced
- 2 handfuls of mixed greens
- half a lemon
- sea salt
- dill and mint, for garnish
- handfuls of grapes
- 4 tablespoons pistachio butter (see note)
Instructions: Toss apple slices, celery, green onion, and greens in a bowl with lemon and sea salt. Mix with your hands. Serve on a plate you have prepared with a good shmear of pistachio butter. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and grapes.
Note: You can buy prepared pistachio butter, which I used initially. Then I tried making my own using a recipe from Coffee and Quinoa. All you have to do is combine a cup of pistachios with honey in a food processor – add some coconut oil along the way to smooth things out. The results are delicious, but I didn’t achieve quite the same ultra creamy consistency I yearned for. Just sayin’.
From my Tasting Notebook: Sainte-Maure de Touraine
Appearance: looks like a silver log under snowfall
Aroma: lemon, wet grass
Taste/Texture: Supple and creamy. The rind is like damp crepe paper. The flavors are delicate – like eating a cheese made of rain. Or baby tears.
Pairing ideas: Blackberry or blueberry jam, oaty crackers. A light jelly – like rose petal or Champagne.
Curious to check out Chabichou and Sainte-Maure? My samples were provided by The Original Chèvre, the first U.S. campaign to highlight the origins of goat cheese (that would be the French countryside!). Better yet, travel to France and look for them. Chabichou comes from the limestone plateau of the Haut Poitou; Sainte-Maure is made around Saint Maure in the Touraine and Poitou regions. Here’s a cheese map.
Want to receive a basket of French cheeses of your very own? Drop a comment describing a recipe or pairing you’d like to create with goat cheese. A winner will be selected on Tuesday, September 22 at noon EST. Note: This giveaway is now closed — the winner was randomly selected, Gwen W.
In the spring, I had a terrific intern from Saint Joseph’s University who assisted me with photo shoots, events, and design projects in exchange for many cheese boards. Recently, she offered to write a guest post about her dairy transformation. Please welcome Erin Konigsdorffer…
My name is Erin and I, recent college graduate and acolyte of Madame Fromage, find myself trying to summarize what it is like to be a “cheese intern.” That’s not my formal title but it’s pretty accurate. What else would you call a girl fawning over the delicacy of a brie rind or the texture of a sheep’s milk cheese? Cheese fanatic? Maybe that too.
In my last semester at Saint Joseph’s University, Tenaya gave me the opportunity to take a step into the world of cheese. Honestly, I had no idea that by the end I would be seriously considering the struggles of cheese packaging or admiring the subtle cream lines of a new particular cheese rendezvous. It’s as natural as falling asleep – one second you’re admiring the tasty nuts and hard cheeses without much thought and then suddenly you’re lecturing someone on a properly relaxed cheese.
So to be a cheese intern is: You make eyes at Melville from across the room – he’s all briny and mellow and svelte on the tongue. Someone else has to get the jam because you’re too busy swooning. And then, there is a hushed reverence to your voice in discussing Witchgrass’ ashy, wild appearance. You start to find yourself dreaming of pairings – breads, crackers, an endless dance of fruits and spreads and veggies galore behind closed eyelids. Your friends take you to bars for a cheese plate or two.
A cheese intern stares at packages, labels, delights in the lacey sticker of Paski Sir and contemplates cheese cards late into the night. You take to concocting pairings – honey, a slow cured sausage, and a smear of goat cheese. And those inevitable bites that are shoved into the mouth of a loved one with the accompanying phrase, “You HAVE to try this.”
Of course, no one warned me of these dangers. I was deep in thought, considering cheese mongers and the fonts they use on descriptive cheese placards when someone asked, “But cheese isn’t that complicated, is it?” And I gave it a thought.
Perhaps it’s the cheese world’s best kept secret: that cheese, in all its complexity – sweet, salty, buttery, crumbly, funky, the list goes on – the entry fee is to just eat it. Eat the Midnight Moon, covet your neighbor’s Fat Cat, and go searching for your own Blow Horn to keep your mouth busy. And then, when you’ve sampled those, go find something new. To be a cheese intern, an acolyte, the novitiate of cheese is to realize that all you have to do is keep eating your way forward.
Last year, I came across a term that’s been orbiting my mind: rural entrepreneur. It’s a term that Heather Paxton uses in The Life of Cheese when she describes visiting artisan cheesemakers as an anthropologist to document the growing cheese renaissance in the U.S.
I adore Paxton’s book, and I love the idea that curds are part of a new entrepreneurial counterculture. Forget Silicon Valley, hello hillsides!
Brian Civitello of Mystic Cheese is one such rural entrepreneur. You may remember, I wrote about Sea Change, his “English major cheese,” earlier this year (it’s named after a Shakespeare quote). I’ve also written about Melville — after Moby Dick. After eating so many literary allusions, it was time to visit the source.
Where to begin? I was fascinated by so many aspects of Brian’s enterprise. By his business model. By his spaceship-like “cheese pod” (pictured above) which he built out of shipping containers. By his off-road approach to marketing.
Brian’s thinking is unlike any cheesemaker I’ve interviewed. His ideas are culled from 17 years of making cheese in the U.S. and Italy before launching his own business — a one-man cheese making operation sited on a Connecticut dairy farm, where he rents space next to 500 cows.
“Last month, we moved 5,500 pieces of cheese out of 320 square feet,” he told me when I visited in August. Amazing.
Lessons from Brian Civitello
1. If you’re a start-up, consider launching with a fresh cheese.
Brian says: “Our Melville can be out the door in 3 days.” While many cheesemakers want to start out making aged cheeses, Brian points out that sales in fresh cheese can help a dairy start-up get off the ground. Fresh cheeses also require less space since they don’t require long aging times.
2. Don’t overlook non-cheese retailers — like country stores.
One of Brian’s best accounts is a country store on I-95, where the owner loves to shoot the breeze with his customers about Brian’s cheese — the only cheese in the shop. Now, locals and tourists make a special stop for Brian’s cheese — which is good for the store and for Brian’s business.
3. Reconsider being a cheese-plate-only cheese.
Brian sells to both pubs and high-end restaurants. “I want to be on a menu, but I never want to be on a cheese plate — I’m the opposite of everyone else,” he laughs. Cheese plates at restaurants change all the time, he explains, but gastropubs tend to stick by cheeses and turn them into fan favorites. To grow his business, Brian reaches out to a wide range of restaurants and offers up recipes and menu ideas that he’s devised in his own kitchen. He also gives chefs a discount if they mention his brand on the menu.
The upshot: Brian’s approach to cheese making strikes me as an intriguing model for aspiring cheese makers. He’s worked hard to make his operation as economical and efficient as possible. He also knows how to create a market for his cheeses — reaching out to retailers that might be off the map for other makers. I look forward to following his entrepreneurial footsteps.
This salad. Oh, this salad. It’s been my August. Such a simple combination, but it hits all my salad pulse points — tart fruit, roasty veg, crunchy nut, plus a sweetly unexpected ingredient: rose water. Give me a recipe with rose water, and I will always rush the fridge, batting all condiments aside to get at that tiny bottle with the pink label. Why? I almost never get to use rose water, and I have a strange affinity for it. Maybe I’m a little bit of a Persian grandma at heart, or part goat.
The bones of this salad come from a cookbook that was sent to my house, addressed to someone named “Ben.” Ben, whoever you are, I am enjoying your sample copy of Honey & Co.: The Cookbook more than you will ever know. It’s inspired me to use dairy in unexpected ways: like, topping melty-soft sauteed zucchini and garlic with yogurt and fresh mint. AND I am mezze-ing the hell out of kohlrabi. Yes, kohlrabi. The authors suggest topping fresh, sliced kohlrabi with Greek yogurt and chives. So simple, and yet so good — I want to tear my hair out for joy every time I eat a creamy, snappy bite on my patio.
But back to this salad.
Have you ever baked beets on salt?
Have you ever paired roasted beets with fresh plums?
Moreover, have you ever made a dressing with a whole tablespoon of rosewater?
If you’ve answered “no” to my little quiz and you — like me — are a salad-vore, then stand back. I mean, come here! My darling, this salad was made for us.
Note: I followed this recipe to the letter, then took a few liberties — I sloshed in some extra vinegar and doubled the honey. I added goat cheese, but you could also shave a little Pecorino over the top. Swoon. I share this recipe here with you pretty much as it was written. But, like many good recipes, it holds up well even with tweaking. For instance, you can substitute peaches for plums. You can also sub in feta for goat cheese. Just don’t skimp on the rose water.
Beets & plums in a rose water walnut dressing (with goat cheese)
Lightly adapted from Honey & Co.: The Cookbook, by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer (Little, Brown 2015). The pair were head chef and pastry chef at London’s Ottolenghi before they opened their own place, Honey & Co.
~for the salad
3 tablespoons salt (I used coarse kosher)
6 small beets, or 3 large
2 sprigs of fresh oregano
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 generous tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
greens: arugula or spinach or field mix
4 mint sprigs
fresh goat cheese, to crumble
~for the dressing
1/2 cup roasted walnuts
1 tablespoon rose water
1 generous tablespoon honey
1 generous tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
To salt-roast the beets: Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Cover a small baking sheet with foil, then sprinkle it with salt. Place the unpeeled beets on it, and roast the dickens out of them for 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on their size. The salt will absorb their moisture, resulting in soft, candy-sweet beets. This is a brilliant discovery!
Cool the beets, then peel off the skin with a butter knife. The skins should come off easily. Chop or slice the beets to your liking. Then place the beets in medium-sized bowl. Top them with oregano leaves, vinegar, and olive oil. Mix and let sit while you make the dressing, or you can refrigerate them and make the salad later.
To make the dressing: chop the walnuts and toss them in a small bowl. Add rose water (yes, you really do need a full tablespoon of it), honey, olive oil, and black pepper. Stir.
To assemble the salad: place arugula and mint leaves on a platter and scatter the beets across it. Cut the plums into wedges and scatter them, too. Spoon the walnut dressing over the top, and sprinkle with goat cheese. Fini.
COMING UP THIS WEEK: Madame Fromage will be at a.kitchen+bar in Philadelphia this Thursday, August 27 (5-7) for “Thursday Wine Cru” with sommelier Mariel Wega. We’ve selected several stinky cheeses with wine pairings to go with them. Come join us. No tickets or reservations require.