Have you ever thought about putting pink peppercorns in cheese? Or making a cheese sized for exactly one person? Why am I asking you this? This week I’ve been tracking a bunch of food predictions that are making their rounds as part of the post-holiday news cycle. Here are 4 trends worth noting if you orbit the cheese world as a maker, shaker, caterer, cook, or enthusiast…
Grub Street’s dining report predicts a deluge of ’80s era dishes and spices that will rock restaurant tables in 2015. Among them…pasta salad, the return of quiche (did it ever vanish?), and pink peppercorns. I’ve seen plenty of cheeses dotted with green and black ‘corns, like Piacentinu, Marco Polo, and Anton’s Peppered Ass, but is anyone using pink peppercorns…for Valentine’s? For drag show cheese boards? For princess parties? Come on, why not?
This Kickstarter campaign posted by 2 California brothers who plan to raise yaks (after experience in Tibet) suggests a new direction in dairy. Perhaps? Remember when I was all excited about camel cheese? That didn’t really fire up any bellies, but yak cheese could be the IT?! What do ya think, guys? At the very least, check out the yak cheese story…it illustrates the wild spirit of dairy entrepreneurs!
I won’t lie. I’ve fallen hard for making bone broth this winter, and I can’t think of anything lovelier to serve with a grilled cheese than a bowl of spiked bone broth. Emily Acosta (@_emilyacosta) brought this link to my attention this morning when I posted a photo of my homemade bone broth on Instagram — turns out this award-winning cheesemonger (Acosta works at Eataly in NYC) is a bone broth fan, too! One day I hope to toast her in person with some Glenlivet stirred into lamb broth.
Blogger Dianne Jacob writes about solo eating trends on her blog Will Write for Food, which can only mean one thing: cheesemakers might want to think about small-format cheeses designed for singles. No cheese singles puns, please. Think about the convenience of Saint Marcellin (sold in a small crock) and Banon (tiny, wrapped in leaves). As a solo lunch-eater who loves packing cheese into backpacks and handbags, I am rallying behind this one! (That cheese pictured up top is Wabash Cannonball — one of my favorite truffle-sized cheeses.)
On the horizon: This week I’m working on a cheese board with young-adult author (and my colleague) April Lindner who is launching her third YA novel, Love, Lucy. We’re picking out cheeses that represent her main characters to serve at her launch party on January 30 at Salem Vineyards in NJ. Take a peek at April’s blog for details; it’s open to fiction fans and YA readers, but please RSVP.
Back in November, I put out a call for an intern — after five years of solo blogging and writing, I had an itch to collaborate (in my mind, an internship is a shared experience and an exchange of ideas). Lo, the applications rolled in, and they were fantastic. Bowled over, I was. Who knew so many people aspired to learn about cheese and blogging?
Let me introduce the fabulous dames who will be working with me this spring: Erin Konigsdorffer (left)and Samantha Un (right). I feel such gratitude for their fresh eyes, minds, and mouths.
Erin Konigsdorffer is the designated cheese intern. She’s a senior Communications major at Saint Joseph’s University and brings web design experience, a keen interest in food photography, and a wild yen for cheese. In exchange for her design knowledge, she’s receiving a personalized dairy tutorial from Yours Truly. This week’s cheese was Nusskase — she likes Alpines. And washed rinds.
For a recent event with Discover My Italy, she developed her own line of dairy placards that we displayed with Italian cheeses. Erin plans to chronicle her cheese journey on Instagram (@Constant_Bliss).
Samantha Un is the official libations intern. (Remember that cocktail book I was frantically working on last summer?) Sam is an award-winning Communications professional with a beautiful blog called Her Savory Life. A few months ago, she left a cream job — after an awakening on the island of Naxos — to explore a new way of thinking and being. You can read about her quest on her site or in recent articles on Femme & Fortune and Brazen Life.
In addition to sipping some custom cocktails, Sam and I will be developing a new site called Sprig & Spirit — we’ll tell you more about it as it comes together. You can follow her world on Twitter (@hersavorylife) and Instagram (@hersavorylife_).
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.
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.
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.
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.
What inspires you to pick up a cheese and take it home for the night?
I’m asking because this question has been keeping me up at night. It’s the subject of a talk I agreed to give at PASA’s Farming for the Future Conference on February 7 — a talk called “Describing Products for Market: How to Write for Readers and Customers.” Eeep! Writing for readers is one thing, but I don’t think of you as a “customer,” and yet you are. If you read this blog, you probably take risks on cheeses when you shop.
So, what makes you step out of your comfort zone and buy something other than the old familiars…mozzarella, jack, havarti, cheddar?
Are you inspired by…
- clever signage (remember Jeff Gordinier’s NYT article on ripe prose)?
- a conversation with a cheesemonger who offers you a taste?
- creative labeling or savvy packaging?
- pairing suggestions?
- context — like seeing a picture of the farm where the cheese is made? or happy cows?
- social media imagery from particular vendors?
I’d like to share your feedback with Pennsylvania cheesemakers — picture Amish beards, farmers’ market vendors, future cheesemakers, old creaky cheesmakers, people without marketing degrees or brand managers. If you could offer a tip from your experience as a buyer (or as a cheesemonger who works with buyers), drop me a comment.
This is a conversation I’ve wanted to have for a long time. After all, I buy an indecent amount of cheese, and I witness a lot of studious lurkers around the counter. I see them scratch their chins and hear them hem and haw. Buying cheese strikes me as a very different kind of purchasing decision than, say, picking out craft beer — which is cheese’s soul mate.
Lovers of the rind, what should cheesemakers communicate to you as eaters?
Look for more on this topic in coming weeks. Together with my new interns (whee!), we’re delving into something beyond my usual scope of nibbling, tippling, and trekking out to farms. In 2015, we’re looking to explore the connection between curds and communication — not for personal gain but to deepen our own civic commitment to small-batch cheesemakers.
For upcoming appearances at PASA and at the Philly Chef Conference, shimmy over to Events.
It’s always daunting to rewind. Looking back on this year in particular leaves me winded — it began with a Cheese Ball in January and picked up momentum in spring with a series of cheese dinners at High Street on Market (air kiss to Chef Eli Kulp and the indefatigable Ellen Yin).
Then we vagabonded, didn’t we? We went to Puglia to make Pecorino and to eat long meals in the fields with shepherds. The Live Cultures video depicting our trip — 24 of you came along — still makes me swoon. And when I look at pictures like the one below, I am back at Masseria La Selva, where the smell of wool and the sound of old women playing tambourines resonated through every grass blade.
It’s been a year of silver linings. Of New Moon Dinners and cave raising parties.
The local cheese community helped Sue Miller fund her Kickstarter campaign.
Thank you for playing a part.
Amidst so much goodness, it’s hard to pick favorite moments, so I have made a list of fabulous cheeses that I tried in 2014 — cheeses that glow brightly at the base of my brain. Here they are…
Meadowood Farms Juvindale
Veronica Pedraza of Meadowood Farms in Cazenovia, New York is known for her sheep’s milk cheese wrapped in green checkered paper (particularly her leaf-wrapped Ledyard). Juvindale is her winter cheese, made from the cow’s milk she buys from a neighboring farm. I visited her briefly in early spring and was struck by her tiny cheese room and this beautifully oozy Camembert look-alike that I carried home in my jacket pocket. Unctuous and wild, it tasted unlike any American pasteurized bloomy I’ve tried.
Meadowset’s First Bite
First Bite is the vampire novel in cheese form — toothsome and sexy with perfect skin under its dusky cloak. Made from sheep’s milk, this beautiful wheel was presented under the stars by cheesemaker Tom Schaer of Meadowset Farm & Apiary, on the night of his New Moon Dinner (the first in a series I helped pull together with Chef Eli Kulp). It took me right back to early summer in southern Italy and the young Pecorino we ate in the fields overlooking the craggy hillsides of Puglia.
“Whale blubber” is not a phrase I ever imagined using to describe the texture of a cheese, but this fresh jiggler from Mystic Cheese Co. in Mystic, Connecticut was a supple surprise. Think of milk pudding. Think of those impossibly fresh Italian cheeses, like Stracchino, that you almost never see in the U.S. Plus, this cheese is made in a mobile cheese unit, called a cheese pod.
A trip to Golden Cross Cheese Ltd. in East Sussex was inspired by my colleague Jason Mezey, a man who is staunchly unimpressed by goat cheeses — except this one, a tender log he remembers nibbling in London on his honeymoon. Now, I will never forget meeting cheesemaker Kevin Blunt and watching him make these ashy logs. When you are striding across a moor with a Jane Austen novel in your book bag, this is the cheese you want to have stashed in your pencil case. It’s herbaceous and light, good enough to wolf down like a pack of Thin Mints.
In January, local cheesemonger Matt Buddha (of Salumeria) appeared at the Cheese Ball with this raw, thistle-renneted sheep’s milk cheese from Portugal. For the last 11 months, I’ve been dreaming about it. If you see Zimbro, you must try it. It tastes like liquid artichoke dip.
Happy New Year to all of you who made 2014 wonderful!