If I didn’t write a cheese blog, I would probably start a honey blog. Next to dairy, honey fascinates me. Bees. Rooftop hives. The growing interest in city honey. I’m sniffin’ it. I’m lovin’ it. I want my rhinestone fingers in some of that amber!
But until then, I’m a dabbler, a queen of pairing honeys with cheese. Cranberry honey paired with Parmigiano is a personal fave, next to buckwheat honey and tangy chèvre.
But now…a new fairytale. Behold: raw Greek forest honey.
This sampler came to me by way of Dianne Hinaris of The Olive Table in Vermont. She stalked me, then I stalked her. “Forest honey is lower in total sugar content and therefore either never crystallizes or is very resistant to crystallization,” she wrote.
A not-too-sweet honey that won’t crystallize? Send me some, toute suite.
Hinaris sources her honey through a family connection in Greece, drawing from a single set of father-son beekeepers that have been harvesting honey for generations. Forest honey, from pine and fir trees, reportedly contains more antioxidants and antibacterial properties than other honeys.
Greek Honey Redux
These honeys are sourced from the Peloponnese region in southern Greece. Although I’m not a honey expert, I found these to be some of the most complex honeys I’d ever tasted. Each one has distinct characteristics, and when I compared them with a few honeys from my cupboard, I was struck by how very sweet they were compared to these honeys, which have rich flavors but absolutely no cloying aftertaste.
Wild and woodsy! There’s a slight taste of pine, but mostly I detected lingering notes of molasses and roasted nuts – think “liquid nut brittle.” The finish is pleasant, not at all cloying. Pine honey represents 60% of the honey harvest in Greece. It never crystallizes.
Pairing: Parmigiano-Reggiano or any sweetly nutty cheese. Dianne also recommends herbed cheeses; I imagine a rosemary-encrusted Manchego would be glorious.
Fir of Vytina Honey
Imagine caramel infused with needles from a fir tree – wintery, earthy, with a surprising mentholated quality. From the mountains of Vytina, this honey is used by locals to soothe digestive issues and anemia. It will never crystallize. It’s also low in fructose and glucose, making it a good choice for diabetics.
Pairing: Tuscan Pecorino or any sheep/goat cheese with caramel notes.
Reiki (Mediterranean Heather) Honey
Dark and fragrant, this honey made me think of caramelized fennel. The finish is endless – malty and floral. Dianne says this is her best-seller, perhaps because it’s thought to have medicinal qualities. It does crystalize in one to three months.
Pairing: An herbaceous goat cheese, like Andante Dairy’s Rag Thyme or perhaps a round of Kunik.
Note: These honeys were sent to me as free samples. To read more about them, visit TheOliveTable.com. You can also check out the list of retailers who carry them in Pennsylvania, Maine, Florida, and other states.
If there’s one thing I love to do in April, it’s host a dairy party with lovely belles from local cheese cases. Last week, I sampled a slew of new cheeses for a Philadelphia Inquirer story (out today!) and was so star-struck by the beauty of some Pennyslvania honeys that I nearly wept. As long as I’ve been covering my local cheese scene, I’ve never seen cheeses quite like these.
“The Philadelphia cheese scene has arrived,” I told my painter friend Mike Geno. “You have to see Ring of Fire and Frosty Morning. These cheeses are not to be believed.”
And so I hosted a very tiny deb ball to show off these delicate beauties to a few men in my life, my neighbors Mike and Larry. What can I say? It was a school night.
Out came the notebooks and the tasting glasses. Larry brought two bottles of wine, a refined white Beaujolais and a juicy Barbera d’Asti that tasted like fat raspberries. He also brought his French cheese guide. Brilliant Fellow.
Mike added several glorious bottles of Saison du Pont, and Monseiur Fromage – who arrived rather late in his sweater vest – surprised us all with an eminently quaffable bottle of Southern Tier’s Goat Boy, an Imperial Weizenbock that went with every damn cheese on the board.
Here were a few of our revelations, plus a few tips for hosting your own spring cheese fling:
Frosty Morning from Keswick Creamery was the cheese that made us all go zshhh! Pastured goat and Jersey cow’s milk combine in an inimitable pyramid that looks like Valencay but that tastes like melting ice cream in a thin rind. Mellow and supple, it needs a springy cocktail or Prosecco, something with loads of crystal fizz.
Ring of Fire, a collaboration between King’s Kreamery and Kristian Holbrook, was the paprika donut I was dying to try. Gooey within, spicy outside. Curious. The flavors didn’t harmonize quite as much as I might have liked (the spice is fun but didn’t quite work with the high grass flavor in the milk), but the maltiness in Southern Tier’s Goat Boy functioned as an amazing equalizer. Goat Boy and Ring of Fire forever!
Cloud Nine, from Yellow Springs, is little goat geode with wonderful pepperiness. It liked every drink we put forth. The clove-banana taste in Saison Dupont was a terrific contrast. White Beaujolais and berries made it dance, too. Goat Boy was deemed “absolutely perfect” by every taster. Oh, hallelujah!
Tips For A Spring Cheese Fling
- Grab a bottle of Southern Tier Goat Boy to try with your friends
- Pick out several goat cheeses from your local markets or a reputable cheesemonger
- Set a table with berries, honey, crackers, and bread
- Ask your friends to bring saisons, ciders, light whites and light reds
- Pair like crazy and take notes
Coming up! I’m headed to the following events this month: Drexel Bistro’s Birchrun Hills Farm benefit dinner AND Greensgrow Farm’s After Hours Cheese Tasting. Click the links for tickets. Hope to see you there!
Collaborations are happening around here as fast as blue mold on Roquefort. Not that I mind. Not that I mind AT ALL. When Sara Selepouchin suggested we pair up to create some signature cheese towels for her online store (Girls Can Tell) and her Philadelphia retail shop (Occasionette), I was elated. As a writer, I love teaming up with visual owls. People like Sara only enrich my cheese lifestyle.
So why a cheese lovers’ tea towel gift set?
Sara loves to draw diagrams. With her background in architecture, this early etsy adopter has created a much-loved line of 100% cotton towels that feature annotated illustrations. I fell in love with her work when I saw it at a street festival several years ago, and I have gifted her hand-printed house wares to many friends. Creating a set of cheese towels together supported my love of building dairy literacy.
We met up at a cafe back in February to brainstorm two designs:
The Cheese Knife Towel shows you which of your knives to use with particular cheeses. Did you know that a holey knife makes a clean cut, even on sticky cheeses? Have you ever received a set of cheese knives that included a Parm Stiletto?
The Cheese Types Towel is my own silly break-down of the “Seven Styles of Cheese,”often referred to in cheese books. Sara illustrated the cheeses and used my notes to include pairing suggestions.
We hope you find these cheese lovers’ towels useful around the house and on picnics. For a limited time, Sara is offering a 20% discount to readers of this blog. Please use the coupon code FROMAGE when you visit Sara’s online store.
If you visit Philadelphia, pop by Occasionette (1825 East Passyunk Ave.) to view Sara’s entire collection. For the debut of this project, she hosted a lovely cheese tasting with yours truly and Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm. Sue’s incredible raw-milk cheeses only look prettier when these towels are lying around. But you already visualized this, because you, too, are probably a visual owl.
For our event, Sara stocked up on extra-special cheese shwag — from locally made cheese boards to a set of wooden cheese markers, which are also her invention. I love her eye for functionality and design. Especially when it comes to supporting the ceremonial aspect of cheese tasting.
What else is up? Oh, hey, thanks for asking!
I can’t wait for the Philly Farm & Food Fest on April 13, 2014. Also coming up: The Cherry Grove Cheese Dinner at High Street on Tuesday, April 1. The dinner is SOLD OUT, but there are still spots for the Valley Shepherd Cheese Dinner at High Street on May 6.
Several weeks ago, I collaborated with Johanna Kindvall, a Brooklyn-based blogger and illustrator, on a post about my cheese desk. We enjoyed working together and decided to continue with a series that will highlight seasonal cheeses and pairings. We present to you: Spring!
Along with daffodils and Easter bonnets, spring is the season of great goat cheeses. They appear like ice-white confections at cheese counters across the U.S. and in Europe, where they are often spectacularly cloaked in petals, pink peppercorns, or green herbs.
Some of the most sought-after specimen look like pug puppies, with ashy coloring and heavy wrinkles. Don’t be afraid. Most of these come from the Loire Valley, the seat of sweet, tender goat cheese that the whole world admires. In Paris, pairing one of these gems with a glass of Sancerre or rosé is a rite of passage.
The taste of Paris in spring can be yours, too, if you know how to identify superb fresh goat cheese (it should taste balanced, never sour) and what to serve with it. If you want to be clever, you can tell your friends why fresh goat cheese enjoys it’s fashion season in spring: it has to do with wee shoots and wildflowers.
The first meadow greenery is essentially extra-virgin grass, and when those lady goats enjoy their first romps’n nibbles, they produce milk that is sweetly delicate, even herbaceous. This makes the finest cheese.
Oh, bliss! Here are a few of my spring favorites…
Five Must-Try Goat Cheeses
The best place to shop is a reputable cheese counter. Remember, darlings, buying nice cheese is like buying diamonds — if you go bargain hunting, you won’t get the Tiffany-blue box. Avoid shrink-wrapped logs that are mass-manufactured. They’re fine for crumbling onto salads but, trust me, they will not induce reverie.
This ash-coated round the size of your palm should resemble a very large Girl Scout Thin Mint. Selles-sur-Cher (pronounced sell-sur-SHARE) is Loire Valley goat cheese at its best. Mild and very fresh, it has the consistency of damp earth. After several weeks of proper ripening, it becomes oozy around the edges and a little more pungent. Serve with rosé and anything raspberry. I love to eat it for breakfast with raspberry jam.
If you spy a little muffin topper from Piedmont rolled in petals – often chamomile blossoms – nab it before anyone else does. Great goat cheese starts with great milk, which comes from tender grasses and wildflowers. The pastures of Piedmont produce lovely chèvre. Pour a glass of Prosecco, and enjoy Caprino Fiorito without any trappings, preferably after a long bath.
You can’t miss this downy log with a shaft of wheat running through its center. It’s really the Prada bag of goat cheeses, gorgeous and functional. The reed stabilizes the cheese and creates a little air tunnel so that the center won’t be mushy. Expect a light, dry texture, and a slightly flinty taste. This is a pretty cheese to drizzle with honey as you sip Sancerre over a plate of sliced Asian pear. Watch a French weepy, and call it your spring cleanse.
Beautiful Clochette is bell-shaped (no surprise: la clochette means “little bell”), making it a perfect selection for Sunday brunch. Some refer to the rind as “wrinkly,” while those with more decorum would call it “textured.” Either way, don’t be afraid of the fleecy surface. It’s delicate and supple, a lovely contrast to the dense, damp center. Pair this with lemon marmalade and French 75s after a vampish night on the town.
This little snowdrop speckled with peppercorns represents one of the best goat cheeses coming out the United States. Any cheese made by Judy Schad of Capriole Farm in Indiana is a must-nibble. It’s so compact and perfect, you should share it with a lover over glasses of sparkling lambic or eat it alone on a park bench without any disruptions, other than butterflies. Wabash C. is hard to find and very spendy, but worth every penny. Psst…don’t try to slather this on a baguette. It should be devoured like the best bon-bon in the world.
How To Dress Your Goat Cheese
Great fresh goat cheese needs no accompaniment but if you’re searching for good matches, then reach for other spring fare. Every fresh thing from the farmers’ market pairs well, but especially these things…
- Wild strawberries
- Berry jam
- Lemon marmalade
- Rhubarb compote
- Sautéed ramps
- Sautéed fiddleheads
- Steamed baby vegetables
- Baby greens or micro greens
- Radishes, thinly sliced with salt
- Rosemary crackers
Describing Goat Cheese to Your Lover
Good goat cheese tastes bright. Like sunlight, like citrus. That’s because it’s acidic (think: lemons), more so than cheeses made from other milks. Fatty, it’s not. Goat cheese is very light and easy on the stomach. If you want to eat a cheese in bed, this is the one. If you have eaten goat cheese that tastes sour, tangy, or gamy (called “bucky,” after a male buck), you’ve probably eaten a goat cheese of poor quality.
Here’s what good fresh goat cheese often tastes like (saying these words makes for lovely pillow talk): herbaceous, floral, delicate, grassy, clean, bright, citrusy, mellow, woodsy, flinty.
Here are some common textures:
damp, dense, light, fluffy, smooth, creamy, clay-ey, icy, cool, downy (rind), rumpled (rind)
Thank you for reading Part I of our 4-part series. Johanna and I are excited to share these seasonal cheese posts with you and hope that they inspire you to dream, to eat, to explore. In June, look for our post on great summer cheeses. Once we’ve completed all four seasons, we hope to present a calendar! To follow Johanna’s site, Kokblog, click here.
Last week, I did a deep dive into Tuscan Pecorino, thanks to a slew of samples from Di Bruno Bros. They asked me to taste a series of new products from a Tuscan producer, Il Fortetto — a cooperative outside Florence. As someone who rarely reaches for Pecorino at the cheese counter, I appreciated tasting through this product line. It convinced me that, yes, Pecorino can be table cheese. Not just a grating cheese. In fact, I’ve been eating young Pecorino for breakfast all week. Pairing it with berries, honey, and black tea — why not?
To read my post about Tuscan Pecorino, click here.
And thanks for your patience — within the last week, my blog got hacked, I caught the flu, and I hosted family from Italy. I’m just now catching my breath. What morsels are you nibbling as you prepare for spring?