What could be more decadent than standing around in bathrobes, drinking wine and sampling cheese? That was my Friday night at the Lodge at Woodloch, a beautiful spa in the Poconos that hosts a monthly culinary guest. (Yes, I have blotted out the eyes of those to whom I fed triple cremes. I don’t want you to hate them too much.)
Woodloch is the sort of place where you can wear your slippers into the woods or eat s’mores for breakfast, which is to say that it’s decadent — an adult summer camp with an emphasis on relaxation. This year, Travel + Leisure listed it among the world’s best spas (#3) , an unexpected boon for a remote oasis near the wee town of Hawley, PA — mere minutes from one of the country’s best creameries, Calkins Creamery.
What better place to let your cheese relax?
In my weekend cheese valise, I ferried six unearthly beauties from Di Bruno Bros. Do you want to know what they were? Of course, I requested the most decadent hunks. Woodloch’s Executive Chef Josh Tomson pushed our pairings over the edge with thick-cut bacon and chocolate truffles, and sommelier Leslie Britt broke out bubbly, beer, Malbec, and Port so that guests could explore the most stunning flavor combinations.
Here was our Cheese 101 menu:
Fresh raw-milk ricotta
with blueberries and strawberries
St. Stephen’s (triple crème)
with Tait Farm blueberry jam and Di Bruno Bros. Cinnful Cocoa Pecans
with thick-cut bacon
with Woodloch cranberry chutney or pickles
with a drizzle of truffle honey
with dark chocolate truffles
I recommend that you recreate at least one of these pairings at home while wearing a fluffy bathrobe. Let it be the weekend favorite: thick-cut bacon dunked into Epoisses.
I selected the pairing to illustrate how this style of cheese tastes rich and meaty, thanks to its brandy-washed rind — a process developed by a very austere band of monks. The Trappists probably never imagined people in robes eating their creation…at least, not fluffy white robes.
Check out the calendar at Woodloch for more culinary weekends. When I return, I’ll let you know so that you can begin packing. In fact, next time I’ll stop in Honesdale for a few wheels of Brie-like Noblette — the chefs and I made a quick run to see the creamery after our tasting class. Calkins Creamery cheeses are regularly featured on the spa menu.
November 8 & 9, 2014
Hey, Philadelphia! You know how you love cheese and aggression? How about coming out to Kimberton, PA with me on Saturday, November 8, 2014 to watch a Cheesemonger Throwdown? You can nibble local cheeses and drink Troeg’s Beer on the sidelines as you watch cheesemongers from Salumeria, Di Bruno Bros., and other dairy venues compete to build Cheez Whiz art, answer cheese Quizzo questions, and create the perfect cheese bite.
Tickets ($35) to the throwdown include snacks and drinks — and, for just a few shekels more, you can add on a cheese gift box or the chance to toss yourself into the ring! Billed as a “Cheesy Social Club,” this event at the Kimberton Arts Center benefits the area’s major cheesemakers’ gild, the Chester County Cheese Artisans.
Want a more pastoral vibe with adorable cows and local cheese? Come out to the Kimberton Fairgrounds on Sunday, November 9 for the Good Food Feast, featuring a cheese cave full of local cheeses, plus a food truck round-up, and a scrapple cook-off. If you want to rub elbows with the dairy glamoratti, like the hotties from Doe Run, Milkhouse Cheese, Stoudt’s and Birchrun Hills Farm, put on your cologne and coveralls!
Tickets ($10) to the Good Food Feast include entry to the Kimberton Fairgrounds, access to the cheese cave, cooking demos, food trucks, baby animals, and more.
What to Explore in Chester County…
Who to Look for in the Crowd…
A Seasonal Cheese Collaboration with Johanna Kindvall (Part 3)
In fall, I love when the air smells of damp leaves and wood fire. It’s a good time for a hike with wool hats and a hamper of cheese. Find a smooth tree stump or an overturned log without too many mushrooms, and you can create a woodland snack scape fit for a band of hobbits.
Such an adventure calls for cheeses that bring earth and forest to mind.
Clothbound cheeses. Leaf-wrapped cheeses. Bark-bound cheeses. Cheeses smoked over wood. And my favorite: booze-washed cheeses that are supple and mushroomy with a kick of rank funk.
Here are a few fall favorites with unusual coverlets and trappings…
Long before block American Cheddar appeared, traditional British Cheddars were wrapped in muslin and smeared with lard to keep them moist inside cellars. Aging a cheese in a cellar or a cave kept cheeses cool and allowed them to develop unique tastes – let’s call that taste “earthy.” Today, several traditional Cheddar makers still produce clothbound Cheddar – ask for samples of Montgomery’s, Keen’s, or Quicke’s next time you visit a good cheese shop. A handful of American makers have been inspired to wrap their Cheddars in cloth, too, including Cabot Clothbound and Beecher’s Reserve.
If you haven’t tried a clothbound Cheddar before, now is the time! As the days grow shorter, don’t you long for the taste of mushrooms and butter? Clothbound cheddars are ‘shroomy and supple, perfect to serve on Halloween – invite your friends in to taste mummified cheese from a cave. They’ll find it more compelling than candy.
In fall, seasonal cheeses that are wrapped in bark begin to appear in markets. In France, the best-known varieties are Vacherin Mont d’Or and Epoisses. These small moons turn so soft and gooey that cheesemakers use “belts” made of bark (Birch or Spruce) to hold the wheel in tact. Think of them as cheeses that need girdles. This European tradition has, once again, inspired several American artisans to follow suit with special cheeses, like Harbison and Winnimere, from Jasper Hill in Vermont.
You can warm these cheeses very gently on a lipped plate or a crock – try 200 degrees in your toaster oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Then, plunge steaming new potatoes into them. This is how the Swiss make it through fall and winter. Be sure to serve a round of Doppelbocks.
One of the best smoked cheeses, Idiazábal, comes from the Basque region of Spain — a nutty, buttery sheep’s milk cheese that is lightly smoked over a fire to impart a fragrant taste. This smoky accent is part of a mountain tradition; the same cheese from the valley around Navarre is not smoked. Idiazábal is often compared to Manchego, from the same region. Both cheeses are traditionally paired with quince paste or quince jam. The bright, acidic taste of the fruit offsets the dense, woodsy flavor of this cheese.
Sit by the fire with some mulled cider or a Spanish red. On a cheese board, this darling is wildly versatile. Try pairing it with toasted almonds, meaty green olives, cured meats, dried apricots, and pine honey. If you want to add another rare smoked beauty, make it Rogue River Smoky — a stunner from Oregon with midnight veins.
Long ago, monks hatched the idea to wash wheels of cheese with beer and spirits — dampening the rinds adds moisture to the paste but also turns the exterior a wee bit sticky and funky. Stinking Bishop, from England, is washed in a spirit made from pears, called perry. Epoisses, mentioned above, is washed in Marc de Bourgogne – a dazzling brandy. Chimay is washed in Belgian Chimay. If you’re a fan of beefy cheeses, this is the season to break out these fudgy wedges and let the breeze carry the scent away from the rest of your family.
I love to serve these stinky monsters with a side of beef stew – they adore braised meat and onions. And, of course, you’ll want to wash it all down with a pint of Belgian ale or a snifter of Brandy. Maybe both, depending which way the wind blows.
To read earlier posts in this seasonal cheese calendar, featuring the drawings of Johanna Kindvall from Kokblog…
Late Summer Cheese Picnic (part 2)
Your Spring Goat Cheese Primer (part 1)
September is the month of nostalgia. Look back, and the hotness is behind you. Sun. Sea. Soft cheeses. Tell me about the mozzarella you ate in the park, the fresh ricotta you gobbed on berries before you went off to build a fort in the sand.
For me, it was a summer of sheep’s milk cheese.
First, there was a trip to Puglia to learn about making Pecorino. Ivory. Salty. Sensuous. Then I flew home to find a whole wheel of Manchego had arrived on my doorstep. I loosened my belt, pulled my new cheese knife out of my boot, and started snacking.
For most of June and July, it was Manchego, membrillo, and me.
My Manchego fell out of the sky, thanks to a PR campaign celebrating American consumption of Spain’s most famous cheese — export to the U.S. has doubled in the last five years. If the press release is to be believed, then all of you are consuming 6 million pounds of Manchego per year.
Why didn’t you tell me?
Let me count the ways I like to eat Manchego, then you can count yours…
Manchego + Red wine or Dark Beer: Manchego is the dairy equivalent of black leggings. It goes with everything — beer, wine, a glass of sherry. It’s one of the few cheeses that can stand up to a powerful red wine, thanks to its luxurious fattiness. I also love to pair it with a nut brown ale.
Manchego + Fruit and Nuts: Almonds and Manchego are one of my favorite pairings, probably because Manchego has a subtle nutty flavor. It’s a savory cheese, great with a sweet companion, like figs, cherry jam, or quince paste. Try a sliver of Manchego with a drizzle of honey and some cracked black pepper.
Beware, Not all Manchego is Created Equal: Artisan Manchego is overseen by a Regulating Council of DO Manchego (DO stands for Designation of Origin). DO Manchego has more depth of flavor than industrial varieties, which can taste like bland balsa wood. To find the best Manchego, look for a DO Manchego label and a serial number stamped on the rind.
Manchego should taste subtle, savory, a little salty — like sea air, like summer itself.
Tell me, how do you like to eat yours?
This fall, Cheese Journeys, a new dairy-driven travel company based in New York, released their schedule of trips for 2015. There are two trips to England and two to France, and I’m happy to say that I’ll be a part of one of those grand voyages — a week-long junket to Somerset (Cheddar country!) and London. Picture cheesemaker visits, leisurely meals in a manor house, market tours featuring gastronomic guests, along with guided tastings of cheese, wine, cider, and whiskey.
I’ll be leading several tastings and will be happy to talk all things writing and blogging with any of you who come along! If you’ve heard me mention this trip before, it’s because I have — it was supposed to run this fall, but the lead time for planning proved to be too short, and it was postponed. Yay! For those of you who joined me in Puglia this past summer, you’ll see that this tour is a bit more posh. Instead of staying at a rural hunting lodge, we’ll be sleeping in one of the 21 rooms at North Cadbury Court, an estate owned by one of England’s best-known Cheddar families, the Montgomerys of Montgomery’s Cheddar.
Here’s what I’m most excited about:
- 4 nights at Cadbury Court, with Chef Sylvan Jamois who will prepare each night’s meal with local ingredients
- making cheese with esteemed Cheddar maker James Montgomery, followed by lunch at his family’s pub, Camelot
- strolling in the garden with Mary Quicke, of Quicke’s Cheddar — I love her blog and think she’s the most spectacular dame
- visiting a cidery and a smokery that are close to our lodging, so we never have to travel far
- noshing our way through London’s best markets with food writer Jenny Linford of Food Lover’s London
- peering into the underground cheese caves at Neals Yard Dairy
This trip, along with the others offered by Cheese Journeys, are put together by two experienced travelers and cheese experts, Anna Juhl and Chris George. Anna has a long family history of running cheese shops and importing fine cheeses. She grew up in rural Iowa and has passed her love of dairy on to her two daughters, who are now dairy divas at Essex St. Cheese. Chris started his career as a cheesemonger from Neal’s Yard Dairy in London and now lives in New York, where he teaches classes, judges international cheese awards, and works for Beer Table in Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal.
How To Reserve a Spot on the Tour
The Cheese Enthusiast UK Tour runs September 28 – Oct. 4, 2015. Pricing includes lodging, day travel, all meals, and excursions. It does not include airfare. Rates are available for single or double room occupancy.
If you’re a cheese professional, you may want to check out the trips to England and France that are designed for anyone working in the industry. Cheese Journeys offers a special incentive program for cheesemongers to earn a place aboard a trip.
Reservations made before December 31, 2014 will receive a 10% discount off the full price of the trip.
Groups of 5 that book together for a Cheese Enthusiast tour receive a free trip for a sixth person, or a group discount. For details, contact Anna Juhl (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Drop me a line if you have questions about this journey — I’d love to hear from you. Also, Anna Juhl will be staying with me in early October to taste her way through some Philadelphia cheese shops and present trip information. If you’d like to meet up with us and learn more about Cheese Journeys’ excursions, give a shout!