Angels are running the Whole Foods dairy counter this year. And they’re spreading some dairy love across the nation. From December 13 – 24, every Whole Foods Market will offer a special half-price artisan cheese each day for the TWELVE DAYS OF CHEESE. Yes, that means you could feasibly pick up a different hunk every day and create a verrry merry pairing. (Read: eat cheese, skip dinner.)
Last week, the angels invited me to pop by the new Whole Foods Center City near my house in Philadelphia to preview the stash for the 12 Days of Cheese calendar. When angels call, who can ignore the dulcet tones? So, I went on your behalf. Lovers, here’s your dairy forecast:
Here’s what I love about sharing one cheese per evening, instead of digging into a whole board: you get to savor. Enjoying just one cheese is such a great way to teach yourself about flavor. Plus, you can play pairing games.
Whaaat? You’ve never played pairing games?
Serve one cheese, like Epoisses, and try pairing it with three different libations. For example, you could invite a trio of friends over for “Epoisses Night” and ask the first to bring a wine, the second to bring a beer, and the third to bring a spirit or non-alcoholic beverage.
Hint: Epoisses likes White Burgundy, monastic beers, and it’s washed in Marc de Bourgogne. There, you’ve got at least three easy options. They’ll probably all be fantastic, but you could add a wild card — like your favorite mulled wine or hot cider recipe?
Serve one cheese, like Borough Market Stilton, and play “empty the pantry.” Crack into some of those preserves that have been hiding in the back of your cabinets — jams, pickles, curds, etc. — and find out which pantry item pairs best. Or, you can invite your friends to bring one or two items from their pantries while you provide a hunk of this glorious blue and, say, a bottle of Port or some dark beer. Hint: I love a chocolate stout with a salty blue cheese.
Tasting a pairing that works (like chutney and blue cheese) is wonderful, of course, but you can also teach yourself a lot by tasting “off” pairings. For example, I’m guessing that dilly beans would taste pretty dreadful alongside blue cheese, but you never know. If you discover a favorite new pairing during the Whole Foods 12 Days of Cheese, will you let me know?
Full Disclosure: Occasionally, I run sponsored posts to feed my wicked cheese habit. This post was sponsored by Whole Foods Market.
Maybe you know that here in Philadelphia, the Urban Outfitters campus looms large. A few weeks ago, I popped down to their offices to collaborate on a special cheese board for Urban’s wedding arm, BHLDN. Pop over to BHLDN’s new blog, and you’ll see the results of our effort, a gorgeous cheese board using props and products from Urban, Anthropologie, and BHLDN.
Peep the post, How to Build the Loveliest Cheese Board, and you’ll also find my tips on constructing a rustic cheese board for the holidays, or any special circumstance — an anniversary party, an engagement.
For this board, we used a selection of beautiful cheeses from Di Bruno Bros., along with plump olives and grapes, fresh rosemary, nuts, honey, and onion jam — some of my favorite accompaniments for any board. The giant marble slab that the stylists picked makes these hunks look extra sumptuous, I think.
Huge thanks to BHLDN’s Nicole Prince for inviting me to consult on this project and to photographer Emily Watson (Nourishing Matters) for snapping a pic for BHLDN that glorifies these beautiful wheels and wedges.
May you find a little inspo in these images! And if you know anyone planning a wedding, let them know that nothing says “bliss” like a glorious cheese board. Forget the cake, I say. Lean into cream!
Forget introductions. Let’s talk about surprising the cheese lover on your list!
Cheese Boards by Artifaqt Design
This fall, I roadtripped out to Phoenixville, PA to meet cheese lover John Luttman and check out his handcrafted boards. I loved touring his studio, which is both a showroom and an extensive woodworking shop full of saws, woodworking tools, and stacks of local hardwood. The care he puts into his craft makes these boards stand out — I like John’s asymmetrical eye and his use of natural objects, which inspire his bowls and platters.
John designs alone and in partnership with chefs, like Eric Ripert. Recently, he developed some very small cheese boards (top left), which are great for serving small bites at the start of a meal or (listen up, cheesemongers!) for offering samples.
Di Bruno Bros. Cheese Gift Sets
Every year, I look forward to receiving the catalogue from my pals at Di Bruno Bros., the Philadelphia specialty shop responsible for my obsession. I love the range of gift boxes they create, especially those designed around parings. The Beer Lover’s Cheese Collection (top left) speaks to me because it includes so many of favorite cheeses: Reading Raclete, Colston Bassett Stilton, Harbison, Cabot Clothbound, Idiazabal, plus my favorite cured meat: Finocchiona.
Next to it (top right), The House of Cheese Plate includes some of my favorite pairings from the book that Di Bruno Bros. and I wrote together in 2013 — like Camembert and walnuts, plus Castatica di Bufala (a stunning buffalo milk cheese) that is delicious with Di Bruno Bros. Fig & Acacia Honey Jam.
New this year: Di Bruno Bros. just launched a cheese club, called Eat Like a Cheesemonger. Monthly selections will be chosen by VP Emilio Mignucci. Not to be missed!
Professional Cheese Knives from Artisan Geek
I’m a sucker for beautiful cheese knives, like these blades from Bharbjt, handcrafted by a third-generation knife-making family in Lombardy. My friend and neighbor, Yoav Perry, imports them and when I spotted these knives in his kitchen, I knew I needed to share them with you. Each one serves a slightly different purpose, like the “Firenze” with the huge curved blade, which is designed for breaking down firm wheels of Pecorino.
For the cheesemonger on your list: pair a couple of these professional knives with a copy of the new Oxford Companion to Cheese.
Shop: Artisan Geek
Books on Cheese & Cocktails by Madame Fromage
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include my own two books among this year’s recommendations, especially since they pair well together. In Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese, you’ll find 170 great cheeses with beer and wine pairings. You can also enjoy some of my fave holiday recipes, like “Limburger Helper,” a very pungent mac’n cheese. The Brie wrapped in puff pastry with apples and dried fruit is one of my family’s favorite winter recipes — it’s great to serve at an open house or as dessert.
The New Cocktail Hour, co-authored with my brother André Darlington, was released this spring. André and I set out to write the cocktail book we couldn’t find — one focused on fresh ingredients and quality spirits, alongside tasting notes and food-pairing tips. Yes, that means cheese! This season, Anthropologie is carrying our book in their stores and online.
Yes, we have a new book coming out in late December — more details here soon!
Gourmet Tours with Cheese Journeys
The ultimate gift: sign your cheese lover up for a trip led by Anna Juhl of Cheese Journeys. I traveled as a co-host with Anna to England last year and to the French Alps this year — her tours are splendid. In Fall 2017, she’s returning to southern England for a second Cheddar Odyssey, a chance for you to meet the world’s best cheddar makers and stay at Cadbury Court. She’s also planned a luxurious Philadelphia & Chester County Cheese Getaway here in my part of the world, and I’m excited to be part of that very special long weekend — perfect for a couples or best friends.
The Oregon Coast? Italy? Anna has trips planned to those destinations, too. The focus is always cheese, but her trips always include visits to other specialty food producers, too, plus loads of good wine, beautiful meals, and lots of conviviality.
Shop: Cheese Journeys
Johanna Kindvall Cheese Collection: Swedish author and illustrator Johanna Kindvall is one of my favorite collaborators. Last year, she and I worked on a series of seasonal cheese posts that have evolved into a line of housewares using her designs. Visit her online shop at Society 6 and pick up cheese pillows, cheese mugs, goat cheese iphone cases, and provolone totes. These are my go-to gifts for cheese lovers!
Organic Life Subscription: Pssst…I’ll be writing a regular column with André Darlington for Organic Life this spring. We’re so thrilled. Organic Life is published by Rodale, here in Pennsylvania. When we visited this fall, we were blown away by the campus, which includes a staff garden, an extensive test kitchen, and a very homey cafe. Organic Life publishes stories and recipes that embody the ethos shared by the artisan cheese community: support farmers & growers, be good stewards of the land, and eat with the seasons. It’s a magazine that I think you’ll enjoy reading.
Cheese Grotto, by Jessica Sennett
I know. It’s almost too beautiful. But you can picture it on your counter, can’t you? Jessica Sennett released the first cheese cave for home use that I know of, after a massive Kickstarter campaign and years of product development. This eco-friendly box made in Virginia is designed to extend the shelf life of specialty cheeses. If you’re the kind of person who likes to pick up whole wheels or generous hunks at the farmers’ market, this is a great little investment. Plus, you’ll be the only person on your block to have a “cheese humidor.”
Shop: Cheese Grotto
Beautiful people, this feels like a month for cocktails. I’ll be signing books at the venues below in and around Philadelphia. And, for those of you outside of the city (hello, darlings!), please look for my latest book on the shelves of Anthropologie. My brother André and I loved writing this book together, and we are delighted that Anthro is carrying The New Cocktail Hour this winter!
Sending you loads of warm vibes, candied ginger, and smoky Scotch. –– Madame Fromage
Sunday, November 20: Headhouse Market, 10 am-1 pm
I’ll be joining vendors at Headhouse Market, one of my favorite Philadelphia farmers’ markets. Pop by my table to get your book signed and bring your questions about holiday cheese boards or cocktail pairings. I’d love to help you select a signature cheese and/or cocktail combination. I can also point you toward some favorite market vendors.
Saturday, December 10: The Clay Studio, 4-6 pm
For the second year, I’m delighted for the invitation to be part of The Clay Studio’s Hand Crafted Holidays in Old City — one of my favorite events of the year. This time around, I’ll be setting up a special ceramics bar (yes!) where I’ll demo and serve hot cocktails in mugs created by Clay Studio artists. Of course there will be a special studio-inspired cheese board to pair alongside. Come enjoy a hot drink, get ideas for edible gift-giving, and explore the gallery’s stunning selection of hand crafted bowls, platters, mugs, pitchers, and jewelry. Stick around for free programming throughout the day. Below are a few snaps from last year…
Sunday, December 11: Hazon Food Festival
Rodeph Shalom hosts its 4th annual Hazon Food Festival today 10 am-6:30 pm, and I’m excited about the theme of “Waste Not, Want Not.” I’ll be moderating a panel on the subject of creative uses for food waste in restaurant kitchens and also signing books with other local authors from 11:30-noon. This is a ticketed event; the schedule includes workshops, demos, Israeli dancing, and a fabulous community market. This is a warm, welcoming event to people of all (or small) faiths.
Last Sunday’s Cheese Ball was unearthly, a gorgeous outpouring of joy and generosity complete with disco balls, sweeping cheese boards, and guests dressed as their favorite wheels and wedges. You can read all about it in this week’s Philadelphia Inquirer, where writer Samantha Melamed chronicles Philadelphia’s dairy geeks so beautifully (note the great headline). But here, let me give you a tour of the Ball via the photos of Stephen Lyford…
Pretend you’ve just stepped onto the red carpet leading up to Ruba Club on a leafy back street of Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood. You’ll be welcomed by these two smiling volunteers, sharing the Cheese Ball’s golden symbol (thank you Kelly White and Victoria Dinaro!).
Once you hang up your coat and fill out your French name tag (bien sur!), head to the city’s largest cheese board, where guests are invited to share their favorite hunk or condiment. The beautiful breads you see were donated by three local bakeries, High Street, La Colombe, and Philly Bread Co. You’ll meet them in a minute — they’re probably upstairs dancing.
Don’t mind Chuck and Jim (costumed below) who are squeezing each other’s Milk Duds on their way to the cash bar.
Upstairs, the Sampling Salon is the night’s real spectacle, a dairy fantasia where 17 area cheesemakers (listed at bottom) set up displays on locally milled boards specially designed by John Luttman of Artifaqt Design.
In just a moment, the disco band will play and tuba beats will shake the house.
And you’ll dance with 17 cheesemakers from around the region and hundreds of cheese-loving fans. (Not pictured: Peter Dixon swinging around the room with a pair of Suffolk Punches dangling from his arms.)
Thank you to everyone who made Cheese Ball 2016 a roaring success! And to our new Pennsylvania Cheese Guild…may this party be the cream on top of this year’s hard work.
This holiday season, please consider sharing some of the great cheeses you tasted at the Ball. Many of them are available online.
CHEESEMAKERS IN ATTENDANCE
- Shellbark Hollow Farm
- Birchrun Hills Farm
- Valley Milkhouse
- Collective Creamery
- The Farm at Doe Run
- Merion Park Cheese Co.
- Meadowset Farm & Apiary
- Stoudt’s Creamery
- Cherry Grove Creamery
- Bobolink Dairy
- Artisan Geek + Perrystead Creamery
- Crown Finish Caves
- Caputo Bros. Creamery
- Linden Dale Farm
- Goat’s Rodeo
- Rabbits’ Run Farm
- Parish Hill Creamery (in collaboration with Birchrun Hills)
- Hidden Hills Dairy
For more glimpses of great cheese from the Philadelphia region, check out food critic Craig Laban’s Top 15 Local Cheeses.
Many thanks to the local chefs and companies who contributed to our silent auction and to our condiment table. And to the cascade of volunteers that pitched in throughout the night, thank you thank you! The Cheese Ball is a group effort, and I feel honored to know you all. –Madame Fromage