MF’s 2016 Holiday Gift Guide

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.

Shop: Artifaqt


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

Tenaya DarlingtonBooks by Tenaya Darlington

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 Cheeseyou’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!

Cheese Journeys England TourAnna Juhl of Cheese Journeys

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

Cheese Throw PillowOrganic Life

Stocking Stuffers

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



Upcoming Events: Headhouse Market, Hazon Food Festival, Clay Studio


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.



Scenes from the Cheese Ball


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 Inquirerwhere 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.



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

October Events + Cheese Ball Updates

The Cheese Board at midnight

Oh, October, I can feel your bloody fangs on my neck. So much to do, and you’re turning tree colors and flashing your super moon! (So distracting.) Well, here’s what I’ve got for you: events, events, events.

Whole Foods Cheese+Cocktail Happy Hour, October 22

Meet me at the new Philly Center City Whole Foods for an autumnal cheese and cocktail pairing. I’ll be signing copies of The New Cocktail Hour while you swig Highland Coolers and nibble fall cheese pairings, one elbow on the WF cocktail cart (yes, the new WF has cocktails and cocktail accoutrements!). 3-5 p.m.

Gin & Grains Dinner with High Street, October 27

Philly Craft Spirits Week crept up on me like a shadow, but here we go: Chef de Cuisine Jon Nodler and Beverage Guru Thaddeus Dynakowski of High Street have created a 4-course pairing dinner with gin-a-rific libations from my bookCome out for a beautiful meal, served with a special flight of local-gin cocktails. I’ll have books to sign and an herbaceous smile for you. Reservations, call High Street on Market: (215) 625-0988

Two Late with Rob & Joe at PHIT Comedy Club, October 28

Don’t ask me how I landed a spot on this late-night improv show (Two Late with Rob & Joe) alongside Miss New Jersey. I hope she’s ready to eat some stinky cheese and talk cheese balls! Tickets are $5 at the door or here (Ticket Leap). Address: 2030 Sansom St., show starts at midnight!

The CHEESE BALL, October 30

By now, it’s legendary — at The Cheese Ball, we’ll build the city’s largest cheese board and celebrate the Philadelphia area’s fabulous cheesemakers and cheesemongers from 6-10 pm at Ruba Club in Northern Liberties. Grab tickets (or pay $20 at the door), bring a condiment or hunk of cheese to share, and prepare to nosh all evening. This year’s event is a benefit for the PA Cheese Guild — you can read all about it on my last blog post. Now for the updates! Here are a few people you can expect to meet on and off the dance floor…

And, of course, you’ll meet LOCAL CHEESEMAKERS…

Stefanie Angstadt and Katelyn Repash making cheese


From Cheese Ball 2014

Can you believe it? It’s simply too good to be true. I can’t wait to see you!

Grab a ticket!



Collective Creamery

collective-creamery-collageMeet Pennyslvania’s newest dairy dream team: Collective Creamery. You probably recognize these faces if you follow this blog or are a regular Instagram peeper. You’re looking at Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm (left) and Stefanie Angstadt of Valley Milkhouse (right). This October, they’re launching a joint cheese CSA with pick-up locations in and around the Philadelphia region, including Easton, Allentown, Pottstown, and Wayne.

Here’s why you should be excited:

  • If you live in southern PA, you can sign up to receive a biweekly subscription to two great cheesemakers — one in Chester County, the other in Berks County — who work with raw milk.
  • Since this is a collective effort, you get to taste a wide variety, from Stefanie’s delicate Thistle (a gooey moon based on Camembert) to Sue’s gutsy’n rustic Red Cat.
  • Entertain with great local cheeses from mid-October through December. The shares come in 2 sizes, and you can do a butter add-on, for all your baking needs.

Sign up online for your share, then come out to the Cheese Ball on October 30, 2016 to meet this dairy dream team in person. Below, you can see an array of their cheeses which I’ve photographed — with great relish — over the last few years for various projects.

Birchrun Hills Cheese Collection

Birchrun Hills Cheese Collection

Valley Milkhouse Cheese Collection

Valley Milkhouse Cheese Collection

Collective Creamery is a member of the Pennsylvania Cheese Guild. If you like what you see, you can become an enthusiast member! If you live outside of PA, drop me a line and let me know if you have any cheese CSAs in your state! I’d love to know if this economic model is becoming popular among cheese lovers in your area.  — Madame Fromage