Best Cheeses of 2014

Cheese Ball II

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.

Pecorino from Puglia

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.

Meadowset New Moon Dinner

Meadowset New Moon Dinner

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

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

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.

Melville

Melville

“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.

Golden Cross

Golden Cross

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.

Zimbro

Zimbro

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!

 

Holiday Goat Cheese Appetizers

Yuzu Marmalade and Coupole

This past week felt like a goat cheese re-commitment ceremony — the many pairings you suggested for the Vermont Creamery Giveaway filled my dreams with thimbleberries and Midnight Jam. Smooches to everyone who left a comment — you gave me some new flavors to imagine. Winner Margot C., who suggested shmearing goat cheese on a baguette and topping it with blackberry jam and Prosciutto di San Daniele, made me see stars. Congrats, Margot!

All of this has inspired me to flutter through a few long-ago posts involving goat cheese. I hope they infuse your holiday planning with some dappled visions. Goat cheese is easy to digest and the lightest of all cheeses, so if you’re looking to dial back the decadence without giving up flavor, well, just follow me…

Remember the Goat Cheese Beehive?

I’ve never forgotten this eye-popper from Chester Hastings, author of The Cheesemonger’s Table. Roasted garlic forms a layer between slabs of soft goat cheese that you press into a bowl. Then, the whole thing gets ceremoniously topped with honey. It’s a beautiful starter to serve with bubbly or a special wheat beer. I yearn to serve this with a gin cocktail, to add an herbaceous twinge. To make this recipe more wintery, try stirring some fresh rosemary into the goat cheese, and trim the hive with rosemary sprigs.

Goat Cheese Beehive

Buckwheat Honey and Fig Toasts?

One of my favorite snacks to take to a party is a tray of crostini, topped with goat cheese (I use local Shellbark Sharp II), garnished with fig halves and walnuts. I prep these before I go, then pop a jar of buckwheat honey in my pocket, along with some thyme sprigs. When I arrive, I simply drizzle and garnish. These are delish served with nut brown ale or sherry. Buckwheat honey is spectacular with goat cheese — musky and rich. For the holidays, I’m planning to make these with slivers of pear and salted pecans.

Shellbark Toasts

Baked Feta with Walnuts and Dates?

Here’s another beautiful marriage of honey and goat cheese. I ran this recipe on the Di Bruno Bros. blog several Novembers ago, and I still hear from fans who adore this easy dish. You simply take a hunk of feta (you can use goat’s milk or sheep’s milk), put it in an oven-safe crock, ring it with date halves and walnuts, and drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil over everything. Bake this dish at 400 degrees until the feta softens — about 8 minutes. Then remove the crock, turn the oven to broil, and brown the edges of the cheese — 4 to 6 minutes. Serve it with a drizzle of honey, some fresh thyme, and a dish of pita chips.

Baked Feta

Soft Goat Cheese with Chipotle Oil?

For something savory, I like to drizzle a crottin (a round of goat cheese) with a spiced olive oil, like chipotle oil. You can dress it up with pepitos or some roasted red peppers. To build a cheese board around this little tuffet, add some plump green olives, sun-dried tomatoes, cured meats (mole salami would be incredible), and a dish of pistachios. Chipotle oil is gently smoky, so I’d serve this with a smoked beer or a mezcal cocktail. Add baguette rounds or pumpkin-seed crackers. You could also use a good rosemary-olive oil, if you wanted something less spicy — add some olive bread on the side and a dish of walnuts.

Chipotle Oil and Goat cheese

Pantleo with Kalamata Olives?

Pantaleo is my midnight-snack cheese. It’s a Sardinian cheese in the style of Pecorino, but it’s made with goat’s milk. The flavor is lemony and bright with a woodsy low note and a whiff of seaside. During the holidays, it’s my seaside vacation. With a few plump olives and a hunk of whole-grain bread, Pantaleo is the cheese I love to nibble while flipping through a pile of cookbooks.

Pantaleo and Olives

~

Happy holidays, dear ones. I’m beginning to reflect about my favorite cheeses and cheese recipes from 2014 — what are your stand-outs?

P.S. Is anyone else eyeing the Gingerbread Waffles over on Smitten Kitchen? I think they’d be luscious with some whipped goat cheese and a touch of orange blossom honey.

Goat Cheese Giveaway

Coupole Party

This post goes out to the reluctant goat cheese lover. And the cracker doubter. And the person who doesn’t have a decent cheese board.

It’s a trifecta of good things.

Vermont Creamery has teamed up with 34 Degrees Crackers and Brooklyn Slate to offer a Goat Cheese Board Giveaway that includes all of the things you see in this picture.

Vermont Creamery Giveaway

I have a monster love for all of these things, which is why I agreed to receive this sample set and to create a favorite pairing with Vermont Creamery cheese. Scroll down, down, down and you can see the giveaway details.

 

First, let’s talk cheese.

Coupole Closeup

Vermont Creamery is run by one Allison Hooper, a cheesemaker who has perfected a style of French goat cheese known for its furrowed brow (a.k.a wrinkles). I’ve written about her cheeses before, and I visited her and stayed in her “cheese blogger chalet” a few summers ago – you may remember.

Her goat cheeses are such tender cakes – balanced in flavor, with a very subtle tang. I love to accentuate their mild acidity with lemon or with blackberries and honey. A few weeks ago, I came across this Yuzu Marmalade, which has a floral backnote. It made me do back flips.

Yuzu Marmalade and Coupole

When you try Coupole, bring on the lemon curd, the lemon tea, the lemon-tinged ginger cookies. It also loves a French 75 cocktail.

 

Let’s talk crackers.

34degreesCrackers

I like to save the packaging from Vermont Creamery cheese and turn them into cracker pens. You know I have a love-hate relationship with crackers. Most of them will do their best to overshadow delicate cheese, so I ignore them.

34 Degrees crackers are wafer thin. Thin enough to garnish an ice cream sundae. They underscore soft cheeses without competing for attention. The “plain” style and “rosemary” pair beautifully with goat cheese. Coupole told me she loves them.

 

Finally, let’s talk cheese boards.

Brooklyn Slate

Serving a nice cheese on an old banged up cutting board made out of plastic is like serving caviar from a sippy cup. Get yourself a decent cheese board if you are going to endeavor to show off your cheese love. Wooden boards are terrific, but slate photographs nicely, and you can write on it.

I use two sizes of Brooklyn slate, and I cart them hither and thither. They are durable, and I think they’re ideal for staging a theatrical cheese experience.

Coupole Board

I believe every cheese board should be theatrical – lower the lights, break out the egg spoons and littlest knives in your cupboard, pull out some cloth napkins, raid your pantry for honey, jam, nuts, apricots. Then present the most fascinating cheeses you can find — let them relax at room temperature for 30 minutes before you serve them. When you arrange them, stagger them across the board with an array of nibbles so your guests can experiment with different flavor combinations.

~

For the Giveaway

To enter, drop me a comment and name 1 or 2 items in your cupboard that you’d like to try serving with these goat cheeses. It can be a jar of jam, a curious wine…anything to create an interesting pairing.

The winner will be selected at the end of this week, on December 19, 2014. If you’re selected, I’ll collect your mailing address and pass it on to Vermont Creamery so they can send you the fixings for a goat cheese board.

 

Cave-Raising Wrap-Up

Sue Miller at her Kickstarter Party

This post is a really a smooch. Today marks the last day of the Birchrun Hills Farm Kickstarter campaign to build a cheese cave. Thanks to so many of you, cheesemaker Sue Miller has surpassed her goal, and the pledges are still dropping in! If you have a few shekels to donate yet, hop to it! The campaign ends tomorrow (12/13) at 6 a.m. Go get yourself a reward — you can still buy a brick in the cave, and posters of Sue’s blue — created by artist Mike Geno — are still on offer!

Birchrun-Blue-Poster

I’m still waiting for someone to NAME THE CAVE!

The success of this project is a testament to the big dairy love that I see throughout the state of Pennsylvania and beyond. When I moved here from Wisconsin almost 10 years ago, I never imagined that the cheese adoration I saw in that state would bubble up these 900 miles away. Your readership, your dairy fervor, your support of artisan cheesemakers like Sue Miller means everything! So, thank you, bubbe! Kiss, kiss, kiss.

If you have no idea what on earth I’m talking about, watch the story about Sue Miller on Fox Philly.

Birchrun Hills Shwag

Kickstarter Launch Party at Mike Geno's Studio (11/14)

Kickstarter Launch Party at Mike Geno’s Studio (11/14)

~

Max’n Madame at High Street on Market, Dec. 15

Reservations for the local cheese and wine-tasting hosted by yours truly and cheese authority Max McCalman are still available for Monday. Call High Street to hold your place: 215-625-0988. You can find more details on my Events page. I’m going to break out the rhinestones for this one!

 

 

MF Holiday Gift Guide

Simple and Crisp Board

Every year, December sneaks up on her stealth heels. Already, your lovely emails are starting to trickle in as you sniff out potential gifts for lovers on your list. Come now, let’s get down to business with some serious recommendations. After all, what is better than…

Cheese travel?

Let’s start with the Hammacker Schlemmer of cheese experiences, shall we? You can gift your buttercup a vacation with me. That’s right! I’ll be part of a tour going to cheddar country (Somerset, England) in September. This is the ultimate cheese journey, sweethearts. No joke. Cheese expert Max McCalman will be along for the ride, and we’re planning to drink wine on the roof of James Montgomery’s mansion. If your cheese lover is a Downton Abbey fan, this trip will bring the two worlds together.

Pairings for stocking stuffers?

How about a tiny flight of fancy? I’m a big fan of gifting several jars of honey, like the beautiful Greek forest honey I wrote about back in April, thanks to The Olive Table. I’m also a raging fan of Tait Farm Jam (sour cherry, blueberry, and the chutney). You can gift three jams with a few cheeses to match (like a triple creme, a Cheddar, and a blue) and you’ve got a sumptuous gift basket or surprise cheese board. Of late, I’ve fallen for some samples I received from Simple & Crisp (pictured above) — their dehydrated oranges are wonderful with stinkers and creamies. And the packaging makes it easy to drop right into a stocking or shoe.

Simple and Crisp OrangeReiki Honey

Cheese boards & cheese knives?

My kitchen has almost as many cheese boards as it does cookbooks, and I keep a bowl full of cheese knives on the window sill. That way, I can throw together a gorgeous snack plate without having to rummage. I like to buy cheese boards on Etsy (like these from Gray Works in Saugerties, NY), and I scour thrift stores for butter knives and old silver — I like to bundle them and give them as gifts. In my handbag, I always carry a French cheese spreader from Laguiole.

Cheese art?

A cheese portrait by Mike Geno can transform a kitchen (or boudoir) into a very special place. His prints are reasonable — check out his list of cheeses by state. Also, over the last year I have collaborated on several posts with the wonderful illustrator Johanna Kindvall in New York. Her illustrations are economical and exquisite (I’m partial to her rendering of my cheese desk). Frame one, or collect her whole set, and hang them along your cellar stairs, your pantry, your entryway. A cheese illustration by the door is the new dairy mezuzah.

kindvall-cheese-desk

Books to expand one’s cheese horizons?

Here are a few cheese books I read recently and adored: The Whole Fromage  by Kathe Lison (French cheese escapism) and The Life of Cheese, by Heather Paxton (an anthropologist’s glimpse into artisan American cheese culture). Also, I love Marisa McClellan’s Preserving by the Pint for pairing ideas and for jam recipes, and I am eagerly awaiting Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall.

Naming rights to a calf or cheese cave?

You know I have been pushing the campaign for Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm — you can still purchase the naming rights to her cave! (Or name a baby calf. Or have dinner at her farm — I’ll be there!).

Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm

Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm

~

As always, I am happy to sign and send out copies of my own little project, The Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese: A Guide to Wedges, Recipes, and Pairings. It’s also available in book stores, cheese shops, and online.

If you’d like a personalized copy, drop me a comment or email me: tenayadarlington@gmail.com

Happy holidays, and thank you for supporting someone’s cheese habit!