Meet the Interns

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Back in November, I put out a call for an intern — after five years of solo blogging and writing, I had an itch to collaborate (in my mind, an internship is a shared experience and an exchange of ideas). Lo, the applications rolled in, and they were fantastic. Bowled over, I was. Who knew so many people aspired to learn about cheese and blogging?

Let me introduce the fabulous dames who will be working with me this spring: Erin Konigsdorffer (left)and Samantha Un (right). I feel such gratitude for their fresh eyes, minds, and mouths.

Erin Konigsdorffer is the designated cheese intern. She’s a senior Communications major at Saint Joseph’s University and brings web design experience, a keen interest in food photography, and a wild yen for cheese. In exchange for her design knowledge, she’s receiving a personalized dairy tutorial from Yours Truly. This week’s cheese was Nusskase — she likes Alpines. And washed rinds.

For a recent event with Discover My Italy, she developed her own line of dairy placards that we displayed with Italian cheeses. Erin plans to chronicle her cheese journey on Instagram (@Constant_Bliss).

Taleggio

Samantha Un is the official libations intern. (Remember that cocktail book I was frantically working on last summer?) Sam is an award-winning Communications professional with a beautiful blog called Her Savory Life. A few months ago, she left a cream job — after an awakening on the island of Naxos — to explore a new way of thinking and being. You can read about her quest on her site or in recent articles on  Femme & Fortune and Brazen Life.

In addition to sipping some custom cocktails, Sam and I will be developing a new site called Sprig & Spirit — we’ll tell you more about it as it comes together. You can follow her world on Twitter (@hersavorylife) and Instagram (@hersavorylife_).

Her Savory Life

 

Philly Chef Conference Redux

Cheese Groupies Philly Chef Conf

Here’s what a kitchen full of cheese groupies looks like. This is a shot from yesterday’s Philly Chef Conference, hosted by Drexel University’s Center for Hospitality and Sports Management. It brought together chefs — yes — but also writers, cookbook agents, students, restaurateurs, bakers, brewers, bartenders, food producers, and cheesemakers. What a thrill to be asked to select a special cheese pairing for a panel on “Building a Cheese Program.”

Our panel’s task: to to show aspiring chefs how to incorporate cheese boards into a restaurant menu. You’re looking at — from right to left — Sande Friedman (Tria), Yours Truly, Mary Grace Hodge (Flying Fish Brewing, moderator), Aimee Olexy (Talula’s), Sue Miller (Birchrun Hills Farm), and Julianne Scott (Drexel student helper).

Our panel’s goal: to give aspiring chefs a taste of great American cheeses. Most of the cheeses we selected were from around Pennsylvania to illustrate the vibrant dairy renaissance that is happening around us. Here’s what we served…

Goat cheese “truffles” + fresh marmalade

Restauranteur and local-cheese lover Aimee Olexy of Talula’s Garden and Talula’s Daily in Philly rolled Shellbark Sharp II into pinballs and topped them with a smidge of marmalade to play off the acidity of goat cheese.

Try this at home: Use any chèvre, roll it into balls, and serve it with marmalade (homemade or prepared) that has been mixed with a little fresh orange zest. On the side, serve a sweet cracker like Carr’s Whole Wheat, Lark Oat Bark, or Effie’s Oat Crackers. Pair with sparkling wine or green tea.

Cheese Plate I

Valley Milkhouse Thistle + Spruce Hill Blueberry Bourbon Jam

I’ve been enamored with this gooey bloomy cheese (think Brie), called Thistle, that has emerged from Oley, PA. To play off its fatty goodness, I chose a tart berry jam. It just so happened that Molly Haendler from Spruce Hill Preserves was at the conference, and she offered up a Bourbon-tinged sample. Woodsy and not too sweet, her jam was an excellent match.

Try this at home: Serve a gooey vixen (look for Brie de Meaux or Harbison from Vermont) and crack into a jar of berry preserves — cherry, blueberry, blackberry, loganberry, and strawberry all work well. For interest, swirl a splash of bourbon into your jam, or serve a bourbon hot toddy on the side.

Sue Miller Prepping Cheese

Nutcracker Goat Cheese + Honey Brittle

Sande Friedman who runs the cheese program at Tria, a series of wine bars, presented Yellow Springs Nutcracker, a firm goat cheese washed in walnut liqueur. Her house-made honey brittle was an outstanding touch — crisp and carameline. It illustrated how contrasting textures can create balance on a cheese board. You could serve her honey brittle with any cheese, and it’s a great alternative to nut brittles for those who have allergies.

Try this at home: Recipes for honey brittle are easy to make and require little more than local honey and baking soda (to make it puff up). Serve it with a firm goat cheese, like a goat Gouda or Midnight Moon.

Marieke Gouda with Fenugreek + Apple Mostarda

Aimee Olexy snuck in a second pairing to add a twinge of sweetness. Gouda, like Marieke’s from Wisconsin, can be a great last or second-to-last cheese on a board because it swings both sweet and savory. Aimee illustrated this with apple mostarda, a sweet-hot condiment from northern Italy.

Try this at home: Next time you serve Gouda, offer a sweet and savory pairing that can easily be combined, like bacon and maple syrup or apple butter and coarse mustard. You can also make mostarda (this looks like a great recipe from Marc Vetri) or find it in specialty food stores. I love mostarda with cheese and cured meats — Di Bruno Bros. carries an incredible line in their stores.

Cheese Plate 2

Red Cat + Flying Fish Abbey Dubbel

Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm presented her funky washed rind cheese, a style based on a monastic recipe. Beefy cheeses always pair well with complex abbey-style beers that are malty and effervescent.

Try this at home: Pick up a washed-rind cheese (it has a sticky orange rind), such as Taleggio or Epoisses. Serve it with an abbey dubbel. A savory spread, like onion jam or tomato jam, pairs beautifully.

Cheese Board Fixings

Milkhouse Sheet

Secrets of Cheese Signage

Cheese Signs at Talula's Daily in Philly

Cheese Signs at Talula’s Daily in Philly

What inspires you to pick up a cheese and take it home for the night?

I’m asking because this question has been keeping me up at night. It’s the subject of a talk I agreed to give at PASA’s Farming for the Future Conference on February 7 — a talk called “Describing Products for Market: How to Write for Readers and Customers.” Eeep! Writing for readers is one thing, but I don’t think of you as a “customer,” and yet you are. If you read this blog, you probably take risks on cheeses when you shop.

So, what makes you step out of your comfort zone and buy something other than the old familiars…mozzarella, jack, havarti, cheddar?

Are you inspired by…

  • clever signage (remember Jeff Gordinier’s NYT article on ripe prose)?
  • a conversation with a cheesemonger who offers you a taste?
  • creative labeling or savvy packaging?
  • pairing suggestions?
  • context — like seeing a picture of the farm where the cheese is made? or happy cows?
  • social media imagery from particular vendors?

I’d like to share your feedback with Pennsylvania cheesemakers — picture Amish beards, farmers’ market vendors, future cheesemakers, old creaky cheesmakers, people without marketing degrees or brand managers. If you could offer a tip from your experience as a buyer (or as a cheesemonger who works with buyers), drop me a comment.

This is a conversation I’ve wanted to have for a long time. After all, I buy an indecent amount of cheese, and I witness a lot of studious lurkers around the counter. I see them scratch their chins and hear them hem and haw. Buying cheese strikes me as a very different kind of purchasing decision than, say, picking out craft beer — which is cheese’s soul mate.

Lovers of the rind, what should cheesemakers communicate to you as eaters?

~

Look for more on this topic in coming weeks. Together with my new interns (whee!), we’re delving into something beyond my usual scope of nibbling, tippling, and trekking out to farms. In 2015, we’re looking to explore the connection between curds and communication — not for personal gain but to deepen our own civic commitment to small-batch cheesemakers.

For upcoming appearances at PASA and at the Philly Chef Conference, shimmy over to Events.

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

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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.