Whenever I travel, I always try to build a cheese board by shopping at local markets. It’s a great way to taste a place, and it gives my trip a pairing-driven purpose. Pack a cutting board on your next road trip, and you’ll have more fun nibbling, guaranteed.
Take last Saturday in Madison, Wisconsin: My brother Andre Darlington and I hit three Dane County farmers’ markets before 9 a.m. to assemble this Wisconsin Farmers’ Market Board, complete with tender strawberries, fresh herbs (even a little Sweet Woodruff), and zingy radish pods — a great palate cleanser that tastes like a pea pod that eloped with a daikon.
Give a listen to Andre’s new podcast, The Farmers’ Market Report, in a special July 4 episode devoted to all things Wisconsin Cheese. We interviewed all the makers connected with the cheeses you see on the board (pictured, counter-clockwise):
- Landmark Creamery’s Petit Nuage (top left)
- Bleu Mont Dairy Bandaged Cheddar Reserve
- Capri Farm’s Saint Dorian The Good
- Creme de la Coulee’s Saint Jennifer
- Hook’s Little Boy Blue
Details, details: Landmark Creamery’s etherial clouds of fresh sheep milk still leave me breathless. Bleu Mont is better than ever — Willi’s bandaged reserved paired beautifully with dark chocolate. Capri Farm’s Gouda-esque Saint Dorian is an Alpine sweetie, unlike any other firm sheep’s milk cheese I’ve tasted. Creme de la Coulee is new for me (cheesemaker Bill Anderson interned with Willi Lehner of Bleu Mont) and I am excited about his commitment to stink — although I want more funk in his Jennifer. Hook’s sheep-milk blue soothes — it’s fatty-sweet and so good with berries.
High Street Farmers’ Market | Saturday, July 11, 2015 (10:30-3:30)
This small summer market includes a table of guests I help curate on a bimonthly basis. This Saturday, you’ll meet Marisa McClellan from Foodinjars (she’ll be signing books until 1:30), along with Carly Dougherty from Food and Ferments. For a list of my upcoming guests, click here.
Also, don’t forget that July 16 is Eli Kulp Day, and High Street is planning a benefit dinner to help with Chef Eli’s medical bills that have followed his injury in the Amtrak crash. I’ll be at the benefit curating a giant cheese board, with the help of Birchrun Hills Farm and Di Bruno Bros. Tickets here.
Vermont Cheesemaker’s Festival | Sunday, July 19 2015
I’m headed up to Shelburne next week to sniff out the hunks of Vermont! Let me know if you’ll be there. We can float on Lake Champlain with curds in our pockets. Tickets here
This week, I’m in Wisconsin for sips and nibbles. And the highlight so far: pairing cocktails with one of my favorite stinkers, Scharfe Maxx, from Studer Dairy in Switzerland. It’s a cream bomb with notes of roasted nuts, caramel, fruit, and herbs. Basically, it’s a picnic with a rind.
Here’s how my brother André and I created two cocktails to commemorate the American launch of Kaserei Studer’s Swiss cheeses in Wisconsin this week, at a media bash hosted by parent company Emmi Roth. Using the ethos of our Sprig+Spirit brand, we envisioned fresh, healthful drinks that picked up on pastureland fragrances, incorporated quality ingredients, and offered a balance of flavors.
2. We incorporated native spirits. Poires Williams and Kirschwasser, both from Switzerland were easy picks. Both brandies incorporate fruit: Poires Williams is the bottle with an entire pear inside it, and Kirschwasser (a key ingredient in fondu) is distilled from Swiss cherries.
3. We added layers of aroma and flavor with citrus and garnishes. For our Poire Williams drink, we added fresh lemon and a garnish of spanked rosemary. Pear, lemon, and rosemary work beautifully together, emphasizing herbs and ripe fruit. For our Kirschwasser cocktail, we added fresh lemon and a cherry garnish — emphasizing stone fruit and citrus.
And so we developed two easy sippers. The Mad Maxx and The Bodensee Sling (pictured up top).
Pair either of these two cocktail with big Alpines — especially Scharfe Maxx (aged six months) or Scharfe Maxx Extra (aged 12 months). If you own a copy of my book The Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese, you can read about Scharfe Maxx there, too, and find a recipe for one of my favorite sweet bites, The Scharfe Maxx S’more.
The Bodensee Sling (Recipe)
Think tropical fruit and cherries. Pair this Swiss version of a Straits Sling with any big Alpine, but especially Scharfe Maxx Extra — (aged 12 months). We named it the Bodensee Sling after Lake Constance (a.k.a Der Bodensee), near the cheesemaker’s home.
- 2 ounces gin
- 1/2 ounce coco-nib infused Kirschwasser (1 tablespoon nibs per 1 cup Kirschwasser for 1-2 weeks)
- 1/2 ounce Benedictine
- 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
- 2 dashes orange bitters (Regan’s)
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- quarter of a lemon wheel, for garnish
- cherry, for garnish
Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Spear the cherry and lemon to garnish. Note: you can also serve this drink in a rocks glass over ice.
For the Mad Maxx, click the link to find the recipe on Sprig + Spirit.
Part 4: Friends, thanks for tuning into this week-long series on planning a July 4 cheese board. I put it together with my friend Marisa from Foodinjars so that we could explore the summer harvest and…oh, the dairy case. Here are links to everything we cooked, baked, stirred, and sniffed out. Our goal was to give you ideas for a no-fuss July 4 picnic, where you could make everything from scratch or ransack your pantry. If you want to recreate our menu, or part of it. here’s how:
ADDITIONAL ITEMS: baguettes, cucumbers, fresh berries, cured meat (not pictured here, but welcome).
SERVING TIPS: If you’re packing this as a picnic, store the cheeses on ice or on top of cold wine bottles. When you serve them, make sure they’re at room temperature.
WHAT TO SERVE ALONGSIDE: Grilled meats and veggies, a leafy salad, followed by watermelon topped with chopped mint. Or, make s’mores and fling those graham crackers into the ring once more.
Part 3: In choosing cheeses for this week’s July 4 picnic with Foodinjars, I wanted to use cheeses that would be broadly available across America. So, I trolled the cheese case of Trader Joe’s in search of the best selections. Typically, I purchase fresh cut cheeses at a cheese shop so I know that it’s fresh, but Trader Joe’s has high turn-over, especially in this city, so I felt okay about plucking shrink-wrapped morsels from the grab’n go case.
For my 3 cheeses, I sought to vary milk type and texture. I avoided the rainbow of “flavored” cheese — not my thing (flavors often override the taste of the cheese) and nabbed these three beauties:
- Goat Brie
- Mini Basque
- Cave-aged blue
The combination offers a good range of flavors, too, from mild Brie to sharp Blue.
Pairing the Cheeses
GOAT BRIE – mild and grassy, this is a great cheese to pair with fresh berries and a drizzle of honey, or it’s a dream canvas for a spiced chutney, like Marisa’s Sweet Cherry Chutney. No time to make this at home? Try this: use a quality store-bought chutney, or top this Brie with really good strawberry preserves and a few cranks of black pepper. For a stunning presentation, set out the whole wheel on a saucer, spread a thin layer of jam on top, and sprinkle on black pepper. (That peppery bite mirrors the slightly pepperiness in the rind of the cheese.) Garnish with a few sprigs of mint around the edges or some finely chopped mint on top of the round. Gorgeous. Serve with cocktails, rosé, or bubbly.
MINI BASQUE – the mild taste of brown butter makes this cheese a good match for a slightly sweet cracker, like the homemade honey graham crackers from 101 Cookbooks I made for this picnic. You can also buy really good graham crackers at Trader Joe’s or use Effie’s Oatcakes — one of my pantry staples. To me, this tastes like a very young Petit Basque, a cheese I wrote about in 2010 for a picnic feature on my old blog (before the redesign). It’s made from sheep’s milk and is wonderful with red wine and anything with cherries. For a perfect bite, slice this cheese onto a sweet cracker, and top it with cherry preserves or chutney. You can also shave it onto a summery green salad studded with blueberries and toasted almonds.
CAVE-AGED BLUE – this is a cheese with voltage — it’s salty and sharp, a good cheese for a picnic on the beach amid salt spray and cocktails. To me, this tastes a lot like Maytag Blue, great in dressings or served with a sharp complement like chutney or spiced blueberries.
Phew! It’s been a flurry of posts this week. Next up: the last post in my series with Foodinjars. I’ll talk cheese party prep and give an overview of links to all the recipes on our July 4 Cheese Picnic series.
Part 2 of a series: I’m a big believer in pairing cocktails and cheese. Especially in sultry summer. The cocktail should be bright. It should fizz — effervescence cleanses the palate. And the presentation should make people gasp. A good cocktail, like a splendid cheese, should be arresting…even a bit lusty.
The truth is, you don’t need to be a cocktail genius to develop a lusty cocktail. Below, you’ll find my recipe for these Raspberry Shrub Cocktails, but first, here’s my trick for building a quick garden cocktail that brightens a backyard party or travels well on a picnic. Especially a cheese picnic.
1. Pick a Clear Spirit
Grab a bottle of vodka or gin. (If it’s me, it’s gin. No question. I love the botanicals.) You’ll need 1 to 2 ounces per drink.
2. Pick a Juice or Two (preferably on the acidic side)
Here, I combined a hefty splash of lemonade and a small splash of raspberry shrub — a tart syrup made with fruit, sugar, and vinegar. (I always keep Tait Farm fruit shrubs in my pantry — but I also like to make my own, using this basic shrub recipe). You could also use lime, cherry juice, blueberry juice, or pomegranate juice. Plan on 2 to 3 ounces of juice (total) per drink.
3. Pick your Bubbles
Champagne, club soda, mineral water, or ginger beer are all great topper-offers. I used club soda, but I like to pop open a bottle of Prosecco or Champagne if I’m having friends over. You’ll want 2 to 3 ounces of bubbly for each drink.
4. Pick some Herbs
A sprig of herbs adds aroma and creates a connection between your cocktail and your dairy (milk begins with animals eating vegetation, after all.) Basil, thyme, sage, mint, or rosemary are all great in cocktails. Spank your herbs between your hands before floating them on top of your drink — that releases their aroma. If you have cheeky friends, make them spank their own herbs.
Pairing Cheese and Cocktails
Here’s the secret: a sparkly drink with a fresh herb garnish will work with pretty much any cheese, which is why these drinks are ideal for serving with a cheese board. Mozzarrella? Great. Salty Pecorino? No problem. Funky stinker? Be glad you’ve added the herbs to freshen your breath!
Lusty Shrub Sparklers a la Madame Fromage
This is a mellow, rather genteel cocktail — easy for afternoons and swell with all kinds of cheeses. Read through the instructions for making a lusty cocktail in the note. Do you like to muddle and grind? This is the question. If not, let it all float.
1.5 ounces gin (I use Plymouth, it’s soft and balanced)
3 ounces lemonade (or 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice, if you like things tart)
2 teaspoons raspberry shrub (I like Tait Farm’s)
club soda or sparkling water
fresh thyme, a lemon wedge, and raspberries to garnish
Pour gin, lemonade, and shrub into a rocks or collins glass. Stir. Add ice and top with club soda. Run the lemon (peel-side) around the rim to release the oils and drop it in. Top with a raspberry and a sprig of spanked thyme. Now you have a mellow, genteel cocktail that pairs easily with so many cheeses. NOTE: If you feel truly lusty, muddle the lemon wedge, raspberries, and thyme in the bottom of the glass before you do anything else — this makes for a more robust taste of bitter peel and herbs.
Stay tuned for the next post: I’ll share the cheese board I paired with these cocktails — you may recognize them already, but I’ll explain why I chose them and what preserves to pair with them. For the introduction to this July 4 series, view the first post on my July 4 Cheese and Preserves Picnic and be sure to visit my friend Marisa over at Foodinjars.com to see this cheese-and-jam collab unfold.