Cheese Lovers Gift Guide 2015

society6-cheeses

Every year around this time, cheese lovers from near and far email me about gift ideas. This year, I’m excited to present some true originals, from reusable baguette bags to goat cheese iphone covers! If the illustrated items featured above look familiar, it’s because Johanna Kindvall and I extended our year-long collaboration to a series of housewares.

Check them out over at Johanna Kindvall’s Cheese Collection at Society6 (includes free shipping and 20% off thru Dec. 5.)

In case a Provolone clock doesn’t float your dinghy, here are 5 additional items, and you won’t be surprised to discover that many of them involve collaboration…

1. Reusable Bake House Bags from Peg and Awl

My brilliant neighbors Margaux and Walter Kent recently launched a collection of reusable canvas bags in all sizes, including snack bags, a wine tote, and a baguette bag. These make terrific farmers’ market bags, and they’re also great for gifting that special bottle of Port or jar of chestnut honey. If you know someone who regularly shops for fresh bread or who loves to picnic, these would make a great present. Take a peekaboo, too, at Peg and Awl’s line of reclaimed wood cutting boards if you want to create a cheese lovers’ gift set or build a traveling cheese valise for yourself, a la Madame Fromage. Retailers, these bags can be customized to with your log. Baguette Bag ($18)

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2. Ferment Your Vegetables, by Amanda Feifer

Philadelphia blogger Phickle inspired me to begin fermenting this year with the release of her new book. I started with Amanda’s recipe for “Fool Proof Radish and Onion Pickles” and found that it paired beautifully with goat cheeses. I’m also partial to her recipe for Mac & Kimcheese. Yes, that’s macaroni and cheese with spicy kimchi. Amanda’s a great teacher, and her recipes for krauts, pickles, kvass, and more are easy to follow. If you have an unhappy gut, my dear friend, remember that ferments can be a great digestive aid, and they brighten up a cheese plate with color and tang.

Ferment Your Vegetables ($19)

FermentYourVegetables

3. Cheese Portrait Calendar 2016

Artist Mike Geno presents a full year of his enticing cheese portraits. If you attended the American Cheese Society Conference in the last three years, you probably met him — each year, he is commissioned to paint the top three wheels that win Best of Show. Mike paints in a studio within walking distance from my house, and he is one of the nicest cheese-loving fellows alive. Check out his paintings and prints of cheese, meat, and bread for a complete picnic.

Cheese Portrait Calendar ($25)

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4. Food in Jars Jam from Three Springs

Marisa McClellan of the blog Foodinjars has shared 3 of her best recipes with orchard grower Ben Wenk of Three Springs Fruit Farm. Through this awesome collaboration, Ben grows the fruit, makes Marisa’s recipe in his industrial kitchen, and sells jars through his online shop. Those of you who know Marisa and Ben — two of Philadelphia’s most lovable food personalities — know that this project is truly special. Needless to say, Marisa’s Tomato Jam is just about my favorite thing to slather on cheddar.

Jams from Three Springs ($8) 

Marisa McClellan's all-time most popular recipe, tomato jam is a sweet, sticky, tangy condiment that is great on burgers, with cheese, or served as a dipping sauce for roasted vegetables. For seven generations us Wenks have grown fruits and vegetables in beautiful Adams County, PA. In every jar of our Threes Springs Fruit Farm jams and sauces you'll find the result of this proud tradition.

Photo by Albert Yee

5. A Cheese Journey to France, England, or Oregon

For the intrepid cheese lover, splurge on a gourmet food tour led by Anna Juhl. You may remember that I ducked out of the blogosphere in October to join her cheddar odyssey to southern England. I can’t say enough good things about Anna’s professionalism and her choice in bookings. She knows the best cheese makers  (and vintners) in the countries she visits, and she puts together well-paced experiences that take you into the homes and hideaways of artisans you would never meet otherwise. She also arranges custom tours. Take your family on a cheese-centric vacation? Why not!

2016 Cheese Journeys (prices vary)
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Madame Fromage at The Clay Studio Dec. 5

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Cheese lovers of Philadelphia, I’ll be at The Clay Studio in Old City this Saturday for a free tasting of hand-crafted cheese presented on hand-crafted ceramics from 1 to 2 p.m.

Please stop in for a supple bite and peruse work by ceramic artists from across the country — if you’re shopping for mugs, bowls, platters, pitchers, or serving ware, you’ll find especially gorgeous bits. You can see examples in their online shop.

The Clay Studio is a Philadelphia nonprofit offering artists in residence, plus a brick & mortar gallery and shop. I’m thrilled by this collaboration and am looking forward to arranging beautiful triple cremes, goat cheeses, and blues on earthy surfaces that highlight their edges and ridges.

The Clay Studio, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, 11-6 p.m.

137-139 North 2nd Street, Philadelphia

Hand-Crafted Holidays Schedule

11:00am – Mix and mingle with table designers over coffee and pastries from High Point Café

1:00pm – How to arrange a holiday cheese board with Madame Fromage

3:00pm – Candle-making demonstration with Emily Carris of The Art Dept.

5:00pm – Holiday Happy Hour!

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An American Cheese Thanksgiving

Parish Hill Creamery Cheese Plate 1This Thanksgiving, I’m headed to New York City to eat bird at a restaurant — a family experiment! Since I’m not preparing a cheese board myself, I’ve been reading recommendations (like this one from Tasting Table) with lust’n envy. Since I can’t help myself, allow me to offer a couple of suggestions for this year’s cheese board theme, inspired by a recent Parish Hill cheese plate (pictured above) I served to friends:

Eat artisan American cheese. Why not? We’re in an American cheese renaissance, and Thanksgiving is uniquely American. Go American terroir all the way.

Consider a cheese board that represents a single maker or farm. Ask about local makers when you go to the cheese shop. Buy a selection of 3 or 4, and taste how the milk from a single farm expresses itself in different styles. To me, this is a truly unique experience, and it makes for a cheese board no guest will forget. In the Philadelphia area, check out Stefanie Angstadt of Valley Milkhouse, who is selling special Thanksgiving cheese boards out of her creamery on Nov. 23 and 24 (for details: valleymilkhouse@gmail.com).

Pair your cheeses with American craft beers, ciders, and spirits. Break out your bourbon, your American gin, and make some cocktails. A recent tasting of Whistle Pig Rye has me craving a Whistle Pig Manhattan — a fine accompaniment for firm Alpine-style cheeses, in particular, or anything sheep’s milk. Last year on Thanksgiving, I served French 75s, one of my favorite gin drinks, with an all goat cheese board from Vermont Creamery (Bijou, Cremont, Bonne Bouche, and Coupole).

Seasonal Raw Milk Cheese Plate from Parish HillWrapped Parish Hill Cheeses

On the cheeses featured in this post: Over the summer, I had the pleasure of visiting Parish Hill Creamery in Westminster, Vermont — home to cheesemakers Peter Dixon, Rachel Fritz Schaal, and Alex Schaal. I love the rusticity of their seasonal, raw-milk cheeses, especially the hour-glass-shaped Suffolk Punch. It’s modeled after an Italian cheese, called Caciocavallo, which was shaped this way so that it could be hung from rope and slung over the back of a horse (and carried to market).

You almost never see this style of cheese made in the United States. So, finding it in the hands of Peter Dixon — who has trained so many American cheesemakers and who embodies the soul of early European dairymen — made this a very special discovery. If you’re looking to honor an artisan American cheese legend for Thanksgiving, look no further.

A Parish Hill Cheese Board

  • West West Blue
  • Vermont Herdsman
  • Suffolk Punch
A glimpse into the cheese cave at Parish Hill

A glimpse into the cheese cave at Parish Hill

How to Host a Fika and Cheese Party

Johanna KindvallI have found the cure for pre-holiday anxiety: invite a Swedish baker to your house and let her fill your kitchen with warm smells. This discovery came by way of cookbook illustrator Johanna Kindvall, who arrived by bus from Brooklyn this weekend with a rolling suitcase full of dough.

She also came with 2 loaves of rye bread, a round tin of homemade rye crisps, a pair of fun outfits (red-checked pants and a mushroom-patterened smock of her own design), a bottle of wine, a dozen illustrated prints, and 16 copies of her new book, written with Swedish food writer Anna Brones, Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break.

Swedish Rye Bread

Ten minutes after Johanna arrived, we were sipping coffee in Reading Terminal Market and reviewing her list for last-minute groceries (almonds, raisins). Snip, snap, and we were trundling through my front door, whereupon she tied an apron around her waist, poured Champagne, and began blanching almonds. On went the oven, and out came the dough.

I put on some Nina Simone and rustled up my rolling pin.

Then I unwrapped some beautiful cheese.

I unrumpled a tablecloth from the basement and put on some Chapstick.

Meanwhile, Johanna played dough dervish.

Madame Fromage Setting Out CheeseFika and House of Cheese Books

By 3:30, we were relaxing on the patio, my dining room table set for 15 mystery guests who had signed up to devour ginger cookies and blue cheese for Johanna’s book party, an event we called “Cheese and Fika” — Fika is a Swedish coffee hour. Mulled wine simmered on the stove, two cheese boards relaxed, and even the dog took a snooze.

Fika Party Set UpMinnie

When guests arrived, Johanna pulled out more tricks: she taught everyone how to light rummy mulled wine on fire, then demonstrated how to roll a rye cracker as thin as an eye patch.

Johanna Serving Mulled Wine

Cheese and Fika Party 2Johanna Rolling Rye Crackers

Everyone sipped and nibbled, warm and cozy, happy and appreciative — what a lovely bunch of cheese lovers! (I feel inspired to begin a series of Sunday cheese salons. Hopefully, I can wrangle the time.)

Until this weekend, I have admired Johanna from afar — reading her illustrated food blog is one of my favorite ways to relax. But now. NOW, I know better. Why enjoy Johanna from afar when meeting her in person means that your whole world will smell like cloves?

Cheese and Fika Party Plate

Rye Crisps

Try This At Home: A Cheese and Fika Party

I have a new love of pairing cheese and Swedish bakery, thanks to Johanna. Her soft ginger cookies were so delicious shmeared with blue cheese, and her whisper-thin crispbread crackers were a revelation to me — so good with goat cheese and chutney, and so much better than storebought versions. I dream of keeping bins of them on my counters from now on. Johanna likes to serve her ginger cookies with butter. Decadent, and highly recommended, especially with a side of mulled wine or cardamom tea.

Treat yourself to a copy of Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall (Ten Speed Press, 2015).

Pick out a few recipes for Swedish cookies, crackers, and bread:  Pepparkakor (Swedish Gingersnaps, page 118), Mjuka Pepparkakor (Soft Ginger Cookies, page 122), Rye Bread (with anise and prunes, page 148), and Knackekex (Crispbread Crackers, 152). You can bake these a day or two ahead.

Prepare Flaming Glogg (Swedish Mulled Wine, page 126). This is the best I’ve ever tasted, thanks to the homemade spice-infused rum. When you add it to the warm wine, you can light it on fire and it sends up a purple flame. Cover it after a second so the goodness doesn’t burn off (!!) and float a few blanched almonds on each serving.

Select Inscrutable Cheeses: Try a soft goat, an Alpine, and a spreadable blue. Aged Cheddar is a terrific pairing for ginger cookies, Johanna says. We enjoyed a very stinky wheel of Rippleton with Johanna’s moist rye bread.

Ask Friends to Bring Fruit and Jam: Ask your guests to bring chutneys, jams, dried fruits, bowls of apples or pears. We were thrilled when Marisa McClellan of Foodinjars turned up with several jars of honey-sweetened jams from her forthcoming book, along with some pickled kohlrabi.

Cookie TableFika Cheese Board

Near and Far Yogurt Bowl

Near and Far Cookbook

Until I read Heidi Swanson’s new cookbook, Near and Farit never occurred to me to sprinkle popped sorghum and rose petals on yogurt. To use dairy as a canvas. To turn breakfast into an offering.

But here I am, using my extra hour of daylight to draw down my best clay bowl. To ladle out the local yogurt I love. Slicing oranges, separating pomegranate seeds, heating an iron skillet to toast grains that, ordinarily, I’d just boil.

Near and Far Yogurt Bowl Up Close

The last months of traveling and teaching and editing a new book have left me feeling like a breathless dervish, to be honest. To relax, I read cookbooks in bed and flag pages that look restorative (bone broths, savory grain bowls) — it’s a very good sleep send-off.

Do I make the recipes? When they haunt me.

So many recipes in Near and Far inspire my veg and dairy-loving side: Salt-Baked Sweet Potato (page 52), Ricotta Breakfast Bowl with Flower Pepper (page 81), Chicory Soup with Creme Fraiche (130), Tartines with Sheep’s Milk Cheese (page 249).

Ricotta Breakfast Bowl

I love when a cookbook hands me a passport to new places. In Near and Far, each chapter begins with a list of pantry items from a place — Morocco, Japan, Italy, France, India. The recipes that follow are loosely inspired by specific moments: a woman eating a dish of dal in a spice market, for example.

Photographs of dishes, of street scenes and tablescapes, set a mood and showcase the talents of writer and photographer Heidi Swanson. If you haven’t visited her blog, 101 Cookbooks, you must. It’s a…digital sanctuary. Does such a thing exist?

Do yogurt and dried rose petals go together?

Now they do.

Book and Recipe by Heidi Swanson

Yogurt Bowl in Near and Far

Yogurt Bowl from Heidi Swanson’s Near & Far

I took a lot of liberties with this recipe, which is why I am giving you the original. Even with my substitutions — pomegranate molasses instead of fresh pomegranate juice, puffed sorghum and buckwheat in place of puffed quinoa cereal, pepitas in place of sunflower seeds, and oranges because I wanted extra acidity — the combination tasted glorious. I especially loved the silk-delicate dried rose petals, which melted into the dairy, and the nutty crunch of the grains. 

2 tablespoons fresh pomegranate juice

A drizzle of honey

A dallop of Greek-style yogurt

A handful of puffed quinoa ceral

A sprinkling of toasted sunflower seeds

Whole pomegranate seeds or fresh or dried rose petals (optional)

A bit of bee pollen (optional)

In a bowl, swirl the pomegranate and honey into the yogurt, then sprinkle with nuts and seeds.

Yogurt Bowl with Pomegranate

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Notes

If you want to try puffed sorghum and toasted buckwheat, which is what I used, it’s very easy. I’ve started tossing tossing them onto salads and soups.

Puffed Sorghum: Heat a dry skillet over medium heat, and when the pan is hot, add your sorghum grains. Cover with a lid and shake the pan often as the grains pop.

Toasted Buckwheat: Add a little oil to a warm skillet. Toss in the buckwheat and toast over medium heat, stirring frequently. They turn wonderfully crunchy in about a minute, and they taste very nutty.Yogurt Bowl on Near and Far

Disclosure: I recently signed up to become a member of Blogging for Books, which provided me a complimentary copy of Near & Far. Ordinarily, I am not a joiner of things, but knew I wanted to review this book, and I was curious to explore the program. So far, so good.