Darlings, you know how I love to drink a martini with a few shards of Pecorino. If you’re contemplating weekend drinks, have a peek at my cheese and cocktail line-up over at The Savory. You’ll find hunks that love a good snuggle with rum, gin, and Champagne mixers. You can also find cocktail pairings in my book, The Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese. Just turn to page 186.
Since we’re talking cocktails, let me drop a couple olives on you:
- October is National Cheese Month. What’s in your cheese drawer?
- Guess who’s celebrating 5 years of blogging? Cheese & Champagne! Congrats, dames!
- Classes at 3rd Ward, Hazon Food Conference, and Metro Cafe are on my events page.
Madame Fromage’s Traveling Cheese School is headed to Italy in May, 2014! Won’t you join me on a cheese odyssey to Messors? I’m teaming up with my colleague Aimee Knight to teach a digital storytelling workshop on a farm in Puglia. We’ll make cheese, bake bread, and chronicle our adventures. More info coming soon.
I think, by now, you know I have a thing for small cheeses. I do. They’re like buttons, I want to collect them. Landmark Creamery, a tiny cheese outfit in Albany, Wisconsin that is softly launching this fall, offered to send me some wee offerings, and of course I said: send them tout de suite.
I literally waited by the door for the postman.
He knocked once, and it was all I could do not to invite him in because he stops by the house all the time with air mail packages, and I felt he must be curious. And besides, these cheeses — called Petit Nuage (wee cloud) and Nuage Noir (black cloud) — embody gifts that arrive by air.
You know how I love ash (I want to have an ashy bash), and until now I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a sheep’s milk cheese rolled in that dark material. So what a treat it was to cut this treasure open — and then eat it with dark berry jam.
The paste was feather-lite, the taste very fresh. Raindrop fresh. What a perfect little treasure to eat before it snows. How does it differ from all those ashy goat pucks I’m always cawing about? Well, sheep’s milk is rich, rich, rich, so think of this as a raindrop in a fur coat.
Fresh sheep’s milk cheese packed into little thimble baskets comes out looking like this. Like tender buttons, etherial in texture and gently herbaceous. I marveled at how delicate Petit Nuage tasted, not the least bit sheepy. Imagine chèvre, but with a rounder palate mambo. I am making up words now. Petit Nuage is like chèvre with hips.
Meet Anna Landmark
So who is the creator of this magnificence? A new cheesemaker, Anna Landmark. I wrote to her, and she told me a funny story.
She started off with a single cow named Freckles who was such a hefty milker that Anna learned to make cheese to keep up with the supply. Over time, she decided to get her cheesemaking license, but she gave up the idea of dairy farming and now buys milk — sheep and buffalo — in order to support her neighbors.
I fell in love with the tradition of cheesemaking, the craft of it. It’s the epitome of slow food and so grounded in the essence of what makes a place: the soil, the grasses, the livestock, and the cultures and tastes of the people who live there. I just hope my passion and a sense of that history comes through in my cheese. –Anna Landmark
Anna’s fresh buffalo milk mozz, which she calls Crescenza di Bufala, is unlike any buffalo mozz I’ve tasted — fresh, curdy, basket-molded. Not stretched. Not chewy. Its sweetly bitter, the way I remember buffalo mozz tasting in northern Italy last summer. But it tastes truly wild. Untamed.
Where does Anna get her buffalo milk? From two farms in Plain, Wisconsin, where she currently makes cheese — at Cedar Grove, run by the esteemed Master Cheesemaker Bob Wills. In effect, Anna is a gypsy cheesemaker, much like a gypsy craft brewer.
Here’s what she says about working with buffalos:
Water buffalo milk is pretty glorious. It has twice as much fat as cow milk, and more protein and calcium, so you get this beautiful pure white rich and firm curd. But they are really tough animals to handle and milk! I have a lot of respect for these two farmers.
To read more about Landmark Creamery, which Anna launched in August, click here.
In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the Stoudts are an enterprising family — at Stoudt’s Brewery and Wonderful Good Market, they make beer, bread, and cheese. Over the weekend, I joined cheesemaker Elizabeth Stoudt to pair these three ferments and lead a tasting class. The focus was on October flavors — it happened to the weekend of their Oktoberfest (lots of lederhosen in the house!), and we drew on local products from around Lancaster to round out the tasting.
The amazing Phoebe Canakis, blogger and doer extraordinaire, set the table and provided the sundries. Elizabeth cut into a selection of cheeses, including a rare wheel of Elderbritch — her signature cheese. And guests sipped Stoudt’s beer, from light to dark, while munching away on homemade bread. It’s hard to think of a more perfect place to host a tasting.
There were even pretzels, warm from the oven, to cleanse the palate at the end.
Lo, I haven’t even mentioned the labyrinth of antique-bauble stalls that line the way from the brewery to the bakery. Stoudt’s is the only place I know of where you can drink beer, eat cheese, and try on rhinestone rings. My kinda place.
Two Pairings to Try at Home
If you weren’t at the tasting, you can still benefit by recreating a couple dreamy duos at home. Just remember that the key to any beer-and-cheese pairing is balance, and on Saturday we definitely worked the salty -vs.-malty angle. Dark beer, like Stoudt’s Fat Dog, is a perfect foil for salty cheeses like Chiriboga Blue. Paired with some Stoudt’s dark bread and a shmear of locally made cherry marmalade, this combo was one of my favorites.
1. Malty Meets Salty
- Start with a rich, full-bodied stout, like Stoudt’s Fat Dog Imperial Oatmeal
- Pair with a lush salty Bavarian blue, like Chiriboga Blue
- Serve dark bread and preserves, like Christina Maser’s Sour Cherry Marmalade
2. Sweet Meets Smoky
- Start with Stoudt’s Abbey Triple, or a similar unfiltered Belgian ale with honey notes
- Pair smoked Swiss, like Stoudt’s Smoked Lady Bel — it’s gently smoked over apple wood
- Serve Stoudt’s Pumpkin Apple Beer Bread, or a yeasted pumpkin bread
A big thanks to everyone at Saturday’s cheese and beer tasting!
Let me present this fall’s most recent condiment dilemma: chipotle oil. I know, I know, life is full of meatier concerns, but when I can’t solve the world’s problems I like to yank open a kitchen cabinet and work on my own little Pandora’s Box.
Thus, yesterday’s puzzle: chipotle oil is hot and smoky, too overpowering for most cheeses — and yet, I could picture drizzling it over some sort of dairy product at, say, a leaf-burning party or an autumn stoop extravaganza. Mozzarella, after all, is often drizzled in olive oil. So is ricotta.
To play off those ideas, I experimented with a round of fresh sheep’s milk cheese that arrived in the mail from Wisconsin last week as a sample. Sheep’s milk is fatty, and as the sheep move off pasture and onto heavier grasses their milk develops a nutty sweetness.
Perfect for chipotle oil.
Toast some pepitas, add a pinch of sea salt, and prepare for a hot-cold shiver.
Note: The chipotle oil mentioned above was sent to me from Seasons Olive Oil & Vinegar Taproom in Lancaster, PA. This Saturday, I’ll be at Stoudt’s Brewery for a tasting that showcases products from that area. The cheese I used was Petit Nuage.
So Monsieur Fromage tells me that autumn begins today at 4:44 p.m. This gives me a chance to honor the equinox with an autumnal cheese that I have been meaning to tell you about for months. Eons ago, it arrived on my doorstep from Darlington, Wisconsin. The cheesemaker, who discovered that I share the same last name as his town, offered to send me a wheel of “Little Darling” as an homage — and, in his note, he asked me for some feedback.
The drum of cheese arrived, a cave-aged stunner — and I called two cheese experts (both former cheesemongers) to lunch. We tasted, I took notes. Albert Yee, who has a thing for cave-aged beasties admired the rind: “It’s nice and musty, going into mustardy.” Paul Lawler, my go-to man for blunt praise laced with flowery vocabulary said, “It smells like a barn, but it has a nice lemony finish.” He added, “I would have thought it was a raw-milk cheese.”
High praise indeed.
Next, I called my friend Mike Geno, the cheese painter, to lunch. I knew that he would take in the golden glow and become smitten. I sent him back to his studio with a hunk, and not long after, this oil-based homage appeared.
Mike’s portrait captures the rustic beauty of this cheese, a British-style tough with a horse-radishy finish that I still think of — now, as the weather cools and I contemplate taking a walk in a wool wrap. The taste reminded me ever-so-slightly of Mrs. Kirkham’s Tasty Lancashire (the lemony notes), but Little Darling is more of a hot-stepper.
To Joe Burns, at Brunkow Cheese, this is my long-distance and long-overdue dedication: may your Little Darlings be harbingers of warmth and mustard in the coming months. And to those who wish to ring in the fall season, please reach for something cave-aged.
Note: Little Darling is sold under the Fayette Creamery label, a line of artisan cheese developed by Brunkow Cheese Co-op. Oddly, I couldn’t find a website for either company.