My lambs, if you find yourself cheese-less and adrift this afternoon, consider joining me for some online banter with Philadelphia Inquirer’s Craig LaBan. I’ll be breezing through the Inky offices with some whiffy bits at 2 p.m. EST. LaBan’s Tuesday talks usually draw a lively crew of cubicle bandits and restaurant hoppers in search of their next great morsel. Today’s discussion will hover around the glory of dairy.
No secret: LaBan’s a cheese lover. His Cheese of the Month features always create a stir. In preparation for the show, I’m relaxing an all-star artisan cheese board from the pages of my forthcoming book, Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese. It comes out in May. And of course, I have a few local surprises up my velvet sleeve.
You can join in here.
Après the fact: Hit a link and you can view the archives of LaBan’s cheese chat.
As I child, I loved Bonne Belle Lip Smacker, as an adult I love Bonne Bouche (bonnie boosh!). Its surface looks like a chinchilla throw, and its texture is cutlet-like — dense, meaty. This is no airy fairy goat cheese. In fact, as I was walking through the sleet on Saturday, I had this cutletty craving (probably because I keep reading about veal cutlets in Italian travel books) and I boomed through my front door and cleaved a Bonne Bouche in half without even taking my boots off.
Carving Bonne Bouche is like cutting into an avocado — I don’t want you to think it’s thready like chicken, because it’s not. It’s like pressed wet snow, and then it melts on your tongue and coats your whole mouth, turning it into a chèvre igloo. I sound like I am dreaming this up, but I am sitting here, reader, typing and eating as I so often do. And I tell you, I am experiencing the kind of plushness no sofa can offer.
Bonne Bouche is spun by the hands of Allison Hooper of Vermont Buter and Cheese Creamery. I’ve never met Allison, but I admire her — her cheeses are flawless, and even the way she packs them is flawless. Each one comes in its own little crate, like a Pound Puppy.
She was kind enough to send me some of her cheeses a few weeks ago, and I have been ripening them in my crisper drawer, waiting for them to soften just slightly at their centers before I cut into them. Of course, I have gone crazy photographing them — those wrinkly geotricum rinds are so adorable. You will see more images soon. Know that Bonne Bouche is my screen saver. It always makes me a little breathless to flip open my laptop and see it lazing behind my files.
Spring Salad with Bonne Bouche
This is not an exacting recipe. It does help to slice everything very, very thin so that the cheese is not in conflict with meteoric shapes. Don’t go too heavy on the orange; it should add a cleansing note but not dominate. Serve this as an appetizer or light lunch, alongside baguette or sturdy crackers. A wheat beer or glass of Vhino Verde would not be out of place.
Clementine, peeled and sliced
Daikon, peeled and sliced
Avocado, slivered and rubbed with lemon
Extra irgin olive oil
Fresh thyme, minced sallions, parsley
1. Layer the greens, radish slices, and Clementine. Then add strips of avocado as if they were sardines.
2. Dress the salad with lemon and olive oil. No need to mix it in advance. Just drizzle a couple tablespoons of oil, followed by a good sqeeze of lemon. You can add a bit of salt, but I didn’t find it necessary.
3. Crown your thorns with a fat slice of Bonne Bouche, then garnish with fresh herbs.
On Monday, I ran a giveaway for two Gorgonzola pairings I adore — candied pecans and dark chocolate. Anyone who commented on their favorite cheese pairing entered the drawing from Sucré, a sweet boutique in New Orleans that has agreed to mail the winner a tin of candied pecans and a box of chocolates.
Readers, you suggested some miraculous duos, from blue cheese and martinis (hello, sister!) to Winnimere with buckwheat honey. Melinda, you recommended smoked Gouda with a dark bock beer — I can taste it just thinking about it. Purr. S., I am intrigued by your love affair with Drunken Goat or Pecorino Ginepro and “little bits of dark chocolate, 60% or so.” Leigh, I would never think to cross smoked blue with beets and tahini, but it sounds brilliant on a salad or smattered onto toasted pita. So earthy. Let’s sauna.
I brought out the Yahtzee dice (remember when?) and flung them across the breakfast table. Spun ten black dots. Comment #10 came from Lakisha, who won herself a box of nuts and bon bons. She’s a fan of goat cheese and raspberry jam. Sounds like a love-in for pecans and choco truffles. Thanks, everyone, for submitting your mouth-watering illusions!
It fell upon Madame F. to do jury duty this week, which made for a lot of down time in dank City Hall. Of course, I packed a little cheese to eat on breaks, but I also fell into long spells of reverie as I thought about some of my favorite cheese haunts. Let me draw your attention to a few recent discoveries, from the perfect grilled cheese to a great slice of Gouda and Butternut pie:
Grilled Cheese at MeltKraft
That sandwich in the above photo? That’s “Melter Skelter” — it contains local raw-milk cheese, pickled green tomatoes, watercress, jalapenos, and a thin layer of BBQ potato chips. When you eat it, your mouth chuckles. All those crunchy chips and all that cheese tangled around pickly bits that are hot but not — well, it’s horrifyingly appealing. Thank Rebecca Foxman, dreamer-upper of sandwiches. Yesterday, I found her working on a special Saint Patrick’s Day sandwich with bacon, cabbage, and fennel butter.
MeltKraft is the gourmet grilled cheesery attached to Valley Shepherd Creamery in Reading Terminal Market. Zeke Ferguson, a long-time friend of this blog and all-around amazing character, tends bar (cheese bar, that is).
And Jamie Png, another dairy habitué, makes cheese on site. You can watch her pull mozzarella and rake cheddar curds most days of the week. Her mozzarella is perfect — brined and never refrigerated, so that it’s pillowy and sublime. Best thing to do: sample some cheese, grab a few wedges and some mozz to take home, then order your Meltkraft sandwich and watch Jamie stir curd while you wait.
Here are the Valley Shepherd cheeses I’m loving at the moment: Crema de Blue, Gotogetagoat, and Herdsman. That last one, a big rustic Italian job, tastes great with a stick of salami from Larchmont, also sold at the Valley Shepherd stand. I’ve been snacking my face off all week.
Crepes and Cheese Boards at Cafe L’Aube
Cafe L’Aube in the Fairmount neighborhood looks like the sort of well-worn cafe where the writer Colette might have spent an afternoon penning poems on napkins, had she ever visited Philadelphia. Picture hardwood floors, black drapes, and giant windows full of smoldering sunlight. Coffee is roasted in house, buckwheat crepes are made to order, and the cheese plate is divined by a pairing phenom named Leslie who hales from Indiana.
Leslie is one of my favorite fromagerinas (not a word, but it should be) at Di Bruno Bros. on Chestnut St. She has doe-like eyes that go straight to heaven when you ask her for a pairing suggestion. A few weeks back, I was doing my bumble bee dance around some Blue Mauri, and Leslie told me about how she had invented a pairing for blue cheese, jam, and crushed coffee beans. “It’s on the cheese board I designed at Cafe L’Aube,” she said.
A day later and there I was, making notes on napkins, waiting for a bulging crepe. It came piping hot, stuffed with lardons, tomatoes, eggs, and soft cheese. Monsieur Fromage ordered the Croque Monsieur DeLuxe — its dome of browned béchamel deserved a close-up, but I got too excited and forgot to snap one. You’ll have to go yourself. Ask for Leslie’s cheese board, and share a hot Le Fromager [crepe] with someone you have a terrible crush on.
Gouda Butternut Pie at Magpie
When I moved to Philadelphia in 2005, it was a pie-forsaken place. Whoopie pies came along (which some people around here call “gobs”), and I tried to remain positive. Then a pie shop opened and folded just south of Spring Garden. I kept having to fly home to Wisconsin — where lard is loved — for a piece of honest-to-god pie. Philly, you had an underbelly but no crust! Then along came Magpie.
Gotta give credit to my tea blogger friend Alexis, who knows I have a sweet tooth and a loud mouth. I’ve been telling everyone I know about the Gouda Butternut Squash Pie, which tastes like a savory gratin with breadcrumbs, and the Bourbon Butterscotch Pie. It’s custardy and woodsy — just like my fave best cheese, Vacherin. Or Rush Creek. Well, any gooey orange wheel really.
The pies at Magpie change seasonally. Today being Pi Day — and don’t tell me you don’t know what this means — a slice of Butterscotch Bourbon pie only costs $3.14. Check out the Magpie Blog for details.
Sunday night brought out the beards and bellies for Brewer’s Plate 2013. I put on loose-fitting pants and grabbed Monsieur Fromage for a promenade around the National Constitution Center, a space where civic education and fermentation meet once a year for Philadelphia’s rowdiest night of pairings.
Area brewers roll in the barrels, chefs supply farm-fresh fare, and local cheesemakers spin their wheels. (Don’t hate me for turning bad puns; I blame the new triple IPA, Mrs. Pigman, from Tired Hands Brewing. At 11% alchohol, Mrs. Pigman transforms a humdrum party into a porcine drag spectacle.)
Here’s a recap of the highlights as viewed by one Madame F.:
I never would have paired cloudy ricotta with a tumbler of stout, but Aimee Olexy brought down my night at her special VIP tasting when she trotted out cups of homemade ricotta and granola along with Troeg’s JavaHead Stout. Coffee, cream, and oaty cereal? Yes, please, every morning. Let’s all press repeat.
Stinkiest Cheese Man
What a surprise to find Matt Scott a.k.a. Mr. Hudson Red in the house! Di Bruno Bros. horn-snaggled Matt into serving up samples of his award-winning beefcake (look at that fabulous rind!), along with a new wheel he’s toying with: Hudson Truffle. I learned that Matt makes his living as a wine geek, but his heart is in cheese. Of course it is. You don’t make a garlicky stinker like Hudson Red without some serious dairy dedication.
No doubt about it. Swig a little Mrs. Pigman and bite into a fatty wunk of Red Cat, and you’ve got a squealing tom or a mewling hog, you decide. Birchrun Hills Farm and Tired Hands Brewing hit it out of the park again. Too bad cheesemaker Sue Miller couldn’t make The Plate this year, but her son Randy is always good for talking cows. Randy told me that “Little Chardy,” a heiffer I’ve been following (it was the first cow Randy and his brother bought in college together — and some kids save up for Spring Break!), just had a calf. Expect good cream from Chardy II.
Blue Cheese to Watch
Cherry Grove Farm showed up with a brand new honey: Jersey Shore Blue. I went over the boardwalk for it and brought home a wedge that’s sequestered in my crisper (more on this cheese later). Suffice it to say that New Jersey is on a blue streak (think of Valley Shepherd’s award-wining Crema de Blue). Vacationers can look forward to some very memorable raw milk in the wake of the Hurricane Sandy and Snooki. Amen.
Fair Food’s Alex Jones brought it with cream-colored fishnets and red flats. Where there is wild cheese, there must be hot feet.