This week, I’ve been working on a holiday cheese board for The Philadelphia Inquirer based around the them of “bark, booze, and flames.” Because I love themes (it must be my editorial mind), I can’t help but lean on a topical focus for this year’s gift guide. Since the travel bug has bitten my neck, let the vampire live!
Here are 6 gift ideas for anyone with restless legs and a yen for cheese:
1. A Night at James Montgomery’s Home
This year’s ultimate cheese travel gift has to be the British cheese junket offered by Anna Juhl and Chris George of Cheese Journeys – six sleeps in Cheddar country, complete with a night at James Montgomery’s manor (he’s the brains and hands behind Montgomery’s Cheddar, arguably the best in the world). Stuff yourself on curds and roam a landscape once thought to be the true home of Camelot. To pre-game, attend one of these British cheese classes in New York.
2. A Tour of Eataly
Heading to New York? Sweep your lover off her feet with a personal tour of Eataly some morning – you get to walk the store with a staffer while nibbling cheese, murmuring over mushrooms with the vegetable butcher (best concept in the world), and sampling hot pasta, pizza, and more. Ask for an olive oil demo – the shelves are arranged by region. Who knew?
3. A Class at The San Francisco Cheese School
If you’re going to the Bay Area, stop in and meet Kirstin Jackson of It’s Not You It’s Brie – she teaches wine-and-cheese classes at The San Francisco Cheese School, and they always sound incredible. Check to see if a city near you offers cheese education – in Philadelphia, look to Tria Fermentation School and Cook. In New York, check out the course offerings at Murray’s and Bedford Cheese.
4. A Cheese Roadtrip
Several states, including Wisconsin and Vermont, offer cheese maps. You can also look for localized trails, like the Finger Lakes Wine & Cheese Trail. Plan a weekend and stay somewhere dreamy (like a farm stay or dairy B&B), then gift your lover a cooler, a cheese board, and some brochures. Even better, plan a trip around a cheese festival – there are a growing number of them. It’s an awesome way to nibble and network, especially if you dream of owning goats and making a few crottins of your own. Another resource: the Atlas of Artisan American Cheese (it’s a little out of date but still handy).
5. An International Cheese Board
Know someone headed abroad this summer – maybe to France, Italy, Spain? Gift that person a special board with cheeses from their destination so they can prepare their tastebuds. Some cheese companies, like Zingermans, even offer country-themed gift baskets — check out their French Cheese Passport. Di Bruno Bros. offers an Italian Cheese Collection (all of the wedges on the board are in our new cheese book!).
6. Cheese Books for the Armchair Traveler…
This seems to be the year of cheese books (or maybe I’m just paying more attention). Here are a few faves from my own shelves to recommend:
- The Whole Fromage – For anyone who wants to fantasize about roadtripping through France…
- Pacific Northwest Cheese: A History – For history buffs and savvy West Coasties…
- Wisconsin Local Foods Journal – For cheese heads who want to know which hunks are in season…
Disclosure: I requested and received promotional copies of the books mentioned in this post.
Okay, cheese lover, how would you love to go away for the holidays with your very own cheese weekender bag, complete with a signed copy of Madame’s book and a notebook for your very own tasting notes?
Or maybe you want to romance the blue-cheese heart of a loved one with this snazzy gift set? Add a cheese board and a bottle of something sparkly.
I’m happy to personalize these and mail them anywhere in the continental United States before December 22, 2013. This is an exclusive, from this little ol’ blog to you. Here are the details:
Madame Fromage Gift Set
- 1 signed copy of my book, The Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese, made out to the cheese lover of your choice
- 1 cheese notebook, medium ruled, with an elastic clasp and an inner pocket for cheese receipts (I love these!)
- 1 Madame Fromage shoulder bag, perfect for carrying to your favorite cheese counter
Cost ($50) includes shipping anywhere in the continental United States
To place an order…
Email me: email@example.com
You can pay by Paypal or personal check. Easy peezy!
Note: Offer good while supplies last.
It’s been an exciting couple of weeks in Book Land — allow me to gush like Rush Creek? Yesterday, Serious Eats ran a terrific review (big thanks to cheese columnist Stephanie Stiavetti), and Real Simple put The Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese at the top of their recent gift guide.
We also found our book on the shelves of Anthropologie, which called for a cheese party and signing at the Philadelphia flagship store on Rittenhouse Square last night. What a pleasure to nosh on triple cremes and candied pecans with Jessica, Laura, and the rest of the stellar staff.
We signed a record number of book copies (54!) and loved toasting this particular set of faces — the whole DiPrinzio clan, a family of wildly exuberant cheese lovers.
Thank you to everyone who came out last night, and to everyone who has kissed this little cheese book with a mention…merci. Every time I sign a copy or flip through its pages, I remember how I sat down one day at this very laptop and thought, “hmm, maybe I should write a cheese book?”
That was, oh, almost three years ago now. It still feels surreal to see copies of it sitting around the house. And it’s even more surreal to see it at other people’s houses, especially when it’s bursting with sticky notes.
A round of sticky smooches to all…
Note: Copies of The Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese: Recipes, Wedges, and Pairings are available online from numerous vendors, including Anthropologie, Di Bruno Bros., Host the Toast, The Cookbook Stall, Powell’s Books, Barnes & Noble, Cooking.com, and Amazon.
This year, my brother André quit his job to become a wine writer. I’m very proud of him for plunging into the juicy void — the decision was inspired by a scholarship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in Napa. Before the scholarship, he was part of a secret coalition of studious drinkers that met to share knowledge and bottles — call it the Distance MFA for Sommeliers.
All this to say: his zeal for wine and my obsession with cheese conspired to turn our family Thanksgiving into a 3-day tasting that involved spreadsheets, carefully selected wines, a suitcase full of cheese, and bathrobes. Why bathrobes? One must sweat out the toxins. (Conveniently, our newly retired dad installed a “therapeutic” Jacuzzi — it’s supposed to be good for arthritis.)
From last Thursday until this Sunday, we ran our parents through unparalleled pairing experiments. Here was the set-up:
I brought 9 cheeses.
My brother brought 9 wines.
We had Cheesegiving for 3 days.
Here was our plan: I wanted to find wines to pair with two of my favorite winter cheeses, Epoisses and Marcel Petit Comté, and André wanted to find the perfect wedge to pair with Cru Beaujolais, which comes into season in November.
We tasked each other with ferreting out the best pairings. First, we emailed ideas back and forth, then we ended up grab-bagging a few extra wines and wedges to experiment with. My brother tracked down the best white Burgundy to pair with Epoisses, and he uncovered a mysterious recommendation for something called “Vin Jaune” (yellow wine) — a rare bottle from the Jura that was supposed to make us ache with joy when eaten with Comté and walnuts.
The Epoisses Challenge: I picked up a feral Epoisses from The Cheese Shop of Des Moines, not far from our father’s house. It tasted like steamed cauliflower and liverwurst, like unctuous pâté. André nailed it with a beautiful Meursault — a glowing white Burgundy characterized by oak and lime. The results were magnificent.
The Beaujolais Challenge: A lone wedge of Cantal from Di Bruno Bros. in Philly proved to be a stellar match for the bottle of Jean-Paul Brun Fleurie that made all of us see stars — big rubyfruit stars. In fact, Cantal was the showgirl who could kick over any glass we put before her — I’d never been all that fond of this rustic Frenchie, but I was mesmerized by how this workhorse can-canned with every bottle.
If you ever need to grab a wedge on the fly to pair with unknown substances, make it Cantal.
The Vin Jaune and Comté Stumper: The only puzzle we couldn’t solve was this pairing. We saved it for last because we were so enamored of this rare “yellow wine” once described as “one of the few wines that can stand up properly to cheese” by The New York Times.
Alas, Vin Jaune did not work with any of our cheeses at all. Not the Comté. Not the Bleu de Gex — also from the Jura — that I’d picked up as a back-up wedge.
Vin Jaune was an oddball swing dancer, more sour than sweet — like an exotic vinegar mixed with a splash of sherry. It was intriguing, in the way that sour beers are intriguing. I couldn’t help but wonder if the Comté I purchased was too young, too mild — not aged or wild enough?
If you have tried Vin Jaune with Comté and walnuts, let me know.
We are still scratching our heads as we reminisce about Cheesegiving 2013 from 900 miles apart.
My brother lives in Wisconsin; I live in Philadelphia. In December, we’ll meet again for Cheesemas.
Everywhere I go, I carry a little cheese valise. On trains. On roadtrips. And especially on airplanes. I will never understand why cheese counters don’t offer porta-cheese-plates this time of year for the on-the-go dairy lover.
Someone, please, hear my cry!
Say you get stuck in Detroit on Thanksgiving — it’s happened! — wouldn’t you want to cheer yourself up with a little goat cheese and green apple? Or, say you want to start your Thanksgiving feast on board? Why settle for plain pretzels with your plastic cup of white wine when you could dip them into a mini Camembert?
For the season, Pico is the ultimate in-flight cheese. It’s contained, practically odorless (if you care about your seat-mates), and capable of transporting you very briefly to the French countryside. Under its veil-like rind, you’ll find a creamy layer that’s absolutely divine — buttery, grassy, and perfect for shmearing on celery sticks. To me, this is a good “light” choice since it’s goat cheese.
I learned about Pico from cheese diva Jenny Harris at a recent Whole Foods book signing in Devon, PA. During a brutally long day at work this week, I ate it for breakfast (with fig jam) and lunch (with apples, celery, and a dried cranberry/cashew snack mix) at my desk.
I felt it simulated a cramped plane.
All I yearned for was a little bubbly. Next Wednesday, I will be packing Pico in my carry-on to Des Moines (gulp). I hope you sit next to me.
Tips For An In-Flight Cheese Board
- Don’t even think about substituting packets of string cheese. Come on! There are so many great little porta-cheeses: Banon, Saint Marcellin, Purple Haze, leaf-wrapped robiolas, or goat cheese buttons.
- If you have a long travel day, pack your soft cheese inside a frozen mitten. Or anything else in your carry-on that you can pop in the freezer the night before.
- Don’t want to fuss with my mitten-trick? Pick a low-moisture cheese that will hold up nicely without refrigeration. An aged Gouda, say — like Beemster or L’Amuse. Pecorino is excellent with almonds and an in-flight martini.
- Trader Joe’s snack packs of dried fruit and nuts
- Dates or figs for stuffing with blue cheese or slivers of Pecorino
- A take-out container of celery sticks, sliced apples, and grapes
- Effie’s Oat Cakes or a box of Carr Crackers
- Pretzel crisps, baked pita chips, or Nut Thins
- A small jar of jam from a hotel buffet
- A pack of Oloves (olives on the go) or a few gherkins wrapped in wax paper
- Sea salt caramels or caramel popcorn
Look for Pico at specialty cheese counters, including Whole Foods. Ask for a ripe one, or give the cheese a squeeze to make sure it gives a little. If you have the good fortune of staying home all cozy, try using Pico in this baked Camembert recipe from the BBC.