In the mornings, I have been sipping a brand new tonic: Milk Oolong, a creamy tea from China. It smells like fresh milk and orchids, and it coats your mouth like silk. Lately, I’ve been trying to scale back on coffee (Madame F. can get a little flibbity-jibbity on caffeine), and Milk Oolong satisfies the craving.
It’s light but lush. And I love to watch the leaves unfold.
My friend Alexis Siemons introduced me to Milk Oolong this winter when she hosted a tea party at Premium Steap. I have always been a chai lover since it carries dairy so well. What a surprise to discover a whole leaf tea that is lightly fermented to create a milky finish. It’s spendy, but you can get several steaps out of a single teaspoon.
If you know anyone who is lactose intolerant, introduce them to this dreamy revelation — Milk Oolong does not contain any milk. It hasn’t been rinsed in milk either, as some claim. It’s liquid velvet: sweet, lightly vegetal, and toasty.
The aroma instantly reminds me of shortbread cookies, Alexis writes on her blog, Teaspoons and Petals. Her tasting notes for tea always inspire me. Alas, our love of cheese and tea meet. This Wednesday, Alexis is hosting a Green Tea 101 class in downtown Philadelphia. I’m told there will be goat cheese.
- Tickets for Green Tea 101 with Alexis Siemons
- Alexis’s Recipe for Milk Oolong Pudding with Honey and Rose Water
- Directions for preparing Milk Oolong
When someone sends you a box of sexy, wrinkled cheese in the mail, it feels very special. It feels like visitors from another planet have asked you to become their pen pal, or — better yet — a host family for their children. Children who arrive in hover crafts.
Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery packs their delicate morsels in small balsa-wood travel carriers. I received some in the mail as samples and marveled at their construction: the little boxes (what can I build with them?) and also the cheeses inside. Each goat cheese looked like a lilliputian barn animal with a fleecy rind.
Let me lay out the facts because I can get a little woo-woo when I talk about these cheeses. They are like fairy mushrooms, like toad stools…see, there I go.
Fact: Cheesemaker Allison Hooper of Vermont has established herself as a geotricum genius. She’s devoted her whole life — and I’m not being dramatic — to creating a perfect environment for French-style goat cheeses with wrinkly rinds. You should really read her story.
Fantasy: Allison Hooper develops faux fur coats made from geotricum — chinchillas everywhere celebrate.
Fact: Bonne Bouche (above) recently won a World Cheese Award (2011) and a Sofi Award at the Fancy Food Show (2012).
Fantasy: Lancôme hires Allison Hooper to develop a goat cheese face mask that makes wrinkles look more etherial. Women over 60 everywhere embrace their age lines.
What struck me about these cheeses was their pristine taste. Bonne Bouche (above) has an ashy elegance, but it’s definitely a fearsome cheese. Even menacing. Were it any larger than the size of my palm, I might have flinched. Inside, however, the paste was ice white, like packed snow, and it gave off the aroma of milk and lemons. The taste matched. It was all lemon cream with a pleasantly yeasty tang along the rind.
I let this cheese sit around in my crisper for about two weeks, and amazingly, it looked as beautiful on the day I served it as the day it arrived. (I kept it around on purpose — I wanted the interior to break down and turn piquant. It developed an oozy creamline just under the rind that was perfect.)
Coupole (above) was equally flawless. It was like eating shaved ice — cool and bright. The rind looks formidable, but was veil-thin and sweetly gummy, like the exterior of a mochi ball. At a party, I served it with a jar of Meyer Lemon Marmalade, and the combination was extraordinary.
A few days later, I wanted more sexy, wrinkly cheese, so I set off for Downtown Cheese in Philadelphia, where they have a lovely selection of Frenchies. I chose a Chabichou, a classic French goat cheese that I knew Allison Hooper must have eaten in her girlhood when she studied in France.
The Chabichou was an interesting contrast. The rind was thicker. Not by much, but it was noticeable. The smell called to mind Coupole. In fact, had I been blindfolded, I’m not sure I could have detected a difference. I broke out the lemon marmalade and marveled.
Then I set about to finding a proper way to store my Chabichou. An improvised cheese dome made from a Ball Jar? Why not? I feel Allison would approve.
It wouldn’t be right not to show you what these cheeses look like on a plate, sliced and ready to serve. Tell me they’re not alluring, wrinkles and all.
Many wheels of cheese are beautiful, but only a handful are arresting. When I walked into Di Bruno Bros. on 9th Street and saw cheesemonger Rocco Rainone holding what looked like a lichen-covered wagon wheel, I lost all restraint. “What…is…that?” I demanded, pushing past a crate of bell-shaped goat cheeses.
“Puits d’Astier,” Rocco whispered. It sounded like a new frangrance. Pwee d’awz-tee-eh. And it might as well be. Since Saturday, I’ve been patting Puits d’Astier on the insides of my wrists, and wherever I go in the world I leave the aroma of sweet sheep’s milk and hazelnuts. It’s true. Riders of SEPTA, Philadelphia’s public transit system, know me and thank me. Expect men who peddle scented oils from duffle bags to pursue you with bottles of faux Puits d’Astier soon.
To continue reading, please visit the Di Bruno Blog.
Disclosure: Twice a month, I write a post for Di Bruno Bros, one of my fave cheese haunts in Philly. I’m paid for these nibbles and scribbles, which is how I support my obsession.
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.