Artful Cheese Boards from Artifaqt

Artifaqt cheese boardsI am a sucker for the hand-hewn. You know this. I like cheeses that are cut and shaped by hand. Ideally, I like to buy them from the maker’s hands directly at a farm or farmers’ market. I also have a thing for hand-made knives and cheese boards. Maybe this is because I am a passionate scribbler and also the daughter of a violinist, so I believe in the power of things that are held, thumbed, toggled, and touched.

About an hour outside of Philadelphia, there is a woodworker and designer named John Luttman who makes beautiful hand-carved cheese boards, among other things. He’s been at it since 1983, when he arrived in Phoenixville with “a truck, some tools, and my dog, Curry!” Artifaqt, his studio and show room, is located right on Phoenixville’s Main Street.

Cheesemaker Sue Miller with John Luttman of Artifaqt

Cheesemaker Sue Miller with John Luttman and his “cheese surfboard”

John’s eye for shape, color, and texture energizes my cheese brain. A couple weeks ago, I visited his studio and picked up some samples which have become like a set of dominos on my coffee table. I like to mix and match them, with or without cheese.

To me, their velvety surfaces and unique shapes provide the sort of theatrical staging that a hand-crafted cheese display deserves. (Cue the satin curtains, the smoke machine!)

Artifaqt Cheese Boards

If you like what you see, check out Artifaqt’s online shop or visit John in person (Psst…John is offering a discount to MF readers; details at the end of this post). You’ll find a warren of workshops he has built for wood, metal, and stone — all occupied by local artisans he employs from the community.

Most recently, John has collaborated with Chef Eric Ripert to create a set of serveware for Le Bernardin and Aldo Sohm Wine Bar in New York, including a special charcuterie tower that revolves on a turntable. He’s also created custom boards for Chef Jose Garces and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

The+Tower+SQUARE

Photo courtesy of John Luttman

Below are a few of my favorite cheese objects, including a banana-leaf inspired baguette board and a set of truly tiny cheese boards for bite-sized love affairs.

Artifaqt Bread Platter and Cheese BoardMini Cheese Boards from Artifaqt

Questions for John Luttman

~Where are you from and why did you settle in Phoenixville, PA?

I grew up on the other side of Valley Forge National Park and came to Phoenixville from a series of short term workspaces in the area after a year at the Oregon School of Arts and Crafts.

~Who taught you about woodworking?  

My mentor was Karöl Pacanovsky.  Karöl was born at the foothills of the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia and did his apprenticeship in Vienna.  Karöl was 85 when we met, and his everlasting impression on me was I had all I needed to teach myself.

~You’ve passed the tradition on to your son, who works with you?

Early on, I built a diverse staff with skills useful and eventually beneficial to my business interests in those days.  We learned from each other as we moved into new materials and methods.  Today’s evolution is being developed around young people in their 20’s with strong work ethic and work interest.  Young people with a strong set of current skills only get better as they unlock their potential.  One is my oldest son Dane. Dane is 27 and has worked with me since his early teens.

John Luttman's Studio

Joining us, when he graduates from Rochester Institute of Technology next spring, is Tom Nelson, a furniture design major. The three of us work so well together sharing skills and tasks as we work in small batch production.  Our way is to rotate through each step, whether metal or wood so the moment is always fresh.

~On sourcing wood for your boards: you use a lot of Pennsylvania hard woods. Are all of your boards sourced from wood in PA?   

We source from two one-man sawmills just north of our studios in Montgomery County, PA.  This fall we will be heading west to the Allegheny Mountains of western PA to pick up a truck load of hand selected hardwoods from a large family run sawmill.  As they grade their lumber, they pull the extraordinary boards aside for us.  I told them the horizon is coming closer for me so I can only afford to work the finest wood available.  They source mostly from PA ( Penns Woods! ) but also from Ohio, West Virginia and Michigan.

~You mentioned a connection to Longwood Gardens — did I understand correctly that they give you wood from felled trees?  

In Longwood’s words:  “Entertain among the trees of Longwood Gardens in your own home. Every piece of our Treeware Collection is carved and crafted by attentive hands using the reclaimed wood of fallen legacy trees from our Forest. Longwood Gardens teamed up with local artisans, Artifaqt, to make these exclusive kitchen and home accessories.”

John Luttman with The Tower

John Luttman with the charcuterie tower he designed for Chef Eric Ripert

Artifaqt Discount for Madame Fromage Readers

  • Mention “Madame Fromage” for a 10% discount.
  • Mention “Madame Fromage” and the name of a PA cheesemaker for a 15% discount.
  • Discount applies to online orders and store visits.

 

Olympic Cheese Competitions

Parish Hill Creamery Cheese Board

Friends, everyone I know has been glued to the Olympics, so let’s take a moment to look at Gold Medal hopefuls in the, ahem, cheese category. For those of you with a competitive streak, here are a few dairy-related challenges that will keep your eyeballs and tastebuds engaged during all of those commercial breaks.

American Cheese Society Competition

Earlier this month, American cheesemakers from around the country sent their best wheels in for the annual American Cheese Society (ACS) judging held in Des Moines, Iowa. You can read about the Best of Show winners in The New York Times. My home state of Pennsylvania tied for 2nd place with St. Malachi from Doe Run Farm — huge congrats to cheesemakers Sam Kennedy and Matt Hettlinger. If you want to see how cheesemakers in your state fared, check out the list of ACS winners. Better yet, sprint to your local cheese shop between sporting events and ask for an ACS winners cheese plate.

The Saveur Blog Awards

Yours Truly is pushing hard in the “Food Obsessives” category of Saveur Magazine’s annual Food Blogger Awards. This may be the first time a cheese blog has made it into the finals, friends, so please, please consider voting. The competition ends August 31. Note: there were 30,000 nominations, and the finalists in all of the many categories will give you awe-inspiring glimpses into food blogs from around the country. Please vote here — you’ll see my photo of Parish Hill Creamery  cheeses (above) as you scroll through the finalists. If you want to hear more about this match, watch the short interview I did with health writer Babs Hogan on her new series Cheese Hangouts.

The 5 Best New Sandwiches in America

Bon Appetit Magazine released its latest lusty listicle this week — are you living in Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, City, Dallas or Philadelphia? If you are, you just hit the sandwich jackpot! I almost don’t want to tell you that the biggest winner of all — which features cream cheese, thank you very much — is 2 blocks from my house. It’s sick. If you like bagels, the Classic Lox Bagel at Philly Style Bagels is a glorious thing. Come over and eat one on my stoop, why don’tcha?

The United States of Cheese Quest

Finally, here’s an all-American cheese competition everyone can get behind: artist Mike Geno is trying to paint a cheese from every state in America. Take a look at his interactive map and see if he has painted a cheese from your state yet — if not, recommend one? He’s 38 states down and counting, and his paintings and prints are spell-binding. If your favorite Olympic hopeful doesn’t win a medal, console yourself with a stunning cheese portrait.

United States of Cheese Map

~

Feeling competitive? Tell me where you have eaten the best cheese board so far this year. Maybe we need a Best Cheese Board in America award. Nudge, nudge, Bon Appetit!

 

Five Ideas for Cheese Boards

Taupiniere

August is ugly. It’s all sweat and flies. Here in Philadelphia, everyone related to anyone with a shore house has packed up and fled. As a midwestern transplant, I console myself with cheese boards instead of crab claws and spend most evenings drinking cocktails on the stoop instead of on sandy beaches. No complaints. August is a good time to surf local cheese shops (business tends to be slow), linger by the coolers enjoying samples, and invite old friends over for epic snack plates.

Since fixing a cheese board doens’t require an oven, it’s the perfect cold supper. Quick to fix. A delight to eat. As you know, I love a cheese board that seduces the eye, offering a bit of drama — a little dinner theater. Like “Shakespeare in the Park,” a great cheese board is all about the stage and a well-chosen cast of garnishes.

May the cheese boards below, pulled from the MF archives, inspire you to create a cheese-themed soirée, an antidote to August’s bleating hotness.

 

1. Goat Cheese & Citrus Board

Coupole and Yuzu Marmalade Board

 

  • Pick out 3 to 5 goat cheeses of different textures (goat milk is the lightest of milks and, thus, ideal for summer)
  • Play off the the acidity in goat cheese with lemon curd or marmalade — I love Yuzu marmalade, which is both citrusy and slightly floral. You can also set out honey.
  • Fill in around the board with pistachios or walnuts, plus light crackers (any cracker with rosemary or thyme will be fab)
  • To drink: a light, bright wine (like Sauvignon Blanc), wheat beer or saison, a citrusy cocktail with an herbaceous edge (like a French 75 or a Gin & Tonic)

2. Exploring-One-Style-of-Cheese Board

Blue cheese board with honey and chocolate

  • Decide on a single style, like fresh cheeses, triple-cremes, cheddars, Alpines, stinkers, or blues
  • Ask friends to bring one cheese in that style (call it a Mozzarella Potluck, say!) or pick out the cheeses yourself, then assign friends to bring accompaniments
  • Build a big, beautiful board with lots of accompaniments so people can mix and match — don’t sweat the pairings, let people go wild. As long as you have nuts, fruit, pickles, jams, bread, and booze, everyone will be happy.
  • At the end of the night, ask everyone to describe their best bite

3. Road Trip Cheese Board

Piedmont Cheese Board

  • Pick a country or region you hope to visit
  • Visit a good cheese shop with helpful mongers and ask them to recommend several cheeses from that place (Italy, France, England, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal are all good bets)
  • Try picking wines or beers from the same place — there’s a theory that terroir matches terroir. The theory doesn’t always work, but it’s still fun to try cheese and drink from the same region
  • You can also focus on artisan cheeses from a region of the U.S. — this is a great way to begin planning a road trip

4. Single Artisan Cheese Board

All Goat Cheese Board with Cocktails (Aviation and Bijou)

  • Pick out 3 to 5 cheeses created by the same maker (in this case, Allison Hooper of Vermont Creamery — her line of goat cheese is readily available and wonderful)
  • Offer simple pairings so that the cheeses remain in focus. Notice how the same milk expresses itself through different cheeses. So interesting.
  • Choose a drink pairing from the maker’s region, in this case Barr Hill Gin from Vermont

5. Farm & Garden Cheese Board

Essex Street Cheese Sampler with Fruit and Steamed Veggies

  • Pluck whatever is ripe or available at the farmers’ market — I like to steam veggies, especially green beans, carrots, pototatoes
  • At your cheese shop, ask for cheeses with herbaceous flavors (like mountain cheeses or Alpines) and at least one aged Gouda for something sweet
  • Add one earthy element, like sautéed mushrooms or something truffled
  • Play with natural and/or earthy wines or beers

~

Next up: I’m exploring the theme of “cheese boards” this month, from composing cheese boards like the ones here, to finding actual boards that are good for entertaining. Join me as I visit a unique company that is working to re-invent the cheese board.

Uhhh…the cheese pictured at the top of this post? It’s Taupiniere, a gorgeous mushroom cloud of goat cheese rolled in ash, from California. I should have mentioned: you can always build a board around a single glorious cheese. Just add berries, dramatic flowers, and call it Ikebana.

 

 

Events: A Ricotta and Rosé Dinner

Unforgettable Ricotta (Tusa)

Summer started with sheep’s milk, and I am determined to end it with sheep’s milk. On Sunday, August 28, 2016 I invite you to join me for a ricotta + rosé dinner at a charming restaurant near my house in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia, The Pickled Heron. The dinner will include a 4-course meal, featuring homemade ricotta in each dish, plus specially chosen rosé pairings from Moore Brothers Wine. As a highlight, we’ll be using some extraordinary grass-fed sheep’s milk from a new local company called Perrystead.

Let me tell you why I am over the moon — picture a moon made of sheep’s milk  — about this dinner.

Synchronicity is at the heart of this meal. In late May, I sprinted off to Sicily in pursuit of ricotta, and thanks to a pair of glorious grrrl guides who invited me to contribute to a project called Due South. In Sicily, I was introduced to the ricotta of my dreams — the island’s ricotta is especially delicious (and famous) because of the fertile pastures where the sheep graze.

Fields of the Madonie Mountains Near Gangi

The best ricotta, as any Sicilian will tell you, must be made from grass-fed sheep’s milk.

When I returned to Philadelphia, a chef reached out to me on Instagram to say, “Psssssttt! Your pictures are making me want to pig out on food and travel. Wanna do a cheese/book dinner?” It was Chef Daniela D’Ambrosio (you may remember her duking it out with Bobby Flay on the Food Network?) at The Pickled Heron. We’d never met in person, but when we did, it was a mutual cheese love affair. We flipped through a Sicilian cookbook together, and I described to her the various ways Sicilians used ricotta, in particular: baking it in clay to create Ricotta Infornata.

Clay-baked Ricotta Infornata

Clay-baked Ricotta Infornata

My only question was this: how would we source great sheep’s milk?

Synchronicity struck again! An urban cheese guru named Yoav Perry (a.k.a. Artisan Geek) texted me to say that he had left New York and bought a house in my neighborhood. When we met for coffee, he told me he had formed a relationship with some pasture-raised sheep farmers in New York and was preparing to become their chief distributor. Can you imagine? The archangel of grass-fed sheep’s milk right before my eyes?

And so, on August 28, we will celebrate sheep’s milk and synchronicity. I hope you can come! Details and menu are below…

Ricotta + Rosé Dinner Party, Sunday, August 28, 7 p.m. at The Pickled Heron, 2218 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia, $85 (does not include tax +tip). Reservations: 215-634-5666Note: Seating is limited. Vegetarian and gluten-free alternatives are available – please mention these preferences when you reserve.

 

 4-Course Menu with 4 Rosés

Grilled Octopus with Preserved Lemon, Chickpeas, Chilies, Oregano, Ricotta Salata
Jaume Rose Côtes du Rhône 2015

Ricotta Gnudi with Chanterelles, Housemade Pancetta, Basil
Corte Gardoni Chiaretto  2015

Grilled Quail with Ricotta Infornata, Balsamic Cherries, Broccoli Raab, Pine Nuts
Turcaud Clairet 2015

Fig Tart with Ricotta, Honey, Pistachio Gelato
Magellan Defendu ROSE 2015

 

More August Cheese Events: My pals at Di Bruno Bros. just announced a series of cheese and beer pairing classes at the new Di Bruno Bros. Bottle Shop. For tickets and details, check out the Di Bruno Bros. Culture Club.

 

Homemade Yogurt All Summer Long

Homemade Yogurt with Granola and BerriesReturning from Sicily to Philadelphia’s simmering pot of hot weather has thrown me into a jag of yogurt making. Thanks to Cheryl Sternman Rule’s recent book, Yogurt CultureI’ve made batch after perfect batch — a feat, since I have tried yogurt recipes in the past with mixed results. Cheryl’s instructions are exacting. And her recipe (below) works well for whole milk or 2%. I like to start a batch in the morning, and by mid-afternoon it’s ready to slide into the fridge, good for a snack at sundown.

My Swiss grandmother used to greet us with a large blue salad bowl full of homemade yogurt when we visited her home in Cleveland, back when I was a kid. She’d set it out on her kitchen table (always covered in a thick plastic tablecloth to preserve the wood finish) along with homemade preserves and muesli, and we’d dish ourselves big helpings of yogurt and toppings. So cool, so refreshing after the long drive across the Midwest.

Homade Yogurt from Cheryl Sternman Rule's Yogurt Culture Book

Later, as an exchange student in Munich, my host family liked to gather around their kitchen table on weekend afternoons for a quarkspeise — a dairy-centric ritual involving a buffet of berries, preserves, honey, muesli, and quark or yogurt.

As you can see, my yogurt affiliations run deep.

How I love pattering into my own kitchen now, knowing there is a big blue salad bowl full of homemade yogurt. Out comes the jam, the berries, the buckwheat honey and granola.

Yogurt Breakfast Bowls for Two from Yogurt Culture

And I’ve been playing with other uses, thanks to Yogurt Culture. For a recent stoop party, I made Cheryl’s recipe for Cold Yogurt Soup with Cucumber, Herbs, and Rose Petals (page 144). Before that, I fell hard for Pomegranate Doogh (page 138), a yogurt soda that I maybe spiked with a little Creme de Cassis?

This week, Cheryl has a story in the food section of The Washington Post for yogurt cocktails — full disclosure: she included a yogurt cocktail from my recent book with André Darlington, The New Cocktail Hour. 

We’ve bonded, you see, Cheryl and I. Over dairy. It happens, as you well know. When Cheryl and I spoke by phone recently — after discovering each other on Instagram (look for @sternmanrule)– she confessed that since she had written a yogurt book, it had taken over her life. She launched a website, called Team Yogurt, and now all she wants to do is profess the magic of probiotic dairy to everyone she meets.

Homemade Yogurt Blow with Granola and Blackberries

I told her I understood completely.

~

Homemade Yogurt 

This recipe is lightly adapted from Yogurt Culture: A Global Look at How to Make, Bake, Sip, and Chill the World’s Creamiest, Healthiest Foodby Cheryl Sternman Rule. Cheryl’s recipe makes a half-gallon of yogurt, but I prefer to make a smaller batch for our two-person household. Check out her book for loads more information on yogurt-making, including how to make Greek-style yogurt and Labneh (yogurt cheese).

Ingredients

  • 4 cups milk (whole milk or 2%)
  • 1 tablespoon yogurt (the starter)

Step 1: Heat the Milk to 180 degrees F. Rub an ice cube around the inside of a stainless steel pot or saucepan to prevent the milk from sticking to it as it heats. Then affix your candy thermometer to the side of the pot and add the milk. Warm the milk slowly over medium-high heat. This may take up to 20 minutes, so be patient and do some dishes as you wait. When the temperature reaches 180, turn the heat way down but maintain the temperature for 5 minutes (this will create naturally thicker yogurt). Remove the pot from the heat and remove any skin that has formed on top of the milk.

Step 2: Cool the milk to 115 degrees F. Pour the hot milk into a large bowl (I use a big ceramic salad bowl) and let the milk cool, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 115 degrees. This will take another 20 to 30 minutes.

Step 3: Add the starter culture. When the milk has reached 115 degrees, ladle about a cup of it into a mug and whisk a tablespoon of the yogurt starter into it. (This is called tempering.) Then, pour the tempered yogurt back into the large bowl of milk and cover it with a plate.

Step 4: Incubate. Your innocculated milk needs to be kept warm (between 100 and 112 degrees). Find a warm spot in your house, or use the “proofing” setting on your oven — which is what I do. Let the yogurt rest undisturbed for 6 to 12 hours. (I check it at hour six, and if it has set, I put it into the refrigerator. It should wobble a little. If it needs more time, wait another two hours and check it again.)