Spinach. Melons. Burgers. Chicken. Eggs. Peanuts. Is anything safe to eat any more? All of these foods (and others) have been implicated in outbreaks of food-borne illness. Recently, a domestic raw-milk cheese joined the list. Authorities say it sickened six people, two of whom died. That’s tragic—no other word for it. But should you cross raw-milk cheese off your shopping list?
The new Administration’s immigration plans are likely to up-end California agriculture. Everybody knows that. But I hadn’t thought about the impact on the nation’s creameries until a cheesemaker told me about her terrified workforce. Immigrants make a lot of our cheese, so get ready for labor shortages and price hikes. And of course they have introduced us to their own cheeses, from feta to Gouda.
How old is cheese making? Five thousand years, at least, so you would think every possible technique has been tried. A cheesemaker who wants to create something original doesn’t have endless options. You can play with milk blends, cultures, washes, shapes. But probably somebody else has done it first. That said, the new Bishop’s Peak doesn’t remind me of any other cheese I can think of.
We’ve been hearingad nauseum about border walls, but who knew there were butter walls? Even some folks in Wisconsin are just now realizing that their state—“America’s Dairyland”—has an impenetrable fat fence. No immigrant butters from France, Italy or Ireland, or any other foreign country, are permitted on Wisconsin grocery-store shelves. At least one Kerrygold fan has resorted to driving to a neighboring state to score some Irish butter. I’m a Kerrygold enthusiast, too, but my laid-back state (California) lets me have all I want, no questions asked.
My high-school French teacher introduced me to Roquefort, and I remember that she served it with butter. Purists will wince but the butter softened the bite, and it helped my teenage palate enjoy the experience. I still think it’s a good trick for a blue that’s too strong. But you won’t want butter with Bleu 1924. This luscious new French blue tastes like it has butter in it.
Redwood Hill Crottin, Redwood Hill Bucheret, Redwood Hill Terra…so long. Great to have known you. Rest in peace. Redwood Hill founder Jennifer Bice (above right) has made her last batch of California goat cheese.
After thirty years of production, Bice has decided to cease making the pioneering Sonoma County chèvres that helped launch this country’s artisan cheese movement. I’m sad but not too sad. Bice has taken some unusual steps to ensure that these cheeses will soon live again.
A silky flan strikes me as just the right, light finale for a candlelit dinner for two. This one, with ricotta, is the love child of crème caramel and cheesecake. I have made it often, following the recipe in A Fresh Taste of Italy by Michele Scicolone.
She is California’s first-ever winner of the Cheesemonger Invitational, and she prevailed in a landslide. Jessica Lawrenz, you rock. The 32-year-old monger from San Diego vanquished 34 other contestants from around the country in this grueling test of talent. She cut, she wrapped, she paired, she plated. And then, she almost blew it.
If you think chamomile is just for tea, meet Camilla. This raw-milk gem from Northern Italy, with its chamomile cloak, deftly marries innovation with tradition. Friends who tell you they don’t like goat cheese will have to reboot after tasting this one.
Where’s the Gouda? Every time I see the Giacomini sisters who own Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, I nag them. Every time I see their cheesemaker, Kuba Hemmerling, I nag him. Where is that aged Gouda you said you were making? I’ve been asking about it for years. They’ve been stonewalling me for years. And now, ladies and gentlemen, the Gouda.
Shortly before I piled the cheese curds on a platter, sprinkled them with homegrown Espelette pepper and surrounded them with olives, I learned that this was a really lame idea. Cheese curds are supposed to be scarfed down like popcorn, straight from the bag. “They’re the potato chips of dairy,” says Jeanne Carpenter, a cheesemonger in Madison and authority on Wisconsin cheese. Obviously, I did it anyway, because fresh curds are rare where I live and worth some ceremony, and these were the best I had ever had.
Yikes. Does your credit-card balance look like mine? I know January sends many of us into fits of austerity, but cutting back doesn’t have to mean cutting out. Keep eating cheese! I prowled my local cheese counters for tasty options under $20 a pound and had no trouble assembling a list of worthy contenders. These ten selections deliver amazing value and most of them are in shops year-round.
The nation’s cheese merchants know better than anyone which new cheeses are about to catch fire. They sample dozens of newcomers during the year, fall in love with some and—perhaps more important—discover which ones click with consumers.
Maybe you have made gougères in the past. Maybe you like your recipe. But you’re going to like this one better. I got it from Napa Valley caterer Sarah Scott, who cooks dinner parties for a lot of the local wine families. If I’m invited to a party and find Sarah in the kitchen, I am so happy. Her gougères are perfection: crunchy outside, airy within. With that first glass of sparkling wine, they’re just what you want.
Two years (and then some) without the luscious Gabriel Coulet Roquefort. How did we survive? Now this much-missed Roquefort is back in the U.S., armed with all the lab analyses and clean bills of health that the FDA requires. If you were worried about consuming France’s most famous blue cheese (I wasn’t), worry no longer. Imported raw-milk cheeses like Roquefort get more scrutiny than raw chicken, and you can guess which one has the better safety record.
Does the world need another truffled cheese? Probably not, in my estimation. Too often, these cheeses seem gimmicky to me, with a heavy-handed or artificial truffle scent and unremarkable cheese underneath. Oh, but wait. I think I’ve just found the star of your New Year’s Eve cheese tray.
Recentlythe husband-and-wife owners of Georgia’s acclaimed Many Fold Farm posted a dismaying announcement on Facebook: On January 1, they would cease making cheese.
The news rattled the cheese world because the young creamery seemed to be thriving, with a blue ribbon for Condor’s Ruin at the American Cheese Society competition, a second-place finish for the aged Peekville Tomme, and a growing presence for its sheep’s milk cheeses in influential shops.
Some key facts about the new Oxford Companion to Cheese: 3-1/2 pounds, 325 contributors, 855 subjects (including my entry on Franklin Peluso, creator of the Teleme pictured above). “We hope readers will dip into one entry, only to emerge someplace else entirely,” writes Catherine Donnelly, the project’s editor-in-chief. That certainly happened to me when I first cracked open this tome on tommes and skipped from “bread pairing” to “Piave” to “pregnancy advice.”
Looking for an American cheese for Thanksgiving? Of course you are. You could set out a fine bandaged Cheddar, or maybe some fresh local goat cheese with olives, but if you want to put the most smiles on the most faces, serve pimento cheese. Or as we say in my home state of Texas: puh-menna cheese. It’s so retro, it’s in again.
It would be impossible to name a favorite cheese, but a favorite style? That’s easy. Aged sheep’s milk cheeses---from anywhere—are the ones that disappear first at my house. They get more savory as they mature, not sweeter, so they’re like salted peanuts to me. One bite and I need another. Good news for like minds: we have a new cheese to love.
If mozzarella di bufala has been your only experience of water-buffalo cheese, you have homework to do. Of course that’s where most of us started—swapping out cow’s-milk mozzarella in our tomato salad for the more gamy and exotic bufala. Then came burrata di bufala with that luscious cream filling. Could cheese get any sexier?
Cheese never tastes better than from a fresh-cut wheel, so my introduction to Goat Lady Dairy’s Providence was about as good as it gets. I had stopped into San Francisco’s Cheese Plus just as the monger was making the initial cut into this crusty aged North Carolina goat cheese. What sweet, nutty, caramel-like aromas. I took home a big chunk.
“I stole the idea from George Washington,” admits Bill Owens, the Northern California brewer credited with popularizing pumpkin ale. Historians tell us that our first President was a beer enthusiast, and that he brewed ale from gourds. Now, 250 years later, pumpkin beers are an annual American rite and a sudsy segue into autumn. Pair them with a few of the cheeses they like and there’s your debate-night platter.
Innovation isn’t a word I associate with Basque cheesemakers, but the sublime sheep’s-milk Arpea is reason to rethink that. Created about three years ago by the Fromagerie Agour, Arpea resembles no other Basque cheese I know. A small, semisoft disk from an area known almost exclusively for hard aged wheels, it represents new thinking in this tradition-bound region.
Made from sheep’s milk and wrapped in grape leaves, Ledyard is one of America’s most impressive new cheeses. And if you want to taste it before the year’s supply dries up, hop to it. The sheep are about to go on sabbatical.
Sixteen years ago, I wrote a cookbook inspired by some of the enticing cheese plates I was seeing in restaurants. That little book, The Cheese Course, is still in print, but restaurant cheese plates have since evolved into a platform for competitive creativity that I could never have imagined. Two new books—both from New York City cheese authorities—demonstrate the state of the art.
Move over, mozzarella. Burrata—a cheese that most Americans had never heard of a decade ago—is summer’s breakout star. I know that from restaurant menus, from observing grocery carts and from these stats from Di Stefano Cheese, the Southern California burrata producer whose product I adore:
When Daphne Zepos died, too young, in 2012, she left behind a cheese-import company and a business partner dedicated to perpetuating what they had started. Essex Street Cheese Company introduced many Americans to fine Comté and aged Gouda hand-selected from the best French and Dutch cellars.
A year after her death from cancer, Zepos’s business partner Jason Hinds traveled to the Greek island of Sifnos to assist friends and family in spreading her ashes. While there, he had an epiphany.