Ah, a perfect wedge of Bleu Mont Dairy bandaged Cheddar, fresh-cut and fabulous. Ideally, every cheese you buy is in such pristine condition. But then there’s real life. Remember that cheese that tasted a little stale, a little cardboardy? Maybe a little bit like the plastic it was wrapped in? Pat Polowsky, a graduate student in food science at the University of Vermont, helped me understand how easily cheese goes rancid atretail. And what can be done about it.
It has been many years since Judy Schad released a new cheese, and here’s the three-word review: Worth the wait. Flora, the newbie, joins the other distinguished goat cheeses from Capriole, Schad’s pioneering Indiana creamery. Maybe you think the planet already has plenty of soft-ripened goat cheese, but I’m willing to bet that Flora floats to the top.
Really, what are the chances? Two thousand cheeses in a competition and the Best of Show is a repeater? But that was the case in Denver last weekend when the American Cheese Society judges, tasting blind and scoring independently, awarded top honors to the same cheese that prevailed in 2014. I was among this year’s group of judges so I know the winner was worthy. But I tasted several other newcomers that impressed me almost as much.
Several years ago, at the American Cheese Society conference, I met a young woman who told me she planned to open a shop in San Francisco selling only domestic cheeses. Not smart, I thought. How could a cheese business survive without the European classics? Well, six years in, Sarah Dvorak’s Mission Cheese is so successful that it now has a Berkeley sibling—bigger, more ambitious and likely to launch a national trend. Shouldn’t every community have its own cheese bar?
A-may-zing. A terrific aged raw-milk cheese from Switzerland for $20 a pound. If you’re accustomed to paying at least half-again as much for the best Swiss cheeses, you may be asking yourself, “How do they do that?” I know I am. I asked the importer, who had one answer, but he also warned me that the price would likely climb. So now’s your chance.
Did you know everything-bagel seasoning was a thing? Me neither. But then I learned about a fresh sheep cheese spiked with it, and the cheesemaker told me she can’t make the spread fast enough. But of course. We love cream cheese on everything bagels. What if we just ditched the bagel?
Kiri Fisher’s cheese journey has been a difficult one, to say the least, marked by tragedy, natural disaster and rude awakenings. But Fisher, the spunky proprietor of the Cheese School of San Francisco and the new Fisher’s Cheese & Wine, which opens this week in California’s Marin County, has yet to hit a pothole she couldn’t get past.
You’re going to have ice cream on the Fourth of July, right? I thought so. If vanilla ice cream is your go-to for fruit pies, cobblers and crisps, let me introduce you to a fabulous alternative. Ricotta ice cream, a popular choice in the gelato shops of Calabria and Sicily, is going to be your new favorite. The recipe below, which I learned from a native Calabrian, makes the the most luscious—and easiest—ice cream ever.
I enjoy a good pizza Margherita, but typically my favorite pies don’t have tomato sauce. Pizza bianca—a “white” pizza—is always my preference, and Liza Shaw shares that taste. The consulting chef at the new Live Fire Pizza in Napa, Shaw is turning out crusty, balanced, wood-oven-seared pies—like this mushroom and radicchiocombo—that really flip my switch. I’ve tried four in two days. Of course, what makes awhite pizza white is the cheese, and Shaw makes some delicious choices on that front.
A thin rind, supple interior and captivating aroma are what I look for in Camembert-type cheeses. Oh, and no bitterness, no ammonia and just the right amount of salt. Is that too much to ask? Well, it must not be easy to nail, especially with pasteurized milk. Certainly I’m often disappointed. So when a bloomy-rind cheese hits all those targets—as this one does—I’m eager to talk it up.
When the maker of an American Cheese Society “Best of Show” releases a new cheese, it gets your attention. Or mine, at least. Of course this pumpkin-colored creation would turn heads in any case, but the cheesemaker’s award-winning track record compelled me to go out of my way to score some. Is it a Cheddar? Or a riff on French Mimolette? And what’s up with that color?
Beer-washing has to be the cheese trend of the year, and here comes more proof. This California beauty, bathed with a local black lager, doesn’t smell much like the beer—such cheeses rarely do—but it benefits from the technique anyway. In the same family as Belgian Chimay but more artisanal and enticing, this new arrival from an award-winning cheesemaker looks like another home run for her.
When is a cheese ripe? I thought I understood that adjective—or at least what it means to me—until a student in a cheese class asked me to explain it. He knew what a ripe banana was, but he’d never associated the word with cheese. That got me thinking. How come I never describe Cheddar as ripe? What about this luscious Nicolau Farms Bianchina (above)? Is it ripe yet? I had to ask the cheesemaker.
Fresh, spreadable goat cheeses are a dime a dozen. But a little tub of lemony sheep cheese that tastes like the most delicate cream cheese ever? Well, that’s something to get excited about. With Danish rye and radishes…or bagels and lox…you will quickly be scraping the bottom of the tub.
And if Mom is far away on Mother’s Day, then make it for you. Fresh fava beans are fleeting, and now’s the moment. I also make this frittata without them, but don’t favas make everything better? Leftover frittata (not that you’ll have any) makes a great sandwich. Add a swipe of mayonnaise and a few soft leaves of butter lettuce.
Thank you, cheese fans, for keeping the faith. You get it. You haven’t abandoned raw-milk cheeses despite the recent tragic incident traced to Vulto Creamery. Raw-milk cheesemakers like John Shuman at Cascadia Creamery feared a sales plunge, but it hasn’t materialized. You didn’t panic. Reassured, Shuman has resumed production of Sawtooth (above) after a self-imposed pause. That has to be a relief for this small family business and it’s welcome news for us. When a cheese this good is a casualty, everyone loses.
Because we can always grab a quart of milk at the store, most of us don’t think of milk as seasonal. But cheesemakers do, especially if they work with goats or sheep. A dairy goat’s output dips and rises as the seasons change. Milk quality goes up and down. In summer, goats are generous but the milk is lean. In winter, supply plunges as farmers let pregnant goats go dry. For flavor and selection, spring is prime time. To experience the year’s finest fresh goat cheeses, leap now.
They say a picture is worth…well, you know. Who needs words to appreciate Devil’s Gulch when you have Mike Geno’s luscious depiction? You want to grab a baguette and a knife and dive in. Geno captures the slouch in a pudgy slice of Grayson; the peppery scent of Devil’s Gulch (above); the cool, marbled elegance of Bay Blue. But really, why does he do this?
Thirty-three years ago, two idealistic young people barely out of college joined forces to start a cheesemaking business. They scrounged up $2,000, borrowed twice that much and launched Vermont Butter & Cheese (now Vermont Creamery). Last week, Allison Hooper and Bob Reese—still partners and still friends—announced that they were turning the keys over to new owners: Land O’Lakes, a vast international agricultural co-op with $13 billion in annual sales.
Hooray for spring. Fresh green grass, fresh cheese and, best of all, fresh rosé. It’s not even April and here come the pink wines. Someone, take my wallet. The rosés I love, like Bodegas Muga, I stockpile and drink like water. I know I cook better with a glass of rosé, and my French improves, too. Tentez le coup. (Try it.) Put some pink wine in an ice bucket, slice a baguette and set out some olives. May I recommend a few cheeses with that?
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.