It has been quite the week here in smoky Napa. The least of my worries was that I had to cancel a cheese class, leaving me with 12 pounds of fabulous cheese in the fridge. Nothing to do but donate it to an evacuation center or to the nearby first-responders’ station.
To my chagrin, neither would take it. “We can’t take perishables,” the evacuation center worker told me. “We have a caterer,” the guard at the first-responders’ camp said. Okay, then. Reject my cheese. I have a better idea.
It’s a mouthful in more ways than one. Schnebelhorn doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it’s a palate pleaser in every other respect. I’m not sure cheese can get any better. Raw cow’s milk, Swiss know-how and eight months in a cellar have produced a new alpine gem that you really need to know. Heirloom apples, toasted walnuts and Schnebelhorn—there’s your autumn cheese board.
So close, and yet so far. Canada is one of our closest allies and largest trading partners, but not when it comes to cheese. With few exceptions, the superb Canadian wheels that win so many American Cheese Society awards never make it across the border. (I bought the Canadian gems pictured above in Vancouver.) I would say “Tear down that wall!” but there isn’t one. The reasons are more complex
Autumn, finally. Bring on the Cheddar. But which one? I’ve been noticing something peculiar about Cheddars lately—American Cheddars, especially, but some imports as well. The tang is gone, or muted. In its place: nutty and fruity aromas and a sweet, mellow finish.
My own sweet pepper crop was largely a failure this summer—voles, sunburn and other excuses. Backup plan: the farmers’ market. The heaps of fleshy red bells at the Napa market made me hungry for kopanisti, the Greek feta spread with sweet and hot peppers. I sort of knew how to make it, and there are plenty of recipes online, but I wanted input from my go-to Greek-food authority, Sotiris Kitrilakis. And that’s how I learned I didn’t know anything about kopanisti.
What does it take to get American cheese into a European cheese shop? And will anybody buy it if you do? Raymond Hook, a New York City-based specialty-food broker, is close to someanswers. Working with partners, Hook is attempting to build a global audience for cheeses from Oregon’s Rogue Creamery, Virginia’s Meadow Creek Dairy and Georgia’s Sweet Grass Dairy, among others. The export learning curve has left a few bruises, but Hook is an optimist. Today: London. Tomorrow: the world.
Fresh mozzarella sales soar in summer, and we all know why. Just look in people’s shopping carts and you can tell what’s on the menu: insalata caprese. Again. At every dinner party, insalata caprese. On every buffet, insalata caprese. I enjoy the dish as much as anyone—especially with homegrown tomatoes—but sometimes I just want to switch it up. With hardly any more effort, you can make some juicy bruschetta for a dinner-party appetizer or quick lunch.
The question I wanted to ask Jack Rudolph and didn’t was what his father thought about his career change. None of my business, but still. I know what MY father would have said if I had had a fancy private-college education and opportunities in high-tech and then chosen to milk goats and make cheese.
This new cheesereminds me of why I really shouldn’t leave the house without makeup. Mom always said, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts,” but the truth is, appearance does matter. How else to explain why this fabulous cheese languished in the U.S. until the producer got the idea to coat it with herbs and flowers? Since then, the sluggish sales curve has spiked. Where’s my lipstick?
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?