Some of the blue-ribbon winners from the recent American Cheese Society competition in Pittsburgh will never make it to your local cheese shop. They are small-production cheeses that hardly leave their region. On the bright side, many do travel. Why not treat yourself and guests to a blue-ribbon cheese board this week? Your area’s best cheese merchant will likely have at least three of the victors, possibly even those pictured above. Alas, to get the winning cheese I want most, I’ll have to go to Colorado.Read More
The last time I was in France, visiting Comté producers in the Jura Mountains, I thought I might find a beautiful old cheese plane in an antiques shop. But I didn’t know how to ask for a cheese plane in French, and my French host—a veteran of the cheese business—was no help. He had no clue what a cheese plane was.Read More
Spring + asparagus = ricotta. That’s just the way my mind works. But then, ricotta is often the right answer at my house. I eat it plain, drizzled with honey, dolloped on pasta and baked into cheesecake. And this spring, I have a new way to use it, courtesy of Napa cooking teacher Julie Logue-Riordan. With thick asparagus, a sharp vegetable peeler and some top-notch ricotta, you can wow your Easter guests. And if you like the recipe (as much as I do, the dish could be your go-to salad as long as the asparagus season lasts.Read More
You read it here first: Tarte flambée is the pastry trend of the year. I’m seeing it everywhere—okay, three places lately—and I’m so happy it’s having a moment because I’ve loved this Alsatian specialty forever. For New Year’s Eve with the first glass of Champagne…well, that’s my plan anyway. I’m pretty pleased with my recipe. Even in a home oven, the crust comes out super-crisp around the edges, with creamy fromage blanc, onions and smoky bacon on top.Read More
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.Read More
My fava bean crop was a disaster this year—diseased leaves, low yield. I have no clue why, but the best gardener I know had the same issues so I’m not taking it personally. The upshot is that I have had to be miserly with the favas and the harvest is ending way too soon. In my garden, it’s now or never.Read More
“For years, we’ve held our price down,” the cheesemaker told me. But he couldn’t hold the line any longer. The economics of aged sheep’s milk cheese was forcing him to bump up prices, and not by a little. What I didn’t understand, and what the cheesemaker convincingly explained, was why comparable wheels from Europe often cost much less.Read More
Will you miss them when they’re gone? America’s raw-milk cheeses haven’t been outlawed—yet—but they are definitely under threat. The FDA is currently scrutinizing this tiny sliver of the dairy world and considering heightened regulations. Although an outright ban strikes me as unlikely, the agency may well make compliance so onerous and expensive that many raw-milk cheese producers will toss in the towel.Read More
“The main object of an hors d’oeuvre is to provide something beautifully fresh-looking which will at the same time arouse your appetite and put you in good spirits,” Elizabeth David wrote. The eminent English food writer, who died in 1992, had simple tastes but no tolerance for mediocrity. Alice Waters adored her. (I was a lowly cook at Chez Panisse Café when David came in for lunch.)
David believed that a good hors d’oeuvre includes something raw, something salty, something dry or meaty and something gentle. I always think of this when I serve fava beans with pecorino. Although David barely mentions this antipasto in her book on Italian food, it has all her required parts: raw favas, sea salt, aged cheese (although young pecorino works, too) and fruity olive oil. You dip the peeled favas in oil and salt and alternate with a nibble of pecorino.
Bellwether Farms Pepato, a peppercorn-studded sheep’s milk cheese from California’s Sonoma County, is magical with favas. Inspired by Italian pepato, Bellwether’s rendition is moister, less salty and less acidic—just as cheese maker Liam Callahan intended. Following Italian tradition, Callahan uses raw milk and animal rennet—increasingly rare choices here and in Italy. Animal rennet is expensive and a vegetarian turn-off, but Callahan is convinced it improves the outcome. He also stopped waxing the wheels a few years ago, so the cheese develops more concentrated flavor.
Released at about four months, Pepato has a firm, crumbly, butter-colored interior. Personally, I don’t eat the peppercorns, but I love the floral aroma they contribute. Pepato has a subtle fruitiness and a tangy, sour-cream finish—an appealing contrast to sweet favas. I also enjoy it shaved in a salad with butter lettuce and fava beans.
Look for Bellwether Pepato at Rainbow Grocery, Cheese Plus, Bi-Rite Markets and Cowgirl Creamery in San Francisco; Oliver’s Markets in Santa Rosa; Big John’s in Healdsburg, Oakville Grocery; Whole Foods Sonoma; and Pasta Shop in Oakland and Berkeley. Pour a lean, minerally white wine—I’m loving the 2013 Massone Gavi—and use a good olive oil. Now is the last hurrah for fresh fava beans so seize the moment.