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Below find our extensive collection of articles authored by cheesemonger and owner Paul Partica, who brings 40 years of combined experience in the specialty foods business to “pen and paper.” Enjoy.

Did You Know?

Some topics seem to come up so often I thought they might be worth discussing in this column. A few of my most frequently asked questions follow. Perhaps I might answer one of yours.

The Origins of Cheese

Originally, one of the most important reasons for making cheese was to store milk. A cow needs to be milked seven days a week without fail, but often a farmer could not get his milk to market every day. There could be many reasons for this: not enough time in a day, bad weather, spotty customer needs, travel restrictions and so forth. By making cheese, a farmer could prolong the shelf life of his milk and sell it when the timing was more amenable. In addition, turning milk into cheese reduced the need of maintaining cool storage since cheese keeps in warmer conditions much better than milk.

Another great benefit in making cheese from milk was the ten-to-one reduction in storage capacity. It takes ten units of milk to make one unit of cheese. A mere one tenth the space was needed to store cheese. By the way, this is also why milk with a butterfat content of 4.5% yields a cheese with approximately 45% butterfat,  after the whey is removed.

Actual Amount of Butterfat in Cheese

Most people assume that a creamy – almost runny – single crème Brie with 45-50% butterfat will contain more fat than a hard, dry Cheddar or Parmigiano Reggiano that is also labeled with 45-50% fat. This is not so. Butterfat content is determined by the percentage of solids in cheese with all the liquids removed, or in dry matter (IDM). Most French cheeses will be labeled by percentage amount of Matière Grasse (amount of fat).

Since Brie contains much higher moisture content than hard cheeses, it actually contains lower butterfat content, even though it appears creamier and richer. As a general rule, if you divide the butterfat content of a labeled cheese by two, you will get the butterfat content of a cheese in its actual present condition. Hence, a Brie labeled 60% butterfat IDM, or 60% Matière Grasse, will be about 30% butterfat in its current state.

The Difference between Brie and Camembert

The fact is, there is no difference. Both cheeses are made from the exact same recipe; they are, however, made in two different regions. If both cheeses were aged for the same amount of time and kept in identical conditions, you would not be able to taste the difference. Of course, milk quality can vary, and that would make a difference. If you are going to bake a Brie or Camembert in pastry, be concerned only about the cheese’s condition, not the name. Remember, a cheese too runny is a sign of over-ripeness, and it will only become even runnier when heated.

The Difference between Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano

Parmigiano Reggiano is a partially skimmed raw milk, or thermolyzed, cheese made from cow’s milk. Cheese producers make this cheese from a blend of morning whole milk and the previous night’s milk that has been naturally skimmed by removing the cream that has risen to the top. This creates a cheese with a butterfat content ranging between 28 to 32 percent.

Parmigiano Reggiano has a D.O.C. classification, which means it meets strict Italian laws that have been in existence since 1955. In addition to preserving the quality and traditions of Italian cheese, the classification protects the names, origins, production methods and characteristics of each cheese. This D.O.C. rating also protects Italian wines in the same matter.

Grana Padano is another cheese sold very often for the same purpose. There are, however, many differences between the two cheeses. In the production of Grana Padana, there is much less control over cow breeds or where the milk comes from. Milk used in the making of this cheese can be gathered over several days. Also, cows are often fed silage and there is also little control over the feed used. Silage is never fed to cows in the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Additionally, Grana Padano is usually a younger cheese (aged for 8 to 20 months). It has a much milder taste and contains less fat. You will often find these wheels in the same size and appearance of a Parmigiano-Reggiano wheel, but they will be missing the stencil on the outside of the cheese labeling them as such.

Grana Padano sells for two thirds the price of a Parmigiano Reggiano and is often used to save on cost. It is generally used for cooking and grating, but not as an eating cheese. You will not generally find it shaved on Caesar salads. It is, however, fairly consistent in production, which gives it a quality point. Over the years I have enjoyed some good-tasting Granas, but this cheese definitely falls into the “Try before you buy” category. If given the chance, try both cheeses at time of purchase. Then you can decide what tastes best for you.

Color in Cheese

All cheese is naturally white in color. If you see a yellow-orange or reddish hue in a cheese, you can safely assume that a coloring agent was added. The most common coloring agent is annatto, which is a natural color derived from the seeds of the Achiote tree, native to tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world.

Did you Know…?

My Top Ten for 2017

By Paul Partica

Every year around this time I revisit my favorites. Over the past year many new cheeses have crossed my path, while a few long-standing favorites have withstood the test of time and remain close at heart.

What would be my absolute favorite? My response will almost always depend on my mood. There are so many factors to deciding: time of day, what I am having it with, beverage of choice and so forth. That said, there are always a few shining stars. So, herein I reveal my updated list for 2017. Bear in mind, these cheeses are not ranked in any particular order.

  1. Fromage de Chaumes (Cow’s milk)

This easy find is a longtime favorite of mine and a reliable fan favorite on any cheese tray. Fromage de Chaumes belongs to the washed rind family, which explains its brownish exterior. This is a young cheese, similar to Brie, but with no visible core. I particularly enjoy it on a crusty baguette with thinly sliced raw onion. (This is also how limburger, also of the same family, is commonly served.) I do not generally care for raw onions, but something about this pairing works very well for me.

  1. Ossau Iraty (Sheep’s milk)

Ossau Iraty makes my list again this year. Made in the Southwestern region of France, Ossau Iraty is one of the oldest cheeses in existence. It carries an AOC designation (Appellation D’Origine Controlee), which means it is controlled by law to meet certain high standards.

Ossau Iraty is an unpasteurized cheese, which only adds to its wonderful flavor. Ranging between three to four months in age, it will show a white or cream color, depending on its age. Its texture is somewhat firm with a subtle taste of nuts and olives and a creamy smooth finish. This cheese typically has no eye formations (holes), but they can occur. Butterfat content is 45 percent and the wheel size averages eight to ten pounds.

Pair this one with pears and apples, olives and assorted charcuterie, such as prosciutto and salami. I like a good Bordeaux, Rhône or dry Burgundy with Ossau as well.

  1. Fromage D’Affinois (Cow’s milk)

Fromage D’Affinois has made my Top Ten list every year so far, with a simple reason why. This is not only my favorite soft-ripening cheese, but a favorite for most of my customers as well. Unlike most of the imported Bries and Camemberts found in the U.S. that were stabilized for shelf life today, D’Affinois is exceptionally rich and creamy.

I love that this cheese continues to ripen in the store after arrival. I can then offer it for purchase at its peak. D’Affinois also maintains a fairly steady consistency, delivers a great flavor and is most always readily available. I continue to look for a comparable soft-ripening cheese to outperform this one, but I have yet to find it.

  1. Ewephoria (Sheep’s milk)

Ewephoria makes my list for the second time. As one of the older sheep cheeses, it is still a relative newcomer to the world of cheese since it has existed for only about ten years. Ewephoria ages for almost a year, which is considered a long time for a cheese this small in size. The taste reminds me of the extra-aged cow’s milk Goudas such as Beemster XO, with similar butterscotch whiskey notes. There is no gamey sheep’s milk taste to be concerned with here.

I love the clever pun in the name, and I always enjoy customer reactions when asked if they’ve had Ewephoria lately. This is a good recommendation when you are looking for something sharp, but different. Ewephoria pairs well with hoppy beers, but I prefer it with Bourbon or a single malt Scotch. Give it a try it on a burger or in Mac n’ Cheese.

  1. Alp Blossom (Cow’s milk-raw)

Alp Blossom impresses me as a perfect match for spring and summer. This beautifully garnished cheese is covered in rose petals, cornflower, marigold, lavender, parsley, marjoram, celery herb, oregano, lovage, savory, chive, fennel, chervil, onion and, surprisingly, chili.

The idea behind this cheese is to celebrate the diversity of the Alpine Flora throughout the Hay Belt area, which spans Eastern Switzerland, Southern Germany and Western Austria.

Made from raw milk, Alp Blossom is also a member of the washed rind family. But unlike other soft-ripening cheeses with a white, bloomy mold sprayed on them, this cheese is washed with a mold made up of B-linen bacteria. It then develops and ripens in a moist room, creating a more pungent and flavorful rind. The sticky viscosity of the exterior allows for the herby, floral topping to adhere.

  1. Stilton (Cow’s milk)

Known as the “King of Cheese,” Stilton has been a favorite of mine for over 40 years. In this cheese, blue veining runs through a mild cheddar base. I like it as an appetizer, but even more as one of my favorite desserts when served with sweet butter, table water biscuits and a little vintage port. By the way, an aging wedge of Stilton can be revived by removing the rind, combining it with a little port, then spreading it on a slice of pear with maybe a walnut or two over top. Let me know if you try it.

  1. Fresh Mozzarella (Buffalo’s milk or Cow’s milk)

Who can really say they do not like fresh Mozzarella? I will look for a reason to use it. Mention a vine-ripened tomato, fresh basil and some good olive oil – and my night is complete.  Mozzarella was originally made from buffalo milk, and in Italy it still is. This version has a little more tang to it than the cow’s milk version.  And where would pizza be without it?

  1. Point Reyes Blue (Cow’s milk)

Raw milk adds to the hearty flavor of this great Roquefort-style blue cheese from Point Reyes, California. This cheese is light in texture, though creamy and smooth. Penicillium Roqueforti is the blue source here. Point Reyes is great by itself as an appetizer, but also works well in salads or desserts.

  1. Appenzeller Extra or Black (Cow’s milk)

This very flavorful cheese from Switzerland has remarkably been in existence for over 700 years! Appenzeller ages in a secret bath of white wine and at least a dozen different herbs, roots and spices. Less than two percent of Switzerland’s production progresses to the extra aged or “Black” version. In addition to being fantastic on its own, this cheese adds great depth to a fondue.

  1. Kokos (Cow’s milk and Coconut cream)

Kokos makes my Top Ten list again this year. Most always a purist when it comes to added ingredients in cheeses, my love of coconut has won out here. Made by the same producer of our popular Ewephoria, this beautifully-made, semi-soft Gouda from Holland is a real treat for me. In addition to cow’s milk, the perfect amount of coconut cream is added to make this a continuing favorite. Kokos is a perfect choice to serve with fruit during hot summer days.  Try adding a slice of fresh pineapple for a special treat.

There you have it – my Top Ten list of cheeses for 2017. But don’t hold me to it. If you asked me tomorrow…

The Stag

A few months back, I received a sample of The Stag from one of my vendors. I have been somewhat disappointed with cheddars as of late, so I was not particularly excited to taste it. I am so glad I did.

At this initial taste, I found myself thinking of the Disney movie “Ratatouille.” Do you remember the scene where the food critic tastes the peasant dish ratatouille and flashes back? At that moment, he recalls how he had so enjoyed that dish as a young boy. That was me, when I tasted The Stag. I flashed back to great cheddars without the bitterness, sour finishes and vague sulfur odor I have become accustomed to encountering. This cheddar did not bite back.

Why am I disappointed with cheddars these days? It appears that some of the old tried-and-true methods of producing cheese have given way to modern methods, enabling faster production and increased poundage. The most important element given up seems to be flavor.

In recent years, cheddars made in 40-pound flats and aged for three years, in some cases, have been replaced by 1,000-pound cheeses that are aged in stainless steel for only one year. My question is simple. All cheese ripens from the outside in, so how does a 1,000-pound cheese age properly in one year when it typically takes three years for a 40-pound flat to age? The answer is, it does not.

Warmer temperatures will ripen cheese faster, but the result is usually a little bitter in taste, with a disappointing finish. I received many of these cheeses in the past. When I opened them, the sulfur odor was so strong I needed to air the cheese for several hours, and sometimes overnight. I stopped carrying those cheddars. It appears that in some markets, colorful packaging and sophisticated marketing may be all that is needed to sell a cheese.

Regardless of the degree of sharpness, I like a cheddar with no bitterness and no biting back at the finish. As much as I enjoy a sharp flavor, I will settle for a little less so, as long as a good quality taste is present. This brings me to The Stag.

I was sold on this cheese even before I learned it was a Gold Medal award winner. In addition to earning Gold and Bronze International Cheese awards in 2014 and 2015, it also won first place with the American Cheese Society in 2013 and 2014.

Deer Creek cheese is distributed by The Artisan Cheese Exchange in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and made with pasteurized milk. This cheese will also develop a slight crystalline crunch, which is very popular with many of our customers.

According to Deer Creek, The Stag’s bold flavor pairs well with hard ciders, stouts and amber beers. Recommended wines include pinot noirs and red zinfandels. Food pairings include cashews, dried cranberries, pistachios and pumpernickels.

Deer Creek makes many other cheeses that I have yet to try. Among them are Imperial Buck, Vat 17 World Cheddar, The Fawn, Private Reserve 5-year, The Blue Jay, Rattlesnake and The Robin and The Doe. I look forward to tasting all of them.

A Little Cheddar History

The original cheddar was born in England. The name originates from the region it was first made in – Cheddar, England – but also from how the curd is cut. The process of “cheddaring” is the repeated cutting and piling of the curd to remove its whey and cut it into fine pieces.

Made with either raw or pasteurized milk, cheddars fall into two basic types: farmhouse and factory. Farmhouse cheddars are made in much smaller production then factory types. Cheddars are almost always made in round shapes and wrapped in cheese cloth. They will vary in age, and the older, the sharper. Taste these cheeses before you buy them; they can vary tremendously. You will not usually find good farm cheddar pre-packaged. Look for cheese cloth on the rind as the determinant.

Factory cheddars are most common throughout the world. Unfortunately, quality will vary greatly. Usually the less superior cheeses are processed into slices and cold-pack cheeses, such as port wine cheddar.

The evolution of cheddar places it in both Canada and the United States. Canadian cheddars are most similar to farm varietals. We make both types in the United States. New York was first the largest producer of cheddar, but Wisconsin took over that role as the population moved west.

For many years, it was common to find yellow cheddars. In fact, when I first started in the specialty food business, about 45 years ago, most of the cheddars we sold were yellow in color. But cheese is naturally a white hue. Colored cheeses are fading in today’s market since natural products are in now in high demand with mainstream consumers.

There are many reasons for poor, bitter-tasting cheddars. For one, the milk may have been a little bitter to begin with. More commonly, forced curing calls for ripening at warmer temperatures. Lastly, there is a marked difference in taste between raw and pasteurized milk cheeses. Today you will find vast quantities of cheddar made with either.

In my opinion, raw milk makes for superior-tasting cheddars, but there are exceptions. The Stag is one of them. This a great pasteurized milk cheese with a smooth finish and consistency in both taste and cheese production methods.

I find myself eating more cheddar than I used to.

Alp Blossom and Appenzeller

Alp Blossom

My first impression of this cheese is what a perfect match for spring! This beautifully garnished cheese is covered in rose petals, cornflower, marigold, lavender, parsley, marjoram, celery herb, oregano, lovage, savory, chive, fennel, chervil, onion and, let’s not forget, chili. At first, I was a little hesitant to inventory this cheese. Though the cheese was colorful and eye catching I feared that many might be more purist in nature and not be willing to try it.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. People were immediately attracted to Alp Blossom and asked to try it. There was no hard sale here. The majority of people who tried it bought it. We only bought a single wheel to try and, to my dismay, we sold out in a few hours.

The idea behind the cheese, according to Columbia Cheese, the importer, is to celebrate the diversity of the Alpine Flora throughout the so-called Hay Belt. This area spans Eastern Switzerland, Southern Germany and Western Austria.

The cheese is made at a co-op called Sennerei Huban founded in 1901 in the Austrian state of Vorarlberg. The producer is Hans Kempf, the head cheese maker who has worked there for fourteen years. This co-op is made up of thirty-four dairies with an average herd size of fifteen cows. The cows are all the Brown Swiss breed which are known for smaller milk yield but higher butterfat content. This makes them ideal for cheese making. They are fed on fresh pasture and hay year-round.

After the first six months at Sennerei Huban the cheese is transported to a cave in Kaeskuche in Bavaria. The local Alpine meadows found here supply the covering of all the beautiful, colorful dried edible flowers and herbs.

Alp Blossom is made from raw milk, and is a member of the washed rind family. Unlike soft-ripening cheeses that have a white bloomy mold sprayed on them, this type of cheese gets washed with a different mold made up of B-linen bacteria. Then it ripens in a moist room where the washed rind develops. This creates a more pungent and flavorful exterior. There are two types of washed rind cheeses. Soft, young  examples are Limburger, Chaumes, Epoisses, Livarot, Munster, Stinking Bishop, Grayson, Pont l’Eveque, Von Trapp Oma and Arethusa Diva. Harder types are Swiss Gruyere, Challerhocker, and Appenzeller. This sticky exterior allows for the adhering flora to attach.

In addition to the raw milk and the flowers and herbs, the cheese contains salt, cultures, and rennet. The texture is semi firm and has a strong aroma present. The cheese is available year round.

I was very pleased with the initial acceptance of Alp Blossom. My fear of a possible short shelf life due to the flora coating was quickly put to rest.

Appenzeller Extra from Switzerland

If you like Alp Blossom you will most likely enjoy Appenzeller.

The main difference is that instead of an exterior coating of herbs at the end of aging, a ten day bath made up of herbs and white wine is used in the beginning of production.

Appenzeller cheese dates back over 700 years. It is also a cow’s milk cheese made from raw milk and truly natural with no preservatives or additives. The spicy flavor comes from the closely guarded secret herbal bath it’s given during that beginning production.  According to the official Appenzeller web page, the exact ingredients of the original herbal brine involves a mixture of over 25 different herbs, roots, leaves, petals, seeds, and bark. The recipe is enhanced by the fact that the cows graze on lush herbal grasses and fresh hay, never silage. Great care is given to the animals. The cows are given regular and frequent visits to the grazing fields so everything can be as natural as possible for them, even in winter.

There are several Appenzellers to choose from.  All are made from untreated raw milk.  Most contain 48% fat in dry matter, which is specifically measured to ensure consistent taste. There are two other versions, a mild low fat cheese and a spicy low fat version. I have not seen them available in the United States. A slight eye formation is possible but it is common for the cheese to be void of holes. They weigh approximately 15 to 16 pounds and they all have a dated certificate found as a wrap or label to show proof of quality and production.

My favorite is the Appenzeller Extra. This version is aged longer for enhanced flavor. I feel it is so much better that I do not stock the younger cheese unless the extra is not available. Only 2.5% of Appenzeller production becomes extra. This cheese is not usually stocked by my suppliers so I have to order it well in advance so they can bring it in from Switzerland.

It’s a great eating cheese, as well as a great cooking cheese. It can improve the taste of a great fondue and can be used in all of the usual Gruyere dishes such as quiche, French onion soup, etc. The cheese has a nice full, rich, spicy flavor and it really enhances any cheese tray. It also has a great shelf life.

Both cheeses are great and well worth the hunt.

Introducing Award-Winning Collina Veneta

Unless you have traveled to Italy or parts of Europe recently, you likely have not tasted Collina Veneta. Only last week were we able to first savor this new arrival to the United States. We were quite pleased to receive inventory from this first shipment.

Collina Veneta is a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese made from whole milk. It weighs about twenty five to twenty eight pounds, with a hard Parmigiano Reggiano-style rind. Also similar to Parmigiano Reggiano, this cheese is a blend of evening milk and fresh morning milk, is semi-hard and can be crumbly in nature, depending on its age. Collina Veneta can be described as having a crisp sharp taste, but also that of a mountain cheese – sweet, with a pleasant aroma reminiscent of a quality Asiago or aged Piave Vecchio.

We owe thanks to the skills of Mastro Casaro for creating this wonderful new cheese, which won the award of Grolla d’Oro (Best Cheese in Italy) in 2010.

Collina Veneta was created in August of 1966 by a cooperative called Caseificio San Rocco, found in the province of Vicenza, which borders Padua and Treviso. The goal was to combine skills and knowledge to provide a healthy and genuinely natural product that could earn them a little profit for their efforts. The co-op now produces over eight times the amount of cheese than when they started.

Caseificio San Rocco is also responsible for making many other fine cheeses. Many among them, like San Rocco, LaFontella and Rigatello, have been awarded gold medals in both Regional and National competitions. In addition to aged cheeses, the co-op also produces many fresh cheeses such as Caciotta, Stracchino, Tosella and Ricotta. And let us not forget two very important and-well known varietals – PDO Grana Padano and PDO fresh and aged Asiago.

Although these cheeses are primarily found locally in Italy, the co-op employees have been instrumental in not only growing distribution within the country, but spreading their wings into Europe and now the United States. We are surprised that it took this long.

 

In just the short time we have begun to carry this cheese, we have all grown quite fond of it. Collina Veneta is very versatile and makes for a great grating cheese, just like Parmigiana Reggiano or Grana Padano. It also works as a great appetizer or snacking cheese. If you add a little Acacia Honey, also from Italy, you have a wonderful dessert. You may have difficulty in finding this cheese at first but don’t give up. It will be well worth the effort.

In my last two columns in Ink Magazine, we discussed the Twelve Families of Cheese. With its basic characteristic of being well-aged, taking perhaps years to fully develop, this cheese naturally places in the hard cheese family (you can refer to my two articles on the twelve cheese families on my blog at www.cheeseshopofcenterbrook.com/blog). Other characteristics of Collina Veneta that place it in the hard cheese family are the facts that it is also generally pressed and salted, and it can also take months before one begins to taste a difference in the developing cheese.

Parmigiana Reggiano, Asiago and Piave Vecchio lovers now have a new cheese to savor and enjoy.

I would be remiss if I did not mention and thank Karl Berthold from San Rocco, who was a great help in supplying information and inciting me to write this article.

The 12 Families of Cheese – Part II

By Paul Partica

I hope by now you were able to read my last month’s column, which was Part I of The 12 Families of Cheese. Together, these two parts make up the basis of my Cheese 101 class, which I hold from time to time. You may find that you do not like a few of the families. I often have customers who dislike soft cheeses and prefer hard or semi-soft choices, for example, or they avoid washed rind cheeses because of their pungent aroma. When buying cheese, knowing these preferences makes it easier as it helps to limit your choices.

When entertaining, depending on the size of the group you are trying to serve, choosing four to six families is adequate. Remember, if you can describe the size of the cheese, its color, type of rind, texture, aroma and a little of the flavor characteristics, chances are very good that your cheese monger will be able to find your cheese – or maybe one you might like even better.

  1. Dutch (Gouda)

This has become not only one of the most popular cheese families, but the largest volume by weight of any cheese family sold. Most are over six months in age and lactose-free. Not only growing in popularity, they are also growing in the selection of milk offered. In the last twenty years, I have seen so many new goat and sheep milk versions make the scene. Goudas are medium-ripening cheeses that are most often waxed. They are usually consistent and keep well. You will notice only small changes month-to-month as they ripen.

Examples are:

Cow Goudas – Beemster Vlaskaas, Beemster Classic, Beemster XO, Dutch Edam, French Mimolette, Old Amsterdam, Prima Donna and Parrano

Goat Goudas – Dutch Polder Goat, Dutch Midnight Moon, Dutch Girl, Beemster Goat

Sheep Goudas – Dutch Ewephoria, Dutch Lamb Chopper

  1. Tilsit

This family used to be so much more prevalent than it is today. Back in the sixties, Denmark renamed their version of Tilsit to Havarti so as not to compete with other countries’ Tilsits. Then they re-invented it by adding more butterfat (60%) and calling it Creamed Havarti. Cheesemakers took it one step further by removing the initial washed rind covering and packing it in cry-o-vac,  thereby eliminating its natural rind. Original Danish Tilsit, a very common item yesteryear, is now almost impossible to find. That said, the new Tilsits measure up in flavor.

Tilsits are a medium-aged cheese, usually with small eye formations (holes). These cheeses are usually ready after a few months and hold up well. Most are on the mild side but get more pungent with a little aging.

Examples are German Tilsit, Swiss Tilsit, Danish Tilsit (most popular being creamed Havarti), Swedish Farmers, Austrian Grinzing, Italian Crucolo

Gorgonzola

  1. Blue –These are generally smaller cheeses, two to 15lbs. After the cheese is set, firm needle holes are made in the cheese where a blue mold is injected.

Examples are Stilton, Gorgonzola, Blue, Blue Castello, Cambozola Black, Shropshire Blue, Arethusa Blue, Point Reyes Blue and, of course, Roquefort.

  1. Port Salut – These are also a medium ripening cheese, but without eye formations.

Examples are French Port Salut, Tomme de Savoie, St. Marcellin, Morbier, Reblochon (no longer available in the United States) and Delice du Jura.

  1. Hard

These are well-aged cheeses that often require years to mature. Hard cheeses are generally pressed and heavily salted, and it takes many months to begin to taste differences in the cheese. Even though these cheeses are made from cow, sheep and goat milk, they have enough similar properties to be placed together.

Examples are: Parmigiano Reggiano, Romano, Asiago, Pepato, Sardo, Grana Padana, Provolone, Džiugas, Pecorino Toscano

  1. Goat and Sheep

Sheep’s Milk Cheeses

These I rank together because I find that most people are looking for the different tastes of the two milks. Cheeses from this family can be found as fresh cheese, soft-ripening, medium-aged and hard cheese.

Examples of fresh would be: most goat logs, Montrachet, Crottin, Valencey Pyramids and Cochran Farms Mohawk Mist

Examples of soft-ripening would be: Bucheron goat logs, Clochette Belles, Chevrot, Chabichou and Cochran Farms St. Johnsville

Examples of aged are: Romano, Tomme Crayeuse, Midnight Moon, Lamb Chopper, Gjetost, Feta, Kasseri, Beemster Goat, Abbay de Belloc, Ossau Iraty

When buying cheese, it is best to ignore the term “artisan” since so many new products made today are now labeled artisan or artisan-inspired and the term is overused. In my opinion, this compares to the gourmet label. Remember when gourmet meant something? Can everyone have the world’s best gourmet coffee?

I hope my method is of some help to you.

The 12 Families of Cheese – Part I

There are approximately 12 families of cheese produced in the world – at least by my way of classification. By “family” I refer to cheeses that are grouped by certain logical characteristics. For example, if a cheese has blue veining it is typically grouped into the blue cheese family.

There are some cheeses that can logically fit into more than one family. For instance, Danish Blue Castello, a soft-ripening blue, fits into both the soft-ripening and blue families. It would be almost impossible to classify cheese in a perfectly distinct manner because of the nature of complexity involved. There are many ways to group cheeses; one could group by ripening process, type of milk, age or ripening time, texture, appearance and even region. You see the point.

No one, regardless of expertise level, could possibly know all 12,000+ cheeses in existence today. Therefore, once you understand the 12 families it becomes much easier to buy cheese. The benefit of this knowledge can be compared to buying wine. For example, if you are looking for a Cabernet Sauvignon you may not know the specific Cabernet label you are looking at, but you will at least know approximately what to expect in terms of flavor profile.

Once you know the 12, you can simply pick a few different families for your cheese tray, and you will be off to a great start. Instead of trying to remember the name of a specific cheese, you might ask what is good in terms of your favorite families, like so: “I would like three cheeses today. What do you have in good condition in a soft-ripening family, a blue and maybe a fresh, soft goat? This way, it becomes easier for you. You will like the results.

So let’s break down the first six (of 12) families:

  1. Fresh

Often called unripened, this is a very young cheese with a short shelf life of only a few weeks at most from production. This type of cheese generally goes through a transition of fresh to tart to sour. Examples would be Cottage, Ricotta, Farmer cheese, Mozzarella and Cream cheese. You will also find many goat and sheep cheeses that fit into this family as well.

  1. Soft-ripening

This type is one of the most popular and most understood within families of cheese. The name comes from the action that takes place. This kind of cheese is first sprayed with penicillium camberti, a white mold. Then, as the ripening process develops, it softens from the outside in. When first made, a soft-ripening cheese has a hard core in the center. As the cheese begins to ripen the core disappears. Once gone, it is considered fully ripe. This process will happen within just a few weeks. There are three types of soft-ripening cheeses classified by butterfat content:

Single Crème – 50% butterfat (Examples: Brie, Camembert, Coulommiers, Melinda Mae)

Double Crème – 60% butterfat (Examples: Fromage d’Affinois, Supreme and Brie)

Triple Crème -75% butterfat (Examples are: Brillat Savarin, Delice d’Argental, Délice de Bourgogne, Boursault, Belletoile and the new Fromage D’Affinois Triple Crème)

Please note that not all soft-ripening cheeses are created equal. Many have been stabilized to give the large markets a longer shelf life, but the soft creamy purpose of the cheese is also lost. In addition, you may not always be able to tell the condition of a triple crème by its appearance. This is one cheese you truly want to try before you buy, and I always recommend buying this type by condition, not by name.

  1. Washed Rind

Unlike soft-ripening cheeses that have a white bloomy mold sprayed on them, this type of cheese gets washed with a different mold. Then it is allowed to ripen in a moist room where the washed rind develops. This orange-hued cheese is more pungent and flavorable as a general rule. It can over-ripen quickly, so it is best to taste when you can. Examples are Limburger, Chaumes, Epoisses, Livarot, Munster, Stinking Bishop, Grayson, Pont l’Eveque, Von Trapp Oma and Arethusa Diva.

  1. English

This is a large group of cheese produced in Great Britain with the similar characteristics of subtle buttermilk undertone and a crumbly texture. This is certainly an over-simplified definition of a great cheese. You really need to try the small farm production cheeses to truly appreciate them. Examples are Cheshire (pre-dates cheddar by 400 years), Caerphilly, Wensleydale, Leicester, Double Gloucester, Cotswold and Lancashire.

  1. Cheddar

Known for the Cheddar-type cut curd from which it is made, Cheddar is originally an English cheese but the largest production is now made in the United States and Canada. Examples are Cheddars by name from Connecticut, New York, Vermont, Wisconsin, Canada, England, Oregon, etc. Specific names include Colby, Tillamook, Longhorn, Quebec, Grafton, Cabot, Tapping Reeve and Black Diamond.

  1. Swiss

This is a slow-ripening cheese, free of added bacteria (in the way that a Brie or washed rind cheese is cultured). In the Swiss family, cheeses are ripened with salt and time, usually over the course of several months to a year, with little changes noted. Examples would be Appenzeller, Emmenthaler (the original Swiss cheese with “holes” in it), Gruyere, Leerdammer, Comte, Beaufort and Raclette.

As a general note, when buying cheese, the proof is always in the taste. Be wary of slick marketing concepts designed to make one perceive a greater value than the cheese actually has.

Next month I will cover the remaining six families of cheese. In the interim, mention the defining names of the cheese families you like to your cheese monger during your next trip out for cheese. Then let the monger search for something special in perfect condition for you.

Soft-Ripening Cheeses and the New D’Affinois Triple Crème

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

One of the most popular cheeses in our store is Fromage D’Affinois Double Crème (60% butterfat) cheese. Of all the soft-ripening cheeses, it is one of the most consistent in quality, providing a good shelf life without being stabilized like market Brie and Camembert. So what more could you ask for? How about a triple crème (75% butterfat) version?

I just received my first delivery of Triple Crème D’Affinois. It looks just like the double crème version, only a little thicker, with the same snow-like rind surrounding it and a luscious creamy inside. My first shipment is still on the young side so I will need to do a little more in-house ripening.

With the addition of this new triple crème I was inspired to review the soft-ripening family of cheeses. The soft-ripening variety is one of the most popular of all cheese families, and probably the most misunderstood. Often, when describing a certain cheese to a customer as “soft-ripening,” many nod their head in polite agreement but seem to have no idea of what I am talking about. This is why those of us in the cheese business will most often define a soft-ripening cheese as “Brie-like.”  Most people can readily identify with it in those terms.

This type of young cheese starts with an introduction of Penicillium Candidum (or Camemberti), which is sprayed on the outside of the cheese to produce a white mold, often referred to as the “bloomy rind.”  A young cheese might look like it was just lightly snowed upon. This is done as soon as the cheese is firm enough to keep its shape. At this stage the cheese is somewhat hard and has a chalky texture.

The center of the cheese is referred to as the core. As the snow-like mold does its work, the cheese will begin to ripen from the outside in. The ripened part will soften and change to a supple, creamy texture that can be described as having a delicate “earthy” flavor, with a faint hint of mushrooms. If the cheese were to be cut in half, you would see three layers:  a hard, chalky-white center covered by a softer, somewhat thick honey-like top and a bottom layer. When the cheese core fully disappears, the cheese is considered fully ripe.

Much of this action takes place within the first thirty to forty days in the life of a soft-ripening cheese. At this point, the cheese is now ready for shipping. Any soft-ripening cheeses destined to be shipped to the United States must be made from pasteurized milk, according to FDA’s regulations.

When these young cheeses make their way to food stores, they have a short shelf-life of three to four weeks. If left to ripen past that time, unwelcome changes start to take place. The white snowy mold will begin to turn a reddish-brown color and ammonia, a by-product of bacteria growth, will develop. A cheese in this condition will actually smell of ammonia, often referred to as “ammoniated.” At this point, the cheese has become too strong and offensive to eat.

Unfortunately, proper ripening is only half the issue. Moisture loss can be even more important. A cheese not kept under proper conditions, regardless of its age, can become dry and hard, losing all the creaminess you would expect from a soft-ripening cheese. This moisture loss is dependent upon maintaining proper humidity levels during refrigeration and, most importantly, proper wrapping.

You also need to consider the thickness of the cheese. Brie-like cheeses with a thickness of an inch or less should be fully ripe when eaten. However, you might find a soft-ripening cheese of about two to three inches thickness, like Humboldt Fog, too overripe on the outside if you waited for the inside to be fully ripe. You would eat this kind of thick soft-ripening cheese cheese somewhere in-between young all-core and fully ripe.

One issue to bring to your attention is the matter of Brie and Camembert. Many years ago – fifteen years plus, approximately – cheeses were over-stabilized to give certain markets a longer shelf life. You might have noticed that those cheeses never really matured to a soft and runny point? Once upon a time, the definition of Brie was a soft creamy cheese that, when ripe, runs like honey. Thus, I stay away from those types of cheeses. I would also like to clarify that Brie and Camembert are very much the same cheese, both sharing the same recipe. The only true differences between the two are the location they are made from and the size of the cheese. A Camembert is usually eight ounces, while Brie will vary from eight ounces up to six pounds.  When buying these cheeses disregard the name; think only of the condition.

To review, when purchasing a great soft-ripening cheese you need to be aware of how ripe the cheese is, what the moisture loss has been and what the current temperature of the cheese is. If you can, try before you buy.

Triple Crème Fromage D’Affinois anyone? You must try it on a pear for a great dessert.

Cheese for the Holidays

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop of Centerbrook

Traditions are the things you look forward to year after year. The holidays are here once again, and in my world that means it is time once again for fondue, raclette, cheese trays and the gift of cheese for family and friends. And, of course, I will watch A Christmas Carol for the hundredth time. I still like the old black and white Allister Simms version.

Thankfully, for me at least, cheese is still the number one appetizer and snack for all occasions. It also ranks pretty high for festive dinners and desserts. It is hard to beat a bubbling hot pot of Fondue on a cold wintery night when in sight of a cozy, hot fireplace. Add a glass of wine, a few snowflakes, and you might find yourself singing one of my favorite songs:

Cheese Shop White Christmas

I’m dreaming of my own Cheese Shop
Just like the one I work in now
Where the cheese is selling
The place is smelling
And sweat is pouring from my brow

Or

Cheese Shop Jingle Bells

Dashing through the store, with Bremners in one hand
Hurry get the mop, I just spilled some Boursin
All the Brie looks great, in fact, some I just ate
Hurry up and clean the counter, or we’ll leave here late
Oh, Emmenthal, Camembert, Brie and Coulomier (cool-um-yay)
One of these will be on special each and every day

Oh……….

Perhaps I’ve had one too many Christmas Eves in the Cheese Business…

Did I mention that if you eat a little Oma, the washed rind cheese from the Trappe Family in Vermont, you will sing the above songs much better?

Fondue

cheese-fonduerThis is a traditional must for my family. Fondue, which is considered a gourmet delight today, started out as a Swiss peasant meal. It was a way to use up stale bread, dried out cheese and wine that had been opened too long. I enjoy the traditional Swiss recipe which combines Swiss cheeses Emmenthal, Gruyere, and Appenzeller with white wine, a little garlic, a little flour or arrowroot and Kirsch Liquor, if you like. When heated, dip in a piece of bread and feast away. For my traditional 40-year old recipe, visit the Recipes page of my website (www.cheeseshopofcenterbrook.com). By the way, uneaten fondue need not be thrown away. When cool, place the remainder in a freezer-safe storage bag and freeze. When heated again, it will taste like you just made it. And see if you can find a store near you that will grate the cheese fresh for you. This will make meal time much easier and allow more time for singing cheese songs.

Raclette

raceltte-grill-2Whether you are making a traditional Swiss raclette (cheese, potatoes, cornichons) or the American version (which can also include shrimp, chicken, sausage, vegetables, etc.), raclette is a great dish. All the elements are prepared in advance so you can enjoy the meal with friends and family. If a raclette grill is not counted among your kitchen gadgets, some retailers rent them. We enjoy this type of cookery all year long. You might find us grilling shrimp and scallops during a hot summer night, but raclette is especially festive for the holidays.

Cheese Trays

The classic cheese tray is always a great way to enjoy the parties the holidays bring. Their advance preparation saves you precious party time. Cheese trays are always a hit and usually the first appetizer to disappear.

Cheese Tray 4Wondering what to choose for your cheese tray? Try to vary your selection by choosing cheeses from different families. This way you are sure to make everyone happy. In addition, bring in specialty treats such as fruits, balsamic vinegars, honey, chutneys, nuts, etc. This makes a cheese tray more festive and colorful.

If you prepare your own trays, I advise against placing crackers in with the cheese ahead of time. Wait until serving time to open the crackers so they stay crisp. I also never recommend pre-cutting or cubing cheese, which usually results in quickly dried-up cheese and lost flavor. I recommend leaving cheese wedges whole and intact; just remove the side rinds. This way, leftovers will keep for another day.

Gift Boxes and Baskets

the-cheese-shop-samplerThese are a universal favorite. Gift baskets and boxes make wonderful gifts that rarely go to waste. If the recipient happens not to be fond of cheese, someone else in the family or holiday guests are bound to. When purchasing these items, try to include a good variety of flavors. A mix of crackers, meats, etc. works well. One important consideration is the condition or ripeness of the cheeses. You would not want to buy a brie or camembert, for example, with a shelf life shorter than when you plan to give the gift. It is always a good idea to discuss your needs with your retailer at time of purchase.

~ Happy Holidays from all of us at the Cheese Shop

Paul’s Best Buys for 2016

By Paul Partica, the Cheese Shop of Centerbrook

Once again it is time for my annual Best Buys list. As I have stated in the past, my idea of a good deal is value – buying something of great quality at a very good price. The following list represents what I feel are great values.

(On a side note, please be aware of the labels “artisan” or “artisanal” on any given item. These are the latest catch phrases. Just as the “gourmet” label does not guarantee great quality, the “artisan” label has fallen into the same dilemma. These days, it seems hard to find a specialty product without an artisanal label. Remember, by definition, artisanal means made by hand in small batches with special quality control measures.)

Tres Leches from Spain ($20 to $24 per pound)

This is a new addition to our Best Buys list. As the name implies, this semi-soft Spanish cheese is made from three milks: cow, goat and sheep. It is similar to another Spanish cheese called Manchego, which is quite well known but made solely from sheep milk. However, Tres Leches sales have far surpassed those of Manchego by at least six to one. When given a taste, many say they will take a piece of it before they even get to the finish, which only adds to the enjoyment.

This pasteurized cheese has a natural rind and is made in a small six- to eight-pound wheel. I have seen other cheeses with this name, so look for the one imported by Epicure Foods on the label.

Piave Vecchio from Italy ($19 to $24 per pound)

This Parmigiano Reggiano-style cheese will most likely always make my top ten list. With a fairly sharp and full flavor, Piave Vecchio goes well with most foods and salads, making it not only an ideal eating cheese but also a great choice for cooking. Use it in place of Reggiano or Grana Padano in any dish.

Piave, a cow milk cheese, comes in a small wheel weighing about sixteen pounds and it has a hard, natural rind similar to Reggiano. This cheese keeps very well; just be sure to wrap it properly. For a twist, try it with Acacia honey from Italy or with an aged balsamic vinegar as a delicious dessert. There are two offerings of this cheese; we usually carry the older, one-year version with a little more sharpness to it.

Goat Logs, Domestic or Imported ($6 to $12 each)

 There are many forms of this cheese, which makes it easy to stay generic in nature. These are most often used on salads, cooked dishes or topped with olive oil and herbs of choice. I usually recommend the fresh style, with even texture throughout, over the soft-ripening cheese version. Be sure to read the label or ask your retailer to be certain you are getting the fresh kind. If you buy the soft-ripening cheese, the outer white mold can be difficult to eat if not purchased in perfect condition. One advantage of the fresh version is its ability to freeze without loss of flavor or texture. This also makes it easier to grate the cheese over salads. In fact, because this works so well, I always keep a piece of fresh goat, and blue cheese for that matter, in my freezer.

There are many imported, domestic and local varieties to choose from. I like Laurel Chenel from California, West Field Capri from Massachusetts and local examples such as Beltane Farms in Connecticut and Cochran Farms from New York.  Fresh cheese tastes sweet. It continues to a tart stage and eventually ends up sour. Taste when you buy, if you can, and then freeze somewhere between the sweet and tart stages.

Fromage D’Affinois ($18 to $22 per pound)

fromage-daffinois-4Once again, I cannot say enough about the ongoing popularity of this soft-ripening double crème. Unlike many of the stabilized Bries and Camemberts available, this one was not ruined for the supermarkets. It comes with a firm center core which softens as it ripens, and I love that I can actually finish the ripening process of D’Affinois right in the store. This allows me to sell it at its peak, which is when you will find it most soft, creamy and luscious. D’Affinois is one of our consistent best sellers and usually the first cheese to disappear on a cheese tray. You can spend this amount for half the size on many cheeses with less satisfaction.

English Ford Cheddar ($14 to $16 per pound)

english-ford-chedderIt amazes me how many cheddars can sell for such high prices ($20 to $30 per pound) when the finish of these cheeses often bites the tongue with bitterness. I am constantly bombarded with samples from “artisan” and large producing cheesemakers who manage only to achieve a high price. High price does not mean quality, which brings me to the great English Ford cheddar from England. This pasteurized cheese manages to achieve a great cheddar taste with a wonderfully smooth and creamy finish.  It is one of our best-selling cheddars and well worth seeking out.

It is unfortunate that some of the well-known domestic cheddar producers have altered their production methods. Instead of making 40-pound cheddars and allowing them to age for three years, some have given in to supermarket demands for mass production and are now making 1000 lb. wheels and aging them for merely a year. The result is a bitter and biting finish. You decide.

As always, it is best to taste before you buy.

Milk and the Cows that Produce It

arethusa-wheels-2By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

I think there may be very few people who dislike cheese. I even know people who say they do not like it but paradoxically eat pizza. Where would we be without it? No fondue?

Milk is such an important staple in our everyday diet. In addition to drinking it, we cook and consume it in so many forms: butter, cream, ice cream and cheese, just to name a few. So I thought it time to discuss the origins of cheese – milk, and the cows that produce this white gold.

Butterfat Content

arethusa-display-2Milk is sold with different amounts of butterfat content: whole milk, 2%, 1% and non-fat. However, the percentage of butterfat content in the milk that cows produce can differ between breeds. This amount will vary from 3.5% to as high as 5% or more. The amount of fat in milk will also depend on the time of year the milk is produced. Cows that graze on fresh spring and summer grass may yield more butterfat and slightly sweeter milk than cows eating drier matter during fall and winter. In addition, cows in both early and late lactation produce more butter fat than then cows in mid lactation.

Milk types with lower butterfat content simply have varying amounts of butterfat removed. This is accomplished by letting milk sit, then skimming off the cream which rises to the top. Whole milk is basically milk straight from a cow where nothing has been done to alter its butterfat content. Often, butterfat is removed expressly for cheese-making purposes since the steady percentage of fat in the milk results in a consistent-tasting cheese.

As a point of interest, the other day I was reading the signage on a 2% milk carton which stated that it contained 38% less fat than whole milk. This wording can create the illusion of a big difference in fat content. Although the numbers are technically correct, this is actually taking a product – milk straight from a cow – that has less than 4% fat to begin with, down to 2% percent, a difference of about 1.5% of the total volume of milk.

(By the way, there is a similar issue with decaffeinated coffees that state 99% of the caffeine has been removed. Once again, this is technically correct. However, considering that Arabica coffee only contains 1% caffeine to begin with, they are simply removing 99% of the inappreciable 1% it started with. Food for thought, I say.)

There is much talk today about how the theory of avoiding as much fat as possible may not be the right thing to do. I recently read a review by Dr. Mario Kratz in the European Journal of Nutrition. The article states that “people who eat full-fat dairy are no more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes than people who stick to low-fat dairy.” There are many others who feel that a high-fat diet is less likely to contribute to obesity than a low-fat diet. Personally, I feel moderation is the key.

The Cast Members

The Purebred Dairy Cattle Association lists the seven major cow breeds in the United States, and an article by Michael Looper, Professor and Department head at the University of Arkansas, lists the butterfat content of each breed, shown in parenthesis by the following names:

Milking Shorthorn (3.59%)

This breed was originally used as both a beef and dairy animal. To my eye, this breed looks like beef cattle. Milking Shorthorns come in several colors, with different shades of red, red and white, and sometimes solid white. They weigh in around 1,200 to 1,300 pounds and produce around 17,000 pounds of milk per year.

Holstein (Butterfat 3.64%)

This largest breed of cow, weighing in at 1,500 pounds on average, is recognized by its striking black and white color. Holsteins also produce the largest quantity of milk of all breeds, about 25,000 pounds per year, but they are also known for producing milk with lower butterfat content. The Holstein breed accounts for almost 90% of the milk cows in The United States.

Red and White (3.64%)

This breed is a close relative to the Holsteins. The main difference is the red and white color that originally caused them to be culled from the Holstein breed. Not until the late 1960’s did Red and Whites become their own registered breed. Size and milk production is that of the Holstein breed.

Ayrshire (3.88%)

Originally from the county of Ayrshire in Scotland, this very strong breed is known for large milk production – about 17,000 pounds per year. Ayrshires are usually brown or slight cherry red and white in color. They average about 1,200 pounds in size.

Brown Swiss (3.98%)

Originated in the Swiss Alps, this is a very old breed of cows dating back a few thousand years. Brown Swiss milk has higher butterfat content than most other breeds, weighing around 1,300 to 1,500. They are usually a light brown color, with a black nose and tongue. These cows produce 20,000 pounds of milk per year and their high butterfat yield makes for very good cheese-making.

Guernsey (4.46%)

With an unusual golden milk color, it is no surprise that milk from this 1,100 pound cow is used more for cheese-making then drinking. The Guernsey breed is marked by a typically light brown coat and clear nose; they produce about 16,000 pounds of milk per year.

Jersey (4.64%)

One of the more popular breeds, after the Holsteins, Jersey milk produces the highest butterfat. Hence, these cows are known as the “cheese breed.” Jerseys originate from the British Island of Jersey and are smaller, weighing around 900 to 1000 pounds and producing 16,000 to 17,000 pounds of milk yearly.

As a matter of interest, buffalo milk is the highest butterfat-producing animal milk that is normally used for cheese. Buffalo yield can reach two and three times higher than that of cows.

I give thanks to the farmers who work 24/7 to provide us with milk.

Local Cheese and More at Arethusa Farms

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

I have seen a lot of farms in my day, but none compare with the overall beauty and cleanliness of Arethusa in Litchfield, CT. My wife and I spent a most enjoyable afternoon visiting there a couple of weeks ago. I would go so far as to call this magnificent place the Disney World of dairy farms.

photo 2 ArethusaWe were very fortunate to connect with Erin Hubbard, who was kind enough to offer us a tour of the facilities that day. We started with their exceptional ice cream shop, Arethusa Farm Dairy. Here you will find the best Ice cream ever, made from simple ingredients: milk, cream, eggs, sugar and natural flavors. As their motto states, it “tastes like it used to be.” They offer chocolate, vanilla, coffee, mint chocolate chip, strawberry and other seasonal flavors.

At the adjacent cheese-making plant, we were then introduced to production manager Chris Casiello and cheesemaker Matt Benham, two gentlemen largely responsible for the great cheese production we were soon to enjoy.

Afterward, we visited the actual dairy farm in Litchfield, but our trip was far from over. We headed back to Bantam where we enjoyed a great lunch at Arethusa a mano, the company’s lunch café where everything is made by hand.

My only regret of the day was that we could not stay to enjoy a fine dining experience at Arethusa al tavolo, their upscale restaurant. This upscale establishment offers mouthwatering dishes like seared Berkshire Pork Tenderloin, wrapped in prosciutto, Nova Scotia Halibut, gently poached in olive oil and Rohan Duck Breast, lacquered with orange blossom honey. Need I say more?

Arethusa’s History

Named after a local orchid, Arethusa started originated as a small dairy operation owned by the Webster family in the early 1900’s. With just a small herd of Guernsey cows, it grew its business and eventually became one of the first farms to use electric milking machines. With the addition of its own bottling plant, it was also one of the first farms to offer home delivery of milk. But by 1981, the changing economy had put an end to this service and they soon wholesaled to a dairy co-op.

Photo 3 ArethusaThe story has a happy ending, however. Hearing that the farm might be subject to development, a nearby piece of property was purchased by George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis, who knocked on the door and asked to purchase it, promising to save the farmstead and agreeing to revive the name Arethusa. The deal was made in 1999 and they held true to their promise.

The re-established Arethusa soon acquired its own herd, along with purebred Holsteins and Jerseys. By 2004, these cows brought home top honors from prestigious shows around the world. One of their Holsteins, Melanie, was named Supreme Champion of the World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin, and her Jersey mate Veronica won Reserved Supreme Champion. We actually met Veronica, who now lives the life of a famous purebred race horse in her own private pasture. Did I mention that all 300+ cows have their own name, not just a number?

The Farm

I noted earlier how well-kept the farm is. As we walked through the main barn, home to eighty head, we were pleasantly surprised by the overall conditions. It was free of the barnyard-type odors typically associated with this kind of environment. And we found the barn floors extremely clean due to a twenty-four hour work staff.

Animals are treated as pets at this farm. An overhead ventilation system keeps the barn cool. I might add that the temperature was in the mid 90’s the day we visited, and we were very comfortable. Some cows feeling the heat more than others had individual fans placed near them. As if this is not enough, how about a huge shower stall where all cows have their tails shampooed each day before returning to their stalls?

The Cheeses

I cannot tell you enough how pleased I am to find a local cheesemaker with such standout varieties of cheeses and qualities of taste. Here they are, as described by Arethusa Farms:

Arethusa Blue

With Arethusa Blue, we sought to capture the rustic elegance of our favorite farmhouse blues from the British Isles. Chocolaty and toasty, sweet yet pleasantly salty, firm yet creamy, Arethusa Blue boasts a deep, multidimensional flavor.

Arethusa Diva

This is a great cheese for the washed rind, French Munster lovers. The aroma is full and pungent but the finish is delightful. Try it with a nice dry cabernet.

Bella Bantam

With the comforting aromas of fresh buttered popcorn, Bella Bantam is supple and creamy, making it the perfect snack time staple.

Camembert

Whether served with crusty bread alongside your favorite midwinter soup or tucked in the picnic basket with a bottle of crisp white, our Camembert is truly a cheese for all occasions. Rich and buttery with a milky sweetness and subtle minerality, our Camembert is a surefire crowd-pleaser.

Crybaby

We set out to make a Swiss-style cheese that was as at home on a cheese board as it was tucked in a ham sandwich. Meet Crybaby, so named for its multitude of tiny “eyes”.  Crybaby features a subtle, nutty aroma, while still delivering that unique Swiss cheese bite.

Europa

Our take on a classic Dutch Gouda, Europa features wispy aromas of butterscotch and toasted nuts that give way to a savory, brothy flavor. Its smooth, dense paste makes Europa a great cheese for melting – on burgers, sandwiches, or a bowl of piping hot soup.

Farmer’s Cheese

Bright, lightly tangy and utterly versatile. We dress ours up with raisins and a touch of maple syrup for a sweet treat, or toss it with pasta and fresh herbs for a simple, hearty meal. Whether sweet or savory, Arethusa Farmer’s Cheese provides the perfect canvas to let your creative side run wild.

Mt. Tom

Inspired by the cheeses of the Swiss Alps and named for our own local alpine monolith (all 1,325 feet of it!), Mt. Tom is sweet and nutty with a light, mouthwatering tang.

Rotundo

Our homage to the monastic cheeses of the French countryside, our Rotondo straddles the line between milky sweetness and all-out stink. With a sweet, tangy flavor and a nutty, lightly pungent aroma, Rotondo is assertive, but never aggressive.

Tapping Reeve

Local lawyer Tapping Reeve formed the Litchfield Law School in the late 18th century, educating scores of politicians and justices who would go on to shape a fledgling nation. What better way to honor that legacy than with a cheese? We hit the history books and developed a savory Colonial-style cheese to please the most discerning connoisseur – past or present. Our Tapping Reeve is both sharp and refined, not unlike its namesake.

As with all cheeses, try to sample before you buy to ensure they are to your liking. I do believe that you, too, will find some new personal favorites.

 Ice Cream and More

photo 1 ArethusaIn addition to all of Arethusa’s remarkable cheeses, many other products are available. This includes butter, yogurts and a selection of assorted milks, including chocolate, coffee, egg nog and, of course, half & half for coffee. Last but not least is the great ice cream. I will be bringing it in as soon as I can, but I have yet to make up my mind whether I will sell it or just keep it for personal use.

Arethusa Farms is a great place to visit. If you cannot make it for dining, try to at least stop by the ice cream store in Bantam for a waffle cone. You might be surprised by the line of people waiting.

I would like to thank Erin Hubbard for all of her help and time on our day at Arethusa Farms.

Arethusa Farm Dairy
822 Bantam Road, Bantam, CT 06759

Hear Paul discuss this topic and more the first Wednesday of every month on Talking Cheese, an iCRV talk radio show airing live at 9:00 am and re-airing at 2:00 and 7:00 pm the same day. Go to www.icrvradio.com to tune in.

Summertime Cheese

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

When summer arrives, along with all the heat and humidity, I’m always reminded of last year’s July 4th barbecue. I have to admit; barbecuing is one of my favorite things to do, but the thought of changing my opinion crossed my mind after standing 45 minutes in front of a hot grill last year. While others were sitting back having delightful iced cocktails and a few cold ones, I was dripping wet. Even my once ice-cold beer couldn’t compete with the heat from the smoked ribs and chicken I was grilling. It’s okay to put ice cubes in beer under these conditions, right?

Watermelon Feta 10Taking a step back from the grill, my thoughts always drift back to cheese. The story usually plays out as follows: I start with cheese. A good hour of appetizers works out fine, but soon enough it’s time to start cooking dinner. Not just yet. Another glass of wine, a couple more nibbles of cheese, maybe a few more olives, a little more charcuterie… Toss in a growing laziness and dinner is pretty much over. I’m told I am in good company with this experience.

So let’s step away from the grill and consider some cool alternative summertime meals and snacks, with cheese, of course.

Feta Watermelon Salad

This is a simple but delightfully refreshing salad that can even be served as a dessert. Start by balling or cubing watermelon in a bowl. Then add small chunks of feta. You can stop here if you want or get a little creative. Try a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or some fresh, julienned mint or basil sprinkled over top.

Other ingredients pair well with watermelon and feta. Some enjoy adding fresh avocado or even a squeeze of lime juice. For a little crunch, walnuts or pecans are among my favorite add-ins.

Raclette

Those who know this great Swiss dish may be a little confused with this suggestion. Traditionally, Raclette is a wintertime dish made by melting cheese in front of a hot fireplace and serving it with boiled potatoes and cornichons. The American version, lesser known, is made year-round and is especially great for summer entertaining. New Swiss-made Raclette cookers are designed with a top grill, not just for grilling cheese, but myriad other foods. Here are just some of the choices we like:

Steak                               Sausage                          Pork Tenderloin                          Chicken

Shrimp                            Scallops                           Salmon                                       Peppers

Onions                             Asparagus                       Mushrooms                                Bacon

Potatoes

These options make the meal similar to beef fondue and Raclette combined. You also add an array of different sauces and condiments such as steak sauce, balsamic vinegar, peach mango salsa, etc.

For the full Raclette effect, we often cook the ingredients on top, then place them in the heating pans. We then add cheese on top and melt it under the grill. This is a great summertime use for Raclette cookers. Everyone cooks to their desired finish and eats at their own pace. There is some prep time involved, but once completed, you sit and enjoy the meal at leisure.

Fresh Mozzarella, Tomatoes and Basil (Salad Caprese) 

A staple in most Italian restaurants, Salad Caprese is so ubiquitous it is easy to overlook. But I would be remiss in my job as cheesemonger if I did not at least mention it. Toppings include fresh basil, olive oil and Balsamic vinegar.

Triple Crèmes, Pears and Dessert Wines

A triple crème is a soft-ripening cheese is similar to Brie, but butterfat content is increased to 75%. When in good condition, triple crèmes should be extremely soft and runny with a white, bloomy outer layer. If overripe, you will see an outside layer of brown and it will have an ammoniated taste. This condition means the cheese is ruined, spoiling any attempt at creating a great dessert. Many of these types of cheeses have been over-stabilized to provide longer shelf life for supermarkets, but in so doing have been ruined. I suggest you not look for a specific name, but rather a triple crème that is in perfect condition. There are many cheeses I no longer carry because of over-stabilization. The triple crèmes I do buy are a result of their condition, not their name. This is really a classic instance of a cheese to try before you buy.

The other part of this pairing is the wine. Be careful to choose a white wine that is sweet due to grapes that have been allowed to over-ripen on the vine. This creates a preferred natural sweetness compared to a wine made with added sugar. Naturally sweetened wines can be expensive and are often hard to find. Examples include dessert wines such as French Sauterne and Barsac, German Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, and many available Ice wines.

Try to buy pears that are still a little on the firm side because you will be using them like a cracker. Spread the triple crème on the pear and be sure to follow the bite with a taste of wine. Even a dry red wine drinker like me loves this combination.

Although this great combination of flavors can be served as an appetizer or anytime snack, it is truly a great dessert. In addition to pears, you can also use strawberries or other fruits.

Paul’s Top Ten

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

Fromage D'Affinois

Fromage D’Affinois

Another year has passed since my last article on top ten choices. During the year many new cheeses have passed my way, as well as many old favorites.

What’s my favorite? My response will always be: “It depends on what mood I’m in.” There are so many factors to deciding:  time of day, what I am having it with, beverage of choice and so forth. That said, there are always a few stand-outs in my mind. So I offer you my updated list for 2016, not in any particular order:

1.  Piave Vecchio, Aged (Italy/Cow’s Milk)

This Parmigiano Reggiano-style cheese will most likely always make my top five. With a fairly sharp and full flavor, Piave Vecchio goes well with most foods and salads, making it not only an ideal eating cheese but also a great choice for cooking. Use in place of Reggiano or Grana Padana in any dish.

Piave comes in a small wheel, about sixteen pounds, with a hard natural rind similar to Reggiano. This cheese keeps very well; just be sure to wrap it properly. For a twist, try it with Acacia honey from Italy or an aged balsamic vinegar for a delicious dessert.

2.  Ossau Iraty (France/Sheep’s Milk)

This is one of the world’s oldest cheeses. Made in the Southwestern region of France, Ossau Iraty has an AOC designation (Appellation D’Origine Controlee), which means it is controlled by law to meet certain high standards.

Ossau Iraty is an uncooked or a raw milk cheese, which only adds to its wonderful flavor. It ranges between three to four months in age and has a white-to-cream color, depending on its age. Its texture is somewhat firm with a subtle taste of nuts and olives and a creamy smooth finish. Typically, this cheese has no eye formations (holes), but they can occur. Butterfat content is 45 percent and the wheel size averages eight to ten pounds.

Pair this cheese with pears and apples, olives and assorted charcuterie, such as prosciutto and salami. I like a good Bordeaux, Rhône or dry Burgundy with Ossau as well.

3.  Fromage D’Affinois (France/Cow’s Milk)

I still choose Fromage D’Affinois for my favorite soft-ripening cheese for the same reasons most of my customers do. Unlike most imported bries and camemberts found in the U.S. today, D’Affinois is exceptionally rich and creamy. It also maintains a fairly steady consistency, delivers a great flavor and is most always readily available. This does not mean that I am not continually on the lookout for another good soft-ripening cheese, however.

 4.  Ewephoria (Holland/Sheep’s Milk)

 I love the clever little pun in this name, and I always enjoy customer reactions when asked if they’ve had Ewephoria lately.

Although this cheese is one of the older-aged sheep cheeses, it is actually a relative newcomer to the world, having existed for only about ten years. Ewephoria ages for almost a year, which is considered a long time for a cheese this size. The taste reminds me of the extra-aged cow’s milk Goudas such as Beemster XO, with similar butterscotch whiskey notes. There is no gamey sheep’s milk taste to be concerned with here.

Ewephoria is a good recommendation when you are looking for something sharp, only different in taste. It pairs well with hoppy beers, but I prefer it with Bourbon or a single malt Scotch. Try it on burgers or in mac n’ cheese.

5.  Lake’s Edge (Vermont/Goat’s Milk)

 With so many quality goat cheeses to choose from, it’s hard to pick just one. Many great local varieties are now available at farmers’ markets, gourmet food stores and, of course, cheese shops. But if I had to pick just one, it would be Lake’s Edge, made at Blue Ledge Farm in Vermont.

Very similar to Humboldt Fog from California, Lake’s Edge is recognized by its distinctive line of wood ash spreading across the middle. Originally, ash was used to separate two layers of cheese, one made from the morning milk and the second from the evening milk production. Ash stopped the cheese from forming a natural rind until the second layer was added. I feel the ash is used more for appearance these days.

6.  Džiugas (pronounced “joogus”) (Lithuania/Cow’s Milk)

Dzuigas, from Lithuania

Dzuigas, from Lithuania

It was just the end of last year when a young couple entered my store and introduced themselves. Andrew Plankis and his wife Asta Plankiene, both from Lithuania, had come into the shop to educate me about a cheese called Džiugas that their family has been making since 1924. Andrew’s mother, Gitana Plankiene, started the family’s cheese business in Lithuania. Although Džiugas has been selling in cheese shops throughout Germany, France, Austria, Denmark, England, Ireland, Israel and Dubai, it has not been available in the United States – until now.

It is exciting for me to stock a cheese from a country I have never carried before. I was also thrilled to learn that my cheese shop was the first in the United States to carry this great find from Lithuania.

Džiugas is a distinctive cow’s milk cheese made from pasteurized milk from cows that graze only on fresh grass. I would best describe it as a blend of Italian Parmigiano Reggiano and a perfectly aged three-year Dutch Gouda. This cheese has a slight savory crunch to the bite and a smooth, creamy sweet finish.

7.  Fresh Mozzarella (Italy/Buffalo’s Milk or Cow’s Milk)

Who doesn’t like fresh Mozzarella? I will look for a reason to use it. Mention a vine-ripened tomato, fresh basil and some good olive oil – and my night is complete.  Mozzarella was originally made from buffalo milk and in Italy it still is. This version has a little more tang to it than the cow’s milk offering.  Where would pizza be without it?

8.  Point Reyes Blue (California/Cow’s Milk)

 Raw milk adds to the hearty flavor of this great Roquefort-style blue cheese from Point Reyes, California. This cheese is light in texture, though creamy and smooth. Penicillium Roqueforti is the blue source here. Point Reyes is great by itself as an appetizer, but also works well in salads or desserts.

9.  Challerhocker (Holland/Cow’s Milk)

Challerhocker means “sitting in the cellar,” which is actually how it ages. Only one man, Walter Rass, makes this truly artisanal cheese. At one time, Walter made Appenzeller, another great Swiss cheese, but he decided to age that cheese a little longer and increase the butterfat to 58%. The result was Challerhocker – a new version with great depth of flavor reminiscent of nuts and spice, along with a very popular crystal formation, which actually adds to the overall taste.

10.  Kokos (Holland/Cow’s Milk and Coconut Cream)

I go out on a limb with this one. I was always a purist when it came to added ingredients in cheeses. However, my love of coconut won out here. This beautifully-made Gouda cheese from Holland is a real treat for me. In addition to cow’s milk, the perfect amount of coconut cream is added to create this new favorite. This semi-soft cheese is made with pasteurized milk by the same people who make Ewephoria.

So there you have it – my Top Ten list of cheeses for 2016. But don’t hold me to it. If you asked me tomorrow…

Frequently Asked Questions

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop of Centerbrook

Like many things in life, when you know the answer to something it seems simple to you. That may be why we often forget to explain things to others that we take for granted. This applies to the specialty food business as well. Customers ask me questions almost every day, so I thought it might be time to write about a few of those most frequently asked.

Question:  How long should you leave cheese out before serving?

Answer:  Cheese should be brought to a cool room temperature (under 70 degrees). This usually takes about an hour. However, please consider the time of year and current temperatures. For example, a hot summer day does not require leaving cheese out for an hour since it will likely succumb to room temperature in just a few minutes.

It is important to leave the cheese wrapped during this process and unwrap it just prior to serving time. You merely want to warm the cheese; unwrapping may cause moisture loss and dryness. If you prepare a wrapped cheese tray, do keep crackers off the tray. They will absorb the moisture from the cheese and quickly become soggy. Always serve crackers separately on a plate or in a bowl or basket.

When it comes to cheese, your taste buds are like tulips that open up at room temperature. When food is too hot or too cold they close up and you don’t get the full flavor. For me, there is one exception to the room temperature rule: I prefer cheddar cold. For some reason, I don’t like the texture of this cheese at room temperature.

Question:  How long can you leave cheese out at room temperature?

Answer:  Cheese is not as perishable as you would think. Any cheese that goes through an aging process can be left out for long periods of time. The exception to the rule would be the fresh cheese family:  cottage, ricotta and fresh mozzarella, for example. These cheeses do not go through a ripening process and can quickly turn from sweet to sour in just hours.

Long before electricity, cheese was originally made as a way of storing milk for long periods of time. Caves and cool basements were the refrigerators of the day.

A couple of things can occur from leaving cheese out. One, cheese can ripen faster at warmer temperatures. Secondly, cheese can begin to sweat and become oily at warmer temperatures. You might find this a little messy; just wipe the cheese dry and refrigerate when you can. Bring the cheese to room temperature once again before serving. Harder, older cheeses such as Reggiano, Pecorinos and aged Goudas can stay out for days, if need be. There are still people who keep their weekly portion of cheese at room temperature, never seeing the inside of a modern refrigerator.

I recently read an article that stated it is not good to bring cheese to room temperature, refrigerate, and then bring to room temperature again. After 45 years of doing just that, I could not disagree more. Have you ever seen a good cheese shop that did not keep cheese at room temperature?

Remember to leave cheese out only at a cool or moderate room temperature. I would not keep cheese out in a room that is over seventy degrees.

Question: Can you freeze cheese?

Answer:  Yes, with some exceptions. You can have relatively good luck in doing this, but know that some cheeses freeze better than others. When freezing cheese, be sure it is already ripened to your satisfaction. Once you freeze it, you will stop the ripening process forever. This will be most important with short-life cheeses such as Brie, Camembert and washed rind selections. After you thaw them, they will not ripen anymore.

It is important to thaw frozen cheese in the refrigerator and not at room temperature. This process could take a few days depending on the size. If you thaw too fast, the consistency will change.

There are some cheeses that freeze very well. The best examples are fresh goat cheeses. In many cases, you will not know the difference. If you do, add a little olive oil and fresh herbs, or maybe a little Acacia honey. My results have been very good.

There are some cheeses that do not freeze well. Cheddar is the best example. After freezing, you will like find it inedible, grainy and with little similarity to its original taste. It will not even be acceptable for cooking.

With this noted, it is really best to buy cheese freshly cut and only buy what you will use in a week or two. You will be much happier with the taste and overall quality.

Question:  What’s the best way to keep cheese?

Answer:  When not in use, cheese keeps best wrapped in ether cling film (Saran Wrap) or cheese paper. In short, cheese paper’s purpose is to wrap the cheese and still allow it to breathe, keeping the ripening and aging process intact. However, in the life of cheese, this is more important during its aging process and path to perfection, long before you buy it. Once the cheese is cut and exposed to oxygen I feel the most important thing you can do is to stop moisture loss. In my world, there’s nothing worse than a dried-out piece of Brie – or any cheese for that matter.

For the short time you will keep the cheese, I suggest that you wrap it in fresh cling film every time you open it. This type of product only clings properly the first time, so change it every time you open the cheese. If you use the same film twice, you likely will find that your cheese will dry up and mold much faster. This poor condition is usually blamed on the cheese, wherein the fault duly lies on the re-wrap job. Additionally, if any mold occurs on the cheese, re-applying the same covering just re-introduces it to the freshly-cut piece.

If you already knew all of this, come apply for a job.

Hear Paul discuss this topic and more the first Wednesday of every month on “Talking Cheese,” a new iCRV Radio show airing live at 9:00 am and re-airing at 2:00 and 6:00 pm. Go to www.icrvradio.com to tune in.

RiverFare 2016

It was another beautiful night at RiverFare 2016 in May – always a great night for a great cause. And we once again, as we have for the past five years, provided a table flourished with our best imported cheeses and accoutrements.

This year for the first time, iCRV’s Tiny House was on-site at the event, and Paul joined a panel of guests for Mark Griswold’s weekly show “Fermented,” to talk about Italian wine and cheese pairings with Angelini Wines. Here are a few shots from that night.

Popular Sheep Cheeses – Part 2

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

Sheep Cheeses 2In my previous blog post, I discussed some of the popular sheep cheeses from France and Holland. Part Two continues with Italy, Spain and the United States. For some of you, the anticipation of this sequel may surpass the long-awaited upcoming episodes of the Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead, so here we go without further ado.

The texture range is wide in the family of sheep cheeses, varying from fresh to semi-soft to hard-aged, and it also includes some blues. Once again, there is no particular order of quality or choice in the list below; let your palate decide.

Italy

People often confuse “pecorino” with the name of a cheese. In Italian terms, pecorino simply means that the cheese is made from sheep’s milk. Here are three pecorino standouts from Italy:

Pecorino Toscano D.O.P.

Let’s first address the D.O.P. title. This is basically the same quality control designation as the French A.O.C. rating noted in last month’s article. D.O.P. stands for “Denominazione di Origine Protetta,” which means “Protected Designation of Origin.” The same rules apply here relating to where the cheese was made and other factors such as process, butterfat content, appearance and similar characteristics.

Pecorino Toscano is widely produced in Tuscany. It is a full-fat pasteurized cheese made in a small round wheel of about six to seven pounds. It typically ages at least four months, developing a fair amount of sharpness during this time. Toscano works as both a table cheese and a grating cheese for pastas, salads and cooking. I also like it as a dessert when served with acacia honey. Compared to other sheep cheeses, Toscano has a price point that is good enough to make my Best Buys list (Ink Magazine, November 2015).

Cacio de Busco with Truffles

Laced with truffles, this young Italian pecorino cheese is similar to Pecorino Toscano in size and shape and one of our best sellers. In addition to being a great table cheese for pastas and salads, Cacio de Busco works equally well as an appetizer or, surprisingly, a dessert.

Truffles grow best in France, Italy, Spain and the Pacific Northwest. You may or may not know that they are one of the world’s most expensive natural foods, often costing between $300 and $400 per pound. Truffles are round in appearance, range in size from a walnut to a baseball and are somewhat irregular in shape. They have been used for flavoring food since early Roman times.

Pecorino Romano

Romano is one of the most well-known and widely-eaten Italian cheeses. Dating back 2,000 years, Romano often competes with Parmigiano Reggiano, which is a cow’s milk cheese. Many recipes will use both cheeses, with the exception of Caesar salad, which traditionally uses Reggiano. Romano is traditionally used as a grating cheese on pastas and salads, and not typically as an eating cheese. Its distinctively sharp full flavor has made it a mainstay in Italian cooking. Italian-made Locatelli is the popular brand.

Spain

Manchego

This is probably Spain’s most well-known and beloved cheese. There are many different brands or producers to choose from, in both raw milk and pasteurized versions. Since Manchego is a cheese aged over sixty days, it can be imported without issue. I usually carry the raw milk version, which has a fuller, more intense flavor. (This is usually the case with raw milk vs. pasteurized cheeses.) Manchego is a full-fat, 45% butterfat offering, with a wheel size of 7 to 8 pounds. Be wary of an over-aged cheese, which you might find too dry for your palate. If you should end up with one, try some of those great Spanish wines to go along with it.

Iberico

This cheese is made from all three milks: sheep, goat and cow. I have placed it in the sheep milk category because its taste deems it belong here. Iberico is very similar to Manchego, but a bit creamier. I actually prefer it. Both cheeses are almost identical in appearance except Iberico is slightly lighter in color. They both have an identifiable tire-like tread mark around the wheel reminiscent of a small tire. Iberico is also a full-fat cheese, with a butterfat content of 45% and a weight of 7 to 8 pounds.

United States

Sheep cheeses are not currently in abundance in the U.S. as compared to cow and goat cheeses now available locally, but one is noteworthy.

Ewe’s Blue

This awesome blue cheese is one of my favorites and the closest to actual French Roquefort that I have ever tried. Like most blues, this domestic variety is soft and spreadable at room temperature. It has a nice acidity in taste and finishes with a delicate sweetness. Ewe’s Blue is made in Old Chatham, New York. It comes in approximately the same wheel diameter as Roquefort, only half as thick in height. For those who prefer vegetarian rennet, this cheese is made with it and therefore classified as vegetarian. If you like Roquefort, you will be pleased with this comparatively-priced sheep milk version. Availability on Ewe’s Blue is limited, so plan accordingly.

Hear Paul discuss this topic and more the first Wednesday of every month on “Talking Cheese,” a new iCRV Radio show, airing live at 9:00 am, re-airing at 2:00 and 6:00 pm. Go to www.icrvradio.com to tune in.

Popular Sheep Cheeses – Part 1

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

When I mention cheese made from sheep milk, I am often amazed that so many people still balk in fear of what they perceive as the taste and smell of nasty old sheep. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Most cheeses made from sheep’s milk are mild, creamy and pleasant, leaving you with a wonderful finish that beckons for another taste.

Some of you may recall my column on cheese families (Ink Magazine, Fall 2013) wherein I classified cheeses into one of 12 families. The 12th family, goat and sheep, has many members to its credit since almost every cheese-producing country makes sheep varietals. Here are a few of these great cheeses, listed by country. There is no particular order of quality or choice; let your palate decide.

France

Ossau Iraty

Ossau Iraty 3This is one of the world’s oldest cheeses made in the Southwestern region of France. It has an Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) designation, which is controlled by law to meet certain high standards, such as:

  • a particular breed of animal;
  • a particular area where the milk for the cheese originates;
  • the cheese-making process;
  • the composition of the cheese: butterfat content, type of rind, etc.;
  • the appearance of the cheese; and
  • special characteristics such as color, aroma, flavor, etc.

Ossau Iraty is an uncooked (or raw milk) cheese, which only adds to its wonderful flavor. It ranges between three to four months in age and its color can vary from white to cream, depending on its age. Its texture is somewhat firm, with a creamy smooth finish that is subtly reminiscent of nuts and olives. Eye formations (holes) are usually not present in this cheese, but they can occur. Butterfat content is 45 percent and the wheel size averages eight to ten pounds.

This wonderful find from France pairs well with pears, apples, olives and assorted charcuterie such as prosciutto and salami. A good Bordeaux or Rhône will work nicely; I also like dry Burgundy as well with this.

Abbey de Belloc

This French cheese is made by the Benedictine monks at the monastery of Notre Dame and it is fairly new in the realm of cheeses – about sixty years old. Although it is based on the previously-mentioned Ossau Iraty and has a similarly mild, creamy and smooth taste, it is by no means a poor imitation. Abbey de Belloc stands on its own merits. The taste is has a slight caramel and nut flavor but unlike the aforementioned, this cheese is made from pasteurized milk. It usually has no eye formations and the wheel is also about ten pounds.

P’tite Basque

Also from the Basque region of France, this small two-pound cheese has been handmade for centuries. Shepherds would save any leftover curd set aside from the day’s milking to make this small cheese. It has some Spanish influence, which is apparent in the tire tread-like appearance of the rind. This is commonly seen on Spanish cheeses, such as Manchego and Iberico.

P’tite Basque has a nice smooth and creamy flavor and it makes a great presentation with its ability of being served whole on a cheese tray because of the diminutive wheel size. It pairs well with fruits, cured meats and black berry preserves. Try Spanish dry red wines or a Cabernet Sauvignon with it.

Holland

Ewephoria

I always enjoy the reaction from a customer when asked if they have had Ewephoria lately. I love the clever little pun in this name. This relative newcomer to the world is only about ten years old. The cheese is aged for almost a year, which is a long time for a cheese this size.

Ewephoria is one of the longer-aged sheep cheeses, and it tends to remind me of the extra-aged cow’s milk Goudas such as Beemster XO with its similar butterscotch whiskey notes. There is no gamey sheep milk taste to be concerned with here.

Ewephoria is a great recommendation when you are looking for something sharp but different. It pairs well with hoppy beers, but I prefer it with Bourbon or a single malt Scotch.

Try it instead of cheddar on burgers or in mac ’n cheese.

Lambchopper

Here’s another cleverly-named cheese, but this time with help from the United States. Lambchopper is sold under the Cypress Grove label in California and made for them in Holland, which is the longstanding producer of Gouda cheeses.

This is certainly one of the milder cheeses described in this article. It ripens young, around three to four months old when sold, and it looks like typical Gouda but with a very light, almost ivory cover on its outer-waxed rind.

Lambchopper is made from pasteurized milk and vegetable rennet. The taste is buttery mild and finishes with a hint of sweetness. It pairs well with ales and porters, but I also like it with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or slightly sweeter Vouvray.

These are just a few of the more popular sheep milk cheeses from France and Holland. My next column (Part 2) will cover the same but from other countries, including Italy, Spain and the United States.

Cheese Trays of Choice

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

Of all the ways to display and serve cheese, I prefer slate or wood. Quite simply, both look great and show cheese beautifully. Both last forever and both are easy to clean. And, believe it or not, these types of platters are made in the United States, something difficult to come by these days.

For cheese trays, I prefer J.K. Adams Company, located in Dorset, Vermont. This company has been making great quality products since 1944, and I have used many of their products since I opened. In addition to great quality, I like the fact their products are produced from sustainably grown and harvested materials from Vermont. These products also come with a 100% Lifetime guarantee.

Slate Serving Trays

Slate Tray and RiserI am particularly fond of slate trays. The contrasting color between the cheese and the dark slate is terrific. Slate is nature’s perfect gift to us. Other than an initial cleaning, there is no special requirement to make it safe for food service use. The slate just needs to be cleaned with a damp sponge or cloth.

That said, J.K. Adams Company does not recommend using slate as a cutting board. The reason is not that the slate isn’t strong enough, but that it will dull a knife if used to cut. When using slate as a cheese tray, however, this is not a problem because one does not really slice cheese, if you think about it. All you are doing with a knife is separating in a wedge-like process. If you plan to slice breads or meats, however, you will want to use a wood cutting board.

I also think slate servers and risers also make an attractive service pieces on your table.

Wood Cutting Boards

Wood has the same appeal to me as slate, with a few exceptions. As noted above, wood can be used to cut and slice on, but you cannot do this on slate. Wood, on the other hand, requires a little more care for long time use. The following guide is recommended by J.K.Adams Company:

  • Never put wood in the dishwasher or use in a microwave.
  • Do not allow wood to soak in water or for liquids to pool on it for an extended period of time.
  • Wash wood in warm soapy water and dry immediately. (I also recommend washing or at least wetting both sides to avoid warping of the board as it is allowed to dry.)
  • Avoid extreme temperatures. Don’t plunge into very hot water or store in a refrigerator.
  • Condition frequently with food safe mineral oil or beeswax conditioners. The use of these products will help stop cracking and keep your boards looking like new.

Leave Well Enough Alone

I have to retell a story that was written many years ago by Merle Ellis, famous author and butcher. It relates to the time when all of the old butcher shops were required by the health department to remove all of their beautiful wood cutting boards and butcher blocks that had been used for centuries. They were replaced with plastic, which could be more easily cleaned with hot soapy water and steam.

The article went on to say that two microbiologists from the University of Wisconsin, Dean Cliver and Nese Ak, decided to test this theory since there were no findings of any scientific study on cutting board safety. They tested boards from seven different types of wood and four types of plastic. They contaminated all with food poisoning bacteria such as salmonella, listeria and E.  coli. The results showed that 99.9% of the bacteria on the wooden boards disappeared after only three minutes. Given the same three minutes, none of the bacteria disappeared on the plastic boards. In addition, on unwashed boards held overnight, the plastic boards showed increased bacteria, whereas no trace of bacteria could be found on the wood boards.

The article concluded by saying that the reason wood is so inhospitable to bacteria remained undetermined, and that more research would be needed to understand this phenomenon.

The microbiologists did point out that good care methods, such as those described in the guide by J.K. Adams, should be followed. Boards used for cutting meats and poultry should be thoroughly cleaned before cutting salad greens, for example. We recommend using separate boards for raw meat use only.

Cheese Tray Displays

Cheese trays should be arranged with whole wedges of ample size to both accommodate the amount of guests and appeal to the eye. I would rather see a smaller selection of larger wedges of cheese than a larger selection of many small pieces, soon to be dried out. Add grapes, other fruits and nuts to make your trays visually attractive. Last but not least, I am always reminded of the words of James Beard, who wrote:

I am grateful to have learned young that cheese has an
important place in a menu. It isn’t something to serve with apple
pie, and it isn’t something to be cut into nasty little cubes and serve
with crackers. Early in life I learned to see the beauty of great slabs
or rounds of cheese on the table, and I still respond to the sight of a
well-stocked cheese tray properly presented.

James Beard
Delights and Prejudices

Temperature and Cheese

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

Many food items spoil quickly if removed from the refrigerator and allowed to reach room temperature. Cheese is not one of them. Milk is one of them and this is how cheese was, well, accidentally invented.

I’m told that hundreds, if not thousands of years ago, cheese came to be by happenstance. Yes, the process was an accident. As the story goes, cheese was discovered by a traveling nomad who was carrying milk in a leather pouch for his night’s meal. This pouch happened to be lined with the stomach of a calf, then commonly used for its ability to hold water. The milk in the pouch mixed with the natural rennet found in this lining causing the milk to separate into curds. Hence, whey and cheese were invented. Since that day, over 12,000 new cheeses have been created.

Historically, the basic advantage of making cheese has been its ability to store milk for longer periods of time. Often farmers could not sell all of their milk before it would spoil. Getting milk to market was a timely and difficult process as well. With the coming of cheese, a farmer could store and sell his product when the timing was good.

As an added bonus, one could reduce the size of storage to one-tenth its original volume. When you separate milk into curds and whey, the final product is condensed to this ten percent portion. Most of the butterfat content remains with the curd or cheese. Therefore, when reduced to ten percent, whole milk’s 4% butterfat content will create a whole milk cheese with a butterfat content of approximately 40%.

Of course, all of this was long before electricity and today’s modern refrigerators. Cheese had to be stored and kept at a cool, room cellar temperature. Salt was the natural preservative in most cases. Temperatures would vary during different times of the year, with the warmest period being just less than sixty degrees. Cheese was often kept on kitchen counters for days at time.

How long can you keep cheese at room temperature? You can find many technical opinions on this topic. I offer the following guideline as it relates to my experience over the last 45 years.

GruyereCheese is not as perishable as one would think. The exception to the rule is fresh cheese, which does not go through a ripening process.  Therefore, fresh cheeses such as cottage or ricotta should not be left at room temperature for long periods of time. In addition, mold found on fresh cheese is a sign of spoilage and it should be discarded.

All other cheeses fall into the ripening classification. As a cheese begins to ripen, a build-up of good bacteria occurs. You may be aware of the 60-day rule, which basically states that any harmful bacteria present in the milk or cheese will die within this time period. After 60 days the cheese is considered safe. At this point the good bacteria have effectively eliminated the bad. This is why raw milk cheese, such as 30-day old Brie from France, is not allowed in this country.

Cheeses meant to be eaten young have a shorter life span than others at room temperature. Examples would be soft-ripening and washed rind cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, Chaumes, Limburger and Fromage D’Affinois. This does not mean that they cannot tolerate room temperature for a short period of time. As all cheeses ripen faster at warmer temperatures, it is actually a common practice for cheesemongers to store cheeses at room temperature for several days to facilitate the ripening process. When doing this, moisture loss needs to be monitored as this can dry out and essentially ruin a cheese.

Aged cheeses can stay at room temperature for much longer periods of time. An aged Reggiano Parmigiano or Pecorino, for example, can stay out weeks without spoilage. The only issue here is sweating, which dry out the cheese. Softer or younger cheeses may change shape a little but this does not necessarily mean spoilage. When shipping cheese without ice packs, we always recommend refrigerating cheese overnight upon arrival, then bringing it back up to room temperature before serving. I remember many years ago displaying a two hundred pound wheel of Swiss Emmenthaler at room temperature for several weeks. It developed a bit of a “flat tire” appearance from being so soft, but after a few days in the walk-in we had a beautifully-aged Swiss to sell.

As a general rule, you need not be alarmed by “best buy” dates in aged cheese. If the cheese looks and tastes good, it is. I typically receive shipments of different lots of cheese with varying best buy dates. And I often discover that the younger date is riper that the older one, and that I need to sell the younger date first. Some of this might be due to the temperature during shipping or if a cheese might have been set on a warm shipping dock for an extended period of time.

Other problems can arise during shipping such as temperatures that are too cold or possible slight freezing. Once a cheese freezes, the ripening process stops. Actually, most cheeses can be frozen, but for this reason, make sure the cheese is ripened to your liking before doing so. (One exception to freezing cheese is cheddar. I do not recommend it as you will lose the texture and it will become grainy.)

When thawing cheese, always do so in the refrigerator and not at room temperature, as the temperature of the cheese needs to rise slowly. And lastly, a little mold found on a properly ripened cheese is not harmful. Simply cut or wash it off the wedge, then it is ready to eat.

Cochran Farm Cheeses

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

I made the mistake of cutting into a Cochran Farm soft-ripening goat cheese the other day. In the cheese business, we call this a quality control check. With the aid of a fresh pear, I managed to eat half of what was supposed to be a sample meant for many others. It’s a good thing a nice white wine did not also need a quality control check or the other half of the round would have disappeared along with the wine. The things I have to do for work.

There’s a new taste treat for those who love goat cheese, and it comes in both the fresh and soft-ripening variety. Lucky for me, cheesemaker Patrick Apfel recently found his way into my shop and presented me with samples of both, made on his farm. I immediately ordered a few dozen of each and then found myself wishing they were already on-hand. Here’s a little more about this great goat cheese duo:

Mohawk Mist

This is a fresh cheese which ages in taste like all fresh varieties, from sweet to tart, then sour when overripe. Mohawk Mist is very moist with a mild goat flavor, a slight tangy finish and  creamier texture than most fresh goat cheeses. It is meant to be eaten young. Like most goat cheeses, it can be eaten on its own and does not require a topping. You can only enhance the taste by adding honey, figs, fresh fruit, chutney or preserves of choice. Patrick likes it for breakfast on toast, with blueberry preserves or honey.

St. Johnsville

St. JohnsvilleCochran Farms’ soft-ripening version is called St. Johnsville, and this one is the flagship cheeses of the farm. St. Johnsville goes through the typical process of all soft-ripening cheeses. As the snow-like mold does its work, the cheese begins to ripen from the outside in. The ripened part will soften and change to a supple, creamy texture that can be described as having a delicate “earthy” flavor with a faint hint of mushrooms. If it were to be cut in half during the ripening process, you would see three layers: a hard chalky-looking, creamy-textured white center over a softer, somewhat thick honey-like top, and a bottom layer. The center is referred to as the core. When the core fully disappears, it is considered fully ripened. Soft-ripening types are usually consumed before full ripening, depending on your palate and how pungent you like your cheese.

Patrick likes to pair St. Johnsville with Sancerre, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc or even a nice lager. As I mentioned earlier, I like to serve it on a slice of fresh pear and drizzled with Acacia honey, which also pairs nicely with wines.

About the Apfels

Patrick grew up in France, which offered him an early education in the world of cheese. As France boasts one of the largest selections of cheeses in the world, it’s no surprise that cheese was a big part of Patrick’s diet growing up.

As fate would have it, he and his wife Gwen spent five years on assignment in France at a later date, where they were able to taste their way through over 800 cheeses. Wow, could I have done some quality control checks on that trip. And there’s a little wine in France too, I’ve been told.

The pair made additional trips to Burgundy in 2012 and Poitou in 2013. And Cheese-making became more than a dream for the Apfels. They learned the biology of cheese-making, the importance of high quality milk, and the care of farming goats. At the farm, the Apfels built a cheese house and now make cheese the artisanal way.

More About the Cochran Farm

People tend to think of New York State as city-like, with plenty of cars and lots of congestion. After many years of driving to Buffalo, often facing thirty miles between exits, you realize just how far from the truth that is. New York offers some of the most beautiful country you could ever want to see, and the Cochran farm, an idyllic collection of rolling hills and hay fields, is no exception.

The history of this farm makes this story even better. The Apfels bought the farm which just so happens to be once owned by General John Cochran, who served as Surgeon General under General George Washington. It is told that Washington considered Cochran a friend, as did the Marquis de Lafayette, who credited Cochran with saving his life on two occasions. Alexander Hamilton was also known to be a frequent visitor and, according to Patrick, Joseph Brant, chief of the Mohawk nation, stopped in as well.

In my opinion, these two delectable cheeses are fine examples of what domestic artisanal cheese-making can be.

Cheese for the Holidays: 2015

Isn’t it great that the best appetizer you can serve for the Holidays requires no cooking? I refer to cheese. All you have to do is unwrap it, place it on a tray with a few condiments, give it an hour’s time at room temperature, and voila! You’re done. Holiday tasks should all be so simple.

One of the best parts about serving cheese is the ability to prepare it in advance. Cheese is less perishable as you might think so you can shop early for it, leaving time for other last-minute tasks. With a little help from your local cheese shop, you can purchase what you need quickly and avoid those long holiday lines.

When shopping for cheese, be sure to inform your retailer as to when you will be serving it. This should enable him to help you choose cheeses that will keep for your party. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations and explain what cheeses you do know and like. Naming the different families of cheese that you prefer is always helpful.

This formula works very well in determining quantities:

Short event, many other appetizers, early afternoon, no alcohol: 1-1.5 oz. cheese per person

Safe range, some other appetizers, wine will be served, close to dinner: 2-3 oz. cheese per person

Long event, wine, no other appetizers, just before dinner: 3-4 oz. cheese per person

In general, the larger the amount of people attending, the smaller the amount of cheese per person you will want to serve. The opposite is also true. If you are having a small group, say four guests, you will most likely want four 6-8 oz. pieces of cheese for a full tray presentation. Whatever has not eaten can be saved for another day.

Cheese Trays

Cheese Tray 4It is human nature to taste with our eyes, so keep your trays attractive. Try to pick cheeses of different shapes, sizes and colors. Also, choose from different families such as blues, soft-ripening, washed rinds, goudas, goat and sheep, cheddars, etc. You can add fruits such as grapes, pears, dried apricots, figs and dates. Accoutrements like acacia honey, balsamic vinegars, chutneys and jams all add to the enjoyment and visual excitement of your presentation.

If you include nuts, be careful about guests with food allergies. As a precaution, you might want to keep the nuts separate.

Cheese trays can be prepared a day in advance, dried fruits included, as long as the entire tray is wrapped well with cling film (sometimes referred to as Saran wrap) and stored in the refrigerator. Even two days in advance is okay. A runny cheese like Brie, however, should be wrapped tightly around itself. You can place it in position on the tray, but open it at the last moment.

I never advise to pre-cut or cube cheese into small pieces. Pre-cutting will cause the cheese to dry up and lose flavor, so any leftovers are doomed for tossing. Not even an ill-attempted fondue can save this situation. I always recommend presenting whole wedges on your tray.

Crackers should also be kept off the prepared tray. If wrapped with the cheese, they will become soft and soggy. Add crackers at the last minute, just before serving. Place your accoutrements in separate serving dishes with a small spoon for self-service. Not everyone wants a topping on their cheese, and this can create a messy, unappetizing tray in a hurry.

Here are a few more tips that will help make things seamless:

  • Serve the cheese at room temperature. An hour is usually good.
  • Don’t remove cling film from the tray until you are ready to serve. You want the cheese to be warm, but certainly not dried up.
  • Cheese labels are always great. Identifying the names of the cheeses and the type of milk used to produce the cheese is helpful for your guest, especially those who can only tolerate goat or sheep milk, for example. It might also save you from answering many questions during the night. You can find attractive porcelain or slate markers for this use.
  • I also advise placing a separate knife next to every cheese on the tray. Anyone caught using the blue cheese knife on the Brie should be cut off from the wine as punishment. Don’t feel sorry for them; that leaves more wine for you.

Basket v4Gift Boxes and Baskets

These make wonderful gifts and are a universal favorite because they don’t go to waste. If the recipient is not fond of cheese, someone in the family or holiday guests is likely to be. When purchasing these types of gifts, try to include a good variety of flavors. I find that a combination of crackers, meats and other accoutrements works well.

An important consideration is the condition of the cheeses. It is always a good idea to discuss your needs with your retailer at the time of purchase so cheeses arrive to their destination at the proper ripeness. Also, try to ship in the beginning of the week for arrival before the weekend. This might avoid your gift sitting near a post office radiator over the weekend, for example.

Ordering in advance is highly recommended. Remember that retail stores get busier the closer you get to a holiday, and fresh-cut cheese gifts take time to prepare and ship. When shipping a gift, I always prefer boxes over baskets as they typically arrive in better condition.

And although baskets look nice, from a cost perspective, I would rather have an additional item, like a wedge of cheese, included than have a basket likely to be thrown out right after the holiday. But that’s my personal preference. You may also want to check the additional cost of shipping a basket over a box. You will usually save on shipping costs.

Other Cheese Thoughts

Did I mention hot apple pie with a little cheddar cheese on it?  How about Quiche Lorraine, mac and cheese, cheese puffs, French onion soup with Gruyere melted on top, potatoes au gratin, grilled cheese, fried cheese, cheese soufflé and cheddar cheese soup?

How about Fondue and Raclette? Need I say more?  Cheese, indeed, for the holidays.

Best Buys for 2015

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

It is once again time for our annual list of best buys. My definition of a good deal is value – buying something of great quality at a very good price. Cheese and specialty foods are no exception. The following list shows several specialty cheeses that meet my requirements of a best buy.

Fromage D’Affinois ($18 to $22 per pound)

D'AffinoisI can’t say enough about the popularity of this soft-ripening double crème. Unlike many of the stabilized bries and camemberts available, this one was not ruined for the supermarkets. It comes with a firm center core which softens as it ripens, and I love that I can actually finish the ripening process of D’Affinois right in the store. This allows me to sell it at its peak, which is when you will find it most soft, creamy and luscious. D’Affinois is one of our consistent best sellers and usually the first cheese to disappear on a cheese tray. You can spend this amount for half the size of many cheeses with less satisfaction.

French Bleu D’Auvergne ($16 to $20 per pound)

This great blue cheese dates back to the 1850’s in the Auverne region of south central France. D’Auvergne is made from pasteurized cow’s milk and known for its smooth, creamy taste. It also has less salt than many other blues. I consider Bleu D”Auvergne to be a medium pungent blue as compared to Roquefort or other sheep’s milk blues. It holds its own with an assortment of wines and brews, and it is best served at room temperature.

English Ford Cheddar ($14 to $16 per pound)

It amazes me how so many cheddars can sell for such high prices ($20 to $30 per pound) when the finish bites the tongue with bitterness. I am constantly bombarded with samples from “artisan” cheese makers who manage to achieve a high price. High price does not mean quality, which brings me to the great English Ford cheddar from England. This pasteurized cheese manages to achieve a great cheddar taste with a wonderfully smooth and creamy finish. It is one of our bestselling cheddars and well worth seeking out.

Moosbacher ($12 to $16 per pound)

This semi-soft, pasteurized cow’s milk cheese is made in Austria. It has the large eye formations typically found in Swiss-style cheeses (you know, the ones with the holes), a slight washed-rind covering and a unique burlap-linen wrap which stands apart from other cheeses. Moosbacher is great for appetizers, but also for cooking and even fondue.

Pecorino Toscano ($17 to $20 per pound)

ToscanoThis is one of my favorite pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheeses from Italy. Toscano is a young cheese with a mild to medium degree of sharpness. Unlike the better known pecorino cheese called Romano, its taste is smoother with a lot less bite. The taste can also be defined by a slight grassy, herb flavor. I especially enjoy this cheese when paired with acacia honey; it was one of our desserts in Italy last year.

Australian Marinated Sheep and Goat Cheese Blend ($11 to $13 per 8 oz. container)

This cheese is once again on my great value list. No fancy name surrounds this wonderful cheese marinated in oil with a blend of fresh herbs and peppercorn. It’s great on crackers or a baguette. For a special treat, try brushing a thin coat of olive oil on a fresh-sliced baguette, toast and top with fresh mozzarella and the marinated cheese blend. You’ll be back for more.

Goat Brie ($10 to $12 per 6.5 oz.)

This is a great triple crème (75% butterfat) brie made by Woolwich Dairy in Ontario, Canada. The first thing you will notice is the very white color, which is typical of goat cheese. Goat brie has a very good shelf life compared to many other natural soft-ripening cheeses. Most domestic bries and camemberts of equal quality will sell for almost double the price.

There’s an old belief that if you don’t know the wines on a menu, let price be your guide when all else fails. This will usually work. There’s often a correlation between price and quality with wines, but when it comes to cheese, not so much. High price is no guarantee of a great cheese, or low price the sign of a poor quality one. I find that cheeses that have been around for hundreds of years tend to be at a lower or more moderate pricing, in contrast to the new cheese on the block that may start out really high. Please remember, a cheese labeled “artisanal” is not always a guarantee that it is. As I always say, try before you buy.

A Look Back

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

I remember as a kid my parents making comments like “Where did the years go?” “It seems like only yesterday,” or “Time flew by.” Those remarks meant little to me at the time, but I can surely relate to them today. Now it is my turn to contemplate how it seems like yesterday that I started working in the Greenwich Cheese Shop. The year was 1967.

Paul - 1967 RForty eight years back, there were approximately 5,000 known cheeses in the world. My brand new Chevy cost $2,800 and my wife’s Volkswagen was $1,600. Part-timers were making $1.25 per hour and cigarettes cost around thirty five cents a pack. Boursin Cheese sold for sixty-nine cents.

Today there are more than 12,000 known cheeses and that number is constantly growing. A new Chevy costs… Well, you get the idea. The cheese business has also gone through many changes. The most notable for me is how cheese is imported. Back in the day, importers only brought in cheeses from the country they represented. For example, Dofo Cheese Company imported Danish cheese, Swissrose imported cheese from Holland, Schratter imported French cheese and Otto Roth imported cheese from Switzerland.

This trend has changed. Today, large importers-distributors carry just about everything from all countries, and this has a dramatic effect on pricing. Most often there is one master importer on a given item and he will distribute to other distributors. If retailers can buy from the master distributor, they can generally get a better price.

Because of the vast amount of distributors existing today, this can become a buying nightmare. Add the fact that the master importer is not always known and most companies have high minimums for purchasing, buying becomes an art. This is why one retail store may sell at a different price than a competitor.

Customers tend to think that the higher priced store might be making a larger mark-up, but this is not always the case. Add to the equation the huge increase in big box chain stores, with their inherent buying power. Often, a small single-owned store may sell more of a given item than an individual large box store, but the large store gets purchasing power advantage because it is part of a chain.

Let’s compare some well-known cheeses and how they have changed in price over the past 40 years. Items are from specialty stores and not supermarkets.

The Early 70’s                                                                         Today

England

Stilton                             $4.99 lb.                          $18.00 to $26.00 lb.
Cheshire                         $2.99 lb.                          $24.00  farm not factory

France

Brie                                   $2.99 lb.                         $18.00 to $24.00 lb.
Camembert                    $2.25 ea.                         $6.00 to $16.00 ea.
Chaumes                         $2.69 lb.                          $19.99 lb.
Morbier                           $3.69 lb.                          $16.99 lb. to $19.99 lb.
Roquefort                       $4.50 lb.                          $24.00 to 29.99 lb.

Holland

Gouda                              $3.99 lb.                          $18.99 to $26.00 lb.
Leyden                             $3.89 lb.                          $18.99 to $26.00 lb.

Italy

Fontina                            $3.89 lb.                          $19.99 to $24.00 lb.
Gorgonzola                    $4.99 lb.                          $15.99 to $17.00 lb.
Reggiano                         $8.99 lb.                          $19.99 to $25.00 lb.
Romano                          $4.99 lb.                          $15.99 to $17.99 lb.

United States

Blue                                 $3.09 lb.                          $12.00 to $28.00 lb.
Muenster                        $2.09 lb.                          $6.00 lb.
Mozzarella                     $2.29 lb.                          $6.99 to $9.99 lb.
Cabot Cheddar              $3.69 lb.                          $19.99 lb. and up
Monterey Jack              $3.29 lb.                          $16.99 lb. and up

Please note that many cheeses were different than those we see today. Most of the French specialty cheeses in the soft-ripening and washed-rind families that were made from raw milk are no longer allowed in the United States. To taste these cheeses today you have to go to Europe, where raw milk is still commonly used. Many soft-ripening cheeses were also stabilized for better shelf-life in the supermarket. This ruined many choices in the soft-ripening family of cheeses.

English Stilton was also made from raw milk, but no longer is. Today you need to seek out the original raw milk version of Stilton, now called Stichelton, to find the original Stilton taste of the 70’s. Unfortunately, the quality of Stichelton is inconsistent and varies greatly, so you need to find a good one. This is a definite “try before you buy” product.

Back then, most of the great cheeses were imported. Danish cheeses were a big item in specialty cheese shops. These include Esrom, Tilsit, Danbo with Caraway, Fontina, Samsoe and Tybo. These firm Danish cheeses can still be found in some supermarkets. Cream cheeses laced with peach, orange, strawberry, herbs and spice were also popular. These flavored cream cheeses were very good but, to my dismay, they no longer exist. I can still see the bulk displays of these cheeses in my head.

United States contributions in those days included Cheddar, Swiss, Cream Cheese, Mozzarella and maybe Monterey Jack. Quality varied. There were no specialty or artisan cheeses of great noteworthiness. Vermont, New York, and Wisconsin cheddars held their own in specialty cheese shops.

Cheese consumption continues to grow in the United States, but still lags behind Europe. It is interesting to follow how the U.S. cheese industry continues to evolve. Many changes have come along through the years, but one thing never seems to change. Cheese is still loved by foodies and is usually the appetizer of choice.

A Taste of Oma

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

One of the top ten cheeses highlighted in my July, 2015 column in Ink Magazine was Oma. This cheese has been so popular I thought a little more information might be in order.

Oma has unique characteristics worth mentioning. First, Oma means “Grandmother” in German. Also, this cheese is made by the von Trapp family in Vermont, and yes, they are the original “Hills are Alive” family that the famous Sound of Music film is based from. Oma is made from raw milk that comes mostly from Jersey cows, and it is also organic. It has a smooth, silky texture with a buttery and earthy flavor. Most importantly, this cheese is delightful. That’s why it’s in my Top Ten List this year.

Washed Rind

Oma is a washed rind cheese, but much milder in taste and aroma then the more well-known pungent washed rind cheeses like limburger and stinking Bishop. So have no fear of this one. To review, the washed rind method gets its name from its production process. Instead of the white mold often used in soft-ripening cheeses, a smear bacterial solution is applied. This briny solution, washed over the outside of the cheese, promotes good bacteria and fungi while halting the growth of undesirable molds. The technique also gives the cheese a very subtle orange or pinkish color. You might also expect to see small areas of white mold on Oma, similar to what you will find on Brie. Of course, the briny solution is perfectly safe and only adds to the flavor.

Jasper Hill Farm

Oma is produced on the von Trapp Farmstead in the Green Mountains of Vermont. But most notable is that after this cheese is made, it ripens in the affinage cellars at Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont. This facility is one of the best in the country and the first of its kind in the United States. In case you were wondering, affinage is the practice of storing and ripening cheese properly so it can be sold and consumed in perfect condition.  This mission has to be done with special timing to ensure all cheeses are sold at their peak condition.

In addition to proper aging, there are several other factors to consider, like washing, flipping, brushing, patting and spritzing. The process becomes more involved when you realize that different cheeses require different ripening techniques. For example, some cheeses require moist conditions, while others may need dry. Some need colder climes; others require warmer ones. As a result, Jasper Hill maintains seven different affinage cellars totaling 22,000 square feet, each one calibrated with different temperature and humidity levels. Even more amazing is that they are all actually located underground. The farm’s 45 Ayrshire cows graze on the land above these impressive caves.

Serving Oma

OmaLike all cheese, Oma is best served at room temperature. Depending on the ripeness of the cheese, it can become so soft that it actually runs a little. There is no need to remove the edible rind as it superbly adds to the rich flavor. I like it best spread on a baguette with a thin slice of a mild, sweet onion like Vidalia.  Oma also works well on a cheese plate and partners nicely with cheeses from other families.

Since this is a young-aged cheese – around three months old, by the time it reaches four months it can become a little overripe. I’m sure you have heard me say “try before you buy” many times, but there is good reason for it. Cheeses like this, and others in the soft-ripening families, have short life spans where they remain in perfect condition.  Just a few days’ time can dramatically change the condition of this cheese. A cheese might look nice, but it may not taste right. So, try before you buy.

If you are looking for a nice getaway, consider the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, featuring Austrian architecture and spectacular views. We recently enjoyed a stay at this unique luxury mountain resort during warm weather. Morning coffee on the porch overlooking the beautiful mountains gives new meaning to the term “coffee break.”

By the way, rumor has it that many of those who were lucky enough to actually find and eat Oma discovered a noticeable improvement in their ability to sing. I did, and I’m singing its praises all the time.

Chef Jay’s So-Cal Burger Recipe

We had a great response from the last recipe (Starlight Gardens Spring Salad) that Jay Groton, Executive Chef of Gabrielle’s Restaurant, shared with our readers. So we asked for another one!

This one is inspired by the flavors of Southern California. Chef Jay’s “Inside Sauce” adds a creamy-rich flavor and the crunchy pickles make it. If you have the time, homemade pickles are well worth the effort. If not, skip the pickle-making and substitute with your favorite store-bought. Bon Appetit!

Chef Jay’s So-Cal Burger

So-Cal-Burger 3
8oz. Beef Patty (Chef Jay recommends 90% Lean/10% Fat)
1 center slice sweet Vidalia onion
1 slice romaine lettuce
3 slices Blue Ticket pickles (recipe below)
1 oz. slice sharp cheddar cheese
1 oz. Inside Sauce (recipe below)
1 toasted potato bread roll

Inside Sauce

3 Tbls. Dijon mustard
1 egg yolk
1.5 ounces Bragg’s Vinegar
1.5 cups 10% oil

Combine items above in a food processor, turn on and add oil in a slow stream until it emulsifies. Then combine mixture with ketchup at a 2 parts sauce to 2 parts ketchup ratio. Season with confectioner’s sugar, lemon juice and chopped cornichons. Season to taste with salt.

Blue Ticket Pickles

Blue Ticket Pickles5 English cucumbers
Generous Pinch of Salt
1 Tbls of mustard seed
1 Tbls of whole coriander
1 tsp dill (or few sprigs of fresh dill)
1 tsp of crushed red pepper flakes
¼ tsp of turmeric
3 Cups Bragg’s vinegar
2 Cups water
2-½ Tbls salt
1 Tbls mustard powder
1 Tbls garlic powder
4 Tbls sugar

Slice cucumbers and sprinkle a generous amount of salt into a bowl, toss and refrigerate for an hour.

Into a saucepan add mustard seed, coriander, dill, crushed red pepper flakes, turmeric, Bragg’s vinegar, water, salt, mustard powder and sugar. Bring to a boil.

Rinse and strain cucumbers, then fill a sanitized Mason jar (boil prior to pickling) to rim with pickles. Pour boiling liquid to rim of jar. Place and tighten lid. Leave at room temperature until cool.

Store for 3-7 days prior to opening. Refrigerate after opening.

 

My Top 10 – An Updated List

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

It’s hard to believe that a whole year has gone by since my last article on “Top Ten Cheese Favorites.” So I believe it is time once again to put my taste buds to work and pick a new ten.

As I stated last year, I’m often asked, “What’s your favorite cheese”? My response is still the same: “It depends on what mood I’m in.”

Camembert Stilton OmaI have so many that it’s hard to pick just one – or even ten, for that matter. Many factors can affect my decision. My beverage of choice would be a great influence – wine vs. beer or a non-alcoholic beverage. Is the cheese going to be served as a snack, a dessert, an appetizer, or is it going to be the main course? Other points to consider are whether I will be eating this cheese on its own, or pairing it with fruit, balsamic vinegar, honey or any other accoutrement.

So with that said, here we go. The following list is not in any particular order:

  1. Piave Vecchio, Aged (cow)

This Parmigiano Reggiano-style cheese will most likely always make my top five. With a fairly sharp and full flavor, Piave Vecchio goes well with most foods and salads. It also makes for a great eating – as well as cooking – cheese when used in place of Reggiano or Grana Padana. For a twist, try it with Acacia honey from Italy for a delicious dessert.

  1. Oma (cow)

Oma is a beautiful washed-rind cheese from Vermont made by the Von Trapp Farmstead. Made from raw-certified organic cow’s milk, then ripened to perfection at Jasper Hill, Oma is not overly-pungent the way other washed-rind cheeses can be. The whole wheel is usually just under two pounds. Rumor has it that just one bite will improve one’s singing ability. Oma is definitely a must-try.

  1. Fromage D’Affinois (cow)

I choose Fromage D’Affinois for my favorite soft-ripening cheese for the same reason most of my customers do. It is rich and creamy, unlike most imported Bries and Camemberts you find today. D’Affinois maintains a fairly steady consistency, delivers a great flavor and is usually available. This does not mean that I am not continually on the lookout for another good soft-ripening cheese.

  1. Camembert dell’Alta Langa (cow-goat-sheep)

This is a new cheese for me, as I was not previously aware that Italy made a camembert-style cheese. What a great surprise this single crème cheese turned out to be. In addition to having that great almost-raw milk flavor of similar soft-ripening cheeses in Europe, this Italian Camembert is made from three different milks: cow, goat and sheep. At room temperature it will actually run on your cheese tray. This is a definite “try before you buy” cheese; don’t go by looks alone.

  1. Lakes Edge (goat)

There are so many quality goat cheeses to choose from, it’s hard to pick just one.  Many great local varieties are now available at farmers markets, gourmet food stores and, of course, Cheese Shops. But if I had to pick just one, it would be Lakes Edge, made by Blue Ledge Farm in Vermont.

Very similar to Humboltd Fog from California, Lakes Edge is recognized by its distinctive line of wood ash spreading across the middle. Originally, ash was used to separate two layers of cheese, one made from the morning milk and the second from the evening milk production. Ash stopped the cheese from forming a natural rind until the second layer was added. I feel the ash is used more for appearance these days.

  1. Stichelton (cow)

I did not misspell this cheese. Since the 1990’s, Stilton cheese makers agreed to make Stilton only from pasteurized milk. This was due to a problem with sick cows. About ten years ago, these cheese makers decided to recreate the original raw-milk version of Stilton. But they could no longer call it Stilton, so Stichelton was born.

We buy our Stichelton direct from Neals’ Yard Dairy in England, and they are responsible for aging and exporting the cheese. This cheese has a blue vein within a mild cheddar base.  I like it as an appetizer, but even more as a dessert when mixed with sweet butter, table water biscuits and a glass of vintage Port wine. In fact, it’s a favorite dessert of mine.

An old piece of Stilton can be beautifully revived by removing the rind, mixing the cheese with a little Port wine, then spreading this on a slice of pear, with maybe a walnut or two.

  1. Fresh Mozzarella (buffalo or cow)

Who doesn’t like fresh Mozzarella? I will look for a reason to use it. Mention a vine-ripened tomato, fresh basil and some good olive oil, and my night is complete.  Originally, mozzarella was made from buffalo milk and in Italy, it still is.  This version has a little more tang to it than the cow’s milk offering.  Where would pizza be without it?

  1. Quebec 7-Year Aged Cheddar (cow)

Finding very-aged cheddar with both sharpness and a smooth finish is hard to achieve. Too often cheddars are pushed (ripened) at warmer temperatures to get them sharp faster.  The result can be bitter. The Quebec 7-year cheddar is perfection.

  1. Abbaye de Belloc (sheep)

This is a 100% sheep’s milk cheese made in the Basque region of France. I prefer it over most other sheep milk cheeses because of its smooth and creamy finish.

  1. Challerhocker (cow)

Challerhocker means “sitting in the cellar,” which is actually how it ages. Only one man, Walter Rass, makes this truly artisanal cheese. Walter used to make Appenzeller, another great Swiss cheese, but he decided to age the cheese a little longer and increase the butterfat to 58%. The result was Challerhocker – a new version with great depth of flavor reminiscent of nuts and spice, and a very popular crystal formation, which adds to the overall taste.

So there you have it – my top 10 list of cheeses for July of 2015. But don’t hold me to it. If you asked me tomorrow…

RiverFare 2015

It was another great night at RiverFare 2015 on May 28th, and we were happy to help support the cause to continue the Connecticut River Museum’s mission to preserve the Connecticut River Valley. Click here for fun snaps from that night!

The Role of a Cheesemonger

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

A state that allows the sale of both wine and cheese in the same retail location might just be heaven on earth to some. Unfortunately, Connecticut is not one of those states.

Paul Partica, Cheesemonger and Owner, Cheese Shop of Centerbrook

Paul Partica, Cheesemonger and Owner, Cheese Shop of Centerbrook

The role of a cheesemonger is very similar to that of a wine connoisseur. Most of us know how to approach our local wine merchant or sommelier and have likely learned the right questions to ask. For example, you might inquire about such topics as where to store the Bordeaux or the Chardonnays. You may also have learned the basic types of wines and what you particularly like, so you can now order by this classification.

Buying cheese is the same. A cheesemonger should be well-versed in different cheese characteristics and be able to show you them by example. I break these characteristics down into 12 families of cheese. And there are no set rules regarding this; it is simply a method I have created to help organize and understand different types of cheese.

When a customer asks what’s good, they might be asking what is available in fresh condition or on special that day. It might also mean that they don’t know much about cheese, other than knowing they generally like it. It is the cheesemonger’s job is to satisfy their needs. Asking questions as to what kinds of cheese they already know they like or what characteristics they might be looking for can help determine what direction to go in in terms of showing the best in that particular family of cheeses.

I always appreciate the customer who asks something like, “What do you have in a sharp cheddar or creamy blue that’s in good condition?” This opens up the customer’s options much more than referring to a specific brand. Or you might say, “I like Danish Blue Castello; do you have something similar I might like better?” This now gives the cheesemonger a chance to do his job.

Here’s a quick list of the 12 cheese families:

Fresh                          Swiss                          Cheddar                    English

Dutch                         Port  Salut                 Tilsit                           Blue

Hard                           Soft-ripening           Washed Rind           Sheep & Goat

Another role of the cheesemonger is to carefully buy cheese based on quality and current condition. In some cases, a skilled monger aims to buy cheeses when they are still young, as in the case of soft-ripening and washed-rind cheeses. Cheese selection is of utmost importance.

I think many understand what I mean when I refer to a cheese as a Brie-style, but Brie is only one of hundreds of cheeses in the soft-ripening family.  Also included in this family are very young cheeses – about thirty days old – which start with a center core that slowly ripens and softens as the cheese ages. If this doesn’t help you, ask your favorite cheesemonger to show you a soft-ripening variety the next time you’re buying cheese.

Unfortunately, many of the Bries and Camemberts found today have been over-stabilized to meet the long shelf life required by supermarkets and are therefore poor examples of the soft-ripening family. If you like soft, creamy Brie, you might ask your cheesemonger, “What do you have in a good soft-ripening cheese today?” A proficient monger should be prepared to show you what’s available and what might meet your taste profile.

Some cheesemongers are also affineurs. The affineur is the person whose job is to control the process of ripening and aging cheese. Cheeses need to be kept under proper temperature and properly wrapped so they can mature and be sold at peak condition. It is very important the cheese does not over-ripen or dry out. This why you should always try before you buy. You may generally know the cheese but you don’t know about the history of the specific wheel in front of you.

In addition to carrying local and domestic cheeses, a good cheesemonger needs to have an ample international collection as well. Many cheeses don’t duplicate well when made in the United States. Your cheesemonger should make you aware of this. Variety is also important; an accomplished monger will carry cheeses from all families.

Another role of the cheesemonger is to create a nice pairing of cheeses for you. Asking questions of the customer such as, “What else will you be serving with the cheese; what are the beverages being served; and what time of day will they be served?” are all good inquiries in helping to determine the right cheeses for the event.

Lastly and most importantly, a cheesemonger should be a teacher. Since there are over 12,000 cheeses (and growing) in the world today, he or she should understand that the customer is not going to know most of the cheeses available. To help avoid intimidation, a good cheesemonger will offer samples and see where the customer is headed in terms of taste preferences. To learn more about cheese families, visit the blog on our website to read the article entitled “Breaking it Down: The 12 Families of Cheese.”

Successful Soufflés

Successful Soufflés

By Paul Partica and Kirsten Carbone

Souffle 4I knew it was getting close to my deadline for the next Ink article, but having just been the lucky recipient of a total knee replacement and finding this a good excuse to be lazy, I thought I would ask my friend and marketing consultant Kirsten Carbone to help in writing an article for me. So, this said, why not choose a subject I know nothing about. Here are Kirsten’s words on the topic:

When Paul asked if I would write a column while he recuperated from knee-replacement surgery, I thought of soufflés. I have been reluctant to take one on in my own kitchen, believing it to be one of those mystical culinary feats better left to the pros. The idea of dense components like eggs and cheese becoming airy and lifted has always been little daunting to me. So I asked my friend Chef Amanda Cushman to help. As a culinary instructor of 30 years, her job is to ease fear in the kitchen and make the art of cooking fun.  Here are Chef Amanda’s tips for a great savory soufflé:

Separating the Eggs

It is important that the eggs separate cleanly. The best way to do this is with room temperature eggs. It is simply easier when they are not cold. Chef Amanda recommends separating them into your hand. Although messy, the whites will slip through your fingers easily while the yoke remains intact.

Three bowls are also advised – one for the whites, one for the yokes, and a third to separate the eggs over. This way, if one of the eggs does not separate well, you will not lose the entire batch.

Start with the Base Mixture

The base is really everything but the beaten egg whites. The key here is no lumps, so whisk constantly during this process for a smooth batter. The base here uses Gruyere, one of my favorite melting cheeses. But most cheeses will work well in a savory soufflé. Vlaaskas, goat and cheddar are some great choices that come to mind. Just remember to include the same amount – 6 ounces.

This is really the most time-intensive part of the process so if you will be serving your soufflé to dinner guests, make it ahead of time. Amanda says that the base can be made up to one day ahead.

Beat the Egg Whites

This is the delicate part. Beat egg whites until they are stiff, but not dry. They will first become frothy, then foamy and stiff. At this point, you want to stop beating or you may end up with dry, over-beaten eggs. (Dryness is when beaten whites separate in the bowl.)

You will get the best success with a clean stainless steel or glass bowl. Amanda does not advise using plastic bowls as they can harbor traces of grease or fat, which impedes whites from getting stiff.

Combining the Mixtures

Once the egg whites are beaten, incorporate them into the base mixture. Work delicately. Start by adding about 1/3 of the meringue into the base and stir until completely combined. This is called lightening the base mixture. Then, add a little more of the stiff egg whites at a time and fold gently into the base. To fold, bring the spoon up from the bottom of the bowl and carefully turn over repeatedly until all is integrated. The idea is to keep as much lift in the mixture as possible.

Last Thoughts

Amanda says that the myth about opening the oven while a soufflé bakes is not so. Once in the oven, the mixture is hardier than most think. Don’t hesitate to test for readiness by inserting a long skewer in the center. A small amount of batter means the soufflé is done.

Once out of the oven, you will want to head directly to the table and eat it within 20 minutes. The recipe below makes a decadent casserole. I’m ready to tackle another one, and I hope you’ll give it a try, too.

Cheese Soufflé
Serves 4 

Souffle PlatedIngredients
Butter, room temperature, for greasing the ramekin
2 Tbls. grated Parmigiano Reggiano
3 Tbls. unsalted butter
3 Tbls. flour
1 tsp. dry mustard (optional)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1-1/3 cups milk, hot
4 large egg yolks (2 1/2 ounces by weight)
6 ounces gruyere or cheddar, grated
5 egg whites plus 1 Tbls water (5 1/2 ounces by weight plus 1/2 ounce water)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

  1. Grease an 8-inch soufflé ramekin with the softened butter. Add the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and roll around the dish to cover the sides. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 5 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Combine the flour, dry mustard, garlic powder, and salt in a small bowl. In a small saucepan melt the butter and whisk in the flour mixture. Cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in the hot milk and turn the heat to high. When the mixture comes to a boil, remove from the heat.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks to a creamy consistency. Temper the yolks into the milk mixture, constantly whisking. Remove from the heat and add the cheese. Whisk until incorporated.
  5. Using a hand mixer, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until glossy and firm. Add 1/4 of the mixture to the cheese base. Continue to add the whites by thirds, folding very gently.
  6. Pour the mixture into the soufflé dish filling it to 1/2-inch from the top. Place on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes until puffed and golden. Serve immediately.
Chef Amanda Cushman teaches group and private cooking classes in the shoreline area of Connecticut. Her classes can be found at www.amandacooks.com.

Chef Jay’s Starlight Gardens Spring Salad

Occasionally, guest chefs will share recipes with us for our readers. Here’s a great spring salad by Chef Jay Groton of nearby Gabrielle’s Restaurant that incorporates crumbled gorgonzola – a favorite cheese topping on salads – with Applewood smoked bacon bits, pumpkin seeds, fresh spring greens and a unique dressing. Either a good domestic variety like Black River or an Italian imported gorgonzola will work well here.

Enjoy!

Starlight Gardens Greens Salad

Starlight-Greens-Salad-making12 oz. spring lettuce mix
4 oz. crisp Applewood smoked bacon
4 oz. toasted pumpkin seeds
4 oz. gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
6 oz. marinated sundried tomatoes
4 oz. Green Goddess dressing (recipe below)

  1. Cut uncooked bacon into bite size pieces.
  2. Render off bacon in a pan on a high heat until you see “foam” in the pan.
  3. Turn off heat and leave pan over residual heat until cooking stops.
  4. Strain bacon and set aside.
  5. Spread pumpkin seeds evenly on a cookie sheet and place in preheated 350 degree oven for 7-8 minutes.
  6. In a large mixing bowl, add together washed greens, gorgonzola, bacon, pumpkin seeds, sundried tomatoes, salt and pepper. Drizzle in dressing and toss lightly until all components are evenly coated.
  7. Place finished salad in a serving bowl and serve.

Note: Chef Jay uses spring lettuces from Starlight Gardens Farm in Durham, which include kale, claytonia, spinach and bok choy.

Green Goddess Dressing
(Makes approximately 1 Cup)
2 oz. fresh tarragon
4 oz. fresh basil
2 oz. fresh chives
1 anchovy
1/8 Cup mustard
1/2 Cup olive oil
3 Tbls white vinegar
1 egg yolk
1/4 Cup sour cream

In a blender, puree white vinegar, anchovies, chives, basil and tarragon. Add mustard, egg yolk and blend again. Slowly drizzle in oil to thicken. Pour dressing into a bowl, add sour cream and stir together.

About the Chef

Chef Jay Groton enjoys creating simple and approachable food. Starting his career washing dishes at a public golf course restaurant in Clearwater, Florida, he moved north and learned “old school” Italian cooking with a co-worker from Westside Market in Rocky Hill, CT. Later, Jay attended the Connecticut Culinary Institute in Farmington, CT, and then graduated to the Culinary Institute of America in Hide Park, New York, which included an externship in San Diego, CA for Croce’s. Prior to his current position at Gabrielle’s Restaurant in Centerbrook, CT, Chef Jay worked at Bricco’s, Sigs, Grants, Straight Wharf with Steve Cavagnaro and Max on Main. Chef Jay enjoys incorporating different styles and techniques from around the world into dishes for others to experience and enjoy. He is continually creating new recipes–many of which appear on Gabrielle’s ever-changing menu. For more on Gabrielle’s, visit www.gabrielles.net.

Brewing Coffee with the French Press

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

It’s always surprising to hear how many people have never tried coffee brewed from a French press, yet this unique method of brewing has been around for a long time. Undoubtedly, this type of coffee-making is designed to produce a richer, more flavorful cup of coffee. So much so, it can often take the place of espresso after a great meal.

French Press 2The French Press produces a deeper coffee flavor, thicker brew and a slightly foamy head (or crema) as you would find on a properly-drawn espresso shot. It also allows for more freedom in extracting the precise coffee flavor you want since you control the brew length yourself. If you like a fuller European taste, you might find it difficult to go back to traditional methods of brewing once you try it.

There are a few considerations. With this method, you can’t just push a button and go about your business as you would with a traditional coffee maker. It requires a little time to watch over all aspects of brewing. This factor tends to make brewing this way a Sunday morning ritual for me, where time is not an issue, but I know French Press enthusiasts who brew this way daily. Also, clean-up is a bit more involved since you are not just disposing of a paper filter and then rinsing. Lastly, if the brew is over-extracted, a somewhat bitter cup of coffee can be produced. My instructions below should help you avoid that scenario.

How to Brew with the French Press

As with any coffee maker, you can either start with coffee that has been ground in advance or you can grind it yourself, as needed. We recommend a drip to course-grind size for this method. Remember, since you control the brew time, grind size is not as important as consistency is. Once you have determined your “recipe” (amount of grounds, length of time), stay with it.

  1. Boil enough hot water to fill the press pot.
  2. Pre-heat press pot by filling with hot water while preparing coffee, cups, etc.
  3. When ready to brew, empty water out of the now-heated press pot and add the proper amount of coffee. (See pot size recommendations below.)
  4. Wet the grounds by adding enough hot water to fill about 1/3 of the pot. Stir gently with a spoon (be careful not to tap too strongly if your pot is made of glass; a wooden spoon is best in this case). This is the process of “Wetting,” wherein you fully saturate the coffee grounds to help release some of the coffee solids that we want to extract.
  5. Once all grinds are wet, fill to within a ½ inch of the top (this amount may vary according to the size of the pot and the amount of grounds – see my suggestions regarding pot size below).
  6. Place the top on the pot to keep heat in, but don’t plunge yet.
  7. After the determined brew time (see below for recommendations on that), slowly plunge the top, being careful not to exert too much pressure. (Again, if you have a glass pot, this can cause breakage.) Cafes like to do this table-side.
  8. Pour coffee slowly into cup.

 Pot Size

There are many French Press pot sizes. Since there is no way to keep coffee hot for a prolonged time, I suggest you brew only what you will consume in a short period of time. Please use the following as a guide:

Small press pot use 1-2 approved* coffee measures.
Med press pot use 3-4 approved* coffee measures.
Large press pot use 4- 6 approved* coffee measures.

*Please note: an approved coffee measure is two level tablespoons. Use one approved measure for 4-5 oz. of water, adjust to taste.

Additional Considerations

  • Brew time is a matter of preference. Some like to plunge almost immediately after adding hot water, while some will wait as long as 4-5 minutes. The longer the brew time the stronger the coffee, of course. Once again, determine your own recipe and stick to it for consistency of flavor.
  •  I find that many people don’t time the length of the brew. The problem with this is that you will taste a great variance in flavor. You may assume the different coffees you purchase are causing the discrepancy when, in large part, your brew time is making the coffee taste different.
  • Remember also when purchasing coffee, the major difference in taste is attributable to the darkness of roast. Only after being consistent with brew will you be able to truly experience the different nuances of the coffees you buy.
  • Bear in mind that the press pot brews a stronger cup of coffee than most other brewers; it was originally designed for the European palate. Because no paper filter is used the rich coffee oils are not filtered out, leaving a more flavorful brew.
  • All roasts and flavors are good selections for press pots. You will be quite surprised how even the heavier roasts will taste smooth and delicious. It is important to realize that the same coffee brewed in a traditional coffee maker will taste totally different.

Brewing Tea

The French Press is also a great way to brew tea. As with coffee, you control the brew time, which allows you a perfect cup of tea every time. Tea leaves are allowed to flow freely in the press pot, which allows for excellent extraction.

Purchasing a Press Pot

Many new styles of brewers have come on the market over the years. You will find them made of glass, stainless steel, porcelain, thermal-protected, etc. They also come in many sizes, colors and a wide range of pricing. Some can cost much more than traditional electric high-tech coffee brewers. I would recommend that you try the French Press before you buy one to be sure this method is right for you. Many upscale restaurants offer the press pot method of brewing coffee and tea.

Side Note: the press method is great way to brew strong coffee or tea, then pour over ice for a great iced coffee or tea.

Great Cooking Cheeses

Some cheeses are really meant just for eating, while others are meant for cooking. Here are a few that do a great job at both.

Mozzarella

Cooking Cheeses

Gruyere, Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio, Dutch Vlaskaas and Mozzarella – All great cooking cheeses

You can’t mention a group of cooking cheeses without listing Mozzarella. Along with cheddar, it just so happens to be the biggest selling cheese in the United States. I think we can mostly thank pizza production for that. Originally, all mozzarella was made from buffalo milk, but today there are many kinds of mozzarellas. Standard cow’s milk mozzarella (used in most pizzas), fresh cow’s milk mozzarella and fresh buffalo milk mozzarella from Italy are a few of the many types available.

You will find that different producers will offer cheeses with different textures. Some will be fairly firm, while others are soft and very pliable – like Burrata, a type of mozzarella so soft you can almost have trouble picking it up. This is due to its soft and sweet creamy center.

Burrata does not go through a ripening process. As a result, it has a short shelf-life and is meant to be eaten soon after it’s been made. In Italy, this cheese is usually consumed within a couple of days after production. When we get Burrata from Italy, it’s already much older than Italians would consider fresh, but we still find it creamy and delicious here in the US.

It is hard to beat the versatility of this fresh cheese. It can be melted, baked, fried and blended with just about anything. A common favorite way to eat it is sliced on fresh tomatoes with fresh basil and olive oil. It would be hard to find an Italian restaurant that doesn’t offer Burrata on their menu.

Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio

Parmigiano Reggiano is one of my personal favorites, but see if you can find the Stravecchio version of this. While most Parmigianos are aged for two years, this one is aged for a third year or longer.  If you like those little cheese crystals and a full sharp flavor, you will love this cheese.

I find that more people actually treat Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio as an eating cheese rather than a cooking cheese. It’s so popular that I seldom carry the two-year aged version. It is best to buy fresh and only a supply for a week or two at a time. Grate it at home if you can.

Stravecchio is a partially skimmed-milk cheese made from raw cow’s milk. It’s a blend of morning milk mixed with the previous night’s milk that has been naturally skimmed by allowing the cream to float to the top for removal. This creates a cheese with a butterfat content ranging from 28 to 32 percent. This cheese has a D.O.C. classification, which means it meets strict Italian law. As a side note, the whey discarded when making the cheese is fed to the nearby hogs that are partially responsible for the great taste in Parma Prosciutto.

We all have tried Parmigiano Reggiano as a grating cheese, but try just breaking a piece off and eating it. You can add a little fig jam and balsamic vinegar, or acacia honey, for a real taste treat. This is the cheese you want shaved on your Caesar salad.

Never confuse Parmigiano Reggiano with cheese names like “parmesan.” These are poor imitations made in many other countries around the world. Saw dust comes to mind.

Swiss Gruyere

Few cheeses come close to the versatility of Gruyere. It gives fondue its body, onion soup it elegance and Quiche Lorraine its flavor. Because of its superb melting capabilities, Gruyere handles just about any task when it comes to cooking. It doesn’t get stringy, nor does it solidify. Heat enhances its flavor, and its keeping qualities are longer than most cheeses.

Gruyere dates back to the 12th century. Produced in 80-pound wheels with a slight, washed-rind outer covering, this cheese has almost no eye formation (holes) and a fat content of 45%. The cave-aged version is sharper and well worth the added cost.

Dutch Vlaskaas

Vlaskaas is an exceptionally versatile, medium-aged Gouda that serves not only as one of our most popular eating cheeses, but as a great cooking cheese as well. We often recommend Vlaskaas for topping burgers, chili, and as an ingredient in mac & cheese. Surprisingly, it is also a great addition to tacos and burritos, and will, in fact, melt well on many specialty foods. But this cheese pairs well with so many foods. Try it with red grapes and walnuts. In pure poundage, it’s one of our biggest sellers.

Vlaskaas comes from a great family of cheeses made by Beemster in Holland. The area where Beemster produces the cheese is actually located in a polder (a dried-up lake surrounded by a dyke) that is 20 feet below sea level. Holland has approximately 3,000 of them. In addition, the location the cows graze in is entirely pesticide-free. An added plus: this cheese is lactose-free. No surprise here that Vlaskaas touts three gold medals.

Potatoes Gratin for Winter Warming

There’s nothing like the comfort of a gratin in winter to warm you head-to-toe. This simple recipe, courtesy of Chef Amanda Cushman, delivers all of the satisfaction and flavor you could crave in a hot, baked dish. Gruyere and cream combine to provide the perfect amount of viscosity, while garlic and a generous amount of fresh-cracked pepper ramp up the flavor. Enjoy!

Potatoes GratinGratin
Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients
3 pounds potatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
Fresh pepper
2 cups cream
1 cup gruyere, grated, about ¼ pound

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 13 by 9 inch baking dish.
  2. Peel and thinly slice the potatoes.
  3. In a large saucepan whisk together the garlic, salt, pepper and cream. Add the potatoes and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, covered. Remove the lid and reduce by about half, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Season with more salt and pepper.
  4. Transfer the potatoes to the prepared dish and sprinkle with the cheese. Cover with parchment and then foil.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes, uncover and bake until the top is brown about 20 minutes. Allow the gratin to rest 10 minutes before serving.

Describing Cheese

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

This is a tough topic, but I thought it was worth a shot. Many of us, including me, can find it difficult to choose the right words to describe something they wish to purchase. At times the attempt can be quite comical. For example, I often hear this one:  “I’m looking for a cheese that’s round and yellow.” I then usually thank them for narrowing it down to a couple thousand cheeses (wink) and ask if they can describe the cheese a little further. Below are a few considerations that can help make easier work out of describing a cheese:

Size

Knowing the size of the cheese can be a very helpful start. Cheese can come in a 200-pound round, like Swiss Emmenthal, or an eight ounce round, such as Brie. Mentioning the approximate thickness of a cheese can also help to narrow it down further. For example, Brie will usually be about an inch to an inch-and-a-half thick. I say “usually” because sometimes new cheeses are created with new sizes. So simply saying you are looking for a small round cheese about an inch thick and around half a pound can quickly aid in finding that cheese.

Color

This parameter is becoming a little less helpful because of the increasing demand for natural products. Since all cheese is naturally white, when you see a colored cheese it generally means color was added. On a positive note, the usual coloring agent is Annatto, an orange-reddish color found in the crushed seeds of the Annatto tree, found in South America. Annatto adds no taste to cheese, only color.

Some of the colored cheeses still available today are:

Shropshire Blue – A blue cheese very similar to Stilton in size and shape, only with a very deepCheese for the Holidays orange color

Mimolette – Napoleon’s version of Holland’s Edam balls, who wanted them to have color in order to differentiate them from Holland’s version

Beemster XO Gouda – A very aged form of Gouda, this cheese is lactose-free and has undertones of whiskey and butterscotch

Double Gloucester – An English cheese similar to cheddar, made from milk from the Gloucester breed of cows

Cheddar – Made in various parts of the world

Rind Appearance

This can be most helpful in describing a cheese. Here are some types you might find helpful in describing rind appearance:

White Mold – The snow-like covering of the soft-ripening cheese family such as D’Affinois, Brie, Camembert and many goat cheeses

Brown-Reddish Rind – Found in the washed-rind family in cheese like Limburger, Chaumes, Pont L’Evêque. Also found in larger hard cheeses such as Appenzeller, Comte, Gruyere, Challerhocker and Morbier

Natural Rind – Cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Piave Vecchio, Emmenthal, Tomme de Savoie, Raclette, Crucolo, and Grana Padana

Waxed Rind – Many cheeses fall into this category. Goudas, Jarlsberg, Moosbacher, Black Knight Tilsit, Midnight Moon, Lamb Chopper, Parrano, etc. Cheddars are also waxed, but many have a cheese wrapping before the waxing

Cry-o-Vac – Another large group of cheeses with no rind other than a tight plastic wrapping. Examples would be: Creamed Havarti, Gjetost, Swedish Farmers Cheese, BellaVitano and all of the English cheeses with added fruit, such as Mango Stilton, Cranberry Wensleydale and Wensleydale with fig and honey.

Foil Cheeses – Almost all blue cheeses come wrapped in foil

Liquid Container – Many cheeses are packed in liquid for preservation and flavor, such as Feta in salt brine and goat cheese in oil

Texture

The texture of cheese can be a great help in describing. Is the cheese spreadable, creamy, crumbly, airy, grainy, dry, sticky, rich, tangy, firm, soft, hard, and so on?

Aroma

You will not soon forget the aroma of Stinking Bishop from England. I keep it double-wrapped and in the closed-door walk-in refrigerator. It will make a limburger seem sweet and innocent. Most of your washed-rind cheeses have this pungent smell. Soft-ripening cheeses can often have a subtle smell on mushrooms. You will also find some cheeses having the following aromas:  buttery, grassy, earthy, smoky and even “barnyardy”.

 Flavor

Last, but not least, if you can describe the flavor, the search can come to a quick conclusion.

Is the cheese sharp, sweet, pungent, lemony, nutty, or fruity? Sharp and pungent are often misconstrued. I define sharp as well-aged cheddar versus pungent being the strong taste of Limburger or Chaumes, and of course, Stinking Bishop.

Success

If you can describe the size of the cheese, its color, the type of rind, the texture, the aroma, and a little of the flavor characteristics, there’s a good chance your cheesemonger can find your cheese – or maybe another cheese very similar to it.

If all else fails, cheat. Use your smart phone to take a picture of it.

Our Year in Pictures

2014 was a great year for us, and many of you were a part of it. Here’s a look at some of the fun. Thanks for the memories!

Cheese for the Holidays

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

Here comes the time of year when entertaining is at its peak. The list is endless: dinner parties, luncheons, holiday parties, small gatherings and so forth. It matters not the occasion; food is always involved, and what could be easier and more satisfying than an array of cheese? It always seems to be the first appetizer to disappear.

Since this is the time of the year for celebrations and entertaining, I thought a few suggestions and guidelines might be in order.

Cheese Buying

One of the first items to determine is how much cheese to buy. I always start with some basic questions. How many people, what else is being served, what time of day is the event, how long is the event, and will there be alcohol?

Cheese Tray 2Let’s address some of the obvious issues. If there will be plenty of other appetizers, you might need less cheese. If the party is going to be in the late afternoon or just before dinner, everyone will be hungry and more cheese will be consumed. Will it be a one-hour gathering or an all evening affair? And most importantly, will there be wine and other alcoholic beverages being served? This last question can really alter your needs. Events with wine can double your cheese requirement.

My formula works well:

Short event, many other appetizers, early afternoon, not dinner time, no alcohol:

1-1.5 oz. cheese per person

Safe range, some other appetizers, wine will be served, close to dinner:

2-3 oz. cheese per person

Long event, wine, no other appetizers, just before dinner:

3-4 oz. cheese per person

The larger amount of people, the smaller amount of cheese per person you’ll want to serve. The opposite is also true. If you are having a small group, say four guests, you would most likely want four 6-8 oz. pieces of cheese just to make your tray presentation look good. Whatever has not eaten can be saved for another day.

Presentation

As with all foods, we taste with our eyes first. So it’s important to make the cheese tray look appealing. This is accomplished by including a variety of cheese families, perhaps soft-ripening, washed rind, blue, Gouda, goat – just to name a few. Also, arrange your selection by color and shape and add an assortment of grapes, pears, dried fruit, nuts, olives, etc. Be careful about nuts; there could be someone with an allergy. You may want to arrange nuts in their own separate container if you are not sure. Also consider adding to your cheese selection a nice pairing of accoutrements such as Acacia honey, balsamic vinegar, fig spread, or a wide range of preserves and other toppings.

I usually start with a centerpiece of grapes then place the cheeses neatly around them. Don’t worry about voids; they can be filled in later with figs, dried apricots, pear and so forth. If you want to fill empty spaces with crackers, be sure to put them on the tray just before serving. If you place crackers on early and wrap the tray with plastic wrap, the crackers will absorb moisture from the cheese and become somewhat soggy, undermining the overall taste of the tray.

I also always highly recommend using whole wedges of cheese rather than small, cubed pieces prepared ahead of time. Cubed cheeses tend to dry out quickly due to mass exposure to the air. One plus to using whole wedges is that any leftovers can usually be saved for another day. Cubed leftovers are usually too dried out and not very eye-appealing. You can slice the rind off the two sides of a wedge of cheese and just leave the back rind for a little protection from the air for that possibility of salvage for another day.

Serving suggestions

All cheese should be served at room temperature. Usually an hour at room temperature is ample unless you’ll be serving outside on a hot summer day. In that case, fifteen minutes would provide enough time to bring the cheese to proper temperature. Try to leave everything wrapped until serving time to avoid any possibility of cheeses drying out. Remember to add crackers at the very last moment to prevent sogginess.

I like the use of condiments but find it a better practice to place them on the tray with the cheese, but not on the cheese. It’s easier to add a condiment to cheese rather than remove it. In addition, the cheese platter will become messy and unappetizing in short order. It’s also a good idea to have a separate knife or spreader for each cheese. Slap the hand of someone using the blue knife on the Brie.

I also like to use labels to name cheeses because most people like to know what they are eating. You may also wish to label the type of milk: goat, sheep, cow and buffalo. This can help those with certain allergies. There are many lactose-free cheeses and certain people would be happy to have that knowledge. You can find nice reusable porcelain or slate cheese markers for this purpose.

Lastly, try to resist the temptation of only serving your favorites.

A Perfect Side Dish for Your Thanksgiving Table

Occasionally we receive great recipes from notable chefs in the area. Here’s Chef Amanda Cushman‘s Stuffed Acorn Squash with Parsley Walnut Pesto, a recipe that entertains beautifully anytime, but especially around Thanksgiving. Not only impressive to look at, this dish is equally scrumptious and not difficult to undertake at all.

I was curious about this twist on traditional pesto so I tried it myself. So good! You will love the depth of flavor the Parmigiano Reggiano brings throughout.

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Parsley Walnut Pesto
Serves 4

Ingredients

2 acorn squash, halved, seeded
3 cups Italian parsley, washed, stems removed
1/2 cup walnut pieces
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp pepper
4 Tb. grated Parmigiano Reggiano, to garnish

Procedure

  1. Heat the oven to 375.
  2. Place the acorn squash, cut side down on a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes until tender. Allow to cool. Reduce the oven to 350. Scoop out most of the pulp, leaving a 1/4 inch with the shell intact. Cut the halves into half again there will be 8 wedges.
  3. Transfer the pulp to a food processor. Add the parsley, walnuts, garlic, cheese, and olive oil. Process until smooth. Add salt and pepper and taste for seasoning. If the mixture is too thick, add water to adjust the consistency.
  4. Scoop the pesto into the squash shells and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the filling is hot. Serve warm garnished with grated parmesan.
Amanda Cushman is a chef instructor as well as cookbook author. Her classes are offered along the shoreline in private homes, as well as at Homeworks and White Gate Farm. For more information or a list of upcoming classes go to www.amandacooks.com.

Best Buys

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

If you do a general comparison, you will find that domestic cheeses are generally more expensive than their European counterparts. The amount can vary anywhere from six to twelve dollars per pound on average.  For example, Bucheron goat cheese from France will range from sixteen to eighteen dollars per pound, while domestic Humboltd Fog goat cheese will range from twenty six to thirty dollars per pound. The reason, I’m told, is that Europeans tend to support cheese while Americans favor supporting milk. I’m still searching for a better answer; I just wanted to make you aware of the issue.

Most people are continually looking for a good deal. My definition of a good deal is value – buying something of great quality at a very good price. Cheese and specialty foods are no exception. The following list represents a few specialty goods that meet my requirements of a best buy.

Saint Nectaire ($12 to $14 per pound)

This great cheese has been around since the 17th century. It’s a small round, about four pounds, with a natural, edible rind, very creamy texture and mild flavor – quite similar to Reblochon, with a hint of mushrooms and hazelnuts. The butter fat content in this cheese is 45% in dry matter. Saint Nectaire comes from the Auvergne region of France and is made from cow’s milk, either raw or pasteurized.  Unlike Reblochon, which is not permitted in the country due to the raw milk 60-day rule, this cheese is older and allowed in. This is a great buy.

 Black River Gorgonzola ($13 to $15 per pound)

Black River Gorgonzola

Black River Gorgonzola

This is a great quality domestic blue cheese from Wisconsin. It has great taste and a richness that is usually found in much more expensive cheeses. Black River is both a great eating cheese and a great cooking cheese. Other domestic blues will reach upwards of $30 per pound. Here is a great Gorgonzola sauce for pasta, especially nice on wild mushroom ravioli.

Easy Gorgonzola Sauce

 2 Tbls butter
2 shallots, minced
1 tsp thyme (optional)
1 pint of light cream or half & half
¾ pound of Black River Gorgonzola

In a medium sauce pan, combine butter, shallots and thyme. Sauté on low heat for 5 minutes, then add cream (or half & half) and Gorgonzola. Continue to cook on medium heat, stirring frequently until cheese is melted. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Leerdammer ($13 to $15 per pound)

This semi-soft, part-skim milk cheese is made in Holland. It has the large eye formations typically found in Swiss-style cheeses (you know, the ones with the holes). Leerdammer is very similar to Jarlsberg, but I prefer its flavor. Please don’t get excited about the part-skim label; this is not a low-fat cheese. In most cases, when a cheese is made with part-skim milk, it simply means that some of the butterfat has been removed. Limiting the butterfat is usually done only to a certain percentage as to control consistency in cheese-making. Remember, cows produce milk with different butterfat contents.

Australian Marinated Sheep and Goat Cheese Blend ($11 to $13 per pound)

No fancy name surrounds this wonderful cheese, marinated in oil. A blend of fresh herbs and peppercorn also adds great flavor. This is great on crackers or a baguette. For a special treat, try brushing a thin coating of olive oil on a fresh-sliced baguette after toasting, then top with a little fresh mozzarella and the marinated cheese blend. You’ll be back for more.

 Goat Brie ($10 to $12 per 6.5oz cheese)

This is a great triple crème (75% butterfat) brie made by Woolwich dairy in Ontario Canada. The first thing you will notice is the very white color, which is typical of goat cheese. Most domestic Bries and Camemberts of equal quality will sell for almost double the price.

 Garafalo Italian Pasta ($3.49 to $6.49, depending on shape)

This is a great line of pastas from Italy, made from 100% durum wheat semolina. In addition to the great taste, I also like how forgiving this pasta is; if overcooked a little, they still stay al dente (still firm to the bite).

When it comes to wine, in my opinion, better wines generally tend to be higher priced. There’s an old belief that if you don’t know the wines on a menu, when all else fails let price be your guide. This will usually work.  There’s usually a correlation between price and quality with wines; however, when it comes to cheese, not so much. High price is no guarantee of a great cheese, or low price the sign of a poor quality one. I find that cheeses that have been around for hundreds of years tend to be at a lower or more moderate pricing, in contrast to the new cheese on the block that may start out really high. Please remember, a cheese labeled “artisanal” it not always a guarantee that it is.  As I always say, try before you buy.

Choosing Cheddars

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

One of the most common and well-known cheeses in the world originated in England, in the village of Cheddar in Somerset.  Cheddar still represents about half of the cheese consumption in England, second only to mozzarella in the United States. Cheddar is known for the cheddar-type cut curd from which it is made.

Contrary to popular opinion, Cheddar is naturally pale white unless color is added. The push for natural food production has caused a decrease in not only colored cheddars, but most cheeses. Some might remember old-fashioned store cheese, sometimes referred to as “Rat Cheese”, which was usually a deep yellow-orange color.

375px-Somerset-Cheddar

Somerset Cheddar

England is known for both farmhouse, referred to as artisan today, and factory types of cheddar. Although factory cheese is more common and less expensive, farm-produced cheeses are of much better quality and well worth the additional cost, in the same way Grand Cru selections are superior to table wines.

You will find that cheddars come in all different sizes and shapes, and like all cheeses, the size will make a difference in the taste. Since all cheese ripens from the outside in, a large 40-pound wheel will ripen differently than a small five-to-ten pound wheel. Some will have a natural rind with a combination of cheese cloth and wax, while others might have a plastic rind. Then there’s the small, any-size waxed or plastic-coated cheddar, which are usually stamped or cut out of larger wheels. What’s left of the original cheese in this process turns in to cold pack or processed cheese. It’s very important to taste these offerings because they will vary immensely.

After its origination in England, cheddar soon became popular in other countries. Today, two of its largest producers are Canada and the United States.  As a general statement, Canadian cheddar is most often similar to farm-style cheddar while United States cheddar will vary between both styles. Cheese production in both countries far outweighs English production.

In our history, New York was originally the largest producer of cheddar, but that soon spread to Vermont and Wisconsin. The latter is the largest producer in our country today.

Bitter Taste that Bites the Tongue

Most likely, a less-than-desired taste found in cheddar can be traced back to poor milk quality, forced curing (aging) or pasteurized milk.

Years ago, we would always order forty-pound flats (round natural-rind cheese) made in May or June. This was back when grass was producing the richest, best milk (you know, the time of year when you need to mow the lawn twice a week). Then we would age them for at least three years. Milk quality was important. Grass-fed cows produced better milk then cows fed on dry hay or silage. Bitter milk will produce bitter cheese.

Forced curing was often the second problem. One can quicken the ripening process by aging cheese under warmer temperatures, but often the end result is a bitter cheese that bites the tongue and often has a bitter, sour taste.

Third, as a general rule, raw-milk cheddars tend to have a better, more flavorful taste then those made from pasteurized milk. It is my opinion that raw milk cheeses last longer and truly benefit better from long-time aging.

Although sharpness is important in choosing cheddar, I feel the finish is even more important. I would rather have a milder, smooth-tasting cheese with a pleasant finish that a very aged, sharp cheese that bites you back at the end. Cheddars are not consistent. Don’t assume that because a particular brand of cheddar, or a cheese made in the same region or state, was great one time, it will be equally so the next time. Try it.

There is also another type of cheddar referred to as cold pack cheese. You may know it as port wine cheese, garlic, horseradish, blue, and so on. These can be eaten plain or made into cheese balls or logs. You can find them with added items such as fruit, nuts, herbs, spices, etc. Cold pack cheeses are still very popular cheeses and sold in big volumes.

The difference with cold pack cheese is that they start as natural cheddars that are grated and heated to stop most, but not all, of the bacteria growth. As a result, they will keep for long periods of time but still require refrigeration, unlike processed cheese. Cold packs are generally quite consistent and the better quality brands can be very good.  Most of the cheese spreads you buy are made from these cold pack cheddars; some will use a cream cheese base.

Do You Know of Cheshire Cheese?

A relative to cheddar that is also made in England, Cheshire is a nice alternative to cheddar when looking for something similarly sharp, but a little different then cheddar. Cheshire is a predecessor to cheddar by 500 years. It is native to England because of the Cheshire County soil, grazing lands and rich deposits of salt. Cheshires tend to be crumbly in texture and tangy, almost tart. They are worth a try.

My Recommended Cheddar

Quebec 7-year is one of my favorite cheddars. It has all of the requirements I like in a cheddar: very sharp, great crystallization, natural coloring, great consistency and a perfectly smooth finish (no bite or sourness). You will pay more for its seven years under refrigeration, but it is well worth it.

How to Properly Wrap and Store Cheese

By Paul Partica

Wrap and Store CheeseHave you ever opened a wedge of cheese, cut a small piece off, then rolled the remaining wedge back into the same wrap and returned it to the fridge?  If you answered yes, you are in great company.  Then, have you ever re-opened that same recently-purchased delicacy shortly after, only to find it moldy and dried out?  If you answered yes to that question, you are also in great company.  The common, resulting assumption from this scenario is to believe you have bought an old or overripe piece of cheese.  But more than likely, your wrap job was the culprit.  It is important to protect your perishable investment, so let’s discuss the best ways to do that.

The Introduction of Cheese Paper

This new, two-layered product has been developed in recent years to help keep cheese properly.  The outer layer, similar to waxed paper, prevents moisture from escaping.  Its slightly porous inner layer allows for optimal humidity, keeping cheese from drying out.  It also allows for an oxygen exchange, which allows the cheese to breathe.  These qualities are especially important with soft-ripening, Brie-style cheeses in that they inhibit white mold from growing.

The theory here is that two-ply paper simulates the cheese cave environment, where cheeses have traditionally been aged.  The constant air moment and humidity in cheese paper allow cheeses to be kept at their best condition.

The Use of Plastic Wrap

The second and most commonly used method for cheese storage is some sort of plastic wrap, such as Saran.  The main difference between cheese paper and plastic wrap is that the latter maintains all moisture, without the exchange of oxygen.

Although marketing might have us using only this new cheese paper, I have to say that when used properly, I have also had great results using plastic wrap over the years.  The key to using plastic wrap is to always replace the piece every time the cheese is opened.  It only clings properly the first time, so subsequent uses will not ensure air tightness, the absence of which allows cheese to dry and mold.  In addition, any surface mold that might be present on the cheese before cutting will be re-introduced to the newly-cut surface.

In Consideration

In my opinion, the practice of keeping cheese in this “cave-like” condition is very important –   not only when a cheese is first made, but during its normal aging period.  At this time, the cheese has not yet been cut.  It has its own natural rind surrounding the cheese and this keeps it from drying.

Once the cheese is ready for consumption, however, you have different conditions.  The cut cheese now has an exposed new surface, void of any rind.  The moisture loss barrier is removed.  It then becomes even more necessary to protect the cheese from drying.  In addition, once you cut a soft-ripening Brie-style cheese, for example, and expose the new surface to air, it will no longer continue to ripen.  Your only course at this point is to maintain moisture.

Both methods of preserving cheese described above will work, if used properly.  I personally use both and I have great results.  The best strategy, however, may be in how you buy your cheese.

The Solution

First, cheese should be in good condition when you buy it.  Overripe Brie will taste bad no matter how you keep it.  And appearances can fool, so I always recommend that you try the cheese first.

Second, buy fresh cut.  Cheeses cut weeks ago and then placed in a Cryovac will have a plastic taste.  At that point, you might need to cut fairly deep into the cheese to taste its real flavor.  If you buy a half-pound cheese this way, you might find that only the inner quarter-pound will taste the way you expected it to.

Certain aged cheeses, such as Pecorino, Parmigiano and Swiss, can keep for a longer period of time, but without their natural rind, they too will lose that fresh-cut taste.  No wrap of any kind will compete with a natural rind.  For this reason, we need to constantly replace our cheeses.  There is a large waste factor present in keeping this policy, but the difference in taste is worth it.  You will notice the difference.

Lastly, buy what only you need for short-term consumption.  The idea of bulk purchasing rarely works well in this instance.

Don’ts

The use of baggies or zip-lock bags should be a last resort.  There is too much oxygen available in this type of storage, causing mold and drying.   After wrapping cheeses properly, you can then place them in such storage for additional help in controlling moisture loss.  Also, many recommend wrapping cheese in moist cheese cloth.  I personally have had no luck with this method.

Most of the matter of ripening, aging, and controlling moisture loss is really an issue that should have been handled prior to your purchase.  You will save money, avoid loss and be happier if you buy cheese in proper condition.  In short, buy fresh, buy only what you need, and taste before you buy.

All About Acacia Honey

Acacia Tree

Acacia Bush

By Paul Partica

For me, there was a time when the thought of pairing honey with cheese would never have happened.  Now I can’t seem to make a cheese tray for myself without it.  That’s all because of Acacia honey, a magnificent golden gift from the bees.

With a mild, sweet, floral flavor that pairs well with almost all cheeses, Acacia honey is so different compared with most honeys I have tasted.  This varietal is never bitter or overpowering, even with the most delicate of cheeses.  Its exception light color is actually transparent.  I always enjoy introducing Acacia to a first-time customer.  The smile of delight and surprise on their face is, well, worth an article in Ink Magazine.

Acacia honey actually comes from a relative of the Acacia tree called Robinia, according to Ilyse Rathet, founder of Ritrovo Italian Regional Foods in Washington.  The tree was introduced to Italy during the explorations of the New World, about the same time that tomatoes also came to Italy.  It grew so well in the Mediterranean climate that it became abundant in the hills and lowlands throughout Italy.  Although it took on the common name of “acacia” in Italian, the honey is actually made from the early spring harvest of the hanging flowers of Robinia trees.

Ilyse also states that, “The honey’s clear, crystalline texture is due to a high proportion of fructose rather than glucose as its naturally occurring sugar.  This is an advantage as the honey is totally raw, and unfiltered, but still will not crystallize as do honeys which are naturally high in glucose.”

Acacia HoneyI’ve also been told that because of its low sucrose content and high fructose level, it would be good for diabetics.  There are also claims of other medical benefits and anti-bacterial properties.  It is also supposed to help cleanse the liver, and condition the intestines.  Check with your doctor or nutritionist on this.  For me, it’s about the taste, and it is one of my favorite toppings for cheese.

So what do I pair it with? Here is a partial list that I recommend:

  • Blue Cheese on a crusted baguette or crackers such as Rain Coast Crisps
  • Parmigiano Reggiano or Piave Vechio
  • All soft ripening cheeses, Bries, double and triple cremes
  • All goat and sheep cheeses, hard or soft
  • Drizzle on pastries or fresh croissants
  • Drizzle on breakfast foods and yogurts
  • Pair with fresh figs, blue cheese and walnuts
  • Baked goods, fruit pies, etc.
  • Beverages – use in place of sugar in blended drinks
  • Add to Prosecco or champagne for a little sweetness
  • Fresh fruits
  • Making syrups and dressings
  • Use in coffee and tea

As you can see, Acacia goes with just about anything.  Once you try it you’ll be hooked.  It will soon become a regular part of your diet.

On a sad note, last year’s harvest was at a record low so it can be considered more precious than ever.

My Top 10: The Conundrum

By Paul Partica

Paul at the counterI’m often asked, “What’s your favorite cheese”? My response is usually this: “It depends on what mood I’m in.”

This is often met with dismay. It’s true, though. I have so many that it’s hard to pick just one. I’m sure it is hoped I will divulge a favorite, so it can be tried and might become someone else’s as well. But it’s just not that simple. My Dad always said,” You can eat lobster every day, but after a week a steak will look pretty good.” So my answer is: It depends on what mood I’m in.

Many factors can affect my decision. My beverage of choice would be a great influence – wine vs. beer or a non-alcoholic beverage. Is the cheese going to be a snack, a dessert, an appetizer, or is it going to be the main meal? Other points to consider are whether I will be eating this cheese by itself, or pairing it with fruit, balsamic vinegar, honey, or any other accoutrement.

After saying all that, here is my Top Ten. This is based on my thoughts today. If asked tomorrow, well…who knows what new cheese may show itself upon my door. The following list is not in any particular order:

1. Piave Vecchio, Aged (cow)

This Parmigiano Reggiano style cheese will always make my top five. It’s fairly sharp and full of flavor and goes well with most foods and salads. It makes a good eating cheese, as well as a great cooking cheese, when used in place of Reggiano or Grana Padana. It also pairs well with a Vodka Martini, I hear, and makes a great dessert with Acacia Honey from Italy.

2. Appenzeller Extra or Black (cow)

This is a very flavorful cheese from Switzerland. The cheese is aged in a secret bath of white wine and at least a dozen different herbs, roots, and spices. Less than two percent of Switzerland’s production becomes the aged or “Black” version. In addition to being a great tasting cheese, it adds great depth to a pot of Fondue.

3. Fromage D’Affinois (cow)

I choose Fromage D’Affinois for my soft-ripening cheese for the same reason most of my customers do. It is rich and creamy, unlike the imported Bries and Camemberts you find today. It maintains a fairly steady consistency, delivers a great flavor and is usually available. This does not mean that I’m not always on the lookout for another good soft-ripening cheese.

4. Eppoisse (cow)

This is a washed rind cheese made in the Burgundy region of France. (See last month’s issue of Ink Magazine on the subject of washed rind cheeses.) I consider it the Chateau Lafitte Rothschild of cheese. When ripe and ready and served at room temperature it’s the perfect fondue, just cut through the top, scoop out and spread on a baguette.

5. Lakes Edge (goat)

There are so many quality goat cheeses to choose from, it’s hard to pick just one. Many great local varieties are now available at farmers markets, gourmet food stores and, of course, Cheese Shops. If I had to pick one, it would be Lakes Edge. Very similar to Humboltd Fog from California, it is recognized by its distinctive line of wood ash spreading across the middle. Originally, ash was used to separate two layers of cheese, one made from the morning milk and the second from the evening milk production. The ash stopped the cheese from forming a natural rind until the second layer was added. I feel it’s more used for appearance these days. This cheese is made by Blue Ledge Farm in Vermont.

6. Stilton (cow)

Stilton is also in my personal top five. Known as the “king of cheese “by many, it has a blue vein within a mild cheddar base. I like it as an appetizer but even more as a dessert when mixed with sweet butter, table water biscuits and a glass of vintage Port wine. In fact, it’s a favorite dessert of mine. An old piece of Stilton can be beautifully revived by removing the rind, mixing the cheese with a little Port wine, then spreading this on a slice of pear, with maybe a walnut or two.

7. Fresh Mozzarella (buffalo or cow)

Who doesn’t like fresh Mozzarella? I will look for a reason to use it. Mention a vine-ripened tomato, some fresh basil, good olive oil, and my night is complete. Originally, mozzarella was made from buffalo milk, and it still is in Italy. This version has a little more tang to it than the cow’s milk offering. Where would pizza be without it?

8. Quebec 7-Year Aged Cheddar (cow)

Finding very aged cheddar, with both sharpness and a smooth finish, is hard to achieve. Too often cheddars are pushed, or ripened, at warmer temperatures to get them sharp faster. The result can often be bitter. The Quebec 7-year cheddar is perfection.

9. Abbaye de Belloc (sheep)

This is a 100% sheep milk cheese made in the Basque region of France. I prefer it over Manchego because of its smooth and creamy finish.

10. Kinsman Ridge (cow)

This would be my new favorite cheese of all the new ones. I was just introduced to it a few months ago. I really like the layers of flavor found in this slightly washed rind cheese made from raw milk.

If you have been following my educational series and blog articles on the subject of cheese families, you may have noticed that each cheese above comes from a different cheese family. My reason for this? I like variety. I wouldn’t pick five cheddars, for example, or place five different Bries on the same tray.

So this is my top 10 list of cheeses, but don’t hold me to it. If you asked me tomorrow…

RiverFare 2014

In May, we once again supported the Connecticut River Museum by contributing a full spread of our best cheeses at their annual fundraiser and fabulous food-tasting event. The lawn was full of food tables from various venues – all for limitless tasting, with great wines and sweeping views of the Connecticut River. It was all for a great cause – to help promote the museum’s mission to continue preserving the history and heritage of the Connecticut River Valley. Click here for a gallery of photos from that night.

A Primer on Washed Rind Cheeses

By Paul Partica

Ever since I was a kid, I have always loved the old Abbott and Costello movies.  One particular favorite of mine brings me back to the scene where Lou, working as a soda jerk, is having difficulty making a Limburger cheese sandwich.  The smell is so foul he can’t breathe and almost passes out.

Limburger-WikipediaOf course, this makes for a good slapstick comedy routine in the movies, but an overripe cheese in the Limburger family will certainly get your attention.  In days gone by, I often heard the story of a trick played on someone by placing some Limburger on the manifold of their car (this was before car hoods had locks), then leaving it to melt once the engine was hot.  I was told it was difficult to be next to the car – let alone sit in it – once the fumes came through the heating system.  Of course, this is only hearsay.

I have a customer who buys Stinking Bishop English, which cheese makes Limburger seem sweet and innocent.  He then flies to the Caribbean for vacation.  I am convinced that no matter how crowded the plane gets, once he opens the cheese, he gets all the room he wants in the cabin.

Yes, this cheese family gets a bum rap, but it may not be truly deserved.  When served at the correct ripeness, these cheeses are exceptional and are often the most flavorful cheese on the tray.  To me, they are as important as having a soft-ripening (brie-style) cheese.  I hope you had a chance to read last month’s article in Ink on the subject.

Soft-washed rind cheeses are somewhat similar to Brie in that they are young, typically small and require proper ripening techniques.  Also like Brie, they import into this country at about thirty days old and have a short window of opportunity where they are in perfect condition for consumption.  They also follow the same 60-day guidelines as soft ripening cheeses with regard to the FDA rule requiring they be made from pasteurized milk in order to be allowed in to the US.

Washed rind cheeses get their name from their production process.  Instead of the white mold used in soft-ripening cheeses, a smear bacterial solution is applied.  This briny solution, washed on the outside of the cheese, will promote good bacteria and fungi while limiting the growth of undesirable molds.  It also gives the cheese an orange or pinkish color.  Don’t worry; the briny solution is safe and only adds to the flavor.

In addition to the family of young, soft-washed rind cheeses, there are aged and firm ones too.  These cheeses are also full of flavor and used in cooking, as well as just eating.

Soft and Young Washed Rind Cheeses

Éppoisse

Made in the Burgundy region of France, this is one of the most well-known cheeses in the family.  The famous Brillat-Savarin declared it the “King of Cheese”.   Similar to Brie, you need to be very careful in your purchase.  In addition to proper ripeness, this cheese needs to have the right moisture content.  If it becomes even a little dry, saltiness will occur.  This is an expensive cheese, but well worth it if the proper conditions are met.

Limburger

This German version is equally famous.  It is usually shaped in a small rectangle, about an inch-and-a-half by four inches.  Just when the cheese ripens, it has a wonderful flavor, with little aroma.  I like to sample it to customers without telling its name, then enjoy the look on people’s faces when they find out what it is.  The cheese is often paired with a baguette or dark pumpernickel bread and coated with thin-sliced raw onion.

Fromage de Chaumes

This is one of my favorite cheeses.  It is slightly larger in size and has a wheel shape of about 9 inches in diameter by 1-1/4 inches thick.  The rind is totally edible, but you need to buy only those that have been well cared for.  Too often this cheese is found improperly wrapped, causing the rind to coarsen and develop an unpleasant odor.  Fromage de Chaumes is another great cheese to serve with thinly sliced onions.  Its pretty color adds nicely to an array of cheese.

French Munster

This is not to be confused with the Muenster found in the supermarket; they share nothing in common.  This is a small cheese, about two to four inches in size, sharing similar characteristics to Fromage de Chaumes.  It too must be eaten at the right time.

Firm and Aged Washed Rind Cheeses

Appenzeller

200px-AppenzellerOne of my favorite cheeses from Switzerland, this cheese has been made for over 750 years.  Unlike Swiss Emmental, it has little or no holes.  It is given a bath in a special hidden formula of white wine, spices, roots, herbs etc. and even I do not know the secret ingredients.  This is a great cheese, and a little of it is often added to Fondue for more developed flavor.  Be sure to try the extra-aged black label version; it is well worth the extra cost.

Gruyere Cheese

This cheese is also from Switzerland and also found without holes.  It is very versatile and has great melting qualities, lending itself well to cooked dishes such as Fondue, Quiche Lorraine, French onion soup, just to name a few.  It is also known for its great keeping quality.

The above list is just a small sample of the great cheeses in this family.  I suggest not to get bogged down with the names.  Instead, the next time you find yourself in a Cheese Shop, simply ask what washed rind cheeses do they currently have that are in peak condition.  As always, “try before you buy.”

Bries and Other Soft-Ripening Cheeses

By Paul Partica

One of the most popular of all cheese families, and probably the most misunderstood, is the soft-ripening type.  Often, when describing a certain cheese to a customer as “soft-ripening,” many nod their head in polite agreement but seem to have no idea of what I am talking about.   This is why those of us in the cheese business will most often just define a soft-ripening cheese as “Brie-like.”  Most people know what kind of cheese Brie is and can readily identify with it in those terms.

Mushroom BriejpgI think it’s time to discuss this very important cheese group in a little more detail.  Soft-ripening cheeses are very young cheeses that vary in weight anywhere between eight ounces and five pounds, but can sometimes be as large as three kilos in size (seven to eight lbs).  This type of young cheese starts with an introduction of bacteria called Penicillium Candidum (Camberti), which is sprayed on the outside of the cheese.  This produces a white mold which is often referred to as the “fleur” or “bloomy rind.”  A young cheese might look like it was just lightly snowed upon.  This is done as soon as the cheese is firm enough to keep its shape.  At this stage the cheese is somewhat hard and has a chalky texture.  It would be slightly bitter to the taste if tried.

Goat Brie RThe center of the cheese is referred to as the core.  As the snow-like mold does its work, the cheese will begin to ripen from the outside in.  The ripened part will soften and change to a supple, creamy texture that can be described as having a delicate “earthy” flavor, with a faint hint of mushrooms.  If the cheese were to be cut in half, you would see three layers:  a hard chalky white center covered by a softer, somewhat thick honey-like top, and a bottom layer.  When the cheese core fully disappears the cheese is considered ripe.

All of this action takes place within the first thirty days in the life of a soft-ripening cheese.  The cheese is now ready for shipping.  If any soft-ripening cheeses are destined to be shipped to the United States, they must be made from pasteurized milk, according to FDA’s regulations.  This is so that any harmful bacterial will be killed off by the good bacteria.  After 60 days, cheese is considered safe for consumption, but since soft-ripening cheeses are imported before they are 60 days old, they do not meet the requirement.  No cheeses under 60 days old that were not made with pasteurized milk are allowed in our country.  Period.

When these young cheeses make their way in to food stores they have a short shelf life of three to five weeks.  If the cheese continues to ripen past that time, unwelcome changes start to take place.  The white snowy mold will begin to change to a reddish brown color and ammonia, a by-product of bacteria growth, will become present.  The cheese will actually smell of ammonia.  A cheese in this condition will often be referred to as “ammoniated.”  At this point, the cheese has become too strong and offensive to eat.

Most cheese aficionados are aware of the ripening process and know how important it is to have a cheese in perfect condition.  It is a delicate dance.  If eaten too young, the cheese will have no flavor.  If eaten too old, the cheese will be overly strong, with too pungent a taste.

Unfortunately, proper ripening is only half the issue.  Moisture loss can be even more important.  If the cheese is not kept under proper conditions, regardless of the age of the cheese, it can become dry and hard, losing all the creaminess you would expect from a soft-ripening cheese.  This moisture loss is dependent on maintaining proper humidity levels during refrigeration, as well as proper wrapping.  If a soft-ripened cheese is very firm to the touch and has a hard rind, it is likely the cheese is already past its prime.  So if you are in search of the perfect cheese, you need to be aware of the age of the cheese, and how it was treated along the way.

In evaluating the condition of your cheese, you must also take into consideration its temperature.  A warm, 75-degree cheese can mask the hard core.  The opposite is also possible, wherein an extremely cold cheese could give the appearance of a big core still present.

You also need to consider is the thickness of the cheese.  Brie-like cheeses with a thickness of an inch or less should be fully ripe when eaten.  However, you might find a thick soft-ripening cheese of about two to three inches, like Humboldt Fog, too overripe on the outside if you waited for the inside to be fully ripe.  So with this kind of cheese, you would eat a thick soft-ripening cheese somewhere in between young all-core and fully ripe.  This would be strictly a matter of taste.

One problem to bring to your attention is the matter of Brie and Camembert.  Earlier I mentioned the need for these cheeses which are under 60 days old to be made from pasteurized milk.  Well the matter has been taken even further.  Many years ago, ten to fifteen approximately, the cheeses were further over-stabilized to give certain markets a long shelf life.  Did you notice how these cheeses never get soft and runny?  Once upon a time, the definition of Brie was a soft creamy cheese that, when ripe, runs like honey.  As a result, I sell very few Bries or Camemberts these days.  I would also like to clarify that Brie and Camembert are very much the same cheese, both sharing largely the same recipe, the only true differences being the location where they are made and the size of the cheese.  A Camembert is usually eight ounces while Brie will vary, up to seven or eight pounds.  If the Brie was made to an eight ounce size, the only difference in taste would be due to the age or condition of the cheese.  When buying these cheeses forget the name; think only of the condition.

To review, in purchasing a great soft-ripening cheese you need to be aware of how ripe the cheese is, what the moisture loss has or has not been, and what the current temperature of the cheese is.  I’ve said this before, but now even more important than ever is the need to try before you buy.

Wine and Cheese, Please 

Triple Logos

On March 24, 2014, we teamed up with Angelini Wine and Swing Bridge Wine & Spirits for an evening tasting exceptional wines and cheeses, all in support of the Eastern Connecticut Lions Club. Classical accoustic guitarist John Birt generously provided the music. Click here for fun photos from the night.

Espresso 101

By Paul Partica

I’m sure that most of you, if asked, would likely say espresso was invented in Italy.  You would be wrong.  It was invented in France in 1822.  It was, however, perfected in Italy soon after.  The Italians are credited for most of the inventions with regard to espresso machines and techniques.

Espresso TableThere are well over 200,000 espresso bars and cafes in Italy.  Espresso and cappuccino are not just mere beverages to be bought and sold, but rather important social and cultural experiences to be treasured and enjoyed as often as possible.

Steps for a Great Espresso

Over 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed yearly.  If you consider the effort put forth, from seed to cup, you can begin to understand the passion that goes into every brew.  As simple as this small one-and-one-half ounce beverage would appear, it can be quite difficult to achieve.  Here are just some of the many steps required to reach a great shot of espresso.

  • The coffee must be properly grown and picked when ripe, like a red tomato.
  •  The green beans need to be stored properly and roasted with the proper moisture content, around 11%.  If the beans were allowed to dry out, you would lose the acidity.  In coffee language, this means the liveliness, the freshness, the snap in the cup.
  • The coffee needs to be roasted properly and never over-roasted.  Burnt coffee will produce a bitter tasting espresso.  Be sure the espresso beans you buy are designed for an espresso machine and not a home drip brewer.
  • You need the proper grinder which yields the proper grind allowing proper timing.  If you grind too fine, you will produce a bitter over-extracted coffee.  If too coarse, you will have a watery espresso with no crema.  Crema is the thick foam that sits on top of a properly extracted espresso, similar to the thick head found on a draft Guinness Stout.  A good crema will allow a teaspoon of sugar to float on top for a few seconds before it slowly disappears.
  • You need an espresso machine that can produce 130 lbs. PSI and can maintain a brew head temperature of 192 to 198 degrees Fahrenheit.  Your brewer will also need ample steam for all of your frothing needs.
  • Last but not least, you need someone with proper technique to put this all together. 

Of all the factors mentioned, I feel the most important (75%) is the barista.  The best coffee and espresso machines available will produce a terrible drink without a properly trained barista.  I have trained many baristas over the years and after eight hours of hands on training many still could not get the job done.  This presents a major problem for restaurants.  I’m sure you have experienced being told the espresso machine is broken when, in truth, there likely was no one working that night who knew how to use it.

Steaming and Frothing Milk

I’ll offer a few hints that might help in steaming:

  • Use cold milk.  The lower the fat, the easier to steam.  I recommend 2%.
  • Only fill a steaming pitcher 1/3 full. If steamed properly, you will fill the pitcher without over flowing.
  • Steaming should take 20-30 seconds.  Consider a thermometer so you don’t scald the milk, and stop at 140 degrees.
  • Use full power, partial power will scald the milk.
  • When steaming you should hear a slight sucking noise. If it gets loud you’re doing something wrong.     

Brewing Espresso and Milk-Based Drinks at Home

We call them anchors in the coffee business.  I am referring to the countless number of home expensive espresso makers that serve no other function presently then maybe an anchor for a small boat.  A lot of money is spent on machines and many fall short of the desired task they are purchased for.

I am often asked what to buy for brewing espresso, and that’s a tough answer.  Many of the small machines work okay for brewing espresso, but fall short when it comes to steaming.  Steaming is required for Lattes, Cappuccinos, Macchiatos, Mochas, and Café Au Lait,  just to name a few.  Since most espresso drinks in the United States are milk-based, steaming becomes critical.    

You can spend hundreds and you can spend thousands.  I’m sure technology is always improving but be careful in making this purchase.  I suggest you buy from a source where you can speak with a knowledgeable salesperson.  This should be someone who has actually used the machine.  A demo would be best.  Another consideration is where you would take it for repairs and to find parts.  You would also need a grinder if you choose not to use pods.

Many espresso makers use espresso pods.  Pods are basically a tea bag without a string, only filled with coffee, and packaged individually to maintain freshness.  I have seen good results with some of them.  They are much more expensive than buying whole bean coffee, however they do stay fresh longer because of packaging, and freshness is more critical in espresso brewing than with regular brewed coffee.  If you choose this route, be sure the espresso machine you are considering works well with pods.  Some machines require special adaptors or inserts to brew pods.  Pods are neat and easy as compared to fresh grinding.

One point to consider when purchasing a home espresso machine is the time required to bring the machine up to brew temperature.  If you are one to grab a coffee on the go and time is of importance, you might wind up only using your machines on weekends and the cost of buying one may not be justified. 

Coffee 101

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

Coffee Beans RIt’s been a long time since I addressed the subject of coffee, so I thought I would provide a few more tidbits of information concerning this all-important beverage.  Although tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, that is not the case in the United States.  Remember that little historical party in Boston, when the tea was thrown overboard?  Afterward, it became patriotic to drink coffee.  This tradition was passed on from generation to generation, thus making America a coffee-drinking nation.  If you ever go to Boston, stop in at the Green Dragon Restaurant near Faneuil Hall, on the Freedom Trail.  That is the place where the patriots got together to plan the Tea Party (p.s. the Great New England Clam “Chowda”).

The History of Coffee

The coffee tree is native to Ethiopia.  From there it spread throughout the Middle East.  Coffee cultivation began in the Americas in the early 1700’s.  Prior to this time all coffee of commerce came from Arabia.  We credit the Dutch merchants, who helped to spread cultivation to the West Indies.

According to coffee history, most of the coffee trees from the Western hemisphere have descended from a single plant.  A young military officer by the name of Mathieu de Clieu carried a single plant from a botanical garden in France to the Island of Martinique, in the West Indies.  The tree was kept alive by the captain sharing his ration of drinking water with the plant.  Trust me; I did not make this up.

Coffee Cultivation began to spread quickly.  It was first grown in Brazil in 1729.  Brazil is one of the largest of the coffee growing nations.  Between 1850 and 1900, many other Latin American nations also started growing coffee beans.  Commercial coffee growing began in central Africa around 1900.  Only after World War II did Africa become a major commercial source of coffee, however. 

Coffee was first introduced to Europe in the 1600’s.  Also around this time, Egypt introduced sugar to cut the bitterness, and many countries started using milk as an additive.  In Scandinavia and Colonial America, eggs were added to reduce bitterness.  In my early coffee days, I can remember visiting many dinners and restaurants where I saw eggshells added to the coffee grinds before brewing.

The Coffee Tree

Of the many species of coffee trees, there are mainly two that are grown for commercial use.  They are commonly known as Robusta and Arabica, and both are grown throughout the world wherever coffee is grown.  Robusta beans are less expensive and easier to grow, which conditions lend well to low-cost commercial use.  Arabicas are harder to grow.  They are, however, the better tasting of the two and therefore used in specialty coffee markets and quality coffee houses.  It is important to understand the two and why they differ in price.

Arabica coffees vary in grade.  They make up the majority of the world’s supply, but only around 10% is considered “specialty” grade.  Very few coffees can truly be labeled “specialty”.

There are many difficulties in growing Arabicas vs. Robustas, but this extra care is well worth it when you compare the taste.  Considering that a pound of coffee yields about fifty cups, the few pennies more per cup are worth it.  For every one dollar per pound, using a good quality bean raises your cup cost by two cents each.  We only see it in its dry form when we buy it; it would seem pretty inexpensive if we bought it in a two-gallon container.  If you price it out by the cup, even a cheap tea is more expensive.

Below are some basic differences between the two types of beans:

Coffee Chart

One of the most important issues of growing specialty coffees is how they are harvested.

There are four methods of harvesting.

1. ByHand, or selective picking when only the cherries are ripe. You wouldn’t pick green tomatoes, would you?

2. Stripping is when you slide your hand down the branch, taking all beans with you – green, ripe, and overripe – at one time;

3. Tree shaking, where you take a stick and hit the tree to get as much as possible to fall off;

4. By Machine – Robustas grow at much lower altitudes, so they are easier to be picked by machines.

Obviously, the hand method, with one bean at a time, is best.  This is only the beginning.  The topics of new crop coffee, with proper moister content, proper storage, proper roasting, packaging and proper brewing, will be saved for another day.

As always, regardless of what coffee you purchase, fresh is best.

How Old is Cheese?

By Paul Partica

CHEESEThere is really no concrete evidence as to when or where the first cheese was made.  The art of cheese-making dates back thousands of years, long before recorded history.  It is also not known whether it started in the Middle East, Europe, or Asia.

As the story goes, cheese was invented by a traveling nomad who was carrying milk in a leather pouch for his night’s meal.  This pouch happened to be lined with the stomach of a calf, which was used for its ability to hold water. It was common practice at that time to use animal skins and internal organs for their ability to hold liquids.  While in the pouch, the milk mixed with the natural rennet found in this lining, causing the milk to separate into curds.  Hence, whey and cheese were invented.

I thought it might be of interest to know just how long ago some of the more popular cheeses got their start, so following is a little history on some of my favorites.

Swiss Appenzeller dates back over 700 years.  This hard cow’s milk cheese made from untreated or raw milk is truly natural, with no preservatives or additives.  Its spicy flavor comes from the closely guarded secret herbal bath given it during production and aging.  According to the official Appenzeller web page, the exact ingredients of the original herbal brine involve a complex mixture of over 25 different herbs, roots, leaves, petals, seeds and bark.  The recipe is enhanced by the fact that these cows graze on lush herbal grasses and fresh hay – never silage.  Great care is given to the animals, and the cows are given regular and frequent visits to the grazing fields so everything can remain as natural as possible for them, even in winter.

Gruyere dates back to the twelfth century.  It is named after the town of Gruyere, Switzerland, with a castle by the same name.  The town is located in the Canton of Friboug and the cheese is produced there, as well as in the neighboring Cantons of Vaud, Neuchatel, and Bern.  Milk from silage-fed cows will never make its way into Gruyere production.  The area is rich with traditional Swiss chalets and lush green pastures, and Gruyere is manufactured with the finest raw milk from cows that graze only on fresh, lush, green pasturage. 

Parmigiano Reggiano dates back to the twelfth century.  True Parmigiano Reggiano comes from the Emilia Romagna and Lombardi, and is made from a blend of raw morning milk and skimmed evening milk.  Under very strict control, even the whey is used to feed the hogs that produce Prosciutto di Parma.  The older, or stravecchio version, is aged over three years.  I find it used more as an eating cheese than a grating cheese over pasta and other foods.  It is important to not confuse it with Parmesan, a lesser imitation.

Swiss Sprinz is possibly the oldest cheese in Europe.  From what I’ve been told, it dates back long before Parmigiano Reggiano.  This is a full-fat cheese, meaning that it contains 45 % fat and is very hard.  Swiss Sprinz is often used in place of Parmigiano Reggiano.  The older, 30-month version has great flavor and tends to be very sharp.  It also makes a great eating cheese.

English Stilton dates back to the 17th century.  Many of us love and appreciate the well-known Stilton.  It has been a favorite of mine since I was first introduced to it in the late sixties.  Unfortunately, due to a listeria scare in 1989, its producers decided that, going forward, all Stilton would be made from pasteurized milk, rather than raw milk.  Although Stilton was never burdened by being associated with the listeria scare, it seemed like overnight that the century-old production method became no longer.

Stichelton is a new cheese.  I mention this cheese because it is basically the old English Stilton, once again made from raw organic milk.  This is a new dairy built on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire, located at the edge of the Sherwood Forest.  This cheese is also made from the same starter culture formerly used for the original Stilton.   This new/old classic is not always available but is well worth a try when you can find it.  It is not better than Stilton, just a little different.  I must mention that this cheese does vary from wheel to wheel.  I recommend you give this one a taste before you buy, to be sure.

French Brie dates back to the 8th century.  Brie is one of the most popular soft-ripening cheeses known, and just about everybody uses it to compare every other soft-ripening cheese.  It is unfortunate the raw milk version eaten in Europe is unavailable in our country.  The overheated, stabilized Brie we do get here is inferior.

Some other old cheeses that date back hundreds of years are Feta, Gouda, Cheshire and Roquefort.  Certainly, there is something to be said about the great quality of these old masterpieces.

On Making Cheese: Starter Cultures and Rennet

By Paul Partica

PrefereHow does milk turn into cheese?  The answer includes the use of starter cultures and rennet.  Since I find a growing number of people interested in learning about the types of cheese cultures and rennet used in cheese making, I thought I would cover the topic.  I have also added a chart below to help clarify.

Starter Cultures

The process of turning milk into cheese begins by adding a starter culture to milk, which turns the lactose (sugar) in the milk into lactic acid.  This changes the acidity level of the milk and starts the process of thickening.  Many starter cultures come from buttermilk or yogurt, but many are natural cultures that originate from the milk that makes the specific type of cheese.  Most starters today are produced in labs and available in either frozen or powdered forms.

Rennet

Rennet is an enzyme that also starts the thickening process, coagulating the milk into cheese.  Traditional rennet starts with the stomach lining of a calf, ewe or kid (baby goat).  The enzyme chymosin, found in these linings, produces rennet by separating the milk into curds and whey.  The most traditional and, in my opinion best-tasting, rennet is that which is derived from a calf which originates from the same farm the milk for a particular cheese is produced.

Plant rennet is derived from such plants as artichokes, thistle, and nettles.  An enzyme similar to chymosin is extracted by soaking the plants in water.  These are produced in a lab.  Unlike traditional animal rennet, which does not affect the taste of cheese, plant rennet does.  This can be either positive or negative, depending on your palette.

The third form of rennet is genetically engineered.  Chymosin chromosomes are extracted from animal rennet and grown on yeast cultures, then separated and purified.

Microbial rennet, the fourth kind, is derived from mold enzymes similar to chymosin which are also produced in a laboratory.  This type of rennet is not known for creating results that are as consistent as those of animal and genetically-produced rennets.

It is important to understand that the guide below is based on cheese manufacturer labels and subject to change at any time. Some cheeses will change from raw milk to pasteurized and may choose a different animal milk too. There are no laws requiring cheese makers to label what type of rennet they use. Many cheese labels will only list cheese cultures and not which rennet used.

Rennet Cultures Chart

Cheese Puffs: Perfect for Entertaining

Looking for an elevated and crowd pleasing appetizer for your next party? Cheese puffs are the perfect solution and surprisingly easy to make. These savory confections (also known as Gougeres) are made from the classic French choux dough and combined with cheese, most commonly grated Gruyere, Comte or Emmentaler. Many variations using other cheeses or other ingredients can be made, but the basic recipe below is also perfect on its own. Our thanks to The Elegant Occasion for providing the recipe.

Cheese Puffs
Gougeres 2

(Makes approximately 32)
1 cup whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
5 extra large eggs
1 cup Gruyere cheese (grated)

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and preheat the oven to 375.  In a small saucepan, bring the milk, butter and salt to a boil over high heat.  Add the flour, and immediately turn the heat to medium  ow and whisk vigorously.  The dough will begin to form and pull away from the pan.  Keep whisking for another minute until the flour has cooked, and the mixture smells slightly nutty.

Remove pan from heat and pour mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer. Let cool for about five minutes. Using a paddle attachment, mix dough on medium high speed, adding one egg at a time. Be sure that each egg is incorporated before adding the next. When all five eggs have been added, the dough should be smooth and shiny.

Turn the mixer to a low speed and add the cheese. Mix only until the cheese is incorporated, and then stop the mixer. Drop one tablespoon of dough onto a cookie sheet (or use a piping bag to make them look especially pretty). Be sure to leave approximately two inches between each one.

Place cookie sheet in a 375 degree oven and bake for 15-17 minutes (until golden).  Serve immediately.

Note:  Cheese Puffs can be made in advance. Simply place the uncooked cheese puffs on cookie sheets in the freezer for two hours until frozen.  Remove them from the cookie sheets to a freezer bag.  Cheese Puffs will keep for one month. When ready to bake, simply take them from the freezer, place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake as noted above.

For herbed cheese puffs, simply add one teaspoon of Herbs de Provence, thyme or rosemary to the dough when it is in the mixer.

Cheese for the Holidays

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

Cheese for the HolidaysIt would not be a holiday for me without some kind of dish made with cheese.  Cheese seems to be the universal medium in many cuisines from appetizers, entrées and snacks to desserts.  The following are just a few ideas that come to mind for holiday entertaining.

Fondue

What could be better than the simple but elegant combination of cheese, wine and bread?  Fondue is a traditional must for my family.  I enjoy the traditional Swiss recipe, which uses a dry white wine and Swiss cheeses such as Emmenthaler, Gruyere, and Appenzeller.  There is a large selection of other Swiss cheeses available that can also be used for fondue.  See what is available in your area.

Raclette

Although the concept of raclette dates back to medieval times, here in the new millennium we use a modern device called a raclette to roast or grill cheese.  Derived from the French word racler, the word raclette means “to scrape.”  The idea is to roast cheese until melted, then scrape the soft, viscous texture from the grill onto bread or other accoutrements.

Whether you making a traditional Swiss raclette (cheese, potatoes, cornichons) or the American version (which can also include shrimp, chicken, sausage, vegetables, etc.), raclette is a great dish.  All the elements are prepared in advance so you can enjoy the meal with friends and family.  If a raclette grill is not counted among your kitchen gadgets, many retailers rent them.  We enjoy raclette cookery all year long.  You might find us grilling shrimp and scallops during a hot summer night, but it’s especially festive for the holidays.

Baked Brie

The advancement of brie/camembert porcelain bakers has done much to grow the appeal of the classic baked brie dish, hence its growing popularity in the last few years.  You now have a clean, contained way of serving the appetizer with a superb ability to keep warm, and even re-heat and reuse a day later.  To add to the appeal, recipe variations are endless.  You can invent all kind of concoctions using such delicacies as chutneys, preserves, nuts, honeys, herbs, spices, fruit, and so on.  Brie bakers now come in many colors with accessories such as serving dishes, warmers, and premade toppings to choose from.

Cheese Trays

The classic cheese tray is always a great way to enjoy the parties the holidays bring.  Their advance preparation saves you precious party time.  Cheese trays are always a hit and usually the first appetizer to disappear.

Wondering what to choose for your cheese tray?  Try to vary your selection by choosing cheeses from different families.  This way you are sure to make everyone happy.  I go into detail about families of cheese in my November column in Ink Magazine.  In addition, bring in specialty treats such as fruits, balsamic vinegars, honey, chutneys, nuts, etc.  This makes a cheese tray more festive and colorful.  

If you prepare your own trays, I advise against pairing crackers with the cheese ahead of time.  Wait until serving time to open the crackers so they won’t lose their crispiness.  I also never recommend pre-cutting or cubing cheese, which usually lose their flavor and dry up quickly.  You can remove the rind on the sides, but left whole is best.  This way, any leftovers will keep for another day.

Gift Boxes and Baskets

These are a universal favorite.  Unlike the cliché tie, gift baskets and boxes make wonderful gifts that never go to waste.  If the recipient happens not to be fond of cheese, someone in the family or holiday guests are bound to.  When purchasing these items try to include a good variety of flavors.  A mix of crackers, meats, etc. works well.  One important consideration is the condition or ripeness of the cheeses.  You would not want to buy a brie or camembert, for example, with a shelf life shorter than when you plan to give the gift.  It is always a good idea to discuss your needs at the time of purchase with your retailer.

Ordering in advance is highly recommended.  Remember that retail stores get very busy the closer you get to a holiday, and fresh-cut cheese gifts take time to prepare.  Additionally, I always recommend boxes over baskets when shipping as they typically arrive in better condition.  You will also save on shipping costs.

The suggestions above are just a few of the traditional cheese dishes that can be served on the holidays.  Did I mention hot apple pie with a little cheddar cheese on it?  How about Quiche Lorraine, mac and cheese, cheese puffs, French onion soup with Gruyere melted on top, potatoes au gratin, grilled cheese, fried cheese, cheese soufflé and cheddar cheese soup?

Need I say more?  Cheese, indeed, for the holidays.

Breaking it Down: The 12 Families of Cheese

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop of Centerbrook

Large Spread V2In last month’s column, I raised the subject of intimidation when it comes to walking into a cheese shop and selecting cheese.  This is more common than people realize.  With the overwhelming amount of choices available, where does one start?  I began to break it down for you using classifications and other characteristics to help differentiate the types.  This month, I hone in a little further by delving into the 12 families (or categories) of cheese.

Basically, I group all cheeses into one of 12 families based on enough similar characteristics to be grouped together.  Many cheeses can fit into one or more families; for instance, Roquefort is both a blue and a sheep milk cheese.  The word “family” refers to cheeses grouped by categories that make sense, much the way wines are associated by grape type, blend, or country.  This is the easiest method for me, and I hope it works for you.

The 12 Families of Cheese

1.  Fresh.  Often called unripened, these are very young cheeses with a short shelf life of only a few weeks from production.  Fresh cheeses generally go through a relatively quick transition from fresh to tart to sour.

Examples would be cottage, ricotta, Farmer cheese, mozzarella and cream cheese.  You will also find many goat and sheep cheeses that fit into this family as well.

2.  Swiss.  These are slow-ripening cheeses that are free of added bacteria, such as Brie or washed rind cheeses.  Ripening takes place with salt and time, usually several months with minor changes noted. These cheeses are usually eaten within 3 months to a year of aging.

Examples from the Swiss family would be Emmenthaler (the original Swiss cheese), Gruyere, Jarlsberg, Comte, Beaufort and Raclette.

3.  Cheddar.   Known for the cheddar-type cut curd from which it is made, cheddar is originally an English cheese.  Today the largest production happens in the United States and Canada.

Examples are cheddars by name:  New York, Vermont, Wisconsin, Canada, England, Oregon, and so on.  This also includes Colby, Tillamook, Longhorn and Black Diamond.

4.  English.  This is the large group of cheeses produced in Great Britain with similar characteristics, subtle buttermilk undertone and a crumbly texture.  This is a simplified definition, but these are great cheeses nonetheless.  You really need to try the small farm production cheeses from England to truly appreciate them.

Examples are Cheshire (which predates cheddar by 400 years), Caerphilly, Wensleydale, Leicester, Double Gloucester, Cotswold and Lancashire.

5.  Dutch.  These are medium-ripening cheeses that have natural rinds but are more often waxed.  You will notice some change month-to-month as they ripen.

Examples are Gouda, Edam, Fontina, Mimolette, Monterey Jack, and Beemster cheeses.

6.  Port Salut.  These are also medium-ripening cheeses.

Examples are French Port Salut, Tomme de Savoie, St Marcelin, Morbier, Reblochon (no longer available in the United States), and Delice de Jura.

7.  Tilsit.  A medium-aged cheese usually with a small eye formation (holes), these cheeses are usually ready after a few months and hold up well.  Most are on the mild side but they get more pungent with a little aging.

Examples are German Tilsit, Danish Tilsit (most popular being creamed Havarti), Swedish Farmers, Austrian Grinzing, Monterey Jack.

8.  Blue.  These are generally smaller cheeses, two to 15 lbs.  After the cheese is set, firm needle holes are made in the cheese where a blue mold is injected.

Examples are Stilton, Gorgonzola, Blue, Blue Castello, Cambozola Black, Shropshire Blue, and of course, Roquefort.

9.  Hard.  These are well-aged cheeses that can require years to mature.  They are generally pressed and heavily salted, and many months are required before taste differences occur in the cheese.

Examples are Parmesean, Romano, Asiago, Pepato, Sardo, Grana Padana, and Provolone.

10.  Soft-Ripening.  One of the most popular families, the name comes from the action that takes place. The cheese is sprayed with penicillium camberti, a white mold.  Then, as it ripens, it softens from the outside in.  When first made, soft-ripening cheeses have a hard core in the center.  As they begin to ripen, the core disappears.  When gone, the cheese is considered fully ripe.  This will all happen in just a few weeks.  There are three types classified by butterfat content, as mentioned above.

Examples are Brie, Fromage d”Affinois, Moses Sleeper.

11.  Washed Rind.  Unlike soft-ripening cheeses that have a white bloomy mold sprayed on them, washed rind types are washed with a different mold.  They are then allowed to ripen in a moist room where the washed rind develops.  These orange-hued cheeses are more pungent and favorable, as a general rule.  They can over-ripen quickly, so it is best to taste before you buy.

Examples are Chaumes, Epoisses, Livarot, French Munster, Stinking Bishop, Grayson, and Pont Le’Veque.

12.  Goat and Sheep.  I rank these together because most people are looking for the different taste of the two milks blended.  Cheeses from this family can be found as fresh cheese, soft-ripening, medium aged and hard cheese.

Examples of fresh would be most goat logs, Montrachet, Crottins, and Valancey Pyramids.

Examples of soft-ripening would be Bucheron goat logs, Clochette Belles, Chevrot, and Chabichou.

Examples of aged are Romano, Tomme Crayeuse, Midnight Moon, Lamb Chopper, Gjetost, Feta, Kasseri and Beemster Goat.

Once you understand the 12 families, you can now go into a shop and say, “I’m interested in four or five cheeses, maybe a blue, an aged gouda, a soft goat, something in a Brie, and whatever you might recommend today.”  That was easy.  Bottom line:  Enjoy the experience, and if you can, try before you buy.  This way you will never take home a cheese you don’t like.

Cheese-Buying 102 – The Intimidation Factor

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

Cheese IntimidationRecently, a few new customers have confessed they had been meaning to come in to the shop sooner but were too intimated.  One customer said, “As much as I like cheese, I know nothing about it.”  Comments like these bring back memories of my early days in the cheese business when I would visit the large, well-known gourmet cheese shops in New York.  I often felt as if the sales staff looked down at me, and I sometimes wondered if I should have had an appointment to be waited on.  And to make matters worse, I might get a look of disdain when I did not know what I wanted.

If this has ever happened to you, you understand what I mean.  Not to worry.  In this modern world of cheese, it seems a new cheese is created just about every day, along with a dozen new gourmet products to go along with it.  There is no way for the layperson to keep up with this rapid pace.  You cannot be expected to know all; it is the job of the store sales staff job to enlighten you.  You are there because you like specialty food, and that should be all there is to it.

The next time you find yourself in a cheese shop, the following guide may help to give you a starting point for selecting.  There are many ways to define or group cheese.  As you read, it should make some sense for you.

Cheese Classifications

Below are three main types of cheese, as defined by production methods.

Natural Cheese

This is cheese made with the aid of rennet and a starter culture.  The milk separates into curds and whey.  The whey is usually then drained off and can be used for other purposes such as livestock food, for example.  The curds go through further aging and transition to cheese.  This is a simple explanation for purposes of this article.

Processed Cheese

Processed cheese can be made from one or more natural cheeses.  The cheeses are shredded and melted together with many different types of additives, preservatives, flavorings, colorings, nuts, fruit, etc.  The resulting cheese is then heated to a high temperature to destroy any remaining live bacteria.  As a result, the cheese becomes shelf stable and does not require refrigeration.  An example of this would be La Vache Qui Rit (Laughing Cow).

Cold Pack

This type is similar to a processed cheese with the main difference of less heat, so some living bacteria remains.  Therefore, cold pack varieties require refrigeration.  This type of cheese is often cheddar-based. A good example would be port wine cheddar.  Please note that a cheese made with all the special steps utilized to create a great cheese will not find its way into processed or cold pack products.

 Now that you know the three main types of cheese, allow me to break it down a little further by further defining types.

 Cheese Defined by Animal Milk Type

Cheeses are made many types of milk, the most common being, cow, sheep, goat and buffalo.

 Cheese Defined by Pasteurization

 Raw Milk Cheese

This is milk straight from the animal that is not pasteurized, or heated, to kill bacteria.  I covered this topic in depth in my column in the January 2013 issue of Ink magazine.  Briefly, by law, no cheese under sixty days old made from raw milk is allowed to enter the country.  Any cheese over sixty days old is considered safe for consumption as any harmful bacteria present will die in this time period.

 Pasteurized Milk Cheese

This is milk that has been pasteurized before the cheese is made.  The practice of pasteurizing is basically the process of heating to a degree that destroys bacteria.  Most often, cheese made from pasteurized milk is considered to be less flavorful, but safer for consumption.  In the United States, it is general practice among doctors to advise pregnant women not to eat raw milk cheeses.

 Cheese Defined by Butterfat Content

 Single Crème
These are cheeses made from milk with a butterfat content of 45% to 50%.

Double Crème
These are cheeses containing 60% butterfat.

Triple Crème
These are cheeses containing 75% butterfat.

Part-Skim
These are cheeses made from milk where some of the butterfat has been removed.  You need to be careful in this category because many people associate part skim milk cheese as being low fat.  Although some part skim cheeses can be lower in fat, many are not.  Different breeds of cows produce milk of varying milk percentages.  In order to retain consistency in the final cheese product, a small percentage of cream is sometimes removed so all cheeses can be made from the same butterfat content.  By law, if any butterfat is removed, the cheese has to be labeled as made from part skim milk.  Many people who eat Norwegian Jarlsberg consider it a low fat cheese.  With a butterfat content of 45%, Jarlsberg actually has the same amount of fat content as most whole milk cheeses.  There really are no authentically low fat cheeses with great flavor. I always advise to eat half as much and enjoy what you eat.  Now you’ve made it a low fat cheese.

I hope my guide to selecting cheese makes your next trip to a cheese shop easier and a little less intimidating.  Our aim is to make it an enjoyable experience.  In an upcoming column, I will break down cheese types further by covering how each falls into one of 12 categories in terms of texture, flavor and other defining characteristics.  Then you might begin to feel like a connoisseur.

Favorite Time-Tested Pairings: An Encore

By Paul Partica, Cheese Shop of Centerbrook

Since we had such a great response to our first article on favorite pairings (July issue, Ink Magazine), and summer is still upon us, we thought it would be a good time to add a few more.  Here are more pairings that are easy to prepare and packed with flavor.

Italian Gorgonzola, Figs & Prosciutto

Gorgonzola Fig and ProsciuttoNot to be confused with the crumbly domestic version that many of us are used to, a true Italian Gorgonzola is so flavorful and remains creamy and smooth at cold temperatures.

Italian Gorgonzola is one of a few special cheeses that have a D.O.C. rating (which stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata).  In the 1950s, Italy began incorporating the D.O.C. designation to protect names, places of origin and special characteristics of taste and quality consistent in cheeses in order to distinguish them from inferior versions.

This recipe calls for fresh figs or dates, sliced Prosciutto de Parma, Italian Gorgonzola and a good quality balsamic vinegar.  Cut the figs in half and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.  Spread a layer of Gorgonzola on top, and finish by wrapping them in the prosciutto.  The trick is to get them heated first because they are usually devoured before they reach the oven.  Served either hot or cold, this is a great appetizer.

Dates, Chèvre, Mascapone Cheese & Serrano Ham

Either the fresh or the soft ripening variety of Chèvre will work well here.  The fresh version is like sweet cream cheese while the soft ripening version ages like Brie.  I advise you to taste your cheese before you create your pairings.  Overripe goat cheese can become sour or ammoniated and ruin all of those other great ingredients.

For this pairing, pit the fresh date and squeeze in a mixture of goat cheese and mascarpone. You can then wrap the date in Serrano Ham (a Spanish version of Prosciutto), and it’s ready to eat.  Try adding a little spice of choice, or drizzle olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or Acacia Honey to taste.

Fromage de Chaumes, Onion and Baguette

Chaumes Onion and BaguetteThis is a simple pairing, but one of my personal favorites. Chaumes is a washed rind cheese with just enough pungency to separate it from milder Brie-style cheeses.  A washed rind cheese is one where, after the young cheese sets, it is bathed in a solution that contains b-linen bacteria and then allowed to ripen in a very moist cooler.  This creates more pungent taste than Brie, for example, which has a white mold sprayed on the exterior.  Other cheeses in this family include Pont L’eveque, Red Hawk, Hooligan, and of course, Limburger.  However, Chaumes pairs the best.

Simply spread a slice of Chaumes on a slice of a baguette and cover it with onion, either sliced or chopped.  Serve with a dry red wine.  Cabernet or a hearty beer would be my choice. 

I am always amazed at how popular this pairing is.  When offered on a cheese tray it soon becomes the largest attraction.  This combination is not new, however; it is how Limburger was eaten in the old country.

Cheddar and Fresh Mango

Although we do sell a lot of pre-mixed cheeses laced with mango, apricots, cranberries, etc., there is still something about having it fresh.  Find a nice quality cheese to your liking (maybe cheddar, double Gloucester or Cheshire) and add a fresh slice of mango.  When added to the cheese, the juice of the natural fruit will explode with flavor.  Finish with a white wine for a perfect pairing.

Sipping Balsamic Vinegar, Prosecco, Sparkling Water

I have to admit that when I first heard about mixing vinegar with prosecco (Italian sparkling white wine) I almost passed on it.  But after the first taste, I was hooked.  This is a great, refreshing beverage and a nice alternative to cocktails or mealtime beverages.

The recipe variations are rather simple.  Use a balsamic that is actually labeled for sipping or drinking and avoid a regular salad balsamic, as those would be undrinkable.  Just splash the balsamic over ice and sparkling water, or include prosecco.  You can also combine with juices, mixes or other spirits.  I have tried cherry, lemon, and raspberry balsamic; all have been very good.  You can be very creative with sipping balsamics as they pair well with so many other specialty foods you already enjoy.

These pairings work well for me, but let your taste buds decide what pairs well for you.  As I learned in Italy, when it comes to food there are no rules, merely suggestions.

Our 47th Annual Trip to the Fancy Food Show

Kirsten Carbone 1

By Paul Partica
(as seen in the August issue of Ink Magazine)

I’m not sure that we have fully recovered from our annual visit to the huge international food show called Fancy Food, and I know I’m still a few pounds heavier, but in the end lots of new gastronomic treasures were discovered.

Just how big was the show?  According to Mike Silver, Chairman of the Specialty Food Association, there were over 2,500 exhibitors from 50 countries, representing just about every continent.  The show was visited by over 25,000 attendees who make up the network of the Specialty Food Business consisting of retailers, manufacturers, restaurateurs, caterers, cafes, hotels, distributors, wholesalers, brokers, cooking school and educational students, importers, exporters, and so forth.  If I were to pick just one product from each company, we would have 2,500 new items, and I would need a bigger boat.

It would be hard to name all the products on display but just about anything in the specialty food business was represented.  To name a few: chocolates, candies, coffee, tea, pastries, breads, caviars, olive oils, vinegars, ice cream, gelato, jellies, preserves, cookies, meats, beverages, baskets, gift boxes…  You get the idea.  Did I say there was a little cheese, too?

A major difficulty of the show was its immense size.  If you have ever attended a trade show at the Javits Center in New York, you understand what I mean.  The show not only covered the entire first and second floors, but also filled the 40,000 square foot annex next door.  The show is so large that many cities could not cover the hotel rooms needed to accommodate it.

This represents a huge dilemma to one visiting the show.  It would be impossible to see and taste everything, so attendees need to go with mission in mind.  It’s a must to have a pre-determined checklist of what you are looking for and accomplish those needs before allowing yourself to wander.  You also need to refuse hundreds of food samples.  There were many delicacies that were hard to pass on.  Simply put, if you were to eat everything offered, you would not have room to taste the things you need to. 

That said, we obviously went with a goal to find new cheeses and specialty foods that would mix well with the current inventory in our store.  The following represent just a few of our findings. 

Macaron Café

Macarons 3 (2)According to the company, Macaron Café was established to pay homage to the delicate French confection, the macaron.  They over a wide array of flavors, including caramel crunch, chocolate raspberry, crème brulee, dark chocolate, pistachio and vanilla, just to name a few.  The product is frozen and keeps 6 months.  Once allowed to thaw, they keep one week refrigerated.  These macarons give new meaning to the coffee break.

 

Mississippi Cheese Straw Factory

These straws, or cookies, are a great product that can be found in many stores across the country.  The product is fresh-shipped and arrives within a few days.  The flavors are many, ranging from Cheddar cheese, lemon, toasted almond, cranberry, chocolate chip, and my favorite, sea salt caramel.  The company was established in 1991 in Yahoo City, Mississippi.  It was time for me to add them to our specialty foods section.

Shelia G BrittleRShelia G’s Brownie Brittle

This company was established in 1992, but they are always coming out with new products.  One of my newer favorites is the Brownie Brittle.  It’s like eating the best part of the brownie that everybody fights for – the crispy corners.  Once you start on a bag, it’s hard to stop. They also come in great flavors:  chocolate chip, salted caramel, mint chocolate Chip, and my favorite, toffee crunch.

Kirsten Carbone 6New Cheeses

Last, but certainly not least, we found many great new cheeses.  “New” is really a relative term when a cheese has been in existence for hundreds of years and we just now decide to bring it in; it’s not really new.

Here are some of the new additions with brief descriptions:

Amarelo

This is a combination of goat and sheep cheese from Portugal.  Thistle rennet is used instead of animal rennet.

Casatica di Bufala

This is a firm, soft-ripening cheese made from Buffalo milk from Italy.

Lakes Edge

Very similar to Humboltd Fog cheese, Lakes Edge is a soft-ripening goat cheese with a centerline of edible ash from Blue Ledge Farm, California.

Nocetto di Capra

Kirsten Carbone 3This is a great soft-ripening, Brie-style goat cheese from Italy.  It is very smooth and creamy.       

Sbrinz

Sprinz is one of the oldest known cheeses in Europe and is said to be older than Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy.  The aged version, at least 3 years old, is a great full-flavored cheese that can be used as a great eating cheese or in place of Parmigiano Reggiano.  It has been very popular since we first introduced it.

There you have it – a small insight as to what the Fancy Food Show is.  If you had any thoughts of attending next year’s show, I’m sorry to report that it is for the trade only.  We will do our best to bring it to you.

Favorite Time-Tested Pairings

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook
(As seen in the July issue of Ink Magazine)

Over the years there have been many special combinations of cheese and foods that have been consistent crowd-pleasers.  It is always fun to see the enthusiasm or show of pure delight when we sample them in our store.  One of the biggest advantages of the pairings below is that they are very easy, quick to prepare and require no cooking.  This makes them great for summer time snacks, appetizers and desserts.  Add your favorite beverage and often dinner is complete.  The following list represents a few of my favorites.

Stilton, Sweet Butter, Table Water Biscuits and Port Wine

IMG_7708Stilton, a favorite of mine since I can remember, has been called the King of Cheese, and rightfully so.  Stilton is a natural blue cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk, made in approximately fifteen pound wheels.  The cheese has a very rugged natural rind.  Unlike most other blues, it has a mild cheddar base which only adds to its great flavor and will be very creamy at room temperatures.  Unfortunately, Stilton is often cut in half and either waxed or placed in Cryovac food packing to prolong shelf life.  This impacts the natural process of maturing and often ruins the final taste.  Try to purchase your piece from a whole fresh cut wheel and sample before you buy.

The recipe is simple for this combination.  First, spread a thin layer of sweet or unsalted butter (never use salted butter) on your choice of table water biscuit, like Elki or Carr’s brands.  Then spread a good amount of Stilton over the butter.  The butter adds moisture to the dry biscuit and further smoothes out the stilton cheese.  When paired with a glass of good vintage Port, a classic English dessert is created. You can also enjoy this as a snack or appetizer, but the Port addition really makes it a great dessert.

Triple Crèmes, Pears and Dessert Wines

IMG_7713A triple crème is a soft-ripening cheese that is similar to Brie, but the butter fat content is increased to 75%.  When in good condition, the cheese should be extremely soft and runny with a white outer covering.  If the cheese is overripe you will see a layer of brown on the outside and it will have an ammoniated taste.  This condition will ruin the cheese and spoil any attempt for creating a great dessert.  Many of these types of cheeses have been over-stabilized to provide longer shelf life for supermarkets, but in doing so they have been ruined.  My suggestion is to not look for a specific name, but rather a triple crème that is in perfect condition.  There are many cheeses I no longer carry because of over-stabilization, and the triple crèmes I do buy will be a result of their condition, not their name.  This is really a classic instance of a cheese to try before you buy.

The other part of this pairing is the wine.  Be careful to choose a white wine that is sweet due to the grapes being allowed to over-ripen on the vine.  This creates a natural sweetness compared to a wine made with added sugar.  Naturally sweetened wines can be expensive and often hard to find.  Examples include dessert wines such as French Sauterne and Barsac, German Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, and many available Ice wines.

Try to buy pears that are still a little on the firm side because you will be using them like a cracker.  Spread the triple crème on the pear and be sure to follow it quickly with a taste of wine.  Even a dry red wine drinker like me loves this combination.  Although this can be used as an appetizer or anytime snack, it is truly a great dessert.  In addition to pears, you can also use strawberries or other fruits.  This may soon become a fan favorite.

La Tur and Acacia Honey

IMG_7684Only in the last few years have I become acquainted with this great cheese and its pairing with acacia honey from Tuscany.  The cheese is a small soft-ripening pasteurized cheese from Italy made from cow, goat and sheep milk.  The blend of all three milks creates a very special mild and creamy delight.

Acacia honey is different from the traditional honeys most of us are used to.  Its extremely light, delicate flavor and subtle sweetness is very pleasing to the palate.  It can be recognized by its very light color.  The pairing is complete when a small piece of La Tur cheese is covered with a topping of honey.  Similar to the triple crème pairing, you can also enjoy a dessert wine, but we often serve this as an appetizer with your wine of choice.

Please note that acacia honey can be paired with so many other cheese families and foods.  Be sure to try it on your favorite goat cheese (soft or hard) Parmigiano Reggiano, cheddar, and so on.  Acacia honey is also great on most fruits, nuts, yogurts, ice cream and so on.  You owe it to yourself to try this unique honey.  I mentioned it last month in my piece about Italy (May issue, Ink Magazine).  Our dessert at Antinori Wines consisted of an assortment of pecorino (sheep milk) cheeses and Acacia honey.

I hope you enjoy these pairings.  I will be highlighting more of these in future issues of Ink Magazine.

RiverFare 2013

In May, we once again supported the Connecticut Museum’s 20th annual fundraiser to help the museum increase awareness and access of the heritage and beauty of the Connecticut River. We set up an 8-foot spread of some of our finest cheeses and accoutrements so attendees could sample to their heart’s content, all with the backdrop of the gorgeous Connecticut River.  Click here for a few photos from that beautiful night.

A Trip to Italy, a Day in Tuscany

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

ItalyIt was a tough job having to fly to Italy for an olive oil tasting, followed by cheese and wine, but as they say, “Somebody had to do it.” Then we had to make stops in Venice, Florence and Rome.  What a bore.  The train could only do 350 km per hour; it put me to sleep. Then we were given the task to find a poor or mediocre restaurant, but we couldn’t find one.  All we could find was some old restaurant in Venice that was opened about 1,250 years ago. My first question to the waiter was, “Do you have anything new on the menu?”

Okay, enough with the bad jokes. We had a wonderful time; you couldn’t find a bad restaurant, a bad wine, or an unfriendly Italian.  I’m not sure why we came back.

Our guide was great. The streets were lined with abandoned tiny cars that seemed to fit anywhere. He explained that they were really expensive pieces of luggage without handles.  In Italy, he told us, road signs, no parking signs, speed limits and such are not really laws; they’re more like suggestions. Every time a car would cut us off, he would exclaim “Look at that – Jersey plates.”

I’m sure by now you can tell we had a great trip.

Venice

Antinoro Castle R

Antinoro Castle

We soon discovered how beautiful Venice was. The uniqueness of a city with no cars and just boats is beyond words.  Even the ambulances, of course, were boats.  There were more retail stores, restaurants and espresso bars than one could visit in a lifetime.  In fact, the very first espresso bar-café originated in St Marco’s Square.  As I mentioned earlier, you could not find a bad restaurant or a bad espresso.  Did you know that there are no Starbucks in all of Italy?

Venice ShotWe saw so many beautiful churches, buildings, and statues, and we had a chance to see hand-blown Venetian glass being made.  Of course, we took a gondola ride, complete with music and Prosecco, Italy’s sparkling white wine equivalent to Champagne.  Our visit to Venice was short but will long be remembered.

Florence

Ponte Vecchio FlorenceR

Ponte Vecchio

Then it was on to Florence, an art lover’s paradise, and home to Michelangelo’s “The David” and the Galleria degli Uffizi, the most fabled museum in Italy.  There are great places to visit in Florence, such as the Ponte Vecchio on the Arno River, the Piazza della Signoria, and Santa Croce.  It is a must to see The Duomo, Florence’s biggest masterpiece church, started in 1296.

One of the highlights of our trip was the day we spent in Tuscany.  The Italian countryside was magnificent.  We had lunch and a tour of Antinori Wines.  It was a five-course banquet, fit for a King. Antinori Wines enjoys the reputation of being one of the largest and oldest wineries in Italy.  I was fascinated by the age of everything.  Our guide would comment, “Oh, this is one of our newer vineyards; it’s only about 400 years old,” or “This vineyard coming up is 700 years old,” and so on.  It really made me think of our nation’s history as current events.

GelatoOur meals started with a glass of Prosecco, and then it was on to the feast. We were served several different olive oils to try.  The oils were served with chick peas which really helped to intensify the flavor.  Our meal consisted of a beautiful arranged mix salad, ricotta cheese and spinach ravioli in a butter and sage sauce, followed by Veal Escalope with white wine sauce, mixed vegetables and then a frozen soufflé with raspberry sauce.  Just to make sure we didn’t leave hungry, as if this wasn’t enough, we were then served several different pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheeses with acacia honey. (Hmm, where did I hear that before?)  As we drove away, watching the Antinori Castle shrink from sight in our rear window, I could not stop thinking that one day again, I would like to visit here.

Rome

Colosseum R

Colosseum

Along our journey, more great wine and more great espresso bars were found at every corner including a gelato stand or two along the way.  We also kept a sharp eye out for any cheese shops. Most of our cheese findings were that of gourmet and specialty stores that also sold cheese as a part of their store selections.  We did not see specific cheese shops.  Selections were made up mostly of local pecorino cheeses and many fresh cheeses that I know I would not find back home. We tasted as many as time would allow.

Home

We knew the sad day had to come.  We left Rome several pounds heavier than when we arrived. The people of Italy were as awesome as the food, wine and sights to behold were. 

Goat Cheese Inspiration

If you’re never quite sure what to do with goat cheese, we have two inspired recipes for you.  Goat Cheese and Jam Strudel combines beautifully on a cheese plate as an appetizer, and Goat Cheese and Mint Ice Cream is a sophisticated and creamy frozen custard that works well either as a refreshing intermezzo or dessert. Adding goat cheese in the last few moments of churning adds a luscious texture.  We’d like to once again thank The Elegant Occasion for contributing these two goat cheese-inspired recipes for our readers.

Goat Cheese and Cabernet Onion Jam Strudel

Goat Cheese and Fig Jam Strudel

Note:  This strudel is made with Cabernet Onion Jam from the Cheese Shop of Centerbrook, but it can be made with any flavor of jam you prefer.

With the season upon us for graduation parties, bridal and baby showers and outdoor entertaining in general, this recipe for Goat Cheese Strudel is a must.  Easy to make and prepare in advance, this appetizer will impress your guests.  Don’t let working with Phyllo dough intimidate you.  Watch the video to see how easy it is!

Serves 6 – 8

  • 4 Sheets frozen Phyllo dough, defrosted according to package directions and laid flat
  • 6 ounces goat cheese
  • 6 ounces onion cabernet jam (available at The Cheese Shop of Centerbrook or specialty markets)
  • 1 Egg
  • 2 Teaspoons water
  • 1 Stick unsalted butter, melted

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.  Carefully transfer one sheet of phyllo dough to the pan and (using a pastry brush) brush the dough all over with butter.  Place a second sheet of phyllo on top of the first, and repeat with the butter.  Continue these steps until the remaining two sheets of phyllo have been layered on top and brushed with butter.  Warm the onion cabernet jam in the microwave for 30 to 60 seconds until it is spreadable.  Gently spread the jam onto the surface of the phyllo dough, leaving a two-inch border on all sides.  Crumble the goat cheese all over the jam.  Starting at the top edge (side furthest from you), roll up the pastry to encase the filling. Roll the strudel up until you have formed a log.  Tuck the ends under to keep the filling from oozing.  The seam closest to you will now be the seam underneath.  Brush the top with the egg wash (one egg beaten with the water).  Using a serrated knife, score the strudel gently so that when you cut it, you will be able to get between 6 to 8 slices.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes before baking.

Bake at 350 until golden brown.

The Elegant Occasion Note:  This strudel can be covered with plastic wrap and then foil.  Place in an airtight bag and freeze for up to three weeks.  Bake right out of the freezer as directed above.

Fresh Mint and Goat Cheese Ice Cream

Goat Cheese Ice CreamRA bit sophisticated in flavor, this recipe uses fresh mint leaves that I picked straight from my garden. I love seeing the chopped fresh mint leaves throughout the ice cream, as it just makes you think of summer…no food coloring or extracts here.  The goat cheese addition during the last few moments of churning adds a luscious texture.

  • 6 Extra Large Egg Yolks
  • ¾ Cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Cups whole milk
  • 1 Cup fresh mint leaves  that have been chopped (plus ¼ cup more for adding into the ice cream)
  • 1 Cup heavy cream
  • 1 ½  Teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 2 Ounces crumbled goat cheese (room temperature)
  • Pinch of salt

In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk the egg yolks and half a cup of the sugar until the mixture is fluffy and pale.  In a saucepan over medium-low heat, simmer the milk, ¼ cup of sugar, 1 cup of the mint leaves and pinch of salt until the mixture just starts to form bubbles around the perimeter.  Do not boil!  Remove from heat and let the mint leaves steep for 10 to 15 minutes.  After the milk/mint has steeped, remove the mint leaves from the milk. Gradually add ½ cup of the milk into the egg mixture to temper the eggs and whisk to combine. Pour the entire egg mixture into the pan with the remaining milk, and cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens enough that it coats the back of a spoon.  Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla and strain the mixture into a plastic container with a lid.  Place the custard in the refrigerator for four to six hours, until very well chilled.  Place the mixture into the ice cream machine for 20 minutes.  During the last five minutes of churning the ice cream, add 1/4 cup of chopped fresh mint and the crumbled goat cheese.  Return ice cream to the container and place in the freezer for a minimum of four hours.

Notes:  For a variation, add bits of chocolate to the ice cream during the last five minutes of churning in the ice cream machine.  

Smoked Salmon on Crostini

Smoked Salmon on Crostini makes it mark with seasonally fresh dill and chives, along with briny capers, blended into a cream cheese and sour cream combination. This recipe is perfect for spring or summer entertaining. Thank you to Roberta Lombardi of The Elegant Occasion for the recipe.

Salmon on CrostiniSmoked Salmon on Crostini

Serves 4

  • Rustic bread such as Ciabatta
  • 6 ounces cream cheese (at room temperature)
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream (at room temperature)
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dill
  • 2 tablespoons chives, plus extra for garnish
  • Good quality smoked salmon

 

To Make Crostini

Slice bread into six 1/4 inch thick slices, and then cut each piece in half so you have 12 slices.  Lay the bread slices on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Broil the crostini, turning once until golden on both sides.

Note: This process takes very little time, so keep a close watch so as not to burn the bread. The crostini can be made 24 hours in advance, and stored in an airtight container or bag, once the crostini has cooled completely.

To Make the Cream Cheese Spread

In a food processor, combine the cream cheese and sour cream.  Pulse until combined, and then add the capers, dill and chives and pulse again.

Note: The cream cheese spread can be made up to three days in advance and stored in the refrigerator (This is also a great spread for sandwiches).

To Assemble the Salmon Crostini

Spread the cream cheese on the crostini in a thin, even layer.  Top each crostini with a piece of smoked salmon and garnish with chopped chive.

Suggested Wine Pairing: Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, Rich Chardonnays

Cheese 101 Class

On December 6, 2013, Paul taught to a full house at the Essex Library. We had a delicious time sampling cheeses from 12 different “families,” and learning about the differences between each. Click here for photos from that night.

The Story Behind Melville and the Mystic Cheese Company

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

As seen in Ink Magazine

Melville Ink R200I recently had the good fortune of meeting Brian Civitello.  Brian currently works as a technical consultant for CheezSorce, the leading consulting group for artisan cheese makers in the United States.  His forte ranges from soft-ripening Brie to Parmigiano Reggiano.

In the past four years, Brian has received over thirty national and International awards for his cheese making efforts, from organizations like the American Cheese Society, the Wisconsin Cheese Making Championships and the World Cheese Making Championships.  Brian’s tasks include product development, new cheese factory designs, basic and advanced cheese making, food safety, and expansion projects for existing companies. He has worked with several well-known domestic cheese companies that I am very familiar with: Roque Creamery of Oregon, Calabro Cheese of Connecticut and The Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company.

The reason for telling Brian’s story is quite simple. We will now be able to benefit from his experience by the startup of his new cheese company, right here in Mystic, Connecticut.  Appropriately named the Mystic Cheese Company, Brian has partnered with Jason Sobocinski, who is also known for his accomplishments in the cheese industry.  Jason owns a combination restaurant-cheese shop called Caseus Fromagerie Bistro in New Haven.  He also hosts “the Big Cheese”, a thirty-minute television program on the Cooking Channel.

About Melville

The two have already produced their first cheese called Melville.  In just a short time, we have already seen the successful introduction of this new cheese with many repeat buyers.  This new soft ripening cow’s milk cheese has a slight briny edge, a mild tartness, and a buttery finish.  The cheese was really designed to pair with other foods such as mushrooms, pasta, preserves, chutneys and honey.  The combination is truly a taste sensation.  I particularly like it with acacia honey.  Since it is a fresh cheese, it has a short life and should be consumed soon after purchase.  We also like to serve it on cheese trays with a top layer of peach chutney.  If you can find it, it’s really worth a try.

Cheese Pods

“Great Cheese through Modern Technology” could also be the name of this article. The reason is the totally innovative approach they use. The main premise is to build modular cheese factories made from recycled international shipping containers you would normally find on large freighters.  These containers would have three pods in them: a manufacturing pod, a utility pod and a finished goods pod.  There are several benefits to doing this:

  • The elimination of the time-consuming work of unskilled workers in cheese process control and sanitary installations (I feel this is very important, as this can be a huge problem for the small cheese maker);
  • A reduction in the cost and duration of the start-up period;
  • Lower overall costs of production and less need for alterations to the actual manufacturing location;
  • Lower growth costs as you can stack these units, rather than buying or building additional space.

Mystic Cheese Company will also be the first artisan cheese company in the United States to tie their product with Apple iOS technology. According to Brian, they plan to construct iPad kiosk stations which would allow the following functions:

  • The ability to provide interactive video feed from the manufacturing and cheese pods to points of purchase at markets, select retail outlets, and special events;
  • It can act as a product guide using visual and descriptive content;
  • The ability to provide an educational overview of the cheese making process and the uniqueness of the Mystic Cheese production model.

Mystic Cheese Company will also give smart phone users the ability to scan QR codes placed on the packaging of its cheese that will take them to a special web-based QR code interface. By doing so, they will be able to obtain:

  • The cheese’s born date;
  • The location of the farm where the milk was collected to produce the cheese;
  • What breed of cow produced the milk;
  • What species of natural flora are present in the pastures where the cows graze;
  • Any special cheese making notes or photos from that day;
  • Pairing and serving suggestions.

The QR code interface will also allow customers to “share” their purchase information through social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

I would like to add that the company’s growth plan for the future is quite aggressive.  In addition to increased business volume, they also plan to add more cheeses to the mix.  In three years, they hope to have a whole collection of cheeses ranging from soft-ripening to hard-aged. They also plan to expand beyond Connecticut borders.  

I would like to thank Brian for his time and effort in providing me with his story, along with the technical information for this article.  But most importantly, I would like to thank Brian for creating a great versatile cheese. 

Savory Pots de Creme – A Recipe from the Elegant Occasion

We were excited when we came across a great recipe from The Elegant Occasion.  Originally posted on their blog as a component to a romantic dinner, we think it also makes an “elegant” side dish for Easter, or any special occasion, really.  Here is a re-print below, with permission from Roberta Lombardi.  Enjoy!

Pot de CremeSavory Pots de Crème

Serves 4

  • 1 Cup Heavy Cream
  • ¾  Cup Milk
  • 3 Extra large eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon Thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic salt
  • 4 ounces gruyere cheese, shredded
  • Pinch of white pepper

To Prepare the Baking Dishes

Butter four ramekins or oven-safe cups.  Turn the oven to 200 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

To Assemble the Pots de Crème

Shred the cheese and divide it between the four ramekins.  Pour the cream and milk into a small sauce pan and bring to a boil.  While the cream and milk mixture cook, whisk the eggs, thyme and garlic salt together in a bowl.  When the cream has come to a boil, remove it from the heat.  Slowly add about ¼ cup of the cream mixture to the eggs and whish briskly to temper the eggs.  Then slowly pour the rest of the cream into the egg mixture, making sure to whisk as you go.  Place the custard in the prepared ramekins and put them on the baking sheet.  Place in the oven for approximately 45 minutes to an hour, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and place the ramekins on a cooling rack for ten minutes.  Serve as they are or with a small green salad dressed with lemon and olive oil.

The Elegant Occasion Wine Pairing:  Champagne

When to Cure Meats and How It’s Done

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

Smoked TurkeyCharcuterie (the art of making sausages and other cured, smoked and preserved meats) and how it is cured in relation to safety and health, is a concern in the specialty food business. When nitrates, nitrites, and other additives are discussed, the subject gets more intense. So once again, I find myself in the middle of a controversy over which is “safer” or “better.”  It is similar to the argument of raw milk versus pasteurized milk cheese, or taste versus safety, as to which way to go.

Uncured Meat

Meat falls into two basic processing groups, uncured (fresh) or cured. Uncured meat is simply meat that you might buy at the supermarket or butcher shop, as in a fresh cut of steak, a chop, a roast, etc. which you purchase and keep refrigerated for a short time, maintaining quality and safety.  These meats can be grilled, roasted, baked, fried, etc. or frozen for future use.  Freezing is the only long-term method of preserving fresh meats.

Cured Meat

Cured meats came about for the very same reasons cheese is made, only instead of preserving milk for future use, you preserve meat. This process dates back to a long time ago in history. There are two common methods of curing. The most common is the wet method, where the meat is soaked in salty brine, and a mixture of herbs and spices is often included. The other common method is dry aging or curing, where salt and spices are rubbed on the meat without the bath.  A well-known example of this method would be jerky.

According to Zachariah Patterson of Nodine’s Smokehouse, there are three main reasons to cure meat.

1. Preservation, the most important reason in history.  Salt kills bacteria which wards off spoilage.

2. Flavor.  Salt makes everything taste better.

3. Moisture retention. Salt pulls moisture out of the meat.  Then, through osmotic pressure, the salty brine is infused back into the meat, locking in the moisture. When cooked, it does not dry out as much as fresh meat does.

Other methods of curing include smoking and dehydration, the earliest forms of food curing.

As far back as the 1800’s, it was discovered that salt mixed with nitrites would help to keep the red color in meats.  This was far better looking than the grey color alternative.

There are many other additives used in curing; each has its own purpose in the curing process. I already mentioned the use of salt, one of the oldest additives. Salt also slows the oxidation process which helps to prevent meat from going rancid.  Sugar, honey, and maple syrup can also be used, but their most important purpose is to hide the salt taste. The flavor from these additives is often very subtle. In addition, the sugar in these additives helps the growth of beneficial bacteria.

Smoking

This is one of the most common methods used today. The process of smoking seals the outer layer of meat, making it much harder for harmful bacteria to enter. This is usually done in conjunction with salt.  Smoking can be accomplished in three different ways:  cold smoking, hot smoking, and smoke roasting. Cold smoking usually involves quick drying of the meat to eliminate bacteria, and the meat is usually thin-sliced.  An example of this would be beef jerky. While smoke roasting fully cooks the meat, hot smoking differs in that the meat is partially cooked.  Smoke just adds flavor in the last example.

Nitrates and Nitrites 

These not only help kill bacteria, but as I stated earlier, they also help to give meat its fresh red appearance. The chemistry that happens is beyond my scope; I hated chemistry in school. However, from what I could research, the overuse of sodium nitrite or potassium nitrate can build to a lethal dose. According to the FDA, the maximum sodium nitrite level found in meats in the finished product can be no more than 200 ppm.  A concentration of 120 ppm is the norm.  A report given to the FDA by Battele-Columbus Laboratories and the Department of Commerce of Springfield VA back in 1972, called the “GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) Food Ingredients Nitrates and Nitrites (Including Nitrosamines),” states that in order to reach this dose, an average adult would have to eat more than 18.5 lbs. of cured meat containing at least 200 ppm sodium nitrite in one sitting. The report further states that nitrites rapidly convert to nitric acid during curing, so you would have to triple the 18.5 lbs. In this case, salt would be the more toxic factor even if one could eat that much meat in one meal.  It goes on to report that people normally consume more nitrates from vegetables than cured meats. It has been estimated that 10 percent of the human exposure to nitrites in the digestive tract comes from cured meats and 90 percent comes from vegetables and other sources.

Nitrosimes

The other health issue to consider is what happens to the finished product when cooked, as cooking cured meats is known to produce nitrosamines (known carcinogens) in test animals.  In short, nitrosamines increase with the degree of cooking, so cured meats that are cooked are actually more of a potential health hazard.  Nitrosamines are usually not found in uncured meat except products like bacon.  As a result, well-done bacon is more hazardous than less cooked bacon.

Uncured, cured meat

There are many meats labeled uncured out there that are not actually fresh meats, such as salami.  These labels claim no added nitrites or nitrates. They are, however, actually cured because they have gone through some type of curing – whether it be salt, smoke, or dehydration, etc.  Since they have no added nitrates or nitrites, the FDA requires they be labeled “uncured”.  It lets us know that these products don’t have the added protection nitrates and nitrites offer.

Though no definitive answer could be found, my research appears to show that the use of nitrites in curing meat is considered safe because the benefits outweigh the potential risks.  As always, moderation is the key, and the choice is yours.

On Appenzeller from Switzerland

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

I remember my first taste of Appenzeller some forty plus years ago. I thought it was so interesting that the cheese production method included a 10-day bath made up of herbs and white wine. Wine and cheese already together, how good is that?  This fact, combined with great taste, has made this cheese a long time favorite of mine. In addition to adding flavor, this herbal bath made from white wine, or sometimes cider, helps to create and preserve the natural rind found on the cheese.  Just for the record, yes, it’s from Switzerland, and no, it’s not the one with the holes.

200px-AppenzellerAppenzeller cheese dates back over 700 years. It is a hard, cow’s milk cheese made from untreated or raw milk and truly natural with no preservatives or additives. The spicy flavor comes from the closely guarded secret herbal bath given it during production and aging.  According to the official Appenzeller web page, the exact ingredients of the original herbal brine involves a mixture of over 25 different herbs, roots, leaves, petals, seeds, and bark. The recipe is enhanced by the fact that the cows graze on lush herbal grasses and fresh hay – never silage. Great care is given to the animals. The cows are given regular and frequent visits to the grazing fields so everything can be as natural as possible for them, even in winter.

The cheese is named after the Cantons of Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerhoden. The production of Appenzeller cheese also includes the Cantons of ST. Gallen and Thurgau. Approximately 7,000 people live in Appenzell, the smallest Swiss Canton. This area is rich in tradition where people, cows, and the land work in harmony. The cheese is so important to the people because it creates an identity for the region which is part of the successful sustainability of the area. Future generations will remain in the area and continue to produce Appenzeller. I love the tradition of the ceremonial descent of the cattle in autumn for protection from the tough winter. It gives true meaning to the expression, “I’ll do it when the cows come home.” The valley is made up of natural meadows, pastures and beautiful rolling hills. There are many hiking trails for one to discover, which include great cross-country skiing. You will also find three great ski areas. Tourists will enjoy the shopping here in this unique car-free village that offers many stores and boutiques. During winter you will not find the noise or hustle and bustle of a crowded ski resort, just a perfect winter wonderland.

There are several Appenzellers to choose from.  All are made from untreated raw milk.  Most contain 48% fat in dry matter, which is specifically measured to ensure consistent taste. There are two other versions, a mild low fat cheese and a spicy low fat version. I have not seen them available in the United States. A slight eye formation is possible but it is common for the cheese to be void of holes. They weigh approximately 15 to 16 pounds and they all have a dated certificate found as a wrap or label to show proof of quality and production.

Appenzeller Classic

This version is aged for 3 months and is mildly spiced. The cheese is ivory-colored to light yellow with a yellow to reddish brown natural rind. It’s identified by its silver color label and it represents 45% of Appenzeller sales.

Appenzeller Surchoix

Strong spiced cheese aged over four months. It has the same ivory-colored appearance and reddish brown rind as the classic. The cheese is identified by its gold label and it represents 45% of sales.

 Appenzeller Extra

This cheese is aged six months or longer and only the best ones are selected and handled by the best master cheese makers. The cheese is ivory to yellow in color but the natural rind is reddish to dark brown. It’s identified by a black and gold label. This cheese represents only 2.5% of sales.

Appenzeller BIO

This cheese was first made in 1996. It is similar the Appenzeller Classic. The only difference is that it is made from organic milk and it has BIO on the label which means it is produced with BIO-SUISSE guidelines for organic milk production. This cheese represents less than 1% of sales.

My cheese of choice is the Appenzeller Extra. It’s a great eating cheese as well as a great cooking cheese. It can improve the taste of a great fondue and can be used in all of the usual gruyere dishes such as quiche, French onion soup, etc. The cheese has a nice full, rich, spicy flavor and it really enhances any cheese tray. It also has a great shelf life.  Appenzeller Extra is worth the hunt.

Raw vs. Pasteurized Milk Cheese, The 60 Day Rule

Written by Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

D'AffinoisSo often a returning visitor from Europe will venture in looking for that unbelievable cheese they recently consumed in France or Italy, only to be met with my usual reply, “Oh!  That’s made from raw milk and it’s not allowed in the United States anymore.” The disappointment is obvious as they sadly accept the best possible alternative I can find. This will be an ongoing problem for which I see no solution in the near future.

I still remember from my earlier years how great those cheeses are, notice I did not say “were”, because they still do exist.  Raw milk Bries used to run all over the counter. The flavors were intense and each new day made a change in the life of these little treasures. When paired with a good wine, life was great. Oh well, back to reality. I don’t remember the specific year that the importing stopped but I believe it was 1987. It makes no difference, they are still prohibited.

Why all the concern you ask? Well, eating raw milk cheeses has been blamed for many illnesses. They are associated with salmonella, E.coli, and listeria just to mention a few. From 1993 to 2006, over 121 outbreaks have occurred causing 1571 cases of illness with two deaths being reported, according to the CDC, (Center for Disease Control).  Older people, pregnant women, children and those with weak immune systems are most vulnerable. Most of the symptoms are flu like such as vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and headache. They can develop to be quite severe.

The issue is taste quality of raw milk versus the safety of pasteurized milk in making cheese. Most will argue that the raw milk versions have more depth in flavor, more complex aromas, and a better finish. I agree with the opinion that the raw milk cheeses do taste better, as long as you are eating the cheese at the right stage of ripeness. The other side of the argument, which you have to consider, is that the chance of illness or in some rare cases, death, is possible.

Let’s define the two. Raw milk is simply milk from the animal where nothing has been done to it. Pasteurized milk is raw milk that has been heated to a high enough temperature to kill most of the harmful bacteria present. You might be aware of the 60 day rule which basically states, that if there were any harmful bacteria present in the milk or cheese, they would die within this time period. After 60 days the cheese would be considered safe. This is the reason you can find some imported raw milk cheeses being allowed in the country. They are not allowed if aged less than 60 days. Since all of those luscious soft ripening and washed rind cheeses are about 30 days old when they arrive in the United States, they have to be made from pasteurized milk. This 60 day rule is now under scrutiny where some say it should be 90-125 days. This would eliminate a whole group of cheeses presently allowed in the country. Some say that the 60 day rule has nobearing on the control of disease, it’s the way the raw milk cheese is cared for when made and how it’s handled after production. Farm sanitation is the key. Many say that cheese made from raw milk is healthier in addition to tasting better. You can find just as many who claim the opposite.  Some feel that raw milk cheese is easier to digest, especially for those who have been diagnosed with lactose intolerance. Once again, biologists disagree.

Europe takes a different viewpoint on raw milk cheeses. Some countries allow for the distribution of raw milk cheeses, others don’t. For example, Scotland bans raw milk cheeses where England, Whales and Northern Ireland do not. A few issues back in INK, we did an article on Neals Yard Dairy in England. They carry raw milk Brie but are not allowed to ship it to me. One of the cheeses I mentioned that I carry from them is Stichelton. This is organic raw milk Stilton that has only been produced for a few years. The point here is that back in the 90’s they stopped producing Stilton from raw milk. There was a problem with listeria so all of the Stilton manufacturers agreed to make pasteurized Stilton only. Now, however, they are back to producing a raw milk version with a new name.

France is the biggest proponent of raw milk cheese.  In fact, they practically consider it a sacrilege to use pasteurized milk in cheese production. Certain, well known cheeses are just not allowed in the United States. Reblochon, and Vacherin Mont D’or are two classic examples not allowed. Even the popular Époisse, which is allowed, is the pasteurized version. There do not seem to be any issues with the French when it comes to eating raw milk products. The thought is that they have built up immunity to the raw milk bacteria and, as a result, they don’t get sick from them.

Whether or not to eat raw milk cheese is a decision only you can make. There is strong support on both sides. I do enjoy them but as I stated earlier, pregnant women, children, and the elderly with weak immune systems might want to proceed with caution.

‘Tis the Season for Fondue and Raclette

By Paul Partica

As the weather grows cold and the holidays grow near, visions of a warm fireplace, a pot of fondue, or some melting Raclette jump into my head. This tradition is enjoyed by so many and is growing all the time as is evident by the number of fondue pots and Raclette cookers I see being purchased. Both dishes are great for so many reasons. In addition to great taste they are,  at the same time, both fun and elegant. The beauty of serving fondue is that all of the ingredients can be prepared in advance so you can relax and enjoy the meal with your guests, excluding of course, getting up for another bottle of wine.

Fondue

Fondue gets its name from the French word “fonder” which means to melt. As elegant as the meal is today, it’s important to note its humble beginning. The dish was originally peasant food.

It was a great way to use day old bread, leftover dried up cheese, and opened wine. Although there are many new recipes for fondue I still prefer the original Swiss one which uses one or more natural Swiss cheeses. You can find a great recipe for fondue on The Cheese Shop web site. There is also a troubleshooting guide you might find helpful.

In addition to bread there are many other foods that go well with fondue. Apple slices, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, baby corn, cooked shrimp, meatballs, and so on. A good variety adds to the enjoyment. Fondue is your appetizer, first course and entrée all in one.

There are many different fondue pots available today. They are divided into four groups: cheese, beef, chocolate and combination pots that do two or all three. Heat sources include electricity, fondue fuel, and, in the case of chocolate fondue, candles. Choose wisely when purchasing. Depending on your usage a 3 in 1 pot may serve you well but most often a separate pot for each type of fondue works best. Stainless steel or enameled pots work best for oil fondues. Oil fondue pots need to have a special metal top to help stop hot oil from splattering and to keep your fork in place.  Glazed clay or enameled cast iron pots work best for cheese fondue. Ceramic pots are best for chocolate fondues. I should add they come in a multitude of colors, shapes and sizes. Most pots come in a package that contains matching forks, burners and sometimes plates for sauces. My experience is that the Swiss made pots have the best quality and durability. I still use a Swiss fondue pot that I bought forty years ago. Most of the fondue equipment comes into the United States by a company called Swissmar. You should discuss your needs with a knowledgeable sales person to make sure you buy the right pot.

Raclette

Raclette originates from the French verb “racler” which means to scrape. The original recipe placed a half wheel of Raclette cheese near an open fire. As the heat did its job you would scrape off the melted cheese and pour it over already cooked potatoes and serve it with small pickles or cornichons. There are two types of Raclette cheese available, French and Swiss. They vary a little due to age or degree of ripeness so it’s a good idea to taste before you buy.

Although many prefer the original way of preparing Raclette, the Swiss producers have changed or Americanized their product with a different purpose in mind. The new cookers come with a double function. The top has a grill which is used to cook steak, chicken, pork, bacon, seafood, vegetables, etc., which are then dipped in a vast array of tasty sauces similar to those used in beef fondue. The bottom under the grill serves to melt the cheese in little pans like traditional Raclette. The choices are endless. It’s a combination of old fashioned Raclette, cheese fondue, and beef fondue all rolled into one.  Everybody gets to cook their own meal just the way they like it, rare to well done.

Most of today’s Raclette cookers are designed for eight people. They include eight small pans for heating. There are also four person cookers available. I use mine all year due to their versatility. I often use them during summer barbecues to cook just about everything. Fondue and Raclette are really unique dishes. They are a lot of fun because they are a change from the ordinary, and are prepared tableside. You will find that the meal lasts longer and, by the way, you might again need that additional bottle of wine.

On Gruyere, From the December 2012 Issue of Ink Magazine

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

Gruyere is one of my favorite cheeses. The reason is simple: few cheeses come close to the versatility of Gruyere. It gives fondue its body, onion soup its elegance, and Quiche Lorraine its flavor. In fact it can handle any task when it comes to cooking. It has great melting capabilities, it doesn’t get stringy, nor does it solidify. Heat enhances its flavor and its keeping quality is longer than most other cheeses.

Gruyere dates back to the twelfth century and is named after the town of Gruyere, Switzerland that boasts a valley and castle of the same name. The town is located in the Canton of Friboug and the cheese is produced there and in the neighboring Cantons of Vaud, Neuchatel, and Bern.  The cheese is manufactured with the finest raw milk from cows that graze only on fresh, lush, green pasturage. Milk from silage fed cows will never make its way into Gruyere production.  The area is rich with Swiss traditional chalets and lush green pastures.

Gruyere is a natural cheese produced in 60-80 pound wheels. The rind is slightly shriveled and oilier than Emmenthaler yet produced in somewhat the same method. It has a fat content of 45% and has less moisture than Emmenthaler.  It has almost no eye formation (holes) and, most often, ‘blind’ (no holes) forms are the rule. The cheese is approximately thirty inches in diameter. Gruyere is more aromatic than Emmenthaler and usually sharper. This is due to a longer aging period and its size being less than half the weight of an Emmenthaler. All cheeses ripen from the outside in so a smaller cheese will ripen faster than a larger cheese. You can buy Gruyere at many different stages along the way. I prefer a longer cave aged cheese with much greater flavor. As a side note, Gruyere is occasionally confused by some as a processed cheese found in little cubes or wedges. Though some of the lesser quality natural Gruyere cheeses make their way into processed cheese it should not be confused with the natural greatness of true Swiss Gruyere.

Gruyere has a wide range of culinary uses. You can make a great meal by just slicing Gruyere on dark bread with a little raw onion, mustard, and smoked sausage. Add a crisp white wine such as Chenin Blanc, Riesling, or Chardonnay, and a fresh salad and a simple, appetizing meal awaits you.  Pan-frying this cheese dusted with a little flour is a great snack as well. Of the many recipes for Gruyere the following selections are two of my favorites.

Basic Gruyere fondue recipe (Additional recipe and trouble shooting guide can be found in the November 2011 edition of Ink Magazine) Given the hundreds of recipes out there my favorite is the traditional Swiss recipe. It’s tried and true and I‘ve been using it for over 40 years.

1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup Kirsch (optional – this can be too strong for some)
1-pound Gruyere, shredded or cubed*
2 tablespoons arrowroot (corn starch or flour will work)
1 garlic clove
Squeeze of lemon juice
Nutmeg & Pepper to taste
2 loaves French bread, cut into bite sized cubes

* In order to avoid a bland tasting fondue purchase a well-aged Gruyere. Some like to add a quarter pound of Appenzeller, Challerhocker or Vacherin Fribourg cheese to the mix.

Rub the fondue pot with the cut garlic clove (discard garlic). Then mix the shredded or cubed cheese, black pepper and the arrowroot in a plastic bag. Try to coat all of the cheese with arrowroot to stop the cheese from sticking together.

Heat the wine in the fondue pot until hot but not to a boil. Stir in the lemon juice which adds acidity to help the cheese and the wine merge. Add the cheese to the wine, a handful at a time while stirring constantly, until melted and smooth. Top with a little nutmeg and additional pepper to taste.

Cheese Fritters

12 Slices Gruyere cheese
2 eggs, well beaten
¼ tsp black pepper
1 cup dry breadcrumbs
Oil for deep frying

Dip the cheese slices into the eggs which have been beaten with the pepper. Shake off any excess egg mixture. Dip in breadcrumbs. Dip again in eggs and breadcrumbs. Fry in oil for one to two minutes until golden brown. The center of the fritter should be soft and runny and the outside crisp. Serve immediately with a tomato or mushroom sauce or a tossed salad.

I mentioned earlier that Gruyere has a great keeping quality. Due to the pressing of the cheese, and the lack of any eye formation, little oxygen can be trapped under wrapping paper which helps to eliminate the cheese drying or molding.  The cheese can keep for weeks if not months. Should the cheese show any surface mold just scrape or cut it off.  If the cheese is covered in cling film for a prolonged period of time you might develop what I call a plastic taste similar to cheeses often found pre-cut and cryovac packaged.  Although this packing technique helps for mass marketing shelf life it does little to protect the integrity of the cheese. Just remove the surface layer with a cheese slicer to regain the fresh taste. As always, its best to buy smaller amounts more often and, of course, freshly cut.

Grapes and Milk: Our Extensive Wine and Cheese Pairing Guide

(Reprinted from the October 2012 issue of Ink Magazine)

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

Simply stated, the title of this article doesn’t cause much excitement.  But when the grapes become wine and the milk cheese, interest is piqued. I’ve been hesitating about writing on wine and cheese pairings because it seems to be such a controversial subject. Among chefs, wine enthusiasts, gourmet foodies, and cheese mongers, it appears that everybody has an opinion, and only ‘this’ can go with only ‘that.’ So, since I’m asked the wine and cheese question almost every day, I thought it time to give my take on the issue.

First and foremost, I believe that whatever your palate prefers is the right pairing.  If you like red wine with your lobster then that’s your perfect pairing. Over the many years I’ve catered countless wine and cheese parties and have made the same observation.  People try many different cheeses but often drink the one particular wine they prefer.  If you try to research the subject you might find one expert pairing a cheese with one type of wine and yet another will pair it with just the opposite type of wine. So, with that being said, I propose the following chart listing different wines and their cheese pairings. Don’t consider this the rule. It’s like the often used line in The Pirates of the Caribbean movie, “It’s more of a guideline.” You will often see a cheese listed with many different wines.

Wine Type/Cheese

White Wine

White Burgundy – Light blue – Cambozola, Blue Castello; mild to medium cheddars, goat cheeses – especially chevres; Cantal

Chardonnay – Same as White Burgundy

Chenin Blanc – Same as White Burgundy

Condrieau – Epoisse, Fromage de Clarines, Moses Sleeper, Fromagerd’Affinois, most soft-ripening cheeses

Fume Blanc – Light blues – Blue Castello, Cambozola, mild to medium cheddars, goat cheeses – especially chevres

Gewurztraminer – Same as Fume Blanc

Gruner Veltliner – Medium cheddars – Cabot Vermont, Grafton Vermont, Irish Dubliner; Swiss style cheeses – Emmenthaler, Gruyere, Dutch Leerdammer

Montrachet – Light blues – Blue Castello, Cambozola; mild to medium, cheddars, goat cheeses – especially chevres; Cantal, Harbison

Pinot Blanc – Medium cheddars – Cabot Vermont, Grafton Vermont, Irish Dubliner; Swiss style cheeses – Emmenthaler, Gruyere, Dutch Leerdammer

Pinot Grigio – Epoisse, goat cheeses – Bucheron, goat logs, Crottins; mild to medium cheddars – Dubliner, Grafton, Cabot; Swiss style cheeses – Emmenthaler, Dutch Leerdammer; Beemster Goat

Pouilly Fuisse – Same as white Burgundy wines

Pouilly Fume – Same as white Burgundy wines

Riesling – Epoisse, goat cheeses – Bucheron, goat logs, Crottins; mild to medium cheddars -Dubliner, Grafton, Cabot; Swiss-style cheeses – Emmentheler, Dutch Leerdammer; Morbier, Italian Fontina

Sancere – Goat cheeses, Feta, Piave Vecchio, Parmigano Reggiano,most blue cheeses – Roquefort, Bleu d’Auvergne, Fourme d’Ambert

Sauvignon Blanc – Soft ripening cheese – Fromager  d’Affinois, Brie, Camembert, Fromage de Clarines, Moses Sleeper, goat cheese, light to medium cheddar

Savinneres – Medium cheddar – Grafton 2 year, English Coastal Cheddar

Soave – Bellavitano, Piave Vecchio, Asiago, Manchego, Iberico, Castellano, most pecorinos

Vouvray – Triple crèmes – Delice d’Argental, Saint Angel; Stilton with Mango, Stilton with Cranberries, Stilton with Apricots, Cheshire and Caerphilly

Zinfandel – Gruyere, Challerhocker, Appenzeller, Crucolo

Red Wines

Barbera – Fontina, Morbier, Tallegio

Barola – Light blues – Blue Castello, Cambozola; mild to medium cheddars, goat cheeses – especially chevres;  Cantal, English Coastal Cheddar

Barbaresco – Fontina, Morbier, Tallegio, Fromage des Chaumes, Pont L’Eveque, Grayson, Robiola

Beaujolais – La Tur, Iberico, Fontina, Morbier, Beemster Classic, Bordeaux, Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Fourme d’Ambert, Cabot 4 year Cheddar, Grafton 4 year cheddar, Piave Vecchio

Burgundy – Cambozola, Blue Castello, Maytag Blue, Chaumes, Brunelo, English Cheshire, Cantal, Italian Gorgonzola, Humboldt Fog, Bucheron, Robiola

Cabernet Sauvignon – Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Fourme d’Ambert, Cabot 4 year, Cheddar, Grafton 4 year Cheddar, Piave Vecchio

Chianti – Robiola, Fontina, Tallegio, La Tur

Cote-du-Rhone – Medium blues – Bleu d’Avergne, Fourme d’Ambert; washed rind cheeses – Chaumes, Pont l’ Eveque, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Sharp cheddar – Cabot 4 year, Grafton 4 year, Black Diamond

Malbec – Robiola, Fontina, Tallegio, La Tur

Merlot – Piave Vecchio, Pinzanni Pecorino Classico, Pinot Noir, Humboldt Fog, Crottins, Beemster Vlaskaas, Rhones, Challerhocker, Gruyere, Appenzeller, Rioja, Manchego aged raw milk, Roquefort, Old Chatham Ewes, Blue, Quebec 7 year Cheddar, Bellavitano, Beemster XO, Rose (dry) Vlaskaas, Tomme des Pyrenees, Mimolette, Lamb Chopper

Sangiovese – Acio de Busco, Pinzanni Pecorino Classico, Pecorino, Toscano

Sauvignon – Cave Aged Gruyere, Beemster Classic, Cheshire, Bellavitano

Shiraz – Piave Vecchio, Parrano, English Coastal Cheddar

Zinfandel – Parmigiano Reggiano, Asiago Stravecchio, Piave Vecchio, Gorgonzola Dolce

Sparkling Wines/Champagne

Asti Spumante – Bries, double and triple crèmes, Stilton with various fruits, Tomme des Pyrenees, Crucolo, assorted tilsits, Beemster goat cheese, Midnight Moon, Polder Goat, Honey Bee Goat, Drunken Goat

Champagne – Universal wine, goes with all cheeses

Lambrusco – Light parmesan style cheeses – Piave Vecchio, Grana Padano; goat goudas – Beemster Goat, Midnight Moon, Polder Goat, Honey Bee Goat

Moscato d’Asti – Light to medium blues – Cambozola, Blue Castello, Gorgonzola, Bleu d’Avergne

Prosecco – Similar to champagne, all cheeses

Dessert

Spatlese, and Auslese – Fromage de Clarines, Moses Sleeper, Tomme des Pyrenees

Beerenauslese – Double Cremes – Fromager d’Affinois; Stiltons with fruit, La Tur, Kunik

Trockenbeerenauslese Ice Wines, Sauternes, Barsac – Delice d’ Argental or Saint Angel on sliced pears

Ports – Stilton, Stichelton, Roquefort, Old Chatham Ewes Blue

Madeira – Black River Gorgonzola, Gorgonzola Dolce

Sherry – Blue Castello, Cambozola, Baley Hazen Blue

Two classic desserts

1. English Stilton or Stichelton on table water biscuits with a spread of sweet (no salt)      butter served with the best port wine you can find. The butter adds moisture to the biscuit and smoothes out the cheese. This is a classic English dessert.

2. Delice d’Argental triple crème on a slice of pear served with a sweet dessert wine,      Sauterne or Barsac, if you can find them. The German sweet wines are also hard to find and expensive but well worth the trouble, especially the Trockenbeerenauslese. The three together are a wonderful taste treat.

When all else fails, as a general rule, white wines tend to go well with soft cheeses and red wines with hard cheeses. If you serve two to three different wines with four to five cheeses chosen from different cheese families, your wine and cheese party will be a success.

Remember, room temperature for wine is not 70 – 75 degrees. To help improve taste I usually recommend the fifteen minute rule: place red wine in the fridge for 15 minutes to cool down to wine cellar temperature and allow white wine to sit 15 minutes out of the fridge to allow your taste buds to work properly.

How to Make Fromage Fort

Fromage Fort is a cheese spread that is simple to make and highly versatile.  Originating from France, this spread can be made with any variety of cheese, whether aging or newly purchased.  White wine and a generous amount of garlic are generally included.  Fromgage Fort is ideal if you are a cheese lover and you tend to keep several types of cheese in the refrigerator at one time.  Turning these cheeses into a spread is a great way to get the most mileage out of your quality cheese purchases.

Here is a recipe from Food and Wine Magazine, contributed by the notable chef, Jacques Pepin:

  • 1/2 pound cheese pieces
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • Black pepper
  • Salt

Place about 1/2 pound of cheese pieces in the bowl of a food processor, add 1 garlic clove, about 1/4 cup of dry white wine and a big grinding of black pepper. Salt is usually not needed, but taste the mixture and add some if it is. Process for 30 seconds or so, until the mixture is creamy but not too soft, and then pack it into small containers. The fromage fort is ready to use now, either served cold or spread on bread and broiled for a few minutes. Broiling will brown the cheese and make it wonderfully fragrant.

Voila!  So easy.  Let us know if you try it.

Essex Rotary Club Wine Tasting

On September 22, 2012 we donated a full spread of several of our cheeses, with accroutements, and served them at the Connecticut River Museum, under a tent with a setting sun and sailboats on the Connecticut River.  It was quite an idyllic setting.  Click here for a few shots from that night.

 

Easy Welsh Rarebit Recipe, from NY Times Columnist Mark Bittman

Welsh Rarebit over Greens
Photo by Jeremy Day

Welsh Rarebit is a savory cheese sauce, typically served over toast.  Surprisingly easy and non-fussy, this tavern-style dish is commonly seen in pub menus in England.  It is sometimes served in a bowl with a serving knife, alongside toast points, but most often the sauce is spread over toast and broiled briefly before serving.

There are many variations for Welsh Rarebit, but most include some type of ale, mustard and cayenne pepper.  This recipe, from New York Times columnist and food journalist, Mark Bittman, is a favorite.  Start with a really good, crusty bread.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon mustard powder, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
3/4 cup strong dark beer, like Guinness
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, or to taste
1 pound Cheddar, Double Gloucester or other English cheese (or other good semi-hard cheese, like Comté or Gruyère, or a mixture), grated
4 to 8 pieces lightly toasted bread

Method

1. Put butter in a saucepan over medium heat and, as it melts, stir in flour. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and very fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in mustard and cayenne, then whisk in beer and Worcestershire sauce.

2. When mixture is uniform, turn heat to low and stir in cheese, again stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and pour into a broad container to set (you can refrigerate for up to a day at this point).

3. Spread mixture thickly on toast and put under broiler until bubbly and edges of toast are crisp. Serve immediately.

Source: Adapted from Fergus Henderson

 

Harbison Cheese from Jasper Hill

-By Paul Partica

Harbison is certainly at the top of the list of the many cheeses that I can describe as really extra special, festive, made for that perfect occasion and so forth. It’s the cheese to go with that vintage bottle of wine you’ve been storing in your cellar. It reminds me of Vacherin, a cheese made in Switzerland and France that’s only available certain times of the year. It too comes with a unique package surrounded by bark. This bark not only adds to the flavor but it helps keep it shape. When served at room temperature the cheese gets very soft and would run like honey. The best serving suggestion is to leave the cheese in the bark, peel back the top skin and scoop out the cheese like a perfect fondue. That’s festive to me.

Harbison is a soft ripening cheese with a bloomy rind. It’s made from pasteurized cow’s milk and is available all year long. The bark comes from local Spruce trees which go through a process of peeling, drying, cutting, and boiling before it can be used. The bark is processed all year long so you may notice a slight difference in taste from summer bark versus winter bark. The cheese has a delicate, slightly woodsy aroma with a fresh sweet cream taste. It ends with a mushroom finish with a fresh hay aroma. The cheeses are aged approximately six to eight weeks before they are ready to eat.

Jasper Hill Farms

In order to appreciate the cheese it helps to know a little about the maker. Harbison is made at Jasper Hill Farms located in Greensboro Vermont. They are not your typical small artisan cheese manufacturer. In addition to making great cheese they are also known as one of the best affinage facilities in the country. They are the first of their kind in the United States. In case you were wondering, affinage is the practice of storing and ripening cheese properly so they can be sold and consumed in perfect condition. In addition to proper age, there are many other factors to consider. This includes washing, flipping, brushing, patting and spritzing. The process becomes more involved when you realize that different cheeses require different ripening techniques. Some cheeses require moist conditions while others may need dry. Some need colder, others warmer. As a result Jasper Hill has seven different caves all calibrated with different temperature and humidity levels. They have 22,000 square feet of caves and what’s more amazing is they are actually underground. The farm’s forty five Ayrshire cows graze on top of this facility. This mission has to be done with special timing to ensure all cheeses are sold at their peak condition.

Jasper Hill Farms is owned by the Kehler family. The farm started in 2003 in the town of Greensboro near the Caspian Lake. The farm was a means for the family to work in a place they loved. The farm has several facets to its credit. In addition to producing and ripening cheese they also serve as a distributor and marketing company for several other local cheese producers. Many you might know.

The Jasper Hill Farms Collection:

Jasper Hill

Harbison, a pasteurized cow milk, soft ripening bark wrapped similar to Vacherin
Moses Sleeper, a bloomy rind pasteurized cow milk cheese
Bayley Hazen Blue, a natural rind cow milk blue, penicilium roquefort
Winnimere, raw Ayrshire cow milk, washed rind, also wrapped in spruce bark
Constant Bliss, pasteurized soft ripening triple creme

Cabot Creamery

Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, pasteurized cow milk, wrapped in cloth similar to old English style cheeses, aged 10-14 months

Landaff Creamery

Landoff, raw Holstein cow milk, gruyere, tomme style cheese

Von Trapp Family

Oma, organic raw cow milk, washed rind

Ploughgate Creamery

Hartwell, pasteurized Ayrshire cow milk, soft ripening, earthy mushroom taste

Scholten Family Farm

Weubridge, pasteurized organic Dutch belt cow milk, soft ripening

All of the above local cheeses come packaged after proper ripening with the Jasper Hill Farm logo paper. There is usually a smaller additional label place on the cheese naming the actual farm that produced it. This joint effort really provides us with a terrific product in perfect condition. Be sure to taste before you buy to make sure the cheese lives up to this goal. If kept under adverse conditions even these wonderful cheeses can be ruined. Beware of dried out or over ripe cheese.

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

All About Challerhocker, as appears in the August Issue of Ink

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

I know I will always need to expand upon my definition as to where a cheese comes from when it’s a cheese from Switzerland. As soon as I say “It’s a Swiss cheese” I need to add, “not the one with holes. It’s an entirely different cheese made in the country of Switzerland.” There are many great cheeses from this country that I’m sure many of you are familiar with: Gruyere, Appenzeller, Raclette and of course the one with the holes, Emmenthaler. Today, however, we need to add a newcomer to the collection that’s only been around for a few years. Its name is Challerhocker (pronounced “holler-hocker”).

The name means “sitting in the cellar” which is exactly how it ages. Its special wash of wine and spices during aging gives the cheese its unique taste. This is not a cheese that has many different producers, only one man makes Challerhocker. It is a true artisanal cheese.

The cheese is made by Walter Rass who lives in Tufertschwil Switzerland, a town of 300 people. He has been making one of the best Appenzellers for twenty years. Appenzeller, in case you are not familiar with it, is a firm cow’s milk cheese made in a small eighteen pound wheel. It has no eye formation, and it is aged in a vat of white wine and spices when it’s first made. In 2002 he decided to make a new cheese that would be aged longer than Appenzeller. No longer under the controlled production requirements of Appenzeller, he introduced a new recipe with many changes. The butterfat content was raised to 58% instead of the partially skimmed milk formula used in Appenzeller. In addition, this new fourteen pound raw milk cheese would be aged ten months. He would keep using the slightly washed rind exterior process for flavor. The result was a new cheese with great depth of flavor, that of nuts and spice, and a very popular crystal formation which adds to the overall taste sensation.

By 2004, this new cheese became part of Walter’s regular production routine. It was a gamble on his part because he had little help from Swiss Cheese Marketing to sell his creation. This new cheese did not follow old controlled recipes. But fortunately for us, his cheese became a success. We sell a lot more Challerhocker than we do Appenzeller. In fact, Walter now makes more of this cheese than he does Appenzeller.

Challerhocker can also be used like many of the Swiss cheeses in preparing fondue or raclette. I like it mostly for just eating in its original form. Many prefer Riesling wines or sherry but I find it holds up to just about anything including beer. It can be used as an appetizer or serve it with other cheeses as a dessert.

Challerhocker is made in very limited production so consider yourself lucky when you find it. It’s worth the search.

Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop www.cheeseshopcenterbrook.com

Consider Antipasto for Summer Entertaining

Photograph by Monica Arellano-Ongpin

If you’re looking for simple entertaining solutions this summer, antipasto is a great way to go. Italian for “before the meal”, antipasto is typically a cold platter of assorted meats, cheeses, pickled vegetables, olives and breads, often served as an appetizer before the main meal.

Antipasti are to Italians what hors d’oeuvres are to the French, or tapas to the Spanish. The idea is simply to combine interesting and complementary flavors to create a cold plate of appetizers. And while originally created as an appetizer before the meal, today antipasto is enjoyed either before a meal, or as part of an hors d’oeuvres spread, where dinner will not be served.

It doesn’t take much effort to prepare a great combination of flavors. A bit of charcuterie, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, pickled cucumber or vegetables, olives, rustic bread, and rich cheeses – all of these flavors combine beautifully to create great antipasti platters.

For specialty meats, consider the Cheese Shop.  Our selection of charcuterie includes Genoa Salami, bacon, pepperoni and finocchiona and our meats are free of antibiotics, hormones and nitrates.

Small Plates

For smaller parties, you can create a smaller version of the classic antipasto with two or three items. Some examples of smaller plates include:

•Sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper, with slices of Asiago Stravecchio and olives
•Thinly sliced Genoa salami and Cacio De Roma and crusty bread
•Shaved prosciutto with fresh cantaloupe
•Roasted red peppers with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and toasted focaccia bread
•Pepperoni with olives, capers, or sweet pickles
•Garlic bread with tomato slices and assorted charcuterie
•Grilled vegetables with sliced buffalo mozzarella
•Marinated artichoke hearts with soft cheese like lille coulommiers, brie or camembert, fruit and crackers

You can play with combinations to find one you like.  Although antipasto originates from Italy, these days any complimentary flavors work, so feel free to get creative. Once you have all your components, assembly is a snap.  Bon Appetit!

Lillé Coulommier, a soft ripening treasure from the Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company

By Paul Partica

A soft ripening cheese (Brie or Camembert, for example) is a very young cheese often sold between 30 and 60 days old. As the name implies, a soft ripening cheese softens as it ages from the outside in. When the cheese is first set and able to hold its shape, it is inoculated with a white mold called penicillium candidum. This mold will actually grow and bloom on the outside of the cheese causing the cheese to ripen quickly and the cheese to soften. At first the inside is hard, firm and chalky. As the cheese ripens this core begins to disappear and becomes smaller and smaller. Once this core disappears the cheese is considered fully ripe.

Because Coulommier is a little thicker than Brie or Camembert, it is considered perfect with a little trace of core remaining in the center. Some people prefer this cheese on the young side; many like it riper. It is simply a matter of taste. With a little practice determine with a little squeeze just how ripe a cheese is. When the cheese is overripe, in addition to being very soft, the white mold will change to a brown color with an ammonia smell. This ammoniated aroma is a by-product of bacteria growth. At this stage the cheese is considered overripe and distasteful to most. Unlike hard cheeses, just a matter of a few days can make a big difference in its taste. So when purchasing this type of cheese, be sure to mention when you plan to use it so it will be perfect on the day needed.

I could never imagine assembling a cheese tray or an assortment of cheese for someone without including a soft ripening cheese in the selection. When in good condition, they are mild, creamy, and enjoyed by all. They are the universal cheeses that go well with all wines in the way champagne is the universal wine that goes with all foods. The problem today is that many of the soft ripening cheeses have changed and not necessarily for the better. Many years ago the soft ripening cheeses were made of raw milk, unlike the pasteurized versions we can only buy today. Europe is allowed to use raw milk in young cheese production; we are not allowed to import them. Often I hear customers tell me of their recent travels overseas and how good the cheeses were in France or Italy for example. They found the local cheeses full of flavor, runny, creamy and, if allowed, would run all over the table like warm honey. In fact, runny used to be part of the description of Brie back then, not so apropos today. Today’s Bries and Camemberts are fairly firm in texture, even at room temperature. Add poor moisture care and you really do end up with what I call hockey pucks. I sell very little actual Bries today and I’m forever looking for that old style, runny, flavorful, creamy, soft ripening cheese I used to know.

A Treasure is Found

The good news is I found one. Not in Europe, but of all places, cheddar country Vermont. Lillé Coulommier cheese is wonderful. It has a beautiful white bloom and, depending on the age of the cheese, a subtle core and a luscious inside ready to run – yes, I said run – all over the counter. With notes of nut and butter, and more than a hint of mushroom, Lillé Coulommier is déjà vu for me. The cheese is becoming a store favorite. Lillé can be purchased young and then ripened under special care so it can be sold at peak condition.

Vermont Farmstead Cheese

There’s a nice story about the manufacturer, Vermont Farmstead Cheese. The farm and beautiful land they now use for cheese production was almost sold for a more commercial use that would have changed the landscape and beautiful nature of the area. According to Vermont Farmstead Cheese, fourteen neighbors joined together to keep the dairy from being repurposed so they could maintain the beautiful landscape and farm. Using sustainable dairy farming practices and creative cheese makers using old-world recipes, they now make award winning artisanal cheeses. They produce an excellent selection of unique cheeses along with providing great care for the herd of cows and the farm land. They use only Vermont milk and have accomplished much to elevate the state’s dairy industry.

If you remember great tasting, runny Brie style cheeses, you will love Lillé Coulommier. Try serving it on a crusty French baguette with a little honey comb or fruit chutney. It pairs well with white wine or champagne.

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop of Centerbrook

Cheese Shop’s Article on Danish Tilsit, as Appears in Ink Magazine

With permission from Ink Magazine, here is a re-print of Owner Paul Partica’s article from the June issue of Ink Magazine.  You can also pick up a hard copy at the shop.  Don’t forget to ask for a taste of this wonderful cheese from Denmark while you’re there.

By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

It was like running into an old friend when I was re-introduced to this wonderful cheese a couple of weeks ago. Thanks go to Jonathan Richardson of Colombia Cheese Company, the importer, and Trevor Jones of Seacrest Foods of Boston, the distributor, for bringing it to me. It’s been many years since I tasted true Tilsit or what many call Havarti, its Danish name. Many of you are probably very familiar with Creamed Havarti but this cheese is quite different. We need to go back in history to explain this cheeses beginnings and how the more well-known Creamed Havarti came to be.

History

Back in the 1800’s Scandinavian and Swiss settlers moved to Prussia, which later was divided among Poland, Russia, and Germany. Of course, this depends on what year you looked at the map. They tried to recreate cheese from their homeland but the new cheese was nothing like what they were used to. This is very common in cheese production when all of the variables change. Climate, soil type with different salt and mineral deposits, and different grasses that the cows eat are just some of these variables. Add different yeast and bacteria cultures and you now have a new cheese. If you remember a few months back I wrote about 12,000 known cheeses and counting. One mistake or change and a new cheese is born. Tilsit cheese, named after the town of Tilsit in Prussia, came to be. There were two current cheese styles at the time, German style, a stronger version Tilsit and the slightly milder Polish cheese. The Danish cheese was most similar to the Polish version. It wasn’t long before Denmark renamed many of their cheeses so as to not compete with other Tilsits in the industry. Tilsit became Havarti. German, Norwegian, Swiss, and other Tilsits were still available but only Denmark had Havarti. Some of you might still buy Esrom cheese which was the Danish name for Port Salut, another example of the Danish name changes.

The Original Tilsit

The original Tilsit-Havarti cheese was a smear bacterial cheese or what we today refer to as a washed rind cheese. It sounds a little more appetizing said this way. The cheese is a semi-hard cheese with a small eye formation (holes) present. It’s made from pasteurized milk and has a butterfat content around 45%. The b-linens (bacteria) used in production causes the cheese to have a more intense flavor and aroma. As the cheese ages you will find that the cheese matures month to month and can reach a point where it becomes over ripe with an aroma resembling an aged Limburger. The smear bacteria is washed off after two months of allowing it to penetrate the cheese, then a thin wax outer coating is applied which stops the cheese from molding. The cheese is only a few months old when ready for shipping. The final product is a great tasting cheese with a semi-firm texture, a buttery taste, and a slight nutty flavor with a pronounced aroma. Great for eating or cooking, it goes well with hearty beers and dark breads.

Denmark

Creamed Havarti

This version came about by changing the cheese in a few ways.

First, they added enough cream to bring the fat content up to 60%. This of course made the cheese taste much creamier. Second, the use of the b-linen bacteria’s was omitted. The cheese became a very mild rindless cheese that needed to be in cryovac (plastic) which takes the place of a natural rind. The cheese does not ripen like a natural rind cheese. It’s similar to a fresh cheese in that it becomes more tart or sour as it ages. Creamed Havarti is a much milder cheese than the Tilsit Havarti and was easily accepted by the milder American palate.

There are many other cheeses that fit into the Tilsit family. Many of these are well known. Stronger versions closer to the German Tilsit would be Beerkase, Brick, Aged Monterey Jack and United States Muenster. The milder or Tilsit examples would be Austrian Grinzing, Swedish Farmers Cheese and Vermont Farmstead Brick House Tilsit.

Danish Tilsit is made by the Beierholm family, owners of a private dairy in Denmark for fifty two years. The dairy has been working since 1909 with many generations of cheese makers involved. The dairy employs seventeen people with extra help during production times. At one time this cheese was a staple in all cheese shops but very hard to find today. It’s great that this cheese is still in production and I look forward to my next delivery.

Insalata Caprese – Simplicity in a Salad

Burrata Salad 1Every year around springtime, we bring in fresh buffalo milk Mozzarella and Burrata from Italy. If you are already familiar with this Italian delicacy, you have probably tasted the ubiquitous Insalata Caprese at one time or another. If you haven’t yet tried it, you’re in for a treat.

Buffalo MozzarellaThis easy, layered salad originates from Capri Island, in the Campania region of Italy, and requires little preparation and no cooking.

For the best results, start with fresh, in-season and fully-ripened tomatoes.  Slice them into 1/4″ thick rounds, then layer thin slices of buffalo Mozzarella or Burrata over each slice. Top each slice with a fresh, generously-sized basil leaf.

To finish the salad, lightly drizzle a good quality extra virgin olive oil over the entire salad, and season with salt and pepper.  It’s an all-time favorite, and we think you’ll love it, too.

Grilled Cheese Grows Up

One of the most desired of French cheeses, Pont L’Eveque is a soft and creamy cheese from the Normandy region of France. Pont L’Eveque is among the world’s ancient cheeses., having been produced in that region since the 12th century!

Pont L’Eveque’s rich, full-bodied flavor is reminiscent of a brie or camembert, but a bit more pungent.  Along with brie, camembert and roquefort, Pont L’Eveque is considered among France’s best known cheeses.  But unlike the latter three, this washed rind cheese is produced in square form, rather than round.  For optimal consistency, let your Pont L’Eveque rest at room temperature for an hour or so before serving.

Pont L’Eveque Tartine

For a sophisticated take on the traditional grilled cheese sandwich, try a Pont L’Eveque tartine.  A tartine is simply an open-faced sandwich of French origin, typically made with baguette or rustic bread that is toasted and topped with a rich spread.  In this case, melted Pont L’Eveque serves as the spread. 

Grown Up Grilled CheeseTo make the tartine, place thin slices of Pont L’Eveque over a crusty slice of toasted baquette, drizzle with olive oil, a sprinkle of thyme, and salt and pepper, to taste.  Heat under a broiler or in a covered saute pan until cheese is melted.  This tartine also works well with ham or prosciutto.

About Classic Parmigiano-Reggiano

Parimigiano-Reggiano has been produced in the select Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, which includes eight provinces, since the early Middle Ages.  It is the most well-known and highly prized of all Italian cheeses.

Soil, climate, air and vegetation are all essential to the success of a true Parmigiano-Reggiano, as is the skill level of those producing it.  The art of producing this classic is one passed down many generations from those whose livelihoods are devoted to its craft.  This involves raising cows specifically selected for this type of cheese and the intricate process itself.

A true Parmigiano-Reggiano will have the mark of such stenciled on its rind, indicating it has met the standards of strict Italian laws.  For much more on this highly versatile household favorite, pick up a complimentary copy of owner Paul Partica’s article in the May issue of Ink Magazine, available now in the shop.

Pairing Varietal Honeys with Cheese

There are many classic sweet and savory pairings that combine beautifully. Cheese and fruit, for example, come to mind. But have you tried the more uncommon combination of cheese and honey? The savory pungency of a firm, sharp cheddar juxtaposed with the oozy consistency of honey is…delectable. And surprisingly, or not, cheese and honey combinations are found classically in many cuisines throughout the world.

Varietal honeys, also known as single-source honeys, are made from bees that feed largely from one source of nectar, such as orange blossoms or eucalyptus flowers. Color, flavor, and even texture can vary depending on the nectar, producing honeys with a range of colors. Some have herbal notes; others may taste flowery, or even slightly tangy. The difference between a varietal and a store-bought honey (made from bees that pollinate over many different flowers) is significant. For a superior culinary experience, it is well worth seeking out a good varietal if you plan to pair it with a cheese whose flavor profile is also unique and has complexity.

Nutty Cheeses

Honey combines well with aged cheeses having a particularly nutty flavor. Parmigiano-Reggiano, Cheddar, Comté and Gruyère are a few cheeses known for their nutty profiles.

Piquant Cheeses

Sweeter honeys juxtapose beautifully with cheeses of a strong piquant quality, like Roquefort, gorgonzola or bleu.

Sweet and Creamy Cheeses

Less sweet honeys marry well with slightly sweet and creamy cheeses like D’Afinois, Brie or Camembert.

Newly arrived at the Cheese Shop, we have acacia and chestnut honeys from Tuscany, Apicolultura Dr. Pescia, and wildflower and acacia varietals from Tutti Amici. These honeys pair excellently with any number of our imported cheeses. Like anything, finding the right honey and cheese combination is a matter of personal taste and the possibilities for good pairings are endless.  But when in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask us about pairing suggestions.

When eating cheese with honey, we recommend that you drizzle lightly and only right before serving. A heavy handed drizzle can result in sticky fingers. Alternatively, you can place honey in a little dipping dish with a small spoon so guests can add it on themselves, to their taste. Bon Appetit!