Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cheeses from Near and Afar: Cotswold, Havarti and Bergenost

Cotswold... Havarti... Bergenost. Not in your vocabulary?

If you love a good cheddar cheese, you will fall head over heels for the Clawson Cotswold Double Gloucester with Onion & Chives. Not only outstanding on its own, or as part of a Ploughman's Lunch, but absolutely extraordinary on boiled or steamed cauliflower as well. Cotswold makes for a lovely contrast to a good strong ale. Enjoy these luxurious flavors on a slow Saturday afternoon... well, how about ANY afternoon, what the heck? 5 stars.

You'll want to eat the Havarti from Denmark's Finest if you want to taste a high quality, pure version of a lovely, delicate cheese with subtle in flavor and charm. Havarti is a cow's milk creamy semi-soft cheese that works nicely in omelettes! Other versions of Havarti may leave you wanting for flavor or substance, or something-- so make sure you try an authentic version. A little cheese trivia: Havarti is not originally from Denmark, but came from Eastern Prussia.

Yancy's Fancy Bergenost Cheese
Creamy and decadent, Bergenost by Yancey's Fancy
Most recently I've tried Yancy's Fancy Bergenost, a "buttery triple cream Norwegian style cheese, made with imported cultures". This one I found to be a nice snacking cheese with a long, buttery mouth-feel. Hailing from New York state, this cheese won the 1999 Gold Medal in the New York State Fair competition. A crisp, fragrant Reisling would make a nice complement to this Bergenost cheese.

Though cheese may be a foreign concept in China, not so in the Western world. Hundreds of varieties are now available, so knock yourself out, and git yourself something a little out of the ordinary.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Afternoon Luxury: Biscuits and Tea (and Cheese!)

One of the little luxuries I look forward to in my day is afternoon tea time (this, of course, after my afternoon nap :p). Cheese makes a wonderful addition to any tea time, and in fact, the Chilean version of afternoon tea, "onces", most definitely includes cheeses into the prized ritual.

My perfect tea time would include a biscuit, cheese, fresh fruit and a strong, fragrant Earl Grey, perhaps a touch of milk. (Now, doesn't that sound healthy?) Shortbread is a standby favorite and fits my requirement for a biscuit perfectly, but recently was sent a package of Newtons Fruit Thins Blueberry Brown Sugar to try and now truly, have found a lovely addition to my tea-time regime.
Newtons Fruit Thins

Newtons Fruit Thins are quite a bit different from the iconic fig newton (is there any other cookie on the market like a fig newton?) Crisp and crumbly like a shortbread, pleasantly fruity and not-too-sweet, this is one stellar cookie! Large round flat circles with a scalloped edge makes them a lovely component of a plate for entertaining as well.

The Blueberry Brown Sugar Thins offer a subtle-but-distinct flavor that goes nicely with mozzerella cheese. I can even skip the fruit element if I don't have any on hand that day since in keeping with the Newton fruit theme, they are made with real blueberries. Absolutely a smart option, with only 5 grams of fat, 130 calories, per 3 cookie-serving-- much better than a muffin or slice of cake-- add the protein-dense cheese, you won't be hungry for a while.

Really now, when you come to think of it, there are only a few food groups that a person needs in life: cheese, wine and cookies.

Disclosure: The cookies were sent to me, but opinions expressed here are very much my own!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Goat Cheese is Great on Green Beans, Humboldt Fog That Is

I love that America has expanded their love for the millenia-old craft of cheese making in recent decades. To me cheese making is an art, much like winemaking. It's as if the US has had a fromage renaissance, a few steps beyond the machine-cut, mass-produced orange glop into a more advanced enlightened reawakening of the beauty of cheese that has always been. :P

One creamery worth mentioning is Cypress Grove Chevre out of California. They are taking cheese to a whole new level, keeping par with the more experienced British creameries. If you haven't tried their signature confection, Humboldt Fog then put it on your list next time you have company.

Cypress Grove Chevre Humboldt Fog
Humboldt Fog from Cypress Grove Chevre
Humboldt Fog is unlike any cheese I have had before, a combination of really two textures and tastes layered curiously together and visually, more like a g√Ęteau than a cheese, with it's ash marbled through the middle and its perimeter. The interior of the cheese is pure white, crumbly, creamy and leaning towards the flavor of a proper Roquefort Blue and the texture of a premium cream cheese, while the exterior is more like bloomy variety of Brie but with a more humble flavor of earthy mushrooms. A very interesting contrast, but absolutely lovely.

The creativity and quality of Humboldt Fog is truly unique, something American cheese makers haven't been known for on the international stage. And what makes it even more interesting, Humboldt Fog, you would never guess by taste, is a goat cheese which makes it is significantly lower in fat per serving than a cow's milk cheese. (Now how do I work this cheese into more of my recipes?) As it was, while experimenting the other day I discovered that Humboldt Fog is not only great on its own, but absolutely wonderful on green beans. Out of a can or freshly boiled, crumble some on top before serving and you will have an extraordinary little side dish.

Scratch my last note about buying Humboldt Fog for company, and put it on your list this week so you can eat it on top of your green beans!

Monday, February 21, 2011

English White Stilton - Fair, Voluptuous and Pleasing

Long Clawson's White Stilton with Lemon Zest
Long Clawson's White Stilton with Lemon Zest

My latest cheese addiction has turned to a White Stilton with Lemon Zest by Long Clawson's Dairy out of the U.K. This is a creamy culinary delight that's more like a decadent lemon cheesecake than a cheese. I literally had to force myself to stop before eating the entire wedge (it was a small one), the only reason being that I wanted to taste it again the next day.

Once again to my surprise, I found myself bringing home a cheese with stuff in it-- but so glad I did. White Stilton is the lesser known sister of her big brother, Blue Stilton, but both are protected by designation of origin status by the EU and only made in 3 counties in the United Kingdom guaranteeing an outstanding product.

Exceptionally creamy, buttery and rich the White Stilton has small pieces of candied lemon peel zest perfectly measured throughout so the result is not too sweet, but surprisingly satisfying-- only a small bite yields tremendous pleasure (curious, because lemon and cheese is not a combination I would normally put together). This lemony confection would be a perfect addition to a salad, and I found this great recipe over at Cheesemonger. But honestly, I don't think you're wedge will make it that long. It's no wonder that it's a best seller and beloved by the English.

In keeping with my New Year's resolution this year, I have several cheeses in the fridge: Camembert for Marin French Cheese Company, Havarti from Denmark's Best, Raclette from Artisanal Cheese and Red Dragon cheddar with mustard seeds and ale. I find it fascinating that essentially the same basic ingredients can yield such extraordinarily different results. I guess that's what makes cheese so beautiful.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Red Dragon, A Stand Alone Cheese Made in the Welsh Tradition

Now, I’m not one for things added to my cheese. I like my cheese unadulterated by nuts, fruits and unusual colors. Call me boring, but when it comes to cheese, it’s gotta be the good stuff and its gotta be just cheese, please.

So I found myself a little surprised at the market the other day to be holding a small wedge of a brown speckled-yellowish cheese in bright red wax. I think it was its appealing label of medieval artwork, or maybe the name, but after reading that it was a cheddar made with mustard seeds and ale I was intrigued, and found myself bringing home a cheese I wouldn’t normally consider.

The name of this extraordinary cheese, Red Dragon, is taken from a symbol in the Welsh flag. Part of Somerdale’s Welsh Range, Red Dragon Welsh Cheddar is made with the rich creamy cow’s milk of the region, blended with Welsh brown ale and whole grain mustard seeds yielding a firm but exceptionally buttery, creamy and full-bodied cheese with a remarkably developed flavor, though they claim it’s only been aged for 3 months.
Red Dragon Welsh Cheddar
Red Dragon Welsh Cheddar from Somerdale Dairy
Red Dragon is also known as Y-Fenni, a Welsh rendering of the town in which it’s made Abergavenny. This traditional English cheddar has an outgoing, tangy personality attributed to the light brown ale from which it's made, but tempered by its creamy, buttery smooth finish-- and for an added layer of texture, the mustard seeds give a pop as you bite down. Just a small taste leaves tremendous delight for the tongue, a veritable party for the tastebuds.

I’ve found that Red Dragon works nicely as a spread on a roasted chicken and avocado sandwich but I have to say, I enjoy this wonderful Welsh treat on its own. It’s so incredibly dynamic in flavor that you simply don’t want to diminish all the fun your tongue is having!

Maybe because of its upbringing, Red Dragon Welsh Cheddar most certainly begs to be paired with a pale ale, and maybe some good bread. Though this trilogy alone would make a perfect meal for me, the addition of sweet dried fruits or an acidic fresh fruit would suit it well. Red Dragon would make an outstanding cheese centerpiece for entertaining and would highly recommend it as a solo cheese on a cheese plate that might look something like this.

Red Dragon Cheese Plate

1 pound cut of Red Dragon Welsh Cheddar, cut into 2 wedges
Crusty bread
Figs
Pineapple chunks
Celery sticks
Sliced Vidalia and/or purple onion

Good news for vegetarians, Red Dragon Welsh Cheddar has no animal rennet. Those of us fortunate enough to have so many options, count your cheese blessings!

Props to Somerdale. They have successfully converted me and now I see cheese in Technicolor. Now, I can’t wait to try the others in Somerdale’s Welsh Cheddar Range: Tintern, Black Mountain and the intriguing sounding, Harlech with horseradish and parsley, confident that the complexity of flavors chosen will complement the outstanding foundation of exceptional dairy quality.

Sources:
Somerdale.co.uk
Amazon.com

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Cheaper Pesto Recipe, Part 2

Cilantro pesto, a nice alternative to the traditional basil pesto, isn't for the faint-hearted. Cilantro when ground into pesto, surprisingly takes a backseat to the pungent garlic aroma, but does retains some of its grassiness. If you find it's too strong for your liking, combine with basil leaves.





A cow's milk Parmigiano Reggiano fuses the flavors together. Pecorino Romano makes a lovely, slightly cheaper albiet, more earthy alternative to Parmigiano Reggiano. Made of sheep's milk, a good Romano is dense and salty in flavor.

Really, the hardest part about this recipe is the washing of the cilantro! But if you have the right frame of mind, set aside a half hour, you might really find this enjoyable. Learning how to enjoy the process is part of the joy in cooking, no?

Often, I can find cilantro at 3 bunches/$1 versus the $2.99/bunch for fresh basil. Just this factor alone is motivation enough to spend a few extra minutes on such a delicious project. But add to that the knowledge of cilantro’s health benefits and surely, washing cilantro becomes a labor of self-love. Sunflower seeds have a significantly longer shelf life than pine nuts, lasting a few months in the pantry and up to a year in colder storage.

Cilantro Pesto
Recipe modified and adapted from Food Network and SimplyRecipes.com.

2 cups packed fresh cilantro leaves (about 2 bunches)
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup sunflower seeds, raw
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Directions
Wash Cilantro. Cut off the ends that are bound and gently wash in a large bowl of salted water, then drain. Wash like this twice to remove all the dirt and grit.

Then (this is the fun part!), remove the cilantro leaves from the stems, discarding any brown or yellow leaves and stems that are especially woody or thick.

Simple trick: hold a stem with leaves of cilantro, and with your index finger and thumb slide the bottom portion of leaves off in a downward motion; then, just snip off the top bunch of leaves.

It’s not necessary to remove all of the stems, just a lot of them.

Now, we get to it: In a food processor, combine cilantro, garlic, and sunflower seeds pulse until the consistency you desire. Add 1/2 cup of the oil gradually and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Add grated cheese and pulse to incorporate. Season with fresh ground pepper and a pinch of salt if needed.

Serve tossed with your favorite pasta and serve with fresh orange wedges to clean the palate.

Fresh pesto is an extraordinary treat. Power-packed with polyphenols and an outstanding source of Vitamin E and protein, perhaps pesto really has magical powers after all.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Cheaper Pesto Recipe

I loved pesto clinging to my long pasta from the first mouth full-- maybe it's something about the bright color and the smell that enlivens the senses, even before the powerful flavors and nutty rich layer hits the tongue-- whatever it is, pesto is pure potion of witchcraft.

What's kept me from giving into the mysterious seduction on a more frequent basis? For one, why in the world does a basil pesto have to be so expensive? It has just a handful of ingredients: olive oil, garlic, basil, pine nuts, hard cheese and some salt. I've tried every economical form of it short of the real thing, the Knorr instant powder pesto to the pre-made refrigerated versions, but nothing seems to come close to the dynamic taste of freshly made pesto.

Secondly, pine nuts (pignolis) and fresh basil are not the most readily accessible ingredients. Pine nuts, one of the most expensive nuts on the market, not only spoil quickly but demand for them worldwide fluctuates greatly from year to year resulting in their exorbitant prices. Using walnuts or almonds makes a good substitute, but even these are not cheap. Some claim that basil is easy to grow year round, but I haven't found that to be the case. Finding it in the off season in the cooler months isn't all that easy.

Quite by accident in one of my culinary experiments to satisfy my craving for the green monster, and as so many good things happen in the kitchen, I discovered that the sunflower seeds sitting on the counter might be a good substitute for pine nuts, and, perhaps the cilantro sitting in the drawer of my refrigerator might work instead of basil for pesto. I was using a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano at the time, so I used that instead of Romano cheese. The result: Absolutely delicious!

Cilantro (didn't ya know?) is a superfood and a card-carrying polyphenol heavyweight, comparable to basil. Polyphenols are now known to have almost supernatural powers to fight off infection, reduce cholesterol, detoxify and reduce blood sugar levels in the system. Indeed it turns out that pesto is an elixir of sorts, curative and restorative to the physical body.

Look for Part 2 coming shortly with my recipe for Cilantro Pesto.

"Pesto", from the Italian verb "pestare", means to pound or to crush.

Sources:
  • Wikipedia
  • The Fat Resistance Diet
  • Food Network
  • AnswerBag.com
  • Pinenut.com