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
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.


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

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

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.

  • Wikipedia
  • The Fat Resistance Diet
  • Food Network

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Here's to a Cheesey 2011!

Another year gone, and a new one to face. Here are some of my cheesy thoughts and cheese resolutions for the year:

I will eat more goat cheese. Not only because it's lower in fat than other cheeses but there are now, on the market, so many excellent choices. And like any good cheese, a little goes a long way. Hmm... goat cheese omelette... some chevre on my multigrain bagel... some fresh feta on my pasta with fresh basil... mmm... the possibilities.

I will demand more Raclette! Watching the fat intake the majority of the time is well and good, but darn it, I'm going to enjoy myself and eat raclette a few more times than just during Christmas and New Years. Raclette can, in fact, be a very healthy meal-- all those roasted veggies, some meat or even fish and a modest amount of cheese-- I might even try to grill tofu.

More importantly, though, is my insistence on wanting to enjoy simple pleasures this year with people that mean the most to me, without the pressure of dazzling others with all I know and how creative I can be. Raclette grilling allows for this. Anyone can boil potatoes; anyone can buy deli meat, anyone can slice cheese and wash vegetables. But few of us take the time to enjoy one another. And somehow, this rather simple combination of ingredients results in something intangibly good and indeed healthy for us.

I will have at least 3 kinds of cheese in my refrigerator at all times (and I don't mean the Parmigianno Reggiano I need for just cooking). This year, I plan to venture out of my normal confines of Camembert, Humboldt Fog and Monterey Jack and set my sights on the likes of a Mahon of Spain, Chimay of Belgium, Bijou from Vermont... and the many more I'm increasingly seeing on display. For these special cheeses, I will reserve for my afternoon tea time and for all that stop by and visit, for this year will be a year of sharing and extending to others what good comes our way.

Great expectations, indeed... but that's really the only way to live... with thoughts of greatness and achieving something beyond just ourselves.