Monday, September 28, 2009

CA Artisan Cheese Guild Fundraiser

On Friday, Noah and I had the pleasure of attending the 2nd Annual CA Artisan Cheese Guild Fundraiser held at The Cheese School of San Francisco. It was a "meet the Cheesemakers" event in cocktail party format - so much fun! In attendance were some of my favorite local Cheesemakers (Cowgirl Creamery, Cypress Grove, and Laura Chenel to name a few) as well as some less familiar to me (Shamrock, and Barinaga for example).

I was particularly intrigued by a new cheese called Baserri made by Marcia Barinaga (Barinaga Ranch). This 4 - 5 lb sheep's milk tomme is made using the cheesemaking traditions of Marcia's Basque family and ancestors in Spain. The cheese is produced in small hand-made batches, and aged for 60 days. The brine used to wash the rind during the aging process encourages the growth of B. linens which gives the cheese a reddish coloring, and the richness of the sheep's milk coupled with this natural rind provides a brilliant nutty taste. I simply loved the light, fresh, earthy flavor resulting from the use of high quality raw milk, and the mild finish had just the right amount of saltiness to it. I'm sure when I get my hands on a hunk of this cheese I'll think of some interesting uses for it, but I have to say it's perfection on its own!

You know, pretty much everyone I've met in the world of artisanal cheese is really friendly so chatting it up with all the Cheesemakers Friday night was delightful. I spoke with Jennifer Bice (founder, Redwood Hill Farm) and got to try their latest creation, Roasted Chile Chevre, and I have one word: delicious! It reminded me of when I was young and if my parents were having a "fancy" party, my mom would make a concoction of cream cheese and canned sweet peppers (which she served with Wheat Thins). Naturally, the RWH Roasted Chile Chevre is a MUCH more sophisticated version of that but I love anything that brings up fond childhood memories. Jennifer said they'd send someone down to do an in-store tasting at Village Cheese House sometime before the holidays so stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Peppercorn Dry Jack Goat Cheese

Noah and I just spent 3 wonderful days celebrating a good friend's 40th birthday - at Disneyland of all places! I hadn't been there since I was very, very young and I was amazed to see how different the place looks through adult eyes. The rides were still fun, the shows were entertaining, and it was heavenly to escape the "real" world for awhile. But for someone as particular about food as I am, it was a culinary nightmare. I don't want you to get the idea that I'm a food snob, because I'm not. I've been known to eat a greasy cheeseburger and fries, or even a deep-fried something-or-other on occasion. But I seriously need to have my daily allotment of fresh veggies, not to mention the fact that I eat artisanal cheese at least once a day, and both of these items were missing from any of the menus I encountered. So after 72 hours of quitting cheese "cold-turkey," this junkie was delighted to get back to the cheese counter!

What was the first cheese I ate upon my return, you ask? It was Petaluma Creamery's Peppercorn Dry Jack Goat Cheese. YUM. This aged cheese is produced here in the Bay Area (not that far from where the original Vella Dry Jack is made) by Larry Peter who also owns Spring Hill Jersey Cheese Co. Its light beige paste is infused with whole pepper corns, and the rind is rubbed with olive oil, cocoa, and black pepper. One of my favorite things in all the world is a cheese which has a mildly sweet attack but has a savory, even spicy finish and this cheese hits the nail on the head. Although it would be great in cooking, I choose to eat Peppercorn Dry Jack by itself so I can fully enjoy the complexity of flavor brought about by the combination of high quality goat's milk and the traditional dry jack rub.

When you bite into this cheese you can just imagine happy goats frolicking across the rolling hills of the North Bay, feeding on nutrient rich grasses and breathing fresh ocean air. Perfect....

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pecorino Sardo Gran Cru

I absolutely love, love, love foods which are rich, creamy, buttery, and savory which is why I adore cheeses made with sheep's milk. I've actually never had a sheep's milk cheese I didn't like. Call me easy or whatever, but the depth of flavor that comes from sheep's milk never fails to satisfy my cravings. This holds true for Pecorino Sardo Gran Cru (Academia Barilla). We introduced it back in June during our 50th Anniversary Party and it was an immediate hit.

Pecorino Sardo Gran Cru is produced in Sassari (Sardinia) with 100% sheep's milk. The texture and flavors remind me of Parmigiano-Reggiano, probably because the same cheese-making techniques are used on both cheeses. This rich, nutty, slightly salty cheese is aged 20 months and has a mild, fruity finish. We like to serve it with one of the spreads made by the same company - my favorite is the Fresh Pears with Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, but it also works well naked with a glass of full-bodied red wine.

However, Gran Cru is versatile - not only does it work on a cheese board, but it's great for cooking. I found a cool recipe (below) for Sardinian Gnocchi - deelish! I know what we're having for dinner...

Serves 4
  • 1 lb durum wheat flour (semolina)
  • 3.5 oz lard
  • 3.5 oz lean veal, chopped
  • 3.5 oz lean pork, chopped
  • 1 lb tomato sauce
  • 2.5 oz Pecorino Sardo Gran Cru, chilly, grated
  • 1 onion
  • 1 sprig parsley
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • EVOO
  • salt & pepper

Work the semolina with a generous tbls of oil, a pinch of salt & pepper, and a small amount of water - just enough to obtain a soft but consistent mixture. Divide into pieces, shape into 2cm diameter sticks, and cut these into a length of 3cm. Dimple with your fingers, and then line them up, floured, on a pastry board.

In a pan, put 1 tbls of oil, the chopped onion, the lard, and saute. Add the chopped meat, chopped parsley and rosemary, and continue to saute. Blend in the tomato sauce and 1 ladle of water. Cook slowly for 1 hour, adding more water if necessary.

Cook the "gnocchi" in abundant salted water, drain them and dress with the sauce and the grated Gran Cru. Serve hot & enjoy!