Feeding Frenzy

A professional gastronaut feeds the blogosphere with tales of his culinary adventures - sometimes on-the-job, sometimes just-for-the-hell-of-it.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Success Into The Cheese (from a poem by James McIntyre )

Note from July 23, 2009: I see that many of the links in this post are now dead. Sometime I might revive them. Not now. Sorry about that. For much more of my writing about cheese I recommend the Cheese Library at the Big John's PFI site

The Seattle Wedding Show is coming up, provided it doesn't snow too heavily or blow too hard. The weatherman is predicting exactly that sort of weather, of course, but mine is an optimistic nature. Today I planned my cheese board.

I always like to have a cheese display for folks to sample because cheese is the one food guaranteed to get them to stop at our booth long enough to look at our other offerings. I also like it because it is an opportunity to show how useful my food knowledge might be. You love cheese? Allow me to show you ways to love it better. There are certainly worse reasons to hire a caterer than because he knows about food.

Anyway, I do these cheese displays often enough that I thought I'd start this journal with an overview of some of the cheeses we display often enough to call them regulars. There is, though, nothing regular about any of these. In fact, the thing that strikes most about the cheeses we display on our board is how unfamiliar and yet strangely how very familiar each of these is.

British Cheeses

Abbeydale: A Double Gloucester (an English orange) to which onion and chive has been added. This is essentially a brand under which Ilchester sells their Cotswold - but this is a wonderful, fragrant Cotswold; a rich and authentic cheese.

Cashel Blue Insanely yummy blue cheese from Ireland - Tipperary, in fact. Unique, really, it leans a little toward the gorgonzola end of blue cheeses if anything. Distributed by one of the most reliable British cheese exporters, Neal's Yard Dairy. Every one of the cheeses I've found with their name on it has been outstanding.

Ilchester Beer Cheese: Sometimes known as "Taverner", this white Somerset Cheddar is made with strong ale. It makes me think of my mother's Welsh Rarebit (which I recreate with almost no provocation). Bring it to your nose - the smell is intoxicating.

Pepperton: This is a white Stilton crusted in crushed black peppercorns. White Stilton is more or less the same as the Stilton we know except that it has no veins of blue mold running through it. The difference in taste is dramatic. White Stilton is creamy and rich - and slightly sweet which makes it a brilliant dessert cheese. In fact, you can find white Stiltons flavored with fruit such as lemon peel, mango and papaya. The peppery version of this cheese is popular is made by Coombe Castle, I believe (although it is no longer listed on their website.

Shropshire (or Blue Shropshire): Powerful cheese - and perhaps a bit startling for Americans when they first look at it. It's an orange blue cheese and it bites back. In a good way.

Stilton: There are a lot of Stiltons out there. This is the great white blue of England - the "King of English Cheeses". It's a strong, complicated cheese that pairs well with Port and fruit and still goes just fine by itself on a cracker, thank you very much.

Spanish Cheeses

Ibores: A wonderful goat cheese from Extremedura the rind of which is rubbed with Spanish paprika, which is smoked, by the way (I LOVE Spanish Paprika, but that's another story, probably). This would be a good time to mention that Spanish goat cheeses make believers out of people who don't think they like goat cheese (usually people whose only experience with them is of Chevre, on pizza).

Idiazabal: A buttery Basque sheep's milk cheese, often lightly smoked. Their website describes it as "intense". I'm not sure I'd describe it that way. I usually offer it up as a mild, smoky cheese. This stuff is, obviously, so subjective.

La Alberca: This is a sheep's milk cheese, actually made from the milk of the same sort of sheep as produces the milk used in Manchego (see below), that's crusted with rosemary needles before being aged. The result of this treatment is a cheese that is somehow bright and buttery all at once.

Manchego: This is a classic cheese. We see it enough in this country that not everyone familiar with it realizes that it is Spanish or that it is made from sheep's milk. It's slicable, so we put it on our sandwich platters, too. Mild to nicely aged - Manchegos are almost always the most popular cheeses on the board.

Murcia al Vino: The drunken goat! A mild goat's milk cheese that is twice bathed in Spanish red wine during its ripening. It actually is even better than it sounds.

Tetilla: A wonderful, mild cow's milk cheese from the northwest of Spain. The name, which means "nipple", refers to the shape of the cheese. At room temperature it becomes creamy enough to spread on toast.

Valdeon: Strangely, Spain's most famous blue cheese, Cabrales, is not easily available in this country. Fortunately, we have Valdeon. It is also made in the Picos de Europa region. It also is mainly made from cow's milk, but contains goat's milk. It is wrapped in chestnut leaves which make a wedge presentation quite pretty. But the important thing is that it, like Cabrales, is a big mouthful of cheese - a very strong blue that can stand up to about anything you might pair it with. Valdeon (or Cabrales, when we can get it) turns up in our Crema de Queso con Conac - Cheese Creamed with Conac and then allowed to mature. This simple preparation creates a spread for crackers that is quite simply explosive.

Dutch Cheeses

Beemsterkaas: This is Craig's favorite cheese ever. It's an incredibly ripe, sharp and firm Gouda. I've had clients tell me it's something like eating caramel. It's chewy and crystalline and dark and earthy all at once. Not slicable when it's very ripe. But it's a great cheese experience in big old shards on a cracker.

Dorothea: In the food world, sometimes the best things are the things that seem the weird when you first hear about them. The Dorothea cheeses may qualify. These are goat "goudas". The original one was made with, among other things, potato skins. The result is mild but complex. A snow-white cheese in a blood red rind. It's magic. There's a newer Dorothea variation (apparently there are a few) made with Marigolds. It's not a novelty cheese. It's also quite complex - and wonderful.

French Cheeses

Crottin de Chavignol: A happy little (very little) ball of goat cheese that tastes a bit yeasty to me. It's bitter when it's new so let it age.

Fourme d'Ambert: A classic, creamy and stinky blue. They've been making it since Roman times. It's made from cow's milk and is matured in humid cellars.

Affidelice au Chablis: Expensive. Quite expensive. Worth it. It's a soft cheese, creamy to the point of becoming liquid at room temperature, but strongly flavored. It's washed in Chablis.

Italian Cheeses

Cacio de Roma: A creamy, creamy sheep's milk cheese. Mild to the point of being completely innocent. But one keeps wanting more.

Caciotta Del Boschi: A Sheep's milk cheese, made with Porcini mushrooms, champignons and black truffle. Can you imagine? So decadent you wonder why the EU isn't sliding headlong into the most horrible depravity. But, no - it's only cheese, after all. Very good cheese.

Pecorino Crotonese: A nice, firm sheep's milk cheese from Italy. My friend at Pacific Food Importers thinks it's the new Manchego. It is fairly inexpensive and, yes, it is delicious. It's made by Sini Fulvi, the same creamery as makes Cacio de Roma.

These are just a few of the cheeses we love. The list is confined to things we often put in big, sexy chunks on our slab of butcher block we keep just for this purpose. I'll be adding other cheese as we go. Cheeses I love to cook with (where would I be without Bulgarian Feta, for instance?). Other wonderful table cheeses (have you tried Valencay?). And some brilliant American and Latin American cheeses that can not be ignored by the serious cheesehead.

So. More to come.

By the way: how does one get these cheeses? Well, we get a lot of ours by the wheel from DPI Northwest - a wonderful resource but they're a wholesale operation. If you're in Seattle you can get most of them, pound at a time, at Pacific Food Importers. You can get a lot of them online at igourmet - even at Amazon.com (on their beta food site - I think it actually works). Whole Foods, nationally, carries a lot of these cheeses, but at a somewhat inflated price. If you have a hard time sourcing them for yourself, e-mail me.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, cheese! I've learned more from you on the subject than many years of cheese eating has taught me.

Glad to see you entering the blogging world!


January 7, 2005 3:17 PM  
Blogger Zan said...

I'm so glad you finally got a blog going! I look forward to reading it. Another great cheese source- Zingerman's! Check out their selection at http://zingermans.com/Category.pasp?Category=cheeses.

January 13, 2005 10:25 AM  

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