Favorite New Finds at the California Artisan Cheese Fest

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The last couple of weeks have been particularly tasty. The weekend of the 14th I drove to the Santa Cruz mountains to man the cheese station at Ridge’s Montebello release, chat up collectors and sippers, and share and sample the California cheese love. Early last week I stopped by the UC Alumni Travel Association to talk about a future culinary trip to Ireland (news en route!) and worked on a little writing from my recent UK and Irish trip. Later in the week I got to taste through some newer Oregon wines – Teutonic and Fausse Piste at work. Then, this Sunday I headed to Petaluma for the California Artisan Cheese Festival. My taste buds have been thoroughly charmed.

Here are a few of my favorite finds from these recent roamings.

Gypsy Rose Cheese

Gypsy Rose Cheese

A family of three living in Valley Ford, Gypsy Rose has been making goat cheese since 2013. Yet it wasn’t until this cheese fest that I actually got a chance to try their goods (pictured at top). They generally focus on raw goat’s milk cheese- washed rind. Made with goat milk from their neighbors, Pug’s Leap, Gypsy’s wheels are wonderful. Goat’s milk washed rind cheeses can easily take over one’s tongue, but theirs finish clean and bright. Two that especially warmed my cheesy heart was their Django, a mixed cow and goat’s milk citrusy semi-soft cheese, and their creamier, all-goat Rosebud. Miss Cheesemonger took some lovely pictures of the family during a visit lately.

sheep's milk ice cream

Haverton Hill Ice Cream

Though I looked longingly through the windows while passing by a shop selling sheep’s milk ice cream before when traveling through Wales (this was at the point in my trip where I was eating near a half-a-pound of cheese per day and thought it maybe wise that I didn’t go in) , this was the first time I’ve actually tasted sheep’s milk ice cream. It’s damn tasty. Sheep’s milk is very high in butterfat, meaning that the ice cream tends to whip up a little richer than with cow’s milk, and it coats your tongue in a velvety layer as it melts.

sheep's milk ice creamThe ladies of the Adiego family who milk the sheep. If this picture isn’t proof that ice cream gives you a glow, I don’t know what is. Eat up. Organic milk, eggs, and sugar.

Teutonic & Fausse Piste Winery, Oregon

Teutonic focuses on Germanic varieties and Fausse Piste specializes in Rhone grapes. Teutonic winery was launched by a sommelier responsible for the largest German wine list in the Pacific North West who generally narrows their scope to wines grown on the Mosel slopes. Their Pinot Noirs are lovely, but their Pinot Meunier (the third Champagne grape) and their Edelzwicker blend- Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Sylvaner, Pinot Noir and Blanc- were my favorites. Fausse Piste was started by a chef who wanted to make food friendly wines who honors hands-off methods, lets his grapes spontaneously ferment, and ages in old or large-format barrels. If you’re of the mind that natural wines are more austere than flavorful, Fausse Piste offers a opposite example. I loved their Roussane and Syrah. These I tasted at Solano Cellars, not the cheese fest.

SonomaCider (1 of 1)Sonoma Cider

Dwight is the cider-maker for Sonoma Cider. He and his wife launched the company in 2013 and have been pressing apples into dry, off-dry, and sweet cider ever since. They’re about medium-sized in production and have a tasting room in Healdsburg that will let you taste their basics, and their seasonal blends like Sasparilla Vanilla.

Baeltane Brewing

A micro-brewery in Novato, California, Baeltane makes Belgian, French, and west coast ales. And  their skills show especially in the Belgian, where subtle flavors aren’t masked by over-sugaring. Their porters are just as solid, and their Biere de Garde is fresh and session-style. Tasting room open five days a week.

Those were just some of my favorite finds from this past week!

Did you taste something new at the Fest that you loved?

 

Cheesemonger Duel Ticket Giveaway for California Artisan Cheese Fest THIS Friday

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And the winner is… Cammie, with her herbed Laura Chenel! Thank you all for playing, and Cammie, I’ll email you the tickets shortly. Congratulations!

If you have always wanted to see cheesemongers roll up their sleeves, take out their knives and expertly drizzle jams and honeys over cheese while crowds cheer and drink Lagunitas beer and Navarro wine under the Sonoma sun, this is your lucky day. If since the Cheesemonger Invitational’s Perfect Bite you’ve been aching to taste match ups as delicious as flowers and Alpines, or spunky as pork rinds, wasabi and goat cheese, keep reading. Hint- ticket giveaway en route. If you love meeting California’s cheese makers and attending events involving cheese, beer, and wine (all nod here), prepare yourself for the California Artisan Cheese Festival.

The ninth annual California’s Artisan Cheese Festival kicks off two weeks from now, March 20 – 22, 2015. It will be days of eating, learning, eating, sipping, and chatting up our wonderful cheesemakers. In honor of the event, I’m giving away two tickets to the festival’s big Friday night party- The Cheesemonger Duel. Tickets are originally $50 each.

What is a Cheesemonger Duel you ask? Cheesemongers like Luciana Villaneuva from Oakland’s Pasta Shop to Reed Herrick from DTLA/Cheese Cave in Los Angeles travel to Sonoma to pair off - face-to-face. Ten days before the competition, each prospective monger is given a name of a cheese. Their job is to pair that assigned cheese to a  jam, cracker, condiment, pickle, pork rind…. (or all of them) to make into the tastiest combination possible! The monger who creates the most memorial “best bite” wins a free limo chaffered tour around northern California cheese country. And the competition is fierce.

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If you’d like to win tickets to the Duel, scroll to the end of this post. I’ll ask a question, you answer it in the comment section, then I’ll throw contestant names into a hat and blindly pick this Monday night. Early next week I’ll announce who wins!

The goats wish you good luck.

 

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There are some fantastic Festival seminars and tastings going at the Fest by wonderful writers, presenters, and cheesemakers on Saturday. I included a few of my faves below.

Cheese & Cider: Happily Ever After

Presenters: Janet Fletcher, Author and Educator including Planet Cheese online newsletter
Ellen Cavelli, Co-owner of Tilted Shed Ciderworks
Artisan cheese has a new love match: fine cider. Today’s trendy hard ciders have little in common with that sweet, fizzy beverage from the supermarket…and they are uniformly awesome with cheese. In this session, Ellen Cavalli of Tilted Shed, a next-generation leader in the American Cider Revival, will guide you through a range of traditional cider styles (French, West Country, Basque and single-varietal), as well as wholly unique styles, as interpreted by American producers. Then cheese authority Janet Fletcher will help you discover the cheeses that fine cider loves best.

All About the Milk: Tasting & Working with Different Cheeses
Presenter: Soyoung Scanlan, Owner and Cheesemaker at Andante Dairy
Taste and learn about how different milk ( cow, goat and buffalo) expresses itself in the context of soft-ripened cheese. Cow, goat and buffalo’s milk each have distinctive flavors and characteristics. To show the differences and similarity of each milk, Soyoung will make a St. Marcelin- style small soft cheese using lactic curd/bloomy rind cheese making technique. You’ll taste samples at different aging stages to show how each milk develops texture and flavor – from young with bloomy rind and with a little lactic and firm – to three weeks when the texture is runny and full flavored. At its best, cheese is designed to bring out the magical property of milk and to reveal the essence of terroirs – this class will be a rare opportunity to experience, and taste, this expression first hand.

Louella the Milk Maid in Fresh Cultured Cheeses

Cheesemaking: Morning Stretches: Mozzarella Making
Presenter: Louella Hill, aka The Milk Maid, Educator
Get ready for the most fun exercise you’ve ever done: Mozzarella Stretching! This not-to-be-missed seminar is for cheese lovers who want to knock “mozzarella” off their bucket lists. Class will lead you from liquid milk all the way to pearlini, ciliegine, boconcini and ovalini balls. Once you master those shapes, you’ll move onto braids, twists, and ropes and, finally, stuffed mozzarella. Participants will take their cheese creations home (we’ll supply Ziplocs and ice)—if the ‘cheese homework’ even makes it that far!

 

Ready?

Cheesemonger Duel Question:

What is your favorite California cheese pairing combo? Mt Tam and graham crackers? Pt Reyes Blue and dried figs? I’d love to hear! Leave your answer in the comment section below. I’ll pick Monday night and announce the winner early Tuesday the 17th!

Montealva: The Newest Spanish Cheese to Hit our Shores

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The amount of times a “new” Spanish cheese appears in the United States is about as often as I’ve said no to a pint of peanut butter and chocolate ice cream. So about once or twice a year or so (I make an effort not to walk down the frozen sweets aisle in the grocery store or look ice cream in the face). So when we get a new one, it feels pretty special. Montealva is the latest Spanish cheese introduction to our west coast.

Distributed by Cowgirl Creamery in California, Montealava is a pasteurized goat’s milk cheese made in Andalucia. It has fresh, lightly green herbal and citrus notes, flavors of untoasted hazelnuts, and a rich sweetness acquired through 60 plus days of aging. I’ve even heard people say they taste mustard notes in the finish.

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Though it seems to come in various ages, the one that we get is around two months. This seems to be a sweet spot for people for aged goat’s milk cheese. When it’s young yet firm like this it can even appeal to  goat cheese newbies because it doesn’t taste too punchy. Like it a little punchier? Try Achandinha’s Capricious.

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The Alvarez family makes this sweet bright cheese from the milk of their 450 Payoya Andalucian goats. Fun fact? This breed was practically saved from extinction because they make such tasty, rich milk. They don’t make much of it, but people who make cheese with it claim its richness is worth the effort. The Payoya have elegant curving horns, are born to climb the rocky hills of the region, and adorable curly tails. Those herbal notes you taste in the cheese? That’s what those lucky foragers are snacking on in the hills.

 

Wine Pairing:

Last week I taught a Rich Wines and Decadent Cheeses class at The Cheese School of San Francisco  and we served this in it (hello high butterfat goat’s milk). While this is a cheese that really went with any wine from un-oaked to oaked, it really shined with the heavy Roger Perrin VV French Syrah and the raspberry-noted Green and Red Chiles Valley Zinfandel. If I was at home cooking and needed a pre-dinner snack, I’d slice up a few pieces of Montealva and eat it with Andaulician’s wine gift to the world- a dry sherry. I love it with en rama-style, unfiltered sherry like Hidalgo’s.

Food Pairing:

Olives! Keep an eye out for a marinated olives recipe that would pair perfectly with Montealva. See that Friends in Cheese carrot marmalade in the pic? That’s good with it too. I also like Montealva shaved over marinated Spanish boquerones.

 

Lastly, be sure to check out my blog next week. I’ll be giving away tickets to the Cheesemongers Duel at the Calfornia Artisan Cheese Fest!

Apple Gouda Pastry Puff Cheese Recipe

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The inspiration for this apple gouda dessert cheese recipe came to me when I looked outside to see the sun shining. While the rest of the country is freezing, our northern Californian trees are full of leaves, the magnolias and tulip trees are blooming, and drivers created a major rush hour-style traffic jam this weekend trying to get to the beach. Some flock to wine shops to buy rosé, others whisper to new breaking buds, “it’s too soon, it’s too soon,” and fear what has been titled a Mega-drought will empty our reservoirs to lows lower than Paris Hilton’s jeans in the nineties.

Right now I’m situated a little in-between enjoyment and feeling the need to gather some friends, bake some cookies, and hold an intervention for Weather. We think you’ve been too dry, too long here, I’ll say. It’s not just hard on you, it’s hard on the farmers too. And the polar vortex? Don’t you think you could be a little more thoughtful?

 

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I’m also realizing that my heart is not ready to give up on the culinary, warming, glories of winter. Maybe it’s because I was traveling so much through October and November and didn’t get to cook much, or maybe it’s because our winter has been so short , but as I see the snowy photos on my Instagram feed, all I am feeling like doing is heating up my oven. So that’s what I’m doing.

 

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In honor those around the country battling furiously cold blizzards, I bring you a cheese dessert to warm your kitchens. Or your hearts if your kitchens don’t  need warming. Meet the gouda apple pastry puff. The gouda acts like a firm, salty caramel when baked with lightly tart apples, creating a dessert reminiscent of fleur de del caramels. Pair that to fruit and flaky puff pastry and you’ve got a complete dessert that would make any mother proud.

 

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I’ll tell you a little secret. It’s also as equally lovely with Lancashire or clothbound cheddars. If you want to read more about gouda, click here.

 

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Gouda Apple Pastry Puffs

Serves four

2 medium-sized apples, peeled and cored
1 1/2 teaspoon salted butter
2 teaspoon granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon turbinado sugar or granulated white sugar
1/4 teaspoon red wine vinegar
8 ounces puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
2 ounces L’Amuse Gouda, thinly sliced and lightly chopped

In a small saucepan, place the apples, butter, 2 teaspoons white sugar, and 1 teaspoon brown sugar over medium-low heat. Once the butter is melted, continue to cook the apples for six to eight more minutes, until they start to soften Add the vinegar, stir, and take off the heat. Pour the apples over a salad plate and set aside to cool.

While the apples are cooling, tend to the pastry. Lightly flour a clean, dry surface. Lay the pastry over the surface and lightly dust with flour. Roll out the dough evenly so it is about two-thirds to three quarters of it’s original thickness. Cut once horizontally and once up and down so you have four squares that are roughly equally sized. Trace a circle that extends to the sides of the squares of each of the quadrants.

Once the apples are cool, divide evenly and distribute among the centers of each square, leaving an inch or so around the edge. Divide the gouda among the tarts, tucking into the apples. Pull the pastry towards the center of the circle, pinching off the dough to form an open, rippled pouch. Don’t try to make too perfect- these are rustic.

With a pastry brush, lightly brush the beaten egg over the tarts, being careful to cover all of the visible dough. Focusing on the dough, sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the top of the tarts. Transfer to a plate and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 375.

Place the tarts on a lined baking sheet. Bake for ten minutes, then rotate the pan so the front is now towards the bake. Bake for ten more minutes. They are ready when the tarts are golden-brown and the dough is cooked through. Set aside to cool (they will deflate a healthy bit). Serve lightly warm or at room tempera

K-I-S-S-I-N-G – Aged Sheep’s Milk Cheese & Sours, Sitting in a Tree

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Sipping, eating, nibbling, drinking- after instigating meticulous research in the name of beer and cheese pairing, my friends, I have arrived at a discovery. As my co-presenter Travis and I sipped our sours and wrapped up our beer and cheese pairing event at Drake’s Barrel House this Saturday for SF Beer Week, we looked at each other, broke down our findings, measured a few things, used an exel spreadsheet for something or another if I remember correctly, then came to an agreement.

Or, rather, I simply turned to the very happy, lightly buzzed crowd and said, “Aged sheep’s milk cheese goes awesomely with sour beers, guys.”

 

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Sharing that bit of knowledge made me feel almost as good as having my friend later  feel my arm and ask if I had been working out until I figured out that she was touching the arm that had been flexed holding up a heavy glass of beer. Why?

Because artisan cheese can change from from season to season, from wheel to wheel, and from batch to batch, it can be tricky to pair to craft beers, which can morph just as quickly. So having a cheat sheet, a standby pairing to lean on, is uber helpful.

Sheep’s milk fairs well with sours for two main reasons. 

 

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Read more about sours here.

Why does it work?

1. You’re contrasting.

Sheep’s milk is higher in butterfat than cow’s and goat’s milk. As the milk ferments and ages into cheese, it intensifies in richness. And since cheese looses moisture, but not butterfat with age, the richness only amplifies. When paired to a sour beer, the beer’s acidity is extremely helpful in cutting through some of the fat in the sheep’s milk cheese like lemon does to a cream sauce. It keeps the pairing situation bright and light.

2. You’re also matching.

Next, sheep’s milk still retains some of it’s lightly citrus character when it ages. Think of Pecorino Toscano, Everona’s Piedmont, or even Abbaye de Belloc. For SF Beer Week, we paired Bellwether’s San Andreas and Barinaga’s Basseri with Drake’s One Hit Warrant- a honey wheat aged in Chardonnay barrels with sour cherries. The  lightly tart beer, and even the cherries matched the lemony citrus notes in both Basseri and San Andreas. The cheeses also went super well with Drake’s Scarlett O’Bretta and Wild Hundo. And after doing much research (ahem,… tasting) I can confirm that other sours and ages sheep’s milk cheeses go well together too. It’s a good thing I’m here for you.

 

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Next time you’re faced with a tree trunk carved with initials, consider looking for ASC ♥s SB (Aged Sheep’s Milk Cheese ♥s Sour Beer). It’s likely right below Jessie declaring his love for Jenny.

 

Carboncino: My Mixed-Milk Comfort Cheese

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Perhaps because my family has always based our trips around going to spots where we could pull over for a cheese tour or wheel, our car drives normally started in my home town of Sacramento, and ended in Sonoma or Marin. So even though I grew up in northern California, I had only been to the Mendocino coast once.

But two Sundays ago, I hopped in my car, packed my computer, a pilates roller to get those laptop writing kinks out, hiking boots, comfort cheese, other less necessary food provisions, and drove to a friend’s cabin overlooking the sea. I wanted to work on a writing sample for a upcoming project (which I would love to share soon) near nature. The cheese? Well I brought it because I obviously needed it.

It was a gorgeous drive. Once past the Bay Area, Sonoma greeted me with rolling hills, vines,  cows of all sizes and colors, and short, roaming trees. After I turned the Russian River corner leading to Jenner, my drive was flanked by Highway 1’s drastic Pacific ocean views, cliffs, and redwoods. Then once I arrived to my little corner of Mendocino, I unpacked, grabbed my cheese and a plate, and pulled a chair onto the deck overlooking the ocean. I had underestimated the drive and was ready for fresh air and food.

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The cheese I unpacked was Carboncino. Whenever I take a trip that I’d like to be as effortless as possible when I’m not writing, hiking, etc…, I bring comfort cheese. What is comfort cheese? Well, its basically whatever cheese offers you respite and simple pleasures when you need it to. What cheese do you like in your grattins, your grilled cheese, your mac n cheese, or just spread over a cracker with little else? That’s your comfort cheese. It can change.

Last week Carboncino was mine. A couple weeks prior when I went on a hike I packed Comté (holds well in a back-pack). Other times I’ve brought Garrotxa, PennyRoyal’s Boont Corners, and …. whatever felt good to me at the moment. This time I wanted something spreadable and unctuous.

A goat, sheep, and cow’s milk hybrid, Carboncino is a mild, creamy cheese with lemony and often mushroomy notes, and an ashed rind. I’ve served it to picky family members, friends who like their cheese as soft as butter, and to myself when I want a cheese that’s all about the simple pleasures.

It’s made by Alta Langha, the same blessed mixed-milk people who make La Tur and Rochetta in Piedmont, Italy. I picked up this lovely disk from my friends at The Pasta Shop in Oakland. It’s wonderful with a sparkling wine, an Italian Trebbiano or Vermentino, or a porch overlooking the sea.

What’s your comfort cheese?