Monthly Archives: September 2009

Queso Fresco, Tomato and Duck Confit Salad

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One gaze at restaurant menus like those of A16 in San Francisco or Babbo in NYC tells you that American chefs have fallen long and hard for fresh cheeses such as mozzarella or burrata. And certainly their fresh and tangy sisters, chevre and feta, live a long, full life in salads across the nation.

But what about queso fresco? Unless their focus is entirely Latin American, it’s rare that high-end restaurants in the United States, even those in California and the southwest of Texas where Mexican culture heavily influences the states’ cuisine, flaunt the Mexican freshies.

But they’re naughty for not doing it. Bad. Queso fresco rocks.

It’s cheaper then the best burrata made in the U.S., readily available especially in California and Southwestern states, and (hold on to your britches) often tastes better than some of the most reputable mozzarella sold in grocery stores and some gourmet markets, and, it expresses the flavors of fresh milk as charmingly as the Italian favorites. In short, it’s damn good and we need to eat more of it.

Queso fresco’s name says it all. Made all over Latin American countries, this pressed, fresh cheese makes guest appearances in numerous dishes south of the U.S. border. Crumbled, sliced, melted, queso fresco is a workhorse cheese that pleases no matter how it’s served. When traveling in Mexico, I saw it most often crumbled like a light dusting of snow over salads, beans and enchiladas. As the filling for chile rellanos, it lends a slightly salty and fresh buttery taste to the finished product.

The best ones tell the charms of the fresh, sweet milk from which they are made, and if whole milk was used (bless the cheesemaker), queso fresco will soften wonderfully, but not melt entirely, between two corn tortillas.

I would highly encourage all of you to explore your local queso frescos. I’ve found some awesome ones in Cali, sure, but have tasted just as many tasty ones from Wisconin. Play with it where you would use feta or chevre on salads, crumbled over lentil and black bean soups, and as a treat atop garlic and olive oil-laden pasta.

My most recent favorite queso fresco dish, which was aided by a leftover duck confit leg that my roomie who works at Chez Panisse brought home from work, was a very simple salad I made at home with the last of the seasonal tomatoes. If the late summer tomatoes aren’t gracing your market stands anymore, try using plums or the soon-to-be released persimmons. Using a little arugula in this salad is optional.

For the confit, I hope that you either have a roomie who also works at Chez Panisse (please don’t take mine), a butcher chop near you who confits ducks occasionally, or time to slowly cook your own (duck) legs in pure duck fat. Mmmmmm……. duck fat.

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Queso Fresco and Tomato Salad with Duck Confit

Serves two

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 minced shallot

1 teaspoon thyme, freshly chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1-2 duck confit legs The Technique for Duck Confit- Gourmet Magazine

2 medium-sized heirloom tomatoes, of different color

2.5 ounces queso fresco

Combine balsamic, garlic and thyme in a small bowl. Let sit so thyme will soften and “cook” in the vinegar for 2-3 minutes. Add olive oil and stir. Salt and pepper to taste.

Slice tomatoes and arrange on plate so the different colors alternate. Salt and pepper lightly. Pull the meat from the duck confit legs and place over tomatoes. Crumble queso fresco over salad and drizzle with vinaigrette.

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Cheese Classes, Writing & More to Come


Next week, I tell you, there will be writing. Real writing. Not just these words promising more words.

What’s been keeping me from posting besides that cheese monkey on my back tightening his grip on the reigns, one centimeter at a time, you ask?

Well, I’ve been working full-time, personal cheffing for two fabulous friends of mine, writing an Edible East Bay article- a holiday wine pairing guide w/recipes (butternut sqaush,frisée salad with tarragon, pecans and manouri cheese & pork loin stuffed w/turkey sausage, chard and harvarti), just finished teaching a Wine and Cheese Pairing 101 class at Solano Cellars, making a video about cheese and kittens (see below), putting together the “It’s Not You, it’s Brie” cheese club, and am “working” on a book proposal. Or I’ve been thinking about last one anyhow.

Also, want to help me win a cheese trip? Vote for me! I made a video that admittedly became not half as sexy once it uploaded to youtube (hello, digital and sound warping, nice to meet you) to compete for an Oregon Cusinternship that would allow me to play at Rogue River Creamery and Lilie Belle Farms for a week. More rating & votes = the more likely I am to win! I want that. Rating the video only requires one to log in to youtube (takes about 20 seconds) to click on the stars. Thank you, thank you!

Posts to come:

Next post: Queso Fresco, deconstructed, with queso fresco, duck confit tomato salad recipe.

I’m also happy to announce that “It’s Not You, it’s Brie” will shortly be doing a joint Gouda ice cream post with Plinio Sandalio, pastry chef of Gravitas. Check out those seasonal desserts, oh my god. That’s right. Chills down the desert spine!

Upcoming class:

Cheese and Wine Pairing at the San Francisco Cheese School, Oct 22nd.

The featured photo was taken by guest Stephanie Stiavetti. It was the cheese plate for an Italian Cheese and Wine class I taught at Solano Cellars. The cheeses: clockwise from noon, La Tur, Toma Piemontese, Panteleo, Pecorino Folgie di Nocce, Parmigiano Reggiano, Quadrello di Bufala, Gorgonzola Dolce Organica, and the center goodness, Gioia Burrata.

Gouda Ice Cream Cone: Possibly Real

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Gouda, pre-carving.

Somewhere, in this fantastic world of ours exists an ice cream cone made of gouda. Although I have never actually seen one besides in my sweetest dreams, I know its true because my friend Kate told me. And she doesn’t lie. But she does guest post.

When not writing her blog Straight Outta Chocolate, making rock star cakes (seriously), spinning records around Los Angeles, making music, manning an independent book store, hitting up thrift stores, or perusing her father’s world’s largest Bob Marley/Reggae collection for inspiration, she can be found roaming her kitchen, rustling up all kinds of delicious treats, like vegetarian French Dip sandwiches, 2 ways.

Here’s Kate’s take on cheese,  shaped into ice cream cones.

“I wasn’t introduced to cheese the way most kids were- with comfortable, bland, antiseptic plastic-wrapped string cheese and perfect squares of Kraft.  Then again, nothing about my upbringing was exactly normal.  Our house was constantly flooded with people, visitors from places I couldn’t even find on a map.  Countries with exotic names like Mauritius and Zimbabwe, towns like Utrecht and Kapa’a and Zion.

Like most people with a serious love of food, most of my childhood memories revolve around what I ate, rather than the usual who, where and when that I assumed my peers identified with.  So when Kirstin told me about creating her new cheese blog, one of the first conversations we had involved childhood cheese memories.  I remember meeting a large, sunny family from Holland (from the above named Utrecht), who came bearing the best gift I could imagine- something edible!  The cheese they brought me wasn’t immediately recognizable as cheese however, coming wrapped in colorful wax and molded into the artful shapes that only kids can truly appreciate.

My Gouda (pronounced How-da by our visitors) was designed to look like a perfect strawberry ice-cream cone, so perfect that I remember licking the wax, hoping against hope that it was made of that recently discovered magic manna-from-the-stars, astronaut ice-cream.  So perfect that I kept that wax wrapper for weeks after its salty, creamy insides were devoured, tucked into a drawer reserved for special, secret finds.

And so perfect that when it came time to research my wacky looking cheese for Kirstin’s blog, I couldn’t find evidence of Gouda wrapped in anything but the normal (and in my eyes, boring) round black and red wax.  I started to doubt myself – thinking maybe I made up this memory, that it was just a dream.  But then I remembered the taste of Gouda, the foreign-ness of this almost cheddar, the buttery, slightly salty flavor that rendered all my previous experiences with cheese null and void.  I told myself this couldn’t have been a dream, because this simple memory resonated for years, prepping me for a life of edible exploration”

Have you ever seen this ice cream cone? And, ahem, the above photo is not an ice cream cone, but damn fine gouda. Because we couldn’t find the cone.

Speaking of ice cream and cheese, check out these fabulous cheese ice cream links below. Someday, you just might see an ice cream post here.

Ice Cream Fellow’s goat cheese ice cream

Apples and Butter’s Saint Agur Ice Cream and the Davids

Best Bite’s Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream