Monthly Archives: December 2010

2010: Cheese Bites to Take to 2011

Barinaga Ranch Txiki

Barinaga Ranch Txiki

When I was a child I always demanded to know people’s favorites- my mother’s favorite color, whether she preferred me or my father more, my dad’s favorite number, my friends favorite cheese, my aunts favorite fruit, my dad’s favorite cheese, Santa’s favorite cookie, my uncle’s favorite cheese (and maybe he could tell me my aunt’s while he was at it). Things like that. It was important to know who and what was at the top.

One day, while on a long vacation car ride, my mother grew a little tired of my preference requests. I can’t remember if it was when I kept asking which brand of sugar-free jam was her favorite on wheat bread or whether she preferred Folgers or Yuban coffee – it was the eighties- for the fifth time, but I remembered her saying, “Kirstin, I don’t have a favorite (although she really preferred Yuban). What’s the point? My favorite could change next week.”

I think it was just her and I in the car, otherwise I would have turned to my father and started asking him about his preferred pre-ground coffee, but instead I sulked. Years later when I stopped pouting and my mother’s response had sufficiently simmered, I started questioning the idea of favorites. What does it matter if we have favorites? Why do we cling to them? Are we letting our favorites define us? Do we try to define our favorites?

With this in mind, I’d like to present a list of a few cheeses I adored in 2010 that I hope you will try in 2011. But they’re not my favorites. I admire them. I love their complexity. They’re deliciously delicious. I want to eat them on a bi-monthly basis. But all good cheese changes with the season, with the moon cycles, when cheesemakers try a new washing brine, and so forth. So, with respect for cheese’s transitive nature, I won’t suggest that any will or should stay the same so they’ll be that “favorite” that I remembered. All good artisan cheese changes. Try these awesome ones whenever possible.

This is just a short list in no particular order.

Juniper Grove Tumalo Tomme: firm, gouda- like goat’s milk, sweet and lively.

Cobb Hill Ascutney Mountain: washed rind, firm, brown buttery pineapple Alpine style.

River’s Edge Mayor of Nye Beach: washed rind, raw goat’s milk, softer semi-firm, funky.

Secret du Couvent: washed rind, raw cow’s milk, semi-firm, faint scent peanut butter, affinage Pascal Bellviere.

Cowgirl Creamery Inverness: tiny, lactic-acid set, Jersey cow’s milk that tastes as tangy as a goat’s.

Marzolino Rosso Del Chianti: tangy sheep’s milk, firm, rubbed with tomato juice as ages.

Barinaga Ranch Txiki: Basque style, buttery, earthy sheep’s milk.

Bleu Mont Clothbound Cheddar: funky, occasional crystals, meaty, mushroomy.

I’d also like to take this moment to say thank you, Sally Jackson, for making some of the most exciting cheese I’ve ever had, in 2010, and in years before. You will be missed with a vengeance.

Holiday Decadence: Triple-Cremes

Brillat Savarin triple-creme

Brillat Savarin triple-creme

First of all, please excuse the slower blog posts this month. I work at a wine shop/wine bar. If in, or connected someone who works the food and wine industry, you know that during the winter holidays, we’re busier than Fredrick’s of Hollywood on Valentines day. But we sell Champagne rather than tiny pieces of hot pink lace (most months of the year, anyway).

After printing out hundreds of shipping labels and helping oodles of customers pick The Perfect Bottle, at the end of the day, I feel less like writing about cheese and more like seeing how many different types of it I can fit into my mouth. So today’s post is going to be a quicky, about the holidayest of Holiday Cheeses.

The Triple-Creme.

There’s no way around it, triple creme is the world’s post popular cheese. It’s the Reese Witherspoon of the cheese world, the Harry Potter of fermented milk, the golden retriever of the cheese shop. It’s darling, it’s charming, and gosh darn it, people like it.

When people ask me which cheese to serve during the holidays, I always go creme. OF COURSE  you want to have other cheeses on your plate, but if for some silly reason you just want one, pick a triple. If you are buying more than one, slip a triple in.

A triple-creme is a holiday no-brainer. Here’s why:

1. It’s like cheese ice cream. It’s lush, creamy, smooth, sweet, fatty and can be eaten with a spoon. Who doesn’t like ice cream? Lactose intolerant people perhaps. They also probably don’t like my blog. Moving on…

2. Grandmas, little kids, and cheese snobs like triple-cremes. All these people will probably at your holiday function. Let’s go back to Reese Withersppon. My grandmother likes her because she’s a super mom and acts in those family-friendly romantic comedies that we can watch together without dealing with the eh hm… sensual scenes. Kids like her because she’s the voice in some of their favorite animated movies and she smiles a lot and probably gives them candy when their parent’s aren’t looking. Snobs like her because of Walk the Line and Freeway. No matter how you dish it up, there’s reason to like triple-creme. There’s the more mainstream, delicious Brillat Savarin, and there’s the more dynamic Nettle Meadow Kunik cheese made with cow and goat’s milk that always manages to say something witty.

3. Triple-Cremes love sparkling wine. Although we should all be drinking more sparkling wine on everyday occasions, we’re still a long ways away from offering a guest a cold sparkling-brewskie when they come over to hang out. We save sparklings for special occasions. And because we don’t often have sparklings, when we do the experience, cheese and all, should be exemplary. The bubbles and high-acidity of sparkling cuts through the fat of the triple-cremes and lifts the wine and cheese off to a better place.

Want to read more about triple cremes? Grab the new issue of Culture magazine. It’s got the creamiest most decadent cheese you’ve ever seen on a cover.

What’s your favorite triple-creme?

Cheese, with a Bow

Farmhouse Cheddar, Bourbon and Pecan Cheese ball

Farmhouse Cheddar, Bourbon and Pecan Cheese ball

When the weather gets frosty and the flurries start swirling, I start to get readers and student requests for cheesy holiday gift ideas. Because I have not yet trademarked my idea for a cheeseball Christmas sweater and wouldn’t want to walk past Stella McCartney one day and see a walnut-rolled Fourme D’Ambert ball/cashmere pashmina before I have time to register my notion, I’m going to stick to recommending cheese products and cheese lit. I hope you wont be disappointed.

Drum roll……., the “It’s Not You, it’s Brie” holiday cheese gift list extravaganza.

The List

Number One- Make your friend a cheeseball. This gift is an inexpensive gift that just keeps giving. Really- if you give it to one person, there will be leftovers for days. And if you bring it to a party, they’ll be pictures that will last for years. Cheeseballs warm hearts. Enough said.

Here are some cheeseball recipes that I wrote for NPR last December.

Cheese and Champagne also has one of my favorite recipes for a cocoa-lavender ball. Very inventive and not sweet.

Ideas that cost money

Cheese Clubs & Classes

If you’re in the Bay Area, check out the “It’s Not You, it’s Brie cheese club I put together through Solano Cellars wine shop. Pick up only. I wrap up the cheeses with extra love.

If you need your club shipped, consider Artisanal’s Cheese of the Month Club. I’ve seen this cheese being packed, and it’s also wrapped with love. You’ll be in good hands.

The Cheese School of San Francisco, Murray’s Cheese, and the Brooklyn Kitchen all offer gift certificates and have awesome classes. So does Ramekins in Sonoma and C’est Cheese in Sacramento. Don’t live on the coast? Check a cheese hot spot near you for advice where to go. There are plenty.

Cheese Lit

Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest: A Discovery Guide: Tami Parr has one of the best cheese blogs to date. It features news, rumblings, cheesemaker descriptions, and it’s inspiration. The woman knows what she’s talking about when she tells you what’s what in the Pacific Northwest cheese world, and she’s a great writer.

A little broader is Sasha Davies’s The Guide to West Coast Cheese: More than 300 Cheeses Handcrafted in California, Oregon, and Washington. Davies is a cheesemonger and sits on the American Cheese Society Board and has her finger on the pulse of small-production cheese. She’ll put you to work- I have not heard of some of the Cali cheeses she mentions and I’m ready to seek them out.

Mastering Cheese is the big daddy. It has the basics, and much, more more. It’s one to which I refer back when I need a reminder why triple-creme cheese has less fat than their labels say (bonus!) or to find out which milking animal has more of which vitamins in their milk. Or to read about Capriole or Jasper Hill or…  Here’s an interview with authorMax McCalman from “It’s Not You, it’s Brie.”

CheeseChroniclesJPGThe Cheese Chronicles trails Murray’s cheesemonger, buyer and educator Liz Thorpe’s visits to some of the best cheesemakers in the United States. It says a lot about American cheese and the devotion of its cheesmakers to perfecting their craft, as it does about Thorpe’s expertise and love for the subject. It’s lively and inspired, and also a fantastic culinary memoir.

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Cheesemonger, by Gordon Edgar, is one of my favorite books, period. Using humor as a guiding force, Edgar links his love for cheese to social activism and explains how what many see as nothing more than fermented milk can inspire a full and aware life. And it’s flippin funny.

Home Cheese Making

An oldie but a goodie,Home Cheese Making is a great guide to making cheese in your own kitchen. I’ve tried to make cheese with other books and have found a wrong temperature in a recipe or two that has thrown off my efforts. Then I end up frustrated. This one is exact. And has abundant recipes inside for the gorgeous cheeses on the cover.

River CottageI know, it’s kind of cheating. The River Cottage Preserves Handbook is not about cheese. But it loves cheese. The recipes within it, like Melissa’s chestnut jam and apple-flower jellies want to be paired with Sierra Mountain Tomme and Garrotxa, for example. So does the ale chutney. Expect to see some trial recipes from this book on the blog in the future.

TheCheeseEssentialsLaura Werlin’s The Cheese Essentialscovers, well the cheese essentials. It breaks down why a washed-rind is called a washed-rind and how to find other varieties like Époisses if you are hooked. It also has some great recipes for cheese accouterments, like pan forte. It is simple, friendly, easy to use, and Werlin does a great job in explaining why certain cheeses are how they are (nature vs. nurture?).


goatSongGoat Song tells the story of novelist Brad Kessler’s move from the city to the Vermont countryside to make cheese and raise goats, in vivid detail. Seriously, goat mating is described down the italicized T. It’s real, honest, and a great book. Kessler’s a skilled writer who explains his devotion to husbandry, why he and his wife moved from Manhattan to make goat cheese, and the profound impact the decision and the animals have had on his life.

Some local book stores that I like to buy these beauties from are: OmnivoreWalden PondDieselPegasus books. Please share your favorites shops, especially if culinary-themed!

Lastly, your local cheese shop probably has gift certificates. This comes in handy if you’re not sure whether the person you’re gifting prefers light and mild fresh cheeses or funkier-than Bootsy Collins washed rinds.

Any other gift ideas?