Monthly Archives: February 2011

“It’s Not You, it’s Brie” Cheese Club at Solano Cellars

Mayor of Nye Beach- photo courtesy of Rivers edge Chevre website

Mayor of Nye Beach- photo courtesy of Rivers edge Chevre website

It has been a while since I wrote about the glories of the “It’s Not You, it’s Brie” cheese club, so I thought I’d toss the little fella a (milk) bone and share the latest selection write ups. Every month I put together a pick-up only cheese club in conjunction with Solano Cellars wine shop and wine bar, composed of three of my favorite cheeses that month, plus an accompaniment to pair with one of the selections. The following three cheeses are the picks from February (this month I was feeling the domestic love). I hope you have a chance to try some of these beauties near you, and there’s some additional info about the club at the end of the post in case you’d like to here more.

Cheese club descriptions:

Bohemian Creamery’s Caproncino

Bohemian Creamery is a two-woman organic goat and cow milk cheese dairy in Sebastopol that opened just two years ago but whose wheels are already on the cheese list at French Laundry. Broad in range, they make everything from an asiago style to a cheese shaped like a breast (so says owner Lisa) named Bodacious. Caproncino is a pressed, firm yet lush goat cheese, with sweet cream and light mushroom flavors. Want it a little earthier? Eat the rind- I always do on this one. Drink with a peppery, herbal Crab Franc like the La Tête Rouge “Tête de Lard,” or serve with the sweet olive oil Spanish flatbread included in the club.

River’s Edge Chevre Mayor of Nye Beach

I think we’re feeling comfortable enough with each other that we can talk washed rinds now. Washed rinds smell funky. Like socks, but the best socks possible, like Marc Jacobs limited addition cashmere knee highs. As a this style of cheese ages, a cheesemaker rubs down the wheels with a brine that promotes the growth of Brevibacterium linens- a good bacteria that produces a slightly stinky scent with one of the sweetest tastes known to cheeses. This one’s rubbed with water and Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale. Beneath the Mayor of Nye Beach’s orange-red rind is a velvety, thick goat cheese paste just waiting to soften. Leave out an hour before serving and try with an Arend triple Belgian beer (sold in house!).

Pedrozo Dairy Black Butte

The Pedrozos only make their Black Butte Reserve in the spring when their cows are grazing on the lushest Sacramento Delta vegetation- lots of rye grasses. The result is a stunning cheese with grassy, floral notes that develops walnut and brown butter flavors as it ages. Although made in simple, straight-foward traditional manner, it often outshines wheels sold at higher prices. Have in a rocking grilled cheese sandwich or enjoy with chestnut honey and hazelnuts after dinner, with a big California red like T-Vine Grenache or Marietta Cuvée Anglee.

Want to hear a little more about the club? Here goes:

“Do you remember when you were aching to take some of that oozing, buttery triple-crème you had at the wine bar home? What about that seasonal sheep’s milk Pecorino Foglie di Noce wrapped in walnut leaves and rubbed with olive oil you sampled in the Regional Italian Wine and Cheese Class? They remember you too.

In the tradition of Solano Cellars’s world famous wine clubs, Solano Cellars is starting a club that brings the world of artisan cheese into your home. Every month, wine bar manager, cheese instructor, writer, and author of “It’s Not You, it’s Brie” Kirstin Jackson, chooses her favorite three cheeses- some wine bar favorites and some club exclusives- for you to sample.

Every club comes with wine recommendations for bottles available on the shop floor and (there’s more!) write-ups similar to the descriptions found on Kirstin’s cheese blog. At least one of the club cheeses will be ripe and ready as Frog Hollow peaches in late July, and the other two will be happy to sit tightly wrapped in your fridge for a couple-three weeks. The club will total $25 and will be available mid-month, every month. Pick up ONLY.”

Salvatore Bklyn Ricotta Goodness

Salvatore Ricotta

Salvatore Ricotta

Salvatore cleaning station

Salvatore cleaning station

The first time I tasted Salvatore Bklyn ricotta, I realized that I had been doing it at home all wrong. Granted, this wasn’t exactly a shock. Even the color of my homemade ricotta paled (or rather, grayed) in comparison to the pictures of the cool kid’s white, fluffy dairy glory posted all over the internet.

But Salvatore’s version puts nearly any non-whey based ricotta to shame- not just mine. It tastes of fresh buttery cream and rich milk and has notes of lemon and grass or even flowers, depending on what the cows are eating that season. Bonus- unlike like those small pints of bland, grainy goop sitting on chain supermarket shelves trying to pass themselves off as the real deal, it has the perfect amount of salt to highlight its nuances.

Ricotta, like Bellwether’s fantastic sheep’s or jersey milk versions in Sonoma, is traditionally made from the whey leftover from cheesemaking. Salvatore’s, however, is made the way home cooks in Italy craft their take on that cheese. Made from a delicious blend of rich milk from upstate New York, lemon juice, and salt, Salvatore’s ricotta tastes like it would if an Italian mother whipped up a creamy batch at home, or, like how it would if the Italian man after which Salvatore ricotta is named made it- with lots of love, and with the best ingredients possible.

Before I recently visited New York city, I emailed Betsy of Salvatore ricotta, told her that I love her cheese, and asked if I could come watch the magic happen. She said yes. She let me take pictures, gave me coffee, entertained me while the milk was heating, and even let me taste granola made by her kitchen partner. Score. Although little is available outside of New York without a high shipping price tag, I thought you might enjoy seeing how the Salvatore team does their thing. Here’s a photo tour of that day, less the granola.

New York milk

New York milk

First things first- Cheese is only as good as the milk. Owners (and chef) Betsy Devine and Rachel Mark only use uber-rich local milk from Hudson Valley Fresh, a non-profit dairy collective in upstate New York.  They go through less than 100 pounds a day. The milk goes into a steam kettle and is slowly heated before the lemon juice or salt is added.

Before starting Salvatore, Betsy refined her cheese skills cooking at Lunetta restaurant in Brooklyn, where she was allowed to experiment with ricotta for the menu and build up clientele for her future brand.

Ken juicing lemons

Ken juicing lemons

Salavtore acidifying

Salavtore acidifying

Once the milk is sufficiently warmed and Ken, Betsy’s accomplice who, she says, has pretty much become their head cheesemaker, has juiced enough lemons, the acidification process can begin. In goes the lemon juice. The lemon juice is the acid that initiates the separation of the milk solids- the protiens- from the liquid- the whey. This happens pretty quickly.

Scooping ricotta

Scooping ricotta

Once the curds show themselves, it’s time to scoop them from the kettle to the tubs so more of the liquid can drain from the solids.

SalvatoreRicottaDraining6Next, the plastic tubs are lined with cheesecloth and filled with the fresh and delicate curds. The cheesecloth allows the whey to drain through its tiny holes and supports the setting of large, moisture drenched, rich curds that make this ricotta so darn sweet and creamy. After the cloth is securely wrapped around the ricotta so no curds are lost in the draining process, the tubs are wheeled into the walk in, where they hang out over night until they’re ready to be packaged the next day.

Ricotta draining
The aim is to sell the ricotta very quickly. This stuff doesn’t like to mellow. It’s so moisture laden that if it’s not consumed with a little over a week (not a problem in my house), it’ll go bad. But with the demand as high as it is for Salvatore- most goes to chefs, the cheese rarely rests a night before it hits New York city streets.
Salvatore Sicilian olive oil

Salvatore Sicilian olive oil

Good news for east coast Salvatore fans (I say east coast because this ricotta sells out before it reaches anywhere else in the country) is that Salvatore’s business is expanding slightly. Sadly, it’s not growing enough to get me much cheese in Cali, but since its distribution is being picked up by New York’s esteemed Saxelby Cheese, Betsy and Rachel will have a little spare time to figure out what they want to do next in the dairy world. They’re not leaving the Italian cheese world, but are tossing around ideas for other dairy deliciousness. They’ve even taken up bottling Sicilian co-op olive oil that they found through Italian connections, which I can attest is worth carrying back with you to California even though it makes your suitcase two pounds heavier.
Thanks for the visit Salvatore Bklyn!
Betsy of Salvatore

Betsy of Salvatore


Do you have a favorite local ricotta near you? Have you had a chance to try Salvatore cheese?

New York to Come

Just got back from New York, seeing amazing friends, getting lost walking around Manhattan, eating cheese. Next week: a post on visiting Byklyn Salvatore Ricotta and on how it feels to return to California after wearing 5 layers of clothing to 60 degree weather.

Coming soon!

Cheese in a Can: Cougar Gold & Cougar Gold Cheese Balls

Cougar Gold Cheese

Cougar Gold Cheese

Cheese friends are great friends to have. They have a great sense of humor (they have to, to help them navigate all the “cutting the _____” jokes), and an exquisite level of understanding if you come to a party smelling like Roquefort because you’ll been plating blues at work all night. Plus, they occasionally send you cheese in the mail, which is infinitely better than receiving postcards from Hawaii. My cheese friends have a special place in my heart (granted, so do my my wine and beer friends, but they actually point out when I smell like Ewe’s Blue).

Recently, cheese friend, writer, and author Tami Parr of Pacific Northwest Cheese blog and the book Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest, sent me a regional dairy delicacy to sample. It was a different sort of cheese, she told me. It was cheese in a can.

CougarGoldCan

Cougar fish

Now, receiving artisan cheese in a can can be confusing. Regardless of whether you’ve heard that Cougar Gold is delicious, and canned, it doesn’t actually hit that the cheese comes in a can until the extra-large tuna fish style tin is sitting on your counter and the cougar fish on the label is eying you. And eye it does.

But you trust that your friends would only send you delicious cheese. So you reach for the can opener. As you work the tool around the lid, you get into a rhythm, and you relax. After you’ve cut off the top of the container and set the can opener aside, you smell the cheese.

It smells sharp, tangy with lactic acid, and you get a slight whiff of the tin it’s housed in. Then, you cut yourself a sliver. And you enjoy it.

Cougar Gold is the color of Straus organic butter made when cows are eating only winter fodder of hay and dried grasses- a slightly yellow, creamy white. Crumbly, the wheel has occasional small pleasant calcium lactate crystals that offer an occasional bite to the cheese reveler. The taste is clean. A little tangy and somewhat sharp, Cougar Gold tastes like fresh buttermilk drizzled over a grassy cheddar.

It’s really good. And, according to some Cougar Gold customers, it has tasted delicious upon opening 30 years after it was made.

Why is it in a can? Because when Washington State students developed Cougar Gold in the 1930’s for a research/educational project, they wanted to make a cheese that would last for years and needed a strong container to store the cheese in. Plastic wasn’t yet introduced as a food storage option. Check out their website for more info; it even has ideas for what to do with the can when you’re done with it, such as how to “make it a night to remember with these romantic Cougar Candles.”

Made by Student Kyle

Made by Student Kyle

But back to eating the cheese. The can is 30 ounces- almost two pounds. That’s a lot of Cougar Gold. What to do once you’ve set aside a portion to eat fresh?

Make Cougar Gold cheese balls.

Take the recipe for Farmhouse Cheddar Cheeseballs, second one down on this link, almost to the end of the article. Omit the bourbon, use thyme or lemon thyme instead of rosemary, and use the canned deliciousness as the cheddar.

Then, invite guests over for a Cougar party and say a little prayer of thanks that you have cheese friends in other areas of the country.