Monthly Archives: March 2011

Pistachio Cream- Cheese’s Circle of Friends

pistachio cream

pistachio cream

As mentioned previously  on “It’s Not You, it’s Brie,” cheese has a wide circle of friends. It’s a social animal. Circulating only amongst its own kind has no appeal to cheese; it knows that it is only as well-rounded and nuanced as those it keeps in its company and that discriminating against non milk-based products would ultimately make life less tasty.

And we all know that dairy likes to be tasty.

One thing that nearly always pairs well with cheese is nuts. Some pair better with different styles of cheeses. Pecans love blues, toasted walnuts love Alpine cheeses, hazelnuts are fond of chevre. But they like to mix it up too. Nuts and cheeses have an open relationship and sometimes (if they and their more committed partners discuss it beforehand), chevre will be seen out on the town with pecans rather than with hazelnuts, or blues will go get a drink after work with a walnut or two.

But even though a nut has a vibrant social life, sometimes it gets bored in its plain state or yearns for a little more excitement than the inside of a toaster oven.

Being pulverized and zested does the trick.

I was inspired to make this pistachio cream-paste one day while standing in the bulk aisle at a grocery shop. I was reaching for the walnut bin with plans of later toasting the walnuts to serve with Comté and Vin Jaune as the classic Jura region pairing, when bright little green pellets caught my eye.

When coming up with a cheese pairing, I consider the flavors of a cheese. Comté can taste like brown butter, butterscotch, cream, coffee, walnuts, and hazelnuts. If Comté can exhibit nutty flavors, I thought it could probably handle a little pistachio attention rather than just toasted walnuts. Since it was such a rich cheese, I knew it could handle a little zest and acidity too. Coincidently, two days prior to seeing the green nuts at the shop, I saw an article about how pastry chef Pierre Hermé makes his own pistachio paste to fill pastries. And this was how the pistachio cream was born.

Pistachio Cream

Pair with a mild Alpine-style cheese like Comté, Gruyere, or Mountina. Or, with young goat cheese or mild blues. This is a loose pistachio cream recipe, not meant to be followed precisely, so add however much more sugar, honey, lemon, water, etc, that you like to achieve the textures and flavors that please you. For a twist, add a splash of rose water at the end. Or, add two tablespoons of cream to soften the flavor.

1 1/2 cup shelled pistachios

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

zest of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Put pistachios in a food processor and grind until nuts are the texture of cornmeal. Add sugar, water, lemon zest and lemon juice and blend until a smooth paste is achieved. Add more water and blend more if the mixture isn’t shiny and smooth.

(Also delicious with chocolate!)

What do you like to eat with your Alpine style cheeses?

Roquefort: Jean D’Alos Rocks the Wheel.

Jean D'Alos Roquefort

Jean D'Alos Roquefort

Months ago I took a photo of an especially melty, glistening, sexy, heavy breathing type of Roquefort to feature on “It’s Not You, it’s Brie,” but in my excitement over, I don’t know, a chestnut honey or the Winnimere release, I lost track of my plans. I forgot about Roquefort. It wasn’t until I was perusing one of my favorite cheese blogs the other day, Madame Fromage, and saw that she was hosting a Blue Cheese Invitational that I remembered my dearest blue. Thank you, Madame.

Now, cheese with the Roquefort stamp on it can be found in just about any good cheese shop. Roquefort must be aged in the Combalou mountain in Roqefort-sur-Soulzon to be called such -helps guarantee that the blue you’re getting will be the real thing- but within the Roquefort kingdom there are levels of goodness. Nearly every international cheese shop will have a wheel or two, but there are some wheels that provoke extra excitement.

One of those Roqueforts is the one aged by Jean D’Alos. Jean D’Alos is a master affineur from Bordeaux that cares for his cheeses like a new mother does her baby. I’ve heard that D’Alos carries photos of his favorite wheels in his wallet and that the wallet is so fat from the photos that he has to carry five wallets. I heard that he names every cheese in his cave- first, middle,and last names, and sometimes even a fourth one for good luck. I also heard that Chuck Norris trained with D’Alos to learn how to kill with two wheels of Comté, Été.

Affinage is a craft in France where an affineur will take very young or partially aged cheese from a cheesemaker and house it, flip it, care for it, until they think it taste best. This is not as easy at it sounds, and by the time a wheel leaves an affineur’s cave, it can taste completely different than the same cheese aged in another’s cave. Cheese is picky as a teething toddler. Each style demands different temperatures, humidity, and tending. Some demand to be dusted with a brush as they age to ward off cheese mites. Others require a sponge bath with water, salt or liquor to keep their rinds moist and develop wanted flavors. Jean D’Alos does all this and more.

His version of Roquefort is the best I ever had. When I ordered recent batches of his babies from Cowgirl Creamery, I fell in love all over again. Nutty, soft, creamy, funky, meaty, sharp and sweet, and…. well, I had to order more, of course, so I could accurately describe the flavors for this blog post. Three pounds at a time just about did it. I also had to set aside a piece every time I served a customer at work my Roquefort dish with rose confit and roasted pecans plate (pictured above). I also may have gained about five pounds.

So get out there and try all the Roquefort you can. Even though they’re all made with milk from the Lacaune sheep and all are aged in the drafty caves of Combalou (a mountain that collapsed in pre-historic times), they will all taste amazingly different.

What’s your favorite blue?

Lastly, I just wanted to say thank you for your lovely comments on my last post about my book deal. It means so much to me to have your support and I’m very touched by your words. And excited. And I can’t wait to write the book. And travel. And post about my travels. And… did I mention I’m excited? So, thank you. Thank you very much.

“It’s Not You, it’s Brie” -A Cheese Book

It's Not You, it's Brie

The wedge that set it all in motion.

I normally like to start off my posts with a little build up to get the reader’s motor running. Most times the cheese shots at the top of the page do the trick- nothing grabs attention like a seductive, glistening wheel whispering “slice me.” This time, I’m starting my post with the first wedge of cheese I shot for this blog. I’m honoring its impact on what I’m about to share.

I launched “It’s Not You, it’s Brie” around two years ago. I’ve talked about a lot of cheese since then, dear readers, but what I haven’t talked about much is that I also have been working on a cheese book proposal. I started putting it together about a year before I launched this blog. The thing is, I’ve had to shelve it numerous times while sorting through life happenings, and I decided not to say much about it until I had something as firm as a wheel of Vella Dry Jack to share with you.

Now, dear readers, things are very firm. I’m very excited to share that I am writing a book about…. cheese!

“It’s Not You, It’s Brie: Behind the Wheel, A Guide to Unwrapping American Cheese & Culture” will guide people through the historical and cultural stories of selected American cheeses and explore how some of our most stand-up dairy gems came to be (and taste!). I’ll stray far from the classic 8 styles of cheeses, keep it lively and literary, use my cultural anthropology and professional cooking background to shape cheese stories, attempt on occasion to move beyond humor only a mother could love, and include recipes and pairing suggestions.

It will publish in 2012.

I’m pretty flippin excited.

And I’m very happy to share it with you.

Phew! So, thank you for reading- interacting with you in the comments section and seeing such interest in cheese and the people who craft it has been inspiring. You’ve been good to me and the cheese world. And as always, thank you cheesemakers and cows and sheep and goats and buffalo and … know…  for providing such amazing cheeses to write about.

And heads up – even though I’m cramming a lot of writing into short periods of time, I have no intention of letting the book’s progress bring the blog writing to grinding halt. I’ll keep dwelling on about my favorite cheeses and include more guests posts and interviews too (so please, if you have any topic or requests, let me know) and let you know when and where I’m teaching classes. I’ll also include info about the book’s progress, release, promo, and include photos from my “research” farm visits. I love research. I love travel. I also love chocolate and peanut butter, but that doesn’t really apply here.

Thanks for reading, thanks for your support and more to come soon!

Seasonal Goat Cheese: Cevrin. Because it’s Goat’s Time to Shine


Cevrin Alle Erbe di Montagna

The season of the goat is among us. Unlike cows who can generally be milked anytime throughout the year within their 300-day lactation cycle, goats are on stricter breeding and milking cycles that are more tied to the time of year. Spring is goat season.

After the momma goats have finished birthing their cutie-pie babies towards the end of winter, they kick into high gear for milk production. In spring, the mum’s bodies concentrate on making the highest fat, most nutritious milk possible for their kids. This is also around the time of the year when flowers, herbs, and delicious grasses start sprouting. In Sonoma and Napa mustard plants rear their golden heads. Depending on where one lives in snowy regions, grasses might start poking through icy sheaths. The season of the goat is now building steam.

This is all good news for us.

Who benefits from richer milk and wild grasses besides frolicking kids and their mums? Psst, everyone raise their hands now. We do!

Spring, when goat milk cheeses are higher in creamy butterfat and infused with the flavors of new grasses and herbs dotting the surrounding landscapes, is a fantastic season to explore fresher goat’s milk cheeses. Of course any time is a fantastic time to sit down and contemplate the delicious grassy, peppery, lemon nature of goat’s milk, but spring is when the flavors really pop in a young goat’s cheese.

One of my favorite fresh goat’s milk cheeses from abroad is the tiny Cevrin.

Cevrin is made in the Piedmont foothills of Italy. The goats are allowed to wander about and climb the hilly terrain and munch on whatever they can find growing nearby. After the cheesemaker milks the well-excercised foragers, they scoop the lactic acid-set curds into molds and lets them drain. Once they are properly leached of enough whey, they decides which cheeses are to be sold unadorned and which will be herbed or topped with crushed red pepper. Truth be told, it’s easier to taste the true essence of spring milk from unadorned cheeses fresh cheeses. However, I  lean toward the herbed ones for my cheeseplate, first, because they’re so pretty, and second, because I like the added intensity of tasting the seasonal herbs on top. The pictured one above is named Cevrin Alle Erbe di Montagna. Note- this style of Cevrin is different from the goat and cow’s milk blend that is sold under a similar name. In the bay area I’ve seen Cevrin at the Pasta Shop at Market Hall.

Because of its lively flavors, Cevrin pairs wonderfully with a grassy, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc, or a clean cut Italian or French white, or wit beer. Stay tuned for more goat cheeses for the season!

Have you tasted Chervin? What are some spring goat cheeses that you seek out?

Sonoma Cheese Conference: Cheese Bonding

Last February I headed to my first cheese conference, learned the official handshake and secret word that let me through the door (I can’t tell you what it was but can disclose that the secret word started with an L and ended with tose), and learned more about cheese and met more in the community than I ever thought I could in two days. Put on by Delice de la Vallée cheesmaker Sheana Davis, the Sonoma Cheese Conference holds a special place in my heart. It is small, intimate, and filled with folks who are as eager to share and soak up knowledge. And of course there is beer and wine to aid in soaking up all the knowledge.

Remembering the amazing experience last year, I was happy to head up again. It would only be a day this time rather than two, but darn it, it would be worth it to get lost on Sonoma backgrounds in beautiful weather. Despite the five semi-trucks going 20 mph in front of me in a 45 mph zone that made me a tad late, the drive was gorgeous and thoughts of sugar plums and newly released cheese ran happily ran through my head.

I had a couple favorite sessions. The first was titled “Four Routes to Economic & Environmental Sustainability,” and was just as much about dads bragging about their daughters as it was about cheese. Yes, I got a little ferklempt when Point Reyes dad said his daughters coming back to the farm made all the trying years worth it. The panel was Bob Giacomini of Point Reyes Blue, George Mc Clelland of Mc Clelland Dairy and Chris Roelli of Dunbarton Blue. It focused on how they built successful dairies that worked within their own environments- by making artisan dairy products and considering how to make agritourism work for them in the future.

All three dairy owners turned to cheesemaking after years in the milk business- either selling it or hauling it- because they wanted control over their own product in a wildly fluctuating market that rarely benefits the farmer. Artisan cheese, or in Mc Clelland’s case, butter (cheese will come later for this family) gave them that control because it allowed them to set the final price of their milk- in cheese or butter form. Roelli said that at one point, his family was only making a one cent margin per pound of milk. Unlike commodity brick cheese or milk, artisan cheese prices are set by the farmer or cheesemaker, not dictated by the government or stock market. Now, both Roelli and Giacomini say that even in the recession they can sell as much cheese as they make at the price that they set. It’s a great feeling. Yes, artisan cheese rocks on another account.

My favorite quote of the session was when Bob Giacomini shared his family’s dairy slogan since 1938: “from She to Me.” They still have it printed on old glass bottles displayed in the creamery.

Another favorite session was lead by Seana Doughty- “No Money, No Farm, No Problem.” Remember her? She’s the Bleating Heart cheesemaker that I interviewed on “It’s Not You, it’s Brie.” in September. Once again, she was hilarious, witty, and inspiring. How many people would actually drive to Wisconsin in the middle of winter to pick up 10 sheep in a flatbed truck without stopping to sleep? I can count one on my index finger. She talked about her trip and how she started her own cheesemaking profession and her determination, story and humor made her slide slow featuring her trip to Wisconsin the best I had ever seen (not that my slide show experience was hard to top, but, now there will never even be competition).

The truth was, those were my two favorite sessions, but all sessions were great and the next day’s looked amazing too. The American Cheese Society conference is fantabulous and grand and I’m very much looking forward to this year’s, but the Sonoma Cheese Conference gives you a warm feeling and access to cheesemakers and writers that only a smaller conference can. It helps to round out the cheese experience by being cozy AND informative. Like a blanket with pages of non-fiction article stapled to it. Plus, it was mellow enough that Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s Creamery had time to sign one of his books for my boss, titled “A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business.”

Thanks Sheana for putting it together!