Monthly Archives: June 2011

Limburger Cheese: Just as Stinky as You Like it.

Chalet House Co-op Limburger

Chalet Cheese Co-op Limburger

Remember Monterey Jack on the Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers (Rescue Rangers= the cartoon, not the burlesque show)? Well, Monty, as he was known to his friends, was the Australian mouse who helped chipmunks Chip and Dale fight crime. Yet even though he was darn good at helping to put the right fox, cat, or dog in prison, he was better known for his love for cheese.

There was one cheese in particular that if he got a wiff of it, he was gone. Taken. Impassioned. Spent. Could do nothing else until he found that cheese and made it his own. That cheese was Limburger. Even though Monty was a secure mouse and never cared about what others thought, it was apparent in some episodes that Chip n’ Dale thought Monty was crazy for loving a cheese that could smell so strong. Well, Chip n’ Dale were not always the brightest, most cultured rodents.

The fussy chipmunks just didn’t have the opportunity to taste Limburger at the age that would have pleased them. Oh, but I have. I have.

Just washed down, eagerly waiting sweet funk to accumulate.

Just washed down, eagerly waiting sweet funk to accumulate.

When I headed to Wisconsin last week to do delicious research for my cheese book, head cheesemaker Myron Olson at Chalet Cheese Co-op tasted us on Limburger at three stages- young & mild, slightly older & soft & sweet, and older & gooey & funky and strong. Amazing. Even though they were all versions of the same washed-rind cheese, the flavors, textures, and strength of the different ages varied like crazy. Honey mustard, rye bread and strawberry jam were also on board too. Young, the Limburger tasted like a fresh, less creamy Red Hawk. Older, the cheese tasted of and had the texture of Tallegio. Oldest, it tasted strong and pungent and begged for its classic pairing of rye bread, honey mustard and onion slices.

Below I share with you photos from my tour at the Chalet Cheese Co-op- the only remaining Limburger producer in the country. If you see Limburger in the U.S. that is made in the country, it’s Chalet. It may have a proprietary label, but it is always Chalet pumping the sweetly funky flavor out. Pick it up and note the dates on the label- they will guide you to finding a cheese age you love. And you will love one of them. More about Limburger in my forthcoming book.

Large bricks before sliced into smaller portions for shipment and sale, pre-washing.

Large pre-washed Limburger bricks before being sliced into smaller, to-go portions.

limburgerbucket*

Bucket holding the Limburger wash- when rubbed with this salt-water brine, the cheese takes on its signature funky sweetness.

Bricks after salting and waiting to be washed

Bricks after salting and first or second washing. Scent developing.

The foggy room the cheese is washed down in. Seriously- not a poor exposure thing- it's as humid as it looks.

The foggy room the cheese is washed down in. Seriously- not a poor exposure thing- it's as humid as it looks.

After the cheese has received sufficient sponge baths, every piece is wrapped up in thin foil by this custom machine.

After the cheese has received sufficient sponge baths, every piece is wrapped up in thin foil by this custom machine.

Master Cheesemaker Myron Olson, accepting an award for

Master Cheesemaker Myron Olson, accepting an award for his cheese, 1992.

MyronOlson

Myron Olson now, showing off the small "Limburger Forever" tattoo on his right arm (I couldn't actually read it, but I deeply felt this was what it said).

Limburger ready to be shipped to a walk-the-plank style distribution company. Danger.

Limburger ready to be shipped to a walk-the-plank style distribution company. Danger.

Limburger style.

Limburger style.

Places to find Chalet Cheese (please add to the list in the comments section!):

Bi-Rite, San Francisco

Maple Leaf Cheese Sales, WI (will ship, but not recommended in summer)  608-934-1237

Hefty Creek Specialities, WI (owned by one of Chalet Cheese’s award-winning cheesemaker and yodeler), hefticreek@hughes.net, 608/325-6311

Have you had a chance to try Limburger at its different stages? What did you think? Which is your favorite?

Battling the Uninspired Cheese Plate with Honey-Lavender Caramel Guest Post

Garrett's Honey Lavender Caramel Sauce

Garrett's Honey Lavender Caramel Sauce, photo by Garrett McCord

As I’m formatting this post at 4:45 am and rubbing the mascara into my eyes that just opened two hours prior, I’m sitting in the Oakland airport wondering why everyone else arrives only 30 minutes before their domestic flight departs while I feel the need to get here at least an hour and a half early. Right about now I’m feeling very thankful that my friend Garrett McCord over at Vanilla Garlic agreed to write this week’s post. While I’m playing in Wisconsin dairyland this week doing research for my cheese book, you lucky readers get to experience cheese writing from one of my favorite bloggers in the food world. At Vanilla Garlic, Garret compels his readers with witty writing, beautiful photos, and sexy recipes. Here, Garrett goes beyond the call of  describing the downfalls of uninspired cheese plates that he’s encountered in restaurants, he one ups the uninspired plates by using his pastry chef skills to create a honey lavender caramel sauce recipe that pairs with blues to address the problem. I’m honored to have him. I know you’ll enjoy his post as much as I do. Thank you Garrett!

Garrett on the dessert cheese plate.

The rising popularity of the cheese plate as a proper dessert has, in parallel fashion, also given rise to a recurring dilemma for myself. That dilemma being the age-old question: What do I want for dessert?

A cheese plate of Humboldt Fog, a bitter as hay Torta de Serena, and a brusque tobacco leaf wrapped Cusie di tobacco is simply too much to resist. Yet, right below it is listed a chocolate hazelnut torte with a Chantilly cream. Let me tell you, I do love hazelnuts. And, yes, written right under that is a rhubarb and huckleberry napoleon served with a rhubarb sorbet.

Ugh! The decisions! Such a trialed life I lead with my First World problems.

Now, yes, many of you might say that there is a simple solution: order all of them. Obviously, you readers have more alimentary fortitude than I, and, possibly, a tinier waistline. For me, this just isn’t such an option. Especially if dining alone.

I was trained in pastry so I have a proclivity to pick something unique from a dessert menu so I can analyze it, take it apart, taste it, and marvel at a fellow cook’s skill and training. My work draws me to composed desserts no matter how simple or grand. Yet, as a lover of all things dairy, a well-composed and eclectic cheese plate is always drawing. In my world, an unheard of artisanal cheese has as much pull as any crumble or cookie.

Order the cheese plate, however, and with your cheeses are likely various accoutrements of varying degrees of disappointment. A few Marcona almonds tossed in the corner. Maybe some house made olives that, more often than not, leave an alkaline taste in your mouth more bitter than the third Spider-Man film. Honey – always honey – to go with the blue cheese because no one in the kitchen is feeling creative enough to try something, anything, different. If you’re someplace swanky you might actually score some honeycomb.

It leaves me to wonder: If the cheese plate is being offered as a dessert then why are not more pastry chefs taking the initiative to make it their own?

An unadorned cheese plate is a lazy offering on behalf of the kitchen. It’s a dish that features the work of someone else and that only reflects the personal taste of the composing chef. The accouterments are where the cheesemaker and pastry chef can dance together and weave a dessert that plays to both their strengths. Scratch the nuts and offer a pistachio-cocoa nib brittle alongside a slice of Cocoa Cardona. Perhaps a strawberry-Merlot jam to accentuate the creamy flavors of that Garrotxa? Port syrup reduction with a wedge of Stilcheton? Yes. Please, God, yes.

Caramel, I’ve found, makes an excellent pairing for cheeses. The flavor of a brown sugar caramel echoes the butterscotch tones in aged Gouda. A square of chocolate and Earl Grey caramel candy goes beautifully with an artfully crafted chèvre.

For blue cheeses I rely on this honey-lavender caramel sauce. It does the same job that honey would with blue cheese: cut through the peppery, salty, fatty flavors while accentuating them. The lavender offers a floral quality that mingles well with the milk, and the concentrated sugars of the honey highlights the piquant qualities of the mold.

Any favorite honey will do. Personally, I suggest using dark honeys for the most pronounced flavors; buckwheat honey and molasses-black avocado honey are especially eloquent choices.

Give it a try next time you plan to serve your favorite blue cheese. It’s easy, reliable, and unique way to make your next cheese plate stand apart.

Lavender-Honey Caramel Sauce

1 teaspoon lavender

12 ounces cream

1/2 cup dark honey

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup butter

1. Place the lavender and cream in a sauce pan and warm over medium heat until hot to the touch. Cover and allow to steep for 5-10 minutes, depending on how strong you want the lavender flavor to be. Strain out the lavender and set aside.

2. Place the honey, sugar, brown sugar, and butter in a heavy-bottomed 2-3 quart sauce pot. Bring ingredients to a heavy boil, stirring all the while. Slowly pour in the cream. Boil for two minutes, stirring constantly. Boil for two minutes, stirring constantly. Take off the heat and pour into a jar. Cool completely and store in the fridge.

Makes 3 cups of caramel sauce. Also good on fruit, waffles, pastries, and ice cream.

Garrett McCord is a freelance food writer and pastry chef who has worked for Cheese Connoisseur, Gourmet Live, Simply Recipes, and Epi-Log. More of his work can be found at his blog, Vanilla Garlic.

Next week: Wisconsin dairy feedback.

Roccolo Cheese: The Holy Lombardic Trinity

Roccolo

Roccolo

Roccolo is a holy trinity cheese. It is soft and firm and crumbly all in one. It tastes crazily varied from rind to center. It smells a little different in spots. In other words, its three distinct layers offer a cheese lover three cheeses for, well, …. more than a fraction of the price of a block of colby, but you get more than just orange and yellow cheese that tastes nearly the same no matter the hue.

Roccolo comes from Lombardy, Italy. Made by cheesemaking enterprise Arrigoni Valtaleggio, a large family company that helped to spearhead Tallegio imports, Roccolo is a a natural rind cow’s milk cheese whose name translates to “bird snare.” The cheese’s rind echos the hue of the local bird hunter’s stone hut they used to set camp in in earlier times.

After being brined in a salt water bath, Roccolo is set to age on pine boards and flipped and rubbed daily with a little extra salt water brine to bring out earthy, B.linen bacteria like those found in other washed rinds.

Yet pick up a slice of Roccolo and give it a good sniff, and you’ll only find the scent somewhat similiar to other semi-soft washed rinds. Rather than having a strong, sweetly blaring scent, Roccolo has an earthier scent like a mushroom that’s been foraged after a weeks of rain, and maybe dropped in a little dirt before being put in the straw mushroom basket.

Its taste is quite distinct too. It ranges from buttermilk to butter to mushrooms, to oysters to salty beef fat. The center is a little fresher tasting, and the further you get towards the brown, moldy rind, the funkier it gets.

The most interior part of the paste is crumbly and off-white. The layer beyond is smooth and the hue of that manilla folder a teacher holds in elementary school when presenting test scores to parents on Parent-Teacher night. The outside is brown with white and grey mold and an occasional yellow streak. I eat the rind, mold and all. I know that people are washing it and flipping it everyday and this might scare a folk or two who are concerned with others fondling their cheese, but the rind adds so much pizzaz to the tasting experience. If you like less funk, skip the rind.

I like this cheese with a dry Riesling or a balanced, oaked Chardonnay, Viognier or Roussane-Grenache Blanc blend. Or a Champagne. Mmmm……

If Roccolo isn’t available near you, also try Salva Cremesco or Tomme Crayeuse, both cow’s milk cheeses with an earthy taste and varied texture (although a little creamier than Roccolo).

Any super-layered cheese favorites?

Ombra- Catalonian Sheep’s Milk Cheese

Ombra from the outside.

Ombra from the outside.

Because I’ve been so focused on the cheese girls next door- the dairy domestics in the U.S.- while I’m writing my American cheese book, I’ve been a little worried lately that my international cheese friends weren’t feeling the love. Not the case, my Euro friends and beyond, not the case. I’ve been sending the love through air kisses from afar.

In case a few of the kisses were lost in transmission (or in the Italian post office system) or my readers were doubting my allegiance to the entire milky world and not just local dairy, I’m devoting the next two posts to two of my Euro favorites. Seek em out.

The first is Ombra.

Ombra, sliced.

Ombra, sliced.

Ombra is a firm, Catalonian Spanish cheese that helps to explain why people fall in love with sheep’s milk. Grassy, nutty, slightly spicy, and peppery, it never fails to blow me away with its lingering complexity.

A bite of Ombra lasts far longer than after it’s swallowed. It lasts longer than your pair of favorite pair of jeans from the 90’s that you just couldn’t bear to throw out (because you knew that in 2011, Chloe Sevigny would put on high-waisted denim and you could bust them out again, right?). Like a great Barolo, Ombra changes from the first to last taste. The first bite delivers an herbal, grassy hit. Later, the herbs morph into a buttery, nutty, and well, slightly musky sheepy finish.

It looks cool too. A gray-blue mold dusts the lightly pleated brown and rusty pattered rind. The interior cracks in just the right places. It has tiny holes that make it look lacy when sliced. Even though a shorter wheel than many cow’s milk cheeses, Ombra stands proud and straight at a powerful four inches high.

When having this Catalonian beauty with wine, drink with a rustic Tempranillo- one with plenty of spice and not too much oak, a Rhone blend heavy on Cinsault, a Bordeaux, or a Catalonian red. When enjoying with a side, slice into a low-sugar, classic Spanish fig and almond cake or medjool dates.

Next up- Roccolo. After Roccolo, I’m excited to share a guest post about a certain caramel cheese friend (cheese is a social animal) by Garret McCord of Vanilla Garlic. Big plans, big plans!

What’s your favorite sheep’s milk cheese from Spain outside of Machego?