Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Prairies are a Bloomin: Prairie Cheeses

Prairie Bloom from Branched Oak Farm

Prairie Bloom from Branched Oak Farm

Prairies here, prairies there, Prairies Blooming everywhere. It seems that every which way I turn these days, I get word of a prairie doing something. Active little buggers. Being the perfect home for succulent, tiny Pinnated Grouses -i.e prairie chickens- in Mark Twain’s Feast. Offering mineral rich land for cattle to graze on in places like Nebraska. Offering its name up for a soft cheese called Prairie Bloom. Offering its name up for another soft cheese called Prairie Bloom.

Wait, two creamy cheeses with the same name?

At first I thought my week had gotten to me. On my four days off from my day job managing a wine bar, I wrote an article on soufflés for Cheese Connoisseur and created an original soufflé recipe for their spring issue. I might have gotten a cheese headache from how much I ate for recipe testing (and beyond). I’m writing up my first article for Kinfolk magazine. I had a call with my book agent about promotion and marketing and marketing and promotion (eek) and am expecting my manuscript back any day now (take your time, lovely editor). So, I thought, it was likely that I just thought there were two cheeses named Prairie Bloom because I was overwhelmed. I mean, hey, why, not? It’s a great name.

Nope. There are two of them! Plus, another similarly named one mentioned below.

I’ve only tasted one of them (photo above). This one is made by Branched Oak Farm in Nebraska. They’re an organic creamery run by the Dittman family, and you haven’t heard the last about them from me- I’m featuring another one of their cheeses in my book. About six years ago they started out as a meat and poultry farm. Then, their CSA members asked them to start selling milk. They did. Next up? You guessed it. Cheese. They fell in love with being dairy farmers and cheesemakers so that that they almost entirely swtiched over from meat production (they only sell chickens now).

Their Prairie Bloom cheese is a camembert style that never fails to charm. It’s cow’s milk, spreadable, milky, clean tasting, and a little buttery. It’s refined comfort cheese. It’s going in the cheese club I run at Solano Cellars soon.

But I never tried the other Prairie Bloom from Goatsbeard Farm in Harrisburg Missouri. This one is goat’s milk. There’s even another goat’s milk cheese called Little Bloom on the Prairie from Prairie Fruits Farm in Illinois. Haven’t tried that one either.

Have you had a chance to try any of these beauties around you? Or, have you spotted another prairie themed cheese near you?

Getting Our Cheese Recipes On

Sampling away- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

Sampling away- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

If, unlike me, you’ve been keeping up to date with this blog, you have noticed that I’ve been away for a while. Sorry guys. This is because writing my cheese book kicked me in the booty. While I’m sure there’s still a little gentle kicking action in my future, the big part is done. I think. I’ve heard? I’m afraid to ask my editor? At least, I interviewed or visited 40 or so cheesemakers, wrote their cheese up, created 16 recipes, tested them, and turned the first draft in just in the nick of time. I’m seeing a very, very fuzzy light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve even seen a low resolution draft of my cover (also fuzzy).

When I asked readers and my twitter followers a few months back what they wanted to hear more about on my blog, many of them said that they wanted to hear about the process of writing this book. Well, here I am. Waiting to get my first draft back. Almost hoping that I don’t get it back for a month or more because seeing the edits is scary, but knowing that getting it back in two or three weeks means that someday indeed it will be published, and that this is a good thing.

Cheese, watermelon, rosé- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

Cheese, watermelon, rosé- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

Part of the process of writing the book was recipe testing. The main part of the book is writing- cultural, historical cheesy background about cheese types and specific cheeses, but there are also 16 original recipes, created for a particular cheese or cheese style.

So I thought I’d go into how I created these recipes as part of exploring the book writing process, and include pictures of a testing-tasting party that I threw to get recipe feedback. All photographs were taken by my good photographer friend Molly De Coudreaux, who I would highly recommend for any of your photo endeavors. She takes amazing photos, plus she’s just a cool girl to have around. The photos are of recipes that will be included in my book when it’s published in November 2012. We’ll see if I can pre-publish any recipes here, but I’m not sure how that works in the biz with rights and all that.

Watermelon salad- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

Watermelon salad- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

Chicken under a "brick"- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

Chicken under a "brick"- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

First things first: People often ask how I come up with recipe ideas. Here goes:

1. I get inspired. I let inspiration strike anywhere. I eat a lot, at a lot of different places. I think seasonally. I go to farmer’s markets. I read cookbooks, magazines, and look at menus. I think about how flavors and ingredients I taste might work with specific cheeses. Again, I let inspiration strike anywhere- if I had a delicious dessert custard that especially touched me, I won’t rule it out as inspiration for a cheese recipe just because cheese doesn’t often get put in sweet custard.

2. I think about what a specific cheese needs and let it speak for itself. I hold therapy sessions with the cheese. “What do you want?” I ask it. “What would make you happy?” “Do you feel like having a partner would make you more complete, or do you want to go out and experiment and discover things on your own?” I make no assumptions. After tasting and talking to the cheese, I determine whether the cheese would rather be paired to matching flavors or contrasting flavors. This can be apparent right off the bat- if a cheese tastes dead-on like chantrelle mushrooms, there’s a fair chance that I’ll make a recipe that includes chantrelles. Of course, it can be fun to go the opposite direction too.

Chicken & Cheese from under the "brick"- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

Chicken & cheese from under the "brick"- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

3. I ask how I can highlight the ingredient- the cheese- or include the cheese in a fun recipe that introduces the cheese in a new way. One of my favorite people that introduces cheese to people in new ways is Chef Fromager Tia Keenan- girl made white chocolate bacon ganache to pair with Winnimere for pete’s sake. That’s awesome. So I’ll keep some recipes classic, and then get a little fun and crazy with others.

Crackers- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

Crackers- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

The main point though, is always creating a recipe that lets the cheese shine. Once I think I’ve done that, I test the recipes. Sometimes they come off without a hitch. Sometimes I have to work on them, testing them anywhere from one to eleven more times. Very occasionally (thank god) they completely crash and burn.

Dessert testing- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

Dessert testing- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

One thing I like to do is make four or five recipes all at once and then invite friends to come over and eat the food. And critique it. If I’m asked to serve seconds, I know I’m doing okay.

Me getting a pastry lesson from a Delfina pastry chef- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

Me getting a pastry lesson from a Delfina pastry chef- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

The tasters- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

The tasters- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

Ginger, a sneakier tester- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

Ginger, a sneaky tester- photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

How do you come up with your cheese recipes?

A Comeback – A Very Slow One

Working on my comeback here on “It’s Not You, it’s Brie.”

I just turned in the first draft of my manuscript last Wednesday and, let me tell you, I had a doozy of a time getting this thing together. More than 45 interviews, 1,032 follow-up questions, lots and lots of writing, testing cheese recipes galore (and tending to a sensitive stomach after sampling about five batches of each cheese dessert I created), and…. less sleep than I would wish for.

While it was crazy, but I had a hell of a time. I feel very, very lucky to have been given this opportunity to meet and write about some fantastic people and their cheeses. Like, amazingly lucky.

That said, I need another week off. Expect to see me more here soon. Until then, check out some classes I’ll be teaching at the Cheese School of San Francisco. Cremes and Bubbles for VDay, and Southern Cheese & Spirits because they rock. I’d love to see you there.

Crèmes & Bubblies
Instructor: Kirstin Jackson | Monday, February 13th (6:30-8:30pm) | $69
A Valentine’s favorite! There is no better way to romance your honey than with luxurious triple crèmes and fiery sparkling wines. Instructor Kirstin Jackson of favorite cheese blog, It’s Not You, It’s Brie, leads the lovefest with a festive guided tour through the most indulgent of cheeses and wines. Cheers!
Instructor: Kirstin Jackson | Monday, February 13th (6:30-8:30pm) | $69
A Valentine’s favorite! There is no better way to romance your honey than with luxurious triple crèmes and fiery sparkling wines. Instructor Kirstin Jackson of favorite cheese blog, It’s Not You, It’s Brie, leads the lovefest with a festive guided tour through the most indulgent of cheeses and wines. Cheers!

Southern Cheeses & Spirits
Instructor: Kirstin Jackson | Sunday, March 25 (5:30-7:30pm) | $75

Let’s name the great cheesemaking regions of the US: California, Wisconsin, Vermont,… Georgia? The South is indeed rising again. Creameries like Georgia’s Sweet Grass Dairy, Texas’ Mozzarella Company, and Alabama’s Stone Hollow are turning out great cheese and getting national attention for it. Cheese blogger and wine maven Kirstin Jackson will lead and pair her selections with her favorite Southern spirits.