So I have a new regular writing gig, dear readers. Every 4-5 weeks I will be writing for Menuism as their new expert cheese blogger. This is good for three reasons. 1. I get to meet new cheese lovers. 2. I get to be on the list of awesome menusim writers like chocolataire and rock and roll cake-designer extraordinaire, Kate Steffens 3. They come up with ideas that they’d like me to write about. This means that you also get new topics that I might not have thought up myself. Which is very good- by the way, I’m ALWAYS open to writing suggestions.
Sometimes, after a long day of tasting wine, eating artisan cheese, talking about new and novel cheeses, and slicing the said sophisticated pieces of fermented milk for others (following the one-for-them/one-for-me rule), I like to return back to my comfort cheese- the Basque Abbaye de Belloc. This is the French cheese that got me into sheep’s milk.
Now, I love all styles, but sheep’s milk cheese is likely my favorite cheese genre. I love sheep’s milk’s buttery, sweet, rich, spicy notes. But back when I first started eating cheese, my dear friends, I leaned towards the more mild sheep’s milk cheeses. It’s true. Maybe you were the same. It’s a common progression- start light, then, later, reach deeper. You hear a similar story in wine- people tend to lean on the fruit-foward, smooth finish, friendly styles and work their way towards the high-acidity, more complex, even funky wines.
The first sheep’s milk cheese that I fell in love with (this was back when sheep’s milk dairies numbered under 1 or 2 in Cali) was Abbaye de Belloc. It’s rich, creamy, tastes of brown butter and caramel, and is as comforting as being swaddled in a towel fresh from the dryer. It’s also good for sheep’s cheese novices because underneath all that butter and sweetness, it has a little of that sheep meatiness that sometimes people need a little time to learn to love. Abbaye helps edge them in.
What does the sweetness come from, you ask?
Among other things, the high quality milk, and the washing and cooking of the curds. After cheesemakers have seperated the curds from the whey, they can do a number of things. Washing, or rinsing, the curds with warm water rids the curds of some of their lactose, which will later turn into lactic acid. Many Basque cheesemakers wash their curds. Cheddar cheesemakers, on the other hand, actually let their curds sit to develop more lactic acid to increase sharpness in their cheese. If you wash some of the lactose off early on, you limit how sharp your cheese can become. Even though “washing” doesn’t increase the actual residual sugar in the cheese, the cheese ends up tasting sweeter. With Abbaye, they also cook the curds at low temperatures. This helps to sweeten the milk by slowly caramelizing the sugars (lactose). These three things make for a lovely, friendly, comforting sheep’s milk cheese.
I love eating this cheese with Pinot Noir- domestic styles, because they’re rich like the cheese, but a more robust wine works too, like a Madiran from the Pryenées region. A fuller-bodied Chardonnay, white Rhone or Champagne also scores big points.
As for eating- bring to room temperature and just go at it. Slice thin. Doesn’t need any condiments, but it sure does make one of the best mac n’ cheeses and grattins I’ve ever had. It melts like a dream. As might your heart when you dig in.
What’s your comfort cheese, and did you have a specific cheese that showed you the beauty of sheep’s milk?
Last night I taught one of my favorite classes ever at the Cheese School of San Francisco– Cremes & Bubblies, and in its honor, I’m creating a guide to pairing sparkling and creamy cheese. Why was it one my favorite classes? Two reasons. One, I love cremes and bubbles. Separate, together, at a dinner table, at a party, on the side of the road, however, wherever. Two, I loved this class because the students were into it.
The first sign of whether students are going to be down with the class is if they laugh at the name of my blog. These guys did- hearty chuckles. If they don’t, I know it’s going to be a loooooong night, and it’s very likely my jokes will fall flat. But these guys didn’t just assuage my fragile ego by making me feel funny, they asked questions, they commented on flavors rather than starring at me questioningly when asked “what do you taste?,” they contributed fun information to the class, and they ate and drank like pros. As a side note, I also attribute the class’s success to listening to Def Leopard while crossing the Bay Bridge to teach- I was inspired, and the students felt it. Do you want to get rocked? Why yes, yes I do (get those cheese class engines revving!).
In short, it’s hard to get a bad pairing with bubbles and cremes. Cremes are creamy, soft cheeses that are high in moisture and taste especially rich. If you nibble on them with a sparkling, you’ve got a win-win situation- the bubbles (like the carbonation in beer) and the acidity in wines like Champagne help cut the fat in the cheese and uplift the pairing experience. I always imagine the bubbles wrapping themselves around the creamy cheese molecules and taking them to a happy place, like cheese heaven. Truth be told, it’s hard to fall flat when matching bubbles to creamy cheeses, almost everything tastes at least good. But some pairings are much better then others. Below I divulge the pairings in the class that were the favorites, and why they worked to create a light and easy pairing guide for sparklings.
A 4-Step Guide to Sparkling and Cheese Pairings
1. Light, lively cheeses like light, lively bubbles.
La Tur (cow, sheep and goat) from Piedmont Italy, and Crémont (goat and cow) with Prosecco. When you have goat cheese, think light, low-oak, and unoaked sparklings. Proseccos. Cavas. If you don’t know if they’re low oak or un-oaked, ask your wine salesperson. You can go fruity, but don’t go bold and heavy with your wine. Your spunky little goat cheese or milk blends like to shine without heavy oak getting in the way.
2. Richer cremes like richer wines.
Nettle Meadow Kunik (triple creme cow, sheep and goat) and Brillat-Savarin (triple cow) with cremants or Champagnes. Cremants are sparklings made in the Champagne Method that are not from the Champagne region. They age in barrels, accumulate a light creamy, yeasty flavor. Champagnes generally (but not always) achieve a greater creamy, yeasty flavor and have more acidity than cremants. When I’m pairing creamy triples with sparkling, I either go cremant or Champange. Cremants are less expensive, so I often go there. When triple cremes are still clean-flavored and buttery like Kunik and Cremont, you don’t need the richness and earthiness of Champagne.
3. Sultry cheeses like sultry, full-bodied, earthy Champagnes.
Old Chatham Nancy’s Camembert (sheep and cow) and Bent River Camembert with Champagne. A full-bodied champagne is yeasty, toasty, creamy, earthy, sometimes mushroomy. They replicate what’s going on with these cheeses. Sheep’s milk cheese? Earthy, buttery, toasty. Camembert? Earthy, yeasty, mushroomy. These are easy pairing matches made in heaven. It’s also possible to get an earthy cremant if you don’t feeling like dishing out the dough for a Champagne- ask your winemonger, they should be able to direct your choice.
4. Washed rind creamies with rosés.
Rush Creek Reserve (cow) and Pont L’Eveque (cow) with sparkling rosés. This is a pairing inspired by the regional Époisses and Burgundy pairing. The stinky washed rind Époisses is traditionally matched with a Pinot Noir, so when I think of other creamy washed rinds, I let this guide me. A rosés light red fruit goes with the washed rind funk. Most sparking rosés are going to be heavy on the Pinot, but a rosé need not be Pinot Noir to pair well. But it helps.
Lastly, I’m teaching a class at the Cheese School that I’m super excited about. Southern Cheese & Spirits in March. I’m very excited about it. Think artisan cheese, paired to southern beer and …. moonshine. If you’re in the SF area, please come! Geek out and feel the moonshine burn with me.
I woke up inspired this morning to share some favorite photos from dairy farms I visited while traveling for the book. But the photos aren’t of cheese. While taking pictures of wheel after wheel of fermented milk is gratifying, one just doesn’t experience the same excitement level they do when taking pictures of dairy animals. Cheese is alive, ever-changing, sure, but it always holds still. It’s cute, but not baby lamb adorable. Then again, it’s a heck of a lot easier to get it to pose for the camera.
Here are some of the photos that warm my heart the most. I’d love to hear which ones tickle your fancy too…..I’m not saying that one has to vote on which animal is the cutest (although if one wanted to express their preference, they could leave it in the comment section) because we don’t want to hurt the animals feelings, but, umm… one could. It’ll be between you and I. The animals will never know if they’ve been slighted because we won’t tell them. If you’re not into that sort of thing, than just enjoy the pictures. It’s my little ode to the animals that make it all possible.