Montealva: The Newest Spanish Cheese to Hit our Shores

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The amount of times a “new” Spanish cheese appears in the United States is about as often as I’ve said no to a pint of peanut butter and chocolate ice cream. So about once or twice a year or so (I make an effort not to walk down the frozen sweets aisle in the grocery store or look ice cream in the face). So when we get a new one, it feels pretty special. Montealva is the latest Spanish cheese introduction to our west coast.

Distributed by Cowgirl Creamery in California, Montealava is a pasteurized goat’s milk cheese made in Andalucia. It has fresh, lightly green herbal and citrus notes, flavors of untoasted hazelnuts, and a rich sweetness acquired through 60 plus days of aging. I’ve even heard people say they taste mustard notes in the finish.

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Though it seems to come in various ages, the one that we get is around two months. This seems to be a sweet spot for people for aged goat’s milk cheese. When it’s young yet firm like this it can even appeal to  goat cheese newbies because it doesn’t taste too punchy. Like it a little punchier? Try Achandinha’s Capricious.

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The Alvarez family makes this sweet bright cheese from the milk of their 450 Payoya Andalucian goats. Fun fact? This breed was practically saved from extinction because they make such tasty, rich milk. They don’t make much of it, but people who make cheese with it claim its richness is worth the effort. The Payoya have elegant curving horns, are born to climb the rocky hills of the region, and adorable curly tails. Those herbal notes you taste in the cheese? That’s what those lucky foragers are snacking on in the hills.


Wine Pairing:

Last week I taught a Rich Wines and Decadent Cheeses class at The Cheese School of San Francisco  and we served this in it (hello high butterfat goat’s milk). While this is a cheese that really went with any wine from un-oaked to oaked, it really shined with the heavy Roger Perrin VV French Syrah and the raspberry-noted Green and Red Chiles Valley Zinfandel. If I was at home cooking and needed a pre-dinner snack, I’d slice up a few pieces of Montealva and eat it with Andaulician’s wine gift to the world- a dry sherry. I love it with en rama-style, unfiltered sherry like Hidalgo’s.

Food Pairing:

Olives! Keep an eye out for a marinated olives recipe that would pair perfectly with Montealva. See that Friends in Cheese carrot marmalade in the pic? That’s good with it too. I also like Montealva shaved over marinated Spanish boquerones.


Lastly, be sure to check out my blog next week. I’ll be giving away tickets to the Cheesemongers Duel at the Calfornia Artisan Cheese Fest!

Apple Gouda Pastry Puff Cheese Recipe

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The inspiration for this apple gouda dessert cheese recipe came to me when I looked outside to see the sun shining. While the rest of the country is freezing, our northern Californian trees are full of leaves, the magnolias and tulip trees are blooming, and drivers created a major rush hour-style traffic jam this weekend trying to get to the beach. Some flock to wine shops to buy rosé, others whisper to new breaking buds, “it’s too soon, it’s too soon,” and fear what has been titled a Mega-drought will empty our reservoirs to lows lower than Paris Hilton’s jeans in the nineties.

Right now I’m situated a little in-between enjoyment and feeling the need to gather some friends, bake some cookies, and hold an intervention for Weather. We think you’ve been too dry, too long here, I’ll say. It’s not just hard on you, it’s hard on the farmers too. And the polar vortex? Don’t you think you could be a little more thoughtful?


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I’m also realizing that my heart is not ready to give up on the culinary, warming, glories of winter. Maybe it’s because I was traveling so much through October and November and didn’t get to cook much, or maybe it’s because our winter has been so short , but as I see the snowy photos on my Instagram feed, all I am feeling like doing is heating up my oven. So that’s what I’m doing.


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In honor those around the country battling furiously cold blizzards, I bring you a cheese dessert to warm your kitchens. Or your hearts if your kitchens don’t  need warming. Meet the gouda apple pastry puff. The gouda acts like a firm, salty caramel when baked with lightly tart apples, creating a dessert reminiscent of fleur de del caramels. Pair that to fruit and flaky puff pastry and you’ve got a complete dessert that would make any mother proud.


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I’ll tell you a little secret. It’s also as equally lovely with Lancashire or clothbound cheddars. If you want to read more about gouda, click here.


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Gouda Apple Pastry Puffs

Serves four

2 medium-sized apples, peeled and cored
1 1/2 teaspoon salted butter
2 teaspoon granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon turbinado sugar or granulated white sugar
1/4 teaspoon red wine vinegar
8 ounces puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
2 ounces L’Amuse Gouda, thinly sliced and lightly chopped

In a small saucepan, place the apples, butter, 2 teaspoons white sugar, and 1 teaspoon brown sugar over medium-low heat. Once the butter is melted, continue to cook the apples for six to eight more minutes, until they start to soften Add the vinegar, stir, and take off the heat. Pour the apples over a salad plate and set aside to cool.

While the apples are cooling, tend to the pastry. Lightly flour a clean, dry surface. Lay the pastry over the surface and lightly dust with flour. Roll out the dough evenly so it is about two-thirds to three quarters of it’s original thickness. Cut once horizontally and once up and down so you have four squares that are roughly equally sized. Trace a circle that extends to the sides of the squares of each of the quadrants.

Once the apples are cool, divide evenly and distribute among the centers of each square, leaving an inch or so around the edge. Divide the gouda among the tarts, tucking into the apples. Pull the pastry towards the center of the circle, pinching off the dough to form an open, rippled pouch. Don’t try to make too perfect- these are rustic.

With a pastry brush, lightly brush the beaten egg over the tarts, being careful to cover all of the visible dough. Focusing on the dough, sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the top of the tarts. Transfer to a plate and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 375.

Place the tarts on a lined baking sheet. Bake for ten minutes, then rotate the pan so the front is now towards the bake. Bake for ten more minutes. They are ready when the tarts are golden-brown and the dough is cooked through. Set aside to cool (they will deflate a healthy bit). Serve lightly warm or at room tempera

K-I-S-S-I-N-G – Aged Sheep’s Milk Cheese & Sours, Sitting in a Tree

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Sipping, eating, nibbling, drinking- after instigating meticulous research in the name of beer and cheese pairing, my friends, I have arrived at a discovery. As my co-presenter Travis and I sipped our sours and wrapped up our beer and cheese pairing event at Drake’s Barrel House this Saturday for SF Beer Week, we looked at each other, broke down our findings, measured a few things, used an exel spreadsheet for something or another if I remember correctly, then came to an agreement.

Or, rather, I simply turned to the very happy, lightly buzzed crowd and said, “Aged sheep’s milk cheese goes awesomely with sour beers, guys.”


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Sharing that bit of knowledge made me feel almost as good as having my friend later  feel my arm and ask if I had been working out until I figured out that she was touching the arm that had been flexed holding up a heavy glass of beer. Why?

Because artisan cheese can change from from season to season, from wheel to wheel, and from batch to batch, it can be tricky to pair to craft beers, which can morph just as quickly. So having a cheat sheet, a standby pairing to lean on, is uber helpful.

Sheep’s milk fairs well with sours for two main reasons. 


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Read more about sours here.

Why does it work?

1. You’re contrasting.

Sheep’s milk is higher in butterfat than cow’s and goat’s milk. As the milk ferments and ages into cheese, it intensifies in richness. And since cheese looses moisture, but not butterfat with age, the richness only amplifies. When paired to a sour beer, the beer’s acidity is extremely helpful in cutting through some of the fat in the sheep’s milk cheese like lemon does to a cream sauce. It keeps the pairing situation bright and light.

2. You’re also matching.

Next, sheep’s milk still retains some of it’s lightly citrus character when it ages. Think of Pecorino Toscano, Everona’s Piedmont, or even Abbaye de Belloc. For SF Beer Week, we paired Bellwether’s San Andreas and Barinaga’s Basseri with Drake’s One Hit Warrant– a honey wheat aged in Chardonnay barrels with sour cherries. The  lightly tart beer, and even the cherries matched the lemony citrus notes in both Basseri and San Andreas. The cheeses also went super well with Drake’s Scarlett O’Bretta and Wild Hundo. And after doing much research (ahem,… tasting) I can confirm that other sours and ages sheep’s milk cheeses go well together too. It’s a good thing I’m here for you.


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Next time you’re faced with a tree trunk carved with initials, consider looking for ASC ♥s SB (Aged Sheep’s Milk Cheese ♥s Sour Beer). It’s likely right below Jessie declaring his love for Jenny.


Carboncino: My Mixed-Milk Comfort Cheese

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Perhaps because my family has always based our trips around going to spots where we could pull over for a cheese tour or wheel, our car drives normally started in my home town of Sacramento, and ended in Sonoma or Marin. So even though I grew up in northern California, I had only been to the Mendocino coast once.

But two Sundays ago, I hopped in my car, packed my computer, a pilates roller to get those laptop writing kinks out, hiking boots, comfort cheese, other less necessary food provisions, and drove to a friend’s cabin overlooking the sea. I wanted to work on a writing sample for a upcoming project (which I would love to share soon) near nature. The cheese? Well I brought it because I obviously needed it.

It was a gorgeous drive. Once past the Bay Area, Sonoma greeted me with rolling hills, vines,  cows of all sizes and colors, and short, roaming trees. After I turned the Russian River corner leading to Jenner, my drive was flanked by Highway 1’s drastic Pacific ocean views, cliffs, and redwoods. Then once I arrived to my little corner of Mendocino, I unpacked, grabbed my cheese and a plate, and pulled a chair onto the deck overlooking the ocean. I had underestimated the drive and was ready for fresh air and food.

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The cheese I unpacked was Carboncino. Whenever I take a trip that I’d like to be as effortless as possible when I’m not writing, hiking, etc…, I bring comfort cheese. What is comfort cheese? Well, its basically whatever cheese offers you respite and simple pleasures when you need it to. What cheese do you like in your grattins, your grilled cheese, your mac n cheese, or just spread over a cracker with little else? That’s your comfort cheese. It can change.

Last week Carboncino was mine. A couple weeks prior when I went on a hike I packed Comté (holds well in a back-pack). Other times I’ve brought Garrotxa, PennyRoyal’s Boont Corners, and …. whatever felt good to me at the moment. This time I wanted something spreadable and unctuous.

A goat, sheep, and cow’s milk hybrid, Carboncino is a mild, creamy cheese with lemony and often mushroomy notes, and an ashed rind. I’ve served it to picky family members, friends who like their cheese as soft as butter, and to myself when I want a cheese that’s all about the simple pleasures.

It’s made by Alta Langha, the same blessed mixed-milk people who make La Tur and Rochetta in Piedmont, Italy. I picked up this lovely disk from my friends at The Pasta Shop in Oakland. It’s wonderful with a sparkling wine, an Italian Trebbiano or Vermentino, or a porch overlooking the sea.

What’s your comfort cheese?

Beer & Cheese Pairing with Drakes: SF Beer Week, Here we Come!

DrakesBeerandCheese1* (1 of 1)On February 6th, the fun and fury that is SFBeer Week launches, and on Febuary 14th, Drake’s Brewery and I team up for beer and cheese pairing. The Drake’s team and I recently teamed up to do a very, very serious sensory perception tasting and evaluation of the possible beers and cheese we would join together to ensure that the tasting would be best possible examples of the duo together,. Photographic evidence follows.

What is SF Beer Week, you ask? Well, SF Beer Week is a time when breweries shower the San Francisco Bay Area with massive amounts of beer (we’re talking storms, not a light drizzle). It’s a time when people are thankful for public transit and designated drivers are celebrated in high form. This is the second year I’m teaming up with Drake’s Barrel House, and I’m honored to be pairing with one of the best craft breweries in California.

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As you can see from the photos above which reflect the state of the table prior to us even sitting down to taste, Drake’s and I were very thorough. We tasted about ten different cheeses with twelve different Drake’s brews (that’s at least 120 different blasts of flavor). We consulted with each other. We tasted again. We talked some more. We ate from a third to three-quarters of a pound of cheese each. We made pairing grids. We did all this t o find the perfect pairings for you (and maybe for us too).

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See the notes? Clear evidence of the scientific nature of our tasting.

The tasting will feature all domestic cheese (mainly Cali) paired to Drake’s beer (mainly seasonal, special releases)- six cheeses, five beers. Anderson Valley’s PennyRoyal makes an appearance, as does Silver Mountain Cheddar, 2015 Drake’s Hopocalypse, and Scarlet O’Bretta Flanders-style red sour ale. These aren’t cheeses or beers you always see around and some of the cheeses and beers served are only released seasonally.

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A cool bonus to the tasting besides that you get to eat delicious cheese and beer? It’s on Valentine’s Day afternoon, meaning, it’s a great way to start out the celebrations with your beer-loving honey, or, to create your own perfect pairing, cheese and beer style.

So, stop by if you’d like to join me in general beer and cheese revelry. I’d love to see you there. Tickets available here.

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Feb 14th, 2 pm, Drake’s Barrel House, San Leandro. And yes, there is a shuttle available from BART! 

The Cheese Bomb Hit San Francisco Last Week

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If anyone even slightly cheesy wasn’t as present on twitter as normal, behind their normal cheese case at the correct hour last week, or had a glazed over look on their face from consuming high quantities of fermented dairy or salted meats, blame either or all of the following: The Cheesemonger Invitational, The Good Awards, and The Fancy Food Show. And perhaps the beer and wine that tends to go along with it. It was, my friends, a big week, for which people came to San Francisco from as close as Los Angeles from as far away as England and Switzerland (or…. I’m guessing Swiss becasuse of the suspenders, shorts, yodeling, and large Alpine wheels he was carrying, but- could have been wrong).

The Thursday of last week was the Good Food Awards Gala, an awards event honoring organic, sustainable, food artisans. Sunday was the Invitational, which is one huge, strobe-light filled cheese party (ask my parents who stayed until the wee hours of eight pm, it’s true). Then Monday and Tuesday was the Fancy Food Show, packed with new cheeses, classic cheeses, anything and everything gluten-free or sprinkled with fleur de sel, and massive amounts of chocolate, also covered with fleur de sel.

These were some of my favorite parts of the tasty madness:

Stevie Burnich from Cheese Plus's perfect bite- featuring Tunworth.

Stevie Burnich from Cheese Plus’s perfect bite- featuring Tunworth.

1. The Cheesemongers Competing at The Cheesemonger Invitational

Not only did I get to meet the reigning champ of NYC’s CMI 2014, Emily Acosta, who is as charming and lovely as she is skilled at cutting with a cheese wire while someone wearing a cow costume yells at her, I got to talk to some of the other competitors too. They’re awesome. To compete, one has to take two days worth of tests, slice and wrap cheese in front of a thousand or so people, charm a crowd, and make “perfect bites” for more than a hundred people. And there’s more, my head is just too clouded with richness to remember it.

I also got to yell loudly when San Francisco’s competitors Eric Miller of Mission Cheese and Liz Cutler-Rubin from Bi-Rite represented! And there were folks from Cheese Plus, and The Pasta Shop, and… the Bay Area is skilled, ya’ll. The top photo is of Eric Miller’s “Perfect Bite,” which is a pairing a monger makes with one of their favorite cheeses. Miller’s bite was a fried egg breakfast sandwich created with Cowgirl Creamery’s Devil’s Gulch. Really. He fried all 120 mini eggs (quail?) himself for the samples.

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Alemar’s Bent River

2. The Cheesemakers

Mr. Andy Hatch of Uplands brought guests of the CMI a rare batch of Rush Creek Reserve. And up, it was the original recipe made with milk the way the cheese was intended -raw style! Had to chance to talk to him while digging into Rush with a spoon. Neal’s Yard Dairy brought Stacey Hedges out from Hampshire, England of Tunworth (if you haven’t already noticed my recent two-month trip to the Isles -more news, pics, writing forthcoming- I’m smitten by English cheesemakers, guys!). I  ate about a quarter of a wheel of her cheese at a sitting. Also present was the super nice Keith Adams of Alemar cheese, who just moved out to California to make cheddar. I could keep on adding fantastic cheesemakers to this list who made time to put up with my questions or whose goods I just ogled from afar, but I’ll stop here with the note: Blessed be the cheesemakers.

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3. Delicious New Cheeses

These events mean trying new delicious things! Here are a few that stuck out to me:

  • Tunworth, Neal’s Yard Dairy- buttery camembert with notes of meaty roasted cauliflower that oozes with the best of them. Now importing through NYD.
  • La Clare’s Martone, Wisconsin- goat and cow’s milk cheese dusted with ash and covered in a lightly wrinkled rind. Just hitting the market in full force, lively, sweet, and pictured above.


If you made it to the show, what did you try? What were your favorite bites and times?