Anna’s Khachapuri: The One & Only Georgian Melty Cheese Boat

 

I had long heard of a melty cheese and bread boat named khachapuri made in Georgia (the country, not the state) but it seemed kind of like hearsay. Like that there were people out there who actually make turduckens, or that adorable cats with short legs named munchkins really exist.

Khachapuri- 2 to 3 types of melted cheese tucked into fluffy, yeasted bread and topped with a big pat of butter and an egg yolk that are stirred together to make a melty cheese pool that you dip the bread into?

YES. A traditional food of Georgia, khachapuri has been around for centuries longer than any of us have had to ponder its delicious existence and is just as cheese-packed as it sounds.

A couple months ago I learned that friend of mine, Anna Voloshyna, was hosting pop-up dinners serving her handmade khachapuri through Feastly in San Francisco. Purely because as a cheese expert it was my official duty to try it, I tried to sign up. Well… turned out I was not the only one craving a cheese boat-the dinner was sold out for a month. After making reservations to her feast two months in advance though, I finally tasted khachapuri. 

Not to make pizza, mac n’ cheese or grilled cheese feel bad, but khachapuri is like a prized rose in an English garden, an Icelandic hot dog compared to a ball-park wiener, a New York chewy bagel versus what’s served in grocery store bins. It is a melted cheese epiphany.

And Anna khachapuri is something special.

I have since tasted another version at a local Georgian restaurant and I can tell you that Anna’s was tops. Incorporating the perfect blend of cheeses and the softest, most golden bread I’ve tried, Anna’s worked her magic on a classic Adjarian Khachapuri recipe that a Georgian friend shared with her to create this perfect version below. She even stuffed the crust with cheese, like according to my partner, they do with their cheese pide-nearly the same dish, different name- in Turkey. And she agreed to share her secrets.

I am thrilled to share with you today Anna’s recipe. Thank you, Anna! You even look adorable making it!

Btw, before you look at the recipe below and say, “What?! Why is she giving me a recipe for just 2 khachapuri?”, know that 1 cheese boat can feed from 2 to 4 people. It is f.i.l.l.i.n.g. And, I know that the recipe is in grams, but it really benefits from exact measurements. Grab yourself a scale- they are awesome.

Anna’s Adjarian Khachapuri Recipe

For 2 khachapuri 

For the dough:

325 g all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling the dough
250 ml whole milk, lukewarm
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon white sugar
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing

For the filling:

100 g Syrian cheese *, grated
100g Suluguni cheese *, grated
100g queso fresco, grated
100 ml heavy cream
1 whole egg, lightly beaten with a fork
2 egg yolks
100 g butter, unsalted and room temperature

 

Instructions:

1) In a big bowl, whisk together the milk, salt, sugar, and yeast. Let the mixture stand for 1-2 minutes.

2) Sift 120 g of the flour into the milk mixture and use a whisk to mix well until you’ll have a batter with a yogurt-like thickness. Cover the batter with a kitchen towel and let it stand for 20-25 minutes.

3) Sift the remaining flour into the mixture, then add the olive oil. Stir well to combine. After mixed, remove the dough from the bowl and start kneading. The dough will come together and form a ball. Continue kneading for 5 minutes. By the end of the 5 minutes the dough should be slightly sticky and very soft.

4) Divide the dough into 2 equal balls. Lightly brush the balls with some olive oil and place into individual zip lock bags, or bowls covered with plastic wrap, and let rest in a warm place (60-80 degrees Fahrenheit)  for about 2 hrs.

 

5) Preheat the oven to 400 F.

6) In a small bowl mix together the three cheeses and heavy cream.

7) When the dough balls have risen and doubled in size, place them on a lightly floured surface, then roll into a 10 inch equal ovals, about 1/4 inch thick.

8) Place the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

9) Spread a quarter of the cheese mixture (about 5 ounces) over each piece of dough, leaving a  1 and 1⁄2-inch border all the way around.  Fold both halves of the lengthy sides together and pinch the edges tightly to seal. 

10) Flip the khachapuri over completely so the side you just pinched is now facing down. Cut lengthwise down the center of the dough with a sharp knife, making sure to leave about 1 1/2 inches uncut near each narrow end. Tucking the sides of the khachapuri under and away from the center, roll the edges of khachapuri to form a boat shape. There will be cheese under the rolled sides when you finish. Divide the remaining cheese mixture evenly between the middle of the khachapuri and lightly press down.

11) Cover the khachapuri with a kitchen towel, and set aside to res for 15 minutes until slightly puffed.

12) Just before baking, brush the edges of the khachapuri with the lightly beaten egg, then bake for 15-18 minutes until the crust becomes golden brown.

12) Make a well in the center of each khachapuri with the back of a spoon and drop 1 egg yolk into each well. Then place a slice of butter on top of the cheese and serve right away.

 

*You can find something like this Syrian cheese at a Middle Eastern grocer.

* Suluguni cheese is great, but if you can’t find it, use something like quesillo- a stringy, fresh Latin American cheese.

 

Considering a Career in Cheese? 5 Jobs from Monger to Maker

Career in cheese? Photo by Anna Voloshyna

If you are one of the obsessed cheese lovers (like, you read cheese books instead of novels in bed) who are considering leaving your stable job behind to devote yourself to a life of spreading the cheese gospel, but are unsure of your options…

Here are 5 Career in Cheese Options for your consideration.

 

The first time I officially worked with cheese was when I arranged a slice of Morbier next to Dolce Gorgonzola on a cheese plate when working the dessert station in a San Francisco kitchen about 18 years ago (omg my 20 year high school reunion is this October). Things have changed a little since then. Not only has the number of artisan cheesemakers skyrocketed, the number of people aching to pack their fridges with cheese has soared, and so has the number of jobs to sell that cheese to them. Or to make it. Or to teach them about it. The industry is ripe right now, my friends.

But which job or career in cheese is for you?

 

If you’ve been dreaming of starting your own creamery, opening a cheese shop, mongering, or teaching, but are confused about which direction to go in, read below. To help you dig a little deeper, I sum up the pros and cons of 5 of the most commonly coveted careers in cheese. Some I’ve worked myself, others I’ve seen people working close-hand, and others I’ve learned about because I’ve considered them too. Read before you leave your desk job, and happy cheesing.

 

5 Careers in Cheese: Pros & Cons

 

Cheesemaker as career in cheese? Maja of Dingle Cheese, Ireland

Career in cheese? Cheesemakers at Chaseholm Farm

  1. Cheesemaker: 

As Anthony Bourdain said “You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese.” Nowhere is this more true than being a cheesemaker. If you own your herd, expect to have to milk them at 4am and 7pm. If you don’t, expect to obsess over the milk anyway. Expect long hours, heavy lifting, following set sanitation rules to a T, frequent and surprise food and safety checks by the FDA, cleaning making up more than 60% of your day, learning a lot of chemistry, no vacations for years, and talking more about acidity than a than a vinegar maker. The pay is low and opening your own creamery will be more expensive than raising a child. But expect to feel extreme feelings of love when you get it right and see your cheese baby age from infancy to maturity, and by knowing you’re connected to a noble tradition that goes back thousands of years. You will also develop impressive arm muscles.

Comtés of different years and provinces at a Jura cheese shop

2. Cheese Shop Owner:

Cheese is expensive but margins are low. It’s not only hard to break even, it’s hard to convince people to pay for farmer’s and cheesemaker’s love, sweat, and tears in the form of fermented milk. But once you do,….. ah!!!!! It’s heaven. And while you may not be able to pay yourself a salary for years, you get to write off cheese travel as a business expense. Expect to spend most your time on your feet behind a counter or on excel spreadsheets or cleaning cheese wires and grating machines more than thirty times a day, and prepare to work holidays for the rest of your life and to cry when doors shut on the day before Thanksgiving because it’s finally over. The trick is diversification (sell condiments, books, classes), and giving people what they want until they trust you. Oh, and finding good employees that love cheese as much as you do and doing everything you can to get them to stick around. Speaking of which….

3. Cheesemonger:

Cheesemongers help the world go round. But they don’t get paid much (be nice to them). You get to eat insane amounts of cheese, meet makers, and help customers ease their way from being Fromage D’Affinois lovers to funky Époisses dreamers. Like when owning a cheese store, expect to spend most your time on your feet behind a counter or cleaning cheese wires and grating machines, and prepare to work holidays and to cry at when doors shut on the day before Thanksgiving because it’s finally over. You also have to talk to a lot of people. Cheesemongers are awesome people though, and I think every career in cheese should include a stint as one. You learn so much, and there is an opportunity to compete in this.

Irish cow, future milkers

4. Cheese Importer/Distributor:

Whew. Lots of competition, and have you seen how confused the FDA is about European cheese shipments these days? Prepare to wait a very long time for some of your stock to arrive. Plus, shipping and distributing cheese in college should be its own major. Think barges soaring across the ocean, trucks driving from NY to CA (all Euro cheese arrives to NY then gets sent west), arranging in-city-transport, and making sure as little cheese goes bad before this is all completed. And you really have to network. But… you get to meet and visit cheesemakers all over the world, and you will always have enough cheese at your fingertips to make fondue. And a cheese sculpture. And a cheese plate. And mac n’cheese. Or,…. you could just work for a cheese importer or distributor.

Cheese classes Bay Area

5. Cheese Educator:

Love it. It’s gratifying. I learn every time I teach. I love my students. I eat amazing amounts of cheese and get to take pretty pictures of it. It also requires a lot of background knowledge and there is a lot of competition. That’s to say… it takes tons of work to make it pay the bills, so plan on piecing this together with something else to make a career in cheese if that’s what you want. But it’s so fun! In addition, know your role as facilitator can alternate between being a cheese expert, a chemistry teacher, a cat herder (yup, alcohol is often involved), a caterer (you have to lug a lot around), and an entertainer.

 

What to hear more? If you’re interested in learning about more careers in cheese, I’m happy to oblige- email me at [email protected], and check back for interviews with these folks below here soon.

Chèvre, Coconut & Guava Sandwich Cookies from Shortstack Chevre

Chèvre, guava, and coconut cookies- goat cheese recipe

If you’ve ever searched for a killer goat cheese recipe online- say you’ve already made that chèvre and arugula salad and are aching to put the extra six ounces of the log to tasty use, you’ll likely have noticed most chèvre recipes are savory. That is to say, not sweet. Beet and goat cheese salad. Chèvre and quinoa bowls, you get the picutre. Which might lead one to believe that that’s all chèvre is good for.

Not true.

While I would never turn down a goat cheese tart, my hands-down favorite way to enjoy chèvre (fresh goat’s cheese/goat’s milk fromage blanc) is sugared up.

Melted guava paste center

When sweetened with sugar, dark chocolate, fruit, or honey, chèvre transforms whatever dish into which its incorporated into a bright, luscious, sunny dish. Its lemony notes help lift sweet and rich creamy desserts to lighter places, bring out layered notes in chocolate, and add a subtle creme fraiche or buttermilk flavor to baked goods.

So I’m very happy to share with you Tia Keenan’s Chèvre, Coconut & Guava Paste Sandwich Cookies from her latest cheese book- Chevre– a slim yet dense Shortstack book.

Now my friend Tia is skilled (she opened Caselulla and Murray’s Cheese Bar in NYC), so it’s not the only recipe I’m batting my eyelashes at, but it was the first one to scream “make me now,” or to put it more accurately, “eat me first.” When Tia describes the recipe in the intro and says the chèvre gives the cookies a buttermilk biscuit flavor rather than a chèvre flavor, she’s spot on. I might even try them with an extra thin layer of chevre spread over the guava if I was serving them to a fierce goat cheese crowd, but they’re charmers as is. I served them at a Memorial Day party, and they off the cookie plate fast. And I brought my friend and her husband two for a treat and my friend ate them both. I did not tell her husband.

Thanks for sharing these Tia! The recipe follows. Buy the book here for more chèvre love.

 

Chèvre, Coconut & Guava Paste Sandwich Cookie Recipe

These hearty, biscuity sandwich cookies are best with a big ol’ mug of milky tea or coffee. The chèvre lends a buttermilk biscuit twang to the cookie, which is a nice contrast to the sweet filling made from guava paste. Guava paste is the working-class cousin of cheese-plate-stalwart quince paste—and a more affordable and readily available fruit paste for pairing with cheese.

3 1⁄2 cups cake flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
1⁄2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
11⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 ounces (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
6 ounces chèvre, crumbled
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 egg
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons demerara sugar
16 ounces guava paste (such as Goya brand; available at super- markets), cut into 2-inch cubes

Preheat the oven to 425° and place racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a food processor, combine the flour, granulated and brown sugars, baking powder, baking soda and salt and pulse to combine. Add the butter, chèvre and coconut and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and cream; set 3 table- spoons aside in another bowl. Add the remaining egg mixture to the flour mixture and pulse until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently to bring it together. Roll the dough flat to a 1⁄4 inch thickness and cut out rounds with a 21⁄2-inch cookie cutter or rim of a drinking glass. Place the cookies 1⁄2 an inch apart on the baking sheets, 16 cookies per sheet (you’ll have less than that for the last sheet and will need to bake in 2 rounds for 4 sheets total).

Brush the cookies with the reserved egg mixture and sprinkle with the demerara sugar. Bake for 10 minutes, rotating the sheets between the upper and lower racks halfway through baking, until the cookies show just a bit of color. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then, using a spatula, transfer them to a cooling rack.

Place the guava paste and 1⁄4 cup of water in a small saucepan. Melt the paste over medium heat, stirring occasionally at first, then more frequently as the paste melts, 15 minutes. You will need to stir vigor- ously, forcing out any lumps in the last minutes of cooking.

Drop a 1⁄2 teaspoon of the hot filling onto the bottom half of a cookie, then place another cookie on top of the filling to make a sandwich (if the filling cools and gets stiff before you finish assembling the cookies, reheat the filling to make it easier to work with). The cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

 

Reprinted with permission from Short Stack Editions Vol. 33: Chevre, by Tia Keenan (shortstackeditions.com).

What Makes Cheddar Orange? Or, When I Met Annatto in Jamaica

The most common question I get in my classes besides “when did you become so obsessed with cheese?” is …

 What makes cheddar orange?

From the neon-orange blocks chilling on grocery store shelves to the farmhouse wedges like Fiscalini‘s bandage wrapped cheddar in gourmet shops, cheddar ranges in hue from vivid tangerine to creme brûlée. But the majority of the cheddar that Americans grew up with was as orange as the Vermont leaves tourists flock to view in autumn. 

An extra-aged Roelli Red Rock Cheddar

Let’s take a brisk stroll down the path to orange-dom.

Back in 17th century England, a few thrifty cheesemakers dyed their cheddar orange to imitate the hue of aged cheddar made with the milk of cows who grazed summer pastures. If animals are eating the best of summer fields- herbs, grasses, and wildflowers- the high doses of beta-carotene in what they’re munching on turns their milk a buttery hue. When aged, their cheese turns deep yellow. Because English Jersey and Guernsey cow’s milk from which Cheddar was originally made is especially rich and beta-carotene sticks to butterfat like a five-year-old does an ice cream cone, sometimes that cheddar turned orange!

When English cheesemakers realized they could make higher profits by skimming the cream from milk, using the cream for butter, then making the leftover low-fat milk into cheese that resembled delicious summer cheese if they added orange dye, tricksters did it. It sold. Many American cheesemakers followed suit. But slowly, consumers realized something was missing- butterfat and flavor- and sales dropped. Though the success of the heist wasn’t long-lived, the effect of the coloring was.

Dying cheddar-milk stuck, and most big American companies continue to dye their cheese to this day. To add a little extra spin, Wisconsin cheesemakers often dye their cheddar, they say, to differentiate their wedges or curds from cheddar around the rest of the country.

But what exactly makes cheddar orange? 

Annatto.

Among all the natural dyes available, annatto quickly became the fave. A tropical bush or short tree, annatto loves growing in humid, hot, damp locals close to the equator.

Have you ever seen the plant in person? I hadn’t until recently. Yup, that meant when I told students that annatto made many cheddars orange, I had no idea really the fruit looked like.

This all changed when I went to visit a friend working in Jamaica (she worked, I vacationed) and we went on a eco farm tour to a working coconut farm that grew mainly native Jamaican plants so tourists could see what the land was all about. I’d highly recommend Sun Valley Farms ecotourism tours- think nutmeg and banana trees, coconuts, vanilla, jicama, soursop….. and yes, you get to taste most of the them.

And just like that, I met annatto.

Annatto is awesome. With the power to stain skin as easily as cheese, annatto can also used  as a lipstick, or to tint cheeks. The farmer made his fingers red simply by rubbing the seed. I can see why the power of the seed quickly popularized.

The pulverized powder is known in Mexican cuisine as achiote and can be found gracing dishes like the red-skined achiote-rubbed pork, and to add vibrancy to chorizo. Eaten solo, it’s a bit peppery and sweet. Mixed in with cheddar, it’s either undetectable or slightly… annatto-ish (ahem, sorry).

Now most smaller producers who dye their cheddar use annatto, and larger ones do their own thing (another type of natural cheddar dye that some bigger commercial creameries use is here). 

Long live cheddar, and may all of us one day have the opportunity to rub our fingers on the annatto plant.

Making a Mother’s Day Cheese Plate? Turn it up to 11.

If your mom is anything like my mine, she’d appreciate a Mother’s Day cheese plate that rocks the dairy boat.

She’d like a Mother’s Day cheese plate that was so unusual she’d have to ask twice if the cookies really were supposed to go with the cheese (yessss, Mom). One that featured fermented vegetables and preserved fruit. One that let her enjoy the many layers of her favorite cheeses in ways she never had before.

For Mother’s Day, turn your mother’s cheese plate up to 11.

Of course you can build a simple plate packed with cheese, and maybe a little honey or dried fruit. But a more contemporary option is pairing cheeses that you know your mother (or the mother-figure in your life) adores to exciting sides and condiments that she’d never cozy up to her favorite wedges on her own. Do the daring leg work for her.

My mom (isn’t she cute?)

Should you be afraid to go bold in your pairings? If you reach out of bounds, will flavors get too extreme or clash?

No, and maybe. In case you’re wondering, I can now speak from with confidence that dried mango with chili powder does not play nicely with cheese. Play around after Mother’s Day- here are some pairings that are good-to-go now

Tried and tested, these are my picks!

 

My Mother’s Day cheese plate features the lovely Comté: Stepladder Creamery’s Cabrillo, Tomales Farmstead Teleeka, preserved lemon, Oreo’s or Newman’s O’s, and Cultured’s gingery sauerkraut.

Full disclosure, the Comté Association sponsored my post and asked me to pick 2 more cheeses to feature on the plate. More disclosure, Comté was already one of my top 10 cheeses (so, yay!).

Comté with Cultured’s “Super Sauerkraut Salad:” I’ve recently discovered the joy of pairing krauts and fermented cabbage with this Alpine-style cheese. This one is one of my favorite duos. The kraut’s gingery and tangy flavor slices through Comté’s richness like a bright acidity wine does a triple-creme, while allowing the cheese’s brown buttery and hazelnut nuances shine through. Pair a gingery and bright beet-hued kraut with golden Comté, or go a little bolder and pair with Kimchee (really- it’s not to spicy-start with a tiny piece and go as bold as you like it). Even more pairing, you ask? Throw an off-dry Riesling in the mix. But the next way I’m trying this combo is in a grilled Comté and kraut grilled cheese sandwich with buttered country bread.

You can read more about Comté’s culture and history here.

Steppladder Creamery’s Cabrillo: A goat and cow’s milk hybrid, Cabrillo already shows light notes of lemon from its goat’s milk so matching it to a preserved, salty lemon felt natural. It made it even more sunny and bright. I also tried it with goji berries, and… well, let’s pretend I didn’t. Together the preserved lemon and the Cabrillo offer a liveliness fit for a cheese plate, or light appetizers. Another cheese option? Garrotxa, Panteleo, or Pennyroyal Boot Corner.

Tomales Farmstead Teleeka & Chocolate Cream Sandwich Cookies: Goat, sheep, and cow’s milk- are you sensing a California theme here? Yup, when goat and sheep’s milk cheesemakers don’t have enough milk from the tiny producers (goat and sheep provide less milk during certain seasons), they often buy cow’s milk from dairy farmer neighbors. This cheese is like a robiola, and the grassy hints of the goat’s milk shine through while the sheep and cow’s milk provide a thick, creamy texture. I’ve always loved fresh chevre with chocolate so I decided to test these cookies out here. Delicious. Bright and sweet and earthy. At one point I scraped out the cream filling from the cookie sandwich, replaced it with Teleeka, and liked the cookie even better. Another cheese option? La Tur, Tomales Farmstead Kenne, or Vermont Creamy’s Crémont.

Enjoy your Mother’s Day with an amazing woman in your life.

 

 

New Ridge Montebello Release + Cali Cheese = Spring!

 

One of my favorite times of the year, besides the day egg nog hits grocery store shelves or when the summer blackberries are ripe at my hiking spot, is serving the cheese at the annual Ridge Montebello releases.

The Ridge Montebello Release spells spring like strawberries, bunnies, and blooming flowers.

And sometimes Ridge Montebello even smells like blooming flowers. And black pepper, and boysenberries, and red currants, and herbs and… ah… Ridge Montebello.

Bellwether Pepato

Pre-game.

Considered one of the best wineries in California and easily one of the top Bordeaux-grape focused producers anywhere, Ridge Winery helped to put the country on the wine map. When it and other Cali producers like Chateau Montelena took top scores at the 1976 Paris Judgement, they proved that California didn’t just make ooey-gooey, boring wines meant for boxes. It made lively, age-able, well-structured wines that could fool French wine journalists into thinking they were swirling Bordeaux. And they did it again 40 years later.

How I come into the story beyond admiring the winery, and years of selling and swilling Ridge Montebello release at tastings and wine shops and hoping that someone offers to share their bottle, is that I am the lucky girl who gets to select the cheese for releases every year. 

For one weekend a month, three months in a row, I present cheeses from my favorite California cheesemakers (Cali only- Ridge rules) that shine with the wine. The Montebello blend is made up of the winemaker’s favorite vineyards and aged in the best oak and is always a blend of Bordeaux grapes- Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot. Then there is always a Chardonnay as crisp as an apple, and single varieties like Cab Franc (my fave) and splashes of their age-worthy Zins to try.

Tomales Farmstead’s Assa

Choosing the cheese for it is an extreme pleasure. Plus, I get to work to with really cool people, like Ridge’s chef of over twenty years, Kathy Martinich.

I’m already gearing up for April and May’s.

Hope to see you there!

The wonderful Ridge chef, Kathy, slicing cheese

Fatted Calf’s Lonza