Cheese, with a Bow
When the weather gets frosty and the flurries start swirling, I start to get readers and student requests for cheesy holiday gift ideas. Because I have not yet trademarked my idea for a cheeseball Christmas sweater and wouldn't want to walk past Stella McCartney one day and see a walnut-rolled Fourme D'Ambert ball/cashmere pashmina before I have time to register my notion, I'm going to stick to recommending cheese products and cheese lit. I hope you wont be disappointed.
Drum roll......., the "It's Not You, it's Brie" holiday cheese gift list extravaganza.
Number One- Make your friend a cheeseball. This gift is an inexpensive gift that just keeps giving. Really- if you give it to one person, there will be leftovers for days. And if you bring it to a party, they'll be pictures that will last for years. Cheeseballs warm hearts. Enough said.
Here are some cheeseball recipes that I wrote for NPR last December.
Cheese and Champagne also has one of my favorite recipes for a cocoa-lavender ball. Very inventive and not sweet.
Ideas that cost money
Cheese Clubs & Classes
If you're in the Bay Area, check out the "It's Not You, it's Brie" cheese club I put together through Solano Cellars wine shop. Pick up only. I wrap up the cheeses with extra love.
The Cheese School of San Francisco, Murray's Cheese, and the Brooklyn Kitchen all offer gift certificates and have awesome classes. So does Ramekins in Sonoma and C'est Cheese in Sacramento. Don't live on the coast? Check a cheese hot spot near you for advice where to go. There are plenty.
Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest: A Discovery Guide: Tami Parr has one of the best cheese blogs to date. It features news, rumblings, cheesemaker descriptions, and it's inspiration. The woman knows what she's talking about when she tells you what's what in the Pacific Northwest cheese world, and she's a great writer.
A little broader is Sasha Davies's The Guide to West Coast Cheese: More than 300 Cheeses Handcrafted in California, Oregon, and Washington. Davies is a cheesemonger and sits on the American Cheese Society Board and has her finger on the pulse of small-production cheese. She'll put you to work- I have not heard of some of the Cali cheeses she mentions and I'm ready to seek them out.
Mastering Cheese is the big daddy. It has the basics, and much, more more. It’s one to which I refer back when I need a reminder why triple-creme cheese has less fat than their labels say (bonus!) or to find out which milking animal has more of which vitamins in their milk. Or to read about Capriole or Jasper Hill or… Here’s an interview with authorMax McCalman from “It’s Not You, it’s Brie.”
The Cheese Chronicles trails Murray’s cheesemonger, buyer and educator Liz Thorpe’s visits to some of the best cheesemakers in the United States. It says a lot about American cheese and the devotion of its cheesmakers to perfecting their craft, as it does about Thorpe’s expertise and love for the subject. It’s lively and inspired, and also a fantastic culinary memoir.
Cheesemonger, by Gordon Edgar, is one of my favorite books, period. Using humor as a guiding force, Edgar links his love for cheese to social activism and explains how what many see as nothing more than fermented milk can inspire a full and aware life. And it’s flippin funny.
An oldie but a goodie,Home Cheese Making is a great guide to making cheese in your own kitchen. I’ve tried to make cheese with other books and have found a wrong temperature in a recipe or two that has thrown off my efforts. Then I end up frustrated. This one is exact. And has abundant recipes inside for the gorgeous cheeses on the cover.
I know, it’s kind of cheating. The River Cottage Preserves Handbook is not about cheese. But it loves cheese. The recipes within it, like Melissa’s chestnut jam and apple-flower jellies want to be paired with Sierra Mountain Tomme and Garrotxa, for example. So does the ale chutney. Expect to see some trial recipes from this book on the blog in the future.
Laura Werlin’s The Cheese Essentialscovers, well the cheese essentials. It breaks down why a washed-rind is called a washed-rind and how to find other varieties like Époisses if you are hooked. It also has some great recipes for cheese accouterments, like pan forte. It is simple, friendly, easy to use, and Werlin does a great job in explaining why certain cheeses are how they are (nature vs. nurture?).
Goat Song tells the story of novelist Brad Kessler’s move from the city to the Vermont countryside to make cheese and raise goats, in vivid detail. Seriously, goat mating is described down the italicized T. It’s real, honest, and a great book. Kessler’s a skilled writer who explains his devotion to husbandry, why he and his wife moved from Manhattan to make goat cheese, and the profound impact the decision and the animals have had on his life.
Lastly, your local cheese shop probably has gift certificates. This comes in handy if you're not sure whether the person you're gifting prefers light and mild fresh cheeses or funkier-than Bootsy Collins washed rinds.
Any other gift ideas?