Tuesday, March 9, 2010

March's Grilled Cheese of the Month - Locavore Pesto Mozarella on Ciabatta

This month, the grilled cheese is a mozarella with pesto.  But it's not your usual basil pesto, it's my locavore pesto.  Rebecca turned me on to alternate pestos.  Rebecca has sworn by her arugula pestos and I've been intrigued.  Once my arugula (12 plants!) takes off, I will try that.  In the meantime, I'll make my locavore pesto.

While my arugula is still in its infancy, my parsley is growing like a weed.  Additionally, I picked up a batch of sorrel from the farmers market.  For those of you unfmailiar with sorrel, it's a leafy green that tastes amazingly like lemon. The down side it that it wilts quickly and turns an unattractive khaki color when cooked.  This makes it a prime candidate for pesto.  Everything except for the parmigiano reggiano comes from a local source and in two cases, my yard.

Locavore pesto:

1 cup of parsley
1 cup of sorrel
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup of walnuts
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup (at least) of parmigiano reggiano or any hard cheese - pecorino would work well
1/4 cup of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Put the first four ingredients in the food processor and blend until paste like.  Add the lemon, olive oil and parmesan and blend some more. 

This is just a Bay area spring on a spoon.  The flavors are just fresh and lemony.  Therefore, it needs a fairly neutral base for any dish it gets served with.  It was divine with ricotta gnocchi.  And its makes a great spread for a grilled cheese on ciabatta with mozarella.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Chaource is a Chaource

Let's get down to some individual cheeses.  A few weeks ago, we found the Queen of Ooze, a creamy, luscious French cheese called Cahource (shah-OORSE).   The cheese shop had 1/2 a cylinder of this left and offered us a deal because once it's cut, it needs to be eaten. 
Chaource is a soft-ripened, white rind, cow's milk cheese that has been made since the Middle Ages.  The Lincet family has made this cheese, named after the town it comes from in the Champagne region of France, since 1892. They are reportedly the only importers to the US, but there are other producers in Chaource.

Tasting Notes: Chaource was a creamy mushroom bomb with a touch of salt.  A slippery, savory butter friend that had just enough tartness to notice. Earthy, but nothing overwhelms the luscious, indulgent, goo.  Our had a very slight ammonia note, but I think this was from keeping it a bit too long after it had been cut.  Get it, bring it well into room temperature, and then spread it on crostini or a table water cracker.  Delicious with sliced pears.

Compare To: Similar to a camembert or brie. 

Buy Me: We found ours at The Cheese Board in Berkeley, but I have heard reports that some Costcos carry it.  Culture Magazine has a cheese shop finder on their site to find something close to you.

Overall: A sexy addition to a cheese plate and a perfect, spoonable cheese to serve with some bubbly.  Also a nice cheese for a breakfast bowl of fruit.

Monday, March 1, 2010


I tend to separate cheeses into two categories - eating cheeses and ingredient cheeses.  It's self explanatory, but my eating cheeses are cheeses with complexity. They usually combine the sharp, salty, sweet and bitter with tones with butter or caramel.  My ingredient cheeses can be either completely bland but with good texture (ricotta. mozarella, fromage blanc) or incredibly powerful and needing another ingredient to mellow out the flavor (Point Reyes for blue cheese dressing or parmigianno reggiano). 

In the past few months, we've been buying an excellent ingredient cheese called quark. Quark is an interesting hybrid of ricotta and fromage blanc.  It has a nice tang but a great texture that melts into soups.  I love a dollop of it in a pureed tomato soup.  For those of you watching fat, it's lowfat, so you can use it as a substitute for cream in soups or sauces.    We have also tasted it sweet, with sugar and vanilla bean (easy to substitute Splenda). 

I will say it can be hard to find.  We get ours at the Spring Hill Jersey cheese stand at the Berkeley Farmers Market.  I haven't seen it at Trader Joe's or Safeway but have found it at Berkley Bowl and several other farmer's markets. 

If you do find a supplier, I highly recommend getting some.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

More Cheeseboard Love

Jonathan already wrote about the Cheeseboard but I have add my two cents about how awesome it is.  This past week, I was staying with Dave and Deborah in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia.  Deborah is also a cheeselover and we went to Del Ray's cheese shop - Cheesetique.  We were making a cheese plate for a gathering of our DC gang. We had a great time and the person helping us was great.  We chose an Abbaye de Belloc (more on that in a future post), a nice sardinian pecorino and a Fromager D'affinois (future post!).  In addition, our helper had some really good suggestions, including a soft cheese with cranberries as well as a nice blue that looked like a cheddar with blue veins.  Cheestique is certainly a very good cheese shop but I think I am spoiled by  the Cheeseboard and I wanted to give some reasons why:

1. First and foremost - organizing the customers.  This is where Cheesetique could up their game.  Basically, you have to wait until the person behind the counter notices you.  I had a moment at Cheesetique during an earlier visit when it was particularly crowded.  It was up to the customers to figure out who arrived first and the man who insisted he was there before me may have been correct, but it was an avoidable conflict.  The Cheeseboard stands out because they are able to manage the crowds of customers and still give each of us tremendous amounts of attention.  When you enter the Cheeseboard, you take a playing card.  When they are ready for you, they call your card.   A fun take on the take a number system that would be easy to implement and it takes the guessing out of the "who's next" game.  Simple, easy, understandable.

2.  The sheer expertise of the Cheeseboard staff.  The other thing that is consistent about the Cheeseboard is how much each member of their staff knows about cheese.  They invariably have introduced us to cheeses we've fallen in love with. When we say which cheese we're interested in, they will make suggestions about other cheese we would like.  In one of our favorite visits, one of the behind the counter folks gave us a killer set of fondue cheeses and gave us exactly the right amount for three people.  As a collectively-owned cheese shop, I would assume the Cheeseboard makes a huge investment in training its workers since they are also the owners.  

3.  The Cheeseboard will shove cheese down your throat.  I think they must have a rule that no cheese goes untasted.  Each cheese we take home, we've had a taste of and seriously, even after we've ordered and paid, our behind the counter people, often make suggestions and give tastes of cheeses we should try.  It's also delightful that the behind-the counter-people usually taste right along with us.  They value the opportunity to taste and to hear what we think.  That's a pretty amazing retail experience.  

Now this post isn't to disparage other cheese shops.  We appreciate all of the cheese shops and we've rarely had bad experiences with a cheesemonger, BUT we've also never had a less than extraordinary experience at the Cheeseboard. 

JD adds:  The Cheeseboard is a total cheese experience. One thing I do love about Cheestique and some other cheese shops is the keeping of cheese cards for customers.  At Cheesetique, you can come in, get your card, and see what cheeses you have enjoyed, make notes, and add your new bounty to the list.  It adds a bit of time to the transaction, but it also goads thinking about cheeses and, most likely additional sales.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ricotta gnocchi - a lesson in reading

With all of that homeade ricotta around, I was itching to make some gnocchi.  I used this epicurious recipe.  After making two batches of ricotta gnocchi, I seriously wonder how anyone would ever use potato as a gnocchi filler.  Every description I read about good gnocchi is that it's this light, airy, ethereal dumpling.  Every review I read of someone making potato gnocchi is exactly the opposite - heavy, leaden, and filling.

Last year when Rebecca, Jonathan, and I did our fava bean fest, I made ricotta gnocchi to highlight the fresh flavor of the fava beans.  It was exactly what gnocchi has been described.  Now that I can make ricotta on a whim - having an endless supply of lemons and easy access to good milk, gnocchi would be an everyday occurence. 

If you are making gnocchi from homemade ricotta, be prepared to add in the flour a little at a time because you will need less flour.  Homeamde ricotta is much drier.  This is a huge plus because flour = heavy.  The one challenge was actually reading the damn recipe because I had the gnocchi all rolled out in a long snake and ready to be cut into bite sized pieces when I realized I forgot the parmesan.  I kneaded the parmesan in and then realized I only needed ONE cup and I would use the remaining half a cup for the sauce.  ARGH!  But all worked out well as my tester gnocchi turned out fine, despite all of the kneading to incorporate the forgotten parmesan. 

Right now the gnocchi sit in my freezer ready to be eaten. I am holding off until Rebecca, Angela and i get it togetehr to do mozarella making - preferably in Angela's well appointed kitchen. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Even nonprofit social justice activists get the blues

On our last visit to the Cheeseboard, I asked the ever so friendly cheesemonger for a taste of Roquefort to see what the big deal was about this classic blue.  And the thing is, I still don't get it.  For me it was overpowering and pretty one note especially compared to my favs which include Big Woods Blue and the DIVINE Bayley Hazen.

I realize that I actually have cheese preferences, when it comes to blues.  I don't like dry, crumbly cheeses.   Those types of cheeses like a Roquefort and Maytag Blue seem to just taste salty and musty.  The creamier cheeses have more complexity to me and a sweetness that balances the pungent flavors of a blue.

This leads me to my first love when it comes to blue cheeses - gorgonzola dolce.  This is the blue that I measure all other blues against. I love the creamy texture and adore the sweetness.  To me there's more depth of flavor and more flavors bouncing off of each other in a gorgonzola dolce.  Compared to a cheese like this, the Roquefort I tasted just tastes musty.  The gorgonzola dolce just sings with flavor and seems to highlight other foods like figs, prosciutto, and breads.  It's a tried and true cheese for a cheese plate.

As I start reviewing blues, keep those preferences in mind.  I am more than happy for our dear readers to disagree but now you know where i am coming from.  

Ricotta Round 2

I've been itchy to make another round of ricotta so I can make some ricotta gnocchi, soft fluffy pillows of dumpling goodness.   Usually they are high carb things made with potatoes, but making them with ricotta brings them to a new level.  Also I've heard that freshly made ricotta is better than store bought for gnocchi because it's drier.  So round two of ricotta.  

Because we had used Rebecca's citric acid for round one, I decided to find a homemade ricotta recipe using lemon juice (since we have an unlimited supply of lemons from our tree).  I decided to do a modified version of this Martha Stewart recipe.  After reading all sorts of recipes I realized I could omit the cream and do just as well by increasing the lemon juice to to 6 tablespoons.

What makes this different from using the citric acid is that you need to get the milk to a VERY rigorous boil and THEN  add the lemon juice (as opposed to adding the citric acid at the beginning and letting the milk come to 185 degrees).  I did try and see if 185 was the right temperature for the lemon juice style of ricotta and the curds barely showed up.  Bringing it to the full boil gave the desired results.

I now have a canister of ricotta ready to turn into gnocchi.  Stay tuned.