Thursday, May 30, 2013

Taleggio - Continuing the Stinky Theme

When I decided to write about Taleggio, I realized that this is now the third rather pungent cheese I'm writing about in a row. I hope you all don't mind... I've been on a stinky cheese kick recently!

Cheese: Taleggio D.O.P.
Producer: Various - the one pictured is produced by Ca De Ambros
Region: Mainly Lombardy, but also in Piedmont, Italy
Milk: Pasteurized or raw cow's milk - the one pictured is pasteurized
Rennet: Traditional (animal)

Taleggio is one of those cheeses whose name even a novice turophile would recognize. Many people associate it with being a very stinky cheese when in fact, on the stink level, it's pretty mellow. It gets its name for the Taleggio Valley where it was first produced. Like other alpine cheeses, the making of this cheese was a result of needing something to do with the leftover milk.

You can see that the rind has a bit of a reddish hue and that tells us that this is a smear ripened cheese similar to an Epoisses or Brescinella. When the cheese is being made, the curds are put into molds and then left at temperatures of around 70-77 degrees F. From there they are brined or hand salted and aged in caves for about 40 days. During the aging process, they are cleaned with a salt water solution to keep any unwanted molds away and to help develop the sticky, reddish rind that we know and love.
The texture of this cheese is like a dense marshmallow. It is pale cream in color and is springy, yet wonderfully smooth. The scent is super grassy and not too stinky. I don't typically eat the rind on this cheese because it is a bit bitter, but the paste of the cheese is so creamy and unctuous, sweet and mushroomy all at the same time. The pasteurized version tends to be a bit more mellow than the raw version as the raw milk keeps a lot of the natural flavors which shine through beautifully.
Taleggio just screams for a big, fruity red. I like it with a full bodied Pinot Noir like Migration Pinot Noir or a yummy IPA like Stone IPA. Also try with fruits, nuts and honey... you can't go wrong! I hope you enjoy this cheese as much as I did. Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!

Monday, May 27, 2013

My Funky Friend - Munster-Gerome

Hello folks!

Just got back home from a whirlwind week of traveling. Chicago and Indiana Monday through Thursday and then Los Angeles from Friday until today. It's been a busy week! I apologize that I haven't posted! I'll be sure to do a couple extra posts in the next few days to make up for it.

While I was in Chicago, I was able to visit the Lincoln Park store which is a HUGE awesome store. Here are a couple pictures...

Ok, enough of that :) Let's talk cheese. Yesterday I had the pleasure of hanging out with my good friend Jeremy and his girlfriend Jamie. We picked up some delicious cheeses and wines and made an evening out of it.

From left to right:
Comte, Fourme d'Ambert, Hollandse Double Creme Gouda, Munster Gerome, Garrotxa and Humboldt Fog

Needless to say it was a very fun evening. The cheese that I would like to talk about today is the fourth cheese from the left - the Munster Gerome.

Cheese: Munster Gerome
Producer: Maison Fischer or Haxaire
Region: Alsace, Franche-Comte, France
Milk: Pasteurized cow's milk
Rennet: Traditional (animal)

I love this cheese... and as you can tell, it bears no resemblance to the American muenster. This is the real deal. Originally produced in two different regions that were on opposite sides of the Vosges mountains. In Alsace, the cheese was known as "Munster". In Lorraine it was known as "Gerome". The names were combined when Munster-Gerome received AOC status in 1978. One of the requirements of the AOC certification is that the milk that is used to make this cheese must come from the Vosgiennes breed of cow. It also can be raw or pasteurized, can be produced in a few different ways (i.e. cooperative or industrial),  and must be aged for at least 3 weeks.

You can't escape the stink with this cheese. Just from unwrapping the cheese, my hands smelled of barnyard and grass for the rest of the evening. This may not sounds appealing to everyone, but I can't get enough of that washed-rind smell!

When aged appropriately, the pastes becomes an unctuous, gelatinous treat. After you cut it open and let it sit for a few minutes, the paste just starts to ooze out... heavenly! You can eat the Munster-Gerome a couple of ways... if you choose to eat the rind along with the paste (which is totally fine to do!) you'll get a much more pungent, grassy, acidic, even bitter flavor that you would if you were just to eat the paste. When you eat the paste without the rind, you taste the silky, funky, buttery goodness of it. You basically get two completely different flavor profiles by trying the cheese both with and without the rind. Be adventurous! 

This cheese is quite rich, so I don't normally buy it just for myself. It comes in an 8oz round and as easy as it would be for me to eat the whole thing, I try to avoid eating a 1/2 pound of cheese in one sitting. The wine specialist at the Glendale Whole Foods where we bought the cheese (his name is Chris and he's AMAZING) recommended that we pair a dry Riesling from Mosel with this cheese. I'm normally not a Riesling fan, but Chris was spot on. The Riesling was indeed very dry with a bright acidity and a very subtle sweetness that really cut through the richness and stinky nature of this cheese. I was very impressed with this pairing and will be adding it to my repertoire. 

Well everyone, I am beat! I'm going to head to bed now... look forward to a few more posts in the next few days. I won't be traveling again for a while so I should have the time. Until then, eat, drink and be happy!!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Herve Mons Camembert

Hello everyone!

Today I wanted to talk about a rather well known cheese... Camembert.

The Camembert that we are able to receive in the United States are different than the Camembert that you would get in France. The information for the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) or the real Camembert that you can purchase in France is as follows...

Cheese: Camembert Normandie
Producer: Various
Region: Normandy, France
Milk: Raw cow's milk
Rennet: Traditional (animal)
Other AOC/PDO requirements: Must be 250g, made in Normandy and made with milk only from the local herds of Normandie cows.

The only difference with the Camembert in the US is that it is made with pasteurized milk. Herve Mons, the producer of the Camembert pictured above, stayed as close to the original recipe as he could while using pasteurized milk and created a wonderful, authentic tasting Camembert. This particular Camembert was hand picked by our global cheese buyer, Cathy Strange, and is exclusive to Whole Foods Market. To learn more about this partnership, check out this video:

One thing I like to point out, specifically in the case of Camembert, is to make sure you let it come to room temperature before you eat it. If you don't, the paste remains pretty firm and the flavors are incredibly muted. When it reaches room temperature, you will see that the paste is pretty gooey, not oozing like Bries or other soft ripened cheeses tend to, but squishy.

When you taste a bite of Camembert, you may surprised that it is not as buttery as its Brie counterpart. The flavors of the Camembert fall more into the umami category with creamy mushroom flavors. It is for this reason that I like to incorporate Camembert more in my cooking because it just has more flavor! The rind on this cheese is completely edible and has flavors of barnyard and earth. Sometimes I find the rind is a little too dry for my liking - there is no shame in not eating the rind! The consistency of the paste on the other hand reminds me of raw pizza dough. It's squishy yet it doesn't just dissolve away, you have to chew a bit. Also, don't be scared with a little color on the rind of Camembert, it is completely normal and just means there will be even more flavor. You can tell it has gone past its prime when you open up the container and get strong whiffs of ammonia that do not go away after letting it air out for about 20 minutes.

Herve Mons himself has recommended a nice Medoc with this cheese and his counterpart, Laure, recommends a nice, dry cider. I also like to have it with grapes or figs along with a light and refreshing Vouvray. Swing by your local Whole Foods Market to day and pick up some Herve Mons Camembert for yourself! It's a perfect treat for a warm day like today. Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mozzarella de Bufala and Caprese Salad!!

Hello everyone! I have made a promise to the group of Whole Foodies who are going to be taking the ACS Certified Cheese Professional Exam this summer that I would post on some of the more popular PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) cheeses to help them prepare for the exam. I'll continue with the same format as I have in my previous posts, but I wanted to give you all a sense of the direction I will be heading the next few months.

This weekend I was back at my previous Whole Foods Market location in San Jose, CA but this time as a customer. I noticed that some locally grown tomatoes on the vine had come in and were looking scrumptious. During this time of year I start to get really excited about the heirloom tomatoes that will be coming and tend to just buy more tomatoes of all varieties while I wait as a result. But, being Italian, when I see yummy, plump, juicy tomatoes I think of one thing - Caprese Salad. And when it comes to which mozzarella to use, there is no contest... Mozzarella di Bufala.

Cheese: Mozzarella di Bufala Campana
Producer: Various
Region: Must be produced in Latina, Salerno, Caserta, or in certain parts of Rome, Naples and Benevento, Italy
Milk: Pasteurized water buffalo milk
Rennet: Traditional (animal)

The true foodies among us know that the only real mozzarella is the mozzarella that is made with water buffalo milk. Not to knock the cow's milk mozzarella, but the buffalo milk mozzarella is beyond reproach. In order for it to be called Mozzarella di Bufala it must be produced in the regions listed above, weigh from 10 to 800 grams, be free of any defects and cannot contain any preservatives or dyes. It falls into the Pasta Filata category of cheeses which means the curd is heated to a point where it can be stretched and formed into balls or other shapes. Traditionally it comes in a ball shape as shown below...

The flavor of the Mozzarella di Bufala is much more complex than its cow's milk counterpart. It has that wonderful sweet creaminess that you get from good quality whole milk and a touch of gameyness due to the fact that it is made of water buffalo milk. Water buffalo milk is naturally higher in fat and protein (like sheep's milk) so it creates a richer flavor. It isn't a strong cheese but is used more as a vehicle for other flavors.

The texture is also very interesting. The outside of the cheese is just barely tougher than the inside (it reminds me of burrata) with the inside being slightly granular, but much more moist and creamy. This is a result of it being in a brine solution and shipped to the U.S. If you were to eat this cheese fresh in Italy, the outside would be a similar consistency as the inside.

Now for the Caprese Salad! Here's how you make it:
(I don't give any measurements because you should make this salad how you like it!)

Mozzarella di Bufala
Tomatoes (when you can get heirloom tomatoes, don't skimp out)
Fresh Basil
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper (or in my case Tuscan Salt)

Chop up the Mozzarella and the tomatoes and throw them into a bowl.

Chop up the fresh basil and add to the mix.

Add olive oil (use you best judgement, you just want to lightly coat the ingredients, not drown them)

Then add your seasoning... I used Tuscan salt, but I haven't seen it in a Whole Foods in a while. So I took a picture of what this salt mix contains so you can recreate it if you wish.

Then mix and enjoy!!

I literally could eat Caprese salad every day of the week if I could. If you're a fan of this salad, make sure you try it with the Mozzarella di Bufala to take it to the next level. Let me know what you think!

Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

One of my Favorite Goat Cheeses... Coupole!

Being that we are smack dab in the middle of Spring, I decided to feature one of my favorite goat cheeses... If you've been following along the past few months you may see a pattern developing in that I LOVE the aged goat cheeses that come from Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery. The cheese I'd like to talk about today is the Coupole.

Cheese: Coupole
Producer: Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery in Vermont
Milk: Pasteurized goat's milk
Aged: 3 - 5 weeks
Rennet: Microbial (vegetarian)

The Coupole is a cheese that I can never get tired of. Like most cheeses it changes dynamically depending on its age and is always a treat no matter how young or old it is. This cheese is named Coupole after its dome shape.  The brainy looking rind is a result of the practice of adding geotrichum to the mix.  I often refer to this cheese as the most delicious snowball you'll ever have in your face :). It's also one of my guilty pleasures... I've been known to eat a whole 6.5 oz wheel in one sitting (shhh! don't tell!).

As I cut into this particular Coupole today, I have to say that it is at its peak. If you look carefully towards the middle you can see that the middle of the cheese is still firm and a bit flaky, while the outer edges are quite gooey. I've mentioned this process before, but this is a result of proteolysis or the breakdown of proteins. The bacteria in the rind work their way from the outside in digesting fat (a process called lipolysis) and proteins along the way. These processes are what makes cheese ooey gooey as well as fantastically flavorful. If you were to cut into a  younger wheel of Coupole, you would see a firm paste almost all the way throughout the middle with very little gooeyness close to the rind.

Ok, enough science speak... let's talk about flavor. The Coupole is on the mellow side when it comes to pungency, but it is also a goat's milk cheese... so if you're not a goat milk fan, take a tiny bite first and see what you think before digging right in. The first thing you notice when you take a bite of the Coupole are the two very different consistencies of the smooth, creamy outer edge and the flaky, firmer interior. The paste that is in the middle has a flavor comparable to a fresh chevre, very clean, smooth and milky with a touch of salt. The creamline and rind add a sweet, yeasty, slightly gamey flavor. It is such a clean tasting cheese with such a beautiful goat flavor.... I just love it so much!!

Today I happened to have one of the first of the season's apricots and it paired fantastically well with the Coupole. The sweet, tartness of the apricot cut through the creaminess of the cheese and was just heavenly. I can also see a sour beer like a Lambic or the Supplication from Russian River Brewery going very well with this cheese.

Most of the cheese counters in the Northern California region should have this cheese available so make sure to pick one up for yourself. You won't regret it!

Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Quadrello di Bufala - That's Right Folks, Buffalo Milk Cheese!

First of all, for those who are interested, I am having a blast in my new position getting ready to open up the new distribution center for our region. That being said, I'm going to be in an office with little access to cheese over the next couple of weeks so I may not blog as often as I normally do. For that I apologize, but I will definitely keep them coming!

The last week that I worked behind the cheese counter, we got in one of my favorites, Quadrello di Bufala. If you're a fan of Taleggio you'll love this cheese...

Cheese: Quadrello di Bufala
Producer: Caseificio Quattro Portoni
Region: Lombardy, Italy
Milk: Pasteurized water buffalo milk
Rennet: Traditional (animal)

This cheese is produced using almost the same recipe as Taleggio, just with water buffalo milk. The curds are cut into large pieces and gently handled in order to retain as much moisture as possible. Then it is allowed to drain under its own weight for a short amount of time and then transferred to molds. The lines that you see on the rind of the cheese are from the straw that it is allowed to age on and the funky orange color is indicative of it being a washed rind cheese. It is washed every five to six days and is aged up to 30-45 days.

The texture of the paste is thick and creamy. It is still considered a soft cheese, but will never get as soft and gooey as a triple creme would. It has a strong smell, like most washed rind cheeses, of earthiness and funk while the flavor is much more subtle with flavors of grass and cream. The buffalo milk also lends a slight gaminess to the mix with makes it a big more complex than Taleggio. 

Try this cheese with a nice Italian red. It has enough flavor to stand up to the bigger flavors in red wine but still has a nice earthy, creaminess to balance with the berry notes in the wine. I find myself just eating this cheese on its own, but it would be lovely with a crusty baguette or some fresh fruit. Maybe this is a cheese that you can pick up for your next picnic! The weather is beautiful and the grassy notes of this cheese just scream spring. 

Quadrello di Bufala is on sale right now at all Whole Foods Markets in Northern California and Reno, so make sure you swing by and ask for a sample. Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!