A Cackalacky Creation

I’ve been back in the States for a few weeks, still fondly thinking back on the delicious fromages, formaggi, und käses I discovered and hoping it won’t be too, too long until I can return both to Europe and its turophilic bounty.

In the meantime, I made an impromptu trip down to South Carolina to see my brother Anster in a play. Before the show, I had dinner with my cousin Rubi, who was visiting from Scotland and one each of our parents, who are siblings themselves. Anster had recommended that we dine at Cribb’s Kitchen on Main Street in Spartanburg.

ctmy108-grilled cheese bite exteriorI’d previewed the menu to deem it veggie-friendly. It not only passed that test, I also saw a particular dish that made the turophile and Southerner in me simultaneously begin to shout ululations: Pimiento cheese fritters! I insisted that we start the meal off with them. When they came we found these hush puppy sized balls filled with pimiento cheese that oozed when one bit into them. ctmy109-grilled cheese bite interiorMy mom remarked that she didn’t see any real pimiento pieces, but I dismissed her disdain as the flavor of this appetizer still had a kick. There was also a tomato “jam” on the side into which we could dip these delectable creations.

I was happy to share with the table and we all enjoyed them, though perhaps not as much as Rubi did her shrimp & grits! I don’t eat seafood, but I do make a pot of grits (with cheese, of course) almost every Sunday morning, so I can easily relate to a fellow grits lover. If you’ve not had grits before, come to my house and I’ll make you some. If that’s impossible, then the thing to remember is that for them to be truly gooood, they need a lot of butter, salt, and cheese stirred in, though Jarlsberg would beg to differ with me on this interpretation. 😉

Crazy for Käse

Jetzt ich bin in Deutschland! An overnight bus whisked me through the Swiss Alps and after a brief pause in Munich, I made my way out to Pfaffenhofen, a Bavarian suburb to visit a shop catering to one of my other obsessions. Completing that fabulous fibrous pilgrimage sooner than expected, I found that I had a bit of time before I had to return to Munich, so I wandered into center of this charming town where I found a Saturday market in full swing.

ctmy101-Käse von PfaffenhoffenGuess what? There was not one, but two, cheese stalls! I perused the offerings at each, but ultimately decided that the one pictured had the most intriguing options. I told the counter girl that I was eager to stick to local cheeses and it just so happened that they were featuring a sale on one, Allegäuer Emmentaler.

ctmy100-german cheeseThis is the German version of the famous Swiss cheese. As you can see,  it does not have holes, but the color and texture is that classic creamy yellow associated with the well-known variety. I would describe this Alpine specialty as sweet, but with a mild bite.

ctmy102-leafy german cheese The other cheese I tried was called Blaümflor. Unfortunately, I can’t find any information about it, so it’s either incredibly rare or more likely, I didn’t copy the name down quite right. The translation device says it’s simply “pale green”, which I guess might refer to its rind? It was coated in leaves and flowers. Overall, this was my favorite of the two I sampled, for it had a mild, but sweet, leafy, but not too grassy, flavor. If you sprechen Deutsch and can figure out my error in transcribing the name of this cheese, Gib mir Bescheid–I’d love to find a way to maybe track it down again!

These cheeses were enjoyed as a picnic lunch on the train back to Munich. I also indulged in some of my beloved mohnstrudel, and later I even found one with poppy seeds and cheese. I failed to document it, but trust me, it was köstlich. 

In the afternoon, I took another train over to Austria. Are you keeping pace with me? Yes, it’s only day three and I’m covering some serious ground with my limited vacation allotment. There, I met up with my friends, the Mondsee family. The Mutter is an American friend from college, who married an Austrian yodeler, and together they have a 10-year-old daughter.

I had fun catching up with them as the last time we had seen each other the tween had been but three! We toured the serpentine streets of Salzburg in the rain. Thankfully, my college mate is a certified tour guide, so we were never lost. We stopped at one point and enjoyed some eis, and when I saw that topfen was a flavor, I knew I had to try it. Cheese ice cream? Yes, please. I tried it combined with aprikose, and so did my pal. She declared that the swirl reminded her of peaches ‘n’ cream. Indeed. Apologies for the lack of documentation–it was too complicated to manage umbrellas, ice creams, and a camera.

ctmy103-käsespätzleLater on, we stopped for dinner at a beer hall. The menu was extensive but thankfully, my English-speaking friends could help me figure out what was both veg-friendly and cheesetastic. Their daughter and I both went for the Käsespätzle, the Austrian version of macaroni-and-cheese. Served in individual skillets, you can see that it was an ample portion and I was sorry that I couldn’t finish it, as I didn’t have a fridge handy to hold the leftovers.

I parted ways with the Mondseer family–they returned home and I stayed over in Salzburg that evening. Arriving in the middle of a weekend meant that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to patronize a charming cheese shop that I’d read about in my guide book. I guess I will just have to make plans to come back soon, for it’s clear that I’m crazy for any and all käse I encounter.

On the Bitto Trail

Sono in Italia! I’m only here for 36 hours (damn those American vacation limits!), but I’m making the most of it. I’m in the Lombardy region around Milan. When I told Perlagrigia, my cheese-loving, Italian-speaking colleague from work that I would be in this area, she urged me to seek out a particular cheese, Bitto. In doing a bit of preliminary research, I learnt that it is one of the most rare, and therefore more expensive, cheeses in the world!

Thus, I was surprised to find it featured on a pizza at the restaurant where I dined with my Italian friend Philadelphia–I am cheesening her with this name because she’s the one who first told me that in Italy, La Philadelphia is the name used colloquially for cream cheese! However, Philadelphia is actually much more of a meathead than a cheese fiend like me. For proof, just take a look at her pizza pictured in the background.ctmy97-la pizza con bitto!

But back to my pie . . . I think it was called the Alpine Pizza, or at least I recall it having a name that spoke to it featuring local ingredients. In addition to Bitto, it also came with porcini mushrooms, and there had been meat on it, but when Philadelphia placed our orders she requested that they hold it, due to me being a veghead. Anyway, my notes say this pizza was “delish”, or rather delizioso?

I’m very glad I happened upon it, seemingly by chance, in Lecco. Later that afternoon, I was back in Milano and I stopped into the decidedly gourmet grocery Peck. It’s so fancy that one has to pay for one’s purchases before picking them up. I went to the cheese counter and told the man there in my stumbling Italian that I had been urged to try the Bitto. I was hoping that he’d offer me a sample.

ctmy98-peck foilAlas, he did not pick up on my hint. He told me that the Bitto Storico (aged for 10 years and thus the more costly) would crumble to bits if he cut off a slim portion. Honestly, I’d’ve not minded that, but I guess he didn’t want to sell me “broken” cheese. So, I settled for a sliver of the younger Bitto 2015. It was wrapped up in paper-lined foil, emblazoned with the sunny Peck logo (look left), which I imagine is factored into the price of the cheese?!

ctmy99-bitto 2015When I unwrapped the Bitto later that evening, I found a sweaty, Parmagiano-like texture. It was a tad disappointing that after all the build-up, the cheese itself was ultimately undistinguished. It tasted like “cheese”, but did not have any particular flavor that made my taste buds come alive in rapturous song.

Perhaps it should always be melted atop a pizza with porcini mushrooms? Or maybe I need to channel my sassy inner New Yorker and be more insistent that Peck’s cheese counter give me what I want? Whatever it takes, I’ll keep trying and hopefully one day, I will sample the historic Bitto and come to fully understand why it is so admired.

Where am I off to next? Über die Alpen!

Un Tour de France, avec Fromage

Bienvenue à Paris! I landed here this morning. Unfortunately, I don’t actually have time to leave the airport before my next flight, but I’m making the most of my brief layover in this country by inhaling some buttery pastries and sampling from this petite basket of fromages fantastiques.

ctmy95-les fromage de CDGWhen I first spied it, how could resist?! And when I opened the cooler in the duty-free shop, the aroma that wafted out let me know that I was in a country that takes its cheese creation and consumption seriously.

While I did not take pictures of each individual portion as I unwrapped them, I did take notes as I sampled each one. Let’s begin with the blue-boxed (Mini) Caprice (des Dieux), which means “whim of the gods”. Isn’t that a heavenly sounding cheese? It was oval in shape, designed to look like the Calisson, a French almond candy. This cheese was a very creamy, like a Brie, but there was no bitter aftertaste that you sometimes get with that famous French fromage.

Next comes the slice of Comté, one of Jarl’s all-time faves. I’ve had this cheese on several occasions before and I like it, I do, so I’m not sure I’ve ever actually bought some, until today. I’ll try to make more of an effort to remember that it is “strong, in the right way” and make more of a habit of tucking it into my basket on future cheese-shopping days.

ctmy96-pave x deuxOn either side of the basket are mini Pavé d’Affinois varieties. The white one is the standard; the other with the orange rind is called Brin. Like the Caprice, I found them both similar to a Brie, though perhaps somewhere between those two on the bitter-sweet scale. The Brin did not taste remarkably different, just slightly so.

Below the blue Caprice box was another packaged slice, this one called Emmen France. I can’t find any specific information online about it, so I’m going to guess that it’s simply a French version of the Swiss Emment(h)aler. I did discover that one can download an app to point out key spots whilst cycling through the Emmen valley of Switzerland, original homeland of this cheese. It’s very mild, by the way, perhaps like the inhabitants of this valley?

Société Crème at the bottom of the basket was a creamy, but undoubtedly strong spreadable cheese. The blue-green veins still visible in this more processed miniature version hinted at its derivation from a Roquefort. I first tried this cheese in a dish of pasta in Belgium and I remember it knocking my socks off, almost literally!

Finally, there is the Chavroux, with a little kid on the outside, to clarify its origins from goat’s milk. Not as strong as that boisterous bleu, not as mild as the Emmen, but with more of a kick (maa!) than the creamy, rinded varieties I sampled, this one was a nice finish to my three-hour tour, made without actually touching true French soil.

I do hope that I will get to make more than a mere layover here one day and soon, but for the moment, I can hint that the next post will be from a neighboring country that also takes its cheese seriously, molto serio . . .

Surprise Mac Attack

After attending a reading at a quaint bookshop in SoHo this evening, I thought to grab some grub before heading to Grand Central. It’s summertime, so the light is long and the days feel longer, but I knew it’d be dark by the time I got home.

ctmy92-mac barPractically next door, I found macbar, which is no, not where one totes in Apple products that are acting up, but rather where anyone who adores that ultimate of comfort foods, a.k.a. the South’s most ordered “vegetable”, will feel right at home because even the space itself is shaped like macaroni-and-cheese!

ctmy93-mac bar interiorThere is not a lot of room inside–rent ain’t cheap anywhere in NYC, but especially not in this neighborhood. Thus, I was happy that I was placing a takeout order, though there was a free spot for me to perch while I waited.

I had dithered whether to start with the classic, made with American and cheddar cheese, or to try one of the more exotic options. I asked the counter gal for her recommendation and she encouraged me to order the mac ‘shroom, made with roasted “magic” mushrooms, fontina, mascarpone, and truffled essence.

Tctmy94-mac bar to gohe aroma was pretty amazing, but I steeled myself and waited until I was sitting on the train to open it up and take a bite. As you can see, even the to-go containers are in the shape of the classic noodle shape associated with mac-and-cheese. I dug in expecting to be transported to a magical wonderland. Sadly, this was not the case. I’m not sure if the kitchen had poured too much truffle “essence” on my macaroni or if it was just an off-brand, but it overpowered everything.

This was, of course, disappointing, but I have not sworn off macbar entirely. I’m willing to give them another chance and I may even sample the mushroom variety again, though I’ll likely next opt for the aforementioned classic, or maybe (drool!) the four cheese with queso blanco, fontina, emmenthal, and gouda. If you’re a meathead, there are many more options for you featuring beef, chicken, lobster, and even duck (mac quack!) And yes, there are some other “healthy” options like the primavera with a bunch of veggies, but to be honest I typically like my mac to be just the one unspoiled (Southern) “vegetable”.

Mario + Mary = OJ

Once a year, I have to work a crazy event down near Penn Station in NYC, actually it’s across the street in Hotel Pennsylvania, home to PE6-5000, if you are familiar with the tune, and yes, that’s still their phone number!

Anyway, at the event, there are a lot of teenagers, so the main grub served is Domino’s Pizza. (I’m not gonna link it because there’s no reason, if you are reading this blog, that you should visit their site). Sure, I grew up on Dom’s & Pizza Hut, but in the past 20 years, I discovered the real deal, so there’s just no need for me to darken the door of either establishment for the rest of my life. ‘Nuff said?

OK, back to Penn Station. There’s probably a Pizza Hut counter in there, or at least a Sbarro’s, which isn’t much better. But this year, the city is finally offering folks in the area a better option: The Pennsy. It’s a foodie’s food court with a handful of specialized counters all conceived by famous, respected chefs. There’s meat, seafood, vegan fare, and more, including a bar with snappily dressed tenders.

It probably should come as no surprise that I made a bee-line for the Mario by Mary stall. On the first day, I got the Eggplant Nonna featuring ricotta, scamorza, and tomato alongside the titular veggie. There was also a hint of something spicy, perhaps the marinade for the eggplant, because I definitely had a tongue-tingling experience whilst inhaling it. Scamorza is one of my favorite Italian cheeses that in my opinion should be used as much as Provolone is in your average deli.

ctmy73-what OJ would taste like if he were a sandwichOn Day Two, I introduced my colleague Danby to the fancy food court and she chose the same sandwich, I had been eyeing since the day before: the Truffle Honey Grilled Cheese with fontina, gruyere, and black truffle honey. From the first bite, we were both grinning ecstatically at each other. Danby then remarked, “If Oliver Jeffers was a sandwich, I imagine he would taste just like this!” We had just seen him speak a few days prior and were unrepentantly smitten with both the man and his art.

So, in summary, should you find yourself near Penn Station, and especially should you be inside it and appalled at the lame dining options, which are typical of your average mall food court, go outside to the corner of 7th Avenue and 33rd Street. On the northeast corner is where you will find The Pennsy. Go inside and eat good food, especially that OJ sandwich that Danby & I heartily recommend.

 

Which Cheddar is Better?

This afternoon, I convinced Jindi Brie to host another cheese fest chez elle. The last time, my selections had included a real stinker (literally), so I promised her that I would be super careful in my choices for our second attempt. In fact, I already had a variety of Cheddars slowly accumulating in my fridge’s dairy drawer, so our tasting menu was somewhat pre-determined. ctmy70-cheddar polaroid

This first picture requires a bit of squinting, but my current pack of Polaroid film needs to be used up, though hopefully not wasted, so I set up this vintage shot. There’s a clearer, fully digital image below and in both starting on the left, there is first a Vermont Cheddar from Cabot. I got this one at my local health food shop when they were going out of business in December–gotta love the shelf life on a cheddar! This was Jindi Brie’s favorite because it was the most smooth. I was somewhat thrilled to discover the “black” wax encasing the cheese, was actually purple, my favorite color. Next to Vermont, there’s a Canadian Cheddar that I got on a whim at Fairway in the past few weeks. It was nice, but not really remarkable; shall I refrain from the temptation to say how this seems appropriate considering its origin?!ctmy68-cheddarfestThe last two are both from our beloved Trader Joe’s–we had in fact preceded the tasting with a somewhat impromptu run to the closest branch, where we also got some other non-dairy treats… more about them later. The more crumbly cheddar came from the Isle of Arran, off the coast of Scotland. When I was living outside Edinburgh, one of my favorite purchases at the farmer’s market was an Arran cheddar with mustard seeds mixed in–it made the best grilled cheeses. This was definitely the strongest of those discussed thus far. It’s a cheddar with bite, but in my opinion, a really lovely one. Finally, there’s also an oak wood cold smoked cheddar. The smokiness makes it the most pungent of the bunch, and I also think it would make a really nice grilled cheese, if I still have any left when I next get a craving for one of those decadent sandwiches.

ctmy69-babka!As previously mentioned, on our trip to TJ’s this afternoon, we had also picked up some of their tasting olives (really nice), crackers (a variety, as seen above on the platter), and babka! Jarls loves babka, so I felt I had to make mention of it here, in spite of it not really having much to do with cheese. Jindi Brie was over the moon for this one and tore off clumps for us to sample in between the cheeses.

We spent the afternoon catching up on episodes of Carpool Karaoke from The Late Late Show, as Jindi Brie & I have a mutual long-standing crush on James Corden from his days as “Smitty!” on Gavin & Stacey. You might just say we find him really cheesy, and that’s a good thing. 🙂

The Cheese That Wasn’t . . . and Two More That Were

Happy National Cheese Lover’s Day!

It seems like a good time to tell you about some cheeses I sampled lately. I got a Murray’s gift card for the holidays (thanks, Rondo) and about a week ago I decided with it being a new year, what better time to try a new cheese?

So, I swung by the Murray’s counter in Grand Central Market. I spied atop it a Swiss cheese called Etivaz. The label described it as being very exclusive, only available 4 months out of the year, comparable to the Gruyere of old. It went on to wax poetic of its “deep, lingering fruitiness, a barrage of roasted filberts, the lingering kiss of smoke” (ha! Murray’s, you said lingering, twice!) I gave it a quick sniff (through the plastic wrap), it was definitely fragrant… OK, why not?

Then, I ran to catch my train. I just made it, and it was an older train. These ones seem to harbor certain odors. The car where I nabbed a seat was distinctly less pleasantly scented. But a seat’s a seat and my ride to my country abode is over an hour, so I stayed put. Perhaps if I’d’ve gotten up and gone to stand in a less smelly car, my evening with Etivaz would’ve turned out differently.

ctmy64-lloyd & bad cheese

As it was, I got home, found a pretty plate, opened some tasty crackers from Beecher’s, and arranged this nice shot. And then I cut off a bit of Etivaz and brought it close to my mouth. Hmm, that’s odd, this cheese both smelled and tasted much like the train from which I’d recently escaped. Now, I am not one to shy away from a aromatic cheese, but there’s stinky and then there’s just plain eww. Etivaz was the latter pour moi.

So, guess what I did? I took it back! I don’t know if Murray’s policy is to just indulge the whims of their customers, but they did refund me. And they apologized and said it must have been a bad batch.

A few days later, I got up the gumption to try again. This time, I decided to play it safer. I would still go for something new, but something that was less of a gamble. Again, I let the counter lead the way. I found Piave Vecchio atop it. Before pulling up roots and moving from NYC to NOLA, Mr. Piave had proclaimed this formaggio to be his favorite, thus earning his moniker.

ctmy65-pretty piave

The label compared it to Parmigiano-Reggiano which is one of my most preferred, so I considered that to be high praise. Piave is from the Veneto, but oddly enough I don’t recall hearing that much about it from all the time I spent in and around that region. Northern Italians don’t worship P-R as much as I do, but they can go on and on about their local Grana. Aromas of fruits and nuts were referenced once again, but this time they bloomed nicely. Murray’s went on to suggest that Piave is easier to eat right off the wheel than P-R. I don’t know if agree with that bold statement, but I could likely put away a pound of P-R on my own, so I’m definitely biased.

Finally, this past weekend, I was once again near that Murray’s counter (have you figured out that it’s a near-daily thing for me?) and realized that I have yet to feature one of my all-time favorites, Weinkäse Lagrein! This is a delectable cheese that I believe I first took a chance on some years ago, after reading its label and learning that it was made in the Alto-Adige, the northern most region of Italy, that was once Austrian pre-World War I, thus its Germanic name. I’ve spent a lot of time in that area in part because I love the mashup of two very unlikely cultures. They don’t really blend at all, but that sort of makes it all the more interesting to see them try!

ctmy67-weinkäse lagrein

But here’s a blend that does work: take your cheese, soak it in a local wine (Lagrein) and herbs (including some fragrant garlic) for 5 days, age it for a further 6 weeks, and then, you get this beaut with tiny holes and a salami-like scent. I may be a 20 year vegetarian veteran who has no memory of what salami tastes like, but in my mind, this is it. And my meathead friends who’ve tried this käse have confirmed I’m not far off. I think you might could trick them in a blind taste test. Maybe.

So, here’s to a new year of new tastes (and some old but good ones) on this day celebrating cheeses from a variety of nations, or at least cultures. Smell ya later…

 

Sheep Thrills in the Staff Room

Following a visit made on the weekend to Beecher’s Cheese Shop, I brought in three new selections to share with my coworkers. From left to right below, there is a slab of Beecher’s Flagsheep, a variation of their Flagship cheese, made with sheep’s milk; Beecher’s own tasty honey hazelnut crackers; and Shushan Snow, another sheep’s milk based cheese. ctmy60-beecher's bounty

Joining me for the tasting this time was Perlagrigia back to sample and shoot. Mr. Piave and Kasseri also happened to be in the staff room, so they impulsively, and happily, helped us devour the contents of this small plate. The latter two were full of comments, so I was glad to have them present for this sheepy snack.

Kasseri deemed the Flagsheep to be a bit too mild for her own personal taste; she expected it to have more bite. In spite of this minute criticism, the whole slab was consumed within a short period, so it was still certainly palatable to the others present.

Similar to our last tasting being name-based, I had selected the Shushan Snow finding it similar to my own (real) first name. If my knowledge of cheeses had been stronger 18 years ago (that is to say, the interwebs had been more developed), perhaps I would have dubbed myself, Shushan Venus Moliterno, though admittedly Stilton Velveeta Mozzarella is a lot more recognizable!

Anyway, the tiny wedge of Shushan Snow was labelled as similar to a camembert, but with a sheep’s milk influence. Obviously, though they both had this common ingredient, the Shushan Snow was much creamier and softer than the Flagsheep. Noticing me poised to take notes on any comments made, Mr. Piave rattled off that he found it “quotidian, having citrus notes, and the finish of American cheese”. Now, I don’t think we should believe any of his claptrap, but I’m sharing it with you all the same, if only for a chuckle.

As far as what’s in a name, it turns out Shushan Snow is produced in the town of Shushan, New York. It’s more than a stone’s throw from my perch in northern Westchester, but perhaps there will be a field trip at some point, to visit the 3-Corner Field Farm where this cheese is made, and also the quaint covered bridge (now, a museum) that this little hamlet boasts.

After the tasting that followed my weekend at the Sheep & Wool festival, where I accidentally failed to pick up any sheep’s milk concoctions for us to try, I now feel I am back in good with the woolly ones. Do you agree Shaun?

Maybe You Can’t Say It, But You’ll Still Love It!

My coworker, Rondo, was shopping at her local co-op and came across an Italian cheese, Moliterno, that made her think of me. It’s easy to see why as there are only 3 letters of difference between the name of this cheese and my own (real) last name. Mispronunciations/misspellings of various people’s names has become a bit of a joke at work of late, so it was doubly appropriate.

ctmy58-moliterno labelI spoke to another colleague & fellow turophile Perlagrigia and arranged a lunchtime cheese tasting at work. A midday errand ran long and frustrating, so it was all the more wonderful to have this appointment waiting for me upon my belated, exasperated return.

I did bring in some Scottish oatcakes from home to accompany the cheese. Rondo had snapped that pic of the label at the co-op and sent it to me, while Perlagrigia kindly agreed to be photographer. She has spent a lot of time on the Boot and knew that Moliterno’s place of origin, Basilcata, was down in the Southern half of the country. I just looked it up and saw that, in fact, this region is right in the arch of the famous shape.

ctmy59-moliterno & oatcakes

I liked the moldy edge to the cheese. Sometimes, I am brave and eat it, but this one was a bit too green, though still pretty, in its own unique way. There was another work colleague, Di.Vino, sitting near us and I asked her to join us in the tasting. By happenstance, there we were, three Italian-American cheese fiends, hacking away at a hunk of formaggio from the old country.

At some point during the tasting, Perlagrigia commented that it reminded her a bit of a Manchego, though it was a bit less bitter. Around the time we hit the back edge of the Moliterno, I turned to her and said that this cheese seemed to be somewhere between a Manchego and a Pecorino and she agreed completely. This is not really that surprising since those are all sheep milk’s cheeses, but with the addition of goat’s milk, I think it becomes a bit more tangy. I love the idea that after being formed, the cheese is left to hang in wicker baskets, and also that it’s rubbed with olive oil. I would imagine that this second step imparts that softer edge to the combination of the sheep’s & goat’s milks.

So, here’s to bumbling over tricky those “foreign” names and it leading to a delicious cheese tasting party at work!