The Better Cheddar

I swang by the Murray’s counter in Grand Central this evening. They had a basket of cheese “orphans”, little chips off the original wheels that would look too small sitting on display in the case. So, I picked a few out to try. They were all varieties of cheddar, so the challenge was to determine which one was better.

The Bandaged Cheddar (upper left) from Bleu Mont Dairy in Wisconsin had been cave aged at Murray’s. It was the most expensive of the three, but my least favorite. It was OK, but nothing I’d shell out bigger bucks for.

Then, to the right is Flory’s Truckle Cheddar. It had been clothbound when aged which leant it a peppery and grassy flavor. Normally, I love these characteristics in olive oil, but in this cheddar they weren’t floating my boat so much.

Thankfully, there was Prairie Breeze (at the bottom) to round out the group. This was hands down my favorite and also the cheapest–double score! When I read about its Alpine and Mennonite ties, I was not surprised as I love the similar nuttiness in Cabot’s Alpine Cheddar. And Prairie Breeze was kicking these notes up a few more notches. It is the undoubtedly the betterest of all these cheddars.

Brought to You by the Letter K

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! I am in Rhinebeck, New York for the Sheep and Wool Festival. To celebrate 10 years of making this annual pilgrimage upstate, I am staying here for the whole weekend with some friendly female knitters who are mostly based in the city.

Do you know what else sheep give us besides their woolly coats with which we can make yarn? Their milk can be turned into cheese, glorious cheese!

Last year, I picked up some of the cheeses that were sold on the grounds. On my first afternoon in Rhinebeck, we took a saunter into the cozy village. We poked our heads into a variety of fun shops, but I was most excited when I discovered Grand Cru, a Beer and Cheese Market. They had my favorite cheese, Kunik, in stock, and also a seasonal beer that I had been on the hunt for recently.

I took them back to our rental house where I discovered that my meandering walk meant that I had missed the excursion to dinner. But I didn’t mind at all because I had my cheese and beer! Dinner is served. Giuncatella, who had earned her name because she grew up in Italy, had chosen to stay behind as well and she had some Greek cheeses with her, Kassseri and Kefalotyri, so we shared them along with some salad and fruit.

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Everything was delicious. Of course, my beloved Kunik was the most adored, but I was also glad to have the opportunity to try the Greek cheeses. Interestingly enough, I had dubbed two folks mentioned on the blog with these names as they have strong Greek ties, but at the time I didn’t anticipate that I’d get to try the cheeses so soon.

Then, day one of the big event arrived and I spent all of Saturday running around the Dutchess County Fairgrounds, like there was about to be a yarn apocalypse. I tend to postpone lunch as long as possible since the lines at the various food vendors can be long and time is of the essence. Finally, I had a moment for a quick break. In years past, this is one of the occasions when I allow myself to indulge in disgusting but delicious carnival fare such as cheese fries, but today, I saw that there was a new option this year: poutine!

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Of course, I had to try it and I’m glad I did. The vegetarian version I selected came with the upgrade of a truffle sauce–yum!

I was in sheep heaven and I look forward to finding more turophilic delights on future visits to this woolly, and often cheesy affair, in the years to come!

In Search of the Ideal Cheese

Some months ago Perlagrigia told me about a sweet deal available for Ideal Cheese. Of course I signed up, but it’s a bit off my beaten path, so getting there required some careful planning. Suddenly, the expiration of the discount coupon was fast approaching, and that helped me get my cheese-lovin’ tush in gear.

I had actually visited this cheese shop some years ago, long before this blog was but a twinkle in Jarlsberg’s eye. I think I got some rare cheddar then, because I had recently returned from Scotland and was craving a certain Western Isles cheese.

Anyway, on my return visit I was more adventurous. I had perused their virtual shop in advance and made a list of the most appealing cheeses I’d read about. I couldn’t get all of them, but I queried the counter clerk about each and he steered me towards this one and away from that one. I took home six different cheeses in all, which felt like an impressive haul.

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Then, yesterday afternoon and today, Perlagrigia & I feasted upon these beauts on the patio at work. Starting in the lower left is Paski Sir, a sheep milk’s cheese from Croatia. I urge you to read about it, and perhaps you will see why I had to try this one. Also, my conservation teacher in Florence was a Croatian named Nenad (it’s probably the equivalent of Bob, but it sounds exotic to Anglocentric ears). Ultimately, this one didn’t exactly live up to its mythical description, but we didn’t absolutely hate it.

Above Paski Sir is Testun al Barolo, an Italian cheese made from a blend of cow and sheep’s milks. When it’s ripening, its exterior is surrounded by smushed Nebbiolo grapes, which are the same ones used to create the celebrated Barolo wine, thus it acquires a burgundy-dyed rind. We liked this one a lot, even though it wasn’t that boozy, more fruity.

I had a couple of different truffle-infused cheeses on my list, but I decided to try the Truffle Gouda this time. It did not disappoint.

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On day two, we tried the Ubriaco al Prosecco, which translates to drunk on prosecco–yep, that can happen very quickly and easily! Like the Testun al Barolo, the rind is coated with the Prosecco grape skins imparting an “intense and delicate scent, with a fragrant and fresh flavor”. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Above the drunken cheese is Jersey Girl from Autumn Valley Farm, which is actually made in upstate New York. I guess its name comes from Jersey cows? This one was wonderfully creamy.

Finally, there is the Quadrello di Bufala–clearly I was on a kick to try all the Italian cheeses with lyrical names! Described as a buffalo milk taleggio, it was one that I knew we would love and we did.

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But wait, there’s more! Because my opportunities to visit Trader Joe’s are somewhat random, I never can pass by the cheese section when I’m there. On my most recent visit, I got an old favorite, Italian Truffle, which makes fantastic grilled cheeses. I also tried a new one, Formaggio Lagorai, which hails from Trentino, a region of das Boot near and dear to my cuore. Not only was its origin appealing, but this one is going on my top 10 list. It’s rather delicate, but quite tasty. After being a Spotlight Cheese, I think it has become popular enough to be a regular on their shelves, so I urge you to check it out for yourself.

Now, I know you’re wondering, who wins out of the eight we sampled over a few days?? Well, I’m not sure we can declare a sole winner. Paski Sir was the only real miss, I’d say. The others were all intriguing in their individual ways and I expect I would try them again, but first I need another coupon to materialize!

Down in The Cellar

I’ve been wanting to go down into The Cellar, the basement of Beecher’s NYC shop, ever since I discovered it on a walk several months ago. I thought Jarlsberg & I might check it out when she was here last May, but we ran out of time. 😦

Thankfully, Hamakua was in the city for a conference and she was totally into visiting Beecher’s. She was, in fact, the person responsible for introducing me to my original favorite cheese restaurant, Artisanal.

ctmy125-hipster-lighting-cheese-makingOn the first floor, there is a glass-walled room where you can see folks making Beecher’s flagship cheese.

ctmy124-cheesy-decorThere are wacky paintings on the walls in the cellar featuring the animals that make the milk that becomes cheese.

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Right behind us was wheel after wheel of cheese being slowly aged in the cellar.

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There was a happy hour special going on when we arrived, so our first cheese plate featured some stock choices. They were good, but I didn’t take careful enough notes about what they were–sorry!

Our afternoon reunion underground ran on, but Hamakua and I were quite happy to order more cheese! We got Humboldt Fog from California that we knew we liked and then I proposed Pleasant Ridge Reserve, made in Wisconsin, which is where Hamakua’s mother lives and also, it’s the Cheese State!

We were washing everything down with some delicious drinks that happened to be the happy hour special. I think we might have had 3 a piece . . . thus not the greatest notes exist on our afternoon! But in the name of cheese, I happily volunteer to go back and do more turophilic research. Who’ll join me?

St-Albert’s Sampler & More

I have returned from my roadtrip through the Adirondacks, across the Canadian border, and behold the terrific turophilic souvenirs I brought back with me!

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This is the St-Albert‘s sampler featuring so many different varieties of their homemade cheese. I loved all of it! Maybe the smoked was my favorite? I’m just always happy when there’s cheese at hand.

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And this was the other thing I figured could travel pretty well. Yeah, it’s processed cheese, but I’m not that much of a snob, except when it comes to that sawdust in a green can. Also, I couldn’t resist the fun packaging and the flavors: bleu, mushroom, and onion. I was spreading them on whatever crackers or bread I had available, sometimes just popping the little cubes whole in my mouth. Delish.

Merci, St-Albert, j’espère retourner bientôt pour une autre visite!

Tea & Cheese? Yes, Please

I had plans in the city this afternoon but before they began I met up with Menage Cheddar at Harney & Sons teahouse in SoHo. We hadn’t been there in ages and I don’t think I’ve ever featured it here on the cheese blog, but I believe it’s where I first tasted Kunik, so it holds a special place in my heart. Also, tea is always a nice accompaniment to cheese. Coffee and cheese–meh. Tea & cheese, yes, please!

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I think this bag, which was on sale in the boutique adjacent to the teahouse, requires no further comment.

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Of course, I got the cheese plate. These days there’s no Kunik (alas!), but from the left, we have the Coach Farm triple cream, the Tomme de Savoie, and two triangular slabs of the Harpersfield tea cheese, made with Harney’s own Lapsang Souchong! They also make another tea, well tisane, cheese with the Raspberry Herbal blend, but in the past, I have found this one too sweet, so I always ask for more of the robust L.S. variety. I usually get a pot of the smoky Russian Country to go along.

I enthusiastically inhaled everything before me. Menage stayed busy with her usual order of sweet scones. Her taste runs to the more delicate, though she bravely had a taste of my sampler. All in all, it was a delightful way to spend an afternoon on a steamy September day in the city. I expect we’ll be back.

Maple Leaf Cheese

I was on a little roadtrip in upstate New York and when I took a second glance at the map, I realized I wasn’t that far from the Canadian border. I didn’t have my passport with me, but I took a chance and they let me in! First, I briefly visited a nature preserve in Quebec and then after dipping back into the States, I crossed again into Ontario. It was still the part of the province where French speaking is not uncommon.

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I had read about a cheese restaurant called St-Albert and knew it was a must-visit for this turophile. I drove through lots of farm land and eventually found the cheese mecca in the middle of seeming nowhere. I got a sandwich made with their homemade cheese, carmelized onions, and apples. And it came with a side order of poutine!

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If you didn’t know, poutine is a crazy Canadian invention where french fries are tossed with squeaky cheese curds and then gravy is poured atop. It’s admittedly a bit disgusting, and yet absolutely delicious!

Attached to the restaurant is a shop overflowing with cheese-related products. I probably spent an hour in there trying to decide what to take home with me. Stay tuned to future posts for the revelation…

“World’s Best” Birthday Dinner?

Today is my birthday and I had a fun time doing stuff in NYC that I never get to do on a normal working day there. I am going to see some friends later on, but I didn’t make dinner plans as I wasn’t sure when I would be home. So, I decided to go to the store and splurge on a few items that I’d never allow myself to buy on a regular day.

The new grocery in town stocks plenty such of these treats. I had previously eyed the twice-the-normal-price frozen entrée of Beecher’s “World’s Best” Mac & Cheese. This seemed like just the thing to get today. I took it home along with a pint of McConnell’s ice cream, another splurge. There was an unintentional West Coast lean to my selections; perhaps I’m hankering for a return trip out there? Anyway, this is what came out of the microwave after 10 minutes of cooking.ctmy113-bday-dinnerCan I make my own mac & cheese? Yes, and I have before, but um, who wants to do dishes on their birthday?! So, this lazy option worked just fine for me. In addition to a blend of Beecher’s Flagship and Just Jack cheeses (the former of which I’d previously tried, on an airplane) there was a chipotle puree and a few other spices giving the pasta a little kick. Oh, and they’d used penne instead of the traditional macaroni noodles to “adult” it up a bit.

Was it the “world’s best”? Well . . . I certainly enjoyed it and there’s enough leftover to dine upon it a further two times, but I can’t say I’m going to break my “no excessive splurging” rule to have it again on any other day than a b’day. I’d also be curious to try it at Beecher’s restaurant in NYC and see if it was particularly different when fresh vs. frozen. Somehow, I also think it’ll also be a little easier to pay the upcharge for it when I’m dining out.

And tomorrow, I’ll head off on some adventures upstate which will undoubtedly involve cheese. Watch this space for another post chronicling them soon . . .

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Whey

A while ago I’d heard about the cheese-focused restaurant, Lucy’s Whey, and knew that there was a branch in the general vicinity to where I work in Manhattan on the Upper East Side. Unfortunately, the trip there and back again would mean a rather rushed lunch hour, so I had postponed visiting it. Today was a quiet summer Saturday though, so I asked my pal Menage Cheddar if we could make the journey to it after work. She agreed and we were greeted with this lovely chalk drawing of a farm and its bounty.

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Tonight, there was a happy hour special running which enabled us to try some drinks–Menage got a wine and I a beer–with two cheeses featured on their board of daily specials. Now, I thought I took notes, but they’ve gone missing–doh! So, I’ll try to recall what we had: one of the cheeses was Spanish and had a name that hinted at its Basque origins, i.e. meaning x’s where an Anglocentric brain doesn’t expect them. The other, hmm, I can’t say. I think we liked them both and do recall especially loving that honey with a chunk of the comb still in it. I wanted to buy some, but was told the kitchen had used the last of it on our slate. 😦

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Menage ordered Lucy’s Mac and Cheese made with her last name, Gruyere, & feta, and topped with burnt herbs and breadcrumbs. She inhaled it which is always the mark of something being really good. I got Lucy’s Favorite Grilled Cheese made with Prairie Breeze Cheddar and fig jam. Though I’m not a huge fan of radishes, I was pleased by the peas in the colorful small salad that accompanied the sandwich. I could only finish half and though we looked at their desserts and they seemed amazing, we simply couldn’t bring ourselves to order one. Yeah, we were that stuffed.

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But I expect that we will be back. It’s hard to say if I will be able to resist this wonderful sandwich again or perhaps be tempted by the mac cheese or another dish. I do know I’m going to be more careful next time and take better notes and not.lose.them. And also pace myself more steadily so I can try one of their fabulous desserts. Here’s hoping we find the will to get back to this whey soon!

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. 😉