Ich Liebe Käse!

Willkommen wieder in Deutschland! I flew back here two nights ago, traipsed about Munich for a day, and then left on a bus transporting me up to Frankfurt in a mere 6 hours (and for only €19!) My Eurotrip is almost over but quite by chance I happened to squeeze in a bit more cheesy fun.

In Frankfurt, I met up with the female half of the dynamic Striegistaler-Zwerge duo, another gal from my college years in Georgia. Striegistaler hails from Tennessee herself, but met Zwerge, a German lad at Tech. They eventually married and were initially based in Munich where I last saw them almost 10 years ago, but had moved to the much more economically friendly Frankfurt am Main (did you know there are actually two Frankfurts in Germany?)

ctmy106-frankfurt cheese shopToday, Striegistaler had a friend in tow with her, Zengarry, a raw food enthusiast from Belgium. We three enjoyed drinks and chatter at a small café. After he finished work, Zwerge tracked us down in the compact city, and we strolled about town. Lo and behold, we stumbled across this cheese shop.

ctmy107-so viel käseStriegistaler saw how my eyes lit up when I spied it and insisted that we go inside. The owner was a very friendly guy who offered us countless samples. I should’ve taken more careful notes as there was one Cheddar in particular that had us all swooning. It was sublime. We got some of it and a few others that were recommended, along with a bottle of fizzy wine.

eu16-227-frankfurt-rooftop-viewNext, we had drinks at a rooftop bar with an impressive view of the city, and were eventually joined by another American ex-pat Nicasio, a wildly entertaining drummer. After sunset, we all headed back to the Main (pronounced Mine) river, snuck into a picnic spot by a popular bar, and feasted upon our cheeses there. Nicasio had run home and brought along her sweet pooch to join us. Thankfully, he was not the begging type, so the cheese consumption was reserved to humans.

It’s funny to think that my 10-day trip throughout these five European countries started and ended with unexpected cheese finds. I wonder if the cheese seeks me out even more than I look for it? I can’t say when I’ll be back over this way, but in the meantime, I’m sure I’ll discover some more lovely imported wheels of deliciousness in the States. And I’ll be sure to share all the details right here.

Until the next time, dear Europe: Addio, ciao-ciao, Auf wiedersehn, Good-bye…
(hint: you can sing these words to a familiar tune from a famous movie)

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Auld Stinky

Fàilte gu na h-Alba! Aye, it’s taken more than a mere train to get me over to this isle. I left Germany (temporarily) and my pace will slow a bit over the next three days as I soak up all thing Scottish, and you know if it’s not Scottish…

ctmy104-drunk on cheeseI had a full day to explore Edinburgh and made sure to pop into Iain J. Mellis’s shop. When I lived here briefly in 2007, I learnt the nickname for this place was “Smellis” because it does indeed have quite the aroma wafting out its door.  I had a good look over the plethora of cheeses available and with advice from the counter clerks, made a selection of three.

I remembered that my cousin Rubi (who was coincidentally visiting the States at present) had told me that she was more a fan of British Bries than French ones, so I decided to try the Clava Brie, made in Inverness-shire. I think she said there was less of an ammonia-like flavor to the local ones. With this one, though, while it was fine, I did not think it was as good as other Bries I’d previously sampled.ctmy105-smellis cheese trio

Bonnet, a goat cheese of Ayrshire origins, proved to be definitely reminiscent of other goat cheeses in its flavor, even though it had a much more firm texture. There was a light bite to it, which is generally the case with these types of cheeses.

Finally, there was Auld Reekie, which references Edinburgh’s nickname of old, from when the stench of the sewers and smog overwhelmed the capital. I believe I can tolerate some stinky cheese over that smell any day. How about you? In spite of its pungent name, this was my favorite of the bunch as it had been smoked up in Aberdeenshire. Obviously, its reeky quality comes from its smokey aroma rather than anything to do with sewage–thank goodness! There is even a sort of whisky-like flavor to it, which in my mind makes it all the more Scottish. (Note: Scottish whisky is spelt without an e between the k and y, unlike its Irish counterpart).

These cheeses were consumed over a few meals during my stay out at Rubi’s place, which lies between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Then, on my way back to A’ Ghearmailt, I grabbed a simple tea from M&S and I thought to myself that Wallace would approve of it as the sandwich featured his beloved Wensleydale cheese!

In general, I find it both easy and exciting to be a cheese-loving vegetarian in Scotland. The options are abundant and all quite tasty. I relish every opportunity to sample their wide variety of turophilic tidbits. I hope it won’t be too long until I find myself back in this auld stinky, in all the right ways, land.

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”.

Will Knit for Cheese

About a year ago, I made an arrangement with my co-worker Kasseri. She wanted me to knit her a hat. I really don’t like to be paid to knit, so we negotiated a trade. I made the hat, Kasseri wore it lots, and promised me that she would eventually deliver her end of the bargain. I put absolutely no pressure on her and the days marched on.

Much to my benefit, not too long ago Kasseri took in a new roommate who just happens to work for Murray’s! Feeling guilty, ridiculously so I’d like to point out, Kasseri told me that she had finally harassed her flatmate into bringing home some cheeses in exchange for the trade.

ctmy89-katie:kelly cheeseAnd just look at these beauts! Let’s start in the upper left, that’s Tomme Crayeuse, the latter word meaning chalky, but this fromage, thankfully reminded me more of a field of mushrooms than a dusty classroom. Across from it, is the Ewephoria Sheep Milk Gouda, with a very punny name. The flavor here was almost sweet, but in a good way. Below the gouda is a crumbly hunk of Clothbound Cheddar from Cabot Creamery. (I think Kasseri said this was her favorite; she told me that her roomie insisted she sample them before passing them along to me :-))

Anyway, this is no run-of-the-mill cheddar, but one that has real bite. And finally, there’s my new favorite, and perhaps Perlagrigia’s too–she was participating in the cheese feasting with me–Malghese! Falling texture-wise somewhere between a soft Brie and a not fresh mozzarella, this washed rind formaggio is likely most reminiscent in flavor of a Taleggio. In fact, I later read of it being described as “Taleggio’s better behaved little brother”. For some reason, it’s not listed on the Murray’s site, but you can definitely get it there if you can go to one in person. I recently went by the counter and bought another giant hunk to take home with me. Delish!ctmy90-murray's smorgasbordMy thanks to Kasseri & her Murray’s employed champion of a roommate for making my day, and especially for turning me on to Mr. Malghese. Mmm! Yes, I will happily “knit for cheese” any day of the week.

For the Love of Flamenco

Prior to her NYC visit, Jarlsberg read about and was intrigued by a paella & tapas bar in NoLita that featured flamenco music on Tuesday nights. Stilton was also eager to experience this perfect pairing, so they met there this evening after she finished work and Jarls had enjoyed a day of sight-seeing in the city.

We had not pre-booked and got stuck at a table near the window, but with not the greatest view of the band and dancers. We ordered some tapas, since the paella were huge, and Stil didn’t want to force Jarls to go veggie. Admittedly, one of Stilton’s vegetarian defaults is the cheese plate, and Jarlsberg was totally happy to share that option.

Unfortunately, the cheeses were just sort of . . . eh. While the blue one at the back had a sharper flavor, even it wasn’t that tasty. The other two were on the more bland side. This was disappointing as the tabla de quesos that Stilton has had at Nai Tapas is much better, in fact she even wrote about it before. Of course, we still ate most of what was in front of us, but we won’t be returning to this place anytime soon for the food or cheese alone . . .ctmy88-soccarat quesosThankfully, the music more than made up for the mediocre food. Eventually, the chattery crowds cleared out, and we were able to move in and enjoy the performance up close. The dancers were so passionate as they stomped out the beats to the staccato rhythm of the music. Stil declared that the lead singer, who sounded much older than he looked, resembled Hugh Jackman a bit, which is never a bad thing. 😉ny2060-flamenco dancerStilton regrets not thinking to get the name of the band because she’d like to see them again, though perhaps in a venue that has quesos mucho mejores! Jarlsberg will have to do some research and find out if there’s an obscure Spanish sect that has resettled in Oslo, so she can continue to get her flamenco groove on there. Hey, there’s a hybrid Scottish-Spanish group, Salsa Celtica, that Stilton adores, so it could happen!

Double Truffle

Stilton & Jarlsberg have managed to reunite once again and of course, there was cheese involved. Jarlsberg came over to New York to celebrate her birthday. They met up at Penn Station and enjoyed sandwiches from the Mario by Mary counter in the Pennsy. Jarls had the (redubbed) “Oliver” (see this post for further explanation) while Stilton tried the Caprese with mozzarella, a spicy tomato relish, and basil-based pesto. Both were quite good. Jarls also sampled their sea salt espresso chip cookie. Stil had a bite which she enjoyed, though she still wants to try their Nutella brownie.

ctmy87-truffled romano

Fast forward a few hours from that late lunch and the pair had reached Stilton’s country abode. There, in lieu of another full meal, J & S shared some tasty truffle-enhanced snacks. There was this truffled Romano (see above) that Stilton had picked up from the impressive cheese shelves at her new & improved grocery. And there were also some truffle & aioli flavored chips which stood in nicely for the truffle fries with aioli dipping sauce that she constantly craves. They washed it all down with a delectable rosé that Stilton had brought back from her travels through Tuscany last summer.

The only thing missing was the presence of their mutual friend and fellow turophile Idiazabal, who sadly had to postpone her plans to join them. The trio hopes to reunite all in the same place one day soon and feast upon heaps of cheese! Then, they can refer to themselves as the Triple Truffle Trio. 🙂

Queen Kunik

I can’t believe it’s taken me over a year to feature the mighty Kunik, my favorite cheese! This beaut was first mentioned in my brief bio. I think I first discovered her via Harney & Sons teashop in SoHo.ctmy83-kunik!

And then, the other day, I was checking out the impressive variety of cheeses on offer at my new & improved grocery in the country, and I knew I liked this place because they had wheels of Kunik. Even better, someone had accidentally priced it far too low, so I got a steal of a deal. Yee-haw!

ctmy84-white on the outside & yellow on the insideWhat makes Kunik so yummy? It’s a little wheel of cheese heaven from upstate New York that’s been made from goat’s milk mixed with cow’s cream. The best of both worlds! When you slice into it, the white mold exterior (typically edible, by the way) reveals this super creamy yellow interior.

ctmy86-kunik on bunny breadThen, you slather that onto a cracker, a piece of bread, or just spoon it up and stick it straight into your mouth. Mmm! This cheese does not disappoint. I took my wheel to work and shared it with the ever-eager-to-join-me-in-cheese-feasting Perlagrigia. She was an immediate convert. No surprise there. We continued sampling it for several days this week.

ctmy85-kunik on a crackerOne caveat I will give about this dear lady. Do not wait too long to enjoy her. She ripens quickly and when she does–pow!–she can go from a delicate, aromatic flower to the dreadlocked, deodorant-phobic hippie on the corner and then, well, it can be a little painful to sample her. Trust me.

So, look for a wheel (maybe start with one of the mini ones) that has a sell-by date with about a month to go, find some nice accompaniments, and get to smearing and mmming: the sooner, the better. You won’t be disappointed. She’s my Queen and she’s earned that prestigious honor rightly so.