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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fantastic Figs

I LOVE fresh figs. I love their sweetness. I love the rich softness of the fruit. I love the way the little seeds go crunch in my teeth. I love when they are in season. That time is now. For those who think that a fig is nothing but a Newton, think again. One of history's oldest fruits has much more to offer. Thick fig jam is a delightful accompaniment for ripened cheeses such as Brie and Camembert. Fig syrup is divine on pancakes and waffles. Fresh figs play a part in one of my favorite desserts ever....Cambezola Ice Cream with Savannah Honeycomb and Port-wine poached figs (more on that later...). Today I'm thinking about something fresh and cool, with just the right balance of salty and sweet, perfect as a pre-dinner amuse.

Figs with Prosciutto, Mascarpone and Rosemary

6 Fresh Brown Turkey or Black Mission figs, halved lengthwise
2 Tbsp Mascarpone cheese
12 strips Prociutto di Parma
Chopped fresh rosemary

To assemble, top or wrap each fig half with the strips of Prosciutto. Add 1/2 tsp Mascarpone to each Garnish with fresh Rosemary and serve. Serves 4.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Heirloom tomatoes, peppered bacon, lettuce and Pt. Reyes
Original Blue make this one seriously tasty sandwich!
Bacon (Mmmmmmm....BACON). Lettuce. Tomato. A little mayo perhaps. It's a BLT. It's perfect, right? What could possibly be missing from this classic sandwich that I've enjoyed all these years? Adding anything would be blasphemous, right? WRONG.

Longtime Tulsa Restaurateur Don Eller (or "Dad" to Madeleine) helps out on the grill
So it's Thursday afternoon, and we're scrambling to get out of town. Deciding that some greasy fast-food would be our fate if we didn't pick up lunch on the way out of town, we decided to stop by Sproutz at 26th & Harvard. Opened earlier this year by Madeleine Eller, Sproutz serves gourmet sanwches, soups, wraps and salads. They aso have a breakfast and bakery menu. We ducked in to grab a quick bite we could eat on the road. I immediately zeroed in on the item titled "BCBLT". Blue Cheese Bacon Lettuce Tomato. Not only had Madeleine added blue cheese to one of my all-time favs, but she used Point Reyes Original Blue. Fantastic cheese, whether on a salad, cheese plate, burger cracker or as I have learned, a BLT.

Point Reyes Original Blue is hand-crafted by the Giacomini family of Pt. Reyes Station, California. Bob Giacomini has been raising Holstein cows for milk since 1959. It was in 200 that he began producing his award-winning blue cheese. It is made with raw cow's milk and vegetarian rennet.

Looking for a delicious lunch option? Check out Sproutz, and be sure not to overlook the BCBLT! Want to check out Pt. Reyes Original Blue? You can often find it locally at LaDonna's Fancy Foods or Whole Foods.

Monday, August 9, 2010

No Whey!

Cheese is one of my favorite things to make. I doubt this comes as any sort of surprise to anyone. What many people ask me is "What do you do with the whey [the liquid left behind from the cheese making process] that is leftover?" Well, the answer is "Lots of things". Whey can be used to make more cheese. Specifically, Ricotta and Gjetost (or Brunost, meaning "brown cheese" as it is called in it's native Norway). Due to whey's high protein content, I also like to add it to breakfast smoothies. You can also use it in breads and soups/stocks.

Making homemade Ricotta is very simple, and takes very little time. All you need is fresh whey leftover from making cheese, cheesecloth or butter muslin, a thermometer, salt and Citric Acid. The addition of extra milk for a richer cheese is optional. You can use whey from any kind of milk, not just cow's.

To make Ricotta from Whey:
  1. Use whey directly from the cheese pot at the time of draining . The fresher the better.
  2. Heat without agitating to 160° F At this point 5-12% of fresh milk may be added to improve the richness and yield.
  3. Continue heating to 170° F. Add 1/2 tsp. of salt per gallon of liquid and mix in quickly.
  4. Continue heating without agitation to 185° F.
  5. Mix 1/2 tsp. of citric acid per gallon of liquid. The citric acid should be dissolved in 1/2 cup water. Add quickly to the pot and stir briskly for 5-10 seconds.
    Watch the curd forming small flakes and gradually larger curd masses.
    Add a bit more more citric acid solution if necessary.
    NOTE.. If too much acid is added, the curds will sink to the bottom and the cheese will not be sweet. The correct amount of acid will produce a clear separation of white curds and bright green whey.
  6. As the curds rise, use a perforated ladle to gently move them from the sides to the center of the pot. These clumps of curd will begin to consolidate floating on top of the liquid.
    Let the curds rest for 10-15 min. *** This is very important because this is the point where the final Ricotta quality is assured
  7. Ladle the curds gently into a cheesecloth-lined colander. Tie the corners together with kitchen twine to form a bag. Hang the bag over a bowl. Let the curds drain for 15 min up to several hours.
    For a fresh light ricotta, drain it for a short while (until the free whey drainage slows) and chill to below 50F. For a rich, dense and buttery texture allow it to drain for an extended period of time (several hours). before chilling overnight
    Move to a refrigerator or cold room. Consume within 10 days 
For cheese making supplies, I recommend the products from The New England Cheesemaking Supply Company which can be ordered online, or purchased locally in Tulsa at High Gravity Homebrewing & Winemaking Supplies.

Now you ask, what happens to the leftover whey from the Ricotta? my house it means a protein-rich treat for the kids! Cats and dogs love it too!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mad about Mozz

Have you ever traveled somewhere and found something you really love, only to return home to the realization that you just can't find it there? That's exactly what happened to Paula Lambert upon her return from Italy, where she first discovered fresh Mozzarella back the 1960's. When she would return home to Dallas, fresh Mozzarella simply wasn't available. Traditionally in Italy, Mozzarella is made with the fresh milk of Water Buffalos. It can also be made with cow's milk, and is then called "Fior di Latte".  The cheese is made fresh daily and sold immediately.

The original cheesemaking room ,
where the cheeses are still made today.
In 1982, Paula decided that this delicious fresh cheese should be available to food lovers in the Dallas area. She founded the Mozzarella Company at 2944 Elm Street, where it still operates today. Fresh Mozzarella is not the only cheese Paula produces. Caciotta, Montasio, Queso Fresco, Queso Oaxaca, Ricotta, Mascarpone, Creme Fraiche, Burrata, Crescenza, Flavored Mozzarella, Mascarpone Tortas and smoked Scamorza are just some of the Cow's milk cheeses available in the small retail shop at the creamery. She also makes "Deep Ellum Blue", which is perfect for those who don't think they like Blue cheeses. It is innoculated only on the outside, so you get a beautiful blue flavor that is not at all overwhelming. "Blanca Bianco", a Paula Lambert original is washed daily with white wine, producing a beautiful flavorful rust-hued rind. Paula also makes a delicious line of fresh Goat's milk cheeses, but we'll look at those on another day :)

Each wheel is made, turned and waxed by hand

Paula Lambert of the Mozzarella Company in Dallas, TX

Mozzarella, by Me

 Most people do not realize exactly how simple it is to make fresh Mozzarella. Using a few tools and ingredients, along with high quality milk, you can have Mozzarella cheese whenever you like in about 30 minutes.

C'mon...give t a try!

To make Mozzarella, you'll need some basic items: A non-aluminum boiling pot, a colander, a large bowl, a small bowl, a whisk, a slotted spoon, a thermometer, non-chlorinated water, sea salt, Citric Acid, Rennet, a pot of hot water, and if you have sensitive fingers, a pair of forks. The final ingredient: high quality fresh milk. While it isn't imperative to use raw milk, you need to make sure it isn't high heat or "Ultra Pasteurized".

Fresh Mozzarella is quick and easy to make!
 To make about 3/4# of cheese, you will need:

1 gallon Milk (NOT Ultra-Pasteurized)
1 ¼ C cool water 1 tsp Salt, to taste (optional)
¼ Rennet Tablet (1/4 tsp if using liquid Rennet)
Sea Salt, to taste
A pot of very hot (but not boiling) water. 185 degrees works well.

Directions: Dissolve ¼ rennet tablet into ¼ Cup of cool, chlorine-free water. Wrap the remaining pieces of tablet in plastic wrap and store in the freezer. Note: If you have liquid rennet, you will use ¼ teaspoon.)

Mix 1 ½ teaspoons citric acid into 1 cup cool, chlorine-free water until dissolved. Pour 1 gallon of milk into your pot and stir vigorously while adding the citric acid solution. Heat the milk to 90 degrees F while stirring.

Remove the pot from the burner and slowly stir in the rennet solution with an up and down motion for approximately 30 seconds.
Cover the pot and leave it undisturbed for 5 minutes.

Check the curd, it should look like custard, with a clear separation between the curd and the whey. If the curd is too soft or the whey is milky, let set for a few more minutes.

Cut the curd with a knife that reaches to the bottom of your pot. Place the pot back on the stove and heat to 110 degrees F. while slowly moving the curds around with your spoon. Take off the burner and continue slowly stirring for 2 minutes

Place the colander over the large bowl. Using the slotted spoon transfer the curds from the pot into the colander, pressing out as much whey as possible.

When you have removed all of the curd, pour some of the 185 degree water into the small bowl. This is where you will soften and stretch your cheese. Take about half of your curd and place it in the water. Allow it to soften for a minute or so. If you have sensitive fingers, use the pair of forks to remove the curd and begin to pull at it like taffy. If it breaks in half instead of stretching, you may want to soften it a bit more.

Auntie Wench and Mother Wench learning to make fresh Mozzarella
At this point you can take a bit of your cheese salt and work it into the cheese as you stretch it. The cheese will take on a shiny finish. Remember that the more you stretch, the firmer your cheese will be. Don't be afraid to put your cheese back in the warm water for a minute if it becomes too cool to finish stretching. If you do however you may want to check the seasoning as some of your salt may wash off into the water.

When you have finished stretching, shape your cheese into whatever form you want (but I highly reccommend sampling your cheese first, as it's the very best while it's still warm and fresh). You can form your cheese into a  ball, small "bocconcini", or even into sticks for great homemade string cheese. You can always dip your shaped cheese into a bowl of cold water to cool it so that it will not lose it's shape. Repeat with the remaining half of the curd.

To store your cheese, put it in a container along with enough of the whey from the pot (cooled first) so that it covers the cheese. This will keep your cheese from drying out. It will keep several days in the refrigerator, but why should it have to?

 Note: Once you have tried this a couple of times, I recommend giving goat Mozzarella a try. It is FABULOUS!

Not up to experimenting on your own? Join me at Sage Culinary Studio
on Saturday, July 23rd for my Soft Cheese Making class. It's hands-on, and we'll make fresh Mozz and Ricotta. For more info, call 918.364.SAGE.
Try fresh Mozzarella in a Caprese Salad 

For more information on Paula Lambert and the Mozzarella Company, check out her website.

For cheese making supplies, you can buy them locally at High Gravity Homebrewing and Winemaking Supplies, or online at the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.

 Want fresh local milk? If you are in the Tulsa area you can find it at HLA Country Farms in Talala. Not in the area? Go to

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Move over Manchego, here comes Garrotxa

When people think of Spanish cheeses, Manchego is usually the first to come to mind. While the raw sheep's milk staple is indeed a rightful classic, it is not the only delicious cheese Spain has to offer.

Garrotxa is made in Girona, a North-central Catalonian province. The firm yet moist texture melts on the palate into a complex blend of bright herbaceousness with a nutty finish. Garrotxa is made from Pasteurized goat's milk and aged for 4 months. It has a creamy white paste and a natural rind. It pairs beautifully with Marcona almonds and a thin slice of Membrillo. Want some? Locally you can find it at Ladonna's Fancy Foods.

Friday, August 6, 2010

That's One Tasty Brick

Detroit. Street. Brick.

Seriously, this is a cheese unlike most you will encounter. Soft-ripened with a bloomy rind, this creamy rich goat cheese is inundated with crushed green peppercorns. The flavor that develops is intense, rich, bold and spicy. It is crafted by Zingerman's creamery...yes, THOSE Zingerman's, the ones who are known for fine foods and a delicious deli. The name of the cheese comes from the address of the deli, and it is  shaped after the square cobblestones that pave the Ann Arbor neighborhhod in which it resides.

Detroit Street Brick is made with Pasteurized goats milk, as it is only aged 2 weeks instead of the 60 days required for raw milk cheeses. It's bloomy rind allows it to ripen from the outside in which produces a beautiful progression of flavors throughout.

If I were to recommend a perfect use for this cheese, it would have to be a 1/2" slice broiled over the top of a Filet Mignon. H-E-A-V-E-N.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"Crocodile Tears" of Joy!

There's nothing phony about this cheese. This is the real deal. From Greenville Indiana comes yet another of my favorite goatelicious creations. 'Crocodile Tear" is made by Capriole, a farmstead cheese company owned by Larry & Judith Schad since 1976 (although the Schads later learned that the property had once belonged to Larry's great-great Grandfather in the 1800s). A success story that would certainly make great-great Grandpa proud, the Schads turned this plot of family land into a home for a herd of over 400 Alpine, Nubian and Saanen goats. These goats provide the milk that is used to make more than a dozen handcrafted cheeses.

Creamy yet dense, Crocodile Tear is a hand-molded cone of pasteurized goat cheese aged about three weeks. It has a bloomy rind that is flecked with paprika, and as it ripens the cheese inside becomes firmer and more pungeant. I personally love this cheese with a couple of extra weeks of ripening time.

Crocodile Tear isn't Capriole's only little droplet of rich deliciousness worth sampling. For more information on the rest of the lineup, check out their website. To get it locally, simply ask your friendly neighborhood cheesemonger to bring it in for you.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Meet 2 of my "OreGOATian" favorites!


As you may or may not have noticed, I love West-coast cheeses. California seems to have an endless number of fantastic handcrafted examples to explore, and their neighbors to the North are getting in on this delicious trend. Central Oregon is home to the beautiful Cascade mountains, and Flavio DeCastilhos and his wife Margie chose this area to start a new career. Flavio spent 20 years in Silicon Valley and co-founded WebMD, while his wife worked for Hewlett Packard for 15 years. After a visit to South America, they fell in love with the art of handcrafting fine cheeses.

 The DeCastilhos built Tumalo Farms near Bend, OR which sits 3,500 feet above sea level. He spent 2 years studying traditional Dutch and Italian cheesemaking methods. Their state-of-the-art facility combines the finest in modern technology with traditional farmstead methods. The milk used to produce their cheeses comes from their own herd of dairy goats on the property. Of their 6 wonderful cheeses, I have 2 absolute favorites. "Fenacho" is a semi-hard Goat's milk cheese studded with fragrant fenugreek seeds, which give the cheese a superb nuttiness and a long butterscotch finish."Pondhopper" is made with a locally micro-brewed beer, which lends a fantastic tangy flavor and a noticeable cascade-hop finish. The cheeses are aged 2-3 months. For more information on Tumalo Farms, you can visit their website. You can find Pondhopper and Fenacho locally in Tulsa at LaDonna's Fancy Foods.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I Love Lobster!

Yeah, I know...who doesn't, right? But I seem to find myself craving the delectable sea bug quite frequently. Heck, for my 30th birthday I hosted a "BYOL" (bring your own lobster) party. 20-some odd guests arrived at my door carrying plain brown bags from Bodean's. I had prepared corn, potatoes and Meyer lemon vanilla butter for dipping. Lobsters we cooked, Chardonnay was sipped and much fun was had by all.

One day, a few months later I was sitting at my desk thinking fondly back on those delicious bites of buttery goodness. I remembered how many people at the party had commented that they didn't know the first thing about cooking a live lobster. Enter the most fantastic perk of my job: I get to satisfy my cravings by means of a cooking class! I thought what a fantastic opportunity it was to teach people how to cook fresh, live lobsters and be able to use the entire crustacean instead of just the tail that many people are used to.

The menu was simple, yet comprehensive. A warm lobster salad with a Calvados-citrus vinaigrette would utilize the rich tail meat. Lobster Bisque would turn shells, legs and insides into something far more elegant than it's ingredients. The tender meat from the claws would fit beautifully into one of my favorite guilty pleasures...a quesadilla. Yep, I said it. A lobster quesadilla. Plenty of people look at me rather strangely at the notion of using such a meat in between a couple of tortillas, and moreso at covering it with cheese. Strangely though, it works. The cheeses I chose were simple. Queso Fresco, a crumbly Mexican cheese, and Queso Quesadilla which I sometimes refer to as "Mexico's answer to Mozzarella" due to it's stretchy meltability. For dessert, I chose a simple lemon-vanilla panna cotta, made with a rich and creamy creme fraiche.

The class sold out quickly, as did the second and third. I held a fourth and final course, yet here I am but a month later craving, well you guessed it! I guess it's time to check my calendar.

Lobster Quesadillas

½ Red Onion, Diced ½ Yellow Onions, Diced

¼ C Diced Poblano 1 Tbsp Lime juice

1/8 tsp Cayenne ¼ tsp Cumin

¼ tsp Sea Salt ½ tsp Ground Chipotle

1/3 C Queso Fresco, crumbled

Flour tortillas

1/3 C Queso Oaxaca, grated Lime wedges, for garnish

½ C cooked Lobster meat, diced 2 Tbsp Butter

¼ C Chopped Cilantro, plus more for garnish

½ C Crema Agria

Directions: Combine half of the chipotle with the crema and set aside. Heat 1 Tbsp of the butter in a skillet. Add the onions, peppers, cumin, and the other half of the chipotle. and cook until tender. Divide the mixture between half of the tortillas, and top with lobster, cheese and cilantro. Top with the remaining tortillas. Heat the remaining butter in a skillet. Cook the quesadillas on each side until tortillas are golden and cheese is melted. Alternately, melt the butter and brush on the tortillas. Bake in a 350 degree oven. Serve with chipotle crema, lime wedges and cilantro.

Monday, August 2, 2010

For the love of Goat

 A love story

Once upon a time, a long time ago (okay, back in the 80's) a little girl went with her Mother to Capistrano restaurant in Utica Square. It was here that she encountered the small fried croquette, full of warm soft DELICIOUS cheese. The cheese was Chevre, and the girl was smitten. Sadly, Tulsa lost that gem of a restaurant, but the memory of that first bite of tangy warm goat cheese still remains. It no doubt had a part in turning that little girl into the "Cheese Wench".

Fast forward 20-odd years, and I am even more in love with goat's milk cheeses than ever. As a child, I had no idea that there were so many fantastic varieties of goat cheese being made throughout the world, from Chevre to Gouda to Cheddar and beyond. Since August is "National Goat Cheese Month" I thought it the perfect time to pay homage to my very favorite milk (I'll drink it over most Cow's milk anyday).

This past April, I was fortunate enough to get to take another "Cheese trip" to Northern California to visit two of my favorite creameries on Earth. I'm sure you have read about the fantastic morning I spent at Bellwether Farms in Valley Ford, (if not, scroll down) after which we headed for Sebastopol to visit Redwood Hill Farm, the nation's first Certified Humane Goat Dairy. 

We were met at the creamery by David Bice, marketing guru and one of the 10 children of the couple who founded the sustainably farmed goat dairy in 1968. He was so kind to take a couple of hours out of his busy day to show us around the creamery, and to talk to us about the many award-winning cheeses made there by his sister Jennifer Bice, who took over ownership and duties as cheese maker in 1978.

The "Kids"

After we had seen the creamery, we followed David a few miles down the road to the farm. What an amazing place. The farm, which is home not only to 300 or so dairy goats (many of which are show champions, and ALL of which are individually named) is also home to 3 families of Bices. Here, besides tending to the goats and their small flock of chickens, they grow an expansive garden of fruits and vegetables, have an organic apple orchard and were on that day planting an olive grove as well. Their goat herd consists of 4 of the 6 major breeds of dairy goats: Alpine, LaMancha, Nubian, and Saanen. They are friendly, VERY curious, intelligent and have loads of personality. These goats live their entire lives here at the farm, with plenty of space to roam freely. The older goats retire from milk production to spend the rest of their days happily enjoying life on the farm. To take a virtual tour of Redwood Hill Farm, click here.

With so many goats running around, there's bound to be cheese nearby...

In addition to the delicious and healthy goat milk yogurt and Kefir the Bices produce, there are also many fantastic artisan cheeses. Jennifer tends toward the French-style cheeses, and makes fantastic examples such as Bucheret (for the French Bucheron), Camellia (named after a favorite goat and made in the style of a Camembert) California Crottin and Fresh Chevre (both plain and 3 other fantastic flavors...the Roasted Chile is my personal fave). She also makes Goat Milk Cheddar, Raw Milk Feta and a seasonal cheese named "Gravenstein Gold" which has a rind washed in Gravenstein apple cider. Redwood Hill Farm's goat Yogurt and Kefir are available at Whole Foods Markets, and you can ask your favorite cheese retailer to order any of their delicious cheeses.

What you may not know...

 Many people with cow milk allergies can drink goat milk because it contains a different kind of protein.

Goat milk has 13% less lactose than cow milk, and 41% less than human milk. 

The milk-fat particles are small, making goat milk very easy to digest.

Babies do extremely well on goat milk formulas with folic acid supplements, when a mother does not nurse or can not nurse her own baby .

Goat milk has superior ease of digestion and buffering properties, making it an ideal convalescent diet for people with digestive upsets or ulcers.

Goat milk fatty acids have a unique metabolic ability to limit cholesterol deposits in body tissues. [2% Goat Milk has 0% cholesterol]

Goat milk and its products, including butter, are pure white because all the yellow beta carotene is already converted to colourless pure vitamin A.

Compared to cow's milk, goat milk has similar amounts of protein, fat, iron, vitamin C and vitamin D. Goat milk has more natural vitamin A, more vitamin B and less lactose.

Fresh wholesome goat milk contributes to the strong and healthy developmen of growing children.

Goat milk is delicious!

Get it fresh!

Once you have tasted farm fresh milk, it is very hard to go back to the grocery store brands. Did you know there are many local farms and dairies that will sell fresh cow and goat's milk? No matter where you live in the states, you can find the location nearest you at

Locally, I usually buy from Allen & Judy Calvert at HLA Country Farms in Talala, OK. They sell fresh raw Animal Welfare Approved Jersey Cow and Nubian Goat milk, as well as handcrafted cheeses just north of Collinsville.

Come fall in love!

 For those interested in learning just why I'm so crazy about goat cheeses, I am teaching a class at The Stock Pot on Wednesday, August 18th called "All About the Goat" in which we will sample goat milk, yogurt, kefir and many delicious cheeses (including some from Redwood Hill Farm). Mark Stenner from the Tulsa Wine Club will be on hand with some delicious wine pairings. For more info call 918-627-1146.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Small Farm, BIG Cheese

As consumers we often miss the big, or in this case, small picture. As you drive up into the hills of Sonoma Country (Valley Ford specifically), it’s easy to look around at the vast amounts of green with small herds of cows and flocks of sheep dotting the countryside and wonder to yourself how such a celebrated name like Bellwether Farms could come from such a small plot of family-owned land. That though, is exactly the case. We're not talking about a huge several-hundred acre farm, with a tireless pool of labor, but instead a tiny family business, still run by the family themselves. We're not talking about a simple locally-known dairy who supplies products to the local farmers markets and delis in their immediate area. Bellwether Farms cheeses are served and incorporated into dishes in some of the finest restaurants in the country, and have been featured in publications such as The New York Times, Martha Stewart and Williams-Sonoma (among others). Ask any Cheesemonger worth her (or his) salt, and they will tell you that these cheeses are both artfully crafted and highly sought-after. In fact, demand has risen so much in the past few years, Bellwether has had to partner with a couple of neighboring dairies for additional milk supplies to meet the demands of their devoted fans.

Meeting the family
When visiting a farm that provides cheese for the finest tables from San Francisco, Chicago and New York and some of the most famous purveyors of fine foods in the nation you may be expecting a large room full of workers busily cranking out wheel after wheel of cheese. Instead, you'll be greeted by a smiling face and the sounds of sheep relaxing in their pen around the corner. As we drove in, a woman in a small SUV smiled and nodded at us as we approached the building. Her name is Cindy Callahan. Cindy, who was a former nurse, established Bellwether Farms back in 1986. Along with her family, the farm and creamery are still under her watchful eye.

Walking into the creamery, there is a wall with 6 or 8 hooks holding the white coats worn by the employees in the cheesemaking room. Each hook has a handwritten name displayed above it. This is not a factory farm with a long list of shift-working employees. The folks you'll find in here work right alongside the family, handcrafting each cheese as they have been doing for years. 
As Lenny, who is in charge of Education and Marketing for the Farm walked us into the cheese making room, she pointed out several buckets of curds and whey lined up, waiting for their final cutting and then transfer to their molds. She took us into the aging room where the Carmody (Bellwether's Cow's milk cheese) ripens for about 6 weeks. We were soon joined by Liam Callahan, Cindy's son. He is the cheese maker at Bellwether. He talked to us about the family and the farm, and about how the production methods of each cheese have been developed and evolved over the years. Next we went to the room where the Sheep's milk cheeses age. San Andreas and Pepato (studded with black Peppercorns) are carefully crafted and aged 2-4 months.

The cellar was an education in itself.. The room is less than two years old, and allows them to age the San Andreas and Pepato in a way not possible in the past. Their method, transferring the cheeses from youth to readiness, sees the cheese move several times among the wooden shelves, which are fairly neutral and don’t interfere with the yeasts and cultures in the cheese.

We left the cellar right about the time Liam was to go finish cutting and molding the Crescenza, the buckets of curd we'd seen as we walked in. Using a specially crafted cutting tool, he cut the curd into large chunks, perfect for creating the texture and flavor he was looking for in this Italian-inspired soft ripened cheese. The unique thing about the soft and rich Crescenza, is it will continue to ripen and evolve without the use of a rind. This recipe and process was developed by Liam following a trip to Italy back in the mid-1990s.

As we drove down the hill back to reality, swapping spoonfuls of the finest sheep yogurt you might ever feast on, we were reminded by the quiet and ever-present greenery and solitude that beautiful, unique cheeses and dairy products come in small packages. May that never change.

Cheese Wench Recipe: Fusilli with Bellwether Crème Fraiche and Asparagus

1 ½ C Fusilli pasta

1 Tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1 tsp fresh Thyme, picked from stems

1 Tbsp fresh Oregano or Marjoram, chopped

1 Tbsp roughly snipped Chives

½ C Bellwether farms Crème Fraiche

1 bunch of Asparagus, top 2 inches only (I save the stalks for soup or juicing) blanched and shocked

1C Pea shoots (optional)

Sea salt to taste

1 Tbsp Olive oil

Directions: Cook the pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the pea shoots  2 minutes and remove from heat and season to taste with salt.  Drain the pasta and immediately stir in the crème fraiche, herbs and asparagus. Season to taste, and top with pea shoots. Serves 2.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Manchego Frito: Not your ordianry Fried Cheesestick.

It goes without saying, I LOVE CHEESE. I love warm melted cheese. Sadly, when you hear "Fried Cheese" what comes to mind are those puny little pre-made frozen "Mozzarella" (an insult to a fine cheese) sticks. The good news is, a properly made fried wedge of GREAT cheese is easy to make, and SO worth it!

Manchego, Spain's most famous cheese is produced under strict guidelines with the raw milk of Manchega Sheep. It is usually aged anywhere from 3 to 12 months (though it's standards dictate that 2 months is the minimum). It has a rich golden color and can have many small "eyes" or holes. The robustness of the flavor develops as it ages. Because it's texture is semi-firm, it melts well without becoming overly gooey, which can lead to your fried cheese falling completely apart. Serving the dish with slices of Membrillo, or quince paste adds a wonderful contrast of sweet with rich and salty. You can find Membrillo in any good cheese shop, or often even in a grocery with a nice cheese selection. This dish will pair nicely with anything from a spanish Rioja or Albarino, to a sparkling Cava.

Manchego Frito
1 C Panko Breadcrumbs
½ C Flour
1 Egg
2 Tbsp Milk
½ tsp Pimenton Dulce
Vegetable Oil for frying
Crusty Bread
Mixed Spanish Olives
Membrillo, sliced

In a wide shallow  bowl, whisk together the egg , milk, and Pimenton. Slice the Manchego into wedges. Dredge through flour, followed by the egg mixture and finally coat with the panko.
Heat the oil in a skillet. Fry the cheese wedges until golden brown on each side. Transfer to a paper lined plate. Serve with bread, membrillo and olives.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Fish and Chocolate. Oh yes!

So for Valentine's day this year, I taught a class at the cooking school entitled "Dip me in Chocolate" which featured 4 chocolate-laden courses. The class filled up so fast I ended up having to add 2 additional classes to accommodate the 90+ people that ultimately attended. The menu consisted of Ahi tuna tartare with white chocolate shavings; Mixed baby greens with cacao nibs, candied almonds, strawberries and a chocolate-raspberry vinaigrette; Cocoa rubbed roast tenderloin of beef with a Red wine & chocolate glaze; and then finally Chocolate Pots de Crème with Ancho & Coffee.

As you can imagine, I got a lot of blank stares at the mention of raw fish & chocolate, but it works. The sweetness of the chocolate plays nicely with the salty tang of the soy cream sauce. Feeling brave? Give it a try!

Ahi Tuna Tartare
8-10 Wonton skins, fried in vegetable oil, or brushed with oil and baked at 325 until crisp and golden
6oz. Sushi-grade Ahi tuna, cut into small cubes
1 Roma tomato, diced
3 Tbsp fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
½ ripe Avocado, diced
1 Tbsp fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 C Fresh whipping cream
¼ C Angostura Soy Sauce (yes, the brand matters. I’ve tried it with others and it’s just not the same)
3oz white chocolate (not chips)
Sriracha, for Garnish

In a small bowl, combine the cream and the soy.
In a separate bowl, combine the tomato, Ahi, Avocado, lime juice, ½ of the cilantro and 2 Tbsp of the soy cream. Divide among the wonton crisps. With a vegetable peeler, shave the white chocolate over the top. Garnish with Sriracha and cilantro. Serve with the remaining soy cream.