Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Years Noshing - Nicasio Reserve

Good day everyone!

New Years is quickly approaching and I wanted to provide a quick and fun recipe so you can have one more dish in your entertaining arsenal: mini toasts with Pesto Genovese and melted Nicasio Reserve.

My wonderful friend Raschel pointed out that I don't always include the specifics on the cheeses that I feature (like milk type and rennet) and I plan on including that information in all future posts. Here is the breakdown for Nicasio Reserve:

Cheese: Nicasio Reserve
Producer: Nicasio Valley Cheese Company
Location: Nicasio, CA, United States
Milk: Pasteurized Cow
Rennet: Traditional (animal)

Now that the nitty gritty is out of the way, I have to tell you that this is absolutely one of my favorite cheeses. We got this cheese back in a couple of days ago and I was over the moon! The Nicasio Reserve is a Swiss-Italian Alpine style cheese that is aged for a minimum of 3 months. It is 100% organic and one of the most versatile cheeses that I have ever come across. When you cut into the wheel, you see a very clean, white paste riddled with eyes (holes). The smell is slighty floral with a hint of grass. But the taste, oh the taste, is what wins you over. It starts off very mild and milky then opens up into a complex yet balanced earthiness with a little hint of the aforementioned grass. I use this cheese for both cheese plates and for cooking. The melting quality of this cheese is phenomenal and I have yet to find a recipe where substituting this cheese is detrimental.

The recipe that I cooked up today was super tasty. Most of my team members tried it and they approved. Here's what you'll need to make 24 tasty little toasts:

1 package of 365 Mini Toasts or equivalent

1/3 lb Pesto Genovese or whatever pesto is your favorite

1/2 lb Nicasio Reserve - grate/shred at home

Those are all the ingredients you need. Preheat the oven to 350%. Take a baking sheet and line with parchment paper (makes the mess easier to deal with later). Lay out all of the mini toasts.

Take a butter knife and spread a little dollop of pesto onto the toast.

Generously cover with the shredded/grated Nicasio Reserve.

Then pop it in the oven for ten minutes and you'll get....

                                                                                                                           ... This!

Use these little bites whenever you're in need of a quick appetizer or snack. Very simple and super delicious. I hope you all have a fantastic New Years! I can't wait to write more in 2013! Until then, eat, drink and be happy!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bubbles and Brillat

Welcome back everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday week. We were rockin' and rollin' at the cheese counter and really had a blast. Thank you to everyone for stopping by and making this our best holiday season to date! One more holiday to go - New Years. When I think of New Years, I think of bubbles. When I think bubbles, I think Brillat Savarin!

Brillat Savarin is a beautiful triple creme brie-style cheese from Ile de France named after the 18th century gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. This cheese is definitely one of the more decadent cheeses that we have in our case. It is super rich and creamy with a hint of earthiness from the rind. And if you remember from a previous post, in order to be called triple creme it must have at least 75% butterfat. This cheese has butterfat and it has it in spades. The wheel itself weighs around a pound and looks like a nice, fluffy pillow.

When you cut into the wheel, you can see the edge around the rind is more creamy than the inner paste. If you left the wheel whole and let it continue to age in the right environment, the cheese will continue to ripen and become more and more creamy. I have had experiences with Brillat Savarin where the wheel is so ripe that when we cut it in half, it just oozes all over the place. This is a good thing when you are about ready to eat it, not so good when you're trying to wrap it for customers... :).

As I alluded to before, this cheese pairs amazingly well with sparkling wines. Because it is so rich and creamy, the effervesence of the sparkling wines helps cut through the fat and lighten it up. (This pairing tends to work with most triple creme brie-style cheeses.) So if you want to impress your friends this New Years, bring a wedge of Brillat Savarin with your favorite sparkling wine and you will be the talk of the evening. For an added treat, we also sell Brillat Savarin with a truffle paste running through the middle. It's a step up in the decadence scale and always a favorite.

I hope to see you at the cheese counter before the New Year to help you prepare for your parties. Until then, eat, drink and be happy!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The World Lives On... Let's Celebrate!

Today I had the pleasure of hosting a wine and cheese pairing event and was pleasantly surprised to have so many people attend! I figured that since there were so many people, I'm sure that I wasn't able to explain all of the cheeses to everyone in detail. So I'll go into detail regarding the pairings here and you can impress your guests this holiday with these tasty pairings. We'll start from the beginning...

Here is a picture of all of the cheeses I served today. We'll start with the white cheese on the bottom left and work our way around clockwise. The first two cheeses I paired with the Serenity from Brassfield Estate Winery (56% Pinot Grigio, 31% Sauvignon Blanc, 13% Gewurztraminer). 

I was stumped for a while about what cheese to pair with it because of the blend. Gewurztraminers normally pair with bigger cheeses like blue cheese. But the Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc grapes added slight citrus notes and well as a dry finish, so blue cheese didn't work very well. I eventually found some very tasty pairings and will describe them below. 

The first cheese is the Capricho de Cabra (or Capricho for short) from Murcia, Spain. I like to introduce this cheese to any person who either has never had goat cheese or someone who says that they don't like goat cheese. It is comparable to a fresh chevre; super creamy and mild with a very clean finish. The milk for this cheese is from the Murcian goats which are known for having sweeter milk. By having sweeter milk you're able to tame the gamey goat flavor. Thus allowing people who think they don't like goat cheese to fall in love with this one. The pairing of the Capricho and the Serenity was a very clean pairing. The goat's milk just sang along side the Sauvignon Blanc grapes, had a slight lemony flavor to play nicely with the Pinot Grigio grapes and just enough sweetness to pair with the Gewurztraminers. Quite a delightful pairing!

The second cheese that I paired with the Serenity was the Cremont from Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery. This cheese I actually featured on my first post of this blog. It is a soft ripened goat and cow's milk cheese that is definitely one of my favorites. By having both cow and goat's milk I thought this pairing was even better than the first. The cheese itself is quite tangy from the goat's milk, but the wine really mellows out the tang. The cow's milk and its decadent creaminess really works with the sweeter grapes of the Gewurztraminer and Pinot Grigio while the goat's milk is a perfect partner for the Sauvignon Blanc grapes. As I was serving this pairing today I used the phrase "food-gasm" more than once. You just have to try it to understand what I'm talking about. 

Now onto the last two cheeses and the Eruption, also from Brassfield Estate Winery. The Eruption is quite a blend - 22% Syrah, 21% Tempranillo, 15% Malbec, 14% Grenache, 12% Mourvedre, 8% Petite Sirah and 8% Zinfandel. Pretty intense right? The wine itself is slightly tannic but is balanced out with a slight jamminess.  Basically, every flavor that I like from red wines are combined into this wine. And things just get better when the cheeses are introduced. 

The first cheese I paired with the Eruption is the Cantal from Auvergne region in France. Ironically this region in France is known for its many volcanos making the pastures extremely fertile. I thought this was a fun fact since the wine is called Eruption :). The Cantal itself is a raw milk cheese that has been aged for 2 - 6 months (at least the Cantal that we sell). It is a semi-firm cheese that has a wonderfully creaminess to it as well as a slightly tangy finish. The natural rind that is allowed to form on the outside of the cheese as it ages also lends a slighty earthy, almost dusty flavor. The cheese is so balanced that it works nicely with the many grapes used in the wine. It seemed out of all the cheeses, this was the most popular of the bunch. 

The last cheese is my absolute favorite blue cheese in the whole wide world... Rogue River Blue. This blue cheese is made by Rogue Creamery in Oregon. It is wrapped in Syrah leaves that have been soaked in pear brandy, is made with raw cow's milk and is aged for a minimum of 9 months. At the 2009 and 2011 American Cheese Society conferences it won Best in Show and really lives up to these awards. The Rogue River Blue is so complex yet beautifully balanced. It has a nice creaminess with a touch of salt, a hint of spice, a little bit of fruit from the brandy and an earthiness lent to it by the Syrah leaves and the act of aging this cheese in a cave. Now, if you thought the last three pairings were good, wait til you try this one! I couldn't believe how well this cheese worked with the Eruption. Both the wine and cheese have such unique, complex flavors that it's amazing how wonderfully they work together. It's almost too hard for me to describe how they taste. They combine to create a salty sweet flavor that is absolutely stunning. If you ever try a cheese and wine pairing, make sure that you try this one. 

Well, that was a long-winded post. I hope this gives you enough insight to impress your friends with these great pairings and be the host/hostess of the year. As always, you are more than welcome to come by the cheese counter and try any of the cheeses listed above. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and I hope to see you soon! Until then, eat, drink and be happy!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mites and Mimolette

Forgive me loyal readers! I have been frantically finishing my holiday shopping and did not have a chance to sit down and blog. I apologize and please believe me when I say that I will be much more consistent with my blogs after the New Year. :)

Today I wanted to talk about a really fun cheese that is near and dear to my heart. This cheese is called Mimolette.

Mimolette, also know as "the cantelope cheese" to my customers, is a really wonderful hard cheese from Normandy, France. It is a wheel that is about 5 lbs and the rind is very distinguishable in that it looks ragged and dusty. When you cut into Mimolette, it sometimes turns into an epic battle of knife versus cheese when trying to crack through the rind. Once you've done that, you are rewarded with a beautiful bright orange paste with a very pleasant, nutty aroma. I almost always have this cheese on my cheese plates because it is super tasty and the color is so striking. It really makes any cheese plate pop.

The story that I've always heard regarding the history of Mimolette is that during the reign of Louis XIV, there was an embargo on all Dutch items. The king was particularly fond of the Dutch cheese Edam and since he couldn't import it, he commissioned someone to make a cheese similar to Edam. Louis XIV also wanted to be sure he knew the difference between Mimolette and Edam, so he had the cheesemakers color the cheese with annatto (a food coloring that is made from the seeds of the achiote tree) rendering the cheese the bright orange that we know and love today.

Another interesting note regarding Mimolette is that cheese mites are mainly responsible for the appearance of the rind. You can see a close up of the rind in the picture above. If you let a wheel of Mimolette sit in a cooler for a little bit, you can start to see bigger and bigger holes made in the rind by the cheese mites muching their way through. After you cut Mimolette, often times you are left with a pile of what looks like dust. If you were to leave the "dust" for a while and come back to it, you will see that the pile has moved. Those are cheese mites! :) I know a lot of people are slightly turned off by the fact that bugs help make this cheese, but without the cheese mites, Mimolette would never have come about.

When tasting the Mimolette, you will notice that it is a firm cheese and is very buttery, nutty and rich. I describe the flavor of Mimolette as being reminiscent of a croissant... super decadent. I like to grate this cheese and melt it on casseroles, macaroni and cheese or just on toast. It also pairs very nicely with a dry, hoppy IPA. We almost always have this cheese at our cheese counter, so don't be shy! Come on by and have a sample.

Thank you for reading! Look for a new post in the next couple of days. Until then, eat, drink and be happy!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"Not even Wensleydale?"

Growing up, I was a big fan of the show Wallace and Gromit. I remember watching Wallace and Gromit in A Close Shave and the scene where Wallace is talking to his new friend Wendolene...

Wallace: Won't you come in? We were just about to have some cheese.
Wendolene: Oh no, not cheese. Sorry. Brings me out in a rash. Can't stand the stuff. 
Wallace: [gulp] Not even Wensleydale?

As a kid, I really had no idea what Wensleydale was besides that fact that it was a cheese. But the name stuck with me through the years and when I was first introduced to Wensleydale as an adult, the first thing I thought of was - this was Wallace's favorite cheese! Apparently this stuck in a lot of peoples brains because in 1995 when this film was released, the sale of Wensleydale was suffering. After the show aired along with the full-length film in 2005, Wensleydale sales jumped and the cheese was saved! 

Now allow me to formally introduce you to Hawes Wensleydale. This wonderful cheese hails from Yorkshire, England and is made of pasteurized cow's milk. During the making of this cheese, the curd is pressed which helps expel the excess whey and results in a firmer, drier cheese. The Wensleydale that you see above is the creamery made Wensleydale and not the factory made ones that you may see in other supermarkets. You can tell it's the real deal by the fact that it is bandage wrapped.

See the outer edge of the cheese? That is actually a cloth that is wrapped around the entire wheel of cheese as it is allowed to age. The cloth does add a bit of character to the cheese's taste in that you get some earthy, almost dusty notes as you get closer to the edge. As you go further in, away from the rind, you taste a wonderful creaminess with a hint of tang. I've heard it described as being reminiscent of buttermilk which I think is a good comparison. When I think of Wensleydale, I think of the "working man's lunch" where lunch used to entail a hearty cheese, crusty bread and a pint of ale. This cheese is a perfect partner for a nice beer or crisp hard cider. Another perk with Wensleydale is that it melts very nicely and doesn't have a very strong flavor, so it is a great cooking cheese.

We have plenty of Wensleydale in stock and would love to let you try a piece. Don't be shy to ask for a sample!

I wanted to share another quick photo... For those of you who are in the loop with the QR codes - I have one! My coworker Manny put together this little blurb and QR code for me. Thanks Manny!

I've been getting a really great response from this blog and I'm super excited that so many people want to learn about cheese! If you have any questions that have been bugging you when it comes to cheese or any particular cheeses you would like to learn more about, please email me at I would love to answer any questions you may have. I hope to hear from some of you soon. Until then, eat, drink and be happy!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Delice de Bourgogne = Delicious!

To get you all in the Christmas spirit, I wanted to feature a bit of decadence. A staple on any of my cheese plates, I'd like to introduce to you the Delice de Bourgogne. 

There is not much to say about the Delice de Bourgogne other than the fact that it is a wonderfully creamy, rich, decadent treat - and that it's one of my favorites.

If you're one of the many people that look for really creamy, buttery triple cremes, this is the cheese for you. It hails from the Burgundy region of France and is made by Fromagerie Lincet. The Delice de Bourgogne falls into the same category as the Brillat Savarin and Explorateur in that it is a mold ripened, pasteurized, cow's milk, triple creme cheese (yum!). The definition of a triple creme cheese is that fresh cream (or creme fraiche) is added to full fat cows milk and in order to be called triple creme, the cheese must have a butterfat content of at least 75%. While this may sound like a lot, the cheese itself is not 75% butterfat. The trick is that the dry matter of the cheese must be 75% butter fat. Cheeses like Delice de Bourgogne are very high in moisture, so the dry matter only makes up about half of the cheese - make sense?

Let's look at it from a different perspective. Say I take a 1 oz piece of Parmigiano Reggiano and a 1 oz piece of Delice de Bourgogne. The Parmigiano Reggiano has very little moisture, so it is virtually ALL dry matter (fats, proteins and amino acids). The Delice on the other hand has way higher moisture, so there is more water present resulting in less dry matter. This means that if you compare 1 oz of these cheeses side by side, the Parmigiano Reggiano actually has more fat (and protein) than the Delice de Bourgogne. Pretty interesting right?

Ok, enough sciencey stuff. I know you all want to know how this cheese tastes! You can imagine that because they add cream to this cheese that it is, in fact, creamy. On top of being creamy, the rind that is formed by Penicillium candidum adds a touch of bitterness that allows this cheese to have a bit more flavor than just straight butter and cream. When you taste this cheese, it literally melts on your tongue. I love to pair it with many different types of wine. I've had it with the go to Champagne (and this pairing is always a good one) but I've also paired this cheese up with some really fruity Pinot Noirs or jammy Zinfandels and it's like having a bite of berry cheesecake... heavenly!

Whether you're a fan of Fromage d'Affinois or Brillat Savarin, I'm sure that you will love this cheese and that it will be a welcome addition to your repertoire. Come by the cheese counter anytime and have a taste!

I also wanted to mention that we received 4 more wheels of Rush Creek today (see my post - Rush Creek Anyone?). This will probably be our last shipment of the year, so if you didn't get a wheel last week, now's your chance!

I hope you see you all soon, but until then, eat, drink and be happy!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Black Butte Reserve

I'm always excited when we get a new seasonal cheese in that is locally made. This week we received two 20lb wheels of Black Butte Reserve from Pedrozo Dairy. Pedrozo Dairy is located in Orland, CA in the Sacramento valley and they produce beautiful farmstead cheese. I can't remember if I've gone into what it means to be farmstead, but basically it means that all the cheese that is made at the dairy is made of the milk of their own cows (or sheep or goats). Farmstead cheeses tend to be of slightly higher quality because the farmers have a direct influence over the quality of the milk as well as the cheese. You can't make good cheese without good milk!

Not the most photogenic of cheeses, but what it lacks in looks it makes up for in flavor. The cheese is made with only spring milk (when the grass is nice and lush) and isn't pasturized, so you can really taste the grass that the cows are eating. When I took a taste, I was surprised at how creamy it was and how balanced the flavors were. I've had other spring milk cheeses that were either a little bland or WAY too grassy, but this cheese strikes a beautiful balance between grass, sweet, salt and cream. I also have to mention that this cheese won a gold medal for the aged hard cheese category in 2007 at the California State Fair.

The Black Butte is a cheese that would pair wonderfully with a nice crisp apple (Honeycrisps are my favorite! And they're in season right now... go get some!) or grapes. The cheese has a very slight acidity to it, but I think the acid in the fruits would really make a tasty combination with the sweet grassy, creamy notes. I would also say that the cheese is ideal for cooking because of its balanced flavor, its ability to melt very well and because it adds a wonderful earthiness to any dish. This would be a go to cheese when making macaroni and cheese or even fondue.

Once again, this is a cheese that only comes out once a year. We do have close to 40 pounds of it, but it will be gone before you know it. Come on by and ask for a sample! You won't be disappointed.

Also, I wanted to mention that due to a privacy setting that I was unaware of, many of you were not able to leave comments. I have fixed this as of this morning, so you should be able to leave a comment whenever you like! Don't be shy, I'd love to hear from you!

Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mmmm... Piave...

Ok, so I couldn't wait any long to write about this cheese. It is and always has been one of my team's favorite cheeses - Piave Vecchio (or lovingly known to us as just Piave).

Unlike the last cheese that I posted about, this is a cheese that we carry all the time. It is one of the few cheeses that we are able to display out of refrigeration because of how long it is aged (1 year), the low water activity and salt content. When I talk about water activity I am referring to how much moisture the cheese has. The longer a cheese ages and the harder it gets, the lower the water activity. Cheeses like Bries or Chevres have a very high water activity, so they need to be kept in refrigeration (unless you're about to eat them of course). That being said, you will see this cheese on display tables throughout our cheese department and more often than not, accompanied with a bowl of samples... :)

Piave is an Italian cheese that is in the grating category. It is often compared to the king of cheeses - Parmigiano Reggiano. The flavor is beautifully nutty, sweet and fruity but not as salty as the Parmigiano Reggiano. If you look closely at the picture above, you can see little white spots throughout the cheese. These are clusters of an amino acid known as tyrosine. Tyrosine is typically found in the prominent protein in milk - casein. You will find these little crystals in aged cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano, aged goudas or aged Asiago. But the most interesting fact about this amino acid (to me at least) is that it is a precusor to the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine which are responsible for you feeling good and happy! If you needed another excuse to eat more cheese, there you have it!

This cheese is good in just about any form. You can shave it over salads, grate it and melt it on crostinis or just slice it up for a snack to munch on. Alison, our wine specialist, often recommends this cheese for pairing with wines as it goes with both red and white. Also, because it is slightly salty, it goes wonderfully with a cool, crisp beer like Lagunitas Pils... delicious!

As I said before we typically have samples alongside this cheese, but if we don't, grab a piece and ask for a taste! Anybody on my team would be happy to tell you about their personal experiences with this cheese and the reason why they love it. I hope you learned something from this post and to see you at my cheese counter soon! Until then, eat, drink and be happy!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Rush Creek Anyone?

Hello everyone! I hope December is treating everyone nicely...

We received quite a treat at my cheese counter today - 4 wheels of Rush Creek Reserve from Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin!

Needless to say, I had to purchase a wheel for myself so I could try it, share it with my team and then share the knowledge with you all. This is another example of a cheese that I have heard a ton about, but haven't had the privilege of tasting. When we heard there was a limited number available, my buyer and I jumped at the opportunity!

This is how the cheese itself looks like fresh out of the package. It weighs a little less than one pound, is wrapped in spruce bark and as an added bonus - made with raw milk. When I first unwrapped this cheese I was hit with a very woodsy almost floral scent from the spruce bark. To the touch, this cheese is very soft and I could tell right away that this was going to be quite a treat.

A little background on this cheese... It is inspired by the Franch Vacherin Mont d'Or which is also wrapped in spruce bark and made with raw milk cheese. Rush Creek Reserve is produced in a similar fashion as the Vacherin because they only use milk from the fall season as this is when their cows are moving from eating in the fresh pastures during the summer to eating hay in the winter time. Due to the nature of grass (very watery compared to hay) the milk that is produced when cows eat mainly grass isn't as rich or dense as the milk produced when the cows eat mainly hay (hay is solid and passes more solids to the milk). Rush Creek Reserve was created to really highlight the richer, creamier, delcious milk of the hay-fed cows.

Now to the tasting... I highly recommend letting this cheese come to room temperature before serving. This ensures that you're able to taste all of the flavors of the cheese as refrigeration often masks subtle flavors. To serve, cut a "lid" off of the cheese (as seen above) and treat it like fondue. As I am a purist, I wanted to try the cheese by itself - so I got myself a spoon and dug in. The first flavors you get are the sweet woodsy notes that you smell right after you open up the cheese as well as a bit of saltiness. Then you get a nice creaminess along with the earthy, barnyard flavors that are seemingly present in all raw milk cheeses. This cheese has a beautifully long finish and the earthy, creamy flavors stay with you long after you've finished your taste.

Enjoy this cheese by dipping bread or fruit into it, or by spooning it over your potatoes or pastas. I personally just need a spoon and I'm in heaven...

Please note that this cheese is only released once a year and in very limited quantity. As I said at the beginning, my cheese counter only received 4 wheels and we now only have 2 left. If you don't get a chance to buy the cheese at my cheese counter, don't hesitate to snatch one up anywhere you see it because it won't be around long - and a year is a long time to wait... I hope you all get a chance to taste this cheese at some point, it really is a treat.

I'll be writing a new post in the next couple of days. We've received a lot of new and fantastic cheeses at my counter that I want to share with you. Stay tuned! Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!