Thursday, January 31

Lactard-Friendly Cheeses

If you check up on this blog, you've probably noticed the recent influx of cheese-related posts. A few of you have questioned the presence of such content on a not-quite-vegan themed blog. However, I'm posting today to defend my current love affair with cheese.

Let's start with the basics. There are two kinds of lactose intolerance:

1) Primary Lactose Intolerance: People who don't have enough lactase enzyme, which helps break down lactose (milk) sugars. Our bodies naturally produce less of this when we aren't breast-feeding infants, not expecting to process the breast milk of other mammals for years to come. Inadequate amounts of lactase result in big chunks of unprocessed sugars trying to make their way through the intestines, which is quite uncomfortable -- hence the bloating, gassiness, pain, etc. For these people, products like Lactaid pills and Lactaid milk, which contain supplements of the lactase enzyme, often eliminate discomfort. Some claim that the big chunks of sugar absorb water and becomes food for bacteria that form gases and acids. Ouch.

2) Secondary Lactose Intolerance: People with unhealthy or imbalanced gut flora (the array of bacteria living in the intestines). Everyone has plenty of *good* bacteria that hang out make sure everything is chugging along as per normal, and work to ward off *bad* bacteria. Strong doses of antibiotics can wipe out the strains of good gut flora and make way for bad bacteria. I myself went through several rounds of antibiotics (for two cases of walking pneumonia and several stubborn ear infections) over a three-year period. This basically wiped out my gut flora, and the less-desirable bacteria hanging out in my intestines now love to feed off the milk sugars that may pass through my system. They get excited and produce, again, gas, bloating, pain, etc. Pills don't help people in this category.

So, what's a lactard to do? Give up all milk products? That means cheese, ice cream, milk, pizza, butter, cottage cheese, yogurt...oh my! I don't want to! And, according to several sources, I don't have to. For example, Bob Fusco of the NIH says:

Most of the lactose is removed from the cheese with the whey during the manufacturing process. As a result, most ripened cheeses contain about 95 percent less lactose (.4 to 1 gram per serving) than whole milk (9-12 grams per serving), and less even than Lactaid milk (3 grams per serving), a brand of fluid milk that has most of the lactose specially removed.

Now, I tend to stay moderately suspicious of the NIH, but ever since I've been broadcasting my lactose intolerance, servers, doctors, friends, and various internet sources have been telling me the same thing. Here are the cheeses that seem to be ok for me:

Aged Cheeses
Most styles of cheese are aged a certain length of time before consumption. Any cheese aged over six months -- including most hard cheeses, cheddars, etc -- will have 0g lactose. No lactose means no problem for the lactose-intolerant! Some experts claim any cheese aged more than 60 days has less than 1g of lactose and therefore ought to be safe for most of the lactose-sensitive population. However, some people still suffer from headaches when eating aged cheeses.

Goat Milk Cheeses
Goat's milk contains slightly less lactose than cow's milk, so some goat's milk products are more digestible. Additionally, goat's milk does not contain casein, the protein found in cow's milk, therefore making goat's milk easier to digest.

Raw Milk Cheeses
Raw milk contains harmless bacteria which produce lactase which, in turn, enables the human body to break down and absorb lactose. Pasteurized milk has had all of these bacteria killed off and is therefore lactase-free, but still contains lactose, causing problems for many people who try to drink it. Raw milk cheeses are said to promote easier digestion and better calcium absorption; contribute to a stronger immune system; aid in combating allergies; are high in conjugated linoleic acid - the most potent cancer fighter; and contain a perfect balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

I can tolerate yogurt and aged cheeses with no problem. Pizza and ice cream are the most vicious culprits for me, and lately goat's milk cheeses haven't been so great, either. Fresh cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta are pretty much death, and I've just started experimenting with raw milk. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 29

Tuxford & Tebbutt Stilton (Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, England)

Served with cajeta pear puree

They say: "The only cheese in England to be protected by legislation. It is judged for its creaminess and extent of blue-green veins. Stilton is known for its dense, fudgy qualities. Tuxford & Tebbutt are one of only seven Stilton producers, named for the original owners: Mr. Texford the Stilton man and Mr. Tebbutt the pork pie man."

Cmoore says: Drink a pot of ale, eat a scoop of Stilton, every day, you will make 'old bones'." Nineteenth-century saying, Wymondham. Like all classic Stiltons, the T & T version is salty, salty, salty, with a dense, fudgy texture. There are only six (or is it seven?) creameries in England authorized to make this popular moldy delicacy, and it is traditionally paired with Port wine, in part due to the embargo treaty that once existed between England and Portugal.

Suggested Pairings: Vintage Port, Porter, Stout, Barleywine

Cashel Blue

Served with chocolate fig spread

They say: "Cashel Blue is the creation of Jane and Louis Grubb, a husband and wife team. Grubb family ancestors were Anabaptists who fled English religious persecution to become butter makers in Ireland. Cashel Blue was developed in 1984, and it is made entirely by hand from whole un-homogenized cow's milk. They wrap the cheese in raw Irish linen when it sets to drain. The cheese is Ireland's premier artisan cheese. A cashel was an enclosure for cows in the Middle Ages."

Cmoore says: Tasting notes: "Barnyardy --> like a stable!" But any fellow blue-cheese-lovers will agree that this is in the best possible way. The texture is creamy and smooth, with a minimal smattering of mold. In this case, the bitterness of the chocolate-fig spread pairs nicely with the saltiness of the cheese. Similarly, a strong, possibly slightly bitter beverage would make an excellent match. The Cashel Blue is made with a vegetarian rennet.

Suggested Pairings: Madeira, Tawny Port, Porter, Stout

Mary Quicke's Double Gloucester (Gloucester, England)

Served with cranberry mustard

They say: "Gloucester cheeses were at one time made only with the milk from Gloucester cows, which are now almost extinct. There are two types of Gloucester cheese: Single and Double. The main difference is that Single Gloucester is made with skimmed milk combined with a small amount of while milk. Double Gloucester is made from only whole milk. Both types have a natural rind and a hard texture, but Single Gloucester is more crumbly, lighter in texture, and lower in fat. Double Gloucester is allowed to age for longer periods that Single, and it has a stronger and more savoury flavour. It is also slightly firmer. Double Gloucester is colored with annatto, but was originally colored with carrot juice. A popular saying was: 'the rosier the colour, the richer the flavour.' Double Gloucester is also used annually in a dangerous sport: Cooper Hill's Cheese-Rolling and Wake, in which the 60 lb wheels are pushed down a steep incline and feisty young lads attempt to catch them."

Cmoore says: That's gloss-ter, for those of you who, like me, would have written "savory flavor". This cheese, well, tastes like...dirt. In a good way! My first impression was "carrots", but I quickly realized it was more the flavor of carrots freshly pulled from the ground, and covered with a nice dusting of earth. So it's also accurate to say the Double Gloucester is grassy, earthy, nutty, and slightly bitter. And dirty. And vegetarian! (Those statements are not related). It's a cooked, pressed cheese, with a firm, slightly granular texture. And, like most English cheeses, it's excellent with mustard and beer!

Suggested Pairings: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Weissbier, IPA, Pilsner, [Beer!]

Tete de Moine (Bern, Switzerland)

a.k.a. Bellelay
Served with Tuscan pepper honey

They say: "Tete de Moine, also known as Bellelay, has been around for a long time. The monastery of Bellelay was established in 1136 and confirmed by Pope Innozenz II six years later. As early as 1192, or one century before the beginnings of the Swiss Confederation, the monks of the monastery Bellelay were first mentioned in connection with cheese. At that time they paid the annual rent on various properties with cheese made in their abbey. Time and again documents from subsequent centuries mention the use of the valuable cheese as a means of payment. The oldest description of the Bellelay cheese dates from 1628 and states that a 'very fatty milk of impeccable quality from the best grasses and berbs of the country is used'. Tete de Moine means the 'head of the monk' and resembles a balding monk's receding hairline."

Cmoore says: Please note that the name "Monk's Head" has double meaning: both the physical resemblance and the barter for paying taxes. This has been on our menu for nearly the entire duration of my employment at Tria, and it remains my number one recommendation to all my tables. Everyone loves it! To serve, we use a girolle (pictured) to shave off florets of cheese -- people compare it to carnations, coral, ginger in a sushi restaurant. One table even looked at me confusedly when I proudly presented the cheese board and queried, "Where's the cheese?" The presentation is fun, and the sharp, strong flavor is balanced by the delicate texture. Definitely a favorite, and highly recommended.

Suggested Pairings: Gewurtztraminer, Zweigelt, medium-bodied and spicy reds, stout, Tripel, Duvel

Gingerbread Pancakes

Sunday is brunch day, and this weekend we invited a few friends over for a proper brunch feast. Stu made parfaits, layering fresh berries, yogurt, and granola in plastic cups. Our guests brought, at our request, vegan sausage, and we pulled out some vegan bacon to beef up the offerings (pun, sadly, intended). And Perrin and I collaborated on a batch of gingerbread-walnut pancakes with poached pears. This means I made pancake batter and she grated ginger and licked the molasses spoon. They turned out well, particularly the pears, which I poached with honey, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. However, I generally prefer my pancakes a bit moister and fluffier. I usually find that a bit of lemon juice helps, but sadly we had no lemons on hand, and I was wary of the combination of fresh ginger, cinnamon, molasses, and lemon juice.

However, when I was re-searching for the recipe I ended up using, I came across the version, which gives homage to our mutual inspiration: La Note, in Berkeley, CA. This version calls for a whole quarter cup of...yep, lemon juice. Also, they use coffee instead of molasses, which sounds like a really interesting twist. Next time, I'm trying these.

Wine-ing and Dining

Last night I made dinner for the roommates and a friend who broke her elbow (!). I'd been meaning to use up some of our dried goods, so I decided to make a risotto with mushrooms, peas, and fresh thyme. I didn't feel like salad but wanted something green, and concocted a lovely side of steamed kale with sauteed garlic, marinated cannelli beans, and Tomatoes Provencal. I didn't realize when I set out on this endeavor that Tomatoes Provencal are traditionally breaded and baked. I didn't have bread crumbs on hand, but I did have cornmeal and parmesan, which I blended with dried Herbes de Provence and fresh thyme and liberally sprinkled on halved roma tomatoes before popping them in the oven for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees. They turned out well -- I think this dish is a nice way to add a splash of color to a meal without too much work (or too much more food).

My roommate's contribution was a bottle of Meron Primitivo, which was fantastic. Originating in Veglie (south of Puglia), Italy, Meron is 100% Primitivo grapes, vinified in stainless steel tanks. The skins are left 7-8 days in contact with the must, resulting in a full body and hearty but smooth character. Plums and cherries dominate the nose, and the mouth feel is velvety and supple. Not as juicy and tart as Primitivos I've encountered, but really nice with the risotto and kale.

Produced by Azienda Vinicola Durante. Imported by Iatesta Imports, Philadelphia. 14% ABV.

Beautfort D'Alpage (Savoie, France)

Served with chocolate fig spread

They say: "There are three varieties of Beaufort: Beautfort d'ete (summer Beaufort), Beaufort d'Alpage (Beaufort made only in chalets in the Alps), and Beaufort d'hiver (winter Beaufort). Beaufort cheese is prepared using 130 gallons of milk for every 99 pounds of cheese desired. The milk used in one variety comes from the Tarentaise of Abondance cows that graze in the Alps. First, the milk is heated and then the cheese is cast into its molds, pressed, and slated. The prepared cheese must then age for 6-12 months, or even longer, in a cool mountain cellar. During this period, the cheese takes on its yellow color and acquires much of its flavor."

Cmoore says: The first whiff of this delight brought a smile to my face -- grassy, fruity notes evolving into a pleasant nuttiness when I sunk my teeth into the slightly granular, pressed paste. Delicious! However, I did think the chocolate fig spread, while decadent, didn't do this cheese justice. It was overpowering, and too bitter for the Beaufort. I would prefer it with honey, and a glass of fruity, slightly spicy red wine.

Suggested Pairings: Pinot Noir, Syrah, [Reds], Stout, Porter

Lord of the Hundreds (Sussex, England)

Served with cajeta pear puree

They say: "The Lord of the Hundreds was the Saxon magistrate that collected tithes from all the peasants in Sussex."

Cmoore says: Say it with me, Lord of the Hundreds! Unfortunately the cheese didn't really live up to it's epic name: it was dry, hard, and rather bland. One of my co-tasters suggested it might have been stored improperly, as it tasted vaguely of "refrigerator". The cajeta pear puree (a mixture of goat's milk caramel and pureed poached pears) was similarly boring uninspiring. As an uncooked pressed sheep's cheese, this would be comparable to such gems as Pyrenees Brebis, but Lord of the Hundreds really can't compare.

Suggested Pairings: Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Americain Dubbel, ESB, Nut Brown Ale

Pata de Cabra (Aragon, Spain)

Served with membrillo mustard

They say: "Pata Cabra means the foot of the goat." [Yep. That's all I got.]

Cmoore says: A washed-rind goat cheese from Spain with a surprisingly mild flavor profile. The firm paste was sweating slightly when I tried it, and my primary impression was a lactic sweetness with a hint of tang on the finish. I think it would be nice with a fruity (perhaps Spanish) beverage.

Suggested Pairings: Rioja, Riesling, Belgian wheat beer, Deus

5 Spoke Creamery "Tumbleweed" (Westchester, NY)

Served with with apricot mustard

They say: "Tumbleweed is produced like a cheddar but with the thin bloomy rind of a Cantal Fermier. They age it for 8-9 months. The owner of 5 Spoke Creamery, Alan Glustoff, sought out an Amish cheesemaker to make his cheese. In order to uphold his personal beliefs, he also brought in a rabbi. Tumbleweed is certified kosher."

Cmoore says: A bloomy rind cheddar is a rarity indeed. And it's kosher! Tumbleweed is made from raw milk from grass-fed cows, resulting in a complex flavor and a plethora of nutritive benefits. This cheese is very cheddar-y, but with a profile that is more delicate, fruity, and creamy than sharp, nutty, and firm. Cheddars are traditionally served with mustard, and our blend of dijon mustard and apricot preserves make a very nice accompaniment. I think this is a great beer cheese, and would love to enjoy it with a brown ale or any other robust English ale.

Suggested Pairings: Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, English Brown Ale, IPA, Pilsner, Yards ESB, Pale Ale

Monday, January 28

Tinto Wine Bar, Philadelphia

Last night I had the pleasure of dining at Tinto in Center City Philadelphia. Jose Garcia, the executive chef at Amada (my favorite restaurant in Philly) opened Tinto last spring with the idea of a tapas and wine bar similar to Amada but focusing on the Basque cuisine indigenous to northern Spain.

I started with a glass of Castell Roig ("roych") Cava Brut, and my friend tried the Palacio De La Vega Navarra Reserva (Tempranillo), which was nice but a bit oakier than I/we expected. We selected five dishes (our server, Brett, recommended three per person, but we were planning ahead for dessert), and while we were waiting he presented a plate of Mahon cheese crisps with a fantastic smoked tomato coulis. Brett was incredibly helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable, and definitely contributed to the whole dining experience.

Our first plate was De Txanguro A La Vasca (pictured, left), a bruschetta with jumbo lump crab, avocado, and espelette chile. The mix of creamy and crisp was a lovely combination, and the crab salad was prepared so well. Next came the Bonito Bocadillo: I learned that "Bocadillo" means "sandwich", and we have Spanish bonito tuna on our menu at Tria. So this was a sandwich of marinated tuna with creme fraiche, red onion escabeche, and an anchovy, served on a croissant. My favorite part was honestly the anchovy -- anchovies really aren't used often enough, in my opinion. Just as we were finishing the last bits of croissant the runner presented Revueloto de Langosta, a round of lobster and asparagus shired eggs, served with an oyster cava cream and toasted baguette. The consistency didn't seem overwhelmingly appetizing, but the flavors and richness of the dish came through.

After the seafood rounds my Cava was running pretty low, and when the next two dishes arrived I knew it was time to switch to a red. First came the Patatas Asturianas. Patatas! Potatoes! Get it? These were fried and served on top of a tomato compote, and at the table the server doused them with a lovely La Peral cream. Just as we were starting to savor the combination of crispy, creamy, salty flavors, the Hongos a la Plantxa arrived -- wild mushrooms roasted on a plank, tossed with truffle oil, and served in a small cast iron skilled atop roasted potatoes and shallots. I downed the last couple sips of cava and we ordered two glasses of the Navarra Evohe (I believe the grape was "Garnatxa"?), which complemented the earthy notes of the food rather well.

That was our five, but we wanted one more taste before dessert. Brett recommended the Arroz con Almejas, a rice dish topped with clams and shaved artichokes, and served with a Mahon cream. This was r-i-c-h. It was practically dripping butter, and the tasty cream began to congeal as it cooled, shimmering with fat. It was delicious, but sort of reminded me why I enjoy living a low-dairy lifestyle.

So it's a good thing that for dessert we selected the Torta de Aceite de Olivia, a yellow cake made with olive oil instead of butter and served with vanilla marcona almond creme and housemade blood orange marmalade. The combination of cake, cream, almonds, and marmalade made for the perfect bite. We paired this with a glass of Pedro Ximinez sherry, which literally tasted like drinking a freshly-picked fig. Brett recommended drizzling it over whole-wheat pancakes, perhaps with some poached figs. YUM.

All in all I really enjoyed Tinto, but Amada still reigns as my favorite Philly restaurant. Basque cuisine seems to be a bit richer and heavier than other Spanish foods, and perhaps not quite as spicy. That said, I plan to find a recipe for olive oil cake a.s.a.p., and maybe a bottle of Pedro Ximinez, too.

Brescianella Stagionata (Lombardy, Italy)

Served with maple candied pine nuts

They say: "The name refers to the region of Lombardy in which it is made (Brescia) and to the maturation period (stagionata = aged). The cheese may become pungent surprisingly quick: its range goes from "elegantly earthy" to "strong and stinky" in a few short weeks."

Cmoore says: The most impressive aspect of this cheese, for me, was the way the uber-soft, smooth texture contrasted with the crunchy, sweet pine nuts. The nose is earthy, with a relatively simple flavor profile highlighting salty and lactic notes. I'm sure it will ripen into an even softer, runnier consistency and more pungent palate; until then, I'll be content to tag it one of the more 'elegant' cheeses on the list.

Suggested Pairings: Alsatian white, zinfandel, IPA, Abbaye-style ale, Belgian wheat beer

Tomme du Berger (Provence, France)

Served with porcini honeycomb

They say: "Two brothers came up with this mixed-milk cheese recipe: one had a goat dairy in Provence and the other had sheep in Corsica. It is now produced in Sardinia, shipped to Corsica and matured in Provence. "Berger" is French for shepherd. During the fall and winter, the cheesemakers use much more sheep's milk than goat's milk."

Cmoore says: A beefy, pungent tomme with a pleasant saline character and a sharp, funky finish. The porcini honeycomb balances out the moderately biting piquancy with an earthy sweetness. Excellent with riesling or similarly sweet/malty beverages.

Suggested Pairings: Riesling, Belgian wheat beer, Abbaye-style ale

Brebisrousse D'Argental (Lyon, France)

Served with truffled mushroom pate

They say: "...Despite the brine washing, Brebisrousse is more creamy and lactic than pungent, with a delicate sweetness. It will ooze satisfyingly across the cheese board. 'Brebis' is French for sheep and Rousse refers to the color of the cheese."

Cmoore says: My notes on the tasting sheet read: "Fun Rind! Buttery! Yum! Salty! Yum!" (verbatim). A washed-rind cheese made of sheep's milk is an oddity, particularly featuring the bright orange rind casing the Brebisrousse (they add a bit of coloring). The buttery, salty pungency doesn't quite hit the mark of our "stinky" cheeses, and the smooth, luscious paste earns Brebisrousse a spot under the, well, "luscious" category.

Suggested Pairings: Gewurtztraminer, Dubbel, Tripel, Baltic Porter

Sunday, January 27

Jasper Hill "Constant Bliss" (Greensboro, VT)

Served with chamomile cranberries

They say: "The cheesemakers at Jasper Hill, brothers Andy and Mateo Kehler, showcase the sweet richness of their raw cow's milk in Constant Bliss. They make this cheese year-round. Each season, the cheese changes; the milk develops different flavors and textures from the varied yeasts and herbs in the grasses that the cows eat. Constant Bliss was a revolutionary war scout killed by a Native American in Greensboro, Vermont in 1781. He died with his friend Moses Sleeper, the name of Jasper Hill's newest and still developing bloomy-rinded cheese."

Cmoore says: My first thought tasting this cheese: grass. We've featured Constant Bliss before, but I don't remember all the grass and hay on the nose, evolving into vaguely barnyardy notes. Sweet and complex, this bloomy-rinded raw cow's milk cheese is complimented by the sweet complexity of cranberries poached in chamomile tea and our delectable local honey. The texture of the cheese is smooth and supple, though relatively dense compared to other cheeses we've placed in the "luscious" category. Again, a crisp and/or sparkling beverage will cut through the rich, sweet nature of this classic.

Suggested Pairings: Champagne, Sparking Rose, Pilsner, Farmhouse Ale

Brunet (Piedmont, Italy)

Served with porcini honeycomb

They say: "Brunet is one of the many fresh Piedmontese cheeses that are so delicate, they have to be transported in cupcake holders. The goat that makes the milk for Brunet is actually a brunette; the label shows her sporting a long, luxurious coat of brown fur and fine stiletto hooves. Even Italian goats know how to dress! Brunet cheese looks like a flattened out, wrinkly Brie. It has a supple coating of mold with a dense, almost flaky paste and a runny, creamy texture towards the rind. It ages for about a month. At this stage, it is tangy, salty, lactic, and acidic yet not overpoweringly goaty."

Cmoore says: Ahhh, the Brunet. At points it vies with Truffle Tremor for the spot of cmoore's favorite cheese. The small, soft disk of fermented goat's milk bears the brilliant white coat characteristic of bloomy rind cheese. Right now it is ripe (read: runny), creamy, salty, and generally delicious. The porcini honeycomb we serve as an accompaniment is, to bring back a moderately antiquated expression, simply to die for: savory, slightly earthy porcini oil drizzled over a runny honeycomb. Divine, and lovely with a crisp sparkling or white wine to cut through the rich paste.

Suggested Pairings: Rose, Cava, Rose Cava, Pinot Gris, Frambozenbier, Lambic

Sidebar Updates

*Metropolitan Bakery, a Philadelphia bakery where my roommate happens to work/pilfer-goods. Don't get me wrong -- I certainly don't want her to stop bringing home armfuls of pastries, breads, spreads, dressings, salads, and cheese. Metropolitan has two locations, one in yuppie Rittenhouse Square and another in food central Reading Terminal Market. Their spiel: "Most of the products sold in our stores are made by small producers like ourselves who are trying to preserve artisinal techniques and traditions in such areas as farming and cheesemaking." They also own Farmicia, an Old City restaurant with an emphasis on local, organic, and artisinal producers. Definitely a couple notable links!

*I added some fellow foodie blog links, namely Diet, Dessert, and Dogs (a "95%" vegan with similar gastronomic inclinations); Every Woman Has an Eating Disorder (a great site grappling with the pressures and challenges women face regarding body image and eating); and the ever-popular 101 Cookbooks (is there anyone in the foodie world who HASN'T run across Heidi Swanson's beautiful, articulate, interesting blog of culinary adventures? And yes, like most good things in the world, she's based in SF).

*The Ethicurean, about "tasty things that are also sustainable, organic, local, and/or ethical — SOLE food, for short." It's a pretty compatible philosophy, methinks.

*And, finally, Local Harvest, with links to organic farms and farmer's markets across the country.

Saturday, January 26

Cypress Grove "Truffle Tremor" (Humbolt County, CA)

Served with local honey

They say: "Cypress Grove is well-known for their American original Humboldt Fog, a bloomy-rind goat's milk cheese with a line of vegetable ash running through it. Truffle Tremor is Cypress Grove's newest cheese, with the same velvety texture and fluffy white rind as Humboldt Fog. It stands out with the addition of fresh black truffles, whose earthiness contrasts nicely with the lemony tang of the goat's milk."

Cmoore says: Well, 'they' said it pretty well. Truffle Tremor was on our autumn cheese list as well, and it was then (as it is now) my favorite selection on the menu. Soft, oozy, and delicious, the paste is tangy and creamy with flecks of savory black truffle infusing an earthy flavor. The slightly sticky, smoothly sweet honey provides a lovely accompaniment.

Suggested Pairings: Cotes du Rhone, Cahors, Cava, Golden ale, Tripel, Saison

Vermont Butter & Cheese "Bijou" (Websterville, VT)

Served with chamomile cranberries

They say: "Vermont Butter and Cheese Company have created their own line of French style goat cheeses, including the popular Bonne Bouche, Coupole, and Bijou. Bijou is modeled after Crottin de Chavignol, whose name means "horse dropping," while "bijou" is the much more appealing "jewel."

Cmoore says: This dense little crottin features a mild, nutty flavor contrasted with a peppery burst from the natural rind. The gummy consistency may soften as the crottin ripens. Bijou is made with pasteurized goat's milk and a vegetarian rennet, and thus quite amenable to lactose-intolerant vegetarian preferences!

Suggested pairings: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Saison

St Maure de Touraine (Tours, France)

Served with red beet jam

They say: "St Maure de Touraine looks like a cheese on a stick. It is skewered with a piece of straw that ventilates it while aging. The stick should not be cut; instead piece of the cheese are pulled off the stick like a kebab. 241 farm producers make St. Maure, and traditionally the name of the farm was printed on the straw to identify the producer."

Cmoore says: Fresh, slightly chalky texture with a slight creamline under the rind. The interior is lactic and goaty, with a peppery accent from the ashy rind. The beet jam (a puree of roasted beets and dijon mustard) adds a lovely tanginess that complements and enhances the cheese. Nice with crisp or bubbly beverages to cut through the fluffy paste.

Suggested pairings: Vouvray, Champagne, Loire valley white (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc), Flemish ale, Kriek, Hefeweizen

Lancaster Milk Stout

We are proud to offer one of the few surviving examples of this traditional English style sweet stout. A bold, dark ale, bursting with roasted barley and mellowed by hints of chocolate and coffee. Malts used: 2 Row Barley, Caramel 120, Chocolate, Black, Roasted Barley. Hops used: Cascade, Styrian Golding. OG: 15; ABV: 5.3%; IBU: 22.

I say: Stouts are generally divided into two categories: Dry/Irish and Sweet/English. This is, as indicated above, the latter variety, sweetened by the addition of lactose. The yeasts, like myself, don't do well with milk sugars, so they leave them unfermented for you to enjoy instead. The Lancaster version of milk stout is somewhat sweeter than traditional English versions, but still light-bodied with notes of chocolate and a hint of coffee bitterness. Lancaster Brewing is about 60 miles outside of Philadelphia, and while I've never been crazy about any of their beers (this one included), I do like supporting local business!

Tuesday, January 22

"Nirvana starts in the kitchen"

A friend recently sent me a link to the trailer for "How to Cook Your Life". I saw Buddhists, the Golden Gate bridge, people stealing fruit from neighbors' trees, and a lot of cooking -- this friend knows me well. From the Apple site:

Move over “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance!” Filmmaker Doris Dorrie turns her attention to Buddhism and that age-old saying, “you are what you eat.” In HOW TO COOK YOUR LIFE Dorrie enlists the help of the charismatic Zen Master Edward Espe Brown to explain the guiding principles of Zen Buddhism as they apply to the preparation of food and life itself.

View the full trailer here (and go see the film!)

Sunday, January 13

More sidebar updates!

* I was desperately searching for a good recipe for braised artichokes when I stumbled across In Praise of Sardines, the food blog of an SF-based chef. He happens to be opening a restaurant in Noe Valley this summer, and I happen to be looking for a restaurant job in Noe Valley starting this summer. Interesting...

* A friend of a friend discovered Maggie Mudd, an SF-based purveyor of lactose-free frozen desserts. Swoon.

* While I'm explaining links I really think The Old Foodie deserves some attention. I quote,

From Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, The Old Foodie gives you 400 words each weekday on a topic related to the day, plus a historic recipe, and sometimes a menu. And how much fun is that!

(A lot of fun! Especially for the history buffs in our midst...)

* Finally, I added "Brewed in America" and "Modern Marvels: Distilleries" to my list of foodie films. Both are products of the beloved History Channel, and do an excellent job tracing the evolution of beer and distilled beverages, respectively. Possibly hard to find, but highly recommended.

[An application essay, of sorts]

Last Friday, amidst torrential rains and gale-force winds, I rolled into the Santa Barbara Amtrak station, concluding an eight-hour bus ride from the Bay Area. It was the sort of evening when one most wants a warm meal and perhaps a warming beverage, ideal company for watching the rain hammer against windowpanes for hours on end. I had the rain and the windowpanes but was left cold, tired, and hungry; the friend I was visiting planned on picking me up until her Californian car protested the unprecedented monsoon by decommissioning the windshield wipers. Thus, for the last leg of my journey I took a taxi from the station to 1522 ½ B. Street, where a world of culinary delights awaited me.

Feeling guilty for the automotive complications, R. prepared a feast of baked wild salmon: the outside of the fish, barely crisped under the broiler, was lightly saturated in a sauce of ginger, teriyaki, and sesame oil, with the inside retaining a moist, tender suppleness. The green beans were steamed to crisp-tender perfection, and liberally sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds that added crunch and flavor while complementing the Asian notes dominant in the salmon. As she was preparing the meal R. opened a bottle of Andrew Murray’s “Esperance” (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre), a bold red balanced by berry and currant flavors; well-integrated oak; and a pleasant, subtle spice. The wine was quaffable but satiating, every sip satisfying enough to be the last but enticing further exploration. Furthermore, there was enough depth to hold up to the piquant marinade without overpowering the more delicate consistencies of the food. Traditionally, a full-bodied, slightly oaky white may have rounded out the meal with more precision, but given the inclement conditions and festive nature of the evening, a wintry red was in fact an ideal selection.

As the meal was winding down R. presented, with great and well-warranted flourish, a box of Godiva chocolates, a generous holiday gift that had remarkably been sequestered away for my visit. Now I’ve had good chocolate, and I’ve even had excellent chocolate, but I have never even dreamed of chocolate of this quality. Ranging from the exotic and enticing “Tasmanian Honey” to the relatively mundane yet beguiling “Bananas Foster,” every bite was exciting and compelling, from the moment my teeth sunk into the dense, smooth paste until the last morsel slowly melted down my throat. The flavors literally evolved on my tongue, unfolding a microcosm of tastes and recognitions. There was a “Peanut Butter and Jelly” that encapsulated, in one sweet bite, the pedestrian, familiar, but timeless joy of, well, a well-made peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. The “Apple Pie” relayed all the archetypal qualities of a Granny Smith apple pie: tart, zesty, and succulent -- a tribute to every apple pie anyone’s grandmother ever made.

To complement the sweets we warmed up R.'s new Nespresso machine and poured two decaf espressos and two shots of Knob Creek bourbon whiskey. To my palate, coffee and whiskey are two of the most fickle beverages. You can have really excellent coffee that brings a meal to a gratifying close, or really terrible coffee that leaves your mouth, and your memory of the meal, bitter and unsatisfied. Similarly, quality whiskey is invigorating yet calming, providing instant warmth and, dare I say, happiness, whereas inferior whiskey tastes cheap, sharp, tawdry, like supermarket pastries or dollar-store chocolate. With its rich amber color and smooth, toasty flavor, Knob Creek, part of Jim Beam's line of small-batch bourbon, was undoubtedly a worthy companion to our Godiva and Nespresso delicacies. At the end of the night our stomachs, eyes, and palates were unanimously satiated, the mark of a truly excellent meal.

Thursday, January 10

Sidebar Updates

It recently occurred to me that I ought to discuss my sundry additions and renovations to the sidebar. Right now this is a fivefold topic:

1) Thanks to my recent obsession with goodreads, I made a "favorite food books" shelf and added the correlating widget at the top of my links. You can scroll over the books to see my review (disclaimer: I haven't read/finished all of them), and click on them to get more information. I'll try to write reviews for all of them over the next couple weeks.

2) Related to that, I recently finished Laura Esquival's Like Water for Chocolate. What a delightful book! And I fittingly read it on the brink of Three Kings' Day -- it chronicles the life of Tita, a young Mexican girl who essentially grows up in the kitchen. Each chapter begins with a recipe, which leads into the narrative following developments in Tita's life. I loved the many ways Esquivel found to extend various food metaphors and similes, and her writing is compelling and poignant throughout. I especially loved the idea that food transmits the energy and emotion of the cook to the people who consume the feast, an enthralling thought that resonates with many of my experiences. Definitely a recommendation for anyone passionate about food.

3) I added a few links under the "Food in SF" heading since I'm starting to make concrete plans for the big move, and related to that have been discovering a few of the foodie joys in the Bay Area. The "slow foods" movement pretty much started here, with Alice Walkers and co./Chez Panisse. So there are a couple links to slow foods events and info in SF. Also, two of the best-known vegan/vegetarian restaurants in the city, which have both been highly recommended by reputable sources. I'll post again when I actually try them out myself!

4) I also joined and linked the Foodie Blogroll, a (self-explanatory) collection of food blog links. Scroll through and check some out if you have time, there's a lot of really good cooking and eating going on out there. I think it's great that people are taking steps to unite the various foodies colonizing the internet as of late. And it's nice to be a part of it all :)

5) Finally, over the past couple weeks I've added links to the waiterrant, 101cookbooks, and Cheesy and Queasy blogs -- all highly entertaining and enjoyable.

Sunday, January 6

Resolution: To Simplify

So, resolution time. I initially blocked out a three-part culinary resolution, elaborate and destined for expeditious failure. Then I had my eureka moment: simplify. And so not only did I nix my trio of overambition, but I decided to make the very concept of simplification my resolution for the impending culinary adventures of 2008. I hereby vow to limit all of my exercises in gastronomic creativity to eight ingredients of less (I make no promises regarding the refinement of my prose). Every brunch food, every packed lunch, every spur-of-the-moment cook-off, every beverage, every dessert, every dinner party entree, even every dinner party appetizer -- no more than eight ingredients per dish. The idea is that I'd like to highlight quality ingredients and clean flavors: too often my cooking ends up tasting good...but not exactly tasting like anything in particular. My enthusiasm for all things good to eat, and my related attempt to use them all at once, often results in a muddle of flavors and textures that may be visually impressive yet betrays the virtues of the individual components. By selecting just a couple vegetables, a few seasonings, one basic flavor profile, I think my cooking will be more satisfying to create and to consume.

Two exceptions:
1. Sauces. Because if it's just going to be pureed into an accessory liquid flavoring, why not throw in everything but the kitchen sink?
2. Recipes. Even though I rarely use them, I think if I found a recipe that called for more than eight ingredients I could probably sidestep the problem of overcomplicated dishes and maintain the integrity of the end product.

Thus, "Not (Quite) Vegan" will now additionally chronicle my attempts to simplify, and clarify, my cooking.

Happy New Year, everyone.


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