09 September 2007

The perfect cheese platter

It's Friday night, 6:30 p.m. and you need something quick and fabulous for some unexpected guests. A cheese platter and some pepper crackers or french bread is often the right answer, but what makes it just right?

One of the things I like most about cheese is that there is something for everyone, and your cheese platter should be crafted with this in mind. I'm a fan of color variety, with just enough unusual cheese choices to make your guests go "Ooh" but also a balance of traditional favorites.

Here's what you need:

A long platter
Four or five types of cheeses, refrigerated for easier slicing
(If you know your guests are coming ahead of time, do the slicing in the morning and all you'll need to do is assemble before serving)
One box of table crackers (pepper and poppy seed are my favorite, but anything from Triscuits to $25 stone ground wheat crackers will do) or a baguette of french, sourdough, Ciabatta or olive bread

I presented this platter last week for my Midwestern and culinary cautious in-laws, aiming for cheese that wouldn't scare them too badly.

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From left to right, I included 10-16 slices, 1/4" thick and 2" long of:

New York Aged extra sharp cheddar
Sage (see below)
Pepper Jack
Smoked Gouda
Colby Jack

Had my guests been more adventurous, I would have included mustard gouda (preferably with red wax still on for some added color), garlic cheddar and some pungent blue cheese crumbles.

But I was very satisfied with myself because the Sage cheese was so delicious. Eastern Market in DC suffered from a major fire in April but is back in a temporary location with a vengeance. That morning I'd been perusing the fresh pasta when a woman slapped a slice of green cheese in my hand.

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Its color offended a few, but it was so tasty - with the creaminess of blue cheese and a texture like colby. Divine!

26 August 2007

Cheese in Literature

I was recently reading Tristan Jones’ Saga of a Wayward Sailor detailing his adventure after coming free of the arctic ice. There’s an outstanding tale of making passage through the dutch canals and meeting Dirk Van Scheltema, a warehouse security guard. They hit it off and Dirk offers to return to the boat with cheese for Tristan. True to his word he returns with 200 Edam cheeses (stolen). When he attempts to depart for France the extra weight of all the cheeses has sunk his ship into the mud. Instead of jettisoning the cheese, he chooses to heave his non-functioning engine overboard, removing enough weight to free him. In the next chapter, he reaches France and ends up trading much of the cheese for a brand new engine.

And actually I just found an excerpt on Google books: http://tinyurl.com/ypjsqj It’s a quick and entertaining read.

Anyone know of other cheese references in literature??

23 August 2007

Wild about Parrano

I know it may be unorthodox to comment on a cheese without having everyone partake, but hopefully Fromage du Mois-heads will forgive me as a new member. I had the most fabulous cheese the other night and I just had to share.

At first I thought it was called Uniekaas, because that's the name that was on the label. But actually that is the name of a the Dutch cheese company that makes it.

Parrano was "created" 12 years ago by Uniekaas, which tries to market the cheese like it's Italian, even though it is actually made in Holland.

It's a type of gouda - creamy in taste, combining the right salty flavor and a pungent almost blue cheese-style strength. But it's the consistency - hard and crumbly, almost like parmesean - that's perfect.

As you can tell from my name, I'm partial to Greek cheeses, but I may have a new favorite.

We tried it with a simple panne bello loaf of bread and some light pepper-flavored table crackers. Delicious!

And just for fun, check out this cheese-loving dude I found.

10 August 2007

Stay tuned: 'Taking back the Curd'...

As F.D.M. readers have guessed by lack of entries, there has been a hiatus in the world of amateur cheese-blogging. As lives tend to go, so do blogs, it seems; they ebb and flow with the normal tides of everyday emotions and motivations. Alas. I think I speak for all of our contributors and readers when I say,"It is all Ok."

The reality is that there is a natural order of things in this world. And it is on this trajectory that our feelings and desires evolved and gave birth to Fromage-du-Mois. It was organic and beautiful. And the spirit is still alive and strong!

The sensorium that is 'cheese' has but one choice in continuing to breath life into this project. So, on we go....There will likely be an upcoming F.D.M. resurgence. This post-hiatus era of the the FDM project may prospectively be referred to as 'Taking back [of] the Curd'...

Curious observation:
I imagine many Fromage-du-Mois contributors and readers alike have experienced what I have in the past 3 months, away from active cheese blogging. And that is this: the eating of cheese in our contemporary American life does not always happen as some 'planned event' or collective cheese tasting. We run across cheddars, swiss, muensters, fetas, ricottas, and the likes in our everyday, culinary lives. Does appreciation of the extraordinary beget awareness of the ordinary? Hmmm....

With unquenchable collective innovation, I have taken the liberty to display an artisitc rendition of our Fromage-du-Mois letters on this post. (c)2007.

11 June 2007

cheddar - right back to the farm

In the fromage world, cheddar commands one of the heftiest purviews and may well be the most popular cheese. It spans the Kraft slices that end up on your burger to exotic English variants in snooty parlors. To understand fromage, we must begin to understand cheddar.
From a technical vantage point, cheddar is easy to summarize. A cow's milk cheese, cheddar is not named for the region of origin, but for an additional processing called "cheddaring". After the whey is drained from the curds, the blocks of cheese are turned and stacked to give cheddar is unique texture. The flavor of a cheddar should improve with age - so the older the better. You can make a good guess of a cheddar's origin based on the color. English cheddars are always their natural beige, Wisconsin cheddars have a distinctive orange color, and Vermont's are often very white.
From a gustatory vantage point, cheddar is an entirely different story. With such a long history and popularity, one cannot make blanket statements about this cheese. In particular, the availability of small production American cheddars and English Farm House cheddars provide an opportunity to experience the range of this venerable cheese.
In order to tame cheddar, the fromage du mois tasting plan was simply: pick a few cheddars and compare contrast. See the comments for details!

From Jenkins: "Cheese Precept 8 - The harder the cheese, the longer it will stay fresh."

16 April 2007


We are hungry for fromageOur latest cheese selection comes from our ex-pat correspondent and British Isle cheese expert: Fontina Turner. This cheese hales from Wales, near the mouth of the Severn river. Caerphilly is a raw cow's milk fromage that matures extremely quickly (just three weeks or less). During the 19th century it was hugely popular with Welsh miners. It has a high salt content and is rumored to absorb inhaled toxins from the mines. A common miner lunch was Caerphilly wrapped up in cabbage leaves. Beige on the inside, gray on the outside, it also features a natural rind. You should always purchase Caerphilly directly from a wheel, not pre-sliced, so as to prevent excessive dryness. It will also dry up quickly on you, so never keep it on hand for more than a week.

Caerphilly is great example of the global struggle against processed cheeses. Although considered a pedestrian cheese, after a brief stint of mass production and bastardization of the name, it is now possible to get authentic Caerphilly from many smaller producers in Wales. This fromage should be available at finer cheese shops.

A Jenkin's cheese-storage footnote: "Cheese is best stored in the refrigerator as close to the bottom of the appliance as possible - the vegetable compartment is ideal." You should wrap up the cheese to allow it to breath and continue to age. Also it is OK to store many cheeses together. They will not contaminate each other...

28 February 2007

Nor-cal Creaminess: From the Goats of Humboldt Bay...

This Tasting...
When: Wednesday, 28 February 2007
Where: San Diego, San Francisco, Washington, DC, London
What: Northern California-produced ripened goat's milk cheeses (e.g. from Cypress Grove Chevre, Aracata, CA)
Who: Fromagedumois members, and the rest of illustrious cheese enthusiast world...

Did you know that, according to the American Dairy Goat Association (http://adga.org), more people drink goat's milk around the world than any other type of milk? That's easy for you to say ADGA.... :)

This bi-weekly tasting is the first of an American cheese that we have questrd for. It is an important part in our journey for amateur cheese excellence because the North America contributes its fair share to the market of the world's great cheeses. This journey begins about 200 miles north of San Francisco....

Humboldt County, California, is known for a bunch of things in the U.S., including an absoultely gorgeous surrounding outdoor playground and, of course, Chinese exploration in the late 1880s. But, lately, it has gained prominence for its growing number of dairy farmers who have earned some national reputations for making outstanding cheeses.

One standout producer in this region, Cypress Grove Chevre, has expanded in the past decade to encompass a number of farms and dozens of different goat's milk products. Despire it's growth, it still maintains its 'artisinal' cheese making process from its humble beginnings. All of the steps in the process of meticulously carried out by hand. (more details to come....)

Begin the tasting dialogue below!

14 February 2007

Charles White: Artisan of the Ages

This very special post concerns not only amateur cheese tasting, but amateur cheese production as well. Charles White, a long time friend of Fromage du Mois and true polymath, recently sent an advanced shipment of his latest artisan Parmigiano-Reggiano. White Farms does more than just cheese. Charlie also specializes in beer / wine production, and can grow anything that you hand him. When Charlie heard we were doing a Parmesan tasting, he immediately jumped at the chance...

First some background on the fromage under scrutiny. Parmesan is a cow's milk cheese from Reggio, Italy, with strict rules concerning production. In particular:

  • Parmesan can only be made in four provinces of Italy
  • Parmesan can only be made between 15April and 11November
  • Wheels of Parmesan must weigh between 66lbs and 88lbs
  • Parmesan must be aged at least 14 months and can be consumed up to three years
  • Each pressing combines two separate milkings
Parmesan is relatively low in fat content and should be yellowish white in color. According to Jenkins, there are few American producers worth tasting, but it's safe to say that Jenkins has not tasted Charlie White's recent entry. The 2% milk for Charlie's cheese comes from the finest, grass-fed cattle in Ohio and was pasteurized just prior to cheesemaking. Once pressed, the cheese is salted in brine solution for 24 hours before aging 10 months.

Read on for the tasting comments!

28 January 2007

le penicillium roqueforti

Roquefort (Carles, France). Unpasteurized sheep's milk,
aged 3 months, semi-hard.

Perhaps it’s best that we keep the penicillium roqueforti on the back burner until we get some basics down, no? We’re dealing with the second most popular cheese in France, a raw sheep’s milk, stinky, salty, green mess of goodness. With such money on the line the “appellation d’orgine contrôlée" is of course in full swing, though lest you think that Roquefort is an invention of shrewd late 20th century marketing, Charles VI accorded the inhabitants of Roquefort a monopoly on the unique production process in 1411, and Pliny the Elder seems to have had some kind words for a cheese bearing a striking resemblance to our current stinky subject.

The trick is to drop some specially made rye bread into a cave in the south of France, leave it there for six to eight weeks, and then harvest the mold. Fresh white cheese is brought into the “cave,” the aforementioned penicillium spores are released into the air (rather than directly into the cheese, so that the fermentation happens evenly), and the tell-tale green ashy flakes start showing up in a few weeks. Three months in, the color is most evident, and then as the cheese ages, some of the green mold flakes start to disappear.

For my tasting I had to choose between a Roquefort Carles and a Roquefort Societé Bée, and I went with the former because it seemed a bit less dry, more sloppy, and, for better or worse, a dollar more. I like the ammonia aftertaste that makes your eyes squint, but I have to admit that I think that I prefer my blues a bit less salty. The pungency is, however, down right glorious, and I think that armed with the right baguette (crackers don’t seem to carry the mold, perhaps), Roquerfort would be a good way to end a cheese platter, a place to work up to through some more mild or subtle options.

Feta Kuti, 30 Januray 2007

13 January 2007

The return of a 'blue': Lombardy's Gorgonzola

Ricky and M.Boster discover a 'fromage gem' in the Del Ray neighborhood of Arlington, VA. Cheesetique offered two creamy Gorgonzola cheeses, both of the lesser-aged 'dolce' type. (comments on these 2 within).

Stay tuned here for some basic gorgonzola facts.....see Comments for our tasters' thoughts....