25 October 2008

Who will take New England? A tight race between two cheeses.

As election day gets closer, we decided to take a poll on three artisinal New England cheeses: Vermont Dandy (sheep's milk, upper left), Bartlett Blue (cow's milk, upper right), Hillman Farms Chevre (goat's milk, lower left). Three average Joe the Plumbers gathered on an unseasonably warm fall day in Boston to focus on the issues: taste, texture, and price.


The consensus among the tasters was that the Vermont Dandy (Townsend, VT) was a fairly run of the mill sheep's milk cheese. The tasters felt that it lacked the sharp and buttery taste of a rich Manchego.

Hillman Farms (Colrain, Massachusetts) chevre captured the attention of all the tasters. It was an exceptionally creamy and flavorful chevre, but without bearing the burden of excessive tanginess or sourness. It's unique among chevres that the tasters have tried, and it was the favorite of two out of the three tasters.

Bartlett Blue (Greensboro, VT) was the favorite cheese of the other taster. It was mild for a blue cheese, without the overpowering taste of many roqueforts and gorgonzolas. The taste was complex with a satisfying aftertaste. Even one taster who claimed "I do not like Blue cheese!" enjoyed the cheese after tasting it.


The Vermont Dandy was semi-soft, and a little grainy, with a non-descript rind. Hillman Farms chevre was very soft, with almost the consistency of a bagel cream cheese spread. While the first two candidates appeared soft, the Bartlett Blue presented a hard facade, perhaps in an effort to distinguish itself from the others. Like a Stilton Blue, this was a hard cheese, but not aged and it did not crumble. In the end, the texture of the Hillman Farms chevre was the only one that moved the tasters.


At $29 / pound, and with the run of the mill taste of a grocery store sheep's milk, we felt that it was not worth issuing fromage-backed securities in order to raise capital.

Bartlett Blue was a delicious cheese, but the cost was $25 / pound, perhaps out of range for Joe the Plumbers to consume on a regular basis.

With gas prices falling, we think we can afford Hillman Farms chevre at $19 / pound. It is an unique, enjoyable chevre which we would certainly buy again.


Overall, the tasters thought it was a very tight race between the Bartlett Blue and the Hillman Farms Chevre. Ultimately, on election day, you will decide who the winner is.

05 October 2008

cow v. buffalo: a dispatch from the field

While traveling in DC it turns out that Cheese Whiz has been working on handmade, slow rise pizza crusts. He suggested we make the pizza with said crusts. I suggested we work Fromage in and do a taste test of cow mozzarella against buffalo mozzarella just to see if neophytes can taste the difference. So off we went to the massively yuppie and overpriced "Dean and Deluca" to find buffalo mozzarella. We got seven ounces of "freshly imported all natural" Bufala mozzarella, made from the water buffalo for $12. We also got eight ounces of "Dean and Deluca" cow mozzarella for $5. Interestingly, although about the same weight, there was much more of the cow mozzarella, almost two to one. Already there's a significant difference in density (four to one in cost!).
In terms of the raw product, the buffalo was clearly superior both in taste and smell. The cow mozzarella was almost tasteless, while the buffalo was sharper, cleaner, and full of flavor. When I laid it on the pizza there was also a distinct texture difference. The cow was rather stringy while the buffalo was sort of mushy. Purposely we made the pizza simply: just tomato sauce and cheese.
We laid it on the stone at 500 degrees and waited a few minutes. When the pizza arrived, there was also a clear difference between the cheeses. The cow was much brighter white in the end. The real question though: after baking is the buffalo as delicious? Sadly, no. The buffalo was certainly better tasting: richer, fuller, and with more depth. But neither of us thought that the cost difference outweighed the taste difference.
In short, the difference between the raw and cooked cheeses did not outweigh the cost difference. However, we certainly think that a delicious sandwich / caprese salad could benefit greatly from fresh buffalo mozzarella.
Viva la Fromage!

28 April 2008

Fromage goes to Brooklyn: A Dispatch from the Field

While traveling it is often difficult to purchase and maintain high quality cheese samples, especially since I prefer to travel light without all variety of fromage accoutrement. Clearly restaurants and friends' refrigerators are the primary source of cheese forage. The latter because they are free and the former because the potential for excellence exists. Anyhow I was pleased to find JakeWalk in Carroll gardens last Saturday night and then surprised to find a review of it in the Times on Sunday seemingly written by a high school intern. The review although positive is, in fact, so egregiously base that I suggest you only view the photograph associated with the article. The real point is the wide variety of excellent chesses on hand for $4 each. I was especially pleased to see them representing Fiscalini Farms on the east coast. This is a cheese maker I've been meaning to address for a while. I often get these cheeses from a local shop in San Diego and have seen them at a few restaurants in California. At JakeWalk I had the San Joaquin Gold: a mild, Fontina-esque cheese. I think the best part about this and another one of my favorites, the Bandaged Wrapped Cheddar (also from FF) is the subtle grassy taste that really compliments the other flavors (nutty, creamy, etc) . FF suggests melting or grating on salad, but I think the San Joaquin Gold really stands well on its own. Although subdued, I think the high quality production process comes through in the finished product. If you come I across it, I suggest you give it a spin. And if you're in Brooklyn, try it at JakeWalk. They've got good wine, good cheese, good service, and good ambiance. Just don't forget "Cotton dresses and flats for women; corduroy and denim for men." Otherwise you won't get in.

11 April 2008

The Feta - No longer just Uncle Aristedes' favorite...

The modern Greeks have a healthy diet and a very long life-expectancy. And absolutely stunning views of the mountains and ocean. Maybe some of all of these things has to do with their beloved Feta cheese.

A story covered by the Daily-Mail describes a new study that came out in the past two weeks. It is from the work of a Greek researcher (of course!) at the University of Lincoln in the UK. Microbiologist Panagiotis Chanos reported to an esteemed microbiology society in England that Feta cheese has many natural, lactic-acid containing bacteria that function as strong antibiotics in the body. Panos studied the raw milk and feta cheese produced at 40 small farms, in the Macedonia region of northern Greece, and used samples of raw Feta from each for his experiments. He was able to demonstrate, in vitro, that the bacteria in Feta are able to kill many virulent, food-poisoning bacteria, like Listeria, that the human body has much difficulty with.

At Fromagedumois, we give our hat's off and three cheers to Dr. Chanos. We always suspected that something would come to justify the lovable, lactic-y Feta taste.

11 March 2008

Verry Berri(chon): Traditional French Goat's Milk Cheese

If you are a fan of goat's milk cheese, you know how unique the flavor is. It is often something of a tangy, tartiness, and you usually seek it out, intentionally. You know what you are going to get and you do this mental comparison to a sharp cheddar or buttery manchego. Goat's milk cheese can usually provide that extra something. While it is tart, and maybe even bitter (thanks to the capric and caproic acids), it is absolutely refreshing.

Traditonally, goat’s milk cheese in made by hand; production has been mainly in areas where goats have been domesticated and in regions with farms or homesteads. In these places, agriculture is inveterate to the land, rather than new or transported in. Goat's milk cheese is made throughout the world, but predominantly in Europe, and includes subtlties from countries, including Greece, France, and England.

Some of the most famous and sought-after artisanal goat's milk cheeses (chevres) are from the French countryside, along the banks of the Loire River. The Loire begins in the Cevanne highlands, a mountainous region in south-central France, and it runs northwest for over a 1000 miles, cutting a path through central and western France. It ends at the Atlantic Ocean harbor town of Saint-Nazaire, but not before creating a vast system for irrigation and lush, fertile valleys. The climate in the Loire valleys is very moderate, which has made farming and wine-production home to the area since, likely, the 1st Century (C.E.).

Within these valleys, in the central part of France, is a region called "Berry", which makes up most of the political departments of Indre and Cher (The Cheese Primer, p. 88). And it is Berry, where cheese and food products are described as Berrichon, that is famous for its production of goat's milk cheeses. In the region, there are still numerous small herds of goats, at most of 40 animals per farm, who feed on the available, lush flora. It is thought that the cheese made here is especially rich because of this environment, containing "subtle nuances of clover, herbs, pine, and pepper." (The Cheese Primer, p. 89).

So, do you want to try some traditional, french, berrichon chevre? It may be difficult to find it in most U.S. stores. Steven Jenkins' writes that, "..The classical, French goat cheese is so special because the human touch involved in the process encourages the real, natural flavor to emerge. If the cheese is too encased in fancy, modern packaging and has a gaudy, costly label, it is nearly always the product of a commercial plant and should be passed up...". He continues that mottled, blud mold on the rind is okay, and is an indication of the natural process and even desirable. In addition, to maintain its flavor and robustness, cheesemongers argue that these chevres should be eaten within the first 2-3 weeks of production; exporting and selling on a large-scale is difficult in that time frame. However, if you can find the Selles-sur-Cher (A.O.C.) chevre or the (unpasteurized!) Crottin de Chavignol or Pouligny-Saitn-Pierre (both A.O.C.), and they are within 3-8 weeks old, then you are golden and you are getting the 'real deal'. Bonne chance.
(See our Fromage Resouces link to the left for more from The Cheese Primer)

I recently tried a more processed, French-imported, mass produced, 'traditional' chevre, complete with gaudy label and cute, smiling goat . And the truth is, it was pretty darn good, even as an afternoon snack on crackers. I'm curious what you're experience has been....