27 November 2009

“Ripe Delight”: A continuation of the “drunken treasure” theme

I’d like to begin by thanking Ricky for another excellent fromage recommendation (see “Chimay with Beer”, 5 november 09). Typically, my comments about his cheese would appear as such, and would follow his original post. But something rather atypical has occurred: although our tasting was planned around sampling Ricky’s belgian treasure, a new fromage was inadvertently discovered… a wonderful and tantalizing fromage… a fromage that warranted – no, commanded – its own post. If you care at all about cheese, read on!

Earlier this week, a modest contingent of fromageophiles gathered in the bastion of pinko commie liberalism that is berkeley, california in order to taste this so-called “beer cheese” of Ricky’s. In the interest of variety and to keep our beer cheese from growing lonely, we decided to add another cheese to the board. Staying in the boozy vein of washed-rind cheeses, we selected a little cheese called “Affidelice” (ah-FEE-duh-leece). Our fromage accompaniments included baguette slices, flatbread crackers, and medjool dates. We also opted for two beverage pairings: a Chimay Red, because it matched our Chimay cheese, and a Beaujolais Nouveau, because, well, it had arrived.
The Chimay cheese was sampled first, and Ricky had not led us astray. It’s a subtle, midly-flavoured, creamy-yet-firm fromage. I definitely tasted the hint of beer, which was intensified by actually drinking some of the very beer it had been washed in. (Somewhat meta, that.) I agree with Ricky that the bitter, salty rind adds a dimension to the flavor, but I found it to be a rather unpleasant dimension. The texture of the rind was quite strange – a bit like eating wet paper. I avoided the rind from there on out and found the cheese quite enjoyable.
Our second fromage was the Affidelice, whose name is an amalgam of the french words for “ripe” (affine) and “delight” (delice). Much like the Chimay cheese, it’s a cow’s-milk cheese whose rind is washed in local spirits. While the Chimay cheese is bathed in Belgian beer, the Affidelice takes its bath in Chablis. But this booze-washing isn’t just for taste – the wine actually contributes to the maturation process by attracting bacteria that keep the cheese soft, supple, and smelly. (See this cheese review for more on that fascinating process.)

Affidelice’s presentation also seems worth noting. It comes in a small, round, wooden box and is further swaddled by a paper wrapper – a veritable fromage cupcake! The rind has a deep orange color, looks slightly runny and wet, and smells so pungent that certain cheese merchants have warned their customers not to be alarmed. The inside of this cheese would be best described using words like “creamy”, “oozy”, and “gooey”. No crumbly morsels to pick up with your fingers here; this fromage is downright spreadable.
With our visual and olfactory inspection complete, we spread the cheese goo onto bread and crackers and moved on to the tasting. I must say: this cheese is nothing short of stunning. Unbelievably smooth and supple, with a tanginess that is simply sublime, this savory fromage satisfies the cheese-lover in me. I even enjoyed the rind, which is a near-first for me. It’s pungent without being too pungent, and its tanginess is formidable without being selfish – when I returned for another bite of the Chimay cheese, I was pleased to discover that its subtlety hadn’t been overshadowed by its oozy cupcake companion. This is no small feat for a strong and stinky cheese. Affidelice, c’est magnifique.

23 November 2009

Cheese: A Global History

Cheese: A Global History by Andrew Dalby just hit the shelves. We'll have a review up shortly, but in the meantime if you're interested in purchasing this book we have a special offer from the publishers: Fromage du Mois readers receive a 20% discount when ordering online! If you're shipping to the United States go to the University of Chicago Press and use code AD9299 during checkout. Readers in the UK and Europe should go to the Reaktion Books website and use code ED0103 during checkout.

05 November 2009

A Belgian, drunken treasure

Cheeses that are prepared with beer have become more and more popular since the rise of artisanal cheese production worldwide. In the both the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., for example, there are many examples of popular preparations combining these ingredients. Some of them are in the form of a 'cheese spread', where the beer is added mostly as an adjunct flavor, while others integrate the beer or ale in to the production process, producing of a more flavorful and finer hard cheese; this award-winning Chocolate Stout Cheddar from Oregon is one of the latter.

Although beer and cheese seem at first to be at odds, they actually compliment one another nicely. We think it is the contrast of the richness and creaminess of the dairy with the bitter and bubbly composition of the hops and trapped gas that makes for a great mouthfeel.

After a brief hiatus from Fromage-du-Mois posts, we decided to write about an excellent and hard to find 'beer cheese'. While most are familiar with the Chimay Brewery which produces Trappist beer from southern Belgium, you may not know that they also produce excellent cheeses. In fact, they make 5 different cheeses , each with an ostensibly unique flavor. The one we recently tried is called, "Chimay with Beer". It seems the only one of the 5 made with the beer itself. Limited research shows that it is also fairly rare in the United States. This cheese is a semi-soft, cow's milk cheese whose semi-hard rind is formed from several, repeated washings with Chimay beer. The flavor then naturally soaks in to the curd itself.

According to the official Chimay website, the monastery has been making cheese since 1876 and in recent times has modernized their production equipment. Even with new technology, they argue the taste has not been compromised: the milk still comes from cows who graze along the rivers near the small town in Belgium and it is still aged for 4 weeks in the cellars of the monastery. We concur.

The cheese itself: it is a very mild and not as strong as some others in its 'genre' of semi-soft, like Taleggio or Scamorza. The texture of the cheese is close to that of a firm brie. It has a distinct flavor, with hints of sweet beer and meaty nuts. The yellow-orange rind tastes somewhat bitter and salty which adds another dimension to the flavor.

Chimay cheese has an outstanding all-around taste. Although we had it plain, off the tip of the knife, we think it would probably go very nicely with.....well....with a tall glass of a Belgian beer.

21 August 2009

Pizza Cheese Redux

I've been making more pizzas from scratch lately and just thought I should add an update about this original pizza post. In short, we did it all wrong (with respect to cheese, anyhow).

Here are some things to watch out for if you're making your own pizza:
*) Don't put on as much cheese as we did. If you look at the image from the original post there's cheese everywhere. It ends up doing a couple of things that are bad: it really dominates the taste of the pizza and causes your crust to waterlog. You don't want that. If you are more parsimonious with your fromage - you'll get a more refined, tasteful pizza and your cheese will last longer. It seems best to cut your cheese into small cubes and place them around the pie. It really melts down nicely.

*) Watch out for cheeses in water. In the post both mozzarellas were shipped in water. This isn't a bad thing, but you need to be sure to dry off the cheese well before you place it on your pizza. I like to wrap the cheese in a towel and let it sop up some of the moisture before preparing it for the pizza. Again - the trouble here is that you don't want the crust to get waterlogged. That being said I think the flavor of "fresh" mozzarella is a little bit better (at least the Trader Joe's version).

*) In lieu of either cow or buffalo, consider a Burrata. Again - be sure to dry it off as much as you can, but the cream on the inside really makes for an interesting flavor on a neapolitan pizza.

Something I'd really like to attempt soon is preparing my own mozarella. As I recall, Charlie White used to make a damn good mozarella from scratch...

27 April 2009

Say “Formaggio!”: FDM Takes Italy

Ahh, Italia. Cultural mecca, bastion of romance and passion. One pictures bustling city squares and impossibly idyllic countrysides. Allow me just a few more cliches here, because, hey, it’s Italy. And how can we talk about Italy without also mentioning the sound of opera, the smell of garlic, and the taste of tomatoes, oregano, and basil on a warm bowl of pasta al dente? Let’s face it: the place has got a lot going for it. It’s no surprise, then, that Italy is home to some of the world’s finest fromage. Aside from the obvious candidates like mozzarella and parmigiano, Italy has hundreds of other delicious cheeses on the menu.
There are a couple of things that every fromageophile should know about Italian cheese. One is that several of these cheeses are protected under the DOC label, which is crucial in preventing the dreaded cheese identity theft. Modeled off of the AOC of their French neighbors, the DOC label lets you know that you’re eating the real deal and not some overprocessed, mass-produced fromage impostor. Italy’s cheeses (again like their French counterparts) are also very specific to region and culture. And Italian people cherish their cheeses with amounts of gusto that would rival any Frenchman’s. But while the French subscribe to an all-encompassing, Vive la France! type of CheesePride, the Italians are much more, shall we say, regionalistic about things. In fact, each region values its cheeses to such a degree that it would be nearly impossible to visit one region and order up a cheese from a neighboring region.
With all this in mind, we held a modest Southern Californian FDM Summit with the goal of sampling Italian cheeses from a variety of regions. As is customary in fromage tasting, we went for the milder cheeses first.

Pantaleo [pahn-tuh-LAY-oh] is a rare goat cheese from the island of Sardinia. Off-white in color, its taste has been described as “fruity yet herbaceous”. It is uncharacteristically hard for a goat’s milk cheese and is aged for a minimum of 100 days. We tried it with honey, which was recommended, and a San Diegan IPA, which was not.
Piave Vecchio [pee-AH-vay VEK-ee-oh] is a cow’s milk cheese that hails from the Piave River Valley of Belluno, in the northern region known as Venetto. It’s aged for six to fourteen months and is yellowish in color. “Vecchio” means “old”, and one can even purchase a Piave Stravecchio (“extra-old"). The flavor intensifies with age, although it should be noted that an “extra-old” Piave resembles a young parmigiano reggiano. Fascinating! Our local cheese shop suggested pairing this fromage with an amber ale; our IPA was an intriguing substitute. We also tried grapes and olives with this fromage.
For our fromage finale, we sampled the Taleggio [tah-LEDGE-oh], an exciting cow’s milk from Lombardy. Taleggio is a member of the “washed rind” class of cheeses, which essentially qualifies it as a “stinky cheese”. As a DOC-protected fromage, its rind is embossed with a special mark so you know it’s authentically stinky. Our trusty cheese shop had nearly run out of this one, but they were kind enough to provide us with a couple of leftover scraps for a buck a pop. Not bad. In the interest of comparison, we also purchased a larger block of Tah-Ledge from a nearby healthfood conglomerate. Both taleggios were sampled with the remainder of our IPAs, a delectable pinot grigio, and the aforementioned culinary accoutrements. And also some bread.
Our Italian cheesetour was remarkable in several ways that should be noted here. For one, it marked the first FDM tasting in many a moon, which is decidedly a good thing. Second, it took us into uncharted lands and allowed us to learn about some very interesting (and very tasty) cheeses. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, two new members were initiated into the fold. A huge FDM welcome to Cookie Munster and Kurd Vonnegut! As for the other members, please enjoy our tasters’ reactions and comments as they are posted. And then? Why not go out and get yourself some Italian cheese and join the fun?

25 March 2009

IT’S BEEN A WHILE: A Brief Note on Fromage-Related Elephants

I want to begin by offering the warmest of greetings to all fromageophiles near and far.
It certainly has been a while, and we have all been busy little cheese lovers. Some of us have changed geographical location; some of us have gotten married; others have developed mild obsessions with pizzamaking. I think we’re all aware that FDM activity has, shall we say, diminished slightly over the last year or so. One might wonder if this has become some kind of elephant in our collective cheese room, filling us with dread and fear that something has been lost, that new posts might go unanswered, that the fires of fromage may be waning. But can this really be?
Granted, there has been an undeniable lack of fromage-centric postings as of late. But does this necessarily indicate a lack of desire for said postings? Dare I say: NAY! Quite the contrary – in fact, I would venture to guess that fromage is still alive in our hearts and minds (not to mention our mouths and stomachs). As Ricky R. so aptly put it in his crowd-pleasing post entitled Taking Back the Curd, we must remember that there is always a natural ebb and flow to the world of amateur cheese tasting and, though we may not always find the time to write about it, “the spirit [of FDM] is still alive and strong!” (Ricotta, 2007). Indeed, Ricky, indeed.
That said, I come to you today with a message of hope. Let me assure you: there is fromagey activity curdling away in this land. I, for one, have been scheming to develop and explore an as-of-yet uncharted realm of fromage study and plan on publishing my results within the next week or two. If that’s not enough to pique your curiosity, I have received intelligence that another FDM member is working on a new and exciting soon-to-be-published cheese-themed post. I hope that you all look forward to these posts as much as I do. As a token of my deep affection for FDM, I have created a mosaic-like artwork – a fromage quilt, if you will – based loosely upon the nine listed FDM members. Enjoy and I’m sure we will all meet again soon in the hallowed halls of fromagedumois.