14 June 2011

A Tale of Three Goat Cheeses: Notes on a Fromage Flight

I recently had the pleasure of sampling some delicious and intriguing fromage with the esteemed Goudacris. We found ourselves in the heart of San Francisco's rapidly-bougifying Mission District and remembered that there was a new cheese establishment in town.

Aptly named Mission Cheese,
this place has just the right amount of trend: a tall chalkboard serves as the day's menu; a sleek, chartreuse tiled bar complements the otherwise minimalist décor. There is also some compelling chalkboard art involving sheep whose fleece is made of people's names. The spot is best described as a “cheese cafe” that also happens to be a cheese shop. They have an extensive list of fromages that can be purchased by the pound, but most patrons seem to come for the cheese flights, cheese sandwiches, and adult beverages.

Gouda and I settled on the “Pacific NW” cheese flight, a glass of Periscope ros
é (on tap, of course), and a bottle of Scrimshaw. Our flight was introduced to us by a charming gal who seemed to really know her fromage. The flight contained three fromages (all goat), three exciting cheese knives, some baguette slices, green apple slices, and cornichons.

The first cheese was “Up in Smoke”, an award-winning goat cheese from Oregon's central coast that's first smoked over alder and hickory and then wrapped in smoked maple leaves. Very impressive. It looks like a delectable fromage dolma, and I felt like a kid at christmas as we unwrapped our little fromage gift. Up in Smoke's taste was described to us as “bacony”, but I found its flavor to have more of a smoked ham or smoked turkey quality. Then again, I'm a vegetarian, so perhaps I shouldn't be trusted on this. What I do know is that this cheese was delicious. Some chevres tend to be a bit dry, flaky, and crumbly (which can end up being quite messy), but this goaty fromage was creamy and spreadable. We sampled it plain, with bread, and with apple. The apple-fromage combination was simply delightful – the pungent, smoky creaminess (or was it creamy smokiness?) was complemented perfectly by the apple's tart crispness. yum.

The next leg of our fromage journey took us to Bend, Oregon for the “Pondhopper”, a semi-hard goat cheese. Its claim to fame is that it's washed in a local beer, which is meant to give it a hops-y flavor. Here's a review of the process (and the fromage). This cheese was considerably more subtle than the first, but this is not to say that it wasn't complex. Au contraire! For me, eating the Pondhopper was like eating several cheeses in one, each flavor arriving in succession like Wonka's three-course dinner gum. I initially got hints of monterey jack, followed by a tangy, almost brie-like taste, and then a more pungent, grassy flavor. Outstanding! I felt that the beer notes were most prevalent in the final stages. This is an extremely compelling cheese that I hope to enjoy again soon. It's supposed to make an excellent mac-and-cheese, but I think its subtlety may be better enjoyed in small slices, especially at $39/lb. Zing!

The final stop on our fromage flight was a semi-soft Washingtonian goat cheese called “Off Kilter”, which I've just learned is washed in a Scotch ale. This is an important detail, because both Goudacris and I seem to have (mis)heard our server tell us that the cheese was washed in scotch. Wishful thinking, perhaps... as a scotch lover, the prospect of a scotch-fromage marriage made me almost giddy with delight. Needless to say, the fromage tasted nothing like scotch, but it seems rather unfair to hold that against it. And yet, all things considered, I still feel that this cheese was underwhelming. It had a pleasant, earthy taste to it, but it paled in comparison to the first two fromages. I've sampled quite a few beer/ale-washed cheeses in my day, and this one was my least favorite. A bit too subtle, perhaps, even for a refined cheese-taster such as myself.

All in all, it was a delightful, fromage-filled afternoon. Someday soon, I'd like to go back to Mission Cheese and try their "cheesemonger" flight (a fromagey spin on the "chef's selection") and perhaps a sandwich. I'll be sure to give a full report.

30 May 2011

Grainy Cheese of the River

While preparing this excellent recipe I tried a new cheese: Grana Padano (Grainy Cheese of the River). A hard, cow's milk cheese - it provides a great alternative (or addition) to Parmesan and other hard cheeses. Although younger, cheaper, and less flavorful than Parmesan it still has many merits: in the case of the "Cacio e Pepe" recipe nicely balancing the sharper Pecorino. It is also readily available and non-brand specific. Jenkins finds Grana Padano lackluster (describing it as a "serviceable grating cheese"), but I found it outstanding for salads, sauces, and sautes - much more supple than hard cheeses with more personality. Give "Cacio e Pepe" a shot or simply try out a new, different hard cheese.

Any other non-parm cheeses out there that folks enjoy?

01 April 2011

You know what they say about the Dutch....

Welcome back fromage-o-philes from around the world! We at Fromage-du-Mois have been on a more than one-year hiatus and are eager to get back to blogging about the delights of cheese. We hope that everyone has been tasting away, as we have. Let's get right back in to it... There is a an excellent, semi-hard, flaky cheese that hails from the Netherlands that is worth a couple of sentences here in this comeback post. (See above picture- courtesy of threemealsaday.com). It is called Robusto and it is a Gouda-like cheese, both in texture and flavor. It has a bit of that great sweet-and-saltiness of a Gruyere as well. The taste itself is a bit sharp on first bite, but fairly simple taken all-together. It starts with that moderate amount of sharpness, then becomes salty-buttery, and finally has a full, nutty finish. Robusto does not overwhelm or have the favlor complexity of other Dutch stalwarts (and U.S. import rarities), like Limburger or Leyden. I think it has just enough sharpness and the right amount of meat to make it a great cheese. Robusto is a solid addition to any platter or part of a wine and cheese tasting. Although some might recommend a full-bodied red wine to accompany Robusto, I like this cheese with a bit of a lighter load, perhaps with something like a Burgundy or Beaujolais. One of my favorite things about this cheese is it's availability, at least where I live in Boston. I have found Robusto readily available and frequently promoted at all the Whole Foods Stores in this are. I have also seen it at many pf the local fromageries. How about near you? And now, you might be wondering what 'they say about the Dutch'. Well, I think I'll have to leave that up to our favorite, irrascible villain from the 3rd film of the Austin Powers series: Johann van der smut (aka Goldmember, 2002).