Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dre meets the Mystery Blue


  I can safely say that receiving cheese in the mail is just about one of the coolest things that can happen to a cheese geek like me. Why did FedEx send me a chunk of cheese you ask? Well, after reading this, submitting an application and an essay, then waiting patiently, I was chosen to be part of a cheese tasting panel for Culture Magazine to help develop a new cheese for the world famous Point Reyes Dairy in California. I spend most waking moments surrounded by cheese, whether it be cheese monger by day or cheese maker by night in my messy and cluttered kitchen, so I'm sure you can imagine my ridiculous amount of excitement. To have the opportunity to try a brand new cheese that is unavailable to the general public is nothing short of thrilling.
  Upon returning from work one day, I was greeted by a small white box at my door step. Dropping everything, I opened my coveted package, and inside was an unassuming silver foil wrapped wedge of blue cheese. Not wanting to rush tastiness, I let it sit out for about an hour to come to room temperature. After long moments of pacing and intense staring, it was ready for unveiling.

Mystery Blue

  First, I took note of the aroma. It was not overpowering at all as some blues can be. Lovely earthiness, wet leaves, and damp cellar. Next, I studied it's appearance. It looked very smooth, dense, and creamy, my favorite style of blue. The blue veining was beautiful, bright, and even, and the natural rind was pale and wrinkled. All good signs.
  Trying my best not to shovel half of the wedge into my mouth at once, I took a small piece and examined the texture, then the taste. I was actually quite surprised by the texture as it was not what I had expected. The paste was very light and springy and not as dense as I had hoped for. As it got closer to the rind, the texture did get closer to what I was wanting. It was also very granular, but did crumble well. The taste was complex and varied, from milky and almost bread dough in the center, to sweet, nutty, and very earthy towards the rind. Even the rind itself was chewy and pleasant.
  Overall I would say that Mystery Blue is an excellent cheese that I could easily see being paired with a rich Oatmeal Stout or Barley Wine. After my "official" tasting, I enjoyed a slice of raisin bread and toasted walnuts with the rest. If I were to cook with it (which I did not as it was consumed far too quickly) I would most certainly melt it over a grilled steak, or crumble it into a wheat berry salad.
  I am eagerly awaiting the next assignment.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Southern Spotlight: Sequatchie Cove Cumberland

Sequachie Cove logo

  A new cheese has come onto the southern scene lately that I think you need to know about. Sequatchie Cove is a farm located in Sequatchie Cove, Tennessee, which rests just above Chattanooga. Of the two cheeses they make currently, the one pictured here is Cumberland, a glorious example of a French-style Tomme.
  While Cheddar is a style everyone can easily grasp, Tommes are a little more difficult to get a handle on. Generally, their texture is light to semi soft and most posses a weathered rustic rind that gives the cheese an earthy aroma and taste. Tommes are fantastic on a cheese plate, and equally good when used in the kitchen. Potatoes are a natural partner.


  Sequatchie's take on Tomme is one of the best examples I have tasted. While the flavors are subtle, it is anything but boring. Their dairy herd includes the rare heritage breed Milking Devon, which is the pretty red cow featured on the label. Heritage animals impart a unique old fashioned flavor that modern Holsteins just can't achieve.
  The Cumberland is both rich and light, with a springy creamy texture. Nuttiness, fresh grass, milkiness, and damp cellar (which can be a good thing) are the boldest flavors that shine through. And the rind is one of the prettiest and most colorful natural rinds I've seen. I could easily see it being paired with pecans, green pears, a dry Riesling, or a Saison. I imagine this cheese would also be wonderful melted, but it never lasts long enough to find out.
  For cheese geeks like me, it is a very exciting time in American cheese culture (pun intended). Not only have we caught up to the European's quality, I think in some ways we are surpassing it. More exciting is when world class cheese dairies pop up near home. Sequatchie Cove's Cumberland is a fine example of a true Southern original.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Easy Cheese

Fresh Ricotta

  With all of this meat curing that has been going lately, I admit I have strayed from my first true love. Just like with curing, cheese making can also be incredibly intimidating. There is so much involved: sanitation, science, a bit of alchemy, sensitive raw ingredients, crappy electric stove tops. But as with any new skill, it's best to start out with the basics and work (or rework) your way up. And so with making cheese, ricotta is about as basic and simple as one can get.
  Traditionally, ricotta was made from the leftover whey of cheeses such as Pecorino Romano. Reheating the whey after a make created a small fine curd that was used fresh, and often times derived from sheep's milk. Unfortunately, I don't have any sheep's milk hanging around in the refrigerator (yet) so common cow's milk will have to suffice. While ricotta can be made using leftover whey, it can be made from whole milk as well, which also increases the yield. All you need to form soft curds is a little heat and acidity. I use lemon juice, but a good quailty vinegar could be used also.

Ricotta in the Works
Cheese at Work


Fresh Ricotta (yields 2 cups)


2 quarts whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 tsp salt
3 T lemon juice

Line a colander with cheese cloth or butter muslin and set inside a large bowl.
Very slowly heat the milk, cream, and salt in a heavy bottom pot, stirring occasionally. (Do not walk away from milk on the stove to go check your email! No, not even if it will take "just a second"! It will boil over! Yes, I do it everytime)
When the milk comes to a slow rolling boil, add the lemon juice and stir until curds form, about 2 min.
Pour curds into lined colander. You may need to suspend the cheese if your bowl is not deep enough, as I have done here with twist ties and rubber bands. Sophisticated, I know.

Draining Ricotta

Let the cheese drain for 1 hour. 
Remove the cheese and mix in a little heavy cream or milk for a smoother consistency if you like.
Save the whey for pancakes, biscuits, or smoothies.
Save your cheese cloth and wash it, it is reusable.
You can keep your lovely handmade cheese in the refrigerator for 2 days, but I can't imagine why it would stick around for that long. So good in pasta, in eggs, in pastries, I'm sure you can find plenty of uses for it.

  Since summertime in Georgia doesn't exactly scream lasagna weather, I adorned a simple pizza with mine. Piled high with fresh cheese, a hundred different vegetables from the garden/CSA, and served with a glass of cheap wine, it's nearly the perfect meal. Now, if I could only find time to make the damn crust...

Veggie Pizza
Summertime and the living's cheesy easy