Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving Cheese

Below are a few cheese-related ideas for Thanksgiving. 
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

1) Mozzarella cheese stuffing:

recipe image
Stuffing with Roquefort cheese.

2) More cheese stuffing recipes:

Kunik cheese.
3) American cheese ideas for Thanksgiving:

Cheese platter
Cheese platter for Thanksgiving.
4) And finally, the perfect cheese platter for Thanksgiving:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Kite Hill Soft Ripened Cheese

It had to be done. Since I live in Boulder -- a health-food eating, yoga-apparel-wearing, Prius-driving, new age community where gluten-free, vegan and organic foods were popular long before they became trends -- I felt compelled to sample and review some vegan cheese. Despite my thin, pale appearance, I'm not vegan, but I fit right in the Boulder "bubble" in that I am a self-proclaimed foodie who pays attention to labels. Even though I'm not vegan, I did give the lifestyle a try many years ago, and I even came up with a vegan truffle recipe that was surprisingly good. I admire vegans; I just can't seem to handle the diet. Kite Hill has made at least some vegan options more appealing, though.

Years ago, I was chatting with a friend who happens to be vegan, telling him that vegan cheeses weren't very appetizing. I told him someone needed to come up with a way to make vegan specialty cheeses and insisted it could be done, though I had no idea how. Little did I know that someone would actually figure out a way to do it less than a year after I had that conversation. Lo and behold, a vegan Brie-like cheese has been born!

Soft Ripened
Soft-ripened almond milk cheese.

I'm impressed. Looking at the company's history, it's no wonder why the cheese came out as well as it did. They had an outstanding team of some of the best culinary, cheese-making and scientific experts working on this project, and these wizards have done something extraordinary. Rubbery, bland vegan cheese this is not. It's surprisingly good and flavorful. It's also lower in fat and calories than most specialty cheeses. For anyone who has given up dairy and misses it, this is a must try. Even people who love and consume dairy regularly will be amazed.

The texture and appearance of the rind of Kite Hill semi-soft ripened cheese is very much like a standard brie, only not quite as tough. It has the same earthy, mushroomy flavors one would expect with a fluffy, bloomy white rind. Inside the soft rind is where things aren't quite as perfect. For a non-dairy cheese, this is probably as close to perfection as things can get, though. Imagine a wheel of Brie running off with a package of silken tofu and having tasty little babies. The result is a very soft and creamy product that lacks the slight firmness and more textured mouthfeel of true semi-soft cheeses. It feels a bit squishy in your mouth. The small wheel of non-dairy cheese isn't as tall as a regular Brie either. It looks sort of flattened in comparison, but the overall look is still pretty.

Wheel of Kite Hill ripened non-dairy cheese.

Wheel of Kite Hill cheese sliced in half.

The flavor could also be considered some kind of Brie-tofu hybrid, but it's more sophisticated than that. It's mild with definite almond notes. There's a little bit of pungency lurking in there somewhere, a slight tang to it, but it's not overly strong or sharp. The earthy and mushroomy flavors linger from start to finish. You won't get this cheese running with added ammonia flavors as it ages. Its flavor remains pretty consistent whether it's young or older. The entire time I was sampling this charming little cheese, I was thinking, "Well done, Kite Hill, well done!"

I would recommend serving this cheese not directly from the refrigerator as suggested on the Kite Hill website, but closer to room temperature. Somewhere between cold and room temperature is about right. The flavors are more pronounced if the cheese isn't eaten extra chilled, even if the texture isn't quite as firm. Serve the cheese as you would any other semi-soft cheese: on crackers or crusty French bread, in sandwiches or with fruit. Though it can be placed in a heated oven and technically baked, it won't come out like a true baked Brie. Instead, it will end up more like a baked custard. The flavor will be good, but don't expect much gooeyness when you dip into the end product.

The soft-ripened cheese comes in a traditional-looking wooden container with a brightly-colored Kite Hill label on the top.

Soft Ripened
Kite Hill vegan cheese.

Kite Hill products are available at Whole Foods Market. They are usually found in the refrigerated section along with other vegan products, not in the cheese section.

Liquor Mart
Liquor Mart in Boulder has an outstanding selection of wines, beer, champagne and more.

Kevin Downs, Assistant wine manager at Liquor Mart in Boulder, Colorado, suggests the following pairings for this cheese:

Since we are discussing a vegan cheese, we need to talk about vegan wines. Actually, there are very few vegan wines. In fact, most organic wines are not vegan. During the process of wine making, the wine is finely filtered, usually using animal products. The most commonly used materials are egg whites, casein (an animal protein) and isinglass, which is a very pure gelatin derived from fish. 

There some estates that are beginning to use other materials that are not animal derived such as carbon, bentonite clay, limestone and plant casein. Most of these estates don’t mention this on their labels, so you’ll need to ask your wine person if you are interested. 

This cheese, being brie-like, calls for a white wine. Since the flavor is not too strong I would go with a Sauvignon Blanc. Frey, an organic producer, does a good one for $12.99. Another wine that works well here is Viognier with a floral aromatic nose and a medium body that stands up to the mild funkiness of the cheese. Rosenblum, famous for their Zinfandels and a vegan producer, makes a great one called Kathy’s Cuvee for $18.99. Bubbles work beautifully with this cheese. Mumm Napa’s Brut would be perfect at $19.99 and allow you to stay vegan. There is a wine out there for everyone, including those who maintain a vegan lifestyle.

Award-winning Mumm Napa Brut pairs well with Kite Hill's vegan cheese.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Pave du Nord

Cap Gris Nez: The town of Calais is near Cap Gris Nez cape in the Pas-de-Calais region.
Calais is a town and ferry port in northern France. It has a long and variable history with ownership changing hands many times before finally ending up in the hands of the French. Due to its location, it's no surprise that it was once a territorial possession of England. It is said that on a clear day, one can even see Dover from Calais, and the nicely positioned plot of land served as a major trading center between the two countries. Today, the Chunnel Tunnel lands right near Calais on the French side. Long before Wold war II, Calais was also briefly in Spain's possession before being handed over to the French again. During the war, the little jewel of a city was nearly destroyed when German troops invaded and attempted to use the prime location to attack England.

Being so close to England, it makes sense that some of the more well-known cheeses in and around the area are reminiscent of cheddar cheese. Like the region it comes from, Pave du Nord is a complicated and hard to describe cheese. Pave du Nord gets its name, because the cheese is shaped like the classic French cobblestones, Pave. It seems to mimic the rugged land it hails from in terms of its appearance and texture. Keep in mind that cheeses made in the far northern regions of France are not made from milk coming from the Normandy cows that feast on lush grasses. It's a little colder and not as comfortable for dairy animals up north.

French cobblestones.

Pave du Nord may be France's answer to cheddar cheese, but it's not quite the same. The French version is milder, smoother, a tad more curious and much harder and drier than most cheddar cheeses. The cheese is hard to cut, so when I say hard, I don't just mean it's in the hard cheese category; it's also literally hard. It's startlingly orange, like normal cheddar went tanning in Jersey. That's due to the added annatto, a natural coloring derived from achiote seeds. I believe the annatto is what creates some of the very faint spicy, floral and savory notes in the cheese as well. 

Pave du Nord is bright orange.
The rind is super tough and probably best if it's not eaten, even though the flavor is earthy. Not to gross anyone out, but there are microscopic cheese mites that are intentionally introduced to the rind. These critters burrow into the rind and supposedly give it flavor. People use the rind in cooking, but it's not the best eating rind. If you do eat it, you might want to scrape off the outermost part, unless you are one of those adventurous eaters or are training for a spot on Fear Factor. Actually, since you can't actually see the mites, approaching the rind isn't too scary. Just don't think about it too deeply. 

If you are underwhelmed with the first bite, wait and let the flavors develop on your palette. It's not a shockingly flavorful cheese, but Pave du Nord has a nice milky taste with slight notes of raw hazelnuts. There's a slight sweetness to it. If you concentrate, you can detect a very light creamy caramel taste. Something about it suggests the slightest hint of something that resembles Parmesan too, but it's closer to cheddar than any Italian cheeses. This one isn't as zesty and doesn't crumble either. You could think of it as a wild country cheddar going off to finishing school and coming back more refined, sophisticated and tame.   

Pave du Nord cheese.

This is a pressed raw milk cheese, but it's not overly sharp or tangy. There's a tenderness about it, despite being on the rustic-looking side. People compare it to Mimolette, which is richer and more complex. Pave du Nord is more like a younger, less potent version of the Mimolette cheese. 

People say Pave du Nord is a good melting cheese, but it doesn't really melt all that well on its own. It's too hard for that. Unlike a true cheddar, this cheese isn't going to get all oooey gooey when it's faced with heat. Instead, it will end up in a contained, hard clump. It's like trying to melt an aged Manchego, about the furthest thing from melting Mozzarella. It's better shaved on salads, grated with other cheeses to enrich the flavors or served as a snacking cheese. It works well in dishes like mac and cheese or potatoes au gratin that have added milk or cream. If you serve it on crusty bread, consider adding a pat of butter to counter the dry and salty characteristics of this cheese.

Use Pave du Nord in your potatoes au gratin recipe.

Liquor Mart
Liquor Mart in Boulder has an outstanding selection of wines, beer, champagne and more.

Kevin Downs, Assistant wine manager at Liquor Mart in Boulder, Colorado, suggests the following pairings for this cheese:

If one is going to properly match this cheese with wine, it is probably best to not eat the rind as it is extremely difficult to find a wine that goes well with cheese mites.

Cheddar and cheddar like cheeses go very well with red wines. Well aged stronger versions go well with bigger tannic reds like a tannic mountain Cabernet or a Barolo, and a classic is Port with Stilton. However, this cheese is more subtle, so we need wines that are less overpowering.  More fruity, lighter Cabernets would work here, such as those from Chile, like Mont Gras or Casa Lapostolle, both around $12. One of my first choices would be a Cabernet Franc from the Loire (Coincidently not too far from Calais) such as Chais St Laurent Bourgueil ($12.99) or  Domaine Filliatreau Saumur ($15.99). Both of these are medium body with just the right amount of fruit and acidity to balance the mild nuttiness and earthiness of the cheese. The other great choice here would be a Langhe Nebbiolo. This beautiful medium bodied wine has wonderful red fruit and just the right amount of tannin to work perfectly and not overpower like their cousins Barolos or Barbarescos. Rivetto makes a good one at $17.99, and I love Eugenio Bocchino’s Roccabella at $20.99.

If you have to do white, do a crisp flavorful New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Ana is my new favorite at $11.99), and bubbles work too. Whatever wine you choose, enjoy this wonderful cheese from the north of France. Cheers!

Eugenio Bocchino Roccabella pairs well with Pave du Nord.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Brebis Fougere

Lately I've been getting lost in the magnificent cheese section at Whole Foods on Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado. Not only do they carry one of the best selections of cheeses I have ever seen, but the people who work there are extraordinarily knowledgeable and kind. It's no wonder why I'm always stumbling upon new and wonderful cheeses to sample. My biggest concern is how to pace myself with all these tempting dairy products!

Corsica, the birth place of Napoleon, is a mountainous island just west of Italy and southeast of France.

Whenever I see a cheese with a label that's marked with Herve Mons as the affineur, I assume it will be superb. Herve Mons has a way of aging cheeses that elevates them. He's a perfectionist, and all his cheeses, even the more rustic ones, have an elegance that similar cheeses lack. Such is the case with Brebis Fougere, a cheese with origins in Corsica but aged in the famous maturing cellars of Herve Mons in France. It's no wonder Herve holds many cheesemonger titles. He can take nearly any cheese and age it to perfection.

Brebis Fougere, a semi-soft, wash-rind sheep's milk cheese with an elegant little fern sprig on top as decoration, is a stinky little thing. Don't let the pretty appearance fool you, because this petite bundle of fromage will make you gasp. It is funky. If you were a cat, you'd probably arch your back and let out a low screech after the first bite, but once the initial shock is over, the nicer qualities of the Brebis Fougere emerge and get you purring. 

The first bite of Brebis Fougere might be shocking, but give the cheese a chance.

Inside the tacky orange rind is a creamy, slightly sticky but soft cheese. If you get some of the rind on your hands, the stinky aroma will cling to you for a long time! Despite the texture of the wash-rind, it's not as rustic looking as other cheeses in this category. Any ridges or crannies on the surface are evenly spaced, making the cheese seem elegant, and the fern leaf embedded on top adds to its overall charm. The fern also adds a tiny bit of fragrant herb and spiciness to the mushroomy flavor of the rind, even though you're supposed to remove the leaf before consuming. There's a very, very slight grainy texture on the rind that quickly dissipates in your mouth. It's not at all unpleasant and adds to the coarser qualities of the cheese. 

Brebis Fougere "Ewe Fern" with embedded fern leaf.

Fern on one slice of Brebis Fougere.

The texture of the interior is nice and smooth. It's definitely in the category of the stinky cheeses, but the flavor is even and regular, no ups and downs with it. The funkiness, while never overbearing, holds strong and steady from start to finish. Brebis Fougere has an earthy, wild flavor. Funkiness aside, the creamy cheese is mild compared to some of the kings of stink like Pont L'Eveque or Limburger, but it still packs a punch. It has an interesting flavor with notes of raw hazelnuts and almonds. 

Despite a faint ammonia flavor that's constantly demanding attention, there's a definite sweetness to this cheese with an occasional French bread or yeasty taste that emerges. It's tart and pungent but not overly sharp. Because the cheese is made with pasteurized sheep's milk, the bite isn't as strong as a goat's milk cheese, but you will still notice the tang.  

A smooth and creamy interior sits inside the wash rind.

The fern is embedded in the rind.

This cheeses served on crusty French bread is the way to go. It pairs well with grapes or other fruits, and some people even serve it with honey on crackers or Melba toast.
Melba toast goes well with Brebis Fougere.

Liquor Mart
Liquor Mart in Boulder has an outstanding selection of wines, beer, champagne and more.

Kevin Downs, Assistant wine manager at Liquor Mart in Boulder, Colorado, suggests the following pairings for this cheese:

Finding the right wine to go with so called stinky cheese is tougher than one might think. It needs to have enough aromatic character to not be overpowered, yet needs to compliment rather than compete. It also has to have flavors that can stand up to the fat and the strong earthy flavors of the cheese. I think whites are a better choice here, and my first choice would be an Alsatian Gewurztraminer.

Gewurztraminer is a member of the so called “aromatic whites”, and this wine has beautiful aromatics of lychee and white flowers. On the palate, it literally is like spice cake in a glass, off dry and delicious and is wonderful with the earthy, mushroomy and raw nut flavors of this cheese. Trimbach makes a wonderful Gewurztraminer for $23.99, and if you want to spend a little less, Ziegler’s version is quite good for $14.99.

Riesling, another aromatic white, is a good choice for this cheese as well. Off dry is best as the touch of sweetness works well with the earth and fat from the cheese, and the acidity of Riesling works very well here. Gessinger Zeltinger Schlossberg Kabinett is awesome for $17.99. If pronouncing German labels is a traumatic experience for you, Charles Smith’s Kung Fu Girl (named in honor of Uma Thurman) from Washington at $10.99 will work. Viognier, a medium bodied wonderfully aromatic white originating in the Northern Rhone in France, will work well too. It is unoaked, has wonderful floral aromatics and flavors of stone fruits and tropical fruits. Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier from Australia is wonderful at $18.99, but their entry level Y Series for $10.99 is a good value.

If you must have a red, I would go with a big full flavored one with medium tannins such as a California or Washington Syrah (Sticky Beak at $14.99) or a big Zinfandel like the Earthquake ($25.99) or the Predator ($15.99). Whatever your choice of wine, you will enjoy this awesome cheese.

Trimbach Gewurztraminer
Gewurztraminer pairs well with Brebis Fougere.