Archive for May, 2008
Cheese Alert!

There are two cheese alerts for this weekend!

The first alert is thanks to our good friend and professional German photographer extraordinaire; Joachim Boepple in Berlin:

Cheese Alert

Joachim sent us this link to The Cheese Enforcement Agency. Take the time to peruse their site; you’ll certainly want to stay informed about dangerous cheeses!

Alert two is about a new cheese shop which has opened in Oakland, California; Farmstead Cheeses and Wines. Cheesemonger Jeff Diamond and his wife Carol Huntington have had a location on Alameda Island since 2003. Thanks to so many people enjoying quality cheese and wine, they have been able to open this new shop in the Montclair Village area of Oakland. My cheese supply is dreadful low at the moment, so I am hoping that we can visit their new shop this weekend. A great many recent articles have been written about the opening of the new shop, their website has links to them. If we make it there, I’ll try and post some comments about their shop soon.

Meanwhile, thinking of our friend Joachim in Berlin, I can’t help but remember the coffee and cheese we shared with him in late November, 2006. Photos below. Oh; one last thing. Have you had any wonderful farmstead cheeses lately that you suggest I try? Please use the comment section.

Joachim Boepple Cheese & Coffee

“It’s for you!”

Pleasant Ridge Reserve WedgeThere’s nothing quite like getting to try a cheese that you haven’t had before. Pictured here is a wedge of Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Dodgeville, Wisconsin, made by the Uplands Cheese Company. It’s an award-winning raw cow-milk aged semi-firm cheese. I’m a little surprised that I haven’t gotten to this cheese sooner since it resembles a French Gruyère in taste, but has some complex play of texture, becoming almost creamy towards the center, depending on the age of the wheel.

A lot has been written about this cheese in the past (i.e. this link to Janet Fletcher’s Column concerning it in 2003) since, as I mentioned, I’m late getting to it myself. Good domestic Gruyère-like cheeses are difficult to come by, but I’ll certainly consider getting this again when I’m ready to make another Gruyère-based fondue. The cost, however, can be daunting; the wedge you see cost $10.15 and is just under a half pound. It is worth the quality, however, and as I have alluded before, artisan cheese is worth the price. If it wasn’t, or if I was unable to tell the difference, perhaps I’d just eat puffed rice cakes instead of cheese.

Up close piece of Pleasant Ridge ReserveKathy and I enjoyed this cheese, ate plain (and planed) while watching Ramond Burr playing a white slave trafficker in Rio de Janeiro ["They Were So Young" (1954)]. From everything I have read, it is the lush grasses which the cattle graze upon which distinguish this cheese from the rest of the, um, herd. The wheels are aged for over six months, and the cheese is not produced year round. After having winning as many awards as it has, Pleasant Ridge Reserve is easier to get your hands on (at least in the Bay Area of California) than ever before. I picked ours up in the Ferry Building in San Francisco, at  Cowgirl Creamery’s retail store. The artwork you see photographed behind the cheese is titled; “It’s for you!” and is by the artist “El Rey“. He used to live in San Francisco; I remember picking up the piece from El Rey at his apartment in the Mission District after it had been hanging in an exhibit. I’m pleased to find that not only is he still producing art (now in Scottsdale, Arizona), but also still has an “Art of the Month” club in which he’ll mail you artwork for a set price each month. What does all that have to do with cheese? Not much, so I’ll end this post with a picture of Nikita giving her own critical assessment of the Pleasant Ridge Reserve (it was to her approval).

Do you have a favorite domestically produced Gruyère-like cheese? Please let me know. Use the comment section.

Nikita Inspects the Pleasant Ridge Reserve

 

Is Chico cheese starved, or just me?

Asparagus & ParmesanExcellent three-day Memorial Day weekend, but regretfully was unable to do much specifically concerning cheese. Somehow taking part in a theatre fringe festival in Chico, California, and attending a showing of the latest Indiana Jones movie didn’t yield much opportunity for me to enjoy any particular cheeses.

The picture you see of the asparagus, Kalamata olives & Parmigiano-Reggianowas part of the last meal we had prior leaving for Chico, which specifically involved cheese.

I had secretly wished that while in Chico we’d be able to go to a tasting of cheese and wine paring at Creekside Cellars, but with all we had to do for the play we’d be performing, I didn’t get the chance. It is fortunate that Chico nowadays has quite a few excellent places to purchase both cheese and wine, since the late Herb Caen, of the San Francisco Chronicle, had once written in his article (in 1973) that Chico was the kind of town that you’d find Velvetta in the gourmet section of the supermarket (not true then, certainly not true now!).

We did pick up some excellent red onions from Kathy’s parent’s garden, her dad is an incredible gardener, and I’m looking for recipes (involving cheese?) to use these amazing onions in. They were pulled fresh out of the soil on Sunday. Suggestions? Let me know in the comment section.

A very cheesy type of spelunking.

Cheeses Up CloseTruth is, I didn’t mention on this blog, in advance, that I’d be attending the talk;
Cave Dwellers Enter the 21st Century“,
partially because I didn’t want to make any readers jealous. It is due to being a member of the California Artisan Cheese Guild (CACG) that the invitation to this event was extended to me (you too can be a member of the CACG;  visit their site to see about becoming a member). The event was presented by 3D Cheese, and was held at San Francisco’s historic Ferry Building (second cheese event I’ve been to there this week), late Thursday afternoon, the 22nd of May.

When I arrived, I was warmly welcomed by Becki McClure, Cowgirl Creamery’s retail store manager (of all three retail stores; nowadays there is also one in Washington D.C.). She helped me put the names to the faces of many of the “Rock Stars” of the artisan cheese making culture present. To name everyone in attendance would demonstrate the failings of my mental abilities, so instead, here are a select few: Both of the co-founders of Cowgirl Creamery;Sue Conley and Peggy Smith were there, Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm… also in attendance was the cheesemaker Sarah Marcus, who has a wonderful blog about her adventures in cheesemaking starting from behind the counter to becoming a cheesemaker to buying a farm with her husband up near Portland, Oregon. The CACG was also aptly represented with board members Lynne Devereux and Laura Martinez (there may very well have been others too; couldn’t make it around to everyone). Many Cowgirl Creamery employees also attended, and I was fortunate to speak to one of their cheesemakers who had attended culinary school on the east coast, worked behind the counter at Cowgirl’s Washington D.C. retail store and then moved out to California to learn cheesemaking thanks to Cowgirl’s fantastic policies concerning its employees’ professional development. Last, but certainly not least, were a great number of cheese retailers, a few chefs and some food writers. 3D Cheese put together this event so that these, and anyone interested in the the current developments with artisan cheesemaking, could learn of the exciting trends which are happening and changing how quality cheeses are produced, developed and distributed.

Cheese Crowd

But to the point; what was the talk about? Specifically, it was about cheese aging “caves”. Caves, I put into quotes, because you need to readjust your thoughts of what they may look like. Unlike natural caves that you might go spelunking in to view stalactites and stalagmites, most cheese aging caves are man-made rooms which emulate cave-like conditions (although, there are still some cheese caves which are natural caves, particularly in parts of Europe). Aging of cheeses is a delicate process which involves controlling the temperature, humidity, light, and cultures (mold) present in the environment. Whether a cheese is soft or firm, washed, treated, or natural rind, all cheeses (with the possible exception of “fresh” cheeses which are consumed shortly after being made) need a place to age until they are either ready for distribution, or until they are at their peek moment of taste and are ready for consumption. The flavor of a cheese is/can be directly (and positively) affected by the mold and cultures which grow on the cheese, or are present in their aging environment.

Table of CheeseA little background: One of the challenges for small dairy farms who produce cheese is the aging of the cheese, and maintaining the environment that they are held in. In an ideal situation for raw-milk cheese makers is that fresh milk is utilized as soon after milking as possible. I’ve visited a few artisan diaries whose milk is delivered directly from the livestock milking line into either their own holding tank off of their cheesemaking room, and/or directly into the cheese vat. To produce cheese, milk is typically heated to a specific desired temperature at which time the starter cultures and rennet is introduced. Since milk is warm as it is taken from the livestock, by using the milk immediately, a diary does not need to spend as much energy warming the milk nor will they need to wait as long. Once the curds and whey are separated, and the curds are formed into the desired shape (there are many ways to do this step, I’ll cover them another time), they then need to age in order for additional moisture to leave the solids, as well as for the taste to develop. As a small dairy, however, you now have an entire back-end of production to deal with. You’ve already spent time, energy, and money on herding, maintaining, feeding and milking your livestock, you’ve spent time making the cheese, but now you also have to have room (and costly energy) to maintain the ideal cave-like atmosphere for the cheese to age. Then once the cheese is ready, you need to market, promote, distribute and sell the cheese. You’d perhaps be happy to do all this, but as a small operation, you still have to have enough time to maintain your farm and milk the livestock twice a day. These are some of the reasons that a lot of excellent artisan cheesemakers cannot make it; there’s a lot of overhead in cheesemaking, and if you can’t get your high-quality cheese into the hands of people who might enjoy and buy it, then you just can’t make it monetarily.

Mateo KehlerAccording to Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm (the primary speaker for Thursday’s talk), the; “milk processor’s cost margin is the easiest cost to do away with,” for the cheesemaker. This is one of the reasons that a cheesemaker would desire to use milk fresh from their own livestock. To the other major costs I listed, Jasper Hill Farm is greatly changing the model and opportunity for artisan cheesemaking in Vermont. As an artisan cheese maker, Jasper Hill’s philosophy and vision are closely aligned with that of Cowgirl Creamery’s (highest quality product, growth of local economy and employment, and self-sustainable business model, to name a few). Thanks to Mateo and Andy Kehler, a three-point-two-million dollar aging cave project was developed in Vermont at their farm. The huge caves will be able to handle most, if not all of the artisan cheese produced in the “Northeast Kingdom of Vermont” (as Mateo referred to their corner of their state). Centralizing the aging process of Vermont’s many artisan cheeses into a single location benefits cheesemakers and purchasers alike. For the cheesemaker it greatly reduces their overhead of storage, energy spent on their own “caves” as well as distribution. For distribution, by being able to pull ordered cheeses from a variety of cheesemakers in one location, costs are cut dramatically. Also, the quality of each individual cheese is maintained in this facility by experts. The proper care, handling, safety and health of each artisan cheese is therefore paramount. The scope of this cave project is staggering, and according to this very complete article in Vermont Business Magazine, this is the largest facility of this nature in the entire world.

The cave facility, built into a hillside, resembles a train round-house from the plans and pictures we saw of the completed structures. There are, if memory serves, 6 individual caves, all pointing towards a central circle which leads to the wrapping, packaging and distribution building. The shelving palates in the 22-foot high structures are being developed with help from a Swiss company so that robotic help can be employed in turning, lifting and hauling the larger wheels of cheese; “if there’s anything we’ve learned from Europe, it is that you don’t have to break your back to be a cheesemaker.” Using robotic help when possible is not only a labor-saving advantage, but it also allows their employees to concentrate on their expertise of cheese care/aging.

Mateo Kehler, now 38, had a relaxed nature to him, a refreshing difference from the hectic life we often submit ourselves to here in more urban areas. Whether it is that he’s helping fulfill a dream which will benefit farmers, cheesemakers, consumers and Vermont alike, or whether it is the experience of real seasons (Vermont HAS a winter; something many of us in much of California can’t relate to entirely), or that he regularly gets to enjoy the bounty of cheese he’s in contact with, I got the distinct impression that his life is quite fulfilling. 

Partially as a point of comparison and contrast, as well as the fact that I mentioned earlier (that the mission of Cowgirl Creamery closely aligns to Jasper Hill Farm’s), Sue Conley spoke about Cowgirl’s aging facilities. Recently they built a new “cave”, and although it does not resemble the cavernous expanse of Jasper Hill’s new facility, it serves the same purpose. Every aspect of cheese making, from the milk used, to the moment it is consumed is equally important.  …and as for the cheese its self, buying and consuming quality cheese is one of the kindest things (in my opinion) you can do for yourself. Pictured here are the cheeses tasted during the talk:

Cheeses ServedStarting at 12:00; Mount Tam: Pasteurized, Organic Cow’s Milk, Geographic Location: Point Reyes Station/Petaluma, California.
2:00; Constant Bliss: Unpasteurized, Cow’s Milk, Geographic Location: Greensboro, Vermont
4:00; Cabot Clothbound Cheddar: Pasteurized, Cow’s Milk, Geographic Location: Greensburo, Vermont
6:00; Red Hawk: Pasteurized, Organic Cow’s Milk, Geographic Location: Point Reyes Station/Petaluma, California.
8:00; Winnimere: Unpasteurized, Cow’s Milk, Geographic Location: Greensboro, Vermont
10:00, Bayley Hazen Blue: Unpasteurized, Cow’s Milk, Geographic Location: Greensboro, Vermont
[The white sticks in the center are pieces of Jicama to clean the palate with between cheeses]
All six of these cheeses can be found at Cowgirl Creamery’s retail stores.

The tasting was amazing, and accented the talk as it went along. There were a great many details from this talk that I could comment about (regulations, the building of the caves, distribution, challenges for retailers with artisan cheeses, etc.), but I hope that you get a good general impression of the type of gathering it was. It’s always fascinating to me when people with such passion and vision for high quality cheese come together and the excitement it generates. Again, the proof is in the cheese its self. I recommend you try some cheeses new to you for this Memorial Day weekend. If you have further questions about the talk that you’d like me to expand on, please use the comment section, and I do highly recommend the article in Vermont Business Magazine. Again, thanks to 3D Cheese for bringing this together.

Below: Sue Conley & Mateo Kehler

Sue Conley & Mateo Kehler

Soggy Chili Relleno

Art in American-Mexican RestaurantSometime in the late-1980’s I’d drive to the city of Orange, California, once a week to take French Horn lessons. During the summer I’d go in the middle of the day, and often stop for lunch somewhere near downtown Orange. There was Mexican restaurant which was basically a 1910’s house that had been plastered with stucco, painted to look like adobe, and served up a reasonably priced, “Businessman’s Lunch” between the hours of 11 and 2. This little restaurant forever changed my taste and perception of Chile Relleno.

Chile Relleno is basically a large stuffed pepper (typically Anaheim Peppers, but often other types as well), which has been dredged in batter and fried in some oil. More commonly than not, the pepper is  stuffed with cheese, but a large amount of regional varieties can be found; ground meat with raisins, for example. Also, it is typically served with a light sauce covering it, such as a fresh tomato sauce. As you can imagine, this simple dish can taste completely different from one place to another based on ingredients and style of preparation. The Chile Relleno I had enjoyed in Orange was crispy, the fried batter basically formed a shell around the pre-roasted pepper. The cheese inside was at a perfect melting point and gave its own rich flavor, but was mild enough to temper the spiciness of the pepper. The sauce tasted as if it had just been made from garden-grown tomatoes and was almost translucent. These were always prepared, and fried, freshly when they were ordered. I returned to this restaurant a few times that summer, but school started up again, and my horn lessons were moved to evening hours. It’s been years since I have lived in Orange County, and I’ve no idea if this little restaurant still exists.

Nowadays, I still eat Mexican food quite often, but my search for the perfect Chile Relleno remains unfulfilled. Perfection, is naturally relative. For me, those Chile Rellenos were perfect because of the crispiness. The man in Orange who was chef and owner, treated each customer’s meal with care and he was using the freshest ingredients he could get his hands on. There are a great many sit-down style Mexican restaurants in the Bay Area which I term to be; “American-Mexican” fare. Perhaps, in their heyday, the foods they served with both exotic (to Americans) and palatable, but now, with so many taco wagons, burrito shops, Tex-Mex, and cutting-edge gourmet-style Mexican restaurants, that perception of these “old-school” places is changing. That’s not to say they don’t have their place. These restaurants, whose menus ask you to; “select one or two items” (taco, enchilada, tostada, etc.), Choose one item dinner; Chile Relleno and at which all meals are served with rice, beans and a wilted ice-berg lettuce salad, have become more like a comfort-food for me which reminds me of childhood. I feel each style of Mexican restaurants have their place. If I desire fresh foods with an incredible salsa, I might choose to go to Papalote in San Francisco. If I’m looking for my self-described “American-Mexican” food (and reasonably priced pitchers of Margaritas), Kathy and I might go to Puerto Alegre.

Bryce, this is somehow leading back to cheese, isn’t it?

Ah yes, Inner Cheese-Voice, it is! Mexico has a rich history of excellent cheeses, many of them being fresh-style cheeses. For years, American-style cheeses have been used, due to availability and cost, to replicate cheeses used in Mexican cuisine. An interesting, and complimentary, addition to Mexican cuisine has been shredded brightly colored Cheddars (all orange Cheddars have been colored; natural Cheddar is white or cream colored). These, in the mild form used, seem to work well with a lot of fast-food style Mexican (i.e. Taco Bell). Although you can find more Mexican cheeses in California than ever before, the selection never represents the huge variety available in Mexico. Here is a LINK to a good overview of Mexican cheeses written by Karen Hursh Graber, author of “Take this Chile and Stuff It”.

Now, as to my search for the type of Chile Rellenos that I most enjoy; it is these American-Mexican restaurants which will most often have Chile Relleno on the menu. When I ask; “how’s the Chile Relleno,” I inevitable always get the same answer from every wait staff person, everywhere; “oh, it’s great!” What I should be asking is how is it prepared. Many places will have already pre-stuffed and pre-fried theirs, they’ve been sitting around soaking in the oil it had been fried in, and when I order Emulsified Monterrey Jackone it is then shoved into a convection oven for a few minutes and then drowned with a pre-warmed tomato sauce. The cheese? Rarely a Mexican-style cheese. Typically a factory processed Monterey Jack with a lot of emulsifiers (read the “Advantages” portion of this Wikipedia definition of processed cheese for a brief description of emulsifier use). Although still tasty, these soggy-style Chile Rellenos never quite satisfy that craving I have for the crispy-style one I enjoyed so many years ago.

Do you know where I can find Chile Rellenos in the bay area like the ones I have described? PLEASE, let me know. Use the comment section.

The pictures in today’s post are from Casa Vallarta Mexican Restaurant in Oakland, close to the Parkway Theatre.

Raw Milk Cheese Responsibility

Seal of California Mosaic DetailPerhaps you, yourself, wouldn’t be excited all day that you’ll be attending a sold out panel discussion about Raw Milk Cheeses, but don’t worry, I was for you.

The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco hosted the discussion last night in the historic Ferry Building. People started lining up to get in right at 5:45pm, and as far as I can tell, the majority of the audience were Commonwealth Club members who often attend a variety of talks and lectures. There were, assuredly, a few cheese professionals in the crowd, as well as enthusiasts such as myself, but overall I’d say that the 300 or so people there were C.C. members. Kathy and I were warmly welcomed (as non-members) by the people we sat near, and we quickly discovered that the people across the table from us live in our old SF neighborhood, and a good friend of theirs lives in the same building as us in the East Bay. A co-worker of mine (from my day job in IT work) was in attendance with her husband. Also, ran into an acquaintance that we know from working with the Exit and Marsh Theatres. She’s a C.C. member. San Francisco is a small town.

The panel of cheese experts were well chosen, and able to offer a variety of perspectives on the subject from production, to importing, to the science of the subject. In brief, here’s the panel:

Two-fifths of the Panel Three-Fifths of the Panel

Colin Shaff, Maitre-Fromager, Bar Bambino, SF [Moderator]
Gordon Edgar, Cheese Monger, Rainbow Grocery, SF
Soyoung Scanlan, Owner/Cheese Maker, Andante Dairy, Petaluma
Moshe Rosenberg, Professor and Specialist, Dairy Eng. & Tech., UC Davis
Andy Lax, Importer/Distributor, Fresca Italia, San Francisco

Both pro and con viewpoints about raw milk cheese (and the regulations concerning them; see my own brief synopsis of the issue here) were discussed, but overall, I’d say that the panel shared an overall consensus…

The discussion began with the moderator, Colin Shaff, asking Professor Moshe Rosenberg to give an overview of the issue(s). Although he did so (in a both a collegiate and entertaining manner), he did leave out some very basic concepts. Much later during the discussion, for example, I heard some “ah-ha!” realizations uttered by audience members when they realized that it IS legal to make cheese from Raw Milk in the U.S., but that it must be aged (under the right conditions) for over 60 days. Many (most?) of us may have been clear on the various issues in advance, but since much of the audience may not have been well versed on the subject, it may have helped to lay out the basics and current laws on a printed hand-out… Professor Rosenberg did an excellent job framing the discussion in a much broader sense: Humans, beyond roughly the age of three, aren’t intended to drink milk and/or eat foods made of milk. Of all the animal kingdom, humans are the only species which consume milk of other animals. I’m paraphrasing a bit, but it is good to be reminded that the very fact that we eat cheese at all is an oddity we can chalk up to years of discovery and tradition. Rosenberg’s explanation of why we eat cheese was a simple one; we love to indulge ourselves with something that tastes wonderful.

Soyoung Scanlan, as a cheese maker (of pasteurized goat and cow’s milk) was asked about whether the regulations concerning raw milk limited her and her dairy at all. Her answer to this came out in several parts over the discussion, but she initially stated that there were certain European-style cheeses that she’d like to be able to produce, but is unable to do so using pasteurized milk. As to the question of safety, she talked about how she knew her goat herd, her milking and cheese production facilities, and  that they are thus as safe as possible. [This "ideal" (of knowing your animals and the conditions that the cheese is produced) was discounted in a variety of ways by the panel since even pasteurized milk cheese can be dangerous... Soyoung herself stated in opening that you can become sick from any food.]Line for the Panel Discussion

Gordon Edgar, who interacts with actual cheese consumers regularly, pointed out there there is much confusion concerning raw milk. In one excellent anecdote, he said that he’ll have people ask him for; “raw milk cheese,” with no other description, merely because they have heard that it is the best, or the most true, type of cheese. He also pointed out that he’ll have other customers who will only buy pasteurized milk cheeses due to the belief that these are the only cheeses which are truly safe for consumption.

I’d say that the entire panel agreed that producing, or buying, cheese due to it being made (or not made) of raw milk is not the point. Each, in their own way, stated this. Andy Lax, for example, remarked that for his customers the most important thing is the quality of the cheese. Lax was also able to bring to light how odd, and often uninformed, the regulations and regulators of cheese importing laws are. To prepare for the panel discussion, he tried to find out what the consequences would be if  he illegally imported raw milk cheeses (which were aged less than 60 days). The first official he spoke to didn’t seem to know that there was a difference between raw and pasteurized milk cheeses. As he pursued the question further, it seems that emphasis seemed to fall on whether the cheeses in question were soft, or hard cheese; soft being somehow thought as less safe in the minds of the officials he was speaking with.

Again, this leads to having a knowledge and understanding about cheese. If a consumer believes that raw milk cheese is inherently “bad” or “good”, “safe” or “unsafe”, the issue will continue to be mired in confusion and the regulations surrounding it will be equally as confusing.

Moshe Rosenberg stated that safety is something which needs to be quantified.  For him, who has often been a judge in state, national, and international cheese competitions, it is always a matter of the end product; the taste, and NOT whether the milk was raw or not. Soyoung Scanlan has been approached by customers (restaurateurs) to produce raw-milk cheeses for them, partially due to the positive stigma it holds for many cheese foodies. She did this for her customers, creating both a pasteurized and raw version of the cheese for tasting. Both were aged over 60 days, as required by law. In an almost apologetic way, the restaurateurs admitted that they preferred the pasteurized version. She too, agreed, so their choice didn’t surprise her but that they were somehow disappointed that the raw milk version wasn’t the clear-cut winner she found odd. Ultimately the pasteurized version won because the taste was superior for that cheese. This may not always be true of different styles of cheeses… Gordan Edgar challenged anyone to point him to a Parmigiano-Reggiano made with pasteurized milk, for example. It just isn’t done. This classic cheese is, and always has been made from raw milk. Towards the close of the discussion Andy Lax further accented this point by stating that laws towards the production of cheese need to also protect cheese traditions, and not just be “blanket” laws requiring the same treatment for all cheese.

The entire group’s comments complimented what one another was saying, but through their own areas of expertise.

Here are a few comments (paraphrased) which I particularly enjoyed from each concerning using raw milk or not:

S.S.: It is my job, as a cheese maker, to make the best possible cheese with the materials I have available to me.
G.E.: (ideal is) the best tasting cheese that doesn’t kill anyone.
A.L.: Industrialization (of cheese making) starts to cause the problems.
M.R.: Like wine, the location effects the taste (soil, grapes, moisture), and it does with cheese too (the livestock, what they eat, where/how they live). Instead of using raw milk with the intention of trying to replicate specific European cheeses, unique American cheeses should be created based on the the location/ingredients present, raw milk or not. [again, I must state here that I am paraphrasing the panel members]

Without trying to selectively summarize, here are a few major points that I felt were more or less agreed upon by the panel members:

Using, or wanting to use, raw milk just for the sake that it is raw milk is not the best approach. Cheese makers should do the best that they can for the sake of the taste.

Any legislation/regulations should be formed by well-informed, or better yet, experts about the relative risks (to both consumers and to the process and taste of the cheese).

It is the cheese maker’s responsibility to be as proactive as possible concerning the health and safety of their entire process of making (and distributing) their cheeses. Starting from the quality and source of their milk, until the finished product leaves their ability to control/influence its proper care.

The consumer must make the best and most informed decisions as possible. To buy responsibly it to not only get the best possible cheeses, but to also be getting the safest.

Kathy and I spoke with Gordon Edgar briefly after the panel. He said that they all could have gone on for hours, and I, for one, would have gladly continued to listen to their opinions and expertise. We did, however, go home and enjoy a piece of the cake Kathy made, a “Swiss Strawberry Fruit-Roll”. The whipped cream? Made from pasteurized heavy whipping cream.

Swiss Strawberry Roll-Up Cake

There’s much more I could have said about the panel. Have questions about it? Let me know! Use the comment section.

Cheese made her punch that baby!

…ok, not really. Don’t worry. Relax. No babies were injured in the writing of this post.

Have you ever felt as if you were drunk on cheese? It’s enough of a phenomenon, that it has made it into the on-line Urban (slang) Dictionary. Here’s their definition.

Personally, I have. I have had this feeling on several occasions, even/particularly when no alcohol is being consumed along with the cheese. Is this possible? Well, I couldn’t immediately find any numbers of how much cheese you’d have to eat to feel the potential effects, but according to several articles, the break-down of milk proteins in the digestive process can/does produce morphine-like substances; casomorphins. According to this linked article, this might be one of the reasons I am addicted to cheese.

Tonight is the Raw Milk Cheese Panel Discussion… hope they have enough samples to go ’round. “Hey man, don’t bogart the cheese!”

I leave you with the slang term; “Drunk on Cheese” being used in popular culture; a one-minute clip from the television program “Scrubs.”

 

Farmer’s Market Cheese Bread

Cheese & Garlic Loaf of BreadTook a walk around Lake Merritt this morning. Kathy and I wanted to stop over at the weekly Saturday Farmer’s Market at the north end of the lake (near the Grand Lake Theatre). It is a beautiful looking farmer’s market, and there’s a lot of organic businesses offering their goods… I’ve always felt, however, that much of the market is a bit over-priced. The quality tends to be excellent, but sometimes I miss the more gritty feeling of the Sunday San Francisco Civic Center Farmer’s Market, which has a lot more vendors and thus a lot more price competition. Regardless, this is only my opinion. You can read several other people’s opinions about Oakland’s market on YELP. If money was no object for us, I imagine I’d find this market to be just Lake Merritt, Oakalnd, Californiagreat. It is always possible, however, to find a few bargains, and at the very least, buy something in season.

Get on with it, Bryce; where’s the cheese?

Ah, there’s that; “inner cheese voice,” again. Unlike other times we’ve been to this market, there was only one cheese vendor (typically there are three or four). I blame it on the weather. The last couple days almost reached 100 degrees, and today is only slightly cooler. The one cheese vendor had a selection (all pre-wrapped and resting on top of crushed ice) of Cheddars and Jacks. There is nothing wrong with Cheddar and Jack cheeses, and although I am certain the cheeses were made with care, I just wasn’t interested. Plus, they hadn’t even put out any samples (I imagine they were worried that in the heat they’d just sweat and melt).

A cheese item we did buy, however (along with asparagus, strawberries, raspberries and avocados), was a Sandwichesloaf of cheese and garlic bread. I still wish we could have excellent bakeries on every other corner as they tend to in Germany… this bread; perfect. Light, cheesy (baked with Cheddar in it/on it, if you couldn’t guess from the photos), and a good balance of garlic. For our lunch, I made us some sandwiches with the bread. Aioli garlic mustard sauce, mayonnaise, sliced Muenster cheese, smoked sliced ham, tomatoes and lettuce. Choosing Muenster was a mistake, however. The bread was a very soft bread, and using a harder cheese, like a Gruyère, would have given the sandwiches a bit more oomph. Muenster, should not be confused as being a German cheese. It does not hail from the town of Münster (an “e” after a vowel in the German language denotes the use of an umlaut on the vowel preceding it when, or if, your keyboard cannot produce the desired umlaut, thus, “ue” could mean “ü”) where the treaty of Thirty Years’ War was signed, NOR does it hail from the French town of Munster, which does produce Munster cheese. No, the cow-milk, orange tinted washed rind cheese Muenster, is produced in America, and is the American version OF the cheese produced in France. Got all that? Good, now explain it to me please…

SandwichSeriously though, any American Muenster Cheese you buy is most likely made from pasteurized cow’s milk, unlike French Munster cheese. It is also not likely to be aged as long as its namesake, which is typically two to three months. The orange color of the American version is from vegetable coloring and is added to distinguish its self, and to add a visual appeal. If you had a sample of both of these cheeses for tasting, you’d find them to be so very different from one another that it is hard to believe the American version bears a similar name. This is not to say, however, that American Muenster does not have it’s own value, for an affordable lunchtime sandwich, for example.

Have any of you ever had a RAW milk American Muenster? If so, please tell me, and if you can tell me where I can get some, I’d be very grateful.

Alameda County Court House, Oakland, California

California Teleme & Puff Pastry Pizza

Nikita & KathyCalifornia was not always a mecca of artisan cheeses, although I am certain that by the early 1900’s there were plenty of farmers and individuals who were producing some. These, however, may have been for personal use, and never made it off the farm. Nowadays there are a great number of distinctive artisan cheeses all over the state to be discovered by consumers, many of which have been developed within the last 20 years.

What happened to the California cheeses of yesteryear, however? Besides the commonly well known cheeses whose origins are not necessarily Californian (cheddar, mozzarella), there are a few cheeses developed in California, which have remained popular for a very long time. Monterrey Jack was developed roughly around 1882, and a younger cheese, native to California, is Teleme.

TelemeTeleme is a soft cheese, with characteristics not unlike brie, but often with a creamier, albeit less complex, texture. The taste and consistency is perhaps what a lot of processed cheese manufactures wish to achieve, except that Teleme is a fresh cheese, and will spoil easily without the proper handling and care. The sample you see in the photograph was packaged in plastic to prevent further aging, and please note that it also does not have a rind. For cooking purposes this makes it a very easy cheese to use. Sunset Magazine does an excellent job describing Teleme in this linked article from 1989. As to not be redundant in describing Teleme, I’ll instead focus on what I did with it.

Bryce enjoying the finished pizzaYou may recall from Tuesday’s posting that I wanted to try to replicate the puff-pastry pizza that Kathy had ordered. Realizing that I had most of the ingredients, I got to work on it last night before Kathy got home from work. The result (and recipe) is below. Kathy said that I; “could make this anytime,” because it was so tasty. Again, it is the play between the cheeses, the caramelized onions and the buttery puff pastry that makes this so pleasing. I used apples in the recipe since by shredding the chicken, I knew I’d loose texture. The thin slices of apple add to the complementary tastes, and provide something to bite into. Try it out yourself, and look for Teleme the next time you’re shopping…

Bryce’s 2 Cheese, Apple, Chicken, and Caramelized Onion Puff Pastry Pizza

It’s easier than it looks!

 

Total Time: 1 and ½ hours

Active time: about an hour altogether

 

Ingredients:

·         1 frozen sheet of puff pastry (roughly 10” X 10”)

·         1 and 1/3 cup of grated Gruyère (roughly ¼ pound)

·         ¼ pound of a soft cheese such as Teleme or Brie (rind removed)

·         2 large onions

·         2 tablespoons butter

·         2 tablespoons olive oil

·         1 apple

·         A breast and a half of skinless pre-cooked chicken

·         Salt & Pepper to taste

 

Special equipment needed: If you have a food processor with a slicing blade, this can be a lot easier, but a sharp knife and good skill with it will do you just as well.   Parchment paper.

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.Gruyère & Apple

Place frozen puff pastry sheet on counter to thaw for roughly 40 minutes.

Caramelize onions while preparing other ingredients. [Whenever I’m not sure about a process or a specific food (besides cheese), I typically grab my copy of The Joy of Cooking first. Nine times out of ten it’ll have the basic information, recipe, or procedure I need. If it doesn’t, I hop onto the Internet and search Google. Caramelizing onions is pretty easy. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to write the recipe for that here, but instead just mention that the food processor will help you slice the onions very thin, very quickly, and the 2 tablespoons of butter and olive oil listed above are for this process. You can do this while preparing the other ingredients.]

 Second Layer Construction

Grate your Gruyère. Wash and core your apple. Cut the apple into the thinnest slices possible (I used my food processor for this). Chop or shred your pre-cooked chicken. If you wish, cut into very, very thin slices (my pre-cooked chicken was still frozen, so I used my food processor’s slicer blade to shred it).

 

After 40 minutes of thawing the puff pastry, line a cookie sheet with some parchment paper, and lay the puff pastry flat upon it. Place into the preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes. The pastry should puff, begin to bake, but don’t allow it to brown. Remove from oven and prepare for pizza assembly.

 

Once your caramelized onions are ready, spread them evenly on to the puff pastry. The sprinkle 1/3rd of your Shredded  Chicken LayerGruyère evenly on top. Now lay out an even layer of ½ of your thinly sliced apple. Place ½ of your shredded chicken next, and evenly space ½ of your soft cheese across the pizza in little pieces or cubes (for the Teleme I merely squeezed small pieces off as if it was bits of clay). Add the next 1/3rd of Gruyère. Layer again with the second half of apple, then the rest of the chicken, the second half of the soft cheese, and the last 1/3rd of Gruyère. Apply freshly ground pepper to taste, and a light sprinkling of salt (for this I used Kosher flake salt).

 

Bake in oven for 18 -25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the puff pastry is browning, but not burnt. Slice, and serve with a chilled white wine, or a fruit juice of your choice.

This can naturally be made as a vegetarian dish by omitting the chicken.

 Ready for Baking

For quicker reference, here’s the layer order from bottom to top:

1.     Puff Pastry

2.     All of the caramelized onions

3.     1/3rd of the Gruyère.

4.     Thin layer of ½ of the apple

5.     ½ of the chicken.

6.     ½ of the soft cheese

7.     1/3rd of the Gruyère

8.     Other half of the apple.

9.     Rest of the chicken

10.  Rest of the soft cheese

11.  Rest of the Gruyère

12.  Pepper & Salt

 

Care to comment? Please Teleme what you think! [yeah; sorry for that]. Use the comment section.Out of the Oven

 

Raw Milk Cheese… What’s all the hubbub about?

San Francisco Ferry BuildingSupposedly, you are either FOR young Raw Milk Cheese being sold in the United States (currently illegal), or you are NOT. In the United States, it is illegal (as per the FDA) to sell any raw milk cheese which has not been aged at least 60 days.

Why? The process of pasteurization (heating raw milk to specific temperatures for specific amounts of time), kills and/or lessens the chance of dangerous bacteria and/or pathogens. As with many raw food products, milk can behave as a breeding ground for these unhealthy threats when/if/as introduced into the raw milk. The process of pasteurization, however, also kills off many beneficial types of bacteria (some of which actually aid in the digestion of both milk and other foods), which naturally changes the flavor of the milk, and therefore also the cheese produced from it. Cheeses made from raw milk which are aged at a temperature of 35 degrees Fahrenheit for over 60 days, in a sanitary environment, also achieve a “safe”, natural-type of pasteurization which meets the FDA’s regulations. 

It is the job of the Food and Drug Administration to protect the health and safety of the U.S. populace. Their regulations are meant to do this based on a combination of scientific research and gathered data/statistics. The argument for the sale of raw milk vs. pasteurized cheeses is a heated one, however (bad pun intended). In California it is legal to sell raw milk (with proper warning labels), but due to the FDA’s national laws about cheese, raw milk cheeses cannot be sold. Raw milk cheeses are sold, legally, in many European countries (the most immediate which comes to mind is France), and pro-raw milk cheese advocates argue that you do not have increased numbers of public health risks due to it…

Any individual, company, farm or manufacturer which sells food products should, and most often does, take great care to assure their foods are prepared as sanitary as possible. Outbreaks are almost unavoidable, however. Perhaps you remember the E. coli outbreak of 2006 spread by bagged fresh spinach? Also from California, was the recall of Odwalla-brand unpasteurized apple juice. That outbreak caused the death of an infant and 66 reported illnesses in consumers. Odwalla changed their manufacturing practices (they now use a form of pasteurization, the least evasive type possible allowed by FDA law). On a side note, Odwalla is now owned by the Coca-cola company. Spinach and apple juice aside, imagine the challenges present in the dairy-farm setting. A lot of time and care is spent assuring that milk is untainted, since the livestock comes into contact with their own feces even in the most idealistic settings. It is up to the milk producer to assure that milk extraction is done in as sanitary of conditions as possible. Even with pasteurization, it is possible for the spread of dangerous pathogens to occur at any time, even long after it has left its point of origin. The pathogens themselves could be acquired elsewhere in the process of getting to your table; in transportation, at the cheese shop, or even from your own home, all depending on the conditions in which the cheese is kept.

So, is raw milk cheese safe? Well, it certainly has a higher risk factor than pasteurized, but NO food is ever 100% safe for consumption… If it sounds like I am sitting on a fence about this subject, I am. Truth is, with the exception of the times I have lived in Europe, I have not had much exposure to raw milk cheeses (except those aged over 60 days), so I do not feel qualified to even comment about the taste difference. All I know is what I read, and there is A LOT of articles out there on this subject. Here is a link to an article by Janet Fletcher (local cheese book author, and regular cheese columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle Newspaper). I’ve read this article twice and I am still not 100% sure where she stands. I’d say that she leans closer to pro-pasteurization as she dispels myths both pro & con, but perhaps you may read it differently?

As more fodder for your own opinion, here are two more links below (using Google to look up additional articles and stands on the subject will yield you an additional wealth of information):

An article on the FDA site in support of their law.
Raw Milk Cheesemaker’s Associaition Website

OK, now what? Perhaps you already have an opinion, perhaps you don’t. Me, I’m looking forward to the panel discussion on this very subject coming up on Monday, the 19th of May, 2008, at the SF Ferry Building. Want details? I’ve already posted them; CLICK HERE.

Until then, feel free to give your own opinions/comments in the comment section here for this post.