Archive for August, 2008
Where to try 54 cheeses in one day!
Image Courtesy of Cowgirl Creamery & Slow Food Nation

Image Courtesy of Cowgirl Creamery & Slow Food Nation

It’s time for a mother-load of cheese! “…attendees will get a chance to sample the best of the best from 54 producers across the country.” Yes, it is the Slow Food Nation’s cheese pavilion this weekend here in San Francisco. What, you don’t know about the Slow Food Nation event from Aug. 29th until Sept. 1st?!?! Go straight away to the website here.

What is “Slow Food Nation”? The following is from the website’s FAQs: “The largest celebration of American food in history, it will bring together tens of thousands of visitors to San Francisco to experience an extraordinary range of activities highlighting the connection between your plate and the planet. “   Basically it incorporates the idea that food, thoughtfully prepared, can, and should be how we treat our food choices and preparation.

The California Artisan Cheese Guild (CACG) will be represented all three days of the weekend at the food Pavillion in Fort Mason. I’d be right there with the CACG volunteering and serving up samples, but alas, Kathy and I will have left for the Southwest to visit New Mexico. I highly encourage any and all of you, however, to find events of the Slow Food Nation to attend this weekend here in San Francisco.

Hope to blog a few times from the road, so again, if you have advice (cheesey or otherwise) about New Mexico, let me know!

Back on the wagon (of cheese!)

Janet, Kathy & Bryce at À Côté

A night off from the play— my mother and sister-in-law are visiting, had a wonderful dinner at À Côté last night, and, naturally; cheese! Pretty much a perfect evening in so many ways…
Good quality, well crafted cheese is rarely cheap, and this is twice as true when at a restaurant. However, getting the opportunity to have a well selected cheese plate, along with a fantastic meal with friends and family, is well worth the money. 

À Côté in Oakland, California, near the border of Berkeley, is described as being a “small-plates restaurant” (read as: Tapas-style servings and portions, shared in a “family style” manner). Selections on the menu can change almost daily, with many excellent permanent selections as well. They also have a wonderful wine list, assembled bi-weekly, and they offer well-selected flights of wine to accompany your meal.

Wine, that’s OK, but what about the cheese?

I’m getting to that, inner cheese voice… There were six to choose from, any and all to be served with candied walnuts, toasted (and heavily salted) almonds, apple slices, poached figs and an excellent walnut levain bread. The three I choose were the following (pictured starting from left to right):

Majorero [semi-soft, goat milk, from the Canary Islands]
La Tur [three-milk soft cheese from Piemonte, Italy]
Ossau Iraty [semi-firm, raw sheep's milk, from the French Pyrénées]

All three were amazing, and I was most looking forward to the La Tur, which I don’t think I have ever tried (read about it, sure, but to finally try it…). La Tur is typically made from either cow, goat or sheep’s milk, but since À Côté’s menu stated; “Creamy Three Milk”, perhaps we can assume that it had all three? It was the most earthy-tasting of the cheese we tried, and perhaps my favorite. It was the least favoirte of Kathy’s mom, Karen. The Majorero had a much more complex taste than I had expected… initially it played lightly, almost tasteless, on my tongue, but then developed into a nut-like taste. Accompanying the taste was a satisfying textural smoothness, most likely caused by the high fat content of the milk. The Ossau Iraty was also a good choice, it tastes like a cousin to some cheeses produced in the alps, except that it utlizes sheep’s milk instead of cow. This may make it easier to digest for people who have a physical aversion to cow’s milk.

Despite the “small plate” servings of the menu items, we ordered too much for the four of us. We all felt happily stuffed by the time we were done. Our other items? Gazpacho, Pommes Frites (with aioli), Croque Monsieur , Fig & Pancetta Flatbread (pizza), Gnocchi (with creamy pesto and cherry tomatoes) and for desert; “Triple Bittersweet Chocolate Ice Cream with Hot Fudge, Caramel Cream, Pecan Praline & bite-sizzed Brownies”… With all of that, AND the cheese plate AND flights of wine, they practically had to roll us out of there.

The Croque Monsieur was perfect, made with a Béchamel sauce, unlike the one I spoke of in a recent post, and was accompanied with pickled caper berries. There’s nothing quite like biting into the salty, briny taste of a pickled caper berry and following it immediately with the perfect balance of Gruyère, Béchamel, thinly sliced ham and buttery toasted bread… am I making you hungry yet?

The flatbread fig pizza was also very salty… It is kind of a tradition of Tapas-like foods to be salty and (typically) inexpensive. The idea is that you’ll buy more to drink. In some European countries, such as Spain, bar food is often affordable, but salty, and the majority of a bar or bistro’s profits are from drink sales. A nice touch to the pizza though, was a Crescenza Stracchino cow milk cheese from France. As a soft cheese, it melted very nicely on the flatbread, and retained it’s flavor set against the other toppings. This brought the cheese count up to five for the meal, so I was very happy.

You’ll notice I didn’t go on and on about “Pride & Succubus” (until this second), but I’m proud to say that the remainder of the shows have sold out. In fact, 87% of the entire run (that’s 87% of all available seats for the entire run) were occupied. The audience seems to have eaten it all up, laughing uproariously throughout. Couldn’t be happier for the cast and crew, writer, production team and the theatre company as a whole.  It is always a lot of work, but always a lot of fun. I’ll post a few photos below.

So; more cheese posts to follow soon. The play will end and I’ll have more time for cheese again. Kathy and I will be taking a “road trip” vacation to New Mexico in early September, so if you have advice on things to do or see (involving cheese or not), please use the comment section below this post on the right. Thanks!

Brie for Breakfast!

Yes, I’m still alive and well and eating cheese.

No, you don’t want to hear about the play (perhaps), but it is going GREAT. The audience is eating up “Pride & Succubus” and tickets for the remaining nine performances are going FAST (ends Aug. 23rd, 2008).

Champignon Brie from GermanyMeanwhile, somewhat sleep deprived between the theatre, and day job, Kathy and I made it to Trader Joe’s yesterday, and I picked up two cheeses. One was a pre-sliced Asiago, which I’ve never notice them carry before. Again, if you can avoid it, don’t buy pre-sliced cheeses… I’ll admit, I picked this one up for ease of making sandwiches in the morning to bring to work.  Also have to admit; wasn’t bad.

The second cheese we picked up, (and which I ate most of for breakfast), was a  double-cream brie produced in Germany with mushroom pieces throughout. I bought it for a few reasons; it’s a German cheese, and it is not common that you find German cheeses mass-distributed in the states, and also because I love mushrooms.

Käserei Champignon of Lauben. Germany is celebrating 100 years as a cheese producer. Tags from CheeseSorry that their site is in German, but reading through it quickly, it’s as you expect a larger cheese-producer’s site to be; nutrition information about their products, recipe suggestions, a little bit about the company, etc. Actually, they are part of an even larger company which produces and distributes a large variety of soft cheeses of a medium quality (i.e. mass produced) under a vareity of labels.

Taste? Not as delicate as I’d care for in a brie, but the mushroom after-taste while eating my breakfast toast was worth having tried it. Also, Trader Joe’s has cut the rounds of this cheese into smaller plastic-wrapped wedges. Whereas this is alright, since the quality of this cheese isn’t too high, it is not a guarantee that Trader Joe’s actually cut the brie when it was at the correct ripeness. Brie stops aging (properly) when you cut it, which is one of the reasons you should try to buy entire wheels of brie if you can afford to, and/or get it from a reputable cheese seller who has just cut into the wheel. For more proper Brie handling, here’s a good link.

And now; a request to all of you. Kathy and I have decided on our destination for a much needed vacation, and it is quickly approaching. We’ll be taking a road trip from the San Francisco Bay Area of California to New Mexico. Do you know of any cheeses or creameries we should try in New Mexico (or along the way)? Please use the comment section to let us know. Thanks!

What a croque-madame!

BreakfastCheese, cheese, cheese! It’s on the brain, but there isn’t any laying around at either work or the theatre. This post will be quick though, ’cause Kathy and I have been spending our non-day job hours building and painting sets. We did make it out to breakfast on Kathy’s birthday this past week, however.

We went to Mama’s Royal Cafe in Oakland, California. Kathy loves pancakes which use buttermilk, and I love any breakfast which involves cheese. Mama’s, according to their website has been open since 1974. It’s a hip little place which occupies two small store-fronts. They use quality ingredients, but I regret to say that their otherwise beautiful menu selection doesn’t always live up to its own hype. It seems that sometimes restaurants will do a lot of things right. They might have great ideas, look/feel, cooks, etc, but sometimes, once a restaurant becomes established, some aspect or another begins to falter…. That’s how I felt about Mama’s this time ’round.

I was desperate for my morning coffee, and ordered a double cappuccino. Kathy; a single. When they arrived about 10 minutes later, they Cold Cappswere tepid, and quickly approaching room temperature. I couldn’t tell if the espresso and/or milk were just not heated well enough, or if they had been sitting for eight minutes before we got them. We were both desperate enough for the caffeine that we choose not to complain, and downed them like shots of tequila instead.

Croque-monsieur and croque-madame, are variations of the same thing; basically a hot ham & cheese sandwich. Gruyère is my preferred cheese for this dish, but a croque is never quite complete, in my opinion, if it doesn’t also include a Béchamel sauce, which gives it a great texture and lots more delicious fat and calories. The croque-croque-madamemadam that you see pictured is what I ordered. It’s the same thing as a monsieur, but with a fried egg on top of it. Great for breakfast. The Mama Royal cafe forwent using a Béchamel sauce, but did have a nice thin spread of Dijon mustard between the bread and ham… ultimately I have had better croques before, and Kathy’s pancakes were undercooked, but we polished off our breakfasts just the same.

One of you, dear readers, HAS to have a good/favorite croque-monsieur recipe that I should try. If so, please let me/all of us know by using the comment section on the lower-right of this post.

Until I get some more cheese to write about; I’ll be at the theatre. Opening night (Thursday, August 7th) is almost sold out already.

Continuous Music Finished