As much fun as it has been to extemporize and gush to my heart’s content here at cheeseisgod, I’ll be updating my cheeseventures and fromage debaucheries at a different blog location: introducing The Beer and Cheese List! Just launched and the hedonist child (like brain child but we’re not thinking with our brains har har) of yours truly and my beer connoisseur friend, fellow gourmet/gourmand Philippe. Please check out the new blog by clicking on NEW LOCATION above and see where these aged goods take us! Also that’s confusing un petit peu so just here’s the damn url: http://www.thebeerandcheeselist.com/
Bisous et merci
Its the end of exams, which means my attention and efforts in life can finally be diverted to more spiritual endeavors, namely cheesemongering and catching up on episodes of Scandal. I perused the a local hoity-toity grocery store earlier today with Memère because we received a 20% off coupon on all “holiday specialty cheeses” (what does that even mean…?) Regardless, we made a trip out of it and even though Memère wanted to buy all the cheese we will need for the upcoming festivities, I said “no means no memère and we only get two cheeses today!” Upon arrival, the highly-touted cheese section turned out to be nothing more than a glorified packaged cheese case with no funky smells. However, I saw a glimmer of hope wedged into the corner – moldy-looking, runny blue and brown crusted tomme crayeuse! Check out that nasty:
Beautiful granite croûte, scents of damp earth and fungus, and a pâte just itching to melt all over the place. I was almost reminded of some camembert-cauliflower complex, but this cheese is grade-A american pasteurized milk (although it is a tomme in the same image as a tomme de savoie from the region in France). Unfortunately, I believe my tomme crayyyyyyeuse had been sitting neglected in the display case for several days because upon unwrapping there was a perceptible gust of ammonia and microbial funk. Also, crayeuse means chalky in French, but our just-too-ripe tomme was nothing but pure, salty cream (no complaints except just a little). The pâte, which was definitely a little less runny in the center, did have variable tastes – more salt and leafy green richness/bitter nearer to the exterior and more milder cream butter (like a brie not acclimated enough yet) in the interior. It was an exciting find for Bellevue, especially because tomme crayeuse is a new addition to the cheese world, having been introduced in 1997 by someone important. We paired it with a lovely Duck Pond 2010 Pinot Noir, and that smooth medium body blackberry/plum tannin profile was something divine with our tomme.
3 months of no artisan cheese cravings has demonstrated to me that I don’t like to have to look long and hard for good farmstead cheese (which shouldn’t be a prob here in oregon but I lazy hence no farmers markets d’habitude for me) and I don’t like paying $7 for one stinkin st. marcellin round. Thankfully, when your best friend’s mama takes you and the gang out for sunday lunner at one of Portland’s best (holler at Produce Row Café!) and orders the cheese plate for the table, well that’s when you put on the figurative turophile gloves and dig in to what appears to be a nice, delicate plating of a garlicky soft washed rind cow’s milk creation (Cow Girl Creamery I b’lieve), some nice young pecorino, and a sliced crottin that was courteously identified to me by our server as “ottentique,” which seems to be a crottin produced by Juniper Grove farms here in Oregon. Unfortunately Google told me that accessing their web page would result in attack by malicious software and expose my computer to risks so I just had to go off of the preview in the search engine. Regardless, MIAM MIAM. Check it out:
Lovely wedges with a discernable pâte and darker exterior. Beautiful aged croûte like edible granite
Wondeful snowy exterior, shown here on the last morsel of Ottentique
The ottentique had a marvelous creamy pâte and and velvety consistency after some mashing.
It had a vestige of that butter-on-top-of-jam/syrup-on-mistake taste that I still have no other words for. Not as piquant or puzzling as the San Juan’s Quail Croft crottin, but still with the nutty green root vegetable non-bitterness. There was some crystallization as well, and the savory crystals did some good on the palate. Such good.
Last weekend marked a big event in the celebration of Memere’s 85th celebration with family from all over the states. And what more fitting for the evening after lunch picnic than red, white blends, and cheese platters from PCC guhhhhh. I had a ball of a time eating crystalline allium-flavored Rembrandt gouda (aged gouda is rapidly rising in my esteem), chivey and malleable Cotswald, sweet violetted Beecher’s Flagship, and most exciting of all: Pecorino di Pienza. A sheep’s milk cheese from Siena, it can be eaten anywhere from 40 days to 18 months. The one I ate was soft, light, and oily aka young aka at least 60 days aged because hello I live in the US. There was another cheese on the plate called Drunken Goat but all my relatives thought that the pecorino was the Drunken Goat because of the strong, fuzzy nose that tickles the tongue and throat so devilishly in the pecorino aka Drunken Goat sounds like it would be real funky but uhhh let down. In any case, the Pecorino had a slightly more aged exterior (duhh rind) that had calmer, sharper notes than the interior. The soft sofa of an interior was milky white, acutely sheepy, bitingly fuzzy, and had a most curious lingering taste of rhubarb bitter. I think/hope that this pecorino was raw milk because the palate was so diverse and I want to think that I tasted those green italian pastures. At least for 3 minutes, I was walking on hillsides in Siena, holding crumbly soil in my fingers, milking italian sheep, and experiencing milk being coaxed into this higher form.
Earthy and umami: Quail Croft crottin (say that 10 times fast!)
Sometimes you get real excited seeing a cheese at a market and then you buy the cheese and it feels as hard as the ash-covered/rhomboidal exterior suggests and you say “I hope this cheese was accidently frozen even though I really don’t want it to be frozen” and then you unpackage it and let it breathe for a couple of hours and then it’s the moment of truth and you cut it open and it separates beautifully and you detect a heady waft and have the littlest of slivers and just like that all is well. This was my experience this morning, as I stumbled upon a french-style crottin at the stand of Quail Croft Farms during a visit to the Friday Harbor farmer’s market with the gamins from camp. Our mission was to buy some chèvre for a tartine dish tomorrow, and we came home with garlic-basil fresh chèvre and an enigmatic lump o’ crottin, per left photo.
The granite-like, blue/grey/brown exterior poses a challenge to comprehending the enigma inside. The pâte is very consistent throughout, showing and even ripening and just the slimmest of oxidized surroundings. The first wedge nibble made the phrase “threateningly dry velvet” come into my mind, and I think that is a good description of the initial texture. Mushing the morsel around in my mouth yielded a salty, granular paste. Then came tastes of roasted root vegetable or chestnuts, mostly in the form of a peculiar mild sweetness that fluxxed from bitingly tart on the front of the tongue to a crumbly blue sour salt feeling in the back. While tasting I had an undescribable flavor on the tip of my tongue that escaped identification until I pegged it as the weird flavor combination that comes when you spread margarine and syrup (the fake corn syrup kind) on a eggo waffle and some of the margarine gets on top of the syrup and it turns into this funky savory weirdness. I thought that this was a common childhood experience but none of my fellow tasters empathized with me hmmmm. In essence, the Quail Croft crottin is a complex piece of aged dairy that exudes wiseness and escapes cliché.
Also something decadent and head-emptyingly wonderful: camembert au four! Aka a round of camembert put in the oven for 30 minutes ish at 350 F ish (essentially until hot and melty) and removed and top croute cut off and hunks of bread dipped in the molten pool of satiny surface-ripened cheese. Perfect for camping trips and camp counselors on 36-hour vacations on Orcas Island. Just perfect.
not-so-poor man’s simple cheese course
The elation that comes before a meal that you know will challenge and expand and stretch and regale your taste buds = exactly what I felt last friday afternoon. On a break from 3 weeks of work and in a mood to burn money on things that float my very own boat, I put together a cheese feast with some coworkers. We picked up 7 varieties, of which I will write about not Taleggio, Morbier, or Saint Nectaire. The biggest pity is that my iPhone with pictures of all these albuminous protein chunks from the Netherlands, France, Spain, and wisconsin was lost to the Salish Sea, so the only fruit for the brain buds will be concise descriptions of what I savoured.
First was the Pave de Jadis, an ash-covered chèvre from the Pays de la Loire. It was weeping moisture in the way only the heat of 5 PM in late july can coax out of a tranche of cheese. It had a slow to come on, rather fuzzy way of conveying citrus, mild dairy, and mellow grasses.
Second was the Garrotxa, a Catalonian aged goat’s cheese. Funky and bleu-chestnut rind colored with fishy tasties in my olfactory part influencing the chalky earth salt taste. A little mold funk made me think that this cheese is confused but in a “share my delirium” sort of engaging way.
Third was the Ballerina, by far the most expensive of our cheeses. It is an aged gouda that has a wonderful dark amber interior and translucent cheese crystals. I am not sure how long the affinage process lasted but I would venture somewhere in between 15-27 months (big range I know). It seemed like a wonderful vessel that someone poured delightful essence of garlic, molasses, salt, and roasted shrooms. The range and developing flavas was just so exciting and I highly recommend this cheese and other friends who like to talk about what they taste for a good time.
Last was Honeybee, another aged gouda. Somehow the sweetness and citrus of a teriyaki chicken skewer were the very first analogies I could find. This cheese finished with such a fun creamy nut sweetness that would have been both a muted dandelion yellow and earthy violet were they to be colors instead of (or in addition to) tastes.
These cheeses were fun to eat. We spent $70 on cheese (and sancerre) and I can’t think of a more amusing way I have spent my money in months.
Working as a counselor at a french camp in the middle of an ocean may seem like a milieu full of cheese tasting opportunities but I say FALSE and that such opportunities are few and far between. Consequently I have been occupado by entertaining and disciplining children for the last 5 weeks and naht making/writing about/eating cheese except for my glimmery glorious 36-hour vacations. A plus of working at a french summer camp is that half our staff comes from France aka people who will appreciate my efforts of throwing together a cheese pl8 from the slim pickings of the island grocery store. Last last weekend I had the fun pleasure of sneaking cheese back to the island in my backypack and laying out a cheese course for the staff.
First cheese to see the light of day was a variation of Port Townsend Creamery’s Seastack, the equally tangy and imo more curious Trufflestack.
Here we have it all nicely wrapped up, completely unodorous and giving no hints of the velvet storm ahead of us. Voilà deplasticked, all mottily white and bloomy rinded. Even sniffs here only have a mild ammonia and waxy mystery.
I cut into the ver pliable croûte and wedged a morceau of cleanly dry, ivory pâte into my bouche. The tangy and gauzy moist was cousined the entire time with a round, super sympa truffle dynamism. As someone who gets through college by adding white truffle oil to his easy mac on those desperate nights, this truffastack makes my go-to repertoire like so for sure. Bless the land for Port Townsend Creamery and their godsend of a dairy product.
The other cheese on the plate the night was a nice double cream gouda, something buttery and nutty sharp for the other chilluns in the house. By the time we ate it in the evening, it had been sitting out for a couple of hours and had started to sweat and the mellow flavors were out to party.
Watching ratatouille while writing this post = my brain wants to convey the joy of taste and thinks that pixar should open a restaurant. I also apologize for how big these pictures are… I’m not an html expert haha