Archive for education

The Cheese Nun

The last time I was at my local library (give it up for the Multnomah County system, what what!) I saw a copy of “The Cheese Nun” DVD. Of course, like a complete cheese nerd, I snatched it up! It’s a PBS documentary about a Benedictine nun, Sister Noella Marcellino, who goes in search of a deeper understanding of just what is happening to cheeses as they go through the ripening process. She ends up returning to college to conduct scientific research into the microbiology of cheese fermentation. She continues on in her studies to the cheese caves of France and the artisanal cheesemakers there who have been practicing their craft for hundreds of years.

The nuns of her Abbey are absolutely charming, working their land, milking their cows and making cheeses. The science behind the cheese fermentation process was fascinating and not something which I think I had even slightly grasped before. And the visuals of the cheesemaking process were really informative. If you’re at all interested in the history of cheesemaking and seeing how it’s done (in a variety of ways) then totally check out this DVD.

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Oregon Cheese Guild Cheese Festival

Beware: big, big writeup comin’ at ya!

Back at the beginning of the year, FUCheese made some general goals and we all agreed that we really wanted to go to more cheese events and meet more makers of cheese. Since we’d really only scratched the (delicious) surface of the cheese world, we were really wanting to broaden our horizons and get a better understanding of what our region had to offer. Amazingly and luckily, the Pacific Northwest has a lot to offer! We noted that the Oregon Cheese Guild was putting on a festival in March at the Rogue Creamery. My husband and I had such a good time visiting the Creamery last August that I was eager to go back again. Nicole and I started looking into accommodations since Central Point, Oregon, is a good five-hour drive from Portland, and discovered yurt rentals at Valley of the Rogue State Park. The price was right — $27/night — and we love camping so we made the reservation. Our friends Jen and Linnea decided to join us and we headed down Friday afternoon with a car loaded with camp gear and sleeping bags.

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Beer & Cheese Tasting at Saraveza

Our friends Dave (BS Brewing) and Sarah (of FU Cheese) won tickets to a beer and cheese tasting at Saraveza Bottle Shop & Pasty Tavern. After promising them our first born, they invited us to go with them. It was so worth it!

Saraveza is a bottle shop and tavern owned by Sarah Pederson. They had their grand opening last fall, 2008. It’s in a very cute little building off North Killingsworth and they keep their for-sale beers in these great vintage coolers. They’re the kind of coolers that you might open a restaurant around since they are so adorable. The bar has a nice, casual vibe and we tried a couple of their pasties (all good) and a sausage plate (yum!). One of our favorite bartenders from the Green Dragon works here, too, so that was a nice surprise.

Steve’s Cheese is located in the Square Deal Wine Shop on 23rd and Thurman and is run by Steve Jones. He’s a young, very bearded guy who has a clear passion for cheese and cheesemakers. He was able to answer our many, many questions with enthusiasm and point us toward some great Northwest creameries.
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Raclette!

My husband and I joined an amateur bowling league last fall and had a great time with our team. (We are quite amateur, we’re like “Bad News Bears” — that’s us up there on election night at the bowling alley.) Anyway, one of the couples in our team let on that they had a raclette grill and so Thom and I instantly put forth the idea that they should host a raclette night. Thankfully, Marc and Kristen were happy to do that and so, after a long, harrowing bowling season which resulted in a shut-out by our team in the finals (the agony of defeat), we were ready to drown our sorrows with stinky, melted cheese.

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I feel like there’s two kind of people in this world: people that don’t know about raclette and people that love raclette.

As a kid and a military brat, I grew up moving around and living in a lot of different places. When I was very young we lived in Germany and my parents were really great about picking up the local food culture and adopting it as their own. I can only imagine that that is where my mom picked up the raclette habit. As a kid, I wasn’t a big fan of it. As I got older, though, and my tastebuds matured, I started to really enjoy it!

Raclette is a semi-soft, cow’s milk cheese that has a very distinctive odor. The cheese hails from the french-speaking part of Switzerland and is made primarily in the Valais Canton. It is served hot over a selection of vegetables, typically boiled new potatoes, pickled onions and small gherkins or cornichons — little pickles. It can also be served alongside or over bread.

A few years ago, one of Thom’s coworkers was talking about raclette and Thom joined in (having had it at my parents’ house a couple times) and pretty soon the coworker was hosting a raclette night with her raclette grill. If you mention you have a raclette grill, we will force you to feed us stinky cheese!

Anyway, here’s the spread that Kristen and Marc put together for us in their lovely home: sliced raclette (of course) and also sliced gruyere and gouda. The grill is a two part contraption — the top part heats up and you can put veggies and meats there to cook. Kristen marinated some fresh shrimp in olive oil and spices and cooked that on top with sliced red and yellow bell peppers. The shrimp was phenomenal!

For smothering with raclette, they did the traditional boiled potatoes, gherkins and pickled onions. You can buy small white pickled onions in a jar or, if you are feeling special, you can do what Kristen did and pickle your own onions. They were out of this world — sweet and vinegary — and I could have eaten the whole pile just by itself! They also had on hand sliced baguette, marinated mushrooms, green olives and sliced apple. It was, hands-down, the fanciest raclette I have ever seen let alone eaten.

But, what about the cheese? There is a slot underneath the grill top where little paddles sit. You put your cheese on the paddle and slide it back in. Keep an eye on the cheese and when it gets bubbly, take our your paddle and use your handy raclette scraper(!) to push the cheese over the condiments already arranged on your plate. Get your fork out and dig in as it’s best hot.

The flavor of the cheese is mild and the cheese releases a bit of oil as it cooks so it’s quite creamy and blends with the flavors of the other foods. Something about the vinegar both balances the cheese flavor and enhances it. I may be tempted to get my own raclette grill as we had such a good time.

Here we are enjoying some raclette:

If you are interested in trying this and you don’t have to have a raclette grill, it’s no problem! While my mom has a number of wonderful, specialty gadgets in her kitchen, she does not have a raclette grill and she has made it for our family for years. She uses an oven-proof plate — a shallow dish or a cast iron skillet — slices up the raclette thinly and puts it in a 450 oven until bubbly. Then the hot dish is carefully set in the center of the table and everyone cuts a slice and uses a spatula to slide the hot cheese over their condiments already on their plates. Delicious!

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Finally, in preparation for the event, Marc sent out a few emails about what raclette is and how it is served. He came across this amazing video which shows raclette being prepared in a way I’ve never seen before but I’m very excited to try someday. Thom and I are talking about a Europe trip and this will definitely go on the agenda.

If you haven’t quite got your mind wrapped around this, read this charming writeup from The Amateur Gormet where the author gets schooled on raclette by his young, Swiss nephew — lots of great raclette photos.

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Book review: Year of the Goat

I’ve started lining up some cheese related books to read over the holidays and even though I was in the middle of Franzen’s memoir I couldn’t resist taking a peek at the first chapter of Year of the Goat: 40,000 Miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese by Margaret Hathaway and got hooked — I had to read it right to the end!

It’s a quick read covering the travels of two New Yorkers — the author and her fiance — as they cross the U.S. exploring the entire goat world in a quest to discover if they could run their own goat farm. They visit livestock auctions and explore the largely ethnic world of goat meat. They visit goat dairy farms and cheesemaking operations and see a few goat shows where the fanciest and most lovingly cared for goats get to strut their stuff with their owners. The book is full of history and anecdotes about these curious animals and also touches on the current state of small farms and agriculture in the U.S. Totally recommended reading and you can also check out their website where they blog occasionally about life on the farm and if you dip way into their archives you can read blog posts and see photos from the places they visited and the people they met.

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Fankhauser knows cheese!

I recently was turned on to David Fankhauser’s excellent cheese page. Mr. Fankhauser is a professor of Biology and Chemistry at the University of Cincinatti Clermont College. He has really dug into the science of cheesemaking and created a great resource for home cheesemakers. Check it out!

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NYTimes article on beer and food pairing

This article from a couple years ago talks about how effective it can be to pair beer with food. The writer interviews Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver who talks about pairing beer with some foods which may be difficult to pair with wine. He raises the interesting point that beer can really break up the food and act as a palate cleanser in a way that some wines cannot.

Here at FUCheese we are beer lovers as well so learning how beer might complement our favorite cheeses would be exceptional. For our third cheesemaking project we are planning to focus on goat milk and I’m going to try to put together a beer and cheese pairing. I will report the results!

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Project 2: Whey Day (Part 3)… or when mozzarella goes wrong

I have to second Amanda’s opinion.  If you want to be able to store your mozzarella, Ricki Carroll’s 30-minute mozzarella is not your recipe.  This is a recipe you make and eat right away.  On our first cheese making foray (see flickr photos) we only made one single batch of Ricki Carroll’s 30-minute Mozzarella and we didn’t attempt to store it and while it could have used a lot more cheese salt, it had an authentic mozzarella texture. 

This second round of mozzarella provided us with three different batches of mozzarella (see whey day parts 1 and 2) to compare, and each one not only stored differently, but also tasted different.  Two of the three batches pretty quickly developed a gooey slime on the outside of the mozzarella balls.  They actually tasted fine if you could force your way through the grotesque texture.

I’m blaming the storage water more on instinct rather than any hard evidence.  I think it was pretty telling though when I went to use some of the remaining mozzarella in a pasta salad and there wasn’t any water left in the container and the mini-mozzarella balls had congealed into one big mass of mozz.  I must admit that this little setback threw me from my pasta salad path.  In a somewhat dazed manner I showed the mass to my roommate Jen, who fortunately is way more resilient than me in the kitchen.

Nicole: Look at this!  Do you think I can still use this in the pasta salad?  Looks kinda strange to me.

Jen: That’s weird. (immediately sticking her finger into the mass and taking a bite) It tastes fine.

Nicole: I think it might make the salad a little weird.  It’s kind of runny.

Jen: Don’t you need a dressing for the salad?  Why don’t you use the mozzarella as a base?

Nicole: Uhm … good idea.  How would you go about that?

Thankfully Jen took over at this point with her trusty Cuisinart and proceeded to blend the mozzarella with milk, lemon and a number of other ingredients, mostly from the herb family I believe, and made this stupendous dressing for my roasted veggie pasta salad.  It was delicious and decadently rich, but I don’t recommend dwelling on the nutritional impact of a dressing with a mozzarella base.

Notes …

1.    If you have the time I definitely recommend making more than one batch of mozzarella with different brands of milk if possible.  It is interesting to taste test different batches at once, and if you keep detailed notes it will help refine your mozz making abilities and lead to a more consistent product.

2.    I don’t think I’d store the mozzarella in water again.  I’m curious what would happen if it was wrapped in saran – no slime maybe?

3.  Try and get yourself a Jen.  It makes dealing with food mysteries and accidents a lot easier.

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Project 2: Whey day, part 2

A continuation from part 1. Check out the accompanying Flickr set.

* * *

After the first batch of mozzarella was done, Jen and Sarah set to work making Italian Feather Bread (a Ricki Carroll recipe (this will be a common theme)) which uses some of the hot, fresh whey in the mix. The bread turned out really beautifully and was like a airy focaccia with a texture almost like cornbread. We decided that this must be the recipe for Lembas Bread. Yes, we are nerds.

After working up a sufficient amount of whey, we made the fresh whey ricotta from Carroll’s book. At one point in the recipe it calls for mesophilic starter which I had ordered but not prepared as I didn’t understand that I had to prepare it ahead of time (it came in a little packet). So, we left it out but I’m curious to try it with — it apparently has something to do with the flavor which I think would be a welcome addition.

We had enough whey for a double batch and made that much plus a little extra (with plenty left over for drinking). You need to let the ricotta hang and drain for quite some time. At this point, everyone was whey tired and ready to put their feet up for the evening. But! Wait! We have cannoli shells!

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So, we extended the cheesemaking day to breakfast the next morning. I stuffed the cannoli with an ad-hoc mixture of ricotta, mascarpone, bittersweet chocolate, orange zest and powdered sugar. The whey drinks were something that no one was really that excited about. But, whey protein is really good for you. And, go check out the prices on whey protein powder in your local health foods section.

The whey had chilled overnight in the fridge and everyone took a sip. At first taste it just tastes sort of like very watery milk — no one was very excited about that. So, I crushed mint, added a tablespoon of simple syrup to each glass and poured the whey over ice and it was really quite refreshing. The sweetness of the syrup perfectly counter-balanced the slightly sour taste that is indicative of milk. I would totally drink that again.

After that, project 2 was done. Next up, goat cheese!

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Project 2: Whey Day, part 1

We learned in our first project — 30-minute mozzarella — that we have lots of leftover whey to deal with after making the cheese. So, for our second cheesemaking endeavor we decided to explore the wide, wonderful world of whey.

We decided that we would each make a batch of the 30-minute mozzarella and with the leftover whey we would make bread, a double batch of ricotta and also make some refreshing, summer, whey drinks.

Photos on Flickr.

Everyone got a gallon of Organic Valley whole milk from New Seasons in Sellwood. Something interesting: I called ahead of time to ask about getting whole milk that was not ultra-pasteurized. All milk comes from the grocery store pasteurized (145F for 30 min or 161F for 15 seconds) however, the higher heat involved in the ultra-pasteurization ensures an even longer shelf life. This milk is heated to 191F for at least 1 second which destroys all the organisms in the milk as well as damages the protein structure and kills the natural enzymes present in milk. It’s not the best base for making cheese at all.

In any case, I spoke to a nice man on the phone who assured me that their half-gallons of Organic Valley were just plain old pasteurized. However, when I got there, all the milk was labeled as pasteurized with no inidication of which might be ultra-pasteurized. I flagged down someone who brought me the man I spoke with on the phone. His feeling was that the gallon size was bottled at a different plant and that some people (perhaps fellow cheesemakers) bought the larger size and were not happy with it. However, no one had complained about the half-gallon size so he could recommend it without reservation. This ends up being a little over $5 for a gallon but at least we knew it was the good stuff.

Nicole also made an experimental batch of mozz with a gallon of whole milk which she purchased at the farmer’s market from Noris Dairy. The milk from there was quite delicious though perhaps not so delicious that one should go out of their way to use it to make the 30-minute mozz. More on Noris Dairy at a later date.

Our first cheesemaking project was Ricki Carroll’s “30-minute Mozzarella” recipe. So, we decided to re-create that since we had plenty of leftover rennet and citric acid. These batches would become the base of the ricotta. The recipe is incredibly simple to make and the result is a very light cheese which, when we first made it, we ate in slabs on fresh bread sprinkled with salt and pepper. Very delicious.

In her book, Carroll notes that this mozz should be eaten immediately. I have to agree. We all kept our new batches, balled up in slightly briney fresh water but I felt like it got too gooey and strange later to eat. I did use it on some salads and it was pretty good. I’ll let Jen or Nicole tell you how they reused theirs.

So, we did five batches(!) and had gallons and gallons of leftover whey! It’s good that I had an extra stockpot around! Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was afraid that we wouldn’t have enough whey for the ricotta recipe. Let it be noted that that is ridiculous. Gallon of milk = gallon of whey (just about).

I’m going to break this up into two posts….

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