Archive for nicole

2009, the Year of Festivals

What a year. What a jerk of a year. I think every year finds people sorting it into a winning year or a losing year. I have a lot to be grateful and thankful for here at the start of 2010 (Twenty-ten! The future!) but there were parts of 2009 which were terribly trying. The bright spots, for me, revolved around cheese and for that I can’t complain.

Cheese Plate

Boerenkaas from Willamette Valley Cheese Co, a 2009 favorite

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2009 Holiday Gift Guide is Up!

Got a cheese lover in your life? We put together just a few gift ideas that we’re sure will hit the mark. Check them out in our 2009 Gift Guide!

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Seattle Cheese Festival Recap

Nicole and I have eagerly been anticipating the Seattle Cheese Fest since we decided we would volunteer back in March. Finally, the weekend arrived and we headed up to Seattle. We stayed with Nicole’s lovely sister and boyfriend who have a sweet apartment in Ballard. Friday night we treated ourselves to some Serious Pie and now I have a very deep crush on that place. Not only were the pizzas excellent and our appetizers delicious but the desserts were sublime. It’s a good thing that I’m already married because their cannoli was amazing. If you’ve been, you know. If you haven’t been, put it on your list already!

We got up bright and early and stumbled over to Cafe Besalu for some excellent coffee and fantastic pastries, I had the pear galette and Nicole had the strawberry, fresh from the oven. I love Seattle!! Then we made our way down to Pike’s Place Market. I had not realized when we volunteered that it would be at the Market and when that dawned on me I realized that this was going to be whole different beast.

Bluebird Day

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The Different Flavors of Mascarpone

I haven’t had much experience with mascarpone.  In fact, besides a few dessert recipes – think tiramisu – I didn’t know much about it when we decided to attempt it.  It is in fact not a true curd cheese.  It is often lumped in with the soft cheeses, but it is in the yogurt family.  Like yogurt you make mascarpone by heating milk and then adding a culture.  While there is some draining involved to get your desired consistency you don’t end up with curds like you do when making a true curd cheese.  It is originally an Italian cheese from the Southern Lombardy region of Italy and while most famous for its role in tiramisu, it is delicious when used as a cream cheese substitute, both as a spread and in cheesecake.

mascarpone-making

We decided to give mascarpone a go along with another batch of yogurt – who knew they were so closely related?  We did two batches of mascarpone, both from Ricki Carroll’s book.  One used a packet of direct-set creme fraiche starter and the other with tartaric acid.  Each of these recipes was very easy and something that could be tackled in your home kitchen in a few hours.  The mascarpone made with culture required you to heat the milk to 86 degrees and then let sit for 12 hours.  It can be drained in the refrigerator for a few more hours if a thicker consistency is wanted.  The mascarpone with tartaric acid required a 185 degree initial temperature before adding a 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of tartaric acid (I added a little over 1/8 of a teaspoon).  Once the tartaric acid has been mixed in thoroughly it is set to drain in a colander for 1 hour.  I actually let it drain for about 4 hours.

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Cottage Fire

It’s taken me awhile to get around to this post, but a wee bit back in time – January 2009 – those of us at fucheese got together and had our first 2009 cheese event.  Our purpose was to get back into cheese making after the hiatus brought on by the holidays, plan for the upcoming year, and show off holiday cheese swag.

There were a number of minor setbacks, even prior to the actual cheese making, mostly due to my ill planning and failure to read the recipe all the way through.  (All things I made resolutions to correct this year.)  Since we didn’t have the starter needed for Ricki Carroll’s recipe, we used one from The Home Creamery by Kathy Farrel-Kingsley.  While a good time was had by all, the cottage cheese could have benefited from closer attention.  Cheese making, I’m coming to realize, is really all about attention to detail and attentive monitoring.  Not necessarily skills that I’ve honed in the kitchen as I’m more of a throw it all in a pot and see what happens kind of cook.

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Pholia Farms

Passion is a word that gets bandied about a lot in artisanal food circles. While it is easy to taste the passion that these craftspeople put into their foods, farms, and lifestyles, it is a rare opportunity for those of us living the more urban lifestyle to get out and see it in action.  That is why after a delicious day at the Oregon Cheese Guild Cheese Festival and another dry, warm night in our yurt we were off for what, to me, was a major highlight of our southern oregon cheese weekend, Pholia Farm’s Open House.

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Project 4: Butter – Instantaneous Gratification (in cheese making time)

Given our love of cheese and willingness to experiment with making it at home you would think that butter would have come up earlier as a very easy way to play with dairy. I knew it must be pretty straight-forward, particularly after a somewhat unfortunate experience making homemade whip cream, but for some reason I still had visions of butter churns and pioneer ladies with giant biceps floating in my head.

When Sarah decided to host a farmhouse cheddar cheese making day at her house, we started talking about something to accompany the cheddar and provide more instant gratification. Amanda found this wonderfully graphic recipe on Pacific Northwest Cheese Project for making butter.  As an aside: if you like cheese, particularly if you live in the PNW you should be reading Pacific Northwest Cheese Project.  So FUCheese Hard Cheese Day #1 became FUCheese Cheddar and Butter Day. 

So, here is the thing about butter … IT IS SUPER EASY. I mean, ridiculously easy. And equipment has come a long way since the butter churn. This is all you need for two batches of butter:

These two items and about an hour of your time (30-minutes spent chatting and eating delicious cheese with your friends) is all you need.

We did two batches so there would be enough for everyone to take some home. We also tried it with two different types of milk in an attempt to see if it made any difference in taste. Our first batch was with a quart of Strauss Family Creamery heavy cream. The second batch we did was with a quart of heavy cream from Sunshine Dairy.

Following the recipe, one quart of heavy cream was put into the kitchen-aid mixer. The recipe said to whip at high-speed, which we did do, but I found that I had to start the kitchen-aid at a lower speed to keep the cream inside the bowl. After it started to stiffen slightly I increased the speed. I was slightly concerned about the following note in the recipe, “after 25 to 30 minutes butter solids will separate completely,” and how exactly I would know when this had occurred. However it is very obvious when your butter gets to this stage and you will have no doubt when to stop your mixer.

We then drained the butter and rinsed it with tap water (I used my hands instead of a spatula as I found it easier) and then shaped the butter into blocks. Surprisingly, the Sunshine Dairy batch ended up with a slightly higher yield than the Strauss Family Creamery batch, although it didn’t win by much of a margin. Each batch made slightly over 1 pound of butter. Taste wise I didn’t think there was much of a difference. Although both were delicious and in my opinion richer and more creamy then the butter I purchase at the store.

We used some of the butter to mix with flavored salts and other herbs and spices which were really delicious and the rest we divvied out and placed in the refrigerator for people to take home. I went the simple route with my butter booty and spent a happy evening on my couch with some fresh made bread and my homemade butter.

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Homemade Cheese Press

To date FUCheese has done soft cheese. Despite our desire to make hard cheese we were lacking a key piece of equipment for the process of making a hard cheese – the cheese press. I’d seen a number of cheese presses for sale online and also seen pictures of more homemade varieties. While the ones you can purchase online are expensive, they do come fully assembled and with a design that has been time tested and proven to be efficient and accurate.

Because we here at FUCheese like to do things for ourselves and because I got it into my head early on that we could build a cheese press on our own that was just as accurate and way cheaper than the fully assembled varieties some of us at FUCheese found ourselves one sunny summer day in the woodshop. We had purchased plans to make our own cheese press from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company and had purchased food grade lumber and were going to build our cheese press.

Now, I’m not going to discourage you from attempting to build your own if you want to, but if I had to do it all over again – I’d buy a cheese press. I had a great time making it and it was not a hard plan to follow, but there was some difficulty finding the right hardware, and while New England Cheesemaking Supply Company was very prompt with their reply with a solution to our hardware dilemma, there were a number of other alterations we had to make to get it to work.

We used it to press our farmhouse cheddar recently and it worked fine, but even after solving our hardware problems we are still running into issues. Largely due to the fact that the base – given its size – can’t be centered under the press point because the wall gets in the way. This makes for an uneven press and a somewhat lopsided wheel of cheese. Plus extra work for you to turn the cheese on the base in order to equalize the press.

So when it gets down to recommendations – buy your cheese press. It will save you time, hassle, and inaccuracies.

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The Cheese Platter

My family has been huge fans of the cheese platter for years now.  It started when I was like 12 or 14 when my mom made a wrapped brie appetizer for the holidays.  Not that cheese wasn’t a huge part of my life prior to this event.  I am from the Midwest where dairy has its own sacred place in the food lexicon, but this was the first time that I’d experienced anything outside of the hard block of yellow or white cheese.  Since then, there have been numerous cheese platters.  Some stand out more than others and while the cheese is definitely the highlight, it also has to do with who you are sharing it with and what you choose to go along with it. 

Early this spring my sister and her boyfriend came down for a visit from Seattle and we decided to check out Steve’s Cheese for the first time.  Don’t ask me why it took me so long to get over there, but it was years wasted in my opinion.  The cheese and cured meats selection was wide and diverse and the service was exceptionally helpful and knowledgeable.  The cheese platter we ended up with – largely made up of recommendations – was delightful.  I don’t know what other word to use.  We paired the cheese and meat with some bread and vegetables that we had picked up at the farmer’s market so we were truly fulfilling the northwest food geek stereotype.

We had three different cheeses all from the pacific northwest.  They are all well known cheese makers and I’ve run into these cheeses since then at cheese tastings and counters around town.  That said all three are really delicious representations of pacific northwest cheese.  The Willamette Valley Cheese’s Boerenkass (a raw cow milk cheese) was mild, but really full of flavor and went really well with the bread and Fra Mani Sopressata. 

This was the first time that I had tasted Rivers Edge Chevre’s Up in Smoke (goat milk).  This was unbelievably fantastic.  I love goat cheese and I’ve never tasted a goat cheese like this – rich, smoky, creamy.  I’ve had this over and over again since this first tasting.  I liked eating it wrapped in the Iowa applewood smoked durroc ham we got from Steve’s Cheese.

The final cheese was from Estrella Family Creamery.  I first had their cheese after visiting the Ballard farmer’s market so this was not a new cheese maker for us, but it was the first time I tasted their Guapier (cow milk).  This cheese has a layer of ash running through the center separating the morning and evening milking.  There really was a stark difference in taste between the two sides and it made for a fun tasting.  It was a really delicious cheese that was really best – in my opinion – eaten by itself.

This was one of those really great cheese experiences.  The company was fun and casual and into the cheese. And the cheese lived up to the moment with great flavors.

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Project 3 (Part B): Fromage Bland… uh… I mean Blanc.

fromage blanc after draining

Goat day was actually more of a goat weekend. Check out Amanda’s chevre posting for the first part of the saga. On Sunday a big group of us got together to experience the final results of the chevre process and to try our hand at some more instantaneous cheese – fromage blanc. I have to admit, I was most excited about this. Not that I don’t like chevre, I do, I love it, but ever since Sarah made a comment a while back about a toasted bagel smothered in fromage blanc I’ve been very excited to make this cheese.

There were numerous road blocks to this process, the primary issue being that apparently all really good cheeses require at least 36 hours to make. Upon reviewing the fromage blanc recipe from my cheese book and a few others on various websites it became clear that we didn’t have enough time in our afternoon of cheese making to do fromage blanc from beginning to end. So I opted to try out a recipe from the foodnetwork.com website that promised more immediate gratification. It was actually a very simple recipe, and as far as ingredients were concerned, all could be bought from your local grocery store (the lemon juice and buttermilk acting as the starter for the cheese).

We decided to try both a goat and a cow version of the fromage blanc so we did two half batches of this recipe. In the beginning the two batches acted and looked almost identical. We heated the milk over the stove once we had added the lemon juice & buttermilk mixture to the two pans. As the milk heated to 175 degrees the cow batch (likely due to the large amounts of cream in it) started getting a little thicker and turned a butter yellow color. After reaching 175 degrees we let the pans sit for 10 minutes and then hung the two batches up to drain in cheesecloth.

The final result was … good. They were also however, bland. They lacked the tang and somewhat cream cheese consistency I associate with fromage blanc. I think if we had not let them drain as long as we did that the consistency would have been more on target. I wish now however that we had started the fromage blanc on Saturday like we did the chevre, as I think that the longer versions of the recipe would have more of the tang and richness of flavor that I was looking for. As a quick way to try cheese making at home I would say this recipe was a great find, but for anyone looking to recreate a more authentic fromage blanc I would recommend you try another recipe.

You can view the pictures of the whole day and the fromage blanc making here.

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