Posts tagged ‘About the Author’

My Cheese Plate and a Short Dissertation on the Subject

Cheeses in France

This month’s Barefoot Bloggers bonus recipe was more of a fun free-for-all.  Suggested by Rebecca of Ezra Pound Cake, participating bloggers each put together a cheese plate for mass digital/visual consumption.  I kept mine very simple, and only included 3 time-tested and well-proven crowd pleasers on the plate — St. Agur (a blue cow’s milk cheese from France), Boucheron (a wonderful goat cheese from France), and Pecorino (a sheep’s milk cheese from Italy that comes in many delectable variations – my favorite is Pecorino Nero):

cheese plate

I thought I would include in this post not only some of my favorite cheeses, but also some standard rules for cheese plate construction that I have picked up from books, restauranteurs, and the occasional honest-to-goodness French person!  And they know what they are talking about.  All of them.  Actually, I spent a year working in a cheese store before I began full-time at an art gallery.  And this is what I learned:

1. It is fun to have a theme to your cheese plate, especially if it is served as an hors d’oeuvres course.  The theme can be as general as “Cheese from France” or as acute as “Manchego” (featuring the cheese at different stages of aging).  Obviously the theme you choose should take into account the type of people you have invited – the uninitiated guest may not appreciate the subtle differences in flavor between Loire valley goat cheese and Corsican goat cheese, but the aficionado may enjoy the challenge – and the type of gathering you are hosting – if you are serving a huge multi-course meal, don’t go too crazy or elaborate with the pre-dinner cheese, but having friends for cocktails can be the perfect time to feature the cheeses you love.

cheese-on-bread with fig jam2. When serving cheese as a course during dinner, it is best to limit yourself to one to three cheeses, as more can overwhelm the palate.  In this setting, it is particularly nice to offer a variety – different milks (cow, sheep, and goat), different textures (soft, semi-hard, hard), maybe one blue cheese – and possibly a selection of accompaniments (baguette and walnut bread or crackers; a fig jam or chutney; some honey and walnuts; or a side plate with olives, cured meats, and fresh fruit).  

3. Always serve cheeses at room temperature for optimal flavor.  I usually take my cheese out of the refrigerator 45 minutes to an hour before serving, and leave it in its wrapper until guests arrive.

4. When tasting multiple types of cheese, start with the most mild-flavored (usually the younger cheeses), and move up the scale to the stinkiest or sharpest (blues, washed rind cheeses, etc.) so that you don’t lose your discerning palate before you even begin!  For this reason, it is always a good idea to know a little bit about the cheeses you’re serving before the party – ask your cheesemonger for a taste, or at least his/her opinion.

5. As a very general rule, when pairing wines with cheese, it is always a good bet to pick a wine from the same region as the cheese – Epoisses with a red Burgundy, Chaource with a Champagne, a chevre with a Sancerre.  Some fun exceptions are the blue cheeses which almost always LOVE a sweeter wine, such as ruby Port or a Sauternes.

So, those are some basic guidelines.  The most important one, however, is: 

6. KEEP EXPERIMENTING!  There are so many wonderful cheeses out in the world, and U.S. farms are now producing some absolutely fantastic examples.  Here are a couple of my favorite cheeses:

cheese-zoomSt. Agur: pictured on my cheese plate, this is a cow’s milk double-cream blue from the Auvergne region of France.  It is less salty and less piquant than other blues, and has a fabulously creamy texture.  I sometimes drizzle a little honey over a spread of this for a great contrast of flavors.  If it weren’t so gosh darned expensive (about $23/lb.), I’d brush my teeth with it. 🙂

RobiolaRochetta:  These mixed-milk cheeses are über-creamy (read: runny) and rich, with a flavor that gathers in strength as it ages.  I could eat these both (but especially the rochetta) in their entirety with just a baguette and a glass of Bordeaux to wash it down.   In fact, please note my last supper request!

Beaufort: This was one of the first cheeses that I truly appreciated.  I was introduced to it in Paris by a French woman who insisted that her daily cheese consumption was the reason for her physical fitness.  Quite a philosophy!  Beaufort tastes similar to gruyere, but has a fruity overtone and a more complex, layered flavor delivered in a subtle progression.

Abbaye de Belloc: This is the most gentle of the cheeses listed here – semi-firm in texture with a creamy, mouth-coating finish and an understated flavor profile.  It is pleasing to nearly every palate and, personally, transports me back to the side of a mountain in the Pyrenees.  That is one of the wonderful things about food – not only does it taste good, it has the ability to conjure up lovely memories.

Humboldt Fog:  When I worked at the cheese shop, this was one of my weaknesses.  From the outside, it looks like a brie – it has a bloomy rind and tends to soften (liquefy, really) from the outside in.  Through the middle of the cheese is a line of vegetable ash, similar to what you would see in a Morbier.  The goat cheese from this west coast producer is almost fluffy in texture, and embodies all that is wonderful in the taste of a good chevre, with a distinctive American look and feel.

Taleggio:  I had to wrap up with the stinkiest of my list.  This northern Italian cheese has a washed rind, meaning that during the affinage period it is ‘washed’ with a rinse of sea water (some cheeses are washed with wine or brandy too) – this promotes molds that prefer the moist surface, and aids the maturing process.  While I have a taste for VERY stinky cheeses too (like Epoisses which is washed with a strong local brandy), taleggio is nice in that the rind has a strong, complex aroma while the interior is more mild and oozy – not nearly as threatening as it seems.

Well, that list of favorite cheeses was longer than I thought!  Thanks for reading, and please leave your comments as to your favorite cheeses – I’m always looking for new ones to try!  If you can’t get enough cheese, check out the other Barefoot Bloggers’ boards.

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January 29, 2009 at 7:45 am 9 comments

The Omnivore’s Hundred – Play Along!

durian

Several months ago, Andrew from Very Good Taste posted a list of 100 things that every good omnivore should try in their lifetime.  The list is nothing if not random – he makes no claims that the separate items are particularly good tasting, let alone transformative experiences, yet there is quite a diversity here, which I can respect.  I have followed his instructions (posted below) and found my own results pretty revealing.  Basically, I can consider myself an omnivore.  I will try almost anything once, with the exception of some live foods (oysters are okay, insects are not) and really spicy foods, because I am deathly afraid my palate will never recover.

Speaking of never recovering, I am on the fence about #46, Fugu.  There is a chance of death with every bite, a chance which I would consider not worth taking.  However, if I actually were to find myself in a very well-known and respected Japanese restaurant in Tokyo, with my honor at stake, I might just dig in.  In fact, whenever I came to a point of uncertainty on the list, I often decided that if I were presented with this item while in its country or province of origin, I would indeed try a bite.  Brown cheese, snake, and pig intestines all sound pretty grotesque to me, but I would give it a go – if only for the right to tell the tale.  Please let me know if you have some tales to tell about any of the below!  And who can guess which of the 100 is pictured above?

Andrew’s Directions:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin *the link on this is bad, and a google search of Kaolin turned up a lot of results with the word diarrhea in them – here, I draw the line.
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

November 18, 2008 at 4:39 pm 5 comments


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