Thanks for all the cheese stories you submitted for my Culture Magazine-sponsored “Cheese for Dummies” contest! I was highly entertained and really enjoyed reading about other’s experiences with cheese. The contest closed last night and I have made the difficult decision of who to bestow a copy of “Cheese for Dummies” on. So, without further ado….
Brian Turner wins!
I loved his story about unwittingly eating an entire wheel of cheese while his parents were out at the theater. If you missed it, here’s his tasty tale:
“When I was about 14 – and obsessively hungry all the time – my parents hosted a few friends at our house for a cheese party prior to a theater performance. After the crowd left I wandered upstairs, ignorant of what the crowd had been eating. I assumed that the strange-looking white blob that had been left on our kitchen counter was some sort of dinner my mother had prepared for me. I grabbed a fork and knife and went to town. Hmm, salty, sweet, delicious. I ate and ate until it was gone.
You might say “you must have known it was cheese?!” I didn’t. I honestly had no idea what I was eating, just that it was really good. Maybe there would have been a vague notion in the back of my head if I had really bothered to ask myself “is this really a wheel of cheese?” But I didn’t.
When my parents returned later that night they asked me where the cheese went. “Oh, that was cheese?,” I replied. I think they were a little horrified. But that’s the ropes, raising a teenage boy, I guess.”
Congrats, Brian! I will be in touch to see where you want your new cheese bible shipped.
My last batch of cheese was an experiment in Blue. Just like an estimate is an informed guess, I think a good definition for experiment is “informed gamble.” Using some of my amateur cheese theory, creative substitution, and jury-rigged equipment, I took an informed gamble on cloning some store-bought Blue cheese. It’s possible that at this point I know just enough to be dangerous.
If I were in Vegas, I’d be out on the Strip, a bouncer having just tossed me, my half-finished cocktail, and a scattering of insufficient funds in the form of plastic chips out on the sidewalk.
The experiment did not work. The gamble did not pay off.
I diligently tended my four little wheels after they were made; flipping them and puncturing them as prescribed. (You can read about how I made the cheese here.) They slowly developed mold; first gray, then bluish. Great! … But the roulette wheel kept spinning… past greenish, to yellowish, and then pink.
It was pretty impressive, microbiologically speaking, but I would have been much happier if the spring-loaded arrow had just stopped on blue! During the process, the wheels also got very slimy and sticky on the outside. They didn’t weep much moisture, just got gooey. And they smelled, but not in a good blue cheesy way. It was a pungent, somehow sweet smelling odor. Rot maybe? Not right. Not at all.
I had intended to take these wheels to our annual Barrel Tasting weekend, but I just couldn’t do it. The words “toxic,” “bio-hazard” and “not fit for human consumption” came easily to mind and I certainly didn’t want to be responsible for anyone’s trip to the hospital.
Know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em. I didn’t even pause to cut the wheels open to see if the interior veining had happened (or to take pictures of the carnage). They just went straight into the compost bin. A total bust.
In my last entry I mentioned that I won a contest and that Culture Magazine gave me a bunch of cool cheese stuff… well, now it’s your turn! One of the cool things I got was the power to hold my own contest and bestow some cool cheese stuff on YOU, my readers!
The prize is pretty enviable: a copy of “Cheese for Dummies” by Laurel Miller and Thalassa Skinner. Here’s a synopsis:
From a pungent Gorgonzola to the creamiest Brie, the world of cheese involves a vocabulary of taste second only to wine. With the rise of artisanal cheeses, this once humble food made from curdled milk is now haute cuisine. And to make the new world of cheese less intimidating, Laurel Miller and Thalassa Skinner have created a handy primer to selecting cheese, pairing cheese with wine, cooking with cheese, and making cheese. In Cheese For Dummies, everyday cheese lovers will learn how to become true cheese connoisseurs.
Not only will readers get a look at how different cheeses are made around the world, in Cheese For Dummies, they’ll develop enough of a palate to discern which cheese is right for them.
Sounds like a real page-turner, huh? (I don’t even own a copy, myself, and this has got me thinking that my cheese library is lacking.) This book is for you though. So, get your entry in, cross your fingers, rub your rabbit’s foot, and don’t take off that lucky underwear!
Here’s how to enter: Leave a comment on this post and tell me about your best, most exciting or interesting experience with cheese. Make it a good one!
Next Sunday, March 17, 2013 (because even if you’re not Irish, that’s a luck day), I’ll select a winner based on how much I love your cheese story. I’ll post the winner’s name on the blog and also email you directly, so that we can make arrangements to have your copy of “Cheese for Dummies” mailed to you.
Don’t be a dummy, enter now. Best of luck!!!
If you hadn’t heard, I recently won a contest hosted by Culture Magazine (“the word on cheese”). I was very excited, as you might imagine. All I did was submit this blog and a few words on my enthusiasm for hosting a cheese party and they picked me! They sent me their fabulous Winter Cheese Plate consisting of wedges of Fort St. Antoine Comte, Great Lake Cheshire, and Bayley Hazen Blue, as well as some spiced pecans and oat crackers. In return, I threw a cheese party for my friends and then wrote a blog post that was recently published on Culture Magazine’s website. I would love for you to go read it! I also won a year’s subscription to the paper version of Culture Magazine; a lovely, glossy periodical of utter turophilia. AND… a chance to hold my own contest for my readers. The prize is a good one… stay tuned for more details!
I’m sitting here sipping hot tea, nursing a cold. It’s that season. I wonder where this bug came from. I work from home, so I don’t get exposed to much. But germs and bacteria are crafty and tenacious. It’s no surprise I come down with something every once in a while, no matter how hard I try to avoid it.
But while I try hard to avoid the rhino-virus, I have to admit that I’ve been trying harder to spread other bacteria. Last weekend I made blue cheese and I’m doing everything I can get this mold to go viral. Once again I’m attempting to “clone” blue cheese by inoculating my milk with mold from a sample of store-bought Roquefort. This hasn’t really worked well in the past, but I’m determined (and too cheap and lazy to order cultures), and I really think it would be SO cool if I could make it work! Third time’s a charm, right?
This time, I decided to go all out, like a regular Roquefoid Mary trying to spread the cultured contagion. I bought the most robustly moldy piece of cheese I could find; one that looked gooey-fuzzy with green mold. When I got it home, I unwrapped it to give it some air and encourage the mold to flourish and I put it in the aging box that my homemade cheese would eventually be stored in, hoping some invisible mold spores might settle inside the box. I kept it in the cave for about a day, so the higher temperature would encourage the mold. Mind you, none of this is proven or promoted anywhere… just my own somewhat-scientifically-based theories on how to start a mold riot.
For the cheese, I used Amrein-Boyes’ recipe for Castle Blue, which is a pretty straight forward and low-effort cheese. Instead of inoculating the milk with powdered Penicillium roqueforti though, I used 2 teaspoons of the moldiest bits of my Roquefort cheese emulsified in a quarter cup of cool water (as prescribed by Frankhauser). For one thing, the floating green specks made me feel that the milk was satisfyingly infected!
The recipe resulted in four small, very moist, wheels of cheese that I am storing in aging boxes in the cave and turning every day. I’ve placed chunks of the original Roquefort on bottle tops and set them in the boxes with the cheese to encourage mold proliferation. I know that dairy products like milk and butter can be inadvertently colonized by Penicillium roqueforti when kept in a regular refrigerator with blue cheese, so I’m basically trying to make that happen on purpose. The recipe calls for piercing the wheels after a week, which will let the mold get down inside the cheese too. I’ll let you know when I start seeing results! Meanwhile, I’m off to kill these other buggies with some orange juice.
This Thanksgiving my contribution to the family feast was appetizers. Of course, most of my family is on Facebook and I have the habit of posting copious Instagramed images of my kitchen creations, so I needed to come up with something impressive that would live up to my shameless online culinary braggadocio… So, I made sourdough toasts topped with Ricotta Dolce and vanilla pear butter. Yum, huh?!
The sourdough toasts were from French bread baguettes compliments of Yeasty Pete, my two-year-old sourdough starter. The vanilla pear butter was a recipe given to me by a friend who had brought it to my cheese party earlier in the year, where we found it eminently compatible with cheeses of all kinds. (Check out the recipe below!) The Ricotta Dolce used a recipe from Debra Amrein-Boyes’ 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes. This was just the book closest to hand as I was rushing out the door for the 9-hour drive to Los Angeles, but ended up having a Ricotta Dolce recipe I had not tried before, which yielded some interesting observations.
All cheese making books seem to have a recipe for Ricotta Dolce (aka Whole-Milk Ricotta). It is an easy fresh cheese to make and is a mock-version of true Ricotta. Authentic Ricotta is made by “recooking” and acidifying whey left over from Mozzarella making. Ricotta Dolce starts with whole milk that is heated to high temperatures and acidified, producing a similar fluffy moist spreadable cheese.
I have tried two Ricotta Dolce recipes in the past; one from Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making and the other by my friend Louella. I also made it once in a cheese making class at the Urban Homesteading Institute. Interestingly, there seem to be two different approaches. Without reiterating entire recipes, at least two I’ve used (Carroll’s and Amrein-Boyes’) call for adding the acid (lemon juice or citric acid) first then heating the milk to scalding (anywhere from 175 to 190-degrees). However, the two other recipes (Louella’s and the Institute of Urban Homesteading’s) call for heating the milk to the right temperature then adding the acid. Both methods seem to work, but in one the curds emerge slowly from the milk as it warms, and in the other they burst forth suddenly as the acid hits the hot milk. I tend to prefer the latter, just for drama’s sake!
The recipe I used this Thanksgiving used the add-acid-then-heat method, which was not very exciting and had me worried for a bit, when curds started showing up at unexpected times. It allowed for some prime observation though. I noticed small curds emerging very early in the process, when the heat was still pretty low. Then, they seemed to recede back into the milk at the mid-point, then appeared again in thick clusters as the heat hit its peak. Rather than waiting for the temperature to hit its highest before fishing the curds out, I started pulling them out into a cloth-lined colander as they appeared. This did not seem to affect the end product much, and cleared the way for new clusters of curds to pop to the surface. The ultimate draining time was a factor though. Amrein-Boyes’ recipe calls for draining the curds for up to an hour, but by the time I was done pulling all the curds out of the pot I felt that the drained curds were already becoming too dry and dense. Had I drained them for an hour, they would have been dry and crumbly. As it was, they were on the verge of being unspreadable, but worked okay on my toasts. I will make a note on that recipe to not drain the curds much at all in order to retain that super moist Ricotta consistency.
Now, choose your own Ricotta Dolce recipe adventure… will it be slow and subtle or magically dramatic?… and don’t forget to make some pear butter too!
Vanilla Pear Butter… Cheese’s Best Friend
Note: Vanilla beans are insanely expensive! My local Whole Foods-wannabe market was charging $13.99 for ONE bean, so I just used extract. I later found a much more affordable option at Costco (something like 10 beans for 10 bucks). Also, my pears were pretty juicy and made a thinner sauce. I think this could be solved by using harder (less ripe) pears or simmering the sauce for longer to cook off the excess liquid. Either way though, this is amazing stuff and works so well with cheese!
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- 7 pears, any variety, peeled, cored and cut into quarters
- 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, or about 4 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- In a large saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil, and continue to simmer for 2 minutes. Add pears and cook over medium heat 60 minutes or until fruit is very tender and juices are thick and have begun to caramelize.
- Remove saucepan from heat, add vanilla, and stir in lemon juice. Transfer to a food processor and puree until smooth or use immersion blender. Transfer to clean, sterilized jars and lids. Refrigerate for up to 2 months or process in a hot water bath for longer storage.
After the Nicasio Pumpkin Patch event in late October, we had a little extra mozzarella curd left over… Okay, a lot of curd left over. We gave a bunch away to the volunteers who helped at our booth and there was still some left, so I adopted a few orphan bags of curd and took them home. After stretching a few blocks and promptly eating them… alone, in one sitting… I decided it might be better for my waistline if I shared. So, the following weekend I invited a couple of friends over and, in the tradition of quilting bees and stitch-and-bitches, we had a mozzarella stretching bee. Neither Laura or Aparna had ever made cheese before, but they picked up the technique and we soon had that cheese spun nicely. Thanks for the fun time and taking a few cheese chubs off my hands (and hips), ladies!