As three weeks of traveling in Bolivia and Paraguay on assignment for various journalistic outlets comes to a close (What, you thought I only wrote captions for weird goat pics?), I’ve finally compiled all my cheesy experiences to share with you.
After a decade of exploring South America (some of it on assignment for culture: the word on cheese), I’ve learned that cheese is ubiquitous throughout the continent. It’s a vital source of protein and other nutrients, and a provides a crucial income for people living in primarily rural areas.
Most of the cheese produced in South America is fresh, due to a lack of refrigeration, hot climate, or both. There are some semi-maduro and maduro (aged) cheeses produced in Argentina, which is the world’s largest producer of Parmesan (not to be confused with Parmigiano Reggiano) outside of Italy. Ecuador, Uruguay, and Chile, also produce some aged cheeses, due to the large numbers of Swiss, German, and Italian immigrants. But these are specialty products, and generally not consumed by the general populace for economic reasons. A limited number of these products are exported to the United States.
In South America, cheese is used as a garnish, or as an integral part of street and regional foods. Depending upon the country or region, cheeses may be made with cow’s or goat’s milk, or, less frequently, sheep’s milk. I’ve read that llama’s milk has also been consumed in the Andean Highlands and used for cheesemaking, but have been unable to substantiate these facts (regardless, it’s not something that’s done these days, so far as I know).
In Bolivia, one finds both cow’s and goat’s milk cheeses, although goats are raised only in specific regions, where vegetation is sparse.
As the poorest country in South America, cheese is definitely an important source of nutrients for many Bolivians. I talked to some market vendors who produced cheese from their few goats and cows, but, to be honest, I avoided purchasing any of their cheese (anyone who’s spent time in a Bolivian marketplace understands where I’m coming from). It’s not a diss on the country, but a reflection on the poverty and lack of adequate sanitation. Still, I remained listeriosis-free after having some “fresh” cheese on the final afternoon of a three-day trek in the Cordillera Real. It had been without refrigeration the entire time, and I would never have eaten it of my own accord, but when your guide prepares your lunch for you (especially in a country where so many go hungry), you eat it.
More palate-pleasing is the use of sweetened, crumbly cheese in empanadas, or gooey, melty cheeses in same. Grated cheese is frequently used atop fideos (pasta). It’s in Paraguay, however, that cheese is elevated to celebrity status, appearing in many of this tropical country’s national dishes. It’s a staple ingredient, alongside corn and corn flour, manioca, and yerba mate. And oh, how delicious Paraguayan food is.
The country has a strong indigenous influence from its native Guarani people, and is South America’s only bilingual country. The tropical climate makes it an agricultural haven, and it’s also a major cattle ranching state.
While lacking in natural resources, a relatively high number of Paraguay’s rural people (which is actually the minority of the population) own small plots of land, so keeping a small herd of dairy cattle (or, less frequently, goats) is common.
Paraguyan food reflects its indigenous heritage, as exemplified by chipa (corn flour-and-cheese hardtack); mbeju (manioc, cheese, and lard pancakes); empanadas that make neighboring Argentina’s appear anemic by comparison; and chipa guazu, a soufflé-like, cheesy cornbread. Paraguay’s strong German influence also means kuchen, quark-stuffed bread, excellent ice cream, dulce de leche, and other decadent, dairy-centric desserts. Fluid milk is also consumed, in mate cocido (a sweetened tea), and liquados (fruit shakes).
Thank god I’m lactose intolerant, because it’s prevented my ass from getting even fatter (lard being the other much celebrated ingredient, which is why the baked goods are so damned delicious).
A few days ago, I stayed at Granja El Roble, an agriturismo and working farm up north in the department of Concepcion. It’s owned by a German-Paraguayan couple, who make their own cheese from the milk of their cows. As a special treat for myself, the cheese geek, and a couple of German backpackers, they prepared raclette for us one night (yes, I know it’s Swiss, but when one is on the other side of the world, foods from neighboring countries can seem like home).
Making raclette in the jungle ranks as one of the most unusual experiences I’ve had. Yet it was delicious, and it reminded me of why food is so integral to travel.
Whether taken out of context, like the raclette, or prepared in their place of origin following tradition, these types of culinary experiences usually make for lasting memories. The fact that cheese is often the conduit is just the proverbial whipped cream on the tres leches cake.
[Photo credits: Laurel Miller]
It’s taken this long for my arteries and liver to return to a somewhat working state, and so I bring you this exclusive, behind-the-scenes look of a night in the life of a Cochon 555 judge. It’s a dirty, debaucherous job that involves copious amounts of pork, pork fat, pork innards, cheese, and bourbon. Those nouns nicely sum up Cochon’s March 10 event at the Four Seasons Vail.
But wait: What is Cochon 555? Simply put, it’s the creation of the Taste Network’s Brady Lowe. Lowe conceived the event as a way to promote awareness about sustainable farming practices and heritage livestock breeds. These are domestic breeds—many of which are threatened with extinction—that have been around before the advent of industrialized agriculture. Educating the food community and public about heritage livestock works to protect genetic diversity, and keep small farms in business. Cochon 555 carries out its message via a traveling circus of sorts, by showcasing five winemakers, five chefs, and five family farm-raised pigs in each destination.
Vail is one of 10 stops on the national tour. This year, competing Colorado chefs included reigning champ Alex Seidel (Fruition, Denver), Kelly Liken (Restaurant Kelly Liken, Vail), Hosea Rosenberg (Blackbelly Catering, Boulder), Jason Harrison (Flame, Four Seasons Vail), and Lon Symensma (ChoLon, Denver). They were vying for the title of Prince or Princess of Porc. Come June 16, the 10 city winners will throw down at the Grand Cochon, held at the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen.
I was fortunate enough to be one of 20 judges at this unholy gathering of chefs, mixologists, distillers, winemakers, brewers, butchers, charcuterers, cheesemongers, and other assorted gluttons. I was pleased to see that joining me in the judging room was Will Frischkorn of Boulder’s Cured cheese shop; he and wife Coral also contributed a spectacular cheese board for the event (star of the show: Durango’s James Ranch Belford cheese…available at Cured, natch). In preparation for the task ahead, we all warmed up by pouring ourselves some bourbon (courtesy of Buffalo Trace and Four Roses). It was time to get serious.
Each chef is required to create a nose-to-tail menu from a 200-pound pig (which, for the judges, meant tasting upwards of 30 dishes in the space under half an hour). The dishes are then judged, based upon criteria such as presentation and utilization, and, of course, flavor. In case you’re thinking this is some boring-ass bacon-and-loin chop show, allow us to reassure you it is not.
Among the dishes on offer were a soulful Pork Belly Ramen with bacon dashi (I didn’t say there was a lack of bacon) and quail egg, and many, many variations on charcuterie in all its glorious permutations. There was a surprising—and delicious– Malay “bone tea (Lon Symensma),” which is essentially a complex, porky broth with floaty bits. There were crispy bits of spleen and fried ears and positively crack-like siu mai and pork satay with compressed pineapple (Alex Seidel). But best of all, there was dessert.
Believe it or not, a backfat brownie with malted bacon-habanero ice cream, bacon peanut brittle, and Leopold Bros. Michigan Tart Cherry Liqueur (“Sundae on Sunday; Hosea Rosenberg), and S’mores made from bacon graham cracker, lardo fudge, candied pork belly, pecans, and rind marshmallow (Jason Harrison) are not just excellent, but life-affirming. And while we can’t tell you the difference in taste between Liken’s Large Black and Harrison’s Mulefoot hogs, there’s just no comparison with regard to industrial and heritage pork. It’s…porky…as well as tender, often redolent of the supplemental feeds the animals eat (such as acorns, hazelnuts, or whey), and capped with a glorious, snowy mantle of fat. This is the other white meat, although it’s actually pink in color.
Harrison scored the crown thanks to his innovative dessert, as well as savory treats like Porchetta Belly with Carolina Truffle BBQ, Pork Jus, and Lardo Whipped Potatoes, and “The Nasty Bits (head croquette, pastrami tongue, deviled kidney, and brain terrine). To aid with digestion, Fernet Branca was pouring, but with so many regional distilleries to choose from (including Breckenridge Distllery and High West Distillery), the bourbon, rye, and whiskey overfloweth’d.
Then there were the beers and wines, the cheese board from Cured (Boulder), the cocktail punch competition, a mindblowing butchery demo of a whole hog by chef Bill Greenwood of Beano’s Cabin (Beaver Creek), a Heritage BBQ by chef Justin Smith of Bol (Vail), and late-night tartare bar (I find a porkapalooza always finishes nicely with some raw meat snackage). The after-party at Flame gave way to boozy socializing in the hotel bar. Great food, great time, great cause. Get your tickets now for Aspen: I’ll be the one holding the Lipitor.
[All photos courtesy of Galdones Photography]
There are dozens of different goat breeds from around the world, but here in the U.S., we tend to see just a handful (sad, but true). Goat breeds fall into three main categories, depending upon their intended use: meat, milk, or fiber. Some breeds are used for cross-purposes.
As for why breed diversity is slim pickings Stateside, one needs to understand that we’re one of the few cultures in the world that doesn’t routinely eat goat. Goat is the most widely consumed meat worldwide, and a staple throughout Latin America, Africa, Central Asia the Caribbean, Middle East, and parts of Europe.
While goat is gaining ground on North American high-end and ethnic menus, we’re just too squeamish (and anthropomorphic) for it to catch on as a mainstream protein source. It’s a shame, because goat is good eating (look to future posts on this topic).
Cultures that consume goat meat also prize their milk as a source of vital protein and other nutrients, often in the form of yogurt or cheese. In certain parts of the world, goats are even used as pack animals. For most of the planet, goat and its by-products provide subsistence, and have serious economic, as well as social, value.
We also don’t prize goats for their fiber, although we’re all familiar with cashmere (derived from the fine, silky hair of the Kashmir or Cashmere goat, or Pygora or Nigora goats), and mohair, which comes from the Angora goat (not to be confused with the Angora rabbit, which is also used for its wool).
What North Americans love goats for (besides their inherent cuteness and ability to clear brush) is milk, primarily for use in cheesemaking. The most popular dairy breeds here mostly aren’t American in origin, but were brought to this country as dairy animals. Over the generations, due to improvements in breeding stock, these breeds have become prized for their various attributes, which range from milk yield and butterfat content, to temperament and mothering abilities.
Below, a guide to the most common American goat breeds:
Nubian: Although they have a rep for being a bit bratty and exceedingly vocal, this Middle Eastern/North African breed with the beguiling long ears and Roman nose produces high-butterfat milk. The Nubian’s yield is lower than that of other breeds, which is why they’re sometimes cross-bred. In color, they often have intricate spotted, patchy, or stripey patterns.
Alpine: These prolific milkers hail from the French Alps, and are immensely popular because they’re sturdy, gregarious, and adaptable to any climate. They vary in color.
LaMancha: Despite its misleading name, this “earless” breed originated in Oregon in the 1930′s. LaMancha refers to the windswept plains region of central Spain, as the breed is believed to have likely descended from the native Murciana goat. LaMancha’s do have ears, of course; it’s the pinna, or external portion, that’s missing. They’re prized for their high yields of butterfat-rich milk, friendly nature, and hardiness.
Toggenburg: This very old breed from the Switzerland’s Toggenburg Valley is the Honda of goats: mid-size, sturdy, and moderate (with regard to milk yield and butterfat content).
Saanen: One of the most “goaty” looking caprines, Saanens are white-to-cream in color, with forward-pointing, slightly floppy ears and a calm temperament. They have the highest milk yield, but a low butterfat content.
Oberhasli: If ever there were a goat beauty pageant, these gregarious, russet-to-bay animals with their black dorsal stripes, legs, and muzzles (a pattern known as “chamoisee”) would kill it. Oberhasli’s are growing in popularity here, but they originated in the Swiss Alps, where they’re widely used because of their high yield and butterfat content.
Nigerian Dwarf: Despite their name, which sounds like something from a kinky Craigslist ad, these are miniature goats of West African origin. While some cheesemakers such as Oregon’s Pholia Farm use Nigerians for their production, the breed is really making its mark on the urban goat husbandry market. Most cities require backyard goats to be crossed with Nigerians or Pygmy goats, to keep them at a manageable size. Despite their small stature, Nigerian’s produce a high volume of milk, making them ideal for caprine-loving urbanites.
Ignore the rather unglamorous-sounding name of this recipe. What it lacks in euphoniousness is more than made up for by its flavor, a sublime blend of the savory, salty, pungent, creamy, and herbaceous.
It’s also ridiculously easy to prepare; keep some frozen ground pork in your freezer, and you’ll always have a top-notch appetizer on hand for drop-in guests.
Recipe by John Scaggs, Haystack Mountain
Serves up to 15 as a starter
1 pound high-quality ground pork, room temperature
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves, chopped fine, plus several sprigs for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1-2 good-quality baguettes, cut on bias in 1/4-inch-thick slices
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients. Spread about one tablespoon of pork mixture on each piece of baguette, and place on foil- or parchement-lined baking sheet. Garnish crostini with another dusting of grated cheese, and bake until pork is firm but not hard, and crostini are crisp, about five minutes. Serve immediately, on a platter garnished with oregano sprigs.
Note: Leftover uncooked pork makes for a great addition to pasta sauce or meatballs.
You know how sometimes, when you’re traveling, you stumble across a restaurant, café, bar, or specialty food shop that just draws you in? Maybe you’re not even hungry or thirsty, and yet, next thing you know you’re inside, and suddenly, all is right with the world. That, friends, is Mission Cheese.
Owner Sarah Dvorak opened her cozy wine and cheese bar nearly two years ago, in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. Her goal was to “celebrate American artisan cheese,” and clearly, she tapped into the San Franciscan mania for celebrating all things domestic, vintagey and hand-hewn. The place has been packed ever since.
A few days ago, while in SF on a working holiday, I met up with a friend at what’s become my out-of-town version of “Cheers.” Everybody may not know my name, but the staff and atmosphere are always convivial, and, perhaps because cheese geeks tend to flock together, it’s ridiculously easy to strike up a conversation. Just ask your neighbor what what they’re eating.
Everything about Mission Cheese is captivating, from the rustic, reclaimed woodwork, concrete walls, and glazed, olive-colored tiles beneath the bar, to the homey striped cotton napkins and milk bottles-turned water vessels. Behind the bar, glass-fronted, reach-in cheese coolers house a carefully selected, rotating curation of some of the finest cheeses in America (not to, ahem, brag, but Haystack Mountain is among the Chosen).
The menu is short and sweet, featuring three regional cheese plates for $12 a pop. Each comes with a generous selection of sliced baguette, dried fruit, and cornichons. There are also delectable hot sandwiches, seasonal salads, and a few cheese-centric classics such as Raclette.
In addition to the Raclette (which comes blanketed over cornichons and garlic-roasted potatoes), we sprang for the California plate and housemade pickled sunchokes (in a word: addictive). I chose the local plate because it featured a couple of cheeses that were new to me: Boont Corners, an aged, natural rind goat’s milk number from Pennyroyal Farm in Boonville (hints of hazelnut and cream, with a lovely, shard-like texture), and Bay Blue, the new release from Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company.
Bay Blue is one of the most gorgeous of its genre I’ve ever experienced, with notes of vanilla, cake batter, and blueberry, a slight gritty texture, and a sweet cream finish. It will convert even the most blue-averse.
We also sampled a wedge of Foster Lake, a delicate, oozy goat Camembert from Southern Oregon’s Fraga Farm. The Pacific Northwest has become the nation’s goat cheese epicenter, and hard-to-find exports from micro-dairies such Fraga are a rarity, even in nearby San Francisco.
That’s the thing about being in the cheese business. Even though many of us are producing the “same” product, there are endless variations related to terroir, species, breed, cheesemaker, etc. It’s always fun to visit other producers and retail and wholesale outlets to see what’s out there, and find inspiration and revelation. We heart places like Mission Cheese, and the cheesemakers who make it all possible.
People have very strong feelings about certain types of cheese. Just the other night, I was at a bar with some friends, one of whom was keeping a death grip on a half-wheel of Epoisses I’d given him. For the uninitiated, Epoisses–which hails from Burgundy–is one of the most sublime cheeses on earth, but it’s also one of the most odiferous. The fumes from the cheese wafted across our table, practically hovering in a fog around us. Earlier in the day, we’d paired it with some Calvados, and the results were nothing short of revelatory.
Stinky cheeses possess what are known as “washed rinds.” When you hear a cheese likened to dirty feet or sweaty socks, funky armpits, or described as punchy, yeasty, beefy, meaty, or barnyard, chances are good it’s a washed rind. This style of cheese also possesses a signature rind, which is sticky and orangish, reddish, pinkish, or brownish in color. Their interior can range from soupy (cue the aforementioned Epoisses) to semi-firm.
Washed rinds get their name from their “make” process. They’re washed with brine (or beer, wine, grappa, brandy, etc.), which facilitates the growth of Brevibacterium linens, or B. linens, a bacteria that gives these cheeses their signature stink. It also prevents unwanted molds or bacteria from entering the cheese, while enabling good organisms to ripen it and develop its distinctive flavor. B. linens itself is responsible for the color, texture, and smell that are the hallmarks of most washed rind cheeses.
B. linens can exist naturally in the air where the cheese ages, but usually it’s added to the brine. The cheeses are usually washed as they age, as well. Cool trivia: B.linens also naturally exists on the human body, which explains why these cheeses are often said to smell like feet. Despite their signature funk, bear in mind cheese of any type should never smell like ammonia, which is a sign it’s overripe. Washed rinds in particular are prone to this characteristic. As long as they’re not too far gone, you can remedy the situation by allowing them to air out for up to an hour before serving,
We love washed rinds, which is why we produce two versions of our own: Sunlight, and the award-winning Red Cloud. Both are punchy, semi-firm cheeses with flavors ranging from toasted almonds to freshly-cut grass (Sunlight is the less assertive of the two, although both are fairly mellow as washed rinds go). To quote well-known cheesemonger and author Gordon Edgar of San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery Cooperative: “Red Cloud is an incredibly underrated cheese. Many people have tried — and failed — to make a raw milk, washed rind, goat cheese that is consistently good, but Haystack has this one down. Red Cloud is firmer than you might imagine for this style, but is meaty, fruity, tangy, and complex. This is one of my favorite American cheeses.” Thanks, Gordon!
I can’t help noticing that men in particular seem to have a thing for washed rinds. Maybe it’s a holdover from their bachelor days, when they happily wallowed in their in their own filth, living amidst dirty clothes, sheets, and dishes. Perhaps it’s more primal than that: he who was the smelliest produced the most blatant pheromones in order to secure a mate.
Whatever the reason, dudes usually dig stinky cheese, in the same way they love beer. This is convenient, because washed rinds and beer are a love match like no other. This Valentine’s Day, give that someone special (even if that person is you, and even if you’re female) the gift of romance. Nothing says, “I love you” like a super funk cheese and a six-pack of craft brew.
Some pairing tips:
Belgian ales, Lambics, hard ciders, and IPA’s are particularly washed rind-friendly. The rule of thumb is to match intensities between beer and cheese, or strive for contrast (this also applies to wine, spirits, or N/A beverages). Pair beer with our Sunlight or Red Cloud, or world-class cheeses such as Munster (the real deal is a primo soft, stinky cheese from Alsace; Muenster is a semi-soft American invention that is fairly bland); Livarot; Pont l’Eveque, or Taleggio. For domestics, we love Rush Creek Reserve (Uplands Cheese Company), Red Hawk (Cowgirl Creamery), and Grayson (Meadow Creek Dairy).
Are you a Bart’s Trustafarian Burger (Haystack Mountain chevre, arugula, honey, bacon)” person, or a “There’s a Hippie in My Home (veggie sandwich)” type? If it’s the former, read on. The latter? No offense, but this one’s not for you.
It recently came to our attention that Oskar Blues’ Home Made Liquids and Solids location in Longmont makes a damn fine hamburger, using beef and pork from their own ranch. Last week, we went in for a fix, and ended up chatting briefly with chef de cuisine Louis Thomas. He told us a little more about the brewery’s innovative agricultural endeavors, as well as revealed the secrets behind the famous “Wusstah Re-mastered” burger.
Haystack Mountain: So, you have a ranch out in Hygiene called Hops and Heifers. What are the details?
Louis Thomas: We started the ranch in 2010, and the beef program in April of last year. Hops and Heifers is actually located right next to Haystack Mountain [the landmark). We have approximately 20 head of Angus on 50 acres, plus two acres of high-trellis hops. We also raise Berkshire pigs, and have additional cattle at our sister ranches in Wellington and Kersey. Geoffrey Hess is our ranch manager.
HM: And where does that beef end up?
LT: Primary in our burgers, because they're such a big part of our business. We also do chicken-fried steak, and the pork goes in our Berkshire burger, and smoked belly. We'll also reserve special cuts of beef and pork for our quarterly beer dinners.
HM: In our line of work, whey--which is the by-product of cheesemaking--is often fed to pigs as a high-protein dietary supplement. Do you use anything from the brewery to feed your livestock?
LT: We do. We give them the spent grain, which is low in sugar, and high in protein. It's economical and healthy.
HM: Speaking of health, tell us about your Wusstah burger.
LT: Well, I lived in Worcester, Massachusetts, before I moved here, and I grew up near there. It's ham that's been brine-cured in Mama's Little Yella Pils, then whiskey barrel-smoked. The burger is topped with mustard (also made with Mama's), and unmelted, aged cheddar.
HM: We will definitely see you soon!
[Photo credits: Oskar Blues Brewery]
Most people don’t realize that cheese is a seasonal product. Since its discovery sometime around 2000 BC, fresh cheese has been a way to use surplus milk. The process of aging cheese is actually one of the earliest methods of food preservation, and provided crucial protein and other nutrients during the lean winter months, when certain species of dairy animals don’t usually lactate.
Despite advances in the dairy industry over the centuries, cheesemaking has changed little, and on a small scale, remains a highly seasonal endeavor. Since milk is the main ingredient in cheese, it’s important to understand how its chemical composition changes over the course of a year. These factors are additionally influenced by species, breed, terrain, and climate.
Milk comes from lactating mammals, i.e., those that have recently given birth. In the case of cheese, that milk comes from a ruminant, or cud-chewing mammal with a four-chambered stomach. The stomachs of ruminants are specially adapted to break down their entirely plant-based diet.
Now, think about the seasonal nature of grasses and other woody, leafy plants (goats are browsers, rather than grazers, and so prefer to strip branches of shrubs and trees or nibble thorny grasses to obtain nutrients). Here in Colorado, pasture is either covered in snow, or fairly barren, as is the case with our high-desert dairy in Cañon City. In that part of the state, there’s little in the way of forage for goats, even during the spring and summer months, which is why we supplement our goats’ diet with alfalfa hay and grain year- round.
The change in diet is one major reason why milk undergoes compositional changes with the seasons. In the case of our herd, the biggest change that we see is in the ratio of solids (fats and proteins) in the milk, which become higher in winter.
Climate changes can also affect milk. There’s a sharp contrast in seasonal temperature in Colorado (in Cañon City, it routinely tops 100 degrees in summer, and drops to the mid-20s in winter). Goats are naturally inclined to drink more water in hot weather (which is also generally when they’re lactating), which results in lower levels of milk solids during the summer months. The variance in milk solids requires our cheesemaker to carefully review their levels and make slight recipe adjustments throughout the year.
The timing of breeding season also depends upon goat breed and climate. Goats naturally lactate for up to 10 months after kidding. Ideally, they’ll be given a break before being bred again, to allow their bodies to regain strength. For a cheese company of our size- we maintain a herd of 1,100 milkers- we can stagger the breeding. This enables us to keep a small, but continuous, supply of milk throughout the year, so we can continue to make cheese. Like us, many cheesemakers also have aged cheese in their line, so they have product to sell during the winter months.
Fortunately, our does have just started kidding again, and a plentiful supply of milk and bouncy baby goats are just around the corner. We look forward to seeing you soon at the farmers markets!
For more detailed information on goat milk composition, go to the DRINC (Dairy Research & Information Center, UC Davis) website.
We just returned from the Winter Fancy Food show (official title: National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, or NASFT), which was held in San Francisco January 20-22. Since 1952, NASFT has been holding this twice-yearly event in order to promote…fancy foods. Retailers, wholesalers, chefs, restaurateurs, and many, many people who put together corporate gift baskets for a living attend the show, which this year received over 17,000 attendees.
Of the 80,000+ products featured at the show, many were cheeses from around the world. Food trends being what they are, however, it’s also safe to say that 2013 is the year of coconut water, single-serving, squeezable fruit “snacks” (don’t ask), botanical beverages, and chocolate of every imaginable origin.
John spent most of the show sampling Haystack cheese at the booth of our West Coast distributor, World’s Best Cheeses. When I wasn’t standing in for him on breaks, I was out cruising the floor. Between us, we overheard, tasted, and saw a lot, both at the show, and while out and about in the city. We also developed shameless crushes on a couple of salumi makers (more on that, below).
Below, our most memorable moments at this year’s Fancy Food. We’re already counting down the days until next year.
1. Meeting legendary–and utterly charming–salumi maker Cristiano Creminelli, and chatting with him about pork fat and why Salt Lake City is the new hipster food hub, for the better part of an hour.
2. Being reminded of how close-knit the domestic cheese community is, and how supportive we are of one another.
3. Finally checking out Mission Cheese, and realizing what all the fuss is about. This, in a city that’s been my home off and on for over half my life. Sorry, NYC, but no one does food like SF, and the quality of product is a huge part of that.
4. Rediscovering that coconut water may be overexposed, but it’s still the best hangover cure on earth.
5. Binging on chocolate, followed by dulce de leche, chorizo, kale chips, and copious amounts of ham isn’t a bad combo. You simply need to wash it down with generous helpings of Gouda, dried plantains, and hot sauce, with a vinegar tasting for dessert. Just don’t forget your dinner reservation is in two hours.
6. Is it wrong that I even miss the Tenderloin?
1. Italians really put the ‘fancy’ in Fancy Food.
2. That “Portlandia” episode wasn’t that far off; apparently you can pickle anything on earth.
3. When renting a bike in San Francisco, be sure to spring for the special biking map that shows where the (few and far between) flat streets are.
4. Too much of anything is a bad thing, regardless of how fancy it is. I realize my Italian ancestors would be rolling in their graves if they heard me say this, but if I saw one more prosciutto, I was going to hurl.
5. North Beach is where it’s at.
6. David Katz of Sub Rosa Salumi in Napa makes some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
Baby, it’s cold outside. Snuggle up with a bowl of this rich, sweet, filling soup, heaped with smoky chevre. Mmmmm.
1 large kabocha or medium butternut squash, about 4 lbs.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 slices bacon, diced
1 large yellow onion, chopped
6 cups chicken stock
1/2 cups heavy cream
juice of one orange
salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
extra virgin olive oil, for garnish
fried sage leaves, for garnish*
4 ounces Haystack Mountain Applewood Smoked Chevre, for garnish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Halve squash lengthwise, and place cut side down on an oiled baking sheet. Bake until squash can be easily skewered with tip of a paring knife, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. With a spoon, remove seeds and discard. Scrape the pulp and reserve in a bowl. Discard the skin.
Melt one tablespoon of butter in a stockpot over medium heat. Add the bacon and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and the bacon is just turning golden, about 7 minutes. Add the squash and chicken stock, and simmer until the squash falls apart, about 30 minutes. Let cool for about 20 minutes.
Working in small batches, puree the soup in a blender (don’t fill it more than half-way, or the hot soup can explode from the container) until very smooth. Strain through a fine mesh strainer or chinois into a clean stockpot, and add the cream and orange juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If the soup is too thick, thin it with a bit of stock or water, and reheat if necessary
Ladle the soup into hot bowls, and garnish with a drizzle of the olive oil. Crumble a bit of chevre over each bowl, garnish with *two sage leaves (fry them lightly in olive oil until crisp), and serve immediately.
© The Sustainable Kitchen ®, 1999.
Cheeses can easily pick up odors from other foods in your fridge. In an attempt to minimize this phenomenon, we’ve created these beautiful, handmade wooden cheese vaults. They’ll help to prevent cheeses from absorbing off-flavors from other like onions, fish, and two-week-old sushi leftovers.
Our cheese vaults also make great gifts for the cheese lovers in your life, as well as an elegant way to present them with a custom cheese sampler (we’ll help you put it together). The vaults alone are $20, or free with a purchase of $50 or more. Give us a call at (720)494-8714, or stop by the creamery to get yours today.
Cheese plates can be intimidating, but once you learn a few rules of thumb, they’re a surprisingly easy and affordable way to entertain. Whether you’re serving two or 200, the basics are the same. Read (we’ve made it an easy, Q & A format for you, ‘cos we love you), learn, and astound your friends and family with your Martha Stewarty talents. You’re welcome.
Happy holidays, from all of us at Haystack.
How much cheese should I buy?
For a party, allow one ounce of each cheese per person (16 ounces = 1 pound), assuming there are other snackies available, or dinner will follow.
What cheeses should I purchase?
Serve 3 to 4 cheeses for up to 12 guests. For a diverse plate, try:
* One creamy or mild cheese such as our chevre or Snowdrop.
* One semi-soft or pungent semi-firm cheese (such as our Buttercup, or Sunlight) or a washed rind or bloomy-rind (like our Red Cloud, or Camembert).
* One hard (such as our Queso de Mano) or blue cheese.
Other plating suggestions:
* Serve different styles from one kind of milk, such as cow, sheep, or goat.
* Plate cheeses clockwise, increasing in intensity.
* Focus on season, with regard to both the cheese selection and accompaniments.
* Think about your party theme and/or venue, and decide whether a sweet or savory cheese plate is appropriate.
* Remember to let the cheeses come to room temperature before serving–a half-hour should suffice, this time of year.
Ask your cheesemonger…
for samples and advice. Mongerless? Purchase based on what you enjoy in a cheese (hard, soft, buttery, sharp, stinky, etc.). Remember, not everyone loves a blue or stinky cheese; err on the side of caution.
What do I serve as accompaniments?
No need for a smorgasbord: 2 or 3 selections are best. For sweet, try dried or fresh, seasonal fruit, jam, honeycomb, or nuts. Savory? Serve olives or cornichons, cured meat, grainy mustard, and hearty bread.
Assembling the plate:
Leave space between cheeses and accompaniments (or serve separately). Small garnishes are nice, but let the cheese have starring role. A few edible flowers are nice, as are tiny sprigs of dry, woody herbs such as thyme or the aforementioned rosemary, or clean, dry, non-toxic leaves such as maple or oak. Or forget the greenery and just let the accompaniments add color and texture.
Do I need to buy cheese knives?
Only if you want to. But a great cheese deserves the proper knife.
How should I cut each cheese?
Follow this handy guide. Don’t cut small, whole cheeses up entirely, as they’ll dry out.
What beverages should I serve?
Back in August, we were thrilled to win five awards at the annual American Cheese Society conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. Now, we’re proud to say that we’ve also picked up awards for two of our cheeeses at the prestigious World Cheese Awards, held in the UK.
Not to blow our own goaty horn (but we will, anyway), but making these wins even more special is the fact that the entries are new cheeses in our line-up. Our Oatmeal Stout is washed with beer from Breckenridge Brewery, and Wallstreet Gold is an aged alpine-style.
Both won bronze medals, placing out of nearly 3,000 entries in 30 categories, from varieties sent in from all over the world. Cleaning up at this year’s competition were the usual suspects in the upper echelon of American cheesemaking: Rogue Creamery, Vermont Butter & Cheese, Cypress Grove Chevre, The Cellars at Jasper Hill, and Carr Valley Cheese.
So, when it comes to casually serving cheese, we’ve also been known to use whatever type of knife is handy. With this admission out of the way, we’d like to confess that there are four main styles of cheese knives, and each has a specific purpose (for images, click here).
Says Will, “While the Swissmar knives run the entire range, their soft cheese knife is one that we use more than any other at home. Slim, with the ability to cleanly work on almost any delicate cheese, it’s the one specialized cheese knife you shouldn’t be without.”
- Cheese cleaver: This mini-version of a meat cleaver may have a pointed or flat head. It’s used for slicing or breaking off shards from dense cheeses such as our Queso de Mano, aged Cheddars, or Gouda.
- Cheese plane (planer): This tool is a flat, stainless-steel triangle with a sharp-edged slot in its center. You drag the plane across the top of the cheese, and it shaves off thin, even slices. A thinner slice exposes a greater amount of surface area to the air; the result is more flavor from the cheese. A cheese plane is used for harder cheeses such as our limited-release Wallstreet Gold, Gruyère, and Grana Padano.
- Soft-cheese knife: Also known as a skeleton knife, this offset knife has a curved tip that often has a forked tip. A soft-cheese knife has holes punched in its blade, which minimizes the surface area that makes contact with the cheese. This prevents cheese from sticking to the knife as its cut and served, making for a cleaner, more attractive slice with less waste left on the blade. Ideal for soft, creamy cheeses such as our Snowdrop, Haystack Peak, or Camembert, or soft blues.
- Spreader: Ideal for fresh chevre, ricotta, and other soft, rindless cheeses with a spreadable consistency—as well as for butter.
Perhaps one of the most intimidating aspects of cheese is how and what to pair it with. Allow us to reassure you of two important points:
- Cheese is easier to pair with beer than wine. The tannins, acids, and oak (when used for aging) in wine can be problematic when pairing with cheese, whereas beer and cheese have similar production methods (they’re both grain-based, fermented products, and tend to have similar flavor profiles).
- While there are some key tips to follow with regard to pairing, there are exceptions to every rule. The bottom line, in our opinion, is to eat and drink what you enjoy, and dissenters and haters be damned!
Still, we think it’s helpful to provide pairing rules of thumb, because a good match is, in the words of a cheesemonger friend of ours, like a good marriage. Both parties should have their own, distinct, positive qualities, but when combined, magic happens.
Read on for what we feel are the most crucial points to remember in pairing cheese, be it with wine, beer, spirits, or “dry” or other specialty sodas.
- Match intensities. For example, a big, bold, young Cabernet Sauvignon or chocolatey Stout will completely overpower many cheeses. Conversely, a soft, delicate varietal will be lost when paired with a super funky or sharp cheese.
- Bear in mind terroir. Don’t just assume “this grape varietal will go with this cheese,” because variations in climate, geography, vintage, and production method vary greatly. The same is true of cheese. Ultimately, tasting before you buy or serve is the best way to determine if you have a match; barring that, talk to your cheesemonger, or refer to this handy post!
- Aim for similarties or contrasts. A rich, buttery cheese such as a triple crème or brie will go well with a wine or beer with similar qualities. That said, too much butteriness is overkill. You want your palate to be refreshed and cleansed by the beverage. Strive for balance, and when in doubt, bubbles go with every style of cheese.
- Think about what you’re trying to achieve. If you have a super bomb, special cheese, talk to your local wine shop about what to serve with it. Conversely, if you have a rare, 1959 Chateau Lafite, you want to make sure you find a cheese that does it justice.
Some of our favorite pairings for Haystack cheeses follow. Use them as a guideline for pairing similar styles:
Camembert or othery earthy, mushroomy bloomy-rinds: Beaujolais or other soft, fruity-driven red wines.
Snowdrop or other floral, grassy bloomy rinds: Sauvignon Blanc, Lambic, or Belgian Ales.
Haystack Peak or other grassy, slighty salty/ash-coated bloomy-rinds: Fruit-driven white wines like Pinos Gris, lambics, or Pilsner.
Queso de Mano or other nutty cheeses: Hefeweizen or light-to-full-bodied red wines.
Sunlight or Red Cloud or other stinky/washed rind cheeses: Bring on the beer, baby! Belgians, ales, hard cider, lambic, or floral IPA’s. Wine? Try fruit-driven whites like a dry Riesling.
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Haystack Mountain!
If you love cheese as much as we do, then no introduction is necessary where Laura Werlin is concerned. If, however, you’ve been living under a rock in Four-Mile Canyon, to are too busy climbing, skiing, or peak-bagging, we understand. But still. Laura is a good person to know about if cheese also makes your heart pound.
The doyenne of American cheese writing, Laura is the author of six books on cheese, the newest of which is coming out December 4th. Mac & Cheese, Please! 50 Super Cheesy Recipes (Andrews McMeel) is the follow-up to her two best-selling books on grilled cheese. Laura has also written countless magazine and online articles on cheese, and she gives seminars and classes nationwide (for more info., go to her site, www.laurawerlin.com).
Laura is a fan of Haystack, so she let us adapt the following recipe from Mac & Cheese, Please! With holiday parties and the Super Bowl coming up, this is just the kind of hearty dish that will have guests of all ages begging for more. Grown-ups will want to bring on their favorite craft beer to enjoy this one. Thanks, Laura.
Recipe adapted from Mac & Cheese, Please! by Laura Werlin
Serves 12 to 15
For this recipe, the tried-and-true football-watching snack is transformed into a tasty mac & cheese. The main difference (besides the inclusion of pastas, of course) is that instead of the chips serving as the foundation for the nachos, they create a super-crunchy topping. But don’t worry – as you’ll see they still have the requisite melted cheese on top. The rest of the ingredients remain loyal to the dish’s inspiration. Feel free to add your own favorite nacho flavor twist, though.
12 ounces tortilla chips
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 pound small shell pasta, about 4 cups
½ cup canola or vegetable oil
1 large red onion, (about 12 ounces), coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole or reduced-fat milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 pound Haystack Mountain Buttercup, coarsely grated (about 5 ¼ cups)
8 ounces Haystack Mountain Green Chile Jack, coarsely grated (about 2½ cups)
1 ½ cups sour cream
1 cup sliced black olives
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
¼ cup canned or jarred jalapeños, finely chopped
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 ounces Haystack Mountain feta, crumbled
1 cup store-bought salsa
Guacamole (make your own, or use store-bought)
Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Butter a 9 x 13 (3-quart) baking dish or pan. Set aside.
Place the tortilla chips in the bowl of a food processor and pulse just until the chips are coarse, not sand-like. (Alternatively, put the tortilla chips in a large re-sealable plastic bag and use a rolling pin or other heavy object to crush the chips). Set aside.
Fill a 6- to 8-quart pot about three-quarters full with water and add 2 tablespoons of the salt. Bring to a boil and add the pasta. Cook, stirring once or twice, until tender but firm, about 4 minutes, and drain.
Using the same pot you used to cook the pasta, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, or until soft. Slowly whisk in the flour and stir constantly until the onion is coated with the flour, 30 to 45 seconds. Continue stirring for 1 to 2 minutes more, until the mixture starts to darken slightly and smell a bit nutty. Slowly whisk in the milk, cream, and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt, and cook until the mixture starts to thicken and is just beginning to bubble around the edges, 5 to 7 minutes. It should be thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Add 3 cups of the Buttercup and the Green Chile Jack and stir until the sauce is smooth but not too runny. It should be similar in texture to cake batter. If it’s soupy, continue cooking until it thickens.
Add the pasta, ½ cup of the sour cream,the olives, chopped cilantro, jalapeños, and cayenne. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Top with the crushed tortillas, and sprinkle with the remaining Buttercup. Put the dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until bubbling and golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the feta. Let cool for 15 to 20 minutes. To serve, garnish each serving with a cilantro sprig. Pass the salsa, guacamole, and the remaining 1 cup sour cream alongside.
Someone once said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” It’s a good, solid maxim, and I usually manage to abide by it. Sometimes, however, moderation gets tossed to the wind.
Take Sunday, for example. First, I attended the Grand Opening of Lucky’s Bakehouse, in North Boulder. Actually, my first visit to Lucky’s was on Friday, where I ate a hefty salted caramel brownie that probably contained two sticks of butter, and was one of the most delicious things, ever. I wasn’t really all that hungry that day, so I vowed to return over the weekend.
Owner Jennifer Bush is a pastry prodigy, no doubt about it. Baking is an artform regardless, but at any kind of altitude, it becomes significantly more tricky. Jen makes the lightest, flakiest quiche crust (on Sunday, it cradled a mixture of custardy, local organic eggs, our very own Boulder Chevre, kale, butternut squash, and zucchini).
Then there was the ridiculously buttery shortbread crust on the Justin’s Peanut Butter-and-jelly bar (Jen works with local food companies like Justin’s and Noosa, whose yogurt goes into her muffins). There was also a chocolate chip cookie, tastes of the housemade ice cream, and coffee cake.
Shortly after my immoderate Bakehouse session, I met up with a group of seven other caseophiles (that’s cheese lovers, y’all) on the Pearl Street Mall for a Cheese Tasting Tour of Boulder, courtesy of Local Table Tours. Cheesemonger/store manager Molly Browne of Cured leads the cheese tours (there are also cocktail walkabouts) which include tastings and wine pairings at two restaurants with notable cheese plates (the venues change). Molly provides a detailed description of each cheese (many of which she selects for each restaurant’s cheese plates), and ends the two-hour tour with a visit to Cured.
It was a blast. We started off at Beehive, where we tried a cheese plate with Landaff, a robust, natural rind cow’s milk cheese from New Hampshire, followed by Smith’s Smoked Gouda, a lovely farmstead cow’s milk cheese from Massachusetts. The tasting concluded with Bleu d’Auvergne.
Moving on to Bramble & Hare, we were treated to glasses of Grüner Veltliner, and tastes of housemade ricotta and apple butter toasts with mizuna from owner/chef Eric Skokan’s farm. Things concluded with a dreamy grilled cheese sandwich made with house bread, Cowgirl Creamery Wagon Wheel, and caramelized onions, and housemade (there’s that word again) Dijon mustard. Need I add that we were all extremely immoderate in our dairy consumption?
Due to my lactose intolerance (the real reason I’m usually capable of moderation with regard to cheese), I stopped myself from doing any further tasting at Cured with the rest of the group, but that’s okay. The great thing about doing a tour in your own town is that you can always return to the places you love.
For dates on upcoming cheese and other Local Table Tours (cocktails!) in Boulder and Denver, click here.
Over lunch at LoDo’s Aoba Japanese Restaurant last week (home of the killer lunch special; $12.99 for miso soup or salad, and three different sushi rolls, we picked the brain of The Kitchen Denver executive sous chef Justin Lisius for his favorite late night ethnic eats. Based on a recent meal at South Federal’s Star Kitchen (“The best dim sum in town.”), Justin knows what’s what.
And we know our dim sum and noodles, based upon collectively living in San Francisco and New York, and traveling extensively throughout Asia. Star Kitchen is a true Cantonese-style seafood house/dim sum parlor.
Friendly servers push carts stacked with bamboo steamers and plates of delectable, bite-size steamed and baked treats. Whether you have a jones for chicken feet, turnip cake, or siu mai, this place will satisfy. Also excellent: the noodle soups and wontons, and the service, which is incredibly efficient and friendly. We’ll be back.
Other suggestions we plan to investigate soon are Lao Wang Noodle House (also on South Federal), famed for its xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, and dan dan noodles. Because we’re equal opportunity gluttons, we also solicited taqueria recommendations. Justin likes Machete Tequila & Tacos in Cherry Creek, but his favorite spot is a place on Santa Fe and Mississippi. Says he, “The breakfast burritos with pork are the best. If you don’t go there, you’re being negligent.”
Far be it from us. Stay tuned for an update (and a name!). Oh, and what does this have to do with goat cheese? Absolutely nothing. Homo sapiens cannot live on cheese alone.
John and I just spent the morning at Cured in Boulder, tasting some new selections with store manager Molly Brown. We were both enchanted by Evalon, an award-winning, semi-firm raw goat Gouda from Wisconsin’s La Clare Farms. Made by 26-year-old cheesemaking prodigy Katie Hedrich, Evalon is at once sharp, nutty, and sweet, with a thin layer of crushed fenugreek running through the center. We love.
Also now on our radar is Ziege Zacke (say “zeegy-zacky), an unusual, semi-firm mild, goat’s milk blue–the result of a collaboration between Heidrich and Roelli cheesemaker Chris Roelli. We finished things up with a taste Garrotxa, the aged Spanish goat milk cheese that inspired our own Queso de Mano. We’re making this a Friday tradition! Thanks, Molly.
I first heard about Jennie, founder/president of Seattle’s Goat Justice League, right before I moved to the Emerald City three years ago. In 2006, Jennie formed the GJL as a sort of task force, in response to the ban on backyard dairy goats within Seattle.
In 2007, she took on City Council, and got the law overturned. Today, Seattle is the city of Caprine Brotherly Love (that sounded better in my head), and chickens, beehives, gardens, and goats are abundant in backyards from the Madrona neighborhood, where Jennie lives, to White Center. Other cities have followed suit, including, of course, our very own Denver.
Now, Jennie has released her first book, City Goats: The Goat Justice League’s Guide to Backyard Goat Keeping (Skipstone). I’m being completely unbiased when I say that this book positively rocks. There’s no shortage of material on goat-keeping, but City Goats transcends the often poorly-written or boring texts already in existence.
Half-primer, half-narrative, City Goats is illustrated with charming photographs from Seattle photographer Harley Soltes, and covers every aspect of owing a backyard goat, from initial consideration phase and practical concerns, to constructing a badass shed and milking stanchion; diet, breeding and kidding; milking; health issues; how to hire a goat-sitter; making fresh cheese, and a detailed “Goaty Resources” guide.
To order a copy, click here.
If you’d like to see photos of Jennie’s self-designed goat palace, check out this story on Westphoria. Congrats, Jennie!