Holy Moses! It’s Moses Sleeper by Jasper Hill Farm

What does Moses have to do with a soft-ripened cheese from Vermont?

Moses Sleeper is delicious with blueberries.

This Moses is not from the Bible, but rather, the Revolutionary War. Moses Sleeper and his partner, Constant Bliss, were killed on the Bayley Hazen Military Road. The two scouts and the road lent their names to three Jasper Hill cheeses.

Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill designed Moses Sleeeper to taste similar to real Normandy Camembert, complete with notes of cauliflower, roasted nuts, and crème fraîche. It is an intense, thin-rinded cow’s milk cheese that is extremely creamy inside when it is young. As it ages, its vegetal flavors become more pronounced and it develops a denser—yet extremely creamy—paste. The piece I bought in Manhattan at Agata and Valentina lay somewhere in between in both flavor and texture.

Moses Sleeper slightly melted with a fruity salad.

I decided to use this cheese in an Italian-style salad. Once when I was in Piedmont in northwestern Italy, I ordered a tomino salad. (Tomino cheese looks like a miniature, flat Brie.) My salad came out on a long, narrow platter with the slightly melted cheese on one end, and a nest of field greens on the other. You could eat the cheese with bread or, as I did, on a fork with mouthfuls of greens.

To my homemade salad, I added blueberries and strawberries. The blueberries were especially good with Moses Sleeper whether the cheese was served at room temperature or melted. They had a fruity earthiness that complemented the nutty flavors of the cheese. The salad would have turned out better had I used smaller, daintier leaves; as the photo shows, this salad did not behave well, but it tasted great!

Salad gone wild! Note to self: use smaller leaf salad next time!

Jasper Hill Farm suggests trying this cheese baked en croûte for dessert, or on a platter with country pâté, pickled carrots, and a rustic baguette.

The Cheese Mistress
(Elizabeth Bland)

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Passionfruit and Strawberry Champagne Preserves, for Cheese!

Passionfruit and Strawberry Champagne Preserves by Tishbi go win Best New Product at Kosherfest!

Great with cheese!

Exotic fruits, berries, and champagne, all bundled up in a preserve and ready to serve with cheese. Kosherfest is at the Meadowlands of New Jersey November 8th and 9th this year.

View the recent press from Kosher Today: http://www.koshertoday.com/10-31-11-Tishbi%E2%80%99s-Passion-Fruit-and-Strawberry-Champagne-Preserves-Wins-Best-New-Product-at-Kosherfest-2011-as-Trendy-Foods-Score-Big/

The Tishbi Estate Winery, located in the town of Zichron Ya’acov, is widely known for its fine wines which come from five generations of Tishbi family know-how.

Oshra Tishbi, who is very passionate about food pairings, designed a line of fine preserves based on wine and fruits. These preserves give the “wine experience” without the alcohol and pair extremely well with cheese. The alcohol cooks out during the process, but the intense flavors of the famous Tishbi wine grapes remain.

Tishbi Fig Cabernet won the NASFT sofi™ Silver Award 2010. The Tishbi Wine & Fruit Collection won Retail News 2011 “Best Gourmet Food Gift.”

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Government Cheese Biscuits

I grew up in Alabama, born and bred on the best biscuits the world has ever had to offer—magnified to the extreme with a layer of hot, bubbling government cheese on top.

My grandmother's measuring cup served as inspiration.

I used to watch my grandmother every morning making biscuits. Unfortunately, I was not always paying attention to technique. Most of the time, I just sat there at the yellow Formica table, salivating like an old yeller dog, staring at that yellow cheese.

I stared at the biscuit dough, too. I loved dough. It was almost as good as cheese! I was always waiting for a bit of raw dough to fall from my grandmother’s forearms and hands onto the cutting board.

My fancy kitchen island.

I would snap it up and savor it like some sort of dessert—if you can imagine a dessert reincarnated as a sour, clammy dough ball with a dusting of flour that would gum up your teeth up and induce choking. I loved biscuit dough so much, when grandma recycled her flour with the sifter, I sat and waited for the metal ballerina arms inside the cup to flip out the last morsels of raw material for me to snack on.

The cheese and the dough went together.

Part of the family biscuit tradition was toasting the biscuits with government cheese. Don’t ask me how or why we landed government cheese. It was a precious commodity, meant for the masses but prized by the elite. Neither of which we were.

Fast and furious

I have vague recollections of standing in line somewhere waiting for an enormous deli loaf of what, to me, was the best cheese in the world. It had the meltability of American cheese, but a flavor that leaned more towards tangy English Cheddar. It was so good that sometimes I would eat it straight out of the freezer. Before dawn, I hacked away at it with a knife while my grandmother tooled around.

Not quite like I remember...

She set the cheese loaf out to warm every morning for the biscuits, but I couldn’t wait. I sat there eating frozen cheese and listening to the courthouse bells toll and trains whistle. Icy chunks of fake orange scattered across the table.

People talk about cheeses that are ”good for melting.” Well, you don’t know melting cheese until you have eaten actual frozen cheese! You have to sit and literally let it melt in your mouth like a Popsicle.

“You’re just like your granddaddy,” grandma said. “He loved cheese.” No wonder he married her.

Fast forward 20 years or so, I decided to try my hand at cheese biscuits in New Jersey. I called my mother and my sister in Alabama for the biscuit recipe. I have since been sworn to secrecy about the biscuit methods, but even with the recipe for The Perfect Biscuit in my hand, the recipe is not what matters in the long run.

I followed the instructions the best I could, but I couldn’t get exactly the ingredients I wanted. I got some advice from home—most importantly, the cutting of the biscuit is key.

Best not to use a glass to cut, and notice the dough is too thin.

Don’t twist the glass, and if possible, don’t use a glass at all because it pinches the edges of the biscuit. Don’t knead the dough too much. Pat it. Don’t use too much flour. Place the biscuits close together on the pan.

Perhaps I can eventually master the biscuit part, but where to find the cheese? For two decades now, I have been searching for the equivalent of government cheese. I work in kosher cheese and I hear some of it is the closest thing to old school commodity. I bought two of the best known varieties—Miller’s (OU-D cholov stam) and Haolam (KAJ cholov yisroel),

Not government cheese

in spite of their mildness and spongy texture, neither tasted like my beloved government cheese.  Ironically, some government cheese was produced in a kosher format, but none is to be found on the kosher market nowadays.

My biscuits didn’t come out so great. They needed more Crisco and/or leavening. As soon as I tasted the dough, I could feel that the sourness was not there like in grandma’s. But all was not lost. The entire experience of twirling the sifter, scooping out the Crisco “the size of an egg,” stirring the fat ball into the “bowl” of flour, smelling the biscuits baking, and watching the fluorescent cheese melt was enough to entertain me for an afternoon.  

Actual fluorescent cheese color!

Best of all was chatting with my family on the phone about cheese and biscuits, and thinking about old times in the Alabama kitchen.

I don’t mean to write a clichéd “learned cooking at my mother’s side” story, but the truth is, food unites us all. You can’t escape that fact or dismiss it.

Elizabeth Bland
The Cheese Mistress
www.cheesemistress.com (all cheeses)
www.kcheese.com (kosher only)


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Dunbarton Blue

How did I come to know Dunbarton Blue from Wisconsin? It’s a long and meandering story. One night I was wandering down Bleecker Street in NYC and saw my crazy cheesemonger friend, Michael, in the window.

Michael Krempasky, cheesemonger and clown at Murray's. Notice the fancy classroom area above and behind.

“Come on in!” he waved, even though the store was closed. The mongers were busy cleaning the counters and closing up shop. Not only had they had a busy day of selling cheese, but there had also been a cheese tasting class that very night in the upstairs cheese classroom.

Anybody visiting NYC needs to make sure to take a class at Murray’s. Any class will do.

A nugget of Dunbarton Blue, served in Murray’s cheese tasting classes one night.

The instructors range from Murray’s in-house folks to guest authors and specialty food freaks. I took the über-intense Cheese U series with Liz Thorpe and guest cheese speakers. I have taken many individual classes there as well. Some of the most memorable were Sandor Katz’s discussion of fermented foods, Carlos Yescas’ talk on cheese and politics, and there was once even a class on kabbalah and food.

This particular evening, I didn’t make the class since I had been working all day working my own cheese counter, but boy did I score on cheese scraps at Murray’s! Michael Krempasky—the one who wears the Viking hat and sometimes also a clown nose—hooked me up with a tiny tub of leftover cheese triangles, one of which was Dunbarton Blue.

I stole Michael's viking hat!

The next day, I texted him: “What was that crazy blue, the one that looked and tasted like a Cheddar?” It was Dunbarton. I have since learned that this cheese comes from Wisconsin. It is made by Chris Roelli, descendent of an immigrant Swiss family that once specialized in commodity cheese. (Click here for the link to Janet Fletcher’s SFgate article on this cheese.)  It was both sweet and salty at the same time, and had hints of caramel and butterscotch throughout, with all the flavors mirrored in its golden straw color.

Most of all, this cheese was fun to eat. It was the epitome of “toothsome.”

Michael stole my cheese hat!

A true carnivore’s cheese, Dunbarton is love at first bite! You tear in with dog teeth sharp and nostrils flared. The flesh feels crumbly and chewy at first, but then mashes into a tangy paste once it has been subdued.  I only had a tiny nugget to taste, but I will be sure to get back to the store for more. Dunbarton is a great blue for people who don’t want an overwhelming mold flavor, or for those who just plain can’t decide between a chunky Cheddar and a biting blue. You just can’t lose with this cheese.

Elizabeth Bland, the Cheese Mistress
www.cheesemistress.com (all cheeses)
www.kcheese.com (kosher only)

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Farmer’s Cheese: Not just for farmers anymore

After struggling with making Mascarpone for over a month with limited success, I was scared to try to make farmer’s cheese. It sounded simple enough: Boil milk. Add in vinegar. Stir. Drain. Serve. What could go wrong? Well, as luck would have it, for once, nothing went wrong!

I googled on the internet for farmer’s cheese and found instructions for a recipe.

Ingredients: NON ultra-pasteurized whole milk, white vinegar, and some caffeine for the early a.m. "farmer" in us all.

I cut it down from ½ gallon to 1 pint (16 oz., basically two 8-oz. servings of whole milk, 150 calories per cup with 8 grams of fat and 8 grams of protein).  The recipe called for ¼ cup (4 T) of white vinegar to the ½ gallon of milk (8 cups). I used about 1 T of vinegar to 2 cups of milk.

I let the milk come to a frothy boil that was just barely rolling. Then as soon as it really got moving (it happens quickly), I removed it from the heat, put in the vinegar, and stirred. Almost immediately, curds formed.

As if by magic, curds come bouncing up.

When the vinegar went in, there was a yellowing of the milk as I often see with acidulants.

I draped some cheese cloth over a colander and, over the sink, poured the liquid and curds into the net. Afterwards, I set the colander on a plate to catch any remaining liquid.

The cheese was ready to eat immediately. But wait! Although it was spongy, fluffy, and super moist and milky, it was lacking in flavor.

Pour the curds through the cloth and colander over the sink and then put the colander over a plate.

 Nothing a sprinkle of Sicilian sea salt wouldn’t help. I bounced the curds around in the pinch of salt and the flavor of fresh, full milk came alive. My farmer’s cheese was delicious served as a “cottage cheese” with a dusting of Texas dried basil on top and a side of sliced strawberries. Farmer’s cheese can also be further drained, pressed, and dried for various usages.

Yes, this is as good as it looks! The dried fresh basil and the sea salt really brought out the fresh character of the milky cheese.

It is excellent as a filling for blintzes, as a key ingredient in baked farmer’s cheese and cheese latkes, and in lasagna in lieu of ricotta.

While Mascarpone was not such an immediate success and also seemed rather costly for the yield, farmer’s cheese seems like an excellent option for the DIY thrifty chef, particularly one who wants an extremely fresh cheese or one based on milk with certain specifications such as organic or cholov yisroel kosher.

The Cheese Mistress
http://www.cheesemistress.com (all cheeses)
http://www.kcheese.com (kosher only)

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Unwrap a Robiola, Make a Friend: Robiola di Capra in Foglie di Castagno

Buying a cheese without a tasting in the store makes me a little nervous, and even more so when I can’t even see the interior or the rind of the cheese for all the leaves.

What lies within? Robiola di capra in foglie di castagno by La Casera

I took the Murray’s cheesemonger’s advice (“It’s perfect!”) and, after two weeks of deliberating over whether or not to spend $19.99 on an entire round of Robiola di Capra Castagno, fate made up my mind for me. “Oh, just go ahead and wrap it up,” one cheesemonger ordered a co-monger. “She wants it.”

Robiola di Capra was a mystery to me even up to the point that I tore away the Murray’s paper, which, by the way, came with a label promising me gustatory hallucinations.  

Have a knife handy to cut the raffia.

“Something smells like vegetables rotting in the fridge,” my husband announced. I reassured him that it wasn’t the usual lettuce leaves. It was cheese leaves. Yes, my latest darling came with what Murray’s described as “seductively sweet aromas of the chestnut leaf wrapped around this Piemontese cheese.”

My new Robiola is a 100% goat’s milk cheese weighing around 300 to 400 grams (10 to 12 ounces or so, less now as I ate a much.) It comes from La Casera dairy di Eros Buratti in Verbania where Piedmont borders on Lombardy near the famous northern lake, Lago Maggiore.

It was very exciting cutting the raffia and then unwrapping the layers of leaves to discover what was inside—a  funky Camembert-shaped cheese.

Wild rind

It smelled of moss and “forest floor” up close, and from far away, buttermilk and that indescribable scent that makes you ask yourself, “Is this something to eat?” Anyone who has ever fallen into a pile of leaves in late autumn, leaves that are crunchy on top, but growing damp and dark towards the earth…if you have ever enjoyed this crisscross feeling so much you wish you could eat it, then now is your chance!

Robiola di Capra in foglia di castagno reaches a beautiful temperature and holds itself well. The inside is white and a little chalky, but very spreadable. Towards the rind, it is gooier, so that the rind sometimes even separates some from the cheese in places or bulges out. The rind itself is a mass of thick, soft wrinkles that are highlighted by leaf tinge and tufts of white mold in the hills and valleys.

Check out the "sad streak" under the rind.

The runny part towards the rind really has the flavor of the leaves in it—spicy and nutty.

This cheese is an excellent party cheese. It spreads well and it makes such a dramatic entrance with the untying of the raffia and layers of leaves unfolding. It is aged about 20 days and is based on pasteurized goat’s milk, salt, and rennet. Check out the website (English available) for an even more impassioned description by the Italians. I clicked on the “Eros” tab for this link: http://formaggidieros.it/uk/consigli.html

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Selles-sur-Cher: Going Grey the French Way

“Grey and overcast” is a favorable weather report when it comes to soft, fresh goat cheeses.

Detail of log-shaped Sainte-Maure, Valençay Pyramide, and the round Selles-sur-Cher on a French kitchen cloth.

The Loire Valley of northwestern France is home not only to exquisite, stony châteaux, but also to ash-coated goat’s milk cheeses with undertones of limestone and silky cream. Three of the most famous Loire goats—which come to the U.S. via Jacquin—are Selles-sur-Cher, Valençay, and Sainte-Maure. In their native France, the cheeses are A.O.C. name-protected. However, because of U.S. pasteurization laws, the “real” French versions cannot be sold here under the French names. Instead, the U.S.-geared cheeses go under “Tradition Jacquin,” but often with the original French name alongside to reflect the cheese’s unique history and pedigree.

One sunny spring day, I hit Artisanal Fromagerie in NYC—which is a cheese shop located within a French bistro—and picked up a Selles-sur-Cher.

Such a big bag for such a little cheese!

Light and cheesecake-y, with tiny puffs of light blue and grey mold sprouting through the darker speckling of ash, this little goat turned an average Tuesday afternoon into the “Perfect Day” that Lou Reed rhapsodizes about in his hit song: It’s such a perfect day. I’m glad I spent it with…cheese!

Available in the U.S. in varying degrees of ripeness, it is usually found in a spreadable state with a youthful, lactic tang.

The stiff Artisanal Fromagerie bag doubles as a cheeseboard in Central Park.

As the microbes works their wonders, Jacquin develops an earthier flavor that is sweetened by the grey mold surface. The slight film of bloomy rind helps it to ripen from the outside in, giving it an almost fudgy texture when extra mature. Selles-sur-Cher is a delightful nibbling cheese that pairs well with steely Sancerre or other Sauvignon Blanc wines from the Loire Valley.

Many cheesemakers have travelled to this magical valley to learn the secrets of the French maîtres fromagers. Among these pilgrims are Michal and Avinoam Brakin of Barkanit Dairy in Israel. After their French training, they created several Loire-style cheeses, two of which are dusted in vegetable ash. Shahat, a blended cheese based on sheep

Shahat, an Israeli sheep and goat blend modeled after Selles-sur-Cher

and goat milk from the dairy’s own herd, bears an uncanny resemblance to Selles-sur-Cher. It, too, comes in a flattened disc and is coated in an artful combo of grey ash and fuzzy mold. The interior is slightly flaky in the center and creamier towards the rind.  More robust than its French doppelganger, Shahat is both vibrant and buttery from its fusion of milks. It is excellent with white wines, especially Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and unoaked Chardonnay. Barkanit cheese is certified kosher by the OU and is cholov yisroel.

Springtime brings temperamental weather, but on some lucky days, every milky-white cloud has a silver-ashed lining.

Elizabeth Bland
The Cheese Mistress
www.kcheese.com (kosher only)

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