A Salute to “Colonel” Livarot

Livarot is one of France’s most famous stinkers. While it has a monastic background, its nickname is military. “The Colonel”; the five “stripes” of reeds around its edges resemble those on a French colonel’s uniform.

This cheese makes itself known first with its pungent aroma, and then its strong character showing off traits of nuts, butter, spice, and earth. There is a touch of bright bitterness mixed in with the savory notes.


Livarot being sampled the Best of France in NYC, E. Graindorge booth.

Although Livarot doesn’t need much coaxing to melt even at room temperature, it does well lightly toasted on bread. It has a blonde paste with an orange exterior typical of washed rind cheeses. Livarot rests in humid cellars for about two months. Brine washings give the rind a natural orange color and the trademark “croûte lavée” smell.

It can be made from pasteurized or unpasteurized cow’s milk.

The commune of Livarot, for which it is named, lies in Basse-Normandie in the north of France. The cheese is protected by an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) since 1975.

I revisited this French favorite, along with other Norman dairy treats, at the Best of France festival in NYC’s Times Square. Cécile Delannes of Solutions Export USA was demoing cheeses from Normandy at E. Graindorge’s booth. graindorge13Pictured below with Quitterie Peyran and me in the middle holding some discarded cheese boxes that I use for cheese photography and to hold jewelry. Graindorge16Merci Graindorge!


A little Livarot sandwich with the Graindorge label.

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress

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Paiva Ovelha – A Sheep Lost in Time


Good with watermelon, but great with tomatoes!

Or so says Paiva, producer of the simply named Ovelha (sheep in Portuguese): “A origem do queijo de  Ovelha  perde-se na arte dos tempos,” (The origin of the Sheep´s milk cheese is lost in time). The origin may be lost, but the cheese is to be found in the Ironbound District of Newark, New Jersey, where Portuguese and Brazilian immigrants co-mingle in the streets and stores.


Sheep grazing in the vineyards in the Douro Valley. Photo Credit: Michael Melford

Ovelha comes in a pack of two “drums” that weigh about 4 ounces each. It hails from Portugal’s Trás-os-Montes and the Douro Valley, a grazing oasis surrounded by slopes of mineral-rich rock. This terrain gives both the cheese—and the wine that accompanies it—a distinct character.

Upon first glance, Ovelha is a mystery. It is off-white, but what kind of milk is it? It is dense, but will it slice or crumble? And what is in that bouquet? Ovelha is a dense, smooth-cutting little sheep. The tangy taste is reminiscent of feta, but without such powerful salt. If you have ever craved the robust zing of feta, but without the messy brine and haphazard crumbling, this is the sheep for you. While this is not a crumbling cheese per se, it chops and slices easily into a topping format, or slender wedges for canapés.


A Tiny 2-Pack!

Pavia’s Ovelha is fresh and clean, but also a little mischievous; its bright, outdoorsy flavor demands attention.

I tried this cheese with watermelon and mint in lieu of feta. It was good, but not as good as with tomatoes, basil and olive oil alla caprese or plain chopped tomatoes with ground black pepper. Ovelha melts surprisingly well and is excellent as a hot accent for spicy, tomato-rich shakshuka stew with poached eggs.

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress

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Roasted Red Pepper Goat Cheese – Creamiest Chèvre Ever!

GoatRoastedRedPepperI made the mistake of eating this lovely spreadable cheese without a knife. I dipped bread into it instead, and it was gone in a matter of minutes. All four ounces!

This spreadable goat cheese from Vermont Creamery is super silky and light, so much so that it is almost like a dip. It comes classic (plain) or with Divina olives, herbes de Provence, or roasted red peppers with garlic. The roasted red peppers enhance the already tangy character of the goats’ milk.


Allison Hooper and Bob Reese of Vermont Creamery

Creamy goat cheese was developed by Allison Hooper and Bob Reese at Vermont Creamery especially for Executive Chef Dan Lewis of Sutton Place Gourmet. Its extra creamy texture allows it to be a more versatile cheese; it can be used as a quick cream sauce with pasta or vegetables, an easy spread for crostini, a pasta filling, or even as a dip.

To make this creamy goat cheese, the milk is pasteurized and set overnight to firm up. The next morning, the curds are drained and then whipped for an extra smooth texture – much smoother than the crumblier goat cheese logs. Sheer genius!

Allison Hooper and Bob Reese of Vermont Creamery are pioneers in the goat cheese world. With her work on a farm in France 30 years ago, and Bob’s degree in agriculture and his family farming background, the two created a goat cheese institution. See more of their creative line of cheeses, butters, and crème fraiche at www.vermontcreamery.com.

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress

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The Invasion of the Bees – Laura Chenel’s Chèvre Honey Log


Honey Bear loves Honey Goat!

Soft, tangy, and honey sweet with a hint of orange, Laura Chenel’s Chèvre with Honey satisfies all around. It’s as if a honey bee came straight from the orange orchard and landed on a little log of chèvre. This honey goat cheese marries the traditional French technique of fine fresh goat cheese making with California’s Sonoma County terroir. Its delicate texture and mild flavor make it an excellent breakfast or dessert cheese. And it comes with a pedigree.


Orange blossom honey has a faint flavor of citrus and is excellent when blended with fresh goat cheese.

Laura Chenel, a pioneer of American goat cheese, revolutionized the American cheese scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s with her goat cheese. Laura Chenel’s Chèvre represents the harmonious blend of French technique and Sonoma terroir.

California’s orange trees are full of tiny white flowers in the spring. The bees feast on the blooms, and then return to the hive to make the fragrant nectar that will flavor the Honey Log. The delicate touch of citrus and the light sweetness give this goat a balance created purely by Mother Nature.

ChevreHoneyIceCream-crop1-230x213The website, laurachenel.com, features goat cheese recipes, including Chèvre and Honey Ice Cream with an instructional video.

The Honey Log took home the gold at the CalExpo State Fair 2014, and the silver at CalExpo State Fair 2013.

It is KORC-D kosher and cholov stam. The ingredients are orange blossom honey, cultured, pasteurized goat’s milk, and enzymes.

Elizabeth Bland
The Cheese Mistress

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Jersey Shore Cheese Balls Invade Hoboken

cheeseballs250Besides being famous for a reality show, a boardwalk, and a long stretch of beach, the Jersey Shore is home to the famous cheese balls from Clem’s Steaks Unlimited, a shoreside restaurant in Seaside Heights that specializes in cheese steaks. Although I have never been to the Jersey shore, I had a taste of one of the best cheese treats it has to offer at Clem’s Steaks Unlimited Too in Hoboken, an offshoot of the original Seaside Heights location.

handcheeseballFor a mere $6.50, Clem’s Steaks Unlimited Too will serve up a little paper basket of approximately 28 miniature deep-fried cheddar cheese balls. These things are addictive. Crispy and savory with a hint of blended spice, they hit all the right spots. The cheese is a tangy yellow (orange) cheddar that melts perfectly. The breading holds them together. You can eat them in just one bite.

All 28 are heaped into a small paper basket. Although 28 balls sounds like a lot, it’s not. One order is good to split with another person. For a hungrier person, a single basket might suffice, “might” being the operative word!

DSCN0330Jim, who works at the Hoboken location’s counter said that high school girls come in and get two or three orders per person. “Kids love them. Everybody likes them. Everybody eats them.”

While cheese balls are excellent plain, many people enjoy them with dips. “Some people like marinara sauce,” Jim told me “Others like ketchup, ranch dressing, or salsa. Everyone’s got their own favorite dip for them.”

SeasideHeights_NJ“At the Seaside Heights location, people hang out on the boardwalk and the seashore during warmer months,” he said. “All summer long you’ll see people eating them,” he said.

The cheese balls are not just finger food. They can even be substituted for cheese on a cheese steak. One popular item on the menu is the Seaside Tony Cheese Steak Topped with Cheese Balls for $8.50. The sandwich holds eight or nine crispy, melted cheese balls. I asked Jim who “Tony” was, assuming the cheese ball steak was named after him. I was wrong. It turns out that the guy’s name was not even Tony. Somebody just made up the name after a customer request.

“One day somebody asked if they could put the balls on their cheese steak,” Jim explained, “And the boss said, ‘Why not?’”

MTVTommy2The Seaside Heights Steaks Unlimited was featured on MTV’s True Life with MTV Tommy, who is in desperate search of his lost cheese balls in this ten-second clip: Cheese Balls on True Life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6upatWc7bQ .

They made an even longer appearance on the E! Channel’s show Chelsea Lately Show with Chelsea Handler, who was raised in New Jersey. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNE274SVxfM chelseahandlerFor this randy comedian, the cheese balls provide much fodder for slightly off-color humor. Her video shows the original location, the cheese balls in the fryer, and then the finished product.

Besides cheese steaks, Steaks Unlimited Too also offers sandwiches, wraps, and burgers, including a veggie cheeseburger. The cheese steaks are all served with white American cheese, onions, and peppers. For an extra dollar, you can have mozzarella or provolone.

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress

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Quattro Formaggi at Denapoli Pizza

Denapoli signUno, due, tre, quattro! Quattro formaggi means “four cheeses” in Italian. At Denapoli Crispy Pizza in Bayonne, NJ, quattro formaggi means more than just a four-cheese blend. Denapoli imports four cheeses from Italy: real Parmigiano Reggiano, real Pecorino Romano made from sheep’s milk instead of the copycat cow versions, mozzarella (both low moisture for shredding and super soft fresh mozzarella), and ricotta. These cheeses are used in a variety of ways on the menu.

All of the products in their dishes come from Italy, even the tomatoes.


Vegetarian pizza with black olives, mushrooms, green peppers, and onions.


Diana and Mike

“How can you keep your prices so reasonable when you are using imported ingredients?” I asked the owners, Mike and Diana, both from Naples.

“We are a family-run business. The entire family works here.” Mike said. He also mentioned that they keep the overhead low since they own the building and live there. That translates into high quality products for a great price.

throwingdoughI asked Mike when he started making pizza. “Since forever,” he said. He started at home with his family. He has been in America for 32 years and for 13 years in Bayonne, making pizza all the while.

I asked him what the most popular pizza was and he said the basic cheese. It also happens to be my favorite. One day I was standing at the counter, eating a hot molten slice, fresh out of the oven.

“It’s so good!” I exclaimed.

cheesepizza149“I know, I know!” he said, his eyes lighting up. “It’s so good, sometimes I can’t believe it myself!.”

The restaurant is decorated with neon, the centerpiece being the large “Pizza” sign which casts a glow. In this shot, Mike has just prepared a cheese pizza.

While cheese pizza is the most popular, also ready at the counter are several specialty pizzas, waiting to be reheated in the big oven.

pizzaassorted2On this day, they had out chicken marsala, buffalo wing chicken, and breaded chicken chunks with fresh tomatoes. They usually have and a deep dish Sicilian cheese pizza that Diana is especially enthusiastic about.

sicilianpizzaAlso ready to get hot and go are the spinach and chicken rolls; they are long rolls with mozzarella inside to make the hot, chewy bread even more luscious.

garlicknots208I was lucky to get there right as a batch of garlic knots was coming out of the oven.

Cheese comes into play in many of the hot dishes and sandwiches. I asked Mike and Diana which were their favorite specials. They said the Chicken alla Bella Napoli (chicken with white wine, ham, and fresh mozzarella) and Chicken Sorrantino (chicken with sherry wine and fresh mozzarella, topped with eggplant). They put special focus on the eggplant!


A garlic pecorino romano roll, not on the menu, but similar in look to the spinach and chicken rolls.

Provolone shows up in the hero sandwiches, and the calzone is filled with mozzarella and ricotta. Still, my favorite remains the hot impulse buys of cheese slices.

Denapoli’s also offers free delivery alongside the grab and go slices.

“I use the real stuff,” Mike emphasized. “My food is real good.”

Elizabeth Bland, Cheese Mistress

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Black and Blue Burger Made Easy

blueburgerlabelThank you, Denmark, for making the American burger cheesier and easier!

Blue cheese is known first for its famous blue veining and marbling; second for its piquant flavor; and third for the wide array of textures it assumes. Blue cheese ranges from creamy and smooth to crumbly and chunky. It has become increasingly popular sprinkled on a hot steak fresh off the grill or melted in place of Cheddar on a juicy burger. The salty, sharp of the blue melds nicely with the savory, sometimes even sweet, flavors of beef.


Castello Danish blue in slices. The wrinkles are from the paper that was on top.

Danish blue came about by way of France, as a cow’s milk “Roquefort” style cheese, which is made with sheep’s milk. The Danish cheesemaker Marius Boel created Danablu (its most common name) early in the 20th century. It is aged eight to twelve weeks, and although it does it is creamier and milder than its sheep inspiration, it nonetheless creates its blue veining by way of penicillium roqueforti, a mold first discovered in the caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.


The slices broke off into smaller pieces, but were still easier to work with than crumbly blue off a wedge or in a tub.

One problem with putting blue cheese crumbles on a burger is that they roll off. Castello of Denmark has come up with a solution for this problem—blue cheese slices. The 6-slice is called “Blue Burger” and features a perfectly formed and gently melted blue cheese slice on a thick burger with lettuce, cheese, and onion.

I bought the slice pack partly because of the photo and also to see if the cheese would actually live up in texture and shape. I was also curious to find out if the Danish blue slices tasted like the cheese sold in pre-packed chunks or fresh off the wheel. Would it be as sharp? Would it be too gooey or too hard? How would it hold up being maneuvered around in cooking?


The final product!

Burger Blue is creamy tasting with a sharp bite and a slightly fruity flavor. It is a bright cheese, not at all brooding or overwhelming. The slices are separated by paper so that the sheets may be lifted to transfer a fairly intact slice of cheese to a burger. Although the slices broke when lifted, the pieces were sturdy enough to make the melting much easier than the rambling crumbles of blue off a wedge. The thickness of each slice is uniform and fairly easy to work with.

Elizabeth Bland
The Cheese Mistress

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