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.

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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.

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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?

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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
http://www.cheesemistress.com

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Quesito from Mi Casita

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Quesito la Finquita. It comes in a clam container so that it doesn’t loose its cushy texture.

Quesito (Colombiano) la Finquita is arguably the best queso fresco I have ever had comes from Mi Casita Colombiana in Bayonne, NJ. Although I adore aged cheeses, there is a special place in my heart for fresh (unaged) cheeses. White and young, these cheeses brighten the day, like a breath of fresh air for the palate.

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Jorge Guerra, chef and owner of Mi Casita Colombiana in Bayonne, NJ. Note the soccer game on TV!

Jorge Guerra, chef y dueño (chef and owner) brings Quesito in from Stanford, CT where his cousin, also Colombian, makes it fresh. It’s a simple cheese, but it’s so fresco, like a jar of milk. Unlike the grocery varieties vacuum packed for an unnaturally long shelf life, Quesito behaves as a young cheese should. Like milk, it is best within the first five days. This is a cheese meant to be eaten “in the now.” The texture is right in between that of a regular, firm queso fresco and a spoonable ricotta. It is soft and spongy with fluffy granules.

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Pandebono, straight out of the oven. It sits on the counter and you go pick yours out and have coffee at the bar. Each one is only $1.25. Can’t beat that!

Jorge shares my love of cheese. His menu offers many “con queso” dishes and appetizers: Platano Maduro con Queso (sweet fried plantain with cheese), Arepa con Queso (corn cakes), Aguapanela con Queso (cane sugar drink with cheese), and last but not least, small Colombian cheese breads, Pandebono and Buñuelos.

He bakes them fresh every day and seems very proud of them. He should be. They are excellent! Chewy, fluffy, hot, and cheesy, made with a young Colombian white cheese, like a very firm, tightly knitted queso fresco, different from Quesito.

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Early a.m. at Mi Casita Colombiana in Bayonne, NJ, gearing up for a busy Sunday.

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Colombian flag scooter inside the restaurant.

Quesito can be sliced, but it also gives way to a fork with ease. I like to eat it plain, especially when it is high quality like this Quesito, but it is good for fillings, too. It adds extra creaminess to shredded cheeses in Latin dishes. Try it in chiles rellenos, quesadillas, salads, pupusas de queso (cheese-stuffed tortillas), arepas con queso (corn cakes filled with cheese, but why not put extra on top?!), and more. Although it doesn’t exactly melt, I use it crumbled as a topping over anything and everything. It heats up nicely as a finishing cheese and keeps its shape. ¡Perfecto!

Mi Casita Colombiana offers antojitos (snacks), desayunos (breakfast foods), platos tipicos (traditional dishes), ensaladas, comidas rapidas (fast food, both American and Colombian style), sandwiches , pastries, and specialty drinks, non-alcoholic. Check it out!

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress
http://www.cheesemistress.com

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Matzo Pizza at the Manischewitz Experience 2015

IMG_1643Manischewitz put on a 3-day free pop-up at Chelsea Market in NYC. The event featured recipe tastings, an interactive s’mores-making station, a chocolate fountain for macaroon dipping, a giant gumball machine that dispensed macaroons, and chef demos.

The only cheese on the premise was at the matzo pizza station.

At “Manni’s Pizzeria” (get it?), Manischewitz’s Thin Salted matzos served as the base for two types of pizza: IMG_1649Manni’s Margherita Matzo Pizza and Matzo Pizza with Pesto, Tomatoes, and Fresh Mozzarella.

IMG_1651As much as I begged and pleaded, I was only able to taste the pesto/tomatoes/fresh mozzarella pizza “Only one per person!” the server said. The pizza I tried was very good. It was made with shredded mozzarella. I liked the thin matzos because they were reminiscent of a thin crust pizza with softness on top from the sauce, and a bit of crunch underneath. The sauce, pesto, and hot melted cheese transformed a crisp, flaky cracker into a softer, more dough-like crust.

Of course I was curious about whose cheeses these were as I know a lot of people in kosher cheese. I asked the guy making the pizzas about the cheese, but he didn’t know as he was just there to cook.

NKmozzgroupBy chance, Chef Richard of Main Event Caterers of Englewood, NJ, had just come out of the curtained kitchen for a moment. I asked him about the cheeses and he invited me into the kitchen. The shredded low-moisture mozzarella was a blend of Natural & Kosher’s and Haolam’s, both cholov yisroel.

Next he showed me a box full of fresh mozzarella balls and I immediately recognized the Natural & Kosher label. This company puts out a line of excellent cheeses of all sorts.

I am sorry to have missed the Matzo Pizza Margherita, but I can make my own. Margherita pizza typically is made of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. The red, green, and white of the ingredients represent the colors of the Italian flag. IMG_1662According to popular tradition, in 1889, 28 years after the unification of Italy, Queen Margherita made a visit to Naples. In her honor and in the spirit of new-found Italian patriotism, a pizza maker and his wife created a pizza to mirror the Italian flag, and named it Pizza Margherita. In this picture, there is a bucket of N&K’s fresh mozzarella sliced straight from the ovoline balls, ready to go on the matzo for the Pizza Margherita.

Get the matzo. Get the cheese and let Passover begin!

Elizabeth Bland, Cheese Mistress
http://www.cheesemistress.com

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Roumy Cheese from Egypt – Exotic “gebna” at your corner deli

roumypitaOne of Egypt’s most famous cheeses, Roumy, has become an international traveler; it has made a name for itself worldwide for its sharp, pungent flavor and ease of eating. Roumy is a hard cow’s milk cheese similar to Parmesan or Pecorino Romano, aged around 3 or 4 months. It is salty, with an undeniable pungency that is sometimes enhanced with peppercorns. Although Roumy (also spelled Roomi and Roumi) is a firm cheese that probably is suitable for grating, the wheels are typically cut into long, thin slices. This shape makes the cheese easy to eat inside a pita. Slice up some tomatoes and cucumbers, and you’re eating like an Egyptian!

roumy95The name “Roumy” means foreign, reportedly derived from “Roman.” The first time I tried Roumy, I didn’t know what to make of it. It came cut fresh, but packed on a plate of Styrofoam. It looked like lasagna noodles al dente with peppercorns. It was yellow, granular, and speckled with small openings of various shapes. The flavor was powerful and confusing to me, though it echoed familiar cheeses such as Italian Parmesan and Kefalotyri of Greece. I only tried the cheese on its own—not with any bread or vegetables.

Years later, I find myself in Bayonne, New Jersey. There are two Middle Eastern markets here since there is a large Egyptian community. One market is large. They sell Roumy off the wheel, sliced to your preference, but also vacuum packed slices that are thicker than I like.

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Nathan Abdelsayed and his daughter, Karen Abdelsayed. New Mid Town Market in Bayonne, New Jersey

My favorite market is small and cozy—New Mid Town Food Market. It is run by Nathan Abdelsayed who emigrated from Egypt in 1994. When I visited, I talked a lot about tasting cheese. His daughter Karen Abdelsayed had a great idea. “I know what you can do,” she said excitedly. “You can invite your friends over and blindfold them. Then give them each a plate with three cheeses. They have to guess what the cheeses are!” That is an original take on the concept of “blind tasting”!

IMG_0943At New Mid Town Market, the Roumy is right there at the counter, ready to be sliced to order. The slices Nathan cuts are the perfect thickness. Since this cheese is salty and strong, too thick of a slice would be overwhelming. Cheese straight off the wheel is the most flavorful. Also, it is more fun to chat with somebody friendly at the counter rather than buying a pre-packed product.

Now I have come to like Roumy, especially since I learned how it should be eaten. I tried it with the tomato for breakfast and it was delicious, as well as convenient. The cheese comes already sliced and ready to slip right into a pita pocket. Just add tomatoes and cucumbers, or whatever bright, fresh vegetable you prefer. Simple yet exotic.

Elizabeth Bland, Cheese Mistress
http://www.cheesemistress.com

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Losurdo’s Scamorza in Miniature – Hoboken’s Tiniest Cheese

IMG_1417Hoboken is full of of Italian delis, most of which make their own cheeses, usually fresh mozzarella. Losurdo’s Italian Bakery and Deli makes scamorza! Scamorza is a member of the pulled curd “pasta filata” family of cheeses, which includes mozzarella, provolone and various string cheeses. They have in common that, when young, they can be pulled apart in strings. Most also melt well.

IMG_1419I like their miniature scamorze (plural of scamorza). Not only are they adorable, they are delicious. They come in the traditional “beggar’s purse” shape that resembles a pear. They sell them by the pound, but I usually just get two to eat on the train. Each one ends up being right at $1. What a deal! At first, I thought it was strange to watch the man so meticulously weigh these tiny cheeses. Now, I’m assuming they are sold by the pound because they are the perfect size for an antipasto platter or salad.

IMG_1452IMG_1422Losurdo’s is a combination of bakery and deli, but also offers an entire line of Italian crackers, cookies, condiments, and accompaniments. I have never seen so many Italian crackers and cookies in one place since I was in Italy! They even had a sign for gluten free in the back.

There is a sandwich area on the other side.

Of course, my favorite area was the cheese. Check out these massive Auricchio provolones! Believe it or not, these big heavy hard cheeses started out as soft, stringy masses. Now they are proudly displayed hanging from the ceiling.

I have so far only had the scamorza and the focaccia, which is excellent.

I took the little cheeses on the train with me. IMG_1424I don’t care if you aren’t supposed to eat on the train. They taste much like mozzarella- fresh, milky, and very approachable – but they are firmer and saltier. I figured, cheeses so small…sure, I can sneak these on the train.

So I get on the train with my little treasures.

I’m sure many people eat them with a knife and fork, but I like to shred them up and eat them plain. It’s the kid in me. It is fun to peel back all the layers of the cheese. They start out looking like pears. After you shred them, their form is only limited by your imagination, and their form changes with every pull. scamorzatomatoes1 Sometimes they look like they have arms even!

In one shot I took, the cheese looked like it was saying, “Ciao! Buon giorno! Come stai!”

No matter what, these cheeses are entertaining. I also know from experience that, though delicate, they hold up well in a purse. Mini scamorze, for me, are better than lunch box string cheese sticks. in plastic.

Check out Losurdo’s for your next quick cheese fix in Hoboken.

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Formaggio Essex Pimento Cheese

pimento09They said it couldn’t be done, that yankees (read: non-Southerners) could make a good pimento cheese. But it has happened!

I am from Alabama. I love cheese. I love pimentos. And I hate mayonnaise. My hatred of mayonnaise – and it is truly a phobia—has severely impacted my ability to enjoy one of the most Southern of Southern treats, pimento cheese. For years I have been searching for alternatives to the requisite 2 Tablespoons to ¼ cup of mayo to make the spread creamy and…spreadable. I’ve used drained Greek yogurt, cream cheese, and per Paula Deen’s suggestion, chevre. They have all been good, but still there is a picnic and road trip aspect of the spread that can’t be reproduced without the dreaded mayonnaise.

After so many years, I have given up. If I can find or make a pimento-based cheese spread that tastes good, then so be it!

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Formaggio Essex’s Pimento Cheese is off-white to peach from the pimentos. The crostini in the background are green due to olive oil.

Yesterday at Fromaggio at Essex Market in NYC I found one. “No mayo!” the cheesemonger assured me.

I have since forgotten exactly which cheeses are in this pimento cheese, but it is delicious. It doesn’t look Southern. (My Southern memories of it are fluorescent orange squiggles with bright red pieces of peppers, served on white bread.) This pimento cheese’s color is more subtle. Neutral, even. But the taste is not.

It is based on various sized chunks of sharp white cheddar, stirred in with cream cheese and chopped up red pimentos and green peppers. It is cheesy, sharp, tangy, and also surprisingly hot! Pepper hot. There are also pockets of white cream cheese that smooth into the bread better than any mayo ever could. The pimentos provide a “juice” of their own.

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Photo from grubstreet.com.

Interruption to this blog post: I just found a review of Formaggio Essex’s Pimento Cheese on grubstreet.com where it’s listed as “Trashy Cheese.” The ingredients mentioned include mayonnaise, red pepper flakes, and also sriracha sauce.

I have used sriracha in my own. It is good.

I don’t know why anybody would call this “trashy cheese.” As a Southerner, I am offended!

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Ironbound Queijo

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Paõ de queijo means “bread of cheese” in Portuguese. I heard it pronounced “ponh (nasal o) day kage (soft g).

I found myself in a neighborhood of Newark called “Ironbound.” It is an area near the Newark Penn StatiIon terminal. I have not spent much time in Newark, and where I’ve been usually has been scary, with prostitutes, drug dealers, and cop cars roaming around.

I was dreading this non-cheese related outing, but was pleasantly surprised to see a regular shopping neighborhood, also with such a large number of signs for “paõ de queijo” (Brazilian cheese bread). South American cheese breads have been my obsession for the past few weeks. They can be made in a variety of ways: with grated cheese mixed in, with chunks of melted cheese at the center, with tapioca/cassava flour, wheat flour, corn flour, fried, baked, sweetened, with mozzarella, with queso fresco or queso blanco, rolled into croissants with guyaba, shaped into balls or rings…the list goes on. But the main ingredient remains the same—cheese!

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I was on Wilson Ave. near the train station.

Before I hit Ironbound, I had no idea how many types there really were, or that there could exist a neighborhood with so many bakeries. I had a very excited outburst on the bus going down Wilson Ave. “Paõ de queijo!” I screamed out in my best Brazilian accent, which comes off as French/Italian. Everybody on the bus, including the bus driver, had an opinion about the prime cheese bread.

“Go here, around the corner. The best!”

“No, she goes there….”

“Here! Get off here and go there!” Everybody was gesticulating. Either they were truly passionate about the paõ de queijo, as I was, or they just wanted the tourist to get off the bus.

PaoflyerFeeling overwhelmed, I simply went to the first bakery/restaurant I saw, which was appropriately named Paõ de Queijo. The logo even uses little rounds of cheese as the “O.” This menu is so cheese heavy, they got tired of writing the word “queijo,” so they just abbreviated any cheese-laden plate or sandwich to “X,” as in “X-Egg Bacon” or “X-Faminto” (the latter being sirloin steaks with mozzarella, egg, bacon, ham, corn, tomato…) This bakery was decidedly not kosher. It was heavy on the pork and meat combos with cheese, but there were vegetarian options.

paoNewark2The young guy at the counter was from Colombia, so I hammered him with questions about pan de queso colombiano and the Brasilian styles. I settled on four basic paõ de queijo balls for $1, and a $2 savory pastéis pastry called simply Queijo (mozzarella, e azeitona, meaning, mozzarella and olives). What was served to me was a flaky and very oily puffed pastry with nodules on the top that looked like toad skin.

This cheese pastry needed a tour guide, and I had my new Colombian friend to help me through. Although the description said “olives,” there was only one green olive inside the vault of melted cheese strands. I don’t know if this was intentional or if they just ran out of olives, but the Colombian explained it so well, I only wanted one olive.

paoNewark1 You see, the olive, it serves to, how do you say, make a different taste. The cheese is heavy, and then you bite the olive and it makes it different for the cheese.”

“Do you mean it cleanses the palate?”

“Yes, that’s it. The oil from the cheese, and the olive is sharp, you see.”

“Why only one olive?

“You only need one olive,” he replied.

I will be back to try some other pastry specialties (like puff pastry empanadas) that were sold out already, namely the 3 Queijos: Mozzarella, catupiry e parmezao or the Caroioquinha: milho, palmito catupiry e azeitona (corn, hearts of palm, Brazilian cream cheese & olives.)

131 Wilson Ave. Newark. Open 24 hours!!!

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress
http://www.cheesemistress.com

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