It’s National Cheese Lover’s Day!

CheeseDay1I don’t just love cheese; I adore it. So much so that every day, for me, is “cheese lover’s day.” Cheese is one of the most fascinating foods around, from its myriad incarnations and international versatility to its funky history. I have compiled a list of questions and answers on my true love and appreciation for cheese. Consider this a Valentine to Cheese—How do I love cheese? Let me count the ways.

Murrays24Why cheese?
Why not cheese? I truly don’t understand this question. It’s like asking a fine pastry chef, “Why éclairs?” Cheese is delicious. It’s beautiful. It’s protein- and calcium-packed. It comes in many shapes, colors, milks, flavors, and styles. It is versatile enough for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, and snacks. It has a rich history and regional terroir. With its many personalities, cheese is funny and quirky by nature. It is alive. It speaks if you listen closely. Oh, and it can melt! Cheese is the ultimate toy and storyteller.

How did you get into cheese?
I loved cheese from an early age, and dairy products from birth. As a baby, I drank a remarkable one quart of milk a day. I loved milk, and when I got old enough to appreciate cheese, I did. My earliest cheese memory is eating pimento cheese sandwiches in pre-school. By the time I was eighcheesebookst, I was eating chunks of Longhorn Colby like a lollipop. I truly came into cheese when my high school French teacher introduced the class to Brie and chèvre at a class party. Once I traveled to Europe in high school, I discovered even more cheese in France and Italy, where I was studying language. My passion for cheese only grew as my knowledge deepened.

What’s your favorite cheese?
My favorite cheese is usually the one I have eaten most recently! The cheese type I eat the most often is Cheddar. However, my go-to favorite cheese, my standard answer is my first love, Crottin de Chavignol, a goat nugget from France.

How do you eat so much cheese and stay thin?
Cheese is part of my healthy diet—one which keeps my weight in check. I eat cheese with great frequency on a daily basis, but not in great quantities.

BlueCheeseSalad66I have been overweight and I even had high cholesterol in my early 20’s, but it was not the cheese’s fault; I was eating too much high carb/low fiber food, namely pastries. When I switched back to cheese as my #1 filler-up source, and replaced the sweets with fruits, I lost the weight and the cholesterol issues. I also work out a lot as cheese provides me with sustaining, long-lasting energy vs. the crash and burn of sugar.

Do you make your own cheese?
Yes and no. I have made fresh (unaged) cheeses at home before, including ricotta, mascarpone, and cream cheese. My main source of cheese, however, is store-bought. Going through the cheesemaking deepened my understanding of my favorite food.

Is there any cheese you don’t like? Do you eat Velveeta?
Schtarkbowl60Yes, there are three cheeses I don’t like, but they are not the usual suspects. (Write me privately and I will name them. They are not inherently bad cheeses—just not my cup of “cheese.”) One, I will name, however. It is a horrible process cheese from the 99 Cent Store in L.A. This was the worst cheese in the world. It wasn’t even cheese. It was just plastic and rubber. It made American slices look like an aged clothbound cheddar! The 99 cent cheese was so bad, I threw it away and its name has become a repressed memory. What was I thinking?

On the other hand, I believe that (almost) every cheese has its purpose and should be appreciated per its unique reason to live. Velveeta, for example, is far from artisanal, but no one can deny that it is a great melter and part of culinary Americana. Who hasn’t enjoyed the simple pleasure of dumping a can of Rotel into a bowl of Velveeta cubes, microwaving it, and kicking back in front of the TV with some tortilla chips?

So Cheese On! Make every day Cheese Day!

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

 

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Balto-Slavic Cheeses in Brooklyn? Who Knew?

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1824 Kings Highway B’kln, NY Credit: domino.com

Brooklyn is one of New York City’s many melting pot boroughs, so it only makes sense that its varied cheese selections would reflect the populace.
Walking through Flatbush and Midwood, I happened upon a bustling Russian-style supermarket called Domino.

 

I had just left a neighborhood of Chasidic Jewish men speaking Russian and Yiddish, and entered into the chaos of this cozy market full of Russian Christmas cakes, cookies, gingerbread houses, and endless displays of festive food. It was Christmas Eve. The place was a madhouse with frantic shoppers shoving, some even yelling, angrily or excitedly—or both. It was hard to tell.

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Feta-style cheeses and deli loaves    Credit: domino.com

In a back nook of the store, I found the cheese.  (I am talented in that way!)There were cheeses from all over the world, from Canada to Bulgaria. The prices on the wheels and small packs were unbelievably low, and the tubs of Feta and Feta-style cheeses were varied in both milk and flavor. On the bottom shelf were the loaves for deli slices.

 

The woman behind the counter barely spoke English, and when she did, she had a thick accent—I assume Russian—which I had trouble understanding. No worries. Cheese is the universal language!

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Have you forgotten exactly where Latvia is?

I ordered four cheeses from Eastern European countries—Russia, Lithuania, the Ukraine, and Latvia. Each cheese was similar to a cheese style in the near-bye Western countries.

 

Due to difficulties obtaining imports in modern Balto-Slavic time, countries had to rely on homegrown production of international favorites.

 

Havarti-style Cheese, Russia

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Russian Cheese

Since I was in a Russian-style market, I asked first for a Russian cheese. There was only one, in a loaf form for slicing or selling in blocks. I didn’t catch the brand or cheese type since the label was in Cyrillic, so I will call it “Russian cheese.”
This Russian cheese is extremely buttery. In fact, it’s one of the most buttery cheeses I’ve ever tasted—one that truly tastes like butter and melts in the mouth accordingly. It is even buttery yellow in color.

This Havarti-style cheese is super soft on the palate, and tastes milky, salty, and tangy. The slices crack when folded, and it has a scattering of tiny irregular eye holes. I had the choice of slices or a whole chunk. I chose slices, but regret it a bit as the cheese was so sticky that it adhered to the deli paper. I couldn’t get all the paper off and had to throw away much of the cheese, or else eat paper along with my cheese. Not an option.

Havarti-style “Dvaro” Cheese, Lithuania
“Дваро”
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Dvaro Cheese from Lithuania looks a lot like the Russian Havarti-type one. It, too, is yellow—even more yellow than the Russian cheese—and it is riddled with small curd holes. It comes in a slice pack with each slice separated by deli sheets, which thankfully do not stick to the cheese like they did with the freshly sliced Russian cheese. It is tangy with a slight pungency, and a slightly floral aftertaste. It is not overly salted. The label is in standard type Cyrillic and also cursive Cyrillic. I can’t figure out what Dvaro means besides just being a brand name. Perhaps the label gives a clue? “Литовский-сыр-“Дваро”-сливочный” Dvaro melts well and keeps its flavor under heat.

Swiss-style “Dytyachiy” cheese, the Ukraine
Mouse Cheese

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The moon is made of Ukrainian cheese!

This slice pack hails from the Ukraine and the writing is in Cyrillic. I bought this because of the cute mouse on the label. The texture is a little rubbery like Swiss, and it is light yellow in color, but it has no trademark round “Swiss” holes. It is most similar in flavor to Swiss, but it also reminds me of very mild Edam. It comes in tightly packed deli slices separated by deli sheets.

 

It is a smooth melter; it doesn’t separate too much. Its strings are less intense than a mozzarella’s, but still significant.

Parmesan-style Džiuga Delicate, Latvia
Fairy Tale Giant Cheese
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I bought this because part of the label is a sort of Viking (with no horns) or a blond mountain man holding what looks like a wheel of Parmesan. “Time to taste, Time to appreciate” the label says. Džiugas Delicate is aged at least 24 months. Although it looks like a Parmesan, it is lighter and earthier. In flavor. When shredded fresh over pasta, it melts and even gets a little stringy. It seems to have won 7 awards, but I would need a jeweler’s loupe to tell what they are.

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24-month Dziugas, Ukraine

The awards’ names are written in tiny script on gold medals. The ingredients are translated first in Lithuanian since the cheese is from Lithuania. Then Litvak. Then under EE (Eastern Europe?) and in Cyrillic under UA (Ukraine?).

 

Click on The Legend on www.dziugashouse.eu to see an illustrated fairy tale of Džiugas the Giant.
“The Legend about the Giant Džiugas and his Cheese”
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An illustrated slide show tells the story of a giant who married the king’s daughter in the village. After the wedding, the bride and groom brought a huge hard cheese that the wedding guests feasted on for a week. The giant, Džiugas, made this cheese and used it to renew his strength. Then his wife died, leaving him so distressed that he dug a hole next to her grave and died. The townspeople kept his memory alive by continuing to make his hard cheese from the original recipe.

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress
www.cheesemistress.com

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Colby Makes a Comeback with Millport Dairy

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“White” raw milk cheeses in a range of shades and styles

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John Stolzfoos of Millport Dairy

Mild and mellow, commercialized Colby is a nondescript made-in-America cheese that blends in easily on the grocery shelf. Like Cheddar, it is typically a pleasing orange “annatto” (plant dye) color. Colby is easy to slice and melt, and it is most decidedly not sharp. It is just its smooth, buttery, cheesy, snackable self, and happy to stay that way. Until…enter Millport Dairy with its line of raw milk cheeses, farm-made in Leola, PA, by good Amish folk.

I first discovered these tasty cheeses at Union Square Greenmarket in NYC. The one in charge, John Stolzfoos, is a dedicated Amish man, complete with the traditional straw hat, suspenders, and beard. His passion is all things farm-produced is evident in his products—various cheeses, sweet cream salted tub butter, pickles and other pickled vegetables, free range eggs, sausage, bacon, and cured meats.

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Free samples, but get there early!

The Amish community, with its bulging pocket of members in and around Lancaster County, PA, adheres to a strict and traditional religious lifestyle. According to custom, they live without electricity and cars, instead traveling by horse-drawn buggies. Stolzfoos journeys by truck to NYC four times a week to display his goods at the Union Square Greenmarket and a market at Columbus Circle.

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Getting up close and personal with some great cheeses! Raw milk and aged over 60 days.

The selection of Millport Dairy’s raw milk cheeses includes Parmesan, Colby, Sharp Cheddar, Monterey Horseradish (with real horseradish, not flavoring) Monterey Hotjack, Garlic & Chives, Smoked Cheddar, Ricotta, and Mozzarella.

MillportColby25

Millport Colby with Montery Hotjack – super hot!

What impressed me most about the Millport Dairy booth—besides Stolzfoos’s easygoing, good-humored personality—was that they could take a cheese as simple as Colby and turn it into a something with true depth. Although it is far from a sharp cheese, it nonetheless has a tangy buttery full flavor with hints of the outdoors. It is a little fruity, earthy, and very smooth-melting on the palate. The finish lingers and is very enticing. Millport’s Colby is a rich cheese thanks to the many Jersey cows on the farm with a few Holsteins mixed in. The 60+ days of aging – required for all raw milk cheeses – give the Colby an edgy flavor.

ColbyJack

Colby Jack, industrialized

Millport’s Colby does not use the natural orange food-coloring agent, annatto, that is prevalent in domestic Colby’s. While straight Colby has become less prominent on American shelves, a new Colby has taken its place—Colby Jack—a very mild marbled blend of Colby and its sister cheese, Monterey Jack.

Why does Colby look so much like Cheddar, yet taste so different? The softer, moister Colby is not sharp because it is produced through a washed-curd process. During the cooking time, the whey is replaced by water, thus reducing the curd’s acidity. Colby, like the similar washed-curd Monterey Jack, does not undergo the cheddaring process (stacking slabs of curds) that further adds to the sharp flavor of Cheddar. Colby was invented in 1885 by Joseph F. Steinwand, the son of a cheese factory owner near Colby, Wisconsin.

Millport98For an excellent Colby and a great selection of traditional domestic cheeses using raw milk, look for the yellow Millport Dairy awning and the friendly man in the straw hat!

 

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

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I had that Statesboro Blue…

But no need to feel blue with Statesboro Blue Cheese! Statesboroblue94It can brighten any day with its brilliant personality.

The Statesboro “Melissa” cow label graces two blue cheeses hand-crafted in Minnesota—Statesboro Blue and Statesboro Gorgonzola, each with its own unique flavor profile.

Statesboro Blue is a bright and tangy cheese with a moderate blue taste. Since the aging is limited to 75 days in the cheese cave, Statesboro Blue retains its light, lively character. StatesboroBlue39A pampered hand-made, hand-slated cheese, each Statesboro Blue wheel is produced in a traditional way from whole milk, not machine made under standardized conditions.

Gorgeous blue striations and light veining stand out against the impeccable white paste. It is very white, with prominent blue striations and light veining. Throughout the delicate marbling are occasional deep, dark caverns of indigo.

StatesboroStriations43The rennet is microbial and the cow’s milk, unpasteurized. The Statesboro Cheese website suggests sprinkling this cheese on a salad or melting it over a hamburger. I enjoyed it with walnuts and juicy red grapes. The sweetness of the fruit balances out the salt in the cheese, and since the blue is not overpowering, it doesn’t fight with the tannins or light acid in the fruit. This is a great match.

Culture magazine featured Statesboro Blue in a recipe on November 27, 2015: Statesboro Bacon and Blue Cheese Brussels Sprouts.

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Statesboro Bacon and Blue Cheese Brussels Sprouts Recipe by Culture: the Word on Cheese magazine

Statesboro cheeses are distributed by Gourmet Foods International in Atlanta, GA, and are available in both wedges and crumbles.

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress
www.cheesemistress.com

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Having a ball with Quarkbällchen! (Quark ball donuts)

Quarkbällchen is a traditional German treat that is similar to a donut, but is much tastier. quarkballs07The name translates as “little Quark balls,” with the first word “Quark” (pronounced kvark) referring to a yogurt-like fresh cheese. Each of these golfball-sized Quarkbällchen originates from a batter blended with Quark for extra moisture and milky flavor, is deep fried, and then rolled in sugar, either granulated or powdered. Fluffy, soft, and light, these sweet sugared balls melt in your mouth. They are great hot or at room temperature.

QuarkspoonSo what exactly is Quark, a cheese unfamiliar to many Americans? Quark is a silky, fresh (unaged) cow’s milk cheese. Usually categorized as a curd or cottage cheese, it has a low fat and salt content, and a texture similar to that of Greek yogurt or sour cream. Quark is often used in baking and serves as a base for many desserts, especially cheesecake.

When I lived in Germany, I just ate it plain with multi-grain crackers. Others treated it much as one would yogurt; topped with granola or mixed with fruit, especially berries. It also adds low fat luxury to mashed potatoes, and when blended with chives, it becomes a flavorsome cream for baked potatoes.

quarball11Vermont Creamery, one of the few producers of Quark in the U.S., boasts an entire page of recipes for Quark, including Crème Fraîche Potatoes au Gratin, Lemon Quark Muffins, Curried Apple and Walnut Salad, Cold Quark & Cucumber Soup, and various interesting dips. Vermont Creamery recipes for Quark.

quarkball14In Hoboken, there is a bakery simply called Old German Bakery that not only sells authentic German breads and pastries, but also Quarkbällchen for 75 cents a piece. On the counter is a detailed sign describing what Quark is. At the bottom, it wishes customers “Guten Appetit!” (Scroll down for a recipe.)
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Quarkbällchen recipe

For the dough:
3 eggs
5 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 package vanilla sugar
1 cup Quark (a Vermont Creamery container is 8 oz.)
2 ¼ – 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Additional Ingredients:
Oil for deep frying
Powdered or granulated sugar

1. Combine the dough ingredients.
2. Form dough into balls.
3. Heat the oil in a large pot or deep fryer. Fry each Quarkbällchen for 8-10 minutes, turning to make sure all sides brown nicely.
4. Place fried Quarkbällchen on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Allow to cool.
5. Dust the finished Quarkbällchen with powdered sugar, or roll them in granulated sugar.

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

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Butter Me Up, Normandie!

Late September 2015, I attended the pre-pop-up store at French Cheese Board via Cheese of Europe. The focus was Normandy cheeses and butters, primarily through Isigny Ste. Mère of Normandy.

I got a swag bag with much information on history and pairing ideas, plus this super exciting French cheese serving board!
FrenchCheeseBoard
Besides a delicious Brie, I brought home a scrumptious demi-sel (lightly salted) AOP Beurre d’Isigny Ste. Mère in a basket with a green and white gingham coverlet under the lid. My fellow writer chose unsalted as she bakes, but I like to eat butter straight out of the tub on bread, with abandon. And I enjoy a touch of salt.

Beurredisigny71
This butter shows a gorgeous shade of buttercup yellow. It is a cultured butter with higher matière grasse, which means it exceeds the usual 82% for butter. The seaside land of Normandy is humid, yielding lush green grasses for the vaches normandes to graze upon. These carotene-rich grasses give the butter an extra yellow color. The cultures give it extra tang to complement the rich cream and authentic salt.

Beurre d’Isigny Ste. Mère butter comes in wedges wrapped in foil, but I prefer the little baskets for play. What could be more perfect for a picnic?

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

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Late September 2015, I attended the pre-pop-up store at French Cheese Board via Cheese of Europe. The focus was Normandy cheeses and butters, primarily through Isigny Ste. Mère of Normandy.

I got a swag bag with much information on history and pairing ideas, plus this super exciting French cheese serving board!
FrenchCheeseBoard
Besides a delicious Brie, I brought home a scrumptious demi-sel (lightly salted) AOP Beurre d’Isigny Ste. Mère in a basket with a green and white gingham coverlet under the lid. My fellow writer chose unsalted as she bakes, but I like to eat butter straight out of the tub on bread, with abandon. And I enjoy a touch of salt.

Beurredisigny71
This butter shows a gorgeous shade of buttercup yellow. It is a cultured butter with higher matière grasse, which means it exceeds the usual 82% for butter. The seaside land of Normandy is humid, yielding lush green grasses for the vaches normandes to graze upon. These carotene-rich grasses give the butter an extra yellow color. The cultures give it extra tang to complement the rich cream and authentic salt.

Beurre d’Isigny Ste. Mère butter comes in wedges wrapped in foil, but I prefer the little baskets for play. What could be more perfect for a picnic?

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

 

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