This past year was a good one for cheese literacy. Publishers released a terrific new lineup of books for us enquiring cheese minds, each one an engaging way to tap into the wonders of the dairy world.
They range from easy guides for the novice who wants to advance their basic cheese understanding, to page-turners that bring the reader behind the scenes at creameries and farmsteads around the world. Other new publications serve as a virtual cheese school, detailing how to make a wide variety of simple or sophisticated styles of cheese at home. We all had our favorites among these literary debutants of 2012, including:
This past Thanksgiving, I rediscovered the yummy potential of rutabaga when my sister, Jackie, and her pal, Fraya (a former chef) made an ultra tasty casserole of rutabaga, sweet potato, and caramelized onion, plus a little Comte for good measure. When I posted my praise for the dish on Facebook, lots of you wanted to know the recipe. So I went back to my sis and asked about it. She said it was completely improvised by her and Fraya. There's no formal recipe, but if you're a comfortable cook, you can follow her lead in this note she sent back to me:
The High Holidays began Sunday night in Jewish homes around the world, ushered in with a feast to mark Rosh Hashanah, the “head of the year,” in the Judaic calendar. As I buzzed around that afternoon gathering the requisite honey and apples, choosing wine, baking a special round-shaped challah, and cooking dinner, I was reminded once again how essential food is to Jewish ritual. At every holiday, the dining table becomes a kind of altar and each cook a virtual priest who creates the spirit of the holiday through symbolic the foods. Sanctity is homemade.
I used to make wedding cakes way back when. The memory of how stressful it was still haunts me whenever I see a pastry bag with a #1 piping tip (the smallest, most exacting one). Given that experience, not to mention my work now as culture’s editrix, you’ll not be surprised when I declare that I’m very much in favor of the trend toward Wedding Cheese Cakes—grand stacked tiers of cheese wheels that are embellished with flowers and fruits, in the style of a traditional nuptial cake. All that’s missing is the sugar. These cheese tiers are a delicious, beautiful, and much less fragile way to create an edible monolith, compared to umpteen layers of cake and butter cream.
And now it’s easier and more fun to plan for a wedding cheese cake, thanks to a clever cheese merchant in England who has launched a new online design service called the “The Cakebuilder.”
I'm full steam ahead planning and editing great content for culture 2012, but before I do that, I often look back at what we've already done in past issues. Doing this recently, I was reminded that one of the best parts of my job is interviewing luminaries in our cheese world to capture, in their own words, reflections on success and failure, and the ever-changing cheese world, for our Voicings feature in every issue of culture. In case you missed them, here's some of my favorite comments from the cheese intelligentsia:
“Dairy used to be an industry that was run by Washington and big companies. It is now run by the consumer. [The issue of] rBGH is a good example; consumers said ‘I want rBGH-free milk’ and it happened. Washington didn’t know what hit them.”
-Dan Carter, cheese marketer and ACS Lifetime Achievement Award winner (Spring 2010 issue of culture)
I’ve just been informed by my daughter that I’m a lousy nachos maker. “Your chips are too soggy, mom,” she said last night, after I served a platter of this mounded corn chip-melted-cheese-salsa-bean concoction to her and some friends who were occupying our dining room for their common cause—homework.
I was wounded. Can it be that I—a former pastry chef and 25-year veteran food writer, recipe developer, and consummate dinner party giver—can’t make a decent plate of nachos?! This is amateur food, after all! Any teenager with a microwave can throw this %^@ Superbowl stuff together.
A good friend of mine was recently told that her cholesterol levels were too high. She was handed the usual dietary order: Cut out dairy foods—like cheese and butter—that have saturated fat. This has been the standard prescription from doctors for more than 20 years, despite the fact that epidemiological studies and new research don’t support this blanket rejection of dairy. Remember the French Paradox? (Even with all the yummy cheese and butter that’s consumed in France, the natives have much less heart disease than Americans.) And there’s this post from a scientist regarding a 15-year study in Australia that found: “people who mostly avoided dairy or consumed low-fat dairy had more than three times the risk of dying of coronary heart disease or stroke than people who ate the most full-fat diary.”
I felt like Miss Muffet—she of the classic cheesy nursery rhyme—the other day. While picnicking in the woods with some of my favorite curds (albeit no whey), a very big spider appeared and made its way straight for the cheese. It was an unappetizing move, but a curious one too. Do spiders really like cheese, I wondered? After all, aren’t cheese mites related to spiders? This six-legged visitor stayed quite some time on my slice but I couldn’t tell if he/she was actually eating it. For those who might be wondering the exact same thing (I know there are some of you out there), here’s what I’ve found out about spider sustenance:
Spiders eat live prey only. (Maybe cheese is considered live? After all it “ages.”)
Since hurricane Irene hit two weeks ago, upstate New York has been awash (pardon the pun) in bad news about regions and towns destroyed by floods. I have seen some of the devastation and it can’t be exaggerated. But thankfully, other areas came through the storm with their beauty and buildings intact. Like Washington County, just above the upper Hudson Valley, which hosted a local Cheese Tour this past weekend, inviting the public to visit five farmstead cheesemakers who are tucked away on the back roads of some tiny towns. With map in hand, I made it to the various cheese stops on the tour and came back with a bundle of exceptional cheeses I bought off the farms—plus a whole new appreciation for the bucolic county just an hour north of me. It’s a rare gem of agricultural charm and vitality. Here’s a little photo diary of my sunny Saturday spent visiting the cheesemakers (and an ice cream maker!).
Between my appetite and my occupation, I often have a lot of cheeses in my refrigerator. So much so, that I can lose track of them. A piece of cheese can easily go astray in those 28-cubic feet, slipping past the cartons, bottles, jars, and leftovers. That’s apparently what happened to a half wheel of Canadian camembert some time ago. I have no idea how many weeks passed since I had stored the cut cheese. But when I rediscovered it in the food ghetto at the back of my frig, the wayward curd was loosely dressed in a wrinkled piece of cheese paper.
Peeling back the covering, I expected to find a sad little corpse of a cheese. But actually it didn’t look too bad. A bit aged, of course, its youthful dewiness all gone, it’s shape deflated. But the rind was still white and flocked like camembert and inside the cheese was the color of Irish butter yet dense like fudge. (See the photo.)