I just got back from a month in Australia. What do I miss most, besides my best mates and Aussie humor? The nature and the smells. They're often linked, actually. Walking around the Barossa Valley (South Australia), strong wafts of peppermint (eucalyptus trees) backed with black pepper and lemon (also from the trees and native scrub) swirl around me. Then there's the ubiquitous rosemary and sweet lavender that grow so well that some use them for hedgerows. The air often has a dusty, clay-like scent, possibly from that iron-rich, sunbaked red soil mixed with a deep, meaty undertones that I want to believe is Vegemite...but I really have no idea where it comes from.
Although I’ve spent heaps of time in Australia over the years, I’ve never really spent any of it in the Yarra Valley. Due east (and slightly north) of Melbourne, this wine region is only an hour’s drive from the big city through horse and pony-laden pastures and undulating hills with a backdrop of the Dandenong ranges. Affluent but unpretentious, the wineries are not only welcoming but still free for tastings…and the wines made my big, fruit and alcohol-laden Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz palate SO HAPPY! Lean, expressive Chardonnays and Pinot noirs layered with dry spices pair so well with cheeses of all kinds. I swilled my way all over that valley and made sure that the local economy was in an upturn. Next blog will detail the wineries specifically and the wine/cheese pairings we found.
I just can't get the image out of my head of shoes made of cheese, so I've just GOT to blog about it.
The MailOnline posted this piece yesterday: A fashion student from Bath Spa University designed and made a pair 'Jimmy Cheese' shoes using bread and West Country cheddar, and they will be displayed at the 2011 Royal Bath & West Show to promote the region's cheese.
"The budding fashionista sculpted ablock of cheddar to make the heel, and a stale cheese sandwich was used for part of the platform sole. The front of the shoe was moulded from more cheddar and extra cheese was melted and shaped to embellish the design."
I'm so impressed...and I am dying to try them on. Of course, I can't stop wondering if they do smell and if they are comfortable...and if they actually would stand up to a night on the town (not in rainy London, I'm guessing...) At any rate, it's certainly peaked my attention and that was what it was the point, right?
I just started eating Crescenza, in a serious way. It's actually called Crescenza Stracchino (or just Stracchino), and it's a soft-ripened cow's milk cheese without a rind that's bright, clean and quite undiscovered as a cheese. It originated in northern Italy and was named Stracchino because it was made from the milk of the "stracca" (tired) cows making their way up the mountains. Oddly, the resulting milk from this hard work is very rich. Domestic versions use whole, pasteurized milk that resemble this.
What's it like? It's halfway between cream cheese and fresh mozzarella in taste and consistency. It's simple and young, and it comes in sealed plastic because the whey hasn't been drained out completely (which is why it's so soft and runny).
How to eat it? On toast, with honey or jam. On pizza (put it on at the very end, like ricotta). Best of all, stir it into polenta, or put a dollop into tomato soup or on top of pasta. It melts beautifully, making everything it melds with extra creamy and luscious. Comfort food in all kinds of weather.
Who makes it in the U.S.? Belgioioso Cheese, from Wisconsin, and Bellwether Farms, California. Look for it!
Please, everyone: at this time of year, be extra nice to your cheesemonger. And your butcher, baker, and everyone in the retail food industry maker. Because, as we all know, holidays are all about eating! And everyone wants the best of the best at the best price and the exact right time. It's hard to make it all happen for each and every person, but we try very hard!
Starting today, the true holiday food shopping season is upon us. If you, like so many of us, are having cheese as part of your holiday weeks ahead, try some new things and let your monger steer you towards what's great, what's going to last until you need it, what will please your picky sister as well as your own stinky cheese habit. And don't worry too much about amounts--this is one time of year that I encourage a little bit more rather than less. It always gets nibbled on, late night or midday lunchtime. And cheese is healthier than cookies.
That's all for now. Back to the counter!
When I look at birds, I'm more interested in what they do--how they fly, where they nest, whether they pick things off the ground to eat or nibble berries on a tree--than I am in their specific names. My father, an avid birdwatcher and twitcher, despairs. "You're not assiduous in your birdwatching," he laments, after asking me whether the bird I just saw (which no one else saw because they were turned a different way) had a black eye band and a white rump.
In my last blog, I talked about what it is to be a cheesemonger, one of the more loved (and laughed at) titles that I've ever had the pleasure of using in my professional life. This blog, as promised, is about the difference between a cheesemonger and a cheesemaker. Based on the question I get often ("What kind of cheese do you make?"), I am sure that it must be made clear that these things are NOT the same.
Quite simply, a cheesemonger sells cheese. A cheesemaker makes cheese. And that's really the difference. One is there at the birthing and the other is there just prior to the hand off to the happy cheese consumer.
But there is more to say on this because they are interdependent folks and need each other to survive. Without the cheesemaker, the cheesemonger has nothing to sell. Without the monger, the maker is in serious trouble. Mutual respect and a healthy, in depth understanding and communication with one another is what leads to success for each profession.
What is a “cheesemonger”?
I’ve been told by so many that they absolutely LOVE the term, that it is such a kick to read my title on my business card. Apart from the loveliness of the term, however, there is actually a straightforward meaning to this title.
“I had this cheese last time I was here and I can’t remember…”
This is the most common phrase uttered by a customer at the cheese shop where I’m a cheesemonger in northern CA. (Actually, the most common phrases are probably “I’d like something nutty” and “I don’t know anything about cheese,” but those are future blogs.) My focus here and now is on those who buy cheese regularly and just can’t remember what cheese they loved last time – and ways that this can be addressed.