I love cocktail party food.
It's not a dignified admission for a man to make, but it's true. I harbor untoward desires for pickled fish on a cracker, or dates broiled with bacon, or any other small salty thing that crosses my path. The feelings are especially strong when there's a drink in my hand (Tanqueray martini, two olives). It's a compulsion, and with the approach of the Fancy Food Show this weekend, one that could do some serious harm.
For those who've never attended, Fancy Food is a massive gathering of specialty food producers, a trade show closed to the public with free samples of everything from cheese to olives to jelly beans and more. Attending what's essentially a 10,000-person, 3-day cocktail party when you're at the mercy of your snacking demon is a prescription for the vapors.
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)
The journal Nature recently published a fascinating study from Northeastern University on the prevalence of similar taste compounds in cuisines around the world. The researchers began by making a massive database of foods and the chemicals known to affect the flavor of those foods. They then made a map connecting those foods to one another based on how many of the same flavor compounds those foods shared, essentially creating a "cuisine genome" of interrelated flavors.
I always think of January as cold, wet and dark, the weary start of the hundred hungry days to Easter, when there is little keep for man or beast, and we all live off our reserves (or the shops, if you are human). Then you get one of those dazzling days of sunshine, low rays picking out every detail, bright yellow gorse with its coconut scent, bright red rosehips, a bright blue sky, warm in the sun out of the wind if you’ve enough layers on. Even on the coldest and wettest day, moths dance in torchlight in the woods. The little fallow hind I met in the road looked fat and prosperous after a kind autumn. I saw a raven delicately nibbling a crab apple, then flying off with it in its beak.
Despite early assurances that we had a shot at completing the creamery by the end of the year it was evident pretty early on that that wouldn’t be the case. Sadly, as 2011 comes to a close it looks like having the creamery ready to run by the time the goats start milking again at the beginning of March isn’t going to be attainable either. Thank you very much contractors.
While our construction crew has labored 6 days a week to complete the exterior siding, the electrical contractors were on site closer to 3 days a week (and have been completely off the job for the holidays for a solid 2 weeks), and they show up to work 2 hours later and leave 2 hours earlier. Mechanical contractors have passed on bidding on the project, most of them citing a lack of familiarity with the cold and humid aging facilities of a creamery. We finally have someone who put in a bid, but this late in the game we’re looking at several weeks before equipment is ordered and on site.
Here's a very encouraging fact; the number of cheese festivals is on the increase. How do I know this? Simple. Because my calendar, which in previous years resembled a cheese "social desert", is now chocka-full of cheese-related events - especially during the summer months.
Cheese Festivals come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from the most traditional, centuries-old institutions, to newly formed events launched for the first time in 2011. Either way, each are more than worthy of your support and you're guaranteed to come away richer (and fuller) for the experience.
Here, in no order of preference, is a personal round-up of those certain to make it onto my calendar. I have divided them geographically into North American and overseas.
I don't get out much these days beyond the local watering-hole, but the limited circle of restaurants I have gotten around to visiting in 2011 served me up some awesome cheese-centric dishes. Here are my top six menu items featuring CHEESE in Boston/Cambridge:
Deuxave (Back Bay) besides being generally delicious, serves goat cheese & potato croquette with their steak. If you're wondering, that means creamy whipped potatoes are mixed with goat cheese and then fried. Screw the steak, these croquettes are freakin amazing.
City Girl (Inman Square) serves a tasty brunch in their tiny space on Saturdays and Sundays, part of which is a goat cheese bacon & caramelized onion egg sandwich. Yup, it's really good. Mostly because it combines three of my favorite ingredients (bacon, goat cheese, caramelized onion). You should try it.
While I wish more than anything that I could stay in this golden phase of my life, a phase that consists almost entirely of late nights, papers on Salinger and Nietzsche, coffee, and cheese, I’m afraid all of it is a week from being over. You see, I’m graduating from UC Davis this quarter, and, sadly, leaving my internship at culture with this final blog post.
So, considering the fact that this post might be the last legitimate excuse I’ll have to order an entire cheese plate for myself, I asked Will if I could try doing it on my own. No cheesemongers, no explanations—just an interaction between myself and a pretty perfect plate of cheese.
Bear with me. There will be puns.
This summer at the Vermont Artisan Cheese Festival I scored the last available Summer Snow from Woodcock Farm. Mushroomy bloomy rinds are a favorite of mine on a summer evening with friends. I brought it home to the Berkshires and that weekend we opened a bottle of wine, plunked the Summer Snow on a cheeseboard, and tromped out to the screen tent in our flipflops and shorts. We live outside all summer in the Berkshires, but barricade ourselves behind screens because it rains often, and the mosquitos, noseeums, and mayflies are ATROCIOUS. We settled in under our flimsy screen tent.
It was a beautiful evening with a cool breeze keeping the worst of the unwanted guests at bay. We were admiring barn swallows swooping, and cedar waxwings appearing to have an allout rave on the blueberries when the first drops of water hit us from behind. What the...? The western sky was black, but summer rain is a passing thing, and welcome. We scooted closer to the cheese.