In November, Elaine and I had a long-awaited chance to visit with Jesus Pombo Lanza and his wife Yolanda at Poncelet (pronounced Ponthelet) in Madrid. The couple own and operate three very closely inter-connected cheese businesses under the Poncelet name. The original store which opened in 2005, is located at Calle Argensola and sells a carefully chosen selection of cheeses from across Spain together with a healthy representation of some of the best from France, Italy and Portugal. In addition, some years after the store opening, the couple decided to develop their own maturation caves and these are located away from the center of the city in a state of the art facility. There, there are several separate maturing rooms, each with a separate environment particularly suited to the type of cheeses it contains.
For me, one of the best parts of working at Culture is when, as a group, we review images that come in from the various photo shoot assignments. We collectively go through them and decide which ones will work best with the editorial and layouts.
As you can imagine, the decision making process is often challenging as there is only so much "print real estate" available and inevitably there's never enough room to include all the ones we want.
Given a singular common denominator of cheese, there's an amazing spectrum of subject matter contained within the many hundreds of pages printed over the last year. In no particular order, here are some of my personal favorites from 2012.
There hasn't been a Christmas yet when I haven't eaten far more than my fair share of cheese. Even when working the cheese counter right up to the moment and sleeping far too late on Christmas Day, then getting back behind the counter the day after...I am still eager for cheese itself on December 25th. Why? Because I love it. It's my favorite food. And working day in & day out with it doesn't make that go away. Strange, but true.
And I am asked repeatedly what that 'must have' cheese is, the cheese that I can't resist eating even when my partner has wandered under the mistletoe and is waiting, patiently but very clearly, for a passionate kiss. What is it that I'll still need to pop in my mouth regardless of breath and residue? Well...
It's got to be oozy and semi-fluid. Must be full-flavored and not overly buttery. Nothing but sheer cheesy goodness with a hint of yeast, nuts, meat. Something that is bulging out of its rind and literally showing off its glorious innards.
The kraken slithers in its watery realm and the dire wolf scents the air...yes, indeedy, HBOs new season of Game of Thrones is amassing its vast marketing army for full scale invasion in Spring. Of course I started it with my garden picks for the characters (ok, that's a lie. HBO probably came up with merchandising ideas on their own...) and now HBO has (reportedly) tapped Ommegang to produce Iron Throne Blond Ale to coincide with the start of season 3.
GoT Geek digression...while various reporters seem to think the beer is a clear reference to Joffrey, I think it could just as easily be Cercei, or even Tommen.
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:
We have a lot of fun here at culture searching the web for interesting and funny videos to share on our social media and blog. I mean, who doesn't want to see frolicking goats, dancing farmers, or robots who work with cheese when taking a brief intermission from their rigorous work day. As a wrap-up of 2012, we wanted to share our 12 favorite videos from the past year.
Henri 2, Paw de Deux
The existential musings of a French cat
If one needed any proof, the recent—and very well-deserved—success of American cheeses at the World Cheese Awards competition in Birmingham, UK, bears testament to the meteoric rise of artisanal cheesemaking in the United States over recent years.
The last two decades have seen a remarkable rise both in the number of people embarking on a career in cheesemaking as well as the number of cheeses produced. This fact is borne out in the crucibles of various cheese competitions with huge increases in the number of entries submitted each year. Not only that, but the quality and consistency of the cheeses is constantly improving too.
As the year winds down and the best-of lists start flying, I'd be remiss not to single out some of the best, blog-est and most interesting cheese stuff we've encountered on the blog in 2012:
My inner anarchist delighted in cheese-smuggling Canadian cops who confirmed that the siren song of cheese crime corrupts even (or especially) the law.
If you're looking for holiday gift ideas, look no further. These 12 cookbooks are top picks of the folks here at culture and will take care of everyone from the kitchen newby to the culinary artest on your gift list.
the smitten kitchen cookbook
by Deb Perelman
Anyone who has ever checked out the culture website knows what huge fans we are here of smitten kitchen. In her first cookbook, Deb takes the delicious recipes and gorgeous food photography we've come to love at smitten kitchen and brings it to our kitchens with almost 100 new recipes. Not sold? I have 1 recipe title that will change your mind: baked ranchero eggs with blistered jack cheese and lime creme. Heck yeah.
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: