The improbable story of Vella Cheese Company and Dry Jack
A crumbly Welsh commodity transforms into a well-bred wheel
From the lunch pails of Welsh coal miners centuries ago to a sought-after treasure at today's carriage trade shops, Caerphilly cheese of Wales has traveled some distance. Although the very first Caerphilly – a fresh, juicy farmstead curd that workers carried into the mines–has nearly vanished with the advent of factory-made versions, a new artisanal interpretation of old-fashioned Caerphilly has put this quirky cow's milk cheese in front of connoisseurs.
Gorwydd Caerphilly (GOR-with care-FILL-ee), made by the Trethowan brothers of Gorwydd Farm in central Wales, debuted in 1996 to the surprised delight of cheese aficionados. With little resemblance to the acidic, crumbly Caerphilly still made in British factory dairies, the Gorwydd version redefines Caerphilly and raises the prestige of the heretofore lowbrow cheese.
You always remember the day you asked, “Mommy, where does cheese come from?”
Boy, how embarrassing was that? For those not yet acquainted with the birds and the bees, let me clear up one thing: there is no cheese without women. Or female mammals, at least.
Dairy has been a female domain from the beginning. After all, there is no male version of the word milkmaid. (Of course, men gather milk too, but milklad just doesn’t sound right.) Along with many other farm chores, milking was often a daughter’s responsibility, and the job came to be associated with young women.
Inspired pairings of tea and cheese
By Cynthia Gold
Every tea drinker knows that rich Devonshire cream and a fresh scone with full-bodied black tea is an ideal pairing. As are cream cheese-based tea sandwiches served with a Darjeeling or an Earl Grey. Few of us question why these tea and cheese flavors work so well together, yet we often stop there in exploring this category of satisfying tandem tastes.
AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK, without fail, someone will approach my cheese counter with the intention of buying a wedge or wheel of a cheese that they have tried recently. The conversation goes something like this:
“I had this cheese last week at a party and it was the best I’ve ever had, ” the customer says.
“What was it called?” I’ll ask.
“I don’t remember.”
“Oh. So…what country was it from?”
“Hmm…I’m not sure. It might have been French.”
“I see. So was it a goat, cow, or sheep’s milk cheese?
“I’m not sure.”
“Okay…was it soft or hard?
“Sort of in between.”
Needless to say, this exchange—which I’m certain happens at cheese counters everywhere—is frustrating for all involved. Yet it doesn’t have to be. Every cheesemonger has model customers who come in often to try new things and can articulate what they want and why. Here’s how to be that customer.
Hardy developed this simple recipe many years ago as a way to use up the generous quantities of local goat cheese the Little Nell receives during the spring and summer months. While the recipe below has been adapted for standard tart and pie pans, Hardy's original version contains double the amount of filling, which is baked in a 10-inch deep-dish fluted tin, yielding a "thicker, creamier, more decadent final dish."
Ryan Hardy, Little Nell, Apsen, Colorado
Hardy makes his fruit preserves more like a compote than a jam, with the cherries intact instead of broken down. The trick, he says, is achieving the right balance of sugar to acid, which depends upon the sweetness of the cherries. Hardy advises reducing the amount of added sugar by 10 percent if the fruit is very sweet, or cutting back on the lemon juice for fruit that is a little bit tart. He likes to serve these preserves with his cheese plates, especially with rich sheep's milk cheese.
MAKES 1 1/2 QUARTS
4 pounds fresh cherries, pitted and stemmed
4 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2-3 lemons, juiced
2-4 tablespoons apple pectin powder*
3 pint-size canning jars, with lids
Farro is an ancient, unhybridized type of wheat believed to have potent antioxidant qualities. Hardy loves it for its textural contrast against warm-weather produce such as cucumber and tomato, and for the way it emphasizes the nutty richness of the Pecorino. The secret, he says, is the fattiness of the sheep's milk, which balances the texture and acidity of the other ingredients. And there's another trick: "A good, fragrant bottle of olive oil is critical to making this dish sing," the chef notes. "It will cost you $20 to $30 a liter, which sounds like a lot, but that's what you'd spend on a nice bottle of wine. It's worth every penny, and will make your food taste like a professional's!"
Ryan Hardy, Little Nell, Apsen, Colorado
Hardy was inspired to create this broth from centuries-old Italian recipes, "where waste was simply not in the lexicon." While the base for the broth is just leftover cheese rinds cooked in water, "the sum total is worth a hundred times the value of its ingredients," Hardy says. "The result is so rich and intense, yet versatile enough to match any seasonal ingredient list with ease." In the spring, he adds cooked artichokes, fava beans, and poached farm eggs to create a soup at Little Nell.
MAKES ABOUT 3 QUARTS
3 pounds Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds
1 gallon water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds prosciutto scraps, ends, and skins, chopped or ground
1 yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves
1 head of fennel, diced
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
4 ounces fresh basil