In Valle d’Aosta, Fontina cheese preserves more than the local milk
Several salamis and a hare hang from pegs on the wall, and a merchant is preparing to weigh a wedge of cheese. This is the scene that appears in a 15th-century fresco in the castle of Issogne, a quaint town in Italy’s smallest and highest region, Valle d’Aosta, where I arrived several days ago. Standing before the vintage painting, I notice that the wheels stacked on the merchant’s table look just like the Fontina cheeses I’ve glimpsed in gastronomie and restaurants all around this dairy-rich countryside. And, in fact, the cheeses are more or less the same, despite a centuries-wide generation gap.
Dating a biologist is a blast, especially if you write a food column. All I’ve got to do is form a vague question (“Are pickles alcoholic?”) or make some half-informed assertion (“Isn’t whale milk the highest-calorie food on earth?”) and Minda starts pulling reference books. Not knowing the real answer drives her nuts. It’s way more fun than Google, and much cuter.
Velvety and non-alcoholic Fonduta is different than Swiss Fondue. It is technically a mornay sauce made with Fontina Valle d’Aosta and enriched with egg yolks. While it can be used as a dipping sauce for toasted whole wheat bread cubes (not French baguette) it is also used as a sauce for potato gnocchi, polenta, vegetables and meats, as well as a filling for appetizer puffs, croquettes and volauvants. Its versatility makes it so much more than just another fondue. And a few shavings of white truffle will transform it into one of the worlds greatest culinary treats.
This recipe is a variation on a famous soup from the Valtellina region of the Valle d’Aosta. The hearty combination of cabbage, beef broth, whole wheat bread and savory Fontina Valle d’Aosta produces a richly satisfying dish worthy of everyone’s “comfort food” repertoire.
Cut pancetta slices in half and then into 1/2-inch wide strips. In a very large frying pan with high sides cook pancetta 4 to 5 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly crisp. Remove from pan and reserve.
Raise heat to medium and add olive oil and onion. Cook until onion is slightly soft. Add garlic and squash; season with salt, pepper, and sage and cook 2 minutes.
Part pudding and part pancake, clafouti is traditionally made with cherries, but it easily adapts to almost any fruit. The clafouti will emerge from the oven puffed and brown, but will collapse like a soufflé as it cools. In the winter, you can make clafouti with dried plums (prunes) using the variation below. Serve warm, sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar.
1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Generously butter a shallow 12x8 inch baking baking dish.
At Picholine, these handmade gnocchi are served with artichokes barigoule and parsley pistou, but the gnocchi can also be accompanied by any kind of Provencal-type vegetable sauce or pesto.
Put the ricotta in a cheesecloth-lined colander and use a rubber spatula to push as much liquid as possible out of the cheese. Then gather up the ends of the cloth and turn them over and over again (as though wringing a towel), tightening its hold on the cheese and squeezing any lingering liquid out of it.
Q: I recently bought a handmade aged goat cheese that was absolutely wonderful–although at $38 per pound, it ought to be! Can you tell me why these artisan cheeses are often so pricey?
A:Years ago, while I was working as a rookie cheesemonger at Neal's Yard Dairy in London, I asked a colleague to explain why the British and Irish farmhouse cheeses we worked with cost so much more than the commodity cheeses of the same name.
By way of an answer, I was led upstairs and shown a photograph of the Dairy Crest factory, a very large-scale cheese operation in the north of England. "The cheese that is produced here in one day," I was pointedly told, "is equivalent to the annual output of all the British and Irish farmhouse cheesemakers put together."
I am an affineur, an expert at bringing fine cheeses to their ultimate ripeness. I love the job, but there’s no doubt that the title is a strange one, particularly outside the cheese world.
Most people have never heard the term. I can’t count the times my occupation has raised an eyebrow, followed by the inevitable, “What do you do?” When I simplify the answer—“I specialize in cheeses”—you wouldn’t believe how often the response is, “You specialize in Jesus?” Hardly. But I am an expert on the saving grace of good affinage, and even devout cheese lovers rarely know just what that means. So here are some of the secrets of the craft.
What Is Affinage?
Affinage is a French word that literally translates as “ripening,” but the process is also called “cheese maturing,” “cheese aging,” or “cheese ripening.” All of these terms refer to the stage when milk enzymes, microbes, surface molds, and yeasts transform fresh, just-formed curd into ripe cheese.
Typically, the region’s famous vin jaune (yellow wine) is used to make the sauce for this chicken. But because this wine of the Jura can be difficult to find in the United States, a full-bodied chardonnay can be substituted.
Sprinkle the chicken lightly with the salt and pepper. If the breast is large, cut it in half crosswise. Use the ½ cup flour to coat the pieces of chicken; shake off the excess flour and set the chicken aside.