Archive for the ‘Cheese’ Category

Cellar Dream-Come-True


I knew when I built my wine and root cellars, that they would bring me joy – but I had no idea it would happen so thoroughly, so quickly. Today I made a batch of very, very large saucisson sec. It was time to try again after my last slightly hurtful failure, and the humidity in my cellar has been above 60% since early spring, largely having been resolve by 1) building a door, imagine that and 2) having a passive humidifier setup which is a bucket with salt water + a rag wicking water on to a flat rock on the floor = ~20%+ bump up in RH.

As I tied the links up in the cellar, I paused at the sight of copious quantities of saucisson sec, hanging above aging wheels of local goat cheese, themselves above many carboys full of urban fruit wine - and was thoroughly pleased to the core. It’s a dream-come-true, really. The cheese setup, btw, is a genius one – Holly at Smoky Valley Goat Cheese hooked me up with this idea: food grade plastic bin with lid, salt water on bottom, add rack, cheese on top [not touching water] = 95+% humidity. The humidity can be tweaked by simply sliding the lid open or closed. I had no idea how to achieve the necessary humidity for cheese ripening without the typical old-fridge-setup folks use. Problem solved.

I find myself ducking down to the cellar daily now – checking dry cured meat or smelling the cheese and checking out for any microflora action, topping up wine carboys or checking their state of fermentation, grabbing a bottle of wine or a jar of pickles, jam, or fruit syrup, or rounding up some root veg for dinner. Cellars are underrated – mine’s changing my life, and I think I’m only just starting to get the hang of it.

FROM LOCAL FARMS – Smoky Valley Goat Cheese


Used to be that fine goat cheese was something my wife and I would enjoy while traveling in France. Ten years later, as did the Smart car and Sephora, artisan goat cheese showed its face in Edmonton. When Smoky Valley Goat Cheese arrived at our City Market this spring, I wrote about it immediately. It changed our household food culture overnight, and since then our cheese has been hand crafted by Holly Gale.

As you may know, I’ve been on a bit of a crusade of sorts lately, doing what I can to help one of too many small artisan farm operations  struggling with viability. And yes, there’s a reason their new website looks shockingly like my blog, as I have recently been charged with re-creating their online face, asap.

I often wondered how Holly could make such good cheese right out of the gates, but now I know – she’s been making small-batch, farmstead cheese for over 30 years. In the video she discusses some of the challenges [everpresent in the regional farming gig], inspirations, and goals for their artisan dairy. Forgive the impromptu camera folly as the goats played with my tripod during the interview, and ate my list of questions for Holly. Ah, goats.

Smoky Valley Goat Cheese – St. Maure


I’m starting to find it charming how small producers of food stuffs often could use a hand in the marketing department. Smoky Valley Goat Cheese lacks a slick veneer of branding, and their website’s lovely description of their St. Maure seems to come directly from another website. Their sales pitch at their new place at the City Market Downtown needs work. But if one’s judging by the taste alone, it doesn’t matter.

We purchased their St. Maure Saturday morning and it is a lovely piece of hapiness all covered in white mold. From what I can tell it lacks the French version’s ash coating and straw down the middle, but otherwise brings me back to eating fine goat cheeses from the market in Chagny, Burgundy. [St. Maure is from Touraine, I know: besides the point]. At this stage of ripeness it smelled of grasses, was super creamy and lovely in texture, followed by a very nice goat cheese touch on the finish. We couldn’t stop eating it, and quickly decided that this particular product would be on our ‘to buy’ list on our weekly jaunt to the downtown market through the summer – primarily to top salads and eat as-is. And with bacon.

There was hole in the artisan goat cheese market here that badly need to be filled, and it’s a joy to see it closing.

Update a week later: They just upped their price from $5 to $8 on this. We didn’t buy it this week out of protest.

Smoked Antelope & Cheddar Crisp


It was the last pack from the 2008 antelope – an animal that had become revered as the game meat of choice over the past couple years around here, so tying into it was an event. A ‘leg roast’, which in this case meant the whole leg below the hip and above the knee [think a larger leg of lamb?]. It had stored well enough, I had a fire going to grill a piece, and we’d see what inspired us with the rest. Turns out the whole leg ended up over the fire with various tweaks of seasoning and herbs. I’ll spare you the photo essay and skip to the memorable part: smoked leg of antelope fried in 8-yr old vermont cheddar fat, topped with that cheese’s fried crisp.

What we did: It was a piece maybe the diameter of your wrist/forearm, and we smoked it well off direct heat, but the coals were quite hot so it still was a fairly hot smoke. The meat went a rich tan-burgundy in color, and retained an extremely tender texture [something notable about this antelope in general]. While it rested, we fried the cheddar in a cast-iron pan over some coals, collecting the solids as the fat ran about the pan [take it off when it starts to deep fry in its own fat kind of like how bacon does when it's near-ready], and set the fried cheese aside to crisp up [it crisps up when it cools, not in the pan]. The smoked meat then went into the hot cheese fat for a very-quick fry. Then the chip was cut up and went on top. Simple, rustic, damn tasty, and memorable. Great texture contrasts, great dairy funk, great richness added to a lean meat. Certainly worth a go again. The downside: it takes 7 years to get drawn again for an antelope tag up here – so it will be a few years yet before I can enjoy this again.

Dinner Party Menu

A breakdown of the menu for some new friends that came by for dinner last night. Excluding the first course – a salad from the garden…forgot the photo. The first three courses were paired with an alsatian riesling, the following 3 with a right-bank bordeaux. Overall, a lovely night:

berkshire tenderloin on white bean purée, crispy sage
pickled whitefish, dill & chervil
seared antelope, fleur de sel, baby italian parsley
korean kalbi-style antelope on rice
camembert on lovely bread our guests made
chocolate espresso swirl cheesecake with vanilla latté

Campaign for More Cheese

Another new year’s resolution: more cheese. As mentioned in a prior post, if you know how to get your hands on some tasty cheese, you can end up looking like a star even though you know jack in the kitchen.

Fortunately for me, my wife requested a cheese dinner for two for her birthday. And fortunately for me, my wife has good taste in cheese. ‘Dauphin’ – a super creamy brie of some sort, is her favorite. Next in line was goat cheese – this one a Salt Spring Island cheese with garlic. It’s worth mentioning that this producer recently became available in Edmonton, [Paddy's] and it easily rivals some of the nicest stuff we’ve sought out in France. And third on the list: anything smoked. Applewood smoked cheddar.

Unfortunately for me, while whisking my camera up to take a shot of one the best plating jobs I’ve done all year – the batteries fell out, and my camera ceased to function. Not awesome. Not that I care about my camera – it was a nice dish dammit!! Mashed potato, garlic goat cheese, and salt, accompanied by a wafer of fried applewood smoked cheddar and some smoked trout. May not sound like much, but it is bloody fantastic.

This was my first, but will not be my last, menu featuring cheese. Mmm…more cheese.

AOC Burgundy…but Cheese, not Wine.

Another post about missing out on Christmas dinner. I’ll get over it, don’t worry. This cheese was slated for the cheese board that night, and we gave it a go this morning with some Canadian dessert wines.

This is my new favorite cheese. It’s an AOC Burgundian cheese with an inside appearing crumbly like a drier goat cheese, but with a gradient outward through to an almost liquid ooziness prior to the camembert-esque rind. It smelled of button mushrooms. It tasted like velveeta, an awesome grilled cheese sandwich, and mushroom. It had the dairy-farmyard funkiness REAL french cheeses can have [that I'm trying to aquire a taste for], but in an extremely approachable fashion. Absolutely fantastic.

We also had another AOC cheese from Burgundy called Epoisses. I couldn’t get over the ammonia rush up the nose on the finish. My wife was reminded of working with cows back in her vet-nursing days. But the inside was warm-butter-creamy, and the rind was a bizarre rusty orange – you can actually see it behind the Chaource in the photo.

If you have a fine cheese shop where you live, and like mild cheeses with character, try the Chaource.

If they sell toilet paper, do not buy their cheese.

First off, I can’t believe I’ve never written about cheese before. Great cheese is a perfect example of why I can’t, and will likely never be okay with the ‘I can’t cook’ approach to eating. With the quality and diversity of food available, if you can’t serve nice food most of your problem is you just don’t know how to shop. I know, not everyone is going to go spend an evening in a specialty food store exploring what cool things they stock [like me...]. But it’s not necessary. Neither is super-specialized ultra-pretentious knowledge of niche items that make you awesome. What is required is a great source for quality cheese.
You’ll know you’ve found one when there is no hesitation when you ask ‘can I try some’. Easy measure. If they let you try it, I approve. And odds are, the cheese guy/gal knows where to get some good bread, and likely some great cured meats or other cool charcuterie or deli stuff. But you have to ask. Ask. Ask for their boring cheese. Ask for their nastiest cheese. Ask what their favorites are. Do whatever. Just talk to them, give it some thought and care, and it will reward you. Another clue: this place likely is not your local box grocer. If they sell toilet paper, do not buy their cheese.
I have moments of clarity off and on with food – ‘aha’ moments, as a university proff of mine put it. And I had one tonight, with cheese. I’ve been to Neil’s Yard Dairy in London and the most exclusive cheese shops in Paris. I’ve been to specialty shops in Tuscany that load their sheep cheese with white truffle, and I’ve visited small niche sheep cheese’ producers there as well. I’ve eaten local cheese in nearly every european country. And I finally, after many years, found a cheese that brings a piece of rural Italy to my table. It’s name will remain top-secret for now. It smells of old-world nastiness, like cheese gone bad that’s sat in someones old stone cellar for too long. It’s awesome. I can now eat it as is, grate it over pasta, or put it in a cream sauce for a game dish and I’ll look like a culinary genius – simply because I have a good source for good cheese.