My second installment in our monthly blog over at Sauce Magazine!
**Cross posted at Menuism.
All great cheese starts with quality milk. That milk can be sourced from a variety of animals, from cows (think: cheddar) to sheep (think: manchego) to goats (think chevre). Today I’m going to talk about cheese made from the milk of water buffalos. That’s right: water buffalo. How else do you think mozzarella di bufala got its name?
Now, before your imagination starts conjuring up visions of huge, mean animals with fierce horns roaming the Mekong Delta, let’s talk a little bit about the animal that produces the delicious milk we find in buffalo’s milk cheese. There are two kinds of water buffalo: wild and domesticated. Wild water buffalo are considered an endangered species, so we don’t mess with them. They are free to roam and live their lives.
The domesticated water buffalo, on the other hand, plays a significant role in many people’s diets, particularly in Asian (especially Indian) and Italian cultures. Farmers rely on water buffalo for farming, both to do the heavy work in the fields and to fertilize the land with their dung. Water buffalo are also a prized source of meat and milk in those areas. There aren’t many water buffalo in the United States, and the industry has become even more niche in recent years. One water buffalo dairy farm in Vermont recently relocated its herd to Quebec, Canada. Another farmer, who keeps a water buffalo herd in Wisconsin, is entering his second year of milking, but purposefully keeps his herd’s milk production rate low. Most of the mozzarella di bufala that we see in the US is imported straight from the traditional source: Italy.
The Origins of Mozzarella di Bufala
Like most European producers, the Italians are very proprietary when it comes to the cheese they’re known for: buffalo mozzarella, or mozzarella di bufala. Almost all mozzarella di bufala is produced under stringent regulations in only a handful of provinces in Campania, a region in southern Italy. Exactly how and when water buffalo made their first appearance in Italy is a varied tale, but there is evidence that Italian people began making cheese from water buffalo’s milk as early as the 12th century. In 1993, mozzarella di bufala earned the designation D.O.P. (Denominazione di Origine Protetta). What does that mean? If you see “D.O.P.” marked on your scrumptious package of mozzarella di bufala, then you know for a fact that it was produced in one of the seven regions in Italy under the stringent quality regulations pertaining to freshness, temperature and milk sourcing. In other words: it’s the good stuff.
How It’s Made
Mozzarella di bufala is made in a specific manner that is wholly unique to this cheese. So it’s no wonder that it’s an entirely different product than the mozzarella-flavored string cheese or even American-produced fresh mozzarella, both of which are most likely to be made with cow’s milk. For mozzarella di buffalo, the buffalo’s milk is curdled, then drained of the whey. (The whey is retained to make ricotta cheese.) The curd is then cut into small pieces and ground until crumbly. The curd is put in hot water, where it is stirred until it takes on a rubbery texture, then it’s kneaded until a smooth, shiny cheese is obtained. Once the right consistency is reached, the mozzarella is pulled (kind of like taffy) and squeezed into individuals knobs and placed in a brine. The flavor of the cheese is enhanced as it absorbs salt from the brine. Mozzarella di bufala is available in various shapes and sizes, from little bite-sized balls called bocconcini to large, plump mounds, to braided styles.
A Few Suggestions for Enjoying Mozzarella di Bufala
Now that you know more about buffalo’s milk cheese and how it’s made, do you want to know how to enjoy this fresh and delicious cheese? Mozzarella di bufalo is so versatile. It melts beautifully, so try finishing pizza and pastas with it. You can also try rubbing grilled bread with a fresh cut garlic clove, then topping it with fresh herbs, a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and fresh slices of mozzarella di bufala. In the classic insalata caprese, a summer staple at my house, I pair it with fresh tomatoes and sweet basil and dress everything with extra-virgin olive oil.
Pairing Suggestions: To wash down your lovely cheese, no matter how you choose to serve (or order) it, I suggest a crisp pinot gris or rosé. Prefer beer? A light pilsner pairs nicely on a hot summer day.
**cross-posted at Menuism
I have a secret to share. It’s not terribly juicy but it does often surprise most folks. So here it goes: You eat more sheep’s milk cheese than you think. It’s true. A good number of folks have no idea how often sheep’s milk cheeses find their way onto their plate. Have you ever stopped into your local Italian specialty market to pick up ricotta for your lasagna? If you have, you’ve had sheep’s milk cheese. Same goes for pecorino Romano—that’s a sheepy cheese as well. The Italian word for sheep is pecora. Continue reading
Join me on March 26th for my first cooking class at Kitchen Conservatory! We will be cooking all things Lebanese. We will be making laban, shish barak over rice , fatoush, hummus b’thini and baklava! For more information click HERE!
**cross posted at Menuism
Artisanal cheese can be found in pretty much every state in the union. I dare you to try and name a state that doesn’t have at least one dairy or creamery. Even the island of Hawaii is home to some great cheesemakers! Over my next few posts, I’ll talk about some of these great American cheesemakers, starting with my home state of Missouri. Continue reading
**cross posted at Menuism
The United States is embarking on a revival of the craft of artisan cheesemaking. Over the past several years, American-made artisanal cheese has won back its place in the hearts of the people. Artisanal cheese can be found once again in cases at wine shops, specialty stores and at farmers’ markets. According to the American Cheese Society, there has been astounding growth in membership as well as the number and variety of American artisanal cheeses entered in its annual competition.
Some folks may dare to say that American artisanal cheese may rival those European classics that have long been thought of as the best of the best. It cannot be denied that American artisanal cheesemakers are becoming well known across the country. With the advent of blogs, Facebook, Twitter and cheese periodicals like Culture, American cheesemakers and cheesemongers are winning over America’s food enthusiasts.
I kid…we didn’t burn down the farmhouse. But Simon did paint it…and it looks amazing. The above picture is not the farmhouse. Its a barn in Perryville, MO. I just though it was pretty and took a picture fo fit.
It’s crazy what a fresh coat of paint can do for a house. Next up is the demolition of the deck. I’m actually scared to walk on it…it has seen better days. The new deck needs to be up before we start the demo of the interior of the house so we will have a work space outside the house. It’s only a 900 square foot house. That seems very small to me. Well, mostly because it is small…but I keep telling myself I will do better with getting rid of some of the extraneous junk in my life. There is no need for two televisions. I need to thin down my closet. So…we will see how that works out.
Phase I of animal procurement with be chickens. We are doing all of our homework and trying to figure out where we want to put the coops. Our goal is to have about 200 chickens…all free range of course. There is a great stretch of pasture with some woods along the north boundary that we are thinking would be great for them. If we get the chicks in March we could possibly have some eggs by late summer.
Then the sheep, followed by cows and hogs.
I’m so excited.
***Cross-posted at Menuism
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said, “A meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.” I couldn’t agree more! Ending a meal with cheese is a lovely substitution (or addition) to the dessert course.
I’ll discuss some general guidelines, but first, know that the “rules” of assembling a cheese board are so subjective. You gotta do what you feel! My favorite boards highlight the different kinds of milk used to make cheese. Assembling any type of cheese board, however, is a great opportunity to introduce something new to family and friends—especially the unadventurous eaters.
Where Do I Start?
A cheese plate should be diverse, but you don’t need more than a few options. When formulating your cheese board, consider factors like the style of cheese, milk source, appearance and flavor profile. There are a bajillion ways you can go about this. One suggestion: I often stick to the triumvirate of offering a blue cheese, a hard cheese and a soft cheese. On the other hand, I also like to offer three cheeses of the same type; for example, three bloomy rind cheeses from different cheesemakers. Either way allows for a wide variety and you’ll be sure to please everyone with one of your selections.
Another approach is to stick with cheeses from a particular country. If you are having a tapas party, showcase Spanish cheeses like San Simon, manchego and Idiazabal. All three are from Spain and range from light to full-bodied. France, America, Spain and the UK all have crazy-good cheeses to choose from. The diversity within each country is broad and can make for a delicious cheese board. On the other hand, you could be a total rebel and choose different cheeses from different countries—kind of like the United Nations on a plate!
One thing is for sure: you must try the cheese you are going to serve. Any reputable cheesemonger will be more than happy to serve you up a taste. If he or she doesn’t offer you samples or refuses your request, turn on your heel and march out the door. And vow never to return.
How Much Should I Buy?
Another big question is how much cheese to buy. I go with the general rule of buying two ounces per person. Some folks eat more, some eat less, but it should even out in the end. If you are going to serve other nibbles (e.g, olives, dried fruit or chocolate) with the cheese, you might not need as much. But remember, with the leftover cheese you can always make Fromage Fort!
7 Tips for a Great Cheese Board
Here are the nuts and bolts of a fancy-schmancy cheese board. To get started:
1. Use a wooden cutting board or a marble cheese platter. Both make a good cutting surface and are pleasing to the eye.
2. Use separate cheese knives for each cheese. You don’t want to mix the flavors.
3. Allow the cheese to come to room temperature before serving your guests. Cold temperatures mute the flavors of the cheese. You spent good money on this stuff; you want to do it right.
4. Keep the board limited to three to five cheeses. Unless you are feeding 50 people, three cheeses is enough to enjoy. More than five and your guests may lose track of what’s what.
5. If you don’t have the time to discuss each cheese to each guest, label them. A simple white card with the cheese’s name, milk source and country of origin will do. You can also tuck the cheese label next to the cheese if you happen to have it. Very clever.
6. Serve cheese with water crackers, sliced baguette or any type of plain cracker. It allows the flavor of the cheeses to be in the forefront. You don’t want a garlic-and-herb cracker overshadowing your delicate triple crème brie.
7. Dried fruit, olives, chutneys, berries, almonds and sliced apples or pears accompany cheese very well. They work as a palate cleanser between cheeses, and also taste really good with cheese. It’s a win-win.
When in doubt, call upon your cheesemonger. He or she can always suggest cheeses for your board. It’s what they love to do! Just remember to eat what you like, don’t be afraid to try new things and share your love of cheese with your family and friends!
Well, we started work on the farmhouse this past week. And by WE…I mean The Cheesemonger. I am busy working at the hospital these days. Things are falling into place and before you know it we will be living in Festus. Next on the agenda is to paint the exterior of the house and replace the wrap-around back deck. We are going to extend the deck to connect the bunk house with the main house. After that: internal demo.
I have been scouring over loads of design magazines like Dwell and other periodicals such as Beautiful Home and Cottage Living. The farmhouse is very small. It is about half the size of the loft give or take a few 100 square feet. I keep forgetting that we have two barns and a bunk house to store things in…that is good. But I am worried about our clothes and shoes. We have ALOT. And if you know anything about The Cheesemonger…you know who has the most shoes…I have been trading kitchen ideas with a friend of mine for the last week or so. I think he may be more excited about the renovations than I am at this point. He can be…he won’t have to live there.
There are other tidbits to consider at this time as well…like for instance: A NAME for the farm/dairy. Right now it’s just known as THE FARM. But I want to come up with something a bit more catchy and fitting. I don’t necessarily want Festus to be in the name as it reminds me of the word fester, like a festering boil. I know that is gross…but it is what it is.
Lehrer Family Farms isn’t bad…but people have such a hard time with that last name! So, if anyone has any suggestions…lay ’em out there. I have my people working on it as I type this post. It was also brought to my attention that I need to hurry up with this ‘naming’ project as I need to secure my domain name/website. All of these little things are on my to-do list that I have filed back in my brain…but I think we are going to need to knock this part our sooner or later. We have lots of folks asking about THE FARM and wanting to get the word out…and yet, I can’t even tell them what we call it.
We won’t have sheep until the spring. We will start with chickens. The Cheesemonger is making the plans for the coop and we are trying to figure out the best place to put it. They will be pretty free to roam the farm. I’m hoping they will help keep bugs away.
I’m excited. I’m scared. I’m hopeful. I’m nervous. I’m just all around ready for this adventure.
I’m no expert…but I have an opinion……
****cross posted at Menuism
Ernest Hemingway one said, “Wine is the most civilized thing in the world.” We all know how I feel about beer, and the same can be said for wine. I really can’t say which I like better…each pairs with cheese in its own amazing way!
Both wine and cheese have been part of the human diet for a very long time, so there are lots of opinions on what goes with what. And again, they are both living things that change with age, so what you tasted in December will more than likely taste completely different a few months—or years—later.
The most basic guideline for pairing wine and cheese: Eat what you like with wine you like to drink. It’s as simple as that. No hard-and-fast rules. Wine and cheese is about enjoying yourself. Why would you eat what you don’t like…right?
But for those of you who want a starting point to jump from, here are some simple guidelines to base some of your first pairings.
Getting Started: Time & Temperature
First, let me say that wine must be served not too cold and not too warm. Proper cellar temperature is around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and while I certainly don’t advocate serving all wines at 55 degrees, proper cellar temperature is a good starting point for both reds and whites. Reds are best when served slightly above cellar temperature but not close to room temperature. That is way too warm.
So pop your reds in the fridge the day you want to drink them and remove them about a half hour prior to popping the cork. For white wines, cellar temperature is appropriate. Any colder than that and it mutes the complex flavors of the wine. Again, 30 minutes before popping the cork, take it out of the fridge. Same goes for cheese.
Now let’s talk putting cheese and wine together.
Pairing Tips: Something Old with Something Bleu…and More!
White wine pairs well with pretty much anything, so if you like a particular cheese and particular wine, try them together. Crispy whites, like a pinot gris, pair well with creamy cheeses.
Fruity, light reds like a young zinfandel pair great with blooming rind cheese like Kunik, a goat and cow’s milk blended cheese. I also like to pair more spicy/jammy reds with funky cheeses—sometimes the funkier the better.
Roquefort goes great with dessert wines or port. I had a big hunk of Maytag blue with an aged white wine and it was delish!
When considering your options, great pairings occur when the wine brings flavor out of the cheese or vice versa. Terroir plays a role again. It’s true what people tout: Location, location, location! Choosing traditional cheeses and wines from the same region is a safe bet to a happy pairing.
Here are a few of my favorite pairings:
- Kunik with a red zinfandel
- Big Ed with Riesling
- 5-year aged Gouda with a syrah
- Gorgonzola with a pinot noir
- Pleasant Ridge Reserve with a chardonnay
**Cross-posted at Menuism
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” I happen to agree with that adage 100 percent. Add a platter of delicious cheese and it’s proof that God not only loves us and wants us to be happy, but also is letting us have a taste of heaven right here on earth. Many folks think that the perfect beverage to serve with cheese is wine. And surely for some, it is. But don’t discount the age-old fermented brew. Humans have been drinking beer since 9000 B.C.! Like cheese, beer is a complex and varied beverage. And like cheese, small batch, hand-crafted brew is a delight—and the perfect match for artisanal cheese. After all, they both start with the same ingredient: grass.
As we learned last month, the flavor of the cheese is derived from milk, which is flavored by the grass the animal eats. And beer is made from barley, a cereal grass often used for not only brewing beer but also for feeding animals. Two peas in a pod, right?!
Here’s the kicker: there are no steadfast beer and cheese pairings. As much as I would like to say “eat this” when you “drink that,” it just doesn’t happen. The only way you can know what goes with what is to try it out. And to be honest, that is the fun part. Now, don’t get me wrong—we can start with some basic concepts of beer and cheese pairing. There is a bit of method to this madness.
4 Ground Rules for Pairing Cheese and Beer
- Start by thinking about balance. You don’t want the cheese to overpower the beer or vice versa. A soft delicate goat’s milk cheese would be crushed by a sharp IPA.
- Next up: terrior. It doesn’t only apply to wine. If you drink beer and eat cheese from the same region, one could say that the complementary factors are what make the match work. The beginnings of each product are harvested from the same plot of land and often share some flavor characteristics.
- But in the same breath, let’s talk contrast. The differences in each could highlight a flavor or texture that we would have missed if paired with something too similar.
- Texture can play a role as well. A thick, creamy cheese may not pair well with a heavy stout. It may need a lighter, more effervescent beer, like a sparkling ale.
5 Failsafe Pairings
It can get messy if you think too hard. You just have to give it a whirl. Here is my starting point.
- Sharp cheddars, Colby or hard aged cheeses often go well with brown ales.
- Fresh chèvre or a pungent feta goes great with wheat beers (try a fruited wheat beer for fun).
- Smooth silky cheeses like mascarpone, Neufchatal or a triple crème stand up great with a fruity lambic or a kriek.
- Blue cheeses like Gorgonzola or Stilton pair beautifully with barleywines or an ultra-hopped beer like Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA.
- A strong Gruyère will often pair nicely with a bock beer, while milder Swiss cheeses can be enjoyed with a Märzen.
Remember, cheese and beer pairings are not set in stone. If you like it…eat it and drink it. Consider that what you like together in December might not go well in August. Beer and cheese change as they age, just like all living things. So grab a baguette or a loaf of good country bread, a nice pint of craft beer and a slice of artisanal cheese and see what you think. You will be pleasantly surprised!
This is my very first blog post over at Menuism! It will be a monthly spot highligting all things cheese. Pop over to Menuism and take a look! Be sure to sign up and/or log in to keep track of your eats…and see what is happening in the food world!
One of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s most famous quotes describes the passion that most countries—notably France—have for cheese: “A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.” However, here in the states I have found that a good majority of folks think cheese only comes from cows, shrink-wrapped in individual slices and stacked in neat piles on the shelves of our mega-mart’s refrigerated sections. Friends, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.Cheese is a complex, varied and often misunderstood part of our culinary and agricultural history. So, here I am: a girl from South St. Louis, willing and ready to give you the basic nuts and bolts of artisanal cheeses.
What’s so special about artisanal cheese?
What in the world is artisanal cheese? Well, that is a both a simple and complex question. In a nutshell, artisanal cheese can be described as cheese made by hand in small batches using traditional methods that have withstood the test of time. With this method comes great variability in the end product, which is part of the true beauty of artisanal cheese. Over the next couple months we will delve into every aspect of artisanal cheese, from sourcing milk to production methods, aging, and finally, the joy of EATING artisanal cheese!
Where does it come from?
Like I said before, cheese is not only a product of dairy cows. Think about it: cheese is made from milk. What other animals produce milk? Cows are the first that come to mind, yes, but there are also goats and sheep. Many Mediterranean and European countries have relied on sheep and goats as their main source of food for hundreds or even thousands of years! In turn, they have perfected the art of making cheese from the milk of these animals. Waste not, want not.
First lesson: cheese can be made with cow, sheep or goat’s milk. Those are the most common types of milk we use in the U.S. to make artisanal cheeses. (In the Middle East and parts of Asia, the milk of other mammals is used for cheese. But that’s another story for another time.) Each type of milk can be used alone, or blended for a more complex flavor profile. Depending on the animal, there is a different fat content and of course, flavor. Sheep’s milk has the highest fat content out of our milk triumvirate. Next in line is cow’s milk, and finally, our ornery friend, the goat. Factor in where the animal was raised, what type of food it ate, the production method and the aging process, and you can see how artisanal cheesemakers are able to create a multitude of distinct-tasting cheeses.
What’s next? Where can I get my hands on some tasty artisanal cheese?
So I’ve planted the seed in your brain. Artisanal cheese sounds like a pretty fabulous idea, right? Next step: venturing out into your community in search of some artisanal cheese. I suggest starting with your local farmer’s market. You are bound to find some artisanal cheese there. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Farmers and cheesemakers love what they do…and they love to talk about what they do with you! Try something new and stay tuned for more cheese talk!
This has been a very brief introduction to artisanal cheese. If you want more information, I suggest starting with the American Cheese Society.
– Annie Lehrer
Here is the link to my introduction on Menuism! I’m so excited to be a part of this enthusiastic food team! Stay tuned for monthly expert posts from amazing folks all over the country. And if you haven’t poked around the new Menuism site…get over there! It’s a great place to keep track of your eats and find new exciting spots in your hometown!
So, along with all of the exciting graduation news….I have some exciting blog news too. I have been asked by the founders of the new website Menuism, a new website that combines restaurant menus, food/restaurant reviews, dining journals and social networking, to be an guest author! Menuism was started as a means for friends, family, and community to enlighten each other about their dining decisions at local restaurants. Part of the Menuism project is to utilize experts to offer up opinion, advice and information about particular subjects pertaining to dining, food, entertainment and good living. And they asked moi to be the expert blogger on cheese! I’m VERY excited about this project and looking forward to sharing the world of artisanal cheese. So, check it out! The expert blog launch is scheduled for July 19th! There is a super neat roster of expert bloggers and more will be added as time passes.
ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That’s right kids. This cheesemonger’s wife graduated. No more 12 page papers on hemodynamic monitoring…no more midterms and finals…and best of all…NO MORE 4am wake up calls! Whew….thought this day would never come. But, I have to be honest. Now that it’s over….I’m having a bit of separation anxiety. I don’t know what to do with myself. I still feel guilty spending hours down at Gelateria Tavolini or Foundation Grounds NOT studying Nursing but blogging, catching up on my aimless internet browsing and reading my Kindle. Continue reading