Water Buffalo!!!!!!!!!


**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.

Editor’s Note: Got cheese? Why yes, we do! Check out Annie’s articles All About Goat’s Milk Cheese and All About Sheep’s Milk Cheese.

All Things are coming up Sheepy!


**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

Rendering beef fat to soothe the sad heart


If you follow me on Twitter, you most likely are aware that my Grandmother died on Christmas Eve. She was 100 years old and the most magnificent woman in the world. And that is not an exaggeration. She was truly amazing. She was the first person I remember telling me how important it was to get an education and engage in a fulfilling career. She was the person who taught me to cook, taught me to pray and taught me to be proud of my Lebanese heritage. She taught me to be progressive, never stagnant. Despite her age, she never rested on her laurels. Always moving with the times, trying new thing and embracing change….all the while holding on to her faith, heritage and traditions passed down from her parents. She was the youngest of four sisters, daughter of Lebanese immigrants and a pioneer in this city. She and two of her sisters owned and operated a restaurant and tavern in North St. Louis at a time where not only women didn’t own business but rarely worked and had just earned the right to vote. She was generous and philanthropic, continually giving to charities close to her heart such as St. Jude’s Hospital and American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities. She was a devout Maronite Catholic and a champion for her parish, St. Raymond’s Church. But above all, she was most proud of her family and harbored a love for us that saw no end. It was a love that I will cherish until the day I die…and one that I hope to shower upon my children and grandchildren someday. Continue reading

American Artisanal Cheesemakers: Introducing Baetje Farms


**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

Baa Baa Black Sheep….


Well, things are still moving along with the farm, albeit in slow motion. This cold, snowy winter has put the kibosh on any farmhouse remodeling until the spring thaw. All of the technical/legal stuff that goes along with this farm is on track. Life is busy for us right now, that if for sure. Continue reading

American Artisan Cheese is back with a vengance!


**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.
Continue reading

Pairing wine and cheese…my best guesses….


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

Beer and Cheese…a match made in heavan


**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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  1. Sharp cheddars, Colby or hard aged cheeses often go well with brown ales.
  2. Fresh chèvre or a pungent feta goes great with wheat beers (try a fruited wheat beer for fun).
  3. Smooth silky cheeses like mascarpone, Neufchatal or a triple crème stand up great with a fruity lambic or a kriek.
  4. Blue cheeses like Gorgonzola or Stilton pair beautifully with barleywines or an ultra-hopped beer like Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA.
  5. 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!

Who said life would slow down after graduation?!?


Well, I thought it would…but I was wrong. I am just filling my time with other things besides studying. Catching up with friends and family…driving up to N. Wisconsin for a little R&R and trying to get the house in order. It’s amazing how quickly a 1000 square foot loft can become a disorganized little mess when you are in grad school. Top it all off with running down to the Farm a couple times a week to keep things going….life gets away from you.

Let’s talk about the farm for a minute. Things are going well. The garden is going gangbusters. But Simon and I both agree…it would be a million times better if we were living down there full time and able to tend to it everyday. The weeds get out of control FAST! If more then 3 days goes by without tending to them….well, lets just say it isn’t pretty. This little garden experiment really reminded me of my novice status when it comes to farming/gardening. I’ve always managed my little raised beds in the city but the sheer size of the farm often leaves me overwhelmed. But, again…living down there will make it easier to manage.

When we were away last week, my Dad managed to get down to the farm a couple times to check on things. He got some good tomatoes…we came home to ALOT of tomatoes that were ready to be picked. Lost some watermelons b/c the rotted on the vine. We’ve been getting lots of rain at the farm.  That bummed me out b/c they looked great. Managed to pick 2 tiger melons. But the sheer amount of tomatoes is awe inspiring! Will be canning some sauce in the up coming days.

Whew….I’m sure there will be more to add soon. Our life is always changing. Always.

Artisanal Cheese 101-Dig In!


cross posted at Menuism!!

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

My Menuism Introduction!!!!


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!

Menuism….they think cheese is important.


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.

Cheese of the Week: Seehive from Beehive Cheese Company


Still toiling away in graduate school but couldn’t miss this opportunity to tell you about Seehive!

photo courtesy of Beehive Cheese Company

From the Beehive Cheese Co. website “…..is hand rubbed with Beehive wildflower honey and local Redmond RealSalt. The honey is harvested from a local farm where the bee’s visit wildflowers and fruit orchards. The salt is from an ancient sea bed near Redmond, Utah and contains unique flecks of color that are the result of more than 50 natural trace minerals. This cheese is shaping up to be one of our best experiments yet and is a true expression of our local flavors”

This interesting specimen is now available here in StL.  Buzz on over to The Wine Merchant and ask Simon for a taste. You won’t go home empty handed!

Cheesemaker of the Week:Star Thrower Farms


School started again….and my posts will be few and far between.

Until next time, check out this amazing sheep farm in Minnesota

Star Thrower Farms

***select products availabe at The Wine Merchant in Clayton

Kunik…it’s all the craze. Cheesemaker of the Week: Nettle Meadow Farm


If you have been reading The Novice Foodie or my Twitter posts then you may have some idea about Kunik. Kunik is a triple cream cheese made in Thurman, NY by Nettle Meadow Farm. Owned by Lorraine Lambiase and Sheila Flanagan, Nettle Meadow Farm is nestled on a cozy 50 acres just below Crane Mountain in the Adirondacks.

Kunik is a white-mold ripened cheese made from goat milk  and jersey cow cream. It has a delicate bloomy rind that smells sweet and grassy…but the inside yields a unctuous and buttery cheese with gracious tang.  Perfect on a slice of baguette topped with fruit chutney….or just slathered graciously on a toasted bagel.

Best at room temperature (like ALL CHEESE), Kunik has a permanent space on our kitchen counter.  Delicate and powerful…Kunik is by far becoming the favorite cheese of us here in St. Louis.  It is by far, my current obsession….delivered in small dreamy little rounds it doesn’t last long once cut into.  To be honest…I don’t think we have ever failed at finishing off the round once we got started.

The current batch at cheese counter at The Wine Merchant is by far the best we’ve had in Missouri……and that is saying a lot because ever subsequent batch and been perfect.