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Hello, friends! Truth be told, I returned from South Africa almost a month ago, but sometimes real life gets in the way of virtual life. Luckily, I managed to fit some cheese tasting into the Cape Town schedule and so have something interesting to write about! Also, something to look forward to: I’ll be around downstate NY for more weekends and you know what that means? Farmers market cheeses! But for the moment, let us focus on the lovely cheese of South Africa.

Anura Vineyards is located in the town of Paarl, about 30 minutes from the center of Cape Town. While we were there primarily to do a wine tasting, we were quite unable to say no to the complimentary cheese tasting.  Their cheeses are produced under the title of Forest Hill Cheese.

The lovely Anura cheese display

As you can see from the photo, I was unable to capture the cheese display before the delicious cheese started to disappear from the plate.  Clockwise from the top we have the camembert, brie, Swiss mountain cheese with pepper corn, Swiss mountain cheese with chives, marisch, and marisch with cayenne pepper.  In the middle of the plate we have pepper, whiskey, and red wine jellies.  You’ll have to excuse the lack of depth in my cheese analysis, I only have the notes that I was able to take on a napkin.

To start, the camembert was heavenly.  As you may have noticed from this blog, Stephanie and I have a special place in our hearts for camemberts and this one left me feeling warm and fuzzy (and no, that feeling was not from all the wine).  The brie was also well made with that familiar brie bite. The Swiss mountain cheese seems like a relatively bland cheese that is a great base for strong ingredients like peppercorn or chives.  The added ingredients packed a lot of punch taste-wise, but in an enjoyable way. The marisch was new to me.  From what I could gather from our hostess, marisch is a semi-soft, creamy mozerella blend.  I found it mild, yet still tasty.  Mostly, I used it as a vehicle to try the three jellies.  The pepper jelly was good.  The red wine jelly was rich and sweet, definitely my favorite.  The whiskey jelly tasted like whiskey, which I’m sure some people would love, but for me the strong whiskey bite was a turn-off.  The last cheese was the marisch with cayenne pepper.  I was really excited about this cheese because the marisch, much like the Swiss mountain cheese, seemed like it would make a great canvas for other more flavorful ingredients like cayenne pepper.  Unfortunately, this cheese was way too salty to enjoy.  I couldn’t even taste any of the cayenne.  Overall, I thought the cheeses offered at this vineyard were great and if you’re ever in South Africa you should definitely stop by.

I’d also like to mention that the accompanying wine was fantastic as well (though I’m not sure how much my opinion is worth, I am not as knowledgeable about wines as Stephanie).  We got to try a tasty pinotage, which is a mix of pinot noir and hermitage, and at this point, I think South Africa might still be the only country to produce this type of wine (though I hear Australia is on its way to producing its own).

Cheese Tour!

It’s been quite some time since I last updated y’all on my cheese adventures, but I expect to be more diligent in writing more often now that I’m finished with school. I must extend a huge thank you to Kaitlin for keeping Cheese Club Wednesdays alive! Although neither of us has posted on the blog in the past few weeks, we’ve both been eating a ton of cheese, together and separately. However, Kaitlin recently left North Carolina for cooler temperatures in the great state of New York. To help Kaitlin and me keep in touch and in the know on great cheese, she’ll also be posting here to tell her cheese adventures and stories. Speaking of stories, here’s the latest on what I’ve been up to:

For my birthday, I received the most thoughtful gift from my boyfriend: a day of cheese making at a local creamery. He also most thoughtfully photographed the entire event, so do take note how great these photos are!

That local creamery was Chapel Hill Creamery, home of the delicious Colvander, which won 2nd place for the North American New Jersey Cheese Awards on the day we visited (woohoo!). Chapel Hill Creamery also happens to make the only Swiss cheese I truly love: their Thunder Mountain Swiss Cheese is nutty and complex and utterly delicious.

When we first arrived to Chapel Hill Creamery and before meeting Flo and Portia, the owners of the joint, we were met by these adorable cows, who had been milked just before our arrival. They look exhausted.

Portia and Flo greeted us enthusiastically, and off we were to help make mozzarella. Here’s Portia cutting the cheese (ha!):

It was a wonderful experience, learning new things like how curds and whey separate and understanding how much time it truly takes to make even a fresh cheese like mozzarella or chevre (except they only do raw cow’s milk here at Chapel Hill Creamery). I’ll share what I learned throughout the next few posts, but for now I just wanted to share some of the photos of the day. I’ll keep this post short and show you a bit more in a day or two. Prepare yourselves to learn what it takes to make amazing cheese (hint: patience is pretty key).

 

The Drunken Goat

This is my very first Cheese Plate blog post! I am very excited.

I might as well jump right in: I ran over to the A&P Fresh in my town to check out the cheese offerings (since I have moved away from the cheese Mecca that is A Southern Season) only to be a little disappointed. There is not much to choose from. Maybe I’ll invest some time in discovering a Citarella around here. I’m close to Greenwich, CT- there has to be a fancy rich people market around here somewhere.  Anywho, I was immediately pulled in by the name of this cheese: drunken goat! Ha! I love all kinds of cheese, but I really love cheese that does weird things.  This cheese has been dipped in wine, so it’s right up my alley.

The Drunken Goat is a semi-soft goat’s milk cheese from Murcia (ah, Murcia, the lovely southeastern region of Spain that is the home of blood sausage! Yum!).  According to the label, it has been “immersed in red wine.” Unfortunately, it is not purple or pink as I had hoped:

Please excuse the iPhone photo. I just moved and my camera is still M.I.A.

I was very excited to try this cheese as I thought it would taste (at least somewhat) like wine.  Alas, there isn’t much of a wine taste at all except for a slight wine-like aftertaste that goes away once you start eating the cheese with other food.  This didn’t stop me from liking the cheese though.  It’s very mild, so all the creamy, nutty goat’s milk flavor is distilled down into a nice tang.  I ate this cheese with raspberries and Carr’s whole wheat crackers (not to be confused with Carr’s whole wheat water crackers. The whole wheat crackers are thicker and slightly sweet in a cookie-like manner).  It doesn’t make sense to eat this cheese with raspberries or crackers at the same time, because the flavor just gets totally overwhelmed.  But it was tasty to alternate between bites of cheese, berries, and crackers.

All in all, I would say this is a great cheese for people who are wary of semi-soft goat cheeses because it is mild while still giving you the right flavor.  I do prefer my cheese to have a little more bite, but for something mild this was very nice.

Saint Agur

Most of my favorite cheeses are soft. I think I just love the combination of fresh bread and creamy cheese. I also love the tang of blue cheese, especially with honey and pear. The sweetness of pear tends to bring out the flavor of blue cheese while the smoothness of honey can tame it all. Well, I saw a smooth softer blue the other day and just had to try it. St. Agur is a French cow’s milk cheese from the village of Monts du Velay.

I love this cheese. It’s buttery and balanced in flavor. There’s the typical sharp taste of a blue, but it melts away quickly in your mouth. With 60% butter cream, St. Agur qualifies as a double-cream cheese, meaning it is deliciously fattening and wonderful. Due to that creaminess, it spreads ever so nicely on a baguette and would be perfect on a burger. I would also love to try this in a sauce (some day, eh? keep your eyes open for a new recipe!). St. Agur is definitely a great cheese to serve to anyone who feels a little nervous toward blue cheese since it’s not quite as strong and salty as a typical blue. It would be best served with a glass of Chardonnay or maybe a Syrah.

So, I say give this blue a try, and enjoy!

In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, we sampled an Irish cheddar from Kerrygold in Ireland, of course!

Didn’t Kaitlin take a beautiful photo?

We’ve mentioned here before that cheddar pairs really well with just about anything, and Kerrygold’s Irish Vintage was no exception. The smooth flavor was actually enhanced with the sweetness of raspberries and blackberries. The texture was creamier than expected, and the taste was more subtle than a typical aged cheddar. This is one cheese that is definitely worth adding to any cheese plate.

A quick random note from Stephanie: If you haven’t, you should also give Kerrygold’s butter a try. With its creamy taste and silky texture, this butter is perfect on fresh bread or warm toast. I’m currently addicted to it, and I have this guy to thank.

Taleggio

As promised, here is that fabulously stinky Taleggio that I promised, schlepped all the way from Cheesetique in Washington, D.C. to my house in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Taleggio is an Italian cheese with a particularly strong aroma, but its flavor is surprisingly mild with an unusual fruity tang. The rind is thin and studded with salt crystals, which you will be able to see in the photo below. I asked the cheesemonger for something particularly flavorful and stinky, and she gave me a taste of this. I was surprised by the tangy and fruity essence. While it wasn’t as flavorful as I was expecting, right away I thought it would be great on crackers or even a turkey sandwich.

So, Taleggio is a semi-soft, washed-rind cheese from the Val Taleggio region (hence its name) in northern Italy. The texture of the cheese – when served at room temperature as it should be – is almost oozy with a nice melt-in-your-mouth feel. Be sure not to serve this right from the fridge: it’ll be a hard block of stink with very little flavor. Also, eat it right away! I let this sit in my fridge for just a couple days once I got home, and let’s just say, woah. The paper it was wrapped in even made my garbage get a little funky. But don’t let this scare you!! The delicious combination of the soft texture, pungent aroma, and buttery flavors was perfect on fresh bread and on herb crackers. Taleggio would pair well with Italian wines, of course, but it would really go nicely with a wide range of reds and whites, as well.


Blue Cheese Crackers

Spring has hit the South early this month, and it’s been gray, cloudy, and rainy outside these past few days. I love it when the weather’s like this; all I want to do is stay inside and bake, read, and eat. I needed something to munch on while reading my latest book (Summerland by Michael Chabon for anyone interested), and I thought crackers would be ideal. I love blue cheese and had some in the fridge, so I searched the Internet for some ideas. What I concocted was a combination of several recipes, and these little crackers turned out especially savory and ideal for crappy weather.

With a hint of cayenne, these special little cracker cookies have the consistency of biscuits. Dry yet chewy, there’s a smidge of a bite and tons of flavor and richness thanks to the blue cheese. These would be fun to impress a party for an appetizer or save for yourself for a little afternoon snack. I had mine with tea, but a glass of any wine would be fabulous, too.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1/2 cup of cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 stick of butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups of any crumbled blue cheese
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups of crispy rice cereal, such as Rice Krispies

Here’s what to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. I used my stand mixer on medium speed to cream together the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Add the cayenne, blue cheese, flour, and rice cereal and beat on medium-low speed until everything’s well blended. The dough will be crumbly and stiff.
  2. Roll one-tablespoon portions into balls and place slightly apart on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten each ball with a fork. Note: They won’t be super flat and crispy like you’d expect a normal store-bought cracker.
  3. Bake until crackers are golden brown, which was just 5 to 8 minutes in my little apartment oven.

This recipe made about 50 crackers. They’re very tasty while still warm from the oven, but they’re great at room temperature, too.

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