Friday, May 29, 2015

The Road to Cheese Whizzery

These toasty li'l bites are a super simple snack or crowd pleasing party appetizer. I've made a meal out of these with a bowl of soup or a salad.  Toast + cheese + whatever is pretty much a daily thing in the little kitchen.
After two years working in this amazing market as a cashier and then supervisor I just this week moved into the cheese department. I can now add Cheesemonger to my resume.
After my first cheese shift a few weeks ago, I realized how ignorant I was of non-cow's milk cheeses. As I was offering samples of a beautiful little triple cream I became aware of how many people can't eat cow's milk cheeses so I begin by learning more about non-cow's milk cheeses starting with sheep.
A little curd nerdery:
Pecorino (or Pecora, actually) is the Italian word for sheep, so there are a whole lotta different pecorinos out there. Most are familiar with Pecorino Romano, a hard, grating cheese one can find in the super market and is used generally as an alternative to Parmigiano Reggiano.
Sheep milk is richer in fat than cow's milk.  One cow puts out anywhere from 8-20 quarts of milk per day. One sheep puts out about 4 quarts a day, but sheep's milk has less water, more vitamins and minerals, more fat. A gallon of sheep's milk will make a slightly larger amount of cheese than a gallon of cow's milk. A herd of cows can give milk year round. Sheep don't do that. It takes a little more than a gallon of milk to produce one pound of cheese, then depending on how long that cheese ages, that pound will diminish in weight as the cheese loses moisture. Anyhoo, thus begins my cheese journey.
I brought home these three lovely little hunks of sheepy goodness. I wanted to start with semi-firm cheeses that would be good snackers and melters. These are all raw milk cheeses. In the U.S. raw milk cheeses must be aged for a minimum of 60 days, a time frame that would supposedly kill of any harmful bacteria yet leave the flavor enhancing bacteria in tact.

First up is the Tomme Brulee on the left. This is a firm, French raw milk cheese from the Basque country, distinguishable by the blackened mottled natural rind. A nice firm little cheese with smooth silky interior. As it melts on the tongue it's savoryness is mouthwatering. It's a perfect balance of sweet and salty with caramelly, nutty notes. It's a great snacker and would  be awesome on a cheese plate, warming up the taste buds before a dinner of broiled lamb chops.

Next up is Baserri Barinaga  (middle) a lovely raw milk cheese from Petaluma. I got a chance to visit Barinaga Ranch shortly after this sheep milk cheese tasting.
Marcia Barinaga models Baserri (the Basque word for farmhouse) after the Basque cheeses made by her family in Spain. Baserri is aged for 6 months, It's creamy, rich and nutty. It's a great table cheese and it melts beautifully. It was amazing toasted on slices of Marla Bakery Walnut Boule (pictured below).

Lastly is a classic Pecorino Toscano from Italy. It differs from Pecorino Romano which is aged longer resulting in a dryer and saltier cheese used primarily as a seasoning. Pecorino Toscano is  a great table cheese as it has a surprisingly flavorful bite. There's a grassy tang to it that I wasn't expecting. Not only was this a great melter on my toasties, it was most excellent shaved onto a layered salad of arugula, radishes and fennel.
I used the housemade sweet Italian sausage we sell at the market. I also had a bit of Pt. Reyes Original Blue to add to the mix.

Super Simple Toasties or Sausage & Pecorino Crostini

1/2 inch slices of a baguette or small boule
8 ounces of cheese
1/2 lb. Italian sausage

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and lay out the sliced bread, top with an even layer of cheese. With your fingers squeeze sausage out of the casing and place a large dollop on top of the cheese, pressing and spreading it right to the edges of the bread. Bake for 10 minutes and serve promptly.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Warm Lentil & Goat Cheese Salad

I've had this recipe bookmarked for months. It's from Laura Werlin's Cheese Essentials, a book I found in the breakroom at work and borrowed for enhancing my study of all things cheese. I'm a big fan of warm lentil salads with goat cheese since trying something like this in one of the 18 Reasons cooking classes I took a while back focusing on the beauty of budget friendly meals revolving around lentils.
I made a few tweaks to the original recipe.  I prepared the salad while the lentils were still warm whereas the original recipe instructs for the lentils to be cooled to room temperature. I find the warm lentils absorb the flavors of the dressing and allow the cheese to soften a bit and adding a little creaminess to the salad. The other adjustment I made was to chop and crumble the goat cheese then stir it into the warm salad. The original recipe places a one ounce wedge of cheese onto the side of the plated salad. That makes for a lovely presentation when using a striking looking cheese like Humboldt Fog and if serving this salad to guests.

I'm much more pedestrian and make a big bowl of this all for myself so I can enjoy it for a few days. Humboldt Fog is a lovely lightly aged goat's milk cheese from Cypress Grove in Humboldt County here in California. It has a vegetable ash layer running through the middle and beneath the white bloomy surface. It ripens from the surface where it's soft and oozy. The center is firm and crumbly. One of the things I love about good goat cheese is that it changes as it ages. There's more complexity to aged goat cheeses like Humboldt Fog that develop a bloomy (the white fuzzy) rind. The crumbly center is mild and tangy, the oozy edge introduces a bit of goaty personality and the bloomy rind is a little bitter. I love the combination of all of these textures. This salad would be just fine using a more commercial log style goat cheese if you're going the pedestrian route.

Warm Lentil and Goat Cheese Salad
adapted from Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials

For the lentils:
1 cup dried lentils
1 large garlic clove, peeled

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons mustard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill plus whole sprigs for garnish
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch dice
1 large celery stalk cut into 1/8 inch dice
About 1 cup peeled, finely diced English cucumber
8 ounces Humboldt Fog goat cheese

To prepare the lentils: Fill a 2 quart sauce pan about half way with water. Add the lentils and garlic. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook the lentils until tender but not mushy. After 15 minutes taste to determine doneness and keep checking every 5 minutes until they reach the desired consistency. Drain well and toss into a large bowl.
Combine the dressing ingredients into a jam jar and shake until emulsified. Toss into the bowl of warm lentils.
For the leftovers: you can eat this cold from the fridge but I like to pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds to get the chill off.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Genius Kale Salad

Do we really need another kale salad recipe? Yes. This may just be the last kale salad recipe I will ever need. It came on my radar last week via Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks ~ she got it from the new cookbook by Food 52~ Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook.
I'm going through another one of those phases where I really need to get off the carb train and make more produce driven meals.
The kale that we get at the market is so beautiful but I lack the inspiration to buy it and make something. The thing is, I love a good kale salad and every time I make one it disappears immediately. Yet, I rarely make them. I saw this on my news feed this week I was all over it. If Food 52 and Heidi make a big deal out of it then there's gotta be something to it.
The genius in this salad is the addition of not one, but two very different cheeses and it's not very often I see the words "good aged cheddar" as a salad ingredient (the other is Pecorino).
I got a little wedge of Mrs. Quicke's Traditional Cheddar from the market. It's an English clothbound aged cheddar just bursting with rich complex flavors. It's important to note that the cheddar should be chopped or crumbled rather than grated. The little nubs of savory, nutty, tangy, caramelly flavors that really good cheddars create within each bite is what makes this salad standout from any other kale salad recipe I've come across.
I couldn't pull this together fast enough. This salad includes roasted asparagus (or roasted winter squash) and almonds, finishing with shaved pecorino. I also added chopped dried cranberries.
I had a little bit of Pecorino Toscano left from my sheep milk cheese tasting last week. It's moister and less salty than Pecorino Romano (a dry grating cheese that's a common substitute for Parmigiano Reggiano) and has a surprisingly zippy flavor. It's a lovely table cheese especially served with sliced pears or peaches.
A little curd-nerdery: Pecorino just refers to an aged, Italian sheep's milk cheese (Pecora is the Italian word for sheep), so there are different types out there, depending on the region where they are made, but the Romano is more widely available. 

Genius Kale Salad                    
Food 52’s Genius Recipes via 101 Cookbooks

1/2 cup chopped asparagus
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 bunch Lacinato kale, ribs removed, leaves finely sliced, about 2 1/2 cups
1/4 cup almonds cut roughly in half
1/4 cup crumbled or finely chopped good, aged cheddar
1/4 cup chopped dried cranberries (optional)
Fresh lemon juice
Pecorino or any other hard cheese, for shaving

Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Toss the asparagus in just enough oil to coat and season with salt and pepper. Spread on the sheet pan, leaving space between each piece. Roast in the oven until tender and caramelized, 20-30 minutes (I used small spears of asparagus which were done in 20 minutes) tossing with a spatula after 10 minutes. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet in the same oven until they start to smell nutty, tossing once, about 10 minutes. Let cool.
In a large mixing bowl, toss the kale with the almonds, cheddar, asparagus and cranberries if using. Season to taste with lemon juice and olive oil (using about 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 2 tablespoons oil). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Divide onto two plates and finish with shaved pecorino.