Chocolate & Cheese: A Pairing to Please All Your Senses

By Rainer Burrow

“I don’t like to be gratuitous with chocolate.  I like for it to be meaningful.”  Chef Sarah Langan explained her philosophy on cooking with chocolate to a full tent as she and her assistants gracefully whipped up a 3 course cooking demo on a beautiful Vermont summer day.  The theme for the tasting: chocolate and cheese; what 2 things are easier to love?

Chef Langan is the chef and educator at South End Kitchen in Burlington, Vermont.  South End Kitchen is a café located in Burlington Vermont owned by Lake Champlain Chocolates, a chocolate producer that has been in operation on Lake Champlain since 1983.  Lake Champlaign Chocolates is a top- quality producer, and a true gem in the state of Vermont.  The company uses local Vermont products to make their chocolates, doesn’t add preservatives or additives, are committed to sourcing non-GMO ingredients, and are champions of fair trade.  These factors combine to make high-quality chocolates, which are featured in various ways at South End Kitchen.

For the first course, Chef Langan chose to do a very simple chocolate and cheese pairing using Lake Champlain’s Blue Bandana 70% Guatemala Chocolate and Vermont Creamery’s Bonne Bouche.  Both products are beautiful and intricate on their own, married very well on the palate to completely enhance the flavor experience.  The chocolate was chalky, fruity, and initially sweet with a solid acidity.  The Cheese Was acidic and moldy, mild with a great funk presence.  Eating them together brought me back to Ratatouille swirling colors around his head as he is pairing scraps on the yard of his farm.  Together the acidity and mold went down, the fruit notes really shined through, and both products mellowed out a little bit.  It was an excellent pairing and an excellent start to the demo.

As Chef Langan segued into the second course, she introduced a reflection on how we as humans react to the five tastes (sweet sour salty bitter and umami).  She stated “When you can have all 5 tastes in one dish, you will satisfy yourself.  When your palate is missing one, you will crave more.”  It was with this philosophy in mind that she created her second course, a rustic tart consisting of arugula, pancetta crisps, Vermont Creamery’s Cremont, Fig & honey spread, lemon vinaigrette, and a chocolate emulsion all over a tart dough.  With sweet from the fig and honey, salty from the Cremont and pancetta, bitter form the arugula and chocolate, acidity from Cremont and the vinaigrette, and umami from the pancetta, it was perfectly complete.  I felt distinctly happy and satiated after consuming it.

Finally, for the third course (and dessert), Chef Langan severed a Chocolate Chevre Cheesecake.  It was a beautiful conclusion to the cooking demo: woodsy, tangy, fatty, soft, great in acidity, and rich in chocolate.  Of the three courses, this was definitely my favorite, but I have a sweet tooth and I love chocolate.

I left the tasting feeling educated, satiated, and happy to be alive.  There’s nothing better than great cheese and expert culinary execution.  If the food at South End Kitchen is anything like the tasting, it’s definitely worth a visit.

http://www.lakechamplainchocolates.com/

http://southendkitchenvt.com/

http://www.vermontcreamery.com/

 

 

 

 

Turophile Heaven: The Festival of Cheese

by Walshe Birney

 

The American Cheese Society’s 2014 conference in Sacramento was a whirlwind of fantastic panels, networking events, and, for some of us, the CCP exam, a difficult test of all that we’ve learned throughout our years in the cheese business. On the second to last day, these experiences culminated in the Awards Ceremony, where the best American cheesemakers were honored for their outstanding products. As exciting and emotional as the Ceremony was, the real fun occurred on the last day of the conference, the Festival of Cheese. Here, every entry to the Awards Ceremony was available to taste, not just those that won a ribbon.

Stretching as far as the eye can see, the conference hall was filled with towers of Alpine-style cheeses, smorgasbords of oozy bloomy-rinds and mountains of meaty, pungent washed rinds. Entire rows devoted just to flavored cheeses, smoked cheeses, hispanic-style cheeses; the Festival was truly a turophile’s heaven. As a buyer at Murray’s, I am lucky to have the opportunity everyday to try all manner of tremendous cheese from across the globe, but it’s staggering just how many fantastic new and established American cheeses were present, especially when seeing them all in one place. There is no doubt that our domestic industry is robust and healthy, and leading the way globally in innovation and quality.

 

After being presented with a plate and wine glass (everything one needs for a successful cheese tasting), our first stop took us to the Alpine-style table to taste the winner for best-in-show, Spring Brook Farm’s Tarentaise Reserve. Modelled after the Alpine cheeses of eastern France, such as Abondance and Beaufort, Tarentaise has long been a staple on Murray’s counter, and the 2-year extra-aged version is a thing of beauty: a pronounced and lingering sweetness, an underlying current of roasted hazelnuts and brown butter, and satisfying crystallization. Truly a world-class cheese, on par with the best extra-aged Comtes and Gruyeres. Look for a special Tarentaise aged in our caves to hit our counters at the end of August, with a profile between the reserve and the original, exclusive to Murray’s.

After refilling our glasses with some terrific dry cider from Oregon’s Aengus Ciderworks, we visited our own Murray’s award winners, Hudson Flower (our collaboration with Old Chatham Sheepherding Company) and Torus (our collaboration with Vermont Creamery). These cheeses mark our first ribbons at the festival, taking second place in their respective categories. While we’ve long been known for our cave-aging, this marks the first time that affinage-specific collaborations have been honored at the festival. These partnerships with some of our favorite creameries have been very successful, and we can’t wait to roll out more Cavemaster Reserve cheeses soon. And hopefully we’ll have wins for Greensward, our collaboration with Jasper Hill, and Barden Blue, our collaboration with Consider Bardwell, next year!

With the multitude of choices on offer, at this point we started bouncing around from table to table, trying whatever caught our eyes. Some of the best cheese new to me were the amazingly nuanced washed rind goat cheeses from Briar Rose Creamery, and Bleating Heart’s stunningly sheepy tommes and blues. We also had a chance to nibble on goodies from some of my favorite charcuterie purveyors, Olympic Provisions and Fra’mani, whose cured meats provided perfect counterpoints to mountains of dairy products filling the conference hall.

As our stomachs grew full and the conference wound down, I began to reflect on all the amazing experiences our team had at the conference this year. We had our wills and knowledge tested in the CCP exam, learned a tremendous amount from the stellar panels, and had a lot of fun relaxing and hanging out with our colleagues from around the country, but what will stick with me the most is the incredible talent, passion and love that American cheesemakers and retailers have for these amazing products, and the change they are affecting across the American culinary landscape. The Festival of Cheese was the perfect encapsulation of this, and a fitting end to an unbelievably successful American Cheese Society conference. I can’t wait for next year’s in Rhode Island!

 

 

 

Dispatch From Sacramento: It’s Chaource, Of Course, Of Course

*Murray’s sent several employees to this year’s American Cheese Society conference in Sacramento, CA, where they took the ultimate cheese exam: the American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional Exam. We love cheese more than words can say around here, but sometimes even the curd-nerdiest among us are left quavering in our red jackets. Here’s one man’s account of such a moment…

By James Stahl

I’m just going to admit this from the top, I forgot what Chaource was.

Let me back up, I didn’t entirely forget what Chaource was. I knew it was French. I knew it was creamy. I just couldn’t remember whether it was a bloomy or washed rind cheese. Full disclosure, far too much time was spent on this deliberation. After all, it was just one question in one hundred fifty and missing one question wasn’t going to cause failure but nothing, absolutely nothing, was going to assuage this obsession without clarity. I wished I had a coin, a quarter, one flip and all traces of self-agency could’ve been removed. I would’ve accepted that, and from there I could just move on to the next question. Then I remembered what I was told before the test,

“Don’t reach into your pockets. If you reach into your pockets, you will be asked to leave the room. If you don’t understand what that means, allow me to clarify, this means YOU FAIL THE TEST. Do you understand? This is a very serious test. Did you know you’re using the same test software they use for the Bar exam? It’s so advanced that it can sense your desire to reach into your pockets before you actually do, like it’s the super computer from Person of Interest.”

Only the first two of those sentences were actually said to me; the rest was my brain working needless overtime. This is what test anxiety does to you. Taking the American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional Exam was the first time I’d ever really experienced it. Before the test I joked around about fabulous ways to fail it. Plans included finding the absolute wrong answer for each question, running across the conference room to high five a friend screaming, “YEAH!” and inexplicably performing cartwheels in front of the entire room of test takers. For the record, I in no way shape or form could ever actually successfully complete a cartwheel.

This is how I deflect how important taking this test was for me. There’s a train of thought that says that if you’re not really nervous about doing a good job, then you don’t care about the job you’re doing. Not unlike a lot of Murray’s employees, I came to the shop after years of working jobs as if they were, well, regular jobs. Murray’s Cheese unlocked a passion in me that I could have never predicted beforehand. I’ve somehow fulfilled the prophecy of my Midwestern heritage; I cross the country spreading the gospel of cheese.

I think I passed the test. In the end, I’m actually pretty confident despite those moments where my consciousness threatened to leave all levels of known existence. What I hope more so than anything is that everyone else I took the test with passed as well. I’ve never been in a place with a more concentrated level of passion and dedication, from test takers to the ACS volunteers on hand.

I totally screwed up the Chaource question. But honestly, the point of it isn’t that I got it right or wrong. It’s that I know I wasn’t the only one. I wasn’t the only one freaking out about the test. I wasn’t the only one who cared. To be a part of something so devoted to doing the right thing, doing right by our community is all sorts of incredible. It’s awesome to be a part of it.

 

 

Behind the Rinds: The Secrets of Little Big Apple

by Chris Roberts, photos: Paige Yim

 

There’s booze in there.

Little Big Apple!

Every year we roll out our Little Big Apple cheese and every year a group of dedicated Murray’s employees venture out to the Hudson Valley to visit the Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery. The task is to gather boxes and boxes of apple leaves, picked from their lush orchard, to  be boiled down and soaked in a local Apple Jack brandy. It was my first time going on this adventure and I was excited because my particular world of cheese so rarely expands beyond the walls of our Distribution Center in Long Island City, Queens. The Little Big Apple, for those who don’t know, takes the already delicious Champlain Valley Triple Cream (which we sell year-round) and adds a touch of Murray’s magic to it. We give it a bit more time in our specialized cheese caves to give it just the right amount of richness and then wrap in leaves to give it a touch of crisp sweetness.

My day in the orchard had a few more challenges than I was anticipating, but it certainly wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. Yes, the sun was especially aggressive that day and I simply wasn’t prepared for the sheer number of beetles that I would encounter but, for once, I had a small hand in the cheese making process. Our resident Cave Master, Brian Ralph, was leading the trip and gave us semi-specific instructions as to which leaves we were looking for, and while that caused some people on the trip to be overly cautious, I took a more liberal approach and tried to win the day with quantity.

 

After we finished up, we took lunch and enjoyed a more relaxed afternoon of exploration. There was a bit of shopping before we moved on to a tour of the distillery. The art of distillation is something I’m woefully ignorant about so it was exciting to learn the basic of basics and to obtain a an understanding of what goes into the process. We met many of the people who work at Warwick and they were happy to teach us about their craft. There was even a quick cider tasting squeezed in at the end of the day before we had to get back on the road. The trip back into the city was a quick one, as the sun had gotten the best of me, and I was forced to take a late afternoon nap—the true sign of a fruitful adventure.

The man. The myth. The Legend. Chris Roberts.

So Happy Together: Hard Apple Cider = Easy Cheese Pairing

 

by Jenn Smith

 

Cider works well as a companion to cheese for a number of reasons – the acidity that comes from tart, juicy cider apples cuts through the inherent richness and saltiness of cheese, the carbonation scours the palate of butterfat, letting you take another bite, and the flavors of cider – terroir-driven, sometimes earthy, usually fruity – complement the flavor profiles of many cheeses.

While we were up at the Vermont Cheese Festival I made a point of seeking out the local cider makers – when you are slinging cheese on a hot day as I was, cider is a refreshing choice for an adult beverage – it’s average alcohol by volume (ABV) is generally lower than wine or even most beers so, less tipsy-making. And what better way to celebrate the bounty of New England then by drinking an agricultural product made by locals from local fruit!

 

I was particularly impressed with the ciders coming out of Whetstone Ciderworks. They are bright, rustic, and reflect the complex deliciousness of the heirloom apples that the cider makers source from orchards around their family farm. They have a couple of different expressions, but I was particularly smitten with the Orchard Queen, which uses oddball varietals such as the Dabinett and Ashmead’s Kernel that lend tannins to the end product; those tannins are a perfect foil for the dense creaminess of some of the cavemaster cheeses I was preparing for seminar tasting plates. In particular, the Orchard Queen made a love match with Greensward – the funkiness of the washed rind brought out some depth in the drink, and the overall effect of the combination was of an apple and leek custard enriched with bacon fat. The texture of the cider kept my palate from being weighed down with the unctuousness of the washed rind cheese.

 

I’m of the opinion that, like Champagne, rustic cider goes with just about anything, so the Whetstone-Greensward combo is just one pairing – I’m sure it would have played nicely with the Torus, or the Tarantaise…or just about any of the cheeses in our caves. Get your hands on some cider and give it a try yourself!