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!

 

 

 

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.

Vertical Pairings at the Vermont Cheesemaker Festival

Vertical Pairings at the Vermont Cheesemaker Festival

By Caitlin Bower

 

Let’s get vertical.

Vertical tasting explores the history of a cheese: how it starts (as milk, as curd, as a fresh cheese, as a toddler) to how it ends up in its final expression. It is the most immediate and accessible way to taste and understand affinage. By eating a cheese at different stages of its development, you taste the flavors that can develop with careful treatment, age and time. While attending July’s Vermont Cheesemaker Festival, I attended a seminar in which three featured cheesemakers chose a different way to explore this process, and with different milk types.

1. Fresh Curd vs. 1 year old (pasteurized and raw cow) – Plymouth Artisan Cheeses

Granular curd cheesemaking is the rare, work-intensive process that Plymouth Artisan Cheese owner, Jesse Werner, was able to showcase with his fresh curd and year-old Plymouth “The Original” side by side. From an 1890’s recipe, the curd was squeaky, delicious and a tiny bit tangy. The “Original” is made with those same curds and has a bright, acidic, cheddary flavor, much altered by age and process.

The Mozzarella Making class at Murray’s also offers the opportunity to taste both curd and cheese, with a fun, hands-on addition of making your own mozzarella in the classroom.

2. Young Bloomy vs Aged Alpine (sheep) – Woodcock Farm Cheese Co

This vertical pair explored the same milk type expressed in two styles: one younger and soft, one older and hard.

Summer Snow vs. the Wheston Wheel – you can even hear it in the name; the first cheese is a delicate, exuberant, young, soft cheese with a tender, slightly squeaky rind while the second is nuttier, sweeter, complex and more robust.

 

3. Fresh vs. Mold Ripened (goat) – Vermont Creamery

crottin, a super-fresh goat milk button

bijou is lightly aged, which gives it time to develop its silk rind

From fresh chèvre to brain like and acidic, the Crottin’s final form is the Bijou. The first cheese has a tiny amount of the geotrichum, which adds a slight yeasty flavor at a day old, develops into a full rind by the second week to become an entirely different cheese. This vertical pairing is a perfect example of how much a cheese can change in just two short weeks, and how both can be delicious in their own right.

 

 

 

 

 

Try out a vertical taste test on your own!

Cellars at Jasper Hill: Harbison vs. Cavemaster Reserve Greensward

1 year Comte vs. 2 or 3 year Comte

And for a triple-header, go for the Murray’s Cavemaster trio: Kinderhook Creek vs. Hudson Flower vs. C Local

 

Eat Cheese, Drink Summer Beers & Be Merry

By John David Ryan

 

I love beer. I drink it year ‘round. But it’s 90 degrees outside right now. I have a cabinet full of barrel-aged quads and stouts–and most of them will still be there when the leaves start to change. No one’s hammering a Founders KBS or Thirsty Dog Wulver right now. You’re drinking session ales. You’re drinking freshly hopped beer. You’re drinking plenty of pale.

But it’s prime time for cheese, too! Cows and sheep and goats across the world are eating plenty of lush, fresh, green grass. They’re turning it into creamy milk and cheese-makers are producing some of their finest products.

Let’s put the two together.

Go grab some Bijou from Vermont Creamery. Seriously. Do it right now. And while you’re out picking it up, grab a sixer of Bell’s Brewery’s Oberon. It’s the perfect summer wheat beer–not too sweet, not too spicy, and not too heavy. Or, if you want to keep it all in Vermont, maybe try some Otter Creek Fresh Slice. It complements the tangy, metallic flavors in Allison Hooper’s super creamy take on crottin. Bijou is a perfect little button of goat’s milk cheese.

Few things intimidate curd nerds like washed rind cheese. And even the most serious of hop heads can be turned off by a sour beer. Fret not! You can pair the two and simultaneously overcome your fears. Cato Corner Farm washes its Hooligan in brine until it reaches stinky orange perfection. Try it with Westbrook’s Gose or Evil Twin’s Nomader Weisse. The tart, acidic beer helps bring out the creaminess of the cheese.

Everyone loves cheddar. Everyone. If you don’t like cheddar, then you probably don’t like cute kittens, rainbows or laughing babies either. Seriously–what’s not to love about crumbly, intense cheddar? And if you want the best cheddar in the world, you’re probably going to grab Montgomery’s Clothbound English cheddar. And if you are going to pair it with beer, you’re probably going to get an IPA. And if you’re going to get an IPA, you want a hoppy, American beer. And that’s why you’re going to buy some Ithaca Flower Power or Founders’ All Day IPA.

Finally, we come to the easy drinkers. The pale ales. The pilsners. The lagers. Get you some Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale or Stillwater Classique or maybe a Pinkus Ur-Pils. Anyone can love a lighter beer, and they pair beautifully with tome-style cheeses. My current favorite is Margot. This fine Italian cheese is made by 4th generation cheese makers, and it’s washed in BEER! The hint of hops on the outside sets off the flavors of the fudgy interior.

Eat (cheese), drink and be merry.