Monday, March 29, 2010

Adventures in Cheese-buying

Cheese selection @ Saxelby Cheesemongers - Essex Market (New York, NY)

Check out their website at Saxelby Cheese.

I love their American selection, I got cheese curds from Hillcrest Dairy (NY) and Winnimere from Jasper Hill Farm (VT).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Irish cheese

I cannot believe that I just got a cooleeney mini. I am so excited to have a true Irish cheese in my plate. Irish cheese rocks!!!

So, I guess it is time to let people know where did this crazy cheese passion started. As I normally tell the story, it was the day that my dad gave me a wheel of cheese for my 13th birthday that my love for cheese started.

He, being the amazing dad that he was, a man before his time, on the day of my 13th birthday in 1991, just before the first Iraq war started, gave me a "cow" for present. The real gift was the production of milk of one cow for a year in the form of one wheel of cheese a year. He was supporting the first CSA in Mexico in a time when climate change was just a high level discussion in European capitals and food security was not yet related to the current idea of Chinese food sovereignty over ensuring enough rice grain to support the population of that country.

The wheel of cheese was of Queso Añejo, made in the Mexican state of Aguascalientes and the flavor was amazing. Sharp in flavor and stinky in smell, bounded by cheesecloth secured by lard and aged for 8 months. My mom would cut it carefully and only let me cut a piece the days that I had eaten my vegetables and meat. Back then I was a cheesaterian, only eating cheese - refusing to eat veggies, meat and sugars.

After this early encounter with cheese, I would go back to eating processed cheese, including spray cheddar cheese, until one day after college when me and Will took a class at the Boston Center for Adult Education with the head buyer of Formaggio's and tried amazing Italian, French, and American cheese. It is from this time that we still eat Pecorino Rosso, rubbed with tomato and Cenapata, a quince paste spiked with mustard seeds.

From this moment on, cheese returned to my diet and has not left. But where I really learned about flavor, texture, smell and craftsmanship was in Ireland. Under the guidance of Sarah Bates and Kevin Sheridan at Sheridan's Cheesemongers in Ireland.

There, I learned to love Durrus and Sarah taught me to choose the best wheels. I understand the complexity of Ardrahan and the need for it to keep moist, and the heritage of Cooleeney. I'm sad to not have access to Milleenns and Mt. Calhan here in the US. But above all, I miss my Irish customers and their way to ask in Irish for their cheese and their apologetic way for not liking a French cheese and always taking the Irish option.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Quesillo o Queso de Hebra de Oaxaca

This cheese is most commonly known as queso Oaxaca. It is the only cheese made in Mexico of the Pasta Filata style. The name "de hebra" refers to the long and thin shreds that form long pieces of cheese and are then braided into a small ball and sold fresh.

Traditionally, it was made with raw cow's milk only in the state of Oaxaca, where it is used to make "tlayudas." Now it is produced all over the country and in the US with pasteurized milk. The flavour of the original cheese made with raw milk is tangy almost sour but also slightly sweet. Its aroma is that of fresh milk and most times some left over whey is released when the ball is unbraided.

This cheese became popular for its capacity to melt, but not brown. This makes it the perfect quesadilla cheese, because it allows for the quesadilla to be soft in the center. Also its mild flavour is great for pairing with many different types of salsas.

As of right now, there is no initiative by producers in Oaxaca to seek a DO, which means that you can get excellent quesillo everywhere, but also allows large commercial outfits to make poor examples of it readily available in super markets and major retailers.

If you have the oportunity to travel to Mexico look for pick-up trucks parked in corners of major cities with big banners announcing "Productos Oaxaquenos." There you will find fresh examples that you will need to consume right away. The best age of this cheese is at about day one to day four of being made, and you obviously should look for the hand pulled versions as they are always fresher.

Commercial versions and those made in the US lack moisture and the cheese is gummy. If you don't have the option of buying the real deal. Look for one of the commercial ones that looks more loose and make your own whey and let it sit on it for a day to allow for the wet environment to moist the dry curd.

Quesillo is one of my favourite cheeses and everytime I get to see a good ball I ask for a taste and buy a big chunk. In my local Mexican market they have a good version made with pasteurized milk, the only problem is that I don't know the source of the milk and therefore it is more likely cheap milk from dairy facilities that tend to produce unhealthy milk that must be pasteurized to prevent outbreaks of listeria.

Nevertheless, this is a great cheese style.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Queso tipo "Manchego" Mexicano

This cheese is very popular in Mexico. Like Quesillo de Oaxaca it is mostly used to melt in quesadillas and in many other Mexican dishes with melted cheese on top. The name is a misuse of the word Manchego, as unlike the original Spanish Manchego, the Mexican version is made with pasteurized cow's milk.

I think of this cheese as a mix of a cheddar and a colby. The texture is normally bouncy, straw color and creamy looking. The smell is sharp, like that of a cheddar, but the flavor is closer to a tangy colby. Good versions of this cheese are creamy and the fat of guersey cows milk make it really nicely rounded. It is great for melting and it would create a gorgeous crust if put in the oven on top of enchiladas.

However, most versions in Mexico are now commercial with little resemblance to those "manchegos" of my childhood. The problem with the commercial versions is that we do not know where the milk comes from and that normally means that the milk needs to be pasteurized to keep it safe.

Since the beginning of the entry of Mexico to the global economy, conglomarates have taken over the dairy industry with large holdings in milk factories in states in central Mexico.

Good substitutes for this cheese are Queso Chihuahua and Queso Menonita. Both these options are produced in the north of the country and are normally produced in smaller farms. Queso Chihuahua is made into big ground that resamble a parmesan, and are covered with cloth and aged between 6 to 8 months.

Queso Menonita is produced by Menonites who settled in the state of Chihuahua and produce blocks of their cheese from their own cows. This religious/ethnic minority established in Mexico fleeing religious intolerance in the US after having migrated from The Netherlands. Their cheese can normally be bought from them in the edges of their farms or in Mexico city where it is common to see men dressed in their traditioanal overalls and cowboy shirts.

If you have the opportunity to travel to Mexico and to buy one of their blocks, it will last about 3 weeks once open and its flavour will transport you to their farms and their simpler way of life.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Queso is Cheese

Recently someone asked me about a good cheese book. I quickly responded that there are none in Spanish (at least not online or in bookstores in North America). What this means is not that cheese is not consumed or a big part of Latin American cuisines. What it means is that up-to-today book publishers have not seen a market in producing an original work about this food in the Americas. There are a couple of translations of good books produced in Europe and the US, but they only concentrate on what I normally call: The Big World Cheeses.

Those cheeses are the popular cheeses from France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands and England that most people know and have many imitations. Think of Brie, Camembert, Provolone, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Gruyere, Emmental, Manchego, Gouda, and Cheddar.

The lack of specialized cheese books in other languages is common. My friend Svetlana just filled this gap by publishing a compendium in Russian and I know that some of the judges of the World Cheese Awards are thinking of producing similar books in various languages. In my case, I am thinking that it will be great to write such book in Spanish for the Mexican and the Latin American market - so I am looking for a publisher (does anyone know anybody?)

I know that there is a desire for such book as some people involved with the American Cheese Society are looking to start a Mexican chapter of the organization and learn more from the cheesemaking of Mexico. I hope to be more involved with this project over the summer and hopefully get some Mexican cheeses to enter the World Cheese Awards competition this year in London.

But in the mean time, I would like to write here a little bit about Mexican cheeses. I have already written in this space about two of the Mexican cheeses from the southern state of Chiapas. Queso de Cuadro y Queso de Bola are both raw cow's milk double cream cheeses. They are tangy, salty and smooth. Almost like a goat cheese in texture but with the flavor punch of a sharp cheese.

Other cheeses produced in Mexico are: Quesillo from Oaxaca; Cotija of Michoacan; Queso de Poro made in Tabasco; Requeson common in central Mexico; Menonita, Adobado, Botanero y "Manchego" (Mexican Cheedar) from the north, and a stinky washed rind from Baja. Other cheeses made of goat's and sheep's milk are starting to be made in central Mexico, but still are single farms with generic names that could use support to improve on their cheese making techniques and decide on characteristics of their cheese.

In this most recent trip to Mexico, I have had "manchego," cotija and quesillo. In the next posts I will write about them, except for cotija. I have very little knowledge of this cheese, but I have a good friend who wrote a paper for the FAO about it and is doing a PhD on a related topic. I have asked Thomas to write a little post about cotija and I hope this will be the first of many collaborations for this blog.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Travel Cheese

I was talking to Murray's cave master, Michael Anderson about the hoopla about the breast milk cheese that keep foodies in NYC busy last week. After explaining to my friend Maya why you cannot actually make cheese out of this milk, and that this cheese must have had another milk added (cow's in this case), we then talked about all the people getting really serious about cheesemaking and cheese-expertise. That is really exciting as the cheese world needs more advocates.

This I hope translates in better cheese being demanded in more places. In my most recent trip, I noticed that JFK airport does not have a gourmet food store and instead everything sold in the duty free shops are imported brands of liquor, chocolate, cigarrettes, and fragances. This is also the case in other big airports in the US and Mexico. But not in Canada or Europe. Shanghai airport in China also has only international brands in it's shops.

Toronto, Reikjavik, London, Madrid, Dublin, Milan and Amsterdam (some of the most recent airports that I been in the past 4 years) have stores featuring local foods, brands, and gifts. Including cheese and other foods. I am not sure what is the reason behind this, but what I think is that the lack of local foods maybe be a signal of the declining pride that there is on national cuisines and products in these countries.

If anyone has a better explanation, let me know. For now I leave you with this reflection, which I hope leaves you thinking but without cheese - just like I got to my destination after being in JFK and Mexico City airport.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Oscar cheese

Food Inc. didn't win at the Oscars, instead The Cove did, with it's message to save dolphines from the disgusting practices of some Japanese fishermen.

I had my money on Which Way Home, the movie on the immigration of unaccompanied minors from Latin America to the US. I supported this movie over the others, because after watching it twice, presenting it at a film series at the New School and participating with the director on a panel. I realized how little regular people know about this increasing issue. I used to work for the Consulate General of Mexico in Boston and helped dozens of minors to go back to Mexico and parents to try to locate their children in the US. I wanted Which Way Home to win hoping that more attention will be given to the immigration of unaccompanied minors and immigration reform more generally.

This made me think about the role of movies and documentaries in affecting public discourse in the US and abroad. For example the Chinese movie on the protests of families over the dead of children during the earthquake in China has been censured by the goverment and some friends in China said that the Oscars were not broadcasted in the country over the real possibility of this movie winning an award.

The fact that Food Inc. was participating is important, but unfortunately the movie didn't achieve it's aim. For people aware of the challenges facing our food supply and climate change the movie added little to the debate. To people uninterested in the topic this documentary was inconsequential and to detractors of this issues was an easy target.

However, the issues in the movie are super important and people should really watched if they haven't done so.

To talk about cheese and not just politics. I'll tell you about the two cheeses that we brought to my friends' house the night of the Oscars. One was Selles-sur-Cher and the other was Beehive Barely Buzzed. Both had the intention of making people feel glamorous while watching the awards.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fondue Battles: Switzerland v USA

To celebrate that I finished my first exam for the doctorate and thank some of the amazing people that helped me in the process, this past weekend we had a Foundue party. We hadn't had one since my boyfriend turned 30 and we started living in NYC.

My original idea was to have a cheese and a chocolate fondue. But after a lot of consideration, reading online about fondue recipes and following cheesemongers recommendations on Twitter, I decided to have two cheese fondues instead. The challenge was to choose cheeses that were sufficiently different, but still kept true to the idea of good melting cheese.

I must confess here that despite growing up eating fondue made from a premix that my mom bought from the fancy gourmet store in Mexico. I don't know much about the story of how this dish came to exist. I'm sure there are some genius anecdotes and probably some big politics on having cheese melted for a meal. I promise to investigate and blog about it soon (if you have any ideas please post them on the comments section).

For now let me go back to the ingredients part of the dish: cheese! So, at the end I decided that the best thing was to make a traditional Swiss fondue with a twist and an American artisan cheese pot to compare them.

I was not only looking to compare flavor, I was also trying to see if there was something in the cheese making technique that finally affected the way the cheese melts in the pot and taste of the mix. To pair I had steamed broccoli, cauliflower and roasted potatoes; plus the traditional crusty bread. I like red wine with fondue, my guests mention that white was recommended, but at the end we end up drinking all the wine in the house; white and red.

The Swiss pot (orange pot in the photos) had Emmental, Gruyere and Vacherin Friborgeois Alpage added complexity.

Landaff (NH) and Tarentaise (VT) were the American selections (yellow pot in the pictures).

While both were very good, I think the best mix was the Swiss one. Not only the texture was better, but also the cheese did not burn so much at the bottom. The American was good at the beginning but after a while the flavor was that of smoky cheese. The Swiss pot was a little sharp, and I think this was because the Vacherin was too pungent to begin with and I had too much of it in the mix.

Overall we had a great time, no cheese was left and I learn that I need to pay more attention to the quantities and ratios. I will continue to experiment with smaller batches and trying other American cheeses. Next time I will try those that are closer to the Alpine style and see if that changes the way the cheese melts and mixes.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Adventures in Cheese-buying

Cheese selection @ Lucy's Whey - Chelsea Market (New York, NY)

I love their American artisanal selection, this time I got:

Fil-a-buster from Westboro, VT
Appalachian from Galax, VA
Prairie Breeze Cheddar from Milton, IA
Barely Buzzed from Uintah, UT (yeap, Utah makes a good cheese)
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