Roquefort Cheese

 Culture Magazine originally shared this link to an archival video from Papillon documenting Roquefort production back in the 1920’s. As they say “Great for mustache aficionados, or anyone looking to catch a glimpse into cheesemaking’s past.” The first half is silent with French music around the 6 1/2 minute marker it’s a more contemporary and narrated show.  

Big, bold and blue in the world of cheese, blues are certainly not shy.  The three standard bearers, Stilton, Gorgonzola and Roquefort are each distinct. However, Roquefort is singularly pugent, assertive and sharp. Made from raw ewe’s  milk (a female sheep) from the south of France, Roquefort is made entirely from the milk of the Lacaune, Manech andBasco-Béarnaise breeds of sheep.  Based on overall production volumes it is the second most popular cheese of this country after Comté.

Legend and lore abound, suggesting that this cheese was pure chance.  A love-stuck shepard who while eating his lunch of bread and sheep’s milk cheese was distracted by a sun-kissed maiden and left his meal in the caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Forgetting about his meal he returned days later only to discover the cheese covered in mold.  In 1411 Charles VI of France gave sole rights to the ageing of Roquefort cheese to the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, and all Roquefort still must be aged in the caves there today. Today the mold is injected into the cheese to ensure even distribution, but it is still aged in the same caves.

The blue veining is the mold Penicillium roqueforti, and originally came from the walls of the limestone caves in the south of France where the cheese was ripened. I once read a profile on James Beard that on his first TV show, the 1946 ‘I Love to Eat’,  he applied ink to color the veining of Roquefort cheese so it would be more pronounced on television.

The Roquefort Association designates a genuine Roquefort cheese with the marking of a red sheep on the foil label.  Only those cheeses aged in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon may carry the name as this cheese has AOC protected status.   Typically there are around 40,000 round pains, (loaves) maturing in these caves for around 3 to 4 months. Leftover ewe’s milk from Roquefort production is used to make Valbreso French Feta, an equally tasty brined cheese. Roquefort is typically best between April and October after its ripening period.

There are seven Roquefort producers with the largest being Roquefort Société followed by Roquefort Papillon and Gabriel Coullet. The four other producers are Carles, Fromageries Occitanes, Vernières and Combes (Le Vieux Berger).

A Passion for Charcuterie

Short video on how to make Lonzino, (air-dried pork loin).

Charcuterie: (noun) cold cooked meats; 2. a shop selling cold meats

The word charcuterie is derived from the French language ‘chair cuit’, which translates as ‘cooked meat’. Simply, it is the preserving of meat, usually pork with salt. You know what I’m talking about— bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, pâtés, and cured meats such as prosciutto or salami.

As of late, charcuterie is experiencing a bit of a renaissance as many of us take on DIY kitchen projects large and small. Once you start to demystify the process of say making homemade sausage, American bacon or Italy’s bacon–pancetta you will be hooked. For those that prefer to spend more time eating than creating there is more than likely a small producer in your area. Start by your local farmers market. And next time you are asked to bring an appetizer to a dinner party choose an assortment of cured meats, a cheese or two, a bit of country paté, nuts and dried apricots. Your friends will be impressed with your originality and boldness.

Other helpful links for those that crave more:

Recipe: Lonzino from Hank Shaw

5@5 – The Bare-Bones Basics of Charcuterie

Charcuterie The Craft Of Salting, Smoking, And Curing by Michael Rhulman & Brian Polcyn

Cabot Clothbound Cheddar

Cabot Creamery is one of the largest cheese producers in Vermont. The Cellars at Jasper Hill is one of the smallest. Together they make an excellent partnership doing what each does very well.  Every three months, Cabot produces 60 wheels of cheddar and then sends them to Jasper Hill where they are carefully wrapped and matured in their caves.

Sweet and folksy is this video from Cellars at Jasper Hill.  Illustrating their partnership which began back in 2003, when Cabot Creamery asked Jasper Hill Farm to age a special batch of English-style clothbound cheddar.  Huh, you say, where’s the wax? Not here, true lovers of cheddar know that real cheddar ages in  carefully wrapped layers of cloth as it ages in a cave so that it releases moisture resulting in a more pronounced, deeper taste.

The way the partnership works  is that the 40 lb. wheels are about a few days old, they are delivered to the Cellars at Jasper Hill.  Here the wheels are bandaged and aged anywhere from 10-14 months until the classic Cabot Clothbound flavor profile is present– sweet, butterscotch, savory, and nutty.

Fun fact from this video:  It takes 40 lbs of fresh curd to make a 32 lb. wheel.  Talk about flavor!

Queso Fresco

Queso fresco, or queso blanco as it’s called in Spain, sounds a lot more than what it is–fresh cheese. A Mexican cheese, it is light, crumbly, somewhat spongy  and acidic in flavor.  It’s a terrific everyday cheese–sprinkle it on beans, garden salads or use it in quesadillas.  Many taco trucks, stands and restaurants dust the crumbled bits over a snack or entree before serving. Commonly found just about everywhere throughout Mexico it is easily found just about everywhere in Northern and Southern California.  While traveling in Mexico I’ve seen the cheese curds being ground on a metate before they are pressed, by hand into round baskets.  Introduced to Mexico from Burgos, Spain,  it is typically made with a combination of cow and goat milk. A very mild French feta can often be used as a substitute if need be. It’s fairly easy to get your hands on if you are in a major metro area.
In fact, it was the Spaniards who introduced cows and goats, as sources of meat and milk, to the Mexicans, changing their diet forever. From my research:

This is strikingly evident in the realm of cheesemaking which, though introduced by conquerors from another continent, evolved into a regional occupation, producing distinctly Mexican cheeses. In many parts of Mexico, this trade has become a family tradition, its secrets and techniques passed on from one generation to the next.

In the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, where cattle descended from animals brought from Europe provide a major means of sustenance, the production of cheese is an important and respected industry, and one which is still frequently carried out in the home. Ranchers arise early each day to milk the cows, initiate the curdling, and begin the process of making queso ranchero, the ubiquitous appellation for many different types of cheese, including the ricotta-like requeson,the smooth, moist panela, and the pale yellow queso chihuahua.


Sugar-Dusted Emapnadas With Queso Fresco

Yield: 12 servings

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

1 large egg yolk

1/2 cup cold water

4 ounces queso fresco cheese, grated (about 2 cups; see note)

2 quarts vegetable oil, for frying

Peach or strawberry jam, optional

1. Sift flour, salt and 2 tablespoons sugar into a large bowl. With a pastry blender, cut the shortening into the dry ingredients until it is fully incorporated. Add egg yolk and mix well. Knead in the water, 2 or 3 tablespoons at a time, until a smooth dough forms. (Alternatively, make the dough in a food processor using the pulse function.)

2. Pat the dough into a round, flatten into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

3. Divide the chilled dough into a dozen 1-inch balls. Using a manual tortilla press, a rolling pin or the heel of your hand, press each ball into a circle about 1/8 inch thick and about 6 inches in diameter.

4. Mound about 2 tablespoons cheese in the center of each round; fold the dough to form a half-moon. Use a dinner fork to crimp together the outer edges. Make sure the edges are well sealed so they don’t leak while frying. You can roll and crimp the edges a few times to help ensure that they’re closed tightly. (Alternatively, use a plastic empanada press from a Latin market.)

5. Pour the oil into a large stockpot over medium-high. Heat until it reaches 350 degrees (use a candy or deep-fry thermometer to monitor the temperature). Line a baking sheet with paper towels.

6. Working in batches to avoid crowding the pan, fry the empanadas until they are golden brown and crispy, about 3 to 4 minutes, turning once. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the empanadas to the baking sheet to drain excess oil. Using the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar to dust the empanadas as they drain.

7. Serve, topping if desired with a dollop of jam.

Per serving: 260 calories; 19g fat; 3.5g saturated fat; 20mg cholesterol; 4g protein; 18g carbohydrate; 1g fiber; 170mg sodium.

Notes: If queso fresco isn’t available try substituting with ricotta salata. After assembly, uncooked empanadas can be wrapped tightly in plastic and foil and frozen for up to two months. Thaw in the refrigerator before frying.

Adapted from “The Latin Road Home,” by Jose Garces (to be published in October by Lake Isle Press)

Spring Fava Bean Spread

Perfectly perfect for a picnic…because sometimes we need our veggies along with our cheese.

Spring Fava Bean Spread

1 1/2 cups fully shelled, blanched fava beans*

1/4 cup olive oil

1 spring onion, chopped

1 stalk green garlic, chopped

1/3 cup Pecornio Romano, grated (or other dry, easily grated cheese)

6 large mint leaves, chopped

1/4 cup lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

*note:  3 pounds raw, whole fava pods will roughly equal 1 1/2 cups fully shelled, cooked

Prepare fava beans (remove outer pod, blanche for 5-6 mins, remove outer shell).  New to fava bean prep–check out this video.

Add beans and other ingredients to food processor, blend well.  Add more mint, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, as needed.  Blend until smooth and creamy.  Garnish with a few mint springs.  This spread can be served warm as a side dish or as a condiment on lamb burgers.  For picnics, indoors or out, serve cold with fresh vegetables, pita chips or fresh baugette.

Recipe courtesy of Oak Hill Farm, Glen Ellen, CA

asparagus, thyme & parmesan bread pudding

This dish could be served for a spring brunch with sausages as an accompaniment.  I prepared this for a book club dinner potluck and it went over well.  I ended up having to revise the method that Joanne Chang, of Flour Bakery in Bostonm suggests because I simply didn’t read nor understand the instructions properly.  All worked out well and the bonus was that it cut back on preparation time.

adapted from Best of the Best Cookbook recipes published by Food & Wine.

asparagus, thyme & parmesan bread pudding

2 large eggs

6 large egg yolks

1/4 cup AP flour

1 quart half & half

1 tspn chopped fresh thyme

1 cup feshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Kosher slt, freshly ground pepper

12 oz. baguette, torn into 1/2″ bits (about 6 cups)

1 pound asparagus

1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 400F.

Place asparagus in the 9″ x 13″ dish you’ll be baking the bread pudding in.  Pour olive oil over stems and toss together so that it is more or less distributed evenly. Sprinkle a bit of salt and peper over asparagus.  Roast for 10 minutes. Let cool in pan. When cool cut into 1 1/2″ pieces. Set aside. Do not remove oil from pan.

Reduce oven temperature to 250F.  Place torn bread pieces on a cookie sheet.  Place in oven for about 8-10 minutes.  You want the bread pieces to be almost like croutons but not that dry.  You shouldn’t be able to squish them–they should hold their form but feel a bit of density. Remove from oven. Let cool. Place bread in a large bowl.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, flour, half-and-half, thyme, 3/4 cup of Parmiginao-Reggiano, 1 1/2 teaspoons of slat and /2 teaspoon of pepper.  Pour mixed liquid over the bread bits.  Let sit a bit, then toss with a wooden spoon to ensure all the bread is wet.

Let sit for 1 hour.

The liquid should be more or less absorbed by the bread, if there’s a bit left that’s ok.  Place all of this into the baking pan.  Let sit for 20 minutes so the remaining bit of liquid is absorbed.  Distribute asparagus over the top of the bread pudding along with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 35 minutes, so that pudding rises and sets.

Irish Blue Cheeses

Jane and Louis Grubb started their farmstead cheese making in 1984 at the family farm in Beechmount, near the old episcopal town of Cashel, in county Tipperary. The dairy farm long produced butter (Irish butter!) and spotted cream Originally experimenting with an old cooper brewer’s vat , Jane eventually settled on a signature blue cheese, as their first cheese, Cashel Blue. This pasteurized cow’s milk blue is a classic. Made from a “closed” herd of Friesian cows it can stand with the other blues such as Gorgonzola, Roquefort and Stilton yet has it’s on flavor personality. When it is young, (3-4 weeks),it is sweet and delicate with just the slightest tang from salt at the tip of the tongue. Its texture is thick and creamy with a buttery color. Cashel ages well (up to 12 weeks), becoming more creamy and pronounced with earthy tones while remaining balanced. It is sweet and carries a spicy note to its creaminess.

Now, fast forward to 1993, Jane is training Geurt van den Dikkenberg a well versed Gouda maker, on how to make Cashel. Over the hill her nephew has started to raise milking sheep, a rarity in Ireland. A number of circumstances related to these two happenings led to the happy re-interpretation as Crozier Blue, Ireland’s only sheep’s milk blue cheese:

A Crozier (or Crook) refers to the hooked staff either carried by a bishop as of pastoral office or by a shepard. The name Crozier Blue is a play on the fact that Crozier Blue is a sheep’s milk cheese and that it is in Cashel that St. Patrick converted the Irish. In fact, St Patrick’s “crozier” can be seen today in the Rock of Cashel.”

It’s profile carries a lot of taste but is sweet making it very approachable for newcomers to blue cheeses. Crozier carries notes of fresh cream, nuts and hay in the finish.

Pairing: West Coast style IPA |North Coast Brewing Acme IPA (hop hop tastic!); Chimay Blue or Connemara Whiskey

The Craft of Making (Cashel) Cheese