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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Cheese/Yogurt/Dairy

TIP OF THE DAY: The Joy Of Cheddar

We love cheese, but cheese doesn’t love us. After a lifetime of eating it three times a day, we developed lactose intolerance—no cause and effect, just one of those things that can happen when the bloom of youth fades away.

Depending on how lactose intolerant you are, you can eat aged cheeses. The older the cheese, the more the lactose has dissipated, to just 2%, depending on the cheese. But for the truly afflicted (including us), that’s 2% too much*.

The only cheese that is naturally lactose-free is Cheddar. Through the process of cheddaring†, the last bit of lactose is consumed in production. We can eat it to our heart’s delight.

We always liked Cheddar, but our cheese passions lay elsewhere: blues, chèvres, double- and triple-crèmes. So we went on a Cheddar safari, first trying the dozen different Cheddars in the cheese case at Trader Joe’s.

These included plain Cheddars—mild, sharp and extra-sharp—and flavored Cheddars, variously blended with bacon, chive, horseradish, jalapeño, onion, scallion, wasabi, wine/spirits and other inclusions. There’s also goat Cheddar.

The king of flavored Cheddars, which we discovered elsewhere, seems to be Yancy’s Fancy of New York State, which makes some 24 flavored Cheddars, including Buffalo Wing, Grilled Bacon Cheeseburger, Pepperoni and Strawberry. One day, we’ll gather them all and have a heck of a tasting party.

   

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iGourmet sells this delicious Cheddar with caramelized onions, also known as Abbot’s Gold. It’s made by Wensleydale Creamery in the U.K. Photo courtesy iGourmet.

 

*Thanks to Erin Berardinelli, who wrote to tell us of mold allergy, a condition that can generate a bad reaction to the aged cheeses—as “young” as three months. If you’re reacting badly to aged cheeses but not to other dairy, have it checked out.

†Cheddaring is an additional step unique to the production of Cheddar cheese. After heating, the curd is kneaded with salt, cut into cubes to drain the whey and then stacked and turned.

 
OUR “CHEDDAR SAFARI” WINNER

After weeks of tasting the world of Cheddar—from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.S. and the U.K.—favorites emerged.

But our passion of the moment is the flavored English Cheddar With Caramelized Onions, imported by Trader Joe’s. Rich and creamy, full-bodied and redolent of the most delightful caramelized onion sweetness, it is addictive—one of those foods we call “love at first bite.”

Trader Joe doesn’t disclose which Dorset producer makes this full-bodied farmhouse Cheddar, but it’s a “famed farm” with “more than 40 years of traditional cheese making experience.”

The addition of caramelized onions was inspired by a classical British ploughman’s lunch pairing—cheese and chutney. The cheesemakers mixed caramelized onion marmalade into the Cheddar. The marmalade itself is made with cane sugar, cider vinegar, red currant juice, lemon juice, clove, cinnamon, sugar, ginger and olive oil.

The result is a balanced sweet-savory flavor with honeyed notes and a pleasing onion aroma. The marmalade makes it a bit crumbly, like a mature Cheddar.

 

cheddar-caramelized-onions-TraderJoe-230ps2

Our new passion: Cheddar with caramelized onions. Photo courtesy Trader Joe’s.

 

HOW WE USED THE CHEDDARS

Every Cheddar fan has a favorite use, often on on burgers and sandwiches, including grilled cheese.

Ours is as a snack or a light meal with with a Honeycrisp apple or other fruit, or a slice or two of Dave’s Killer Bread.

Given the amount of Cheddar we had on hand, we also shredded it atop casseroles, chilis and soups; made fondue and cheese sauce; served lots of cheese plates to visitors; and had it for dessert with a piece of apple pie.

We also made Cheddar pizzas, variously with apple, meatball and vegetable toppings. We made Cheddar soup and cauliflower Cheddar soup. And we stuffed shredded Cheddar into grilled portabello mushroom caps, then returned them to the broiler to melt.

 
A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF CHEDDAR

Cheddar has been called the “cheese of kings.” Records show that in 1170, King Henry II declared Cheddar the best cheese in England, and purchased more than five tons of it. His son, Prince John, who became king in 1199, purchased a similar quantity in 1184. U.S. President Andrew Jackson (in office In 1829-1837) once held an open house party at the White House at which he served a 1,400-pound block of Cheddar.

Cheddar is a hard, sharp cheese, with a paste that ranges from off-white to pale yellow to deep orange, depending on the amount of annatto added (more about that in a minute). Originating in the Somerset County village of Cheddar in southwest England, it is the most popular type of cheese in the U.K. and accounts for more than half of English cheese production.

The cheese is now made worldwide, and only one producer remains in the village of Cheddar itself. The name is not protected‡ under the EU Protected Food Names program; so cheese made anywhere can be called Cheddar. However:

  • West Country Farmhouse Cheddar has a PDO (Protected domain of Origin) that covers Cheddars made in the traditional manner (raw milk, calf rennet and a cloth wrapping) in the southwest England counties of Somerset, Devon, Dorset, Cornwall and Somerset.
  • Orkney Scottish Island Cheddar gained PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status.
  •  
    The rich, nutty flavor notes become increasingly sharp with age. The smooth, firm texture of young Cheddar becomes more granular and crumbly with age.
     
    AMERICA’S FIRST CHEESE

    According to Widmer Cheese, a major U.S. producer of fine Cheddar, prior to 1850 nearly all the cheese produced in the U.S. was Cheddar. Cheddar production in Wisconsin, the leader in U.S. Cheddar production, began in the mid 1800s.

    A yellow food coloring (annatto) was originally added to distinguish where the Cheddar was made. In the U.S., Cheddars made in the New England states traditionally retaining the natural white color. There is no difference in flavor as a result of added coloring.

    Aging is the only difference between mild and sharp Cheddar. The longer cheese is aged naturally, the sharper and more pronounced the Cheddar flavor becomes.

  • Mild Cheddar is generally aged for 2 to 3 months.
  • Extra sharp Cheddar can be aged for as long as a year.
  • Cheddars in the U.S. with names such as “private stock” or “reserved” are aged for 15 months or longer.
  • In the U.K., “vintage” refers to a strong, extra-mature Cheddar aged for 16 months. In the U.S., Cabot’s Vintage Choice is aged for at least 2 years.
  • You can find Cheddars aged up to 10 years. We’ve never had one, but they’re supposed to be magnificent. The price is about double, to pay for the extra years of storage and tied-up cash.
  •  
    Here’s a more substantial history of Cheddar.

     
    ‡Protected Designation Of Origin, or PDO, is a trademark issued by the European Union that guarantees that a product is produced, prepared and processed in a designated geographical area, according to specified practices. There is also Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), which guarantees geographical area only. Both designations provide legal protection against imitators, and both can use an EU logo of authenticity on their packaging. Purchasing a PDO product guarantees a consistent product experience and an established standard of excellence; the PGI designation guarantees it comes from the its area of origin (Scotch Whisky, for example, is a PGI). But it seems that there is no guild of Cheddar producers to do the same for all U.K. Cheddars.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Gourmet Green Bean Casserole

    green-bean-casserole-comteUSAfb-230

    A green bean casserole smothered with
    delicious Comté cheese. Photo courtesy
    Comté USA.

     

    In our mother’s day, green bean casserole was a popular family dish. We can’t remember the last decade we saw one, either at home or on a restaurant menu.

    So St. Patrick’s Day, coming up on March 17th, seems like the time to try a good recipe and put more green on the table.

    This recipe was shared with us by Comté USA, the American bureau for France’s popular Comté cheese. Also called Gruyère de Comté, it has a much milder flavor than the Swiss Gruyère, aged for only three months compared to 8 months with Swiss Gruyère.

    How popular is it? Comté has the highest production of all French AOC cheeses: around 40,000 tonnes* annually.

    Dating back to the 12th century, Comté is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk in the Franche-Comté region of eastern France. Here’s some fun cheese trivia: Comté is made only during the summer months, in huge wheels. In the fall, milk from the same cows is used to make Vacherin Mont d’Or, a small, creamy cheese that couldn’t be more different.

    If you want to focus on Irish ingredients, look for a Gruyere-style Irish cheese like Glebe Brethan.

     
    *In American English, a ton is a unit of measurement equaling 2,000 pounds. In Europe and elsewhere, a tonne equals 2,240 pounds (1000 kg). Don’t assume it’s the same measurement with a different spelling!
     
    RECIPE: GREEN BEAN & MUSHROOM GRATIN WITH COMTÉ & FRIED SHALLOTS

    This is a sophisticated version of a classic green bean casserole. No condensed cream of mushroom soup, no canned French-fried onions!

    Ingredients

  • ½ pound shallots (about 6 whole), peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1¾ teaspoons salt, divided
  • ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 10 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms†, sliced
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 4-ounces Comté, shredded (2 scant cups shredded)
  •  
    †Cremini/crimini mushrooms are baby portabello/portobello mushrooms, often marketed as Baby Bellas. Check out the different types of mushrooms in our Mushroom Glossary.

     

    Preparation

    1. LINE a large plate with paper towels. In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer and lightly smoke. Add the shallots and cook, stirring often, until light golden brown, about 7-9 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shallots to the paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt.

    2. PREHEAT the oven to 400°F. Butter a 2-quart casserole dish.

    3. BRING a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the green beans and cook until crisp-tender, 4-5 minutes. While the beans cook, fill a large bowl with ice water. Drain the beans and immediately plunge them into the ice water to stop cooking. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel to dry.

    4. MELT the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and toss. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper and the minced garlic; cook 1 minute. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Whisk in the broth and milk and bring to a simmer. Cook 5-6 minutes, or until thickened.

     

    comte-platter-comteUSA-fb-230

    Comté cheese. Photo courtesy Comte USA.

     
    5. TURN off the heat and add half of the shredded Comté, along with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Stir until the cheese is melted. Add the green beans and stir to coat.

    6. TRANSFER the mixture to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining Comté over the top. Bake 10 minutes. Before serving, sprinkle the fried shallots over the gratin. Serve warm.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Goat Cheese For Breakfast

    It’s the second day of the Year Of The Goat, and we’re focusing on goat cheese for breakfast.

    We love goat cheese so much, that a log or tomme of fresh goat cheese with toasted baguette (and fresh tomato and basil in the summer) is our kind of meal.

    But you can incorporate goat cheese into conventional breakfast recipes, as this tip attests.

    At the simplest, there are goat cheese crostini with jam or preserves. If you want to bake, there are goat cheese and mushroom tarts. You can make a breakfast sandwich, or your favorite egg dish.

    RECIPE: GOAT CHEESE & PRESERVES CROSTINI

    This recipe is from Smucker’s, which uses its Smucker’s Orchard’s Finest Northwest Triple Berry Preserves. You can use your favorite berry preserves or jam.

  • Here’s the difference between jam and preserves.
  • Here’s the difference between crostini and bruschetta.
  •  
    RECIPE: GOAT CHEESE & JAM BREAKFAST CROSTINI

    Prep time is 15 minutes, cook time is 6 minutes.

    Ingredients For 12 Slices

  • 1/4 cup berry preserves
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme*, plus additional for garnish
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 baguette (8 ounces), sliced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • Optional: fresh thyme leaves for garnish
  •  
    *You can substitute fresh basil, marjoram, oregano or savory for the thyme.

       

    goat-cheese-crostini-smuckers-230

    Crunchy, sweet and savory: These crostini are an alternative to toast with spreads. Photo courtesy Smucker’s.

     

    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the preserves, shallots, balsamic vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper in small bowl.

    2. SLICE the baguette into 1/2-inch slices. Brush both sides of each slice lightly with olive oil. Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Grill baguette slices, four at a time, 2 to 3 minutes per side or until lightly browned. Place on serving platter.

    3. SPREAD about 2 teaspoons of goat cheese over each baguette slice. Top each slice with 1 teaspoon of the preserves mixture. Garnish with additional fresh thyme. Serve immediately.

    TIP: The preserves-vinegar-thyme spread can be prepared up to two days ahead and refrigerated, covered.

     

    crustless-breakfast-tarts-kalynskitchen-230

    These Crustless Breakfast Tarts with Mushrooms and Goat Cheese are elegant enough for a special occasion. Photo courtesy Kalyn’s Kitchen.

     

    Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen was inspired by a new tart pan to make breakfast tarts, combining cream, eggs, goat cheese, green onions, mozzarella, mushrooms and Parmesan. You can also use a muffin pan or individual gratin dishes.

    There’s no pastry, so you can save the carbs for your toast or muffin.

    The tarts will keep in the fridge for at least a week and can be reheated in a microwave or hot toaster oven. It only takes a about 70 seconds in the microwave; don’t microwave too long or the eggs will get rubbery.

    RECIPE: CRUSTLESS BREAKFAST TARTS WITH GOAT
    CHEESE & MUSHROOMS

    Ingredients For 6 Breakfast Tarts

  • 4 ounces fresh goat cheese (e.g. from a log), crumbled and softened
  • 1/4 cup milk, half and half, or cream
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
  • 12 ounces crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, washed and sliced
  • 2-3 teaspoons olive oil (depending on your pan)
  • 1 teaspoon Spike Seasoning (see below, or use any all-purpose seasoning blend that’s good with eggs)
  • Fresh-ground black pepper to taste
  • 8 eggs, beaten
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 6 tablespoons mozzarella cheese, crated
  •  
    Preparation

    1. REMOVE the goat cheese from the fridge, cut off 4 ounces, crumble and place in a bowl to start to soften. Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C. Spray the tart pan (or other cookware) with olive oil or nonstick spray.

    2. USE a fork to mix the milk/cream into the softened goat cheese; then mix in the Parmesan. Beat the eggs in a different bowl and mix 1/3 at a time into the goat cheese mixture, stirring each time you add more egg. (The mixture doesn’t need to be completely smooth.)

    3. WASH and pat dry the mushrooms and slice about 3/8 inch thick. Heat the oil in a large nonstick frying pan to avoid crowding the mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms over medium-high heat until all the released liquid has evaporated and mushrooms are starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Divide the mushrooms between the wells in the tart pan.

    4. POUR the custard mixture over the mushrooms and gently stir to distribute the mushrooms evenly. Sprinkle a generous pinch of green onions on top of each tart, followed by one tablespoon of grated mozzarella.

    5. BAKE for 25-27 minutes (or slightly longer if you don’t have this tart pan and your tarts are a little thicker). Cook just until the tarts are starting to barely brown on the top; the custard mixture should be soft. Serve hot.
     
    SPIKE SEASONING

    Spike Seasoning was created by more than 50 years ago and still has a huge fan base; it gets a five-star review on Amazon. You can buy it online or at retailers nationwide. There’s also a salt-free, gluten-free version.

    Original Spike Seasoning a blend of 39 ingredients: Salt and sea salt, de-fatted nutri-soy granules, granular toasted onion, nutritional yeast, granular garlic, celery root granules, ground dill, horseradish granules, mustard powder, lemon peel, orange powder, parsley flakes, red bell peppers, green bell peppers, white pepper, rose hips powder, summer savory, mushroom powder, safflower, parsley powder, white onion powder, spinach powder, tomato powder, sweet Hungarian paprika, ground celery seed, cayenne pepper, ground turmeric, ground cumin, ground ginger, ground coriander, ground fenugreek, ground cloves, cinnamon powder, oregano, tarragon, sweet basil, marjoram, rosemary and thyme.

    If you don’t see it in the spice section, look near the health foods.
     
    MORE GOAT CHEESE BREAKFAST RECIPES

  • Breakfast tarts with mushrooms and goat cheese (recipe)
  • Goat cheese scrambled eggs (recipe)
  • Goat cheese and fresh herb omelet (recipe)
  • Goat cheese and prosciutto strata (recipe)
  • Grilled goat cheese sandwich with honey and figs (recipe)
  • Poached eggs on toasted baguette with goat cheese (recipe)
  •   

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Pairing Cheese & Chocolate

    Forget the bread, crackers and fruit: Who knew that plain chocolate, chocolate truffles and chocolate-covered caramels—the latter two with prominent dairy and buttery notes—pair so well with cheese?

    We know that chocolate cheesecake, and a chocolate ganache topping on regular cheesecake, are delicious. So how about serving a piece of cheese with a piece of chocolate?

    If you love both cheese and chocolate, you can have a party that pairs both, for Valentine’s Day or any special occasion. You can pair almost any cheese, from a sweet mascarpone to a mushroomy Brie to a tangy blue. You can also add toasted nuts and a libation of choice. But start with some guidance from the experts.

    When deciding on pairings, contrast textures in the cheese and chocolate. For example, try a soft, creamy cheese with a simple dark chocolate square, or a hard, crumbly cheese drizzled with chocolate ganache.

    Lake Champlain Chocolates offers these insights:

  • Soft ripened goat’s, sheep’s or cow’s milk cheeses tend to be more pungent, acidic and aggressive and pair well with both dark chocolate and milk chocolate.
  •    

    chocolate-and-cheese-dallmanconfections-230

    Cheese and chocolate? Absolutely! Photo courtesy DallmanConfections.com.

  • Aged cheese is nutty, and less acidic, with a crunchy texture that pairs well with chocolates with fillings and inclusions, such as almonds, honey and maple.
  • Blue cheese, with its sharp, pungent aromas and flavors, enhances the undertones of bittersweet dark chocolate (70% or higher cacao content).
  •  
    RealCaliforniaMilk.com suggests pairing:

  • Bittersweet chocolates with salty cheeses, like aged Asiago, Parmesan or pecorino.
  • Dark chocolate with complex, aged cheeses such as Beaufort, Cheshire, aged Gruyère, Manchego.
  • Milk chocolate with fresh, sweet cheese like crescenza, cream cheese, crème fraîche, mascarpone, ricotta, and Teleme; or buttery, semisoft cheeses like Brie, creamy blues, triple crèmes and washed rind cheeses.
  • Chocolate with nuts or dried fruits with creamier, semisoft cheeses as well as aged, more complex cheeses, such as Asiago, Cheddar, fontina, Gouda, or beer or wine washed rind cheeses.
  • Spicy chocolates with sharp cheeses that are not overly salty: aged Gouda and aged Jack for example.
  •  
    Vermont Creamery likes these pairings:

  • Fresh goat cheese with its creamy tartness with dense milk or dark chocolate truffles.
  • Soft, ripened cheese with dark chocolate, especially those spiced with cinnamon, cayenne or anise for a more complex flavor profile. Try Aztec chocolate with aged goat cheese.
  • Aged cheese with nutty notes, such as good Cheddar, well with an almond chocolate bar or chocolate-covered almonds. Bonbons with honey and maple fillings work, too.
  • Strong blue cheese, sharp and pungent with semisweet dark chocolate. Try a great blue like Jasper Hill Farm Bayley Hazen Blue with a simple bar of 50% to 65% cacao.
  •  

    jasper-hill-cheese-chocolate-230

    Jasper Hill’s chocolate and cheese Valentine git set. Photo courtesy Jasper Hill Farm.

     

    You can download an extensive party guide from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, but here are the highlights:

  • Alpine-style cheese like Gruyère or Emmental, with milk chocolate. Since the Alpine cheeses have nutty notes, you can also pair add some nuts, from plain almonds or walnuts to rosemary cashews.
  • Aged Cheddar with chocolate-dipped bacon or with Aztec (spicy) dark chocolate. Hints of cayenne or other pepper really work with Cheddar. Also try spicy chocolate with a blue cheese.
  • Aged Parmesan with dark chocolate and oatmeal stout. The nutty flavor of aged Parmesan also invites dark chocolate covered almonds. If you’re a beer drinker, try it with an oatmeal stout.
  • Blue cheese with dark chocolate truffles and a glass of Port. Blue cheese and Port are already a popular pairing. The dark chocolate bridges the saltiness of the cheese and the sweetness of the wine.
  • Mixed milk cheese—a combination of cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk—tend to have an intense earthy flavor. Pair them with white chocolate, with its sweeter counterpoint. If you like, add some cranberry chutney. These earthy cheeses also work well with chocolate-covered salt caramels. Yum!
  •  
    The great British chef Heston Blumenthal pairs caviar and white chocolate. So if you have a favorite food, test it with a bite of dark, milk or white chocolate to see if it works.
     
    CHEESE & CHOCOLATE GIFT BOX

    Brooklyn chocolatiers the Mast brothers, known for their small batch, artisan chocolate bars, joined up with Jasper Hill Farm to develop a milk chocolate trio that showcases the flavors of cow’s, sheep’s, and goat’s milks.

    It’s a rare experience to see how a chocolate bar made with other animal milks compare with the familiar cow’s milk used in all conventional milk chocolate. Here’s your chance! These particular bars are made with semisweet 60% cacao that has naturally nutty notes. But what you’ll also find is that:

  • The cow’s milk bar has toasty notes of tobacco and wood smoke.
  • The goat’s milk bar has notes of citrus and date.
  • The sheep’s milk bar tastes of dulce du leche and fresh dairy.
  •  
    Jasper Hill Farm has created a Cheese & Chocolate Gift Box that pairs this unique chocolate trio with two chocolate-loving cheeses. Each gift box contains the three 2.5-ounce chocolate bars plus:

  • Bayley Hazen Blue, made with raw cow’s milk, a creamy blue cheese with sweet undertones (8 ounces). Pairing with chocolate brings out its buttery flavors of the milk.
  • Weybridge, made with organic cow’s milk, a bright, dense cheese with an edible bloomy rind. A bright, tangy cheese, it has a yogurty flavor that becomes more intense and gamey as it ages. It’s made in a limited-edition heart shaped just for Valentine’s Day (3.5 ounces).
  •  
    The gift box is $62.00 at JasperHillFarm.Shop.com. You can order any time and specify your preferred delivery date.
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Get A Heart-Shaped Cheese

    coeur-de-bray-neufchatel-murrays-230

    Coeur de Bray, a heart-shaped Neufchâtel
    cheese. Photo courtesy Murray’s Cheese.

     

    Different heart-shaped cheeses appear at this time of year, especially goat cheeses. But the first heart-shaped cheese, created in the 14th century, was Neufchâtel (NU-shah-tell), a soft-riped cow’s milk cheese with a white rind.

    Note that French Neufchâtel is different from the American product of the same name, sold as a lower-fat alternative to cream cheese. American Neufchâtel has been disappearing over the last decade, as cream cheese manufacturers have marketed their own lowfat and nonfat versions.

    Authentic French Neufchâtel is one of the oldest cheeses in France and the oldest cheese in Normandy, dating back as far as the sixth century. Soft and crumbly, its dry, white rind is velvety and edible.

    Its buttery, pale paste has a salty, somewhat sharp flavor has soft mushroom notes, like Brie. Like Brie, the cheese develops an earthy character as it ages.

     
    Serve it with crusty bread, cherry jam, fresh berries or dried fruit.

    Neufchâtel pairs nicely with a crisp, dry white wine. Murray’s suggests Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc or Rosé. We prefer Champagne. And if you’re a red wine drinker, bring on the Burgundy.

     

    WHY A HEART?

    It is available in various shapes, the famous Neufchâtel heart shape is a tradition begun by young Norman women, as the story goes, to discreetly express their feelings of affection for young British soldiers during the 100 Years’ War*.
     
    COEUR DE BRAY

    This particular Neufchatel heart comes from the Pays de Bray, an area in northern Normandy. The name is AOC protected.

    It is “made from buckets of cream” from the famed dairy cows of Normandy, according to Murray’s Cheese, which sells it at retail and online for $15.99.

     

    neufchatel-heart-paper-cheesesoffranceFB-230

    A Neufchâtel heart, slightly aged. Photo courtesy Cheeses Of France.

     

    MAKE COEUR À LA CRÈME

    You can make your own heart-shaped cheese, the famed Coeur à La Crème (heart of cream).

    This luscious mascarpone creation (that’s the same cheese used to make tiramisu) is served with berries or a sauce of raspberry purée for dessert.

    Here’s the recipe.

     
    *A series of conflicts from 1337 to 1453 between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of France for control of the French throne. The war is commonly divided into three phases separated by truces, which together comprise the longest military conflict in history: the Edwardian Era War (1337–1360), the Caroline War (1369–1389) and the Lancastrian War (1415–1353), which saw the slow decline of English fortunes after the appearance of Joan of Arc in 1429. The French kept the throne and the cheese.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Fondue For National Fondue Month

    Originally a melted cheese dish, the concept evolved to cooking beef, chicken, chocolate or seafood in the fondue pot. February is National Fondue Month, so why not plan a fondue feast?

    THE HISTORY OF FONDUE

    The melted cheese dish originated in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel. The word fondue itself is the past participle of the French fondre, to melt down.

    The fondue is served from a communal pot called a caquelon, using long forks to spear cubes of bread that are swirled in the melted cheese. The tradition dates to the 18th century; some say it was developed as a way to use slightly stale bread.

    Each Swiss canton has its own variation on the recipe, which generally consists of at least two varieties of cheese, wine and a bit of flour or cornstarch to keep the melted cheese from separating.

  • Raclette is a related dish, made from a Swiss cheese that is similar to Gruyère. But instead of melting it in a communal pot, the wheel of cheese is brought to the table on a cart, exposed to heat and and scraped onto a plate as it melts (racler is French for “to scrape”). It is traditionally served with boiled potatoes, cornichons and dark bread.
  •    

    fondue-artisanalrestaurant-230

    Classic cheese fondue. Photo courtesy Artisanal Restaurant | NYC.

  • Fonduta is an Italian dish similar to fondue, made with Fontina cheese, milk and egg yolks. Elegant versions top it with shaved white truffle.
  • Kaas Doop is a fondue-style Dutch dish made with Gouda cheese, milk and brandy, with nutmeg seasoning, that uses brown bread for dipping.
  •  
    Although it adds to the aesthetic, you don’t need a fondue pot (caquelon) to melt cheese or chocolate or to heat cooking oil. A heavy-bottomed saucepan or ideally, a double boiler, works fine.

    But then, to keep the fondue heated after it has been served, you’ll need a hot plate for the table. If you don’t have one, you probably know someone who has one stashed away and will lend it.
     
    FONDUE RECIPES

    To help you decide where to begin: We recommend starting with a classic cheese fondue. Here’s the basic cheese fondue recipe plus 28 variations, from blue cheese and goat cheese variations to Nacho and Philly Cheesesteak fondue. Or consider:

  • Reduced Fat Cheddar Fondue Recipe
  • Cheddar Chive Fondue With Tortilla Chips Recipe
  • How To Melt Cheese Tips
  •  
    For Valentine’s Day, how about chocolate fondue—your choice of dark, milk or white chocolate? Here’s an even richer Chocolate Fondue with Mascarpone recipe.

    You can also spice things up with these Spicy Chocolate Fondue recipe variations.

     

    sugardaddys-230

    Chocolate fondue. Photo courtesy Sugardaddy’s.

     

    RECIPE: SEAFOOD FONDUE

    This recipe was adapted from GourmetSleuth.com.

    Ingredients For 4 People

  • 1 pound* salmon, halibut or other thick-fleshed fish filets
  • 1 pound raw shrimp, shelled, deveined, washed and dried
  • Canola or peanut oil
  • Optional vegetables: bell pepper strips, pearl onions
  • Dipping sauces (see below)
  •  
    *Plan for at least 1/3 pound fish/seafood per person.
     
    Preparation

    1. CUT fish into one-inch cubes or 1/4″ w x 2″ long strips, depending on shape of filets. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

    2. SET the table with plates, fondue forks and dips. You can provide individual dip portions, or have guests spoon dips onto their plates. (NOTE: Use only metal fondue forks or bamboo skewers, as wooden skewers can burn in hot oil.)

    3. FILL the fondue pot with oil and heat on the stove until it reaches 350°F. Place the fondue pot on a brazier stand or hot plate on the table, over moderately high heat. Note that for beef or seafood fondue, you must use a stainless steel pot. Ceramic pots aren’t safe with the hot oil.

    4. SPEAR cubes or shrimps and place in the hot oil until cooked.

     
    SEAFOOD FONDUE DIPS

    RECIPE: SPICY COCKTAIL SAUCE

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon prepared horseradish
  • Dash hot pepper sauce
  •  
    1. COMBINE ingredients and store refrigerated until use.
     
    RECIPE: TARTAR SAUCE

    Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onions or scallions (green part only)
  • 2 tablespoons drained sweet pickle relish
  • 1 tablespoon drained small capers (chop if large)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon (or substitute 1 tablespoon minced canned chipotle chiles)
  •  
    1. BLEND all ingredients in medium bowl. Season to taste with salt.
     
    RECIPE: DILL SAUCE

    Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup bottled clam juice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/4 cups crème fraîche or whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh dill
  •  
    1. COMBINE clam juice and wine in a heavy small non-aluminum saucepan. Boil until reduced to 1/3 cup, about 9 minutes. Reduce heat to medium.

    2. WHISK in crème fraîche. Boil until reduced to 1 cup, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in dill. Season with salt and pepper.

      

    Comments

    FOOD FUN: Cheese Wedge Reindeer

    Here’s an easy Christmas snack to make from Laughing Cow cheese wedges, or any cheese you like enough to cut into wedges.

    Simply assemble:

  • Cheese wedges for the head
  • Mini pretzels for antlers
  • Halved pimento-stuffed olives for the nose
  • Peppercorn eyes (green peppercorns are very mild and more kid-friendly)
  •  
    The use of a red tray liner sets off the white cheese and adds to the festiveness.

    We found the photo on Pinterest, regrettably with no attribution. But for a fun treat for kids and adults alike, we had to share it here.

     

    cheese-reindeer-applepins.com-pinterest-230

    Turn a cheese wedge into Rudolph. Photo: Pinterest.

     

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Better-For-You-Holiday Desserts

    apple-pie-yogurt-cup-yoplait-230

    An alternative to apple pie using Apple Pie
    Yogurt. Photo courtesy Yoplait.

     

    Looking for sweet relief from high-calorie holiday desserts? Yoplait’s limited edition winter yogurt flavors can fill in.

    The new flavors include Greek 100 Caramel Macchiato, Greek Cinnamon Roll, Original Coconut Caramel and Light Chocolate Mint. Refreshing from the cup, they can also be combined with other ingredients to make better-for-you desserts.

    For example, you can make this apple pie yogurt cup in just 15 minutes:

    RECIPE: APPLE PIE YOGURT

    Ingredients For 1 Serving

  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • Pinch ground cinnamon
  • 1 egg roll skin (6-1/2-inches square, from a 16-ounce package)
  • 1/2 cup chopped apple
  • 1 container (5.3 oz) Yoplait Greek 100 Apple Pie Yogurt
  • Preparation

    1. PLACE a 6-inch cooking parchment paper square on microwavable plate. Spray with cooking spray. In small bowl, stir together sugar and cinnamon; set aside.

    2. CUT two 3-1/2-inch rounds from the egg roll skin; discard scraps. Cut each round into 1/2-inch strips. Tightly weave the strips into a lattice pattern on parchment paper.

    3. SPRAY the strips with cooking spray; sprinkle evenly with cinnamon sugar.

    4. MICROWAVE uncovered on Medium (50%) 30 seconds; continue microwaving an additional 15 to 30 seconds, checking every 5 seconds to prevent the strips from burning in the center. Cool 5 minutes on parchment paper (the lattice will crisp as it cools). Meanwhile, stir the chopped apple into the yogurt cup.

    5. PLACE the pie crust on top of cup, and serve.

     

    RECIPE: APPLE CHIPS WITH CARAMEL-YOGURT DIP

    Or, try apple chips with a caramel-yogurt dip. If you don’t want to make the apple chips, it’s easy to buy them.

    Prep time is 10 minutes; total time including making the apple chips from scratch is 1 hour 10, minutes.

    Ingredients For 1 Serving

  • 1 large Granny Smith apple
  • 1 tablespoon fat-free caramel topping
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1 container (6 ounces) Yoplait Original 99% Fat Free Apple Crisp Yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts or pecans
  •  

    apple-chips-caramel-dip-yoplait-230

    Apple chips with a caramel yogurt dip. Photo courtesy Yoplait.

     

    Preparation

    1. HEAT THE oven to 275°F. Line a cookie sheet with cooking parchment paper.

    2. USE a sharp knife to cut the apple into very thin slices (about 1/8 inch). Place on the cookie sheet.

    3. BAKE for 30 minutes. Quickly turn the slices and bake for 30 to 40 minutes longer or until golden brown and crispy. Cool on a cookie sheet (the apples will continue to crisp up). Meanwhile…

    4. MICROWAVE the caramel topping in small microwavable bowl, uncovered on High for 30 seconds. Stir in the salt. Place the yogurt in a small bowl and drizzle the with salted caramel. Top with the walnuts and serve with the apple chips.
     
    Find more recipes on Yoplait.com.

      

    Comments

    GIFT: Gourmet Cheese Box

    jasper-hills-farm-gift-box-2014-230

    We can testify that everything in this gift box is memorably delicious! Photo courtesy Jasper Hill Farm.

     

    Anyone who covets great cheese knows how pricey it is. That’s because there’s so much labor invested in creating artisanal cheese.

    So what better gift for a cheese lover than a box of great cheese? This year, we’re recommending the gift box from one of America’s greatest cheese makers, Jasper Hill Farms.

    The holiday gift box contains more than two pounds of award-winning cheese, plus artisanal pairings. The foods are packed in a reusable wooden cheese box, for a memorable gift.

    Jasper Hill Farm’s 2014 Holiday Gift Box contains:

  • Bayley Hazen Blue (8 ounces). This signature raw-milk blue cheese is one of the great blues, creamy on the tongue with sweet and salty flavors and undertones of dark chocolate and anise spice. A Super Gold winner at this year’s World Cheese Awards, it was also named World’s Best Unpasteurized Cheese.
  • Cabot Clothbound Cheddar (1 pound). Made by Cabot Creamer and aged in the Jasper Hill caves for 10-12 months, this is a bold cheddar with a spectrum of flavors: toasted nuts, savory broth, browned butter and butterscotch. It’s a favorite among Cheddar lovers.
  •  

  • Harbison (1 wheel; about 10 ounces). This soft, pudding-like Brie-style cheese can e scooped up with a spoon and spread on a cracker (or devoured from the spoon). It’s wrapped in a strip of spruce cambium* harvested from the farm. The milky, buttery cheese has notes of mushroom, woodsmoke and brassica† vegetables when ripe.
  • Creminelli Cheddar Salami (a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week). This special sausage includes pieces of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, which add a pleasant zip and a creamy mouth feel to the traditional salami. It’s available exclusively from the Cellars at Jasper Hill and Murray’s Cheese.
  • Jan’s Farmhouse Crisps (2 ounces). These are the cheese maker’s favorite crackers to pair with their cheeses. Packed full of nuts, herbs and dried fruit, they are thinly sliced and toasted to a light, flavorful crisp.
  •  
    The gift box, $85, is in limited supply. Reserve yours now from The Cellars At Jasper Hill.

    —Steven Gans

     
    *The cambium of the pine (between the bark and the wood) is edible. It can be boiled or roasted as a famine food, and makes a reasonable flour. Fried in olive or coconut oil it’s actually tasty. On this cheese, it’s not meant to be eaten, but you could do it. Here’s more about pine cambium.

    †Brassica, the cruciferous vegetable family, includes bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and mustard greens, among others.

     
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Cheese Hors d’Oeuvre For Entertaining Or Snacking

    We found these photos on the Facebook page of Jarlsberg USA, and liked the idea for holiday entertaining as well as family snacking.

    Make four or five different versions to serve with cocktails, or one or two types for a TV snack. For a children’s activity, you can set out ingredients and let kids assemble their own snacks.

    The key to visual appeal is to offset the pale color of most cheeses with other, bright colored ingredients. Turkey and Swiss cheese may be a popular combination, for instance, but to the eye it’s beige and beige. Go for bright and appealing.

    Then, all you need are four-inch skewers, plain or twisted (for a fancier touch). Or, check out our festive party picks for stars, evergreen trees metallic fringe and colored cellophane tips.

    Use the list below to pick two or three ingredients to pair with the cheese. The skewers are plenty tasty as is, but you can serve them with a dish of honey mustard for dipping. You can buy honey mustard, or make your own by adding honey, sugar or noncaloric sweetener to mustard, in a proportion to your liking.
     
    COLORFUL CHEESES

    In addition to your favorite cheeses, consider options beyond beige. Check out these special cheeses with deep colors:

  • Cahill’s Farm Flavored Irish Cheddar in Elderberry (red marbled) or Porter (brown marbled) flavors (photo).
  •    

    skewers-jarlsbergUSA-fb-view2-230rev

    Two popular pairings with cheese: dried apricots and basil-tomato. Photo courtesy Jarlsberg USA.

     

  • Mimolette, a French cow’s milk cheese the color of a harvest moon, in the shape of a ball (photo).
  • Basiron Pesto looks like green cheese from the moon (photo).
  • Basiron Pesto Rosso, a Gouda-style cheese from Holland, with a harvest moon color that comes from the addition of tomatoes (photo).
  •  
    Then, it’s time to pick your add-ons:

     

    skewers-jarlsbergUSAFB-230rev

    Serrano ham and sundried tomatoes are bright additions to appetizer skewers. Photo courtesy Jarlsberg USA.

     

    PROTEINS

  • Ham cubes
  • Serrano ham slices
  • Pepperoni
  • Scallops
  • Shrimp
  •  
    VEGETABLES

  • Arugula
  • Basil
  • Blue or purple potatoes (cooked and sliced or cubed)
  • Cherry/grape tomatoes
  • Dilly beans
  • Gherkins/pickle slices
  • Pepperoncini
  • Pimento-stuffed olives
  • Red, orange or yellow bell pepper strips
  • Snow peas
  • Sundried tomatoes
  • FRUIT

  • Clementine/tangerine segments
  • Dried apricots
  • Kiwi
  • Mango cubes
  • Melon cubes
  • Pineapple cubes
  • Red or purple grapes
  •  
    Send us photos of your favorite creations!

      

    Comments

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