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TIP OF THE DAY: Back To Butter, Now OK To Eat

Butter - Lard

Butter A Rich History

Bowl Of Butter

Bread and Butter

[1] Butter and lard: out of the shadows and back onto the table (photo courtesy A Canadian Foodie). [2] Butter lovers will enjoy Butter, A Rich History. Also check out Nourishing Fats: Why We Need Animal Fats for Health and Happiness.

 

If your new year’s resolution includes cutting back on butter, you might re-think it. After years of being shunned as a contributor to heart disease, butter is in again.

Recorded use of butter dates to 2,000 years B.C. (the history of butter).

At butter’s peak in the 1920s, annual per capita consumption in the U.S. was 18 pounds about 72 sticks. At its nadir, in 1992, with research reports giving it the thumbs-down, per capita consumption dropped to 4 pounds.

As recently as 2006, margarine sales outpaced butter’s. For those on a budget, margarine was/is $1 to $2 per pound less expensive.
 
THE HISTORY OF MARGARINE

In 1913, French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul discovered margaric acid; but it was not turned into a foodstuff until much later.

Commercial margarine was invented in France in the 1860s, when Emperor Napoleon III offered prize money to whomever could find a cheaper substitute for butter, to feed the army and the poor.

A French chemist, Hippolyte Mège-Mouriés, took the prize by inventing oleomargarine, an imitation butter made from refined vegetable oil and water. He patented it in 1869.

Yet, while margarine was served to the army, it never took off in France: The French knew which side their bread was buttered on (the history of margarine).

The good news: He sold the patent to the U.S. Dairy Company in 1871. Butter became very expensive during the Great Depression, and World War II rationed the supply, as dairy farmers went off to war. Margarine came into its own.
 
LEAVING BUTTER BEHIND: THE 1980s

Margarine never passed through the doors of our mother’s house. Her palate would only accept the best creamery butter, plus lard for her lauded pie crusts.

When we first tasted margarine on bread in the college cafeteria, we agreed: Better no bread spread than one of vegetable oil.

To those who can taste the difference, there is no substitute for butter in baking. We could tell at first bite if a cookie or cake was not made with butter…and tossed it.

But it was the attribution of heart disease to animal fats that caused many people to back off of butter. Beginning in the 1980s, Americans were programmed by mass media reports to equate butter and fat with heart disease and poor health, and to head to low fat diets.

Fortunately, research pointed to heart-healthy olive oil as an alternative, and many of us decamped to EVOO.

But over the past few years, new research has deflated the biggest myths about cholesterol. It’s OK to eat an egg every day, and to butter your bread. And you need at least a tablespoon a day of butter or oil for skin and hair health. Add a second tablespoon of EVOO for heart health.

These studies have shown that consuming butter (within reason, as with any food) is not bad for you, but is actually beneficial (source).

Butter is full of vitamins and healthy fatty acids that help prevent tooth decay, cancer and even obesity (!). [NOTE: THE NIBBLE is not a medical expert. Consult with yours if you have questions or issues.]

Animal fats are no longer demonized, at roughly the same time as plant-based trans fats were removed from the marketplace. The result: an animal fat renaissance.

Americans have responded to the news. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, per capita consumption rose to 23 sticks of butter, the highest quantity since World War II.

And many restaurants never left it behind. Today, animal fats are more popular than ever. Chefs are cooking with not just butter, but with beef tallow, duck fat, even schmaltz—rendered chicken fat that was a mainstay of European Jewish cooking.

Yes, chefs know that the secret to great flavor often lies in animal fat. So consult with your healthcare provider, and safely enjoy your share in the new year.
 
OUR FAVORITE BUTTERS

Do your own taste test; but in ours, the winners were, in alphabetical order:

  • Cabot Creamery (Vermont)
  • Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter (imported)
  • Plugrá (European-style butter made in the U.S. with 82% butterfat vs. the standard 80%)
  • Organic Valley (U.S.)
  • Vermont Creamery Cultured* Butter (our personal favorite)
  •  
    Depending on your preference for unsalted or salted butter, your favorites may vary.

    There are other great butters made in the U.S., including regional and artisan butters such as Kate’s Homemade Butter from Maine. But they are made in small quantities and hard to get ahold of.

     
    MORE “BUTTER IS BETTER”

  • Check out the different types of butter in our Butter Glossary.
  • European-Style Butter, an even richer version.
  • Butter Conversion: How to substitute salted butter for a recipe that calls for unsalted.
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    *After each milking, the cream is set aside and natural, lactic bacteria ripens it into cultured cream, a.k.a. crème fraîche.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Baked Brie With 21+ Festive Toppings

    Holiday Brie

    Baked Brie With Olives

    Santa Margherita Sparkling Rose Wine

    Packaged Olives

    Pimiento Strips

    Peppadews

    [1] Holiday baked Brie with liqueur-accented cranberry compote, walnuts and thyme (here’s the recipe from Liren Baker of Kitchen Confidante). [2] Baked Brie with olives, recipe below (photo courtesy DeLallo). [3] Whatever bubbly you serve, Baked Brie is a delicious companion (photo of sparkling rosé from Santa Margherita). [4] Pitted, chopped olives make an already easy recipe a breeze (photo courtesy DeLallo). [5] For a red accent, use pimiento strips (photo courtesy Conservas Martinez)… [6] or or chopped peppadews (photo Biozinc | Wikipedia).

     

    Some foods pair better with champagne and other sparkling wines, and are our New Year’s Eve go-to foods. Caviar, pâté, seafood and smoked salmon are the luxury foods are simple made to be enjoyed with bubbly (more).

    And then there’s cheese.

    Double- and triple-creme cheeses are sumptuous with sparkling wines:

  • Brie and Camembert are popular double-crèmes (here’s the difference between Brie and Camembert).
  • Also consider a Brie fondue.
  • Triple-crèmes like Brillat-Savarin, Explorateur and St. André are even richer and creamier than double-crèmes.
  • Mild Cheddars and nutty Goudas pair with toasty, nutty Champagnes (among sparkling wines, Champagne is unique in its toasty, nutty qualities).
  •  
    Served with slices of fresh baguette or specialty crackers, these are the cheeses to usher in the new year.
     
    WANT MORE PANACHE?

    Baked Brie with holiday panache is impressive, yet so easy to make. You can top it with something sweet or savory; for example:

  • Cranberry Baked Brie
  • Cranberry-Pomegranate Holiday Brie
  • Baked Brie With Kiwi Compote
  •  
    MORE SWEET TOPPINGS

  • You can also mix nuts and honey as a topping, or honey and a dried fruit medley of blueberries, cherries, cranberries, raisins and sultanas.
  • Or use a festive jam or preserves like cherry and fig, or chutney (you can also mix in a bit of liqueur).
  • Leftover cranberry sauce or relish also works. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar for a tangy counterpoint.
  • Herbs and honey: Spread on the honey and sprinkle with herbs, and even a few edible flowers. We like lavender and thyme.
  • Marinate canned or frozen cherries in a balsamic reduction, wine or a liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or kirsch.
  • Spread the Brie with apple or pumpkin butter and top with salted nuts, for a sweet-and-salty effect.
  •  
    FOR “DESSERT BRIE”

  • Top with candied walnuts or pecans, a praline topping or dulce de leche and chopped nuts.
  • Popular and colorful: sliced fresh strawberries marinated in Grand Marnier or other liqueur.
  • Ditto, honey and fresh berries.
  • Yum: diced apples and/or pears mixed into salted caramel.
  •  
    Next up: savory toppings for Baked Brie.

    RECIPE: BAKED BRIE WITH OLIVES

    DeLallo created this recipe using their Olives Jubilee, a colorful medley of Kalamata, Niçoise-style, Picholine and plump green olives in an herb marinade. Pitted, chopped, marinated: All you need to do is drain and spoon the olives over the cheese.

    Instead of adding tart, uncooked cranberries—which look great but aren’t so palatable—we chopped a small jar fire-roasted red pepper strips (pimiento, piquillo, etc.).

    You can also chop peppadews or grape/cherry tomatoes.

    For more color and flavor, we also tossed in some pink and green peppercorns we had at hand—mild, not spicy like black peppercorns—and some shredded basil.

    This recipe is for a small “baby” Brie; but if you’re having a large crowd, you can buy an entire 17-inch wheel (and adjust the amount of toppings accordingly).
     
    Ingredients

  • 1 baby Brie (8 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup chopped olives
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans, pistachios or walnuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cranberries or substitute
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Optional: capers, minced fresh basil or thyme
  • Bread, crackers, toasts
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Place the Brie on a nonstick baking sheet. Bake until softened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, onto a serving plate.

    2. TOP with olives, nuts and cranberries/peppers. Drizzle with honey and serve with bread/crackers and cheese spreaders.

     
    MORE SAVORY BRIE TOPPINGS

  • Bacon jam (recipe).
  • Caramelized onions (recipe—use a small dice) and chopped thyme.
  • Curried diced vegetables* with optional chopped bacon.
  • Greens: baby arugula, baby spinach and watercress wilted in garlic oil.
  • Ham and cheese: Spread grainy mustard or Dijon and top with minced ham and optional chopped herbs.
  • Olive-oil marinated sundried tomatoes, capers, garlic and parsley: a classic.
  • Pesto; consider half green pesto, half red pesto.
  • Sautéed wild mushrooms and thyme.
  •  
    We deliberately left out jalapeño and other “heat” because Brie has a subtle flavor; but you can add a dash of cayenne or red pepper flakes if you like.
     
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    *Raw bell peppers, carrots, celery, fennel, onions, etc.

     
      

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    GIFT OF THE DAY: Cheese Grotto

    If someone on your gift list is very serious about cheese (such a person is a turophile, Greek for cheese lover), consider the Cheese Grotto.

    Think of it as a cheese humidor, to protect precious cheeses instead of cigars.

    Everything old is new again. Cheese Grotto is based on a very old design, used to keep ripe cheeses in peak condition for generations. There’s nothing like it in the modern marketplace.

    Designed by a cheesemonger, Cheese Grotto creates a perfect environment for wedges and uncut wheels to thrive. It keeps cheeses at their optimal stages of ripeness.

    In other words, it keeps precious (costly!) cheeses in a state of stasis, maintaining their ideal ripeness for a longer period.

    We’re not talking about supermarket swiss, mind you, or cheeses that you plan to consume the same day; but of artisan cheeses that sell for $25.00 a pound and up: cheeses you want to savor, a bit a day.

    WHAT’S WRONG WITH PLASTIC WRAP?

    Most cheese counters wrap your cheese in plastic wrap. That’s just to transport it home.

  • Cheese needs to breath (i.e., air flow), which means plastic wrap isn’t good for them.
  • Cheese needs humidity, the biggest challenge with home cheese storage.
  •  
    After you get home, cheese experts recommend re-wrapping the cheese in special cheese wrapping paper.

    While cheese wrapping paper is an improvement over conventional kitchen wraps—and is certainly less expensive than the Cheese Grotto—it isn’t nearly as effective (which is why cheesemonger Jessica Sennett created Cheese Grotto in the first place).

    Cheese Grotto solves the air flow and humidity problems with a humidor environment fostered by a clay brick that is briefly soaked in water. It releases moisture into the confined space of the Grotto.

  • For short-term consumption, you can leave the cheese at room temperature, keeping Cheese Grotto on the counter top.
  • For longer-term storage, it fits easily into the fridge (it’s 12 inches deep, 8.5 inches tall and 7 inches wide).
  •  
    Cheese Grotto has two adjustable shelves and holds 3-6 cheeses, depending on the size of the wheels or wedges.
     
    WHERE DO YOU GET ONE?

    The Cheese Grotto, handmade to order in Virginia, is $350. That includes optional engraved initials and shipping.

    The materials are made from wood and other components that are natural and environmentally friendly.

    Order yours at CheeseGrotto.com.

     

    Cheese Grotto

    Cheese Grotto

    Cheese Grotto

    [1] and [2] For the true cheese connoisseur, the Cheese Grotto (photos courtesy JRennet). [3] What the professionals have (a cheese cave at Murray’s Cheese).

     

      

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    RECIPE: Pomegranate Cheese Ball

    Christmas Cheese Ball

    Christmas Cheese Ball

    Christmas Cheese Ball

    [1] The Christmas Cheese Ball, festive with cocktails. This recipe, from How Sweet Eats, is made with with white cheddar, mascarpone and sage. [2] The Café Sucre Farine is made with Monterey Jack, pecans, rosemary and thyme. Minced parsley accents the arils for an even better holiday effect. [3] Our original inspiration was this red and green cheese ball from Go Bold With Butter (recipe below).

     

    Deck the hall with this festive almond-Gruyère/Swiss Cheese cheese ball.

    Parsley colors the interior green, while the pomegranate arils create a crimson cloak.

    Bonus: Prep time is 15 minutes, and you can make it two days in advance. Thanks to Go Bold With Butter for the recipe.

    RECIPE #1: CHRISTMAS CHEESE BALL

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup pomegranate arils
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 8 ounces Gruyère/Swiss cheese, shredded
  • 3-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 [heaping] cup slivered almonds
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons horseradish mustard (recipe below)
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, chopped (or ½ parsley, ½ chives)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  •  
    For Serving

  • Bagel chips
  • Breads
  • Crackers and crisps
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PAT the arils dry with paper towels, ensuring removing as much moisture as possible. You can do this an hour or more in advance and leave the arils on paper towels on the counter to further dry.

    2. PLACE the cheeses and butter along with almonds, horseradish mustard, parsley and seasonings in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse for 1-2 minutes, scraping the bowl frequently until ingredients are well combined.

    3. SHAPE the mixture into cheese mixture into a large ball and refrigerate. can be made up to 2 days ahead, wrapped and stored in refrigerator. Before serving…

    4. ROLL the ball in pomegranate arils until fully coated. Gently press the arils into the heese ball to adhere. To serve, place on plate with breads, crackers and spreaders.
     
    RECIPE #2: HORSERADISH MUSTARD

    We tend to keep sugar away from where it doesn’t need to be—in savory foods. We just don’t enjoy sugary potato chips or wasabi-flavored mustard. (Honey mustard gets a pass.)

    Numerous recipes for cheese balls contain a sweetened condiment: honey, maple syrup, sugar brown sugar. It’s the same with horseradish mustard.

    We don’t mind a brief hint of sweetness; but if a cheese ball tastes sweet (and it isn’t a sweet style, e.g. with dried fruit, or a dessert ball), it’s too sweet for us.

    Since the cheese ball recipe requires just 1-1/2 teaspoons of the mustard, you can adjust the amounts below accordingly.
     
    Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup white prepared horseradish
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • Optional: sour cream, crème fraiche, mascarpone or plain yogurt
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Preparation

    1. DRAIN the horseradish in a fine strainer or cheesecloth, pushing down with the back of a spoon to remove the excess liquid.

    2. COMBINE with the mustard, mix well and taste. If it’s too strong for you, you can add a bit of sour cream to remove some of the spiciness.But remember, mixing the mustard with the cream cheese will temper the heat.
     
    Variation

    Make a mustard horseradish sauce for meat or poultry, simply by adding one cup of sour cream to recipe above.
     
    MORE CHEESE BALL RECIPES

  • Mini Cheese Balls With Green, Red and Golden Coatings
  • Pecan Pine Cone Cheese Ball (yes, it’s made in the shape of a pine cone)
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    RECIPE: Cranberry & Pomegranate Holiday Brie

    Baked Brie is a special-occasion favorite, and very easy to make.

    It goes great with sparkling and still wines and cocktails.

    In the spirit of the season, this easy recipe from Liren Baker of Kitchen Confidante will have guests fighting for the cheese knife. It’s a good thing this recipe makes two wheels!

    TIP: If you’re short of time, buy the whole cranberry sauce and only quickly the pecans in spice without candying. You’ll still have a holiday theme on top of the brie.

    RECIPE: CRANBERRY POMEGRANATE BAKED BRIE

    Ingredients For 2 Eight-Inch Wheels

  • 12 ounces fresh cranberries (about 3 cups)
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1 cup table sugar, to taste
  • 1 cup pomegranate arils
  • 2 eight-ounce brie wheels
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup candied pecan or walnut halves
  • Garnish: fresh rosemary, spiced or candied pecans or walnuts*
  • Breads and/or crackers for serving
  •  
    Preparation

    Our recommendation is to cook the cranberries two days in advance. The sweetness of the juice and sugar needs time to penetrate the tartness of the cranberries.

    1. COMBINE the cranberries, pomegranate juice and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, turn the dial to simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes, or until all cranberries have popped.

    2. STIR in the pomegranate arils. Transfer to a jar with a lid; cool completely before adding the lid and placing the cranberries in the fridge. After the first day, taste and add more sweetener as desired.

    3. REMOVE the cranberries from the fridge a few hours before serving; allow them to come to room temperature.

    4. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Place the wheels of brie on ovenproof serving dishes or on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 7 minutes, until the cheese starts to soften. Top with the honey and cranberry pomegranate sauce and return to the oven for about 2-3 more minutes, or until the brie is gooey and soft.

    5. REMOVE from the oven, top with candied walnuts and garnish with rosemary. Serve warm with breads and crackers.
     
    RECIPE #2: CANDIED OR SPICED NUTS

    You can candy the nuts—sugar only—or add spice for spiced nuts.

    Ingredients For 1/2 Cup

  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, honey or maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup nut halves
  •  

    Christmas Baked Brie

    Candied Nuts Recipe

    Fresh Rosemary

    [1] A holiday baked brie from Liren Baker of Kitchen Confidante. [2] Candied walnuts photo courtesy Babble. [3] Rosemary is the “Christmas herb,” because it resembles evergreen (photo courtesy Burpee).

     
    For Spiced Nuts

  • 1/8 teaspoon total* cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice and/or cayenne
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MELT the butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sugar, stirring constantly until it dissolves. Take care that the mixture doesn’t scorch.

    2. ADD the nuts and stir to coat thoroughly. Pour the nuts onto a sheet of aluminum foil and let them cool, about 15 minutes. Store up to 2 days in an airtight container.

     
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    *Try this small amount and then increase the spices according to your preference.

      

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