Cheese whiz – start or finish your meal in style
by Charlie Abowd
One of the constant themes in my columns is the celebration of eating. Eating should be more than a mechanical application; it should be a time to gather and spend quality time with loved ones, friends and neighbors.
A good way to start or finish a meal is a family-style appetizer or dessert, and the cheese course fits this application like a glove.
A new, or old, depending on your point of view, trend in dining at home and in restaurants is the cheese course. This has long been a staple of Karen’s and my Sunday dinners at home. Here at the restaurant, we have a starter cheese course and a dessert cheese course.
What I have found is that most Americans are rather naive when it comes to choosing the type of cheese they use in their daily lives for cooking or preparing sandwiches, pizzas, etc. We’re going to explore the world of cheese and talk about some of these cheeses.
When thinking about American cheeses, most people think of the old standards such as sliced American, Monterey Jack or the slightly aged cheddars. What Karen and I found in our search for cheeses were companies like Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes, Calif.; Maytag Cheese Co, in Newton, Iowa; Strauss Family Creamery; Hubbardston Blue, Hubbardston, Mass.; and Laura Chenel’s, Sonoma, Calif.
n Cowgirl Creamery has two which are our favorites. These cheeses are creamy in style. The first is Mount Tam, a slightly aged fresh cheese with a dry, creamy texture and washed rind, with sharp mushroom tones. I have found leaving it out for eight hours before eating helps make this cheese bloom.
The other favorite is Red Hawk – a more pronounced, aged, soft-ripened cheese with a sharp earthy tone and faint blue cheese flavor. This cheese, when aged further, can be almost like a Limburger-style cheese.
n The Maytag Cheese Co. is most famous for its blue cheese, readily available in most grocery stores and fine cheese shops. The family developed a blue cheese which I find creamier than its French counterpart. It is excellent in a salad with a light vinaigrette dressing or baked to be applied to a filet mignon. This company also makes a stellar array of white and yellow cheddar cheeses.
When baking this cheese, you must be careful not to cause the butterfat to break down. If this happens, you will end up with a heavy oil film. Slightly warm it in the oven for approximately 10 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
n The Strauss Family Creamery is a full-fledged, certified-organic dairy making a full array of products – milk, cheeses (both white and cheddar) and ice cream. I like their cheddar cheeses for their sharpness and the way they act when using them in baking. For you mac-and-cheese fans, this cheese makes a world-class casserole. Also, with spring and summer on the way, try putting it on grilled eggplant or zucchini and place it on bread. It makes a great addition to any sandwich. I might add that their butter and cottage cheese are the best I have tasted in years.
n Hubbardston Blue, namely the Westfield Farm, Hubbardston Blue, is a distinctly different style of goat cheese with a texture a bit fluffier than traditional goat cheese, or chevre. Their aging techniques give the cheese a slightly flinty and blue cheese tanginess. I find leaving this one out for four to five hours before serving livens it up and brings out the blue textures.
n Laura Chenel’s, Sonoma, is probably one of California’s most famous specialty cheese makers. For years, her goat cheese has been used by most of America’s finest chefs.
For the goat cheese novice, these cheeses can be a little tart and gamey, but Chenel’s style of goat cheese (chevre) has a creamy texture and delicate flavor. This can probably be attributed to the Sonoma clover that her goats feed on.
This cheese is excellent served cold in salads or slightly warmed and used as a topping. Karen makes a wonderful stuffed chicken breast with this cheese using a pesto made from cilantro, garlic and pine nuts.
If you are a little skittish about goat cheese, I highly recommend you try this brand. I feel confident you will love it as much as we do.
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Always serve cheese at room temperature, never directly from the refrigerator. The length of time it takes to come to room temperature will depend on the outside temperature and the hardness of the cheese.
When bringing the cheese to room temperature, make sure it is wrapped to ensure the edges do not dry out. When you are ready to serve, remove the wrapper and throw it away. This is because the wrapping will not seal properly after it has been used once.
Individual cutting boards or flat plates are excellent for serving cheese. If you are serving more than one kind, use a separate board/plate for each. This keeps soft cheeses from running together, and the aromas won’t intermingle; it will be easier to tell one cheese from the other.
To cut hard cheese properly, use a good all-purpose utility knife or chef’s knife. For soft, fresh cheeses, use some tautly stretched (do not use flavored) dental floss.
When pairing wine with cheese, white wines or a very light-style red wine are typically the best. Some of my favorites are Kim Crawford pinot gris, Marlborough, New Zealand; Medrona Eldorado riesling, Eldorado County, Calif.; or a light-style zinfandel from Villa Toscano, Sierra Foothills.
As always enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.
Charlie Abowd is the owner and chef at Adele’s. He and his wife, Karen, have lived in Carson City for 22 years. Charlie is a fourth-generation restaurateur.
n You can order most of these cheeses (and many more) from Tomales Bay Foods (parent company of Cowgirl Creamery), 105 H St., Petaluma, Calif., 94952. You can also order from their Web site at http://www.cowgirlcreamery.com or call (707) 789-2604 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., weekdays.
n Two other sites you might want to check for specialty cheeses, both imported and domestic, are:
Ideal Cheese Shop:
n Locally, the Tonino family has a nice selection of cheeses in their factory store, The Sausage Factory, 259 Sage St., 882-8110. Sage Street is behind Safeway.