Monday, October 18, 2010

The Blog is Moving!

From now on we will be posting to our new fancy, schmancy, super-rad new blogspace. Please click on this link to stay updated with all the Pastoral news-now.

Cheese of the Month Club

From the mind of Lucy:

Once a month, our small shop's shipping table overflows with boxes upon boxes of well insulated cheese, ready to be shipped nation wide to Cheese of the Month members, eagerly awaiting its arrival. Each shipment includes two cheeses, both favorites from our storefront and others we procure in limited quantities especially for our members, as well as a short card of information on the cheese, its producer and the monthly theme. In October we featured
Midwestern cheese and included this short narrative along with the two delightful little pyramids of cheese:

Home to America’s Dairyland and known as the nation’s Breadbasket, the Midwest has long been famous for its abundance of cheesemakers and farms. Wisconsin, for example, produces 2.6 billion pounds of cheese each year, nearly 26 percent of all cheese made in the US. While much Wisconsin cheese is made industrially, more artisan and farmstead cheeses are emerging as the national trend in finding quality, handmade products continues. Today about 16 percent of Wisconsin cheese comes from artisans who make their cheese in small batches or farmstead producers who utilize only their own farm’s herd of animals for milk. In neighboring states, both new and veteran artisan cheesemakers create delicious cheeses expressing the diverse local terroir of the region. From the lush, hilly northern states to the expansive, grassy plains to the south, Midwestern farms are proving to be excellent places for cheesemakers to practice their craft. From states like Wisconsin, with a history of well renowned cheese and more certified cheesemakers than any other state, to Pastoral’s home state of Illinois, with a single pioneer in the farmstead cheesemaking world, the Midwest is an exciting place to be in the growing world of American artisan cheese.

Pavé Henri
Fayette Creamery, Darlington, WI
Cow’s Milk

This pungent and powerful cheese illustrates the history and current renaissance of Wisconsin cheese very well. It is handmade by Joe Burns at Fayette Creamery, which specialized in small batch, artisan cheese and is under the parent company of Brunkow Cheese. Brunkow dates back to 1899, when a group of Wisconsin dairy farmers joined forces as a cooperative and built a cheesemaking facility. The company has grown to 18 local member farms, but remains true to its cooperative roots in its practices. As a product of the recently added Fayette line, Pavé Henri is made from milk from a single herd of 15 Jersey cows at Jordandal Farms in Argyle, Wisconsin. This particularly rich milk gives the small pyramid is creamy interior. The sticky rind is a result of being regularly washed with a brine as it ages for 40 days in Brunkow’s underground caves on wooden boards. With its enjoyably assertive and salty flavor and small pyramid shape, this cheese is reminiscent of French Pont l’Eveque, but made in much smaller quantities. We are excited to include this Chicago and Madison farmers’ market favorite this month. Fall is a great time to enjoy this cheese with a dark ale, dried fruit, or hearty bread.

Chevre Frais
Dutch Girl Creamery, Lincoln, NE
Goat’s Milk

Dutch Girl Creamery is young, but since its first venture into milking goats in 2006, the herd has grown to 70 as cheesemaker Charuth Van Beuzekom-Loth strives to meet demand for her handmade, farmstead cheeses. Charuth has been dedicated to growing the farmstead cheesemaking scene in Nebraska since 2003, when she joined forces with a friend and fellow organic farmer to start Farmstead First, a cooperative cheesemaking facility. While getting their cheesemaking education from fellow American farmstead producers and top agricultural universities, the pair has also brought awareness and knowledge to young, local cheesemakers with workshops at their cooperative. They hope to demonstrate the viability and economic feasibility of small family farms for upcoming generations as they bring an authentic product directly to consumers at their local Nebraska markets.

The Chevre Frais we have included in this months selection is a soft pillow of fresh goat cheese coated in chives, pink peppercorns and rosemary from Charuth’s organic farm. The cheese itself is tangy and lemony with a crumbly, but still moist texture. It’s a perfect bright ending to the summer season--great with a crisp white wine like Sauvingon Blanc or a dry, fruity rosé.

Lucy Butka is one of the smiling faces you'll find behind Pastoral's cheese case. When she is not wearing her cheesemonger hat, or maintaining our Cheese of the Month, Wine of the Month or Pairing of the Month programs, you can find her wielding her copywriting pen or riding her beloved orange bicycle.

Friday, October 15, 2010


When most people think of Parmigiano-Reggiano they think of it as a cheese from grating onto pasta or salad. While we love the "king of cheeses" on top of a nice bowl of gnocchi or in a Cesar salad it's also fantastic as a snacking cheese.

Our cheese comes from the world-famous Cravero family affineurs in the cradle of the slow food movement in Bra, Italy. The cheese is made using raw milk from cows fed a strict diet of local forage. The cheese is made with a mix of evening and morning milks. The cream from the evening milk rises to the surface during the night and is skimmed off to make butter and ricotta. The cheese is then matured at the creamery for thirteen months. While still at the creamery Giorgio Cravero selects the wheels that he will transfer to his own maturing facility where the wheels will stay until they reach the age of at least 24 months.

Our Parmigiano-Reggiano has a softer texture than most and has a fantastic fruitiness and slight sweetness. Notes of pineapple, dried papaya, fresh baked bread and a lovely green grassiness are shown in the aroma and the flavor.

For the wine we've chosen the Ocone Falanghina del Taburno from Campania, Italy. The Ocone family has been cultivating and making wine in the Campania Region of Italy for 100 years. The Falanghina grape is an ancient white variety that is cultivated just north of Naples. This fuller bodied white wine has aromas of apricot and melon with rich, enveloping honeydew notes. The present acidity flows nicely with the lingering apricot and mango finish.

Usually consumed along the southern shores of Italy with seafood, this wine will pair nicely with the cheese due tot he cheese's saltiness and its subtle herbal nuances. While this wine is now sweet it certainly has vibrant fruit flavors that will create the fantastic salty-sweet paradigm that we all go crazy for. Come into any of our stores this weekend to get a taste of both!

For more on this fantastic cheese, it's history and why that stuff in the green can just can't compare, take a look at Cesar's informative post . Can't come to the shop? We

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Fromage-filled visit to Alsace

When I first mentioned to my chef friend Andrew that I wanted to come visit him in Luzern, he said “Oh, perhaps we could drive to Alsace and visit my affineur…” Perhaps we could drive to Alsace and visit your affineur? I booked my plane ticket pronto and asked him to arrange that visit.

We hopped in the car at 10 am on a Monday morning and after yet another scenic drive through Western Switzerland, by Noon we were in Vieux-Ferrette, a tiny Alsatian town that is the home of Maitre Antony

We were given a tour of the incredible aging caves by Bernard Antony's son, Jean Francois.

The cheeses, all from France, were separated by type, from bloomy rinds

and washed rinds, to tommes, cooked curds, pressed curds, and blues. They are aged to perfection and sold to restaurants all over Europe.
He also showed off his immaculate cheese truck, a Peugeot. They use it to sell cheese at market. I want one, Uncle Ken.
After the behind the scenes tour, we admired the Antony cheese case, which is open to the public. I bought a 3 year aged Beaufort that made me weak in the knees.

Then Jean Francois invited us into the tasting room where he presented this:

and this:
This lovely Domaine Albert Boxler riesling is made just an hour away in Niedermorschwir, and we loved it so much that Jean Francois called the winemaker for us and we arranged an impromptu tasting in this quaint old town with a view of the steeply pitched vineyards of Sommerberg.

But I digress. For all you cheese geeks out there I will list the cheeses on our tasting plate.
For the rest of you, I bid you adieu, with the recommendation to visit Maitre Antony and Son if you ever find yourself in the Haut Rhins region of Alsace.

Clockwise starting at bottom:
Tomme d'Augine, a fresh chevre from the Auvergne
a Vacherin Mont d'Or from Savoie
Ardi Gasna
Tomme Girassou, a 6 month aged goat
Chaource, from Champagne of course
A raw farmstead Pont l'Eveque from Normandy
That Beaufort from the Alpes Savoie
and the blue, Fourme d'Ambert

Please forgive my spellings--as you can see the case has no signage and I had to go by the verbal descriptions.
-Lisa Futterman

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cheese Lover’s Dream Day in Switzerland

On the Sunday afternoon of my recent vacation visit to Luzern Switzerland, my hosts packed me and the kids in the car and drove 30 minutes to the postcard-worthy town at the base of Mount Titlis, a beautiful resort called Engelberg. We passed para-gliders and senior citizens frolicking in the glorious September sunshine. Our destination: the Cheese Factory at Engelberg Monastery. Now, I have visited a lot of cheese-makers, and in fact, I’ve visited a lot of monasteries. As we entered the factory, I thought to myself, this place reminds me of the Mars Cheese Castle. But my first impression was wrong. What struck me about Engelberg was that there was a man actually making cheese, taking us through the process from start to finish, in a glass enclosure in the middle of this touristy looking souvenir shop.

Step by step, live and in person, he warmed the local cow's milk, added the cultures and rennet, set and cut the curd, and hand ladled the curds into molds. A tiny temperature controlled demo cave showed the bloomy rind developing on the Engelberger Klosterglocke (a brie style cheese shaped like a bell) cheese at one, three and five days of age.

(For a great explanation of how they make soft-ripened cheese, visit this link:

Thus inspired, we sought fortification up the hill on the sundeck at the 200 year old Alpenclub, an old-school Swiss chalet serving local specialties like fondue, buendnerfleisch (air-dried beef) and speck overlooking the ski lifts.

Our next stop was 10 km up the mountain on a winding, single lane road that switchbacked through the Alpine pastures. As the big brown cows lifted their heads to see who was passing, the bells around their necks would clang. I thought Julie Andrews would run out singing at any moment. But instead we stopped when we saw this sign

on the side of a barn. Translation “Cheese for sale. Please ring the bell.” Yes. Inside, we tasted 3 year old Sbrinz, an Alpine version of Parmesan, and several other mountain style cheeses (Alpenkase) of various ages made on the farm.

Seeing that we were not just your average tourists, the frau showed us the cheese-making facility

and the aging rooms while the kids chased the uninterested cows.

When we got back to the apartment in Luzern, Andrew plugged in the raclette machine and cut huge slabs of Rolf Beeler’s Swiss Raclette, and we melted and scraped and ate cheese until sunset. A mountain cheese lover’s dream day.


Posted by Lisa Futterman. I run the wholesale cheese program at Pastoral. We sell artisan cheeses to over 40 Chicagoland area restaurants and retailers.

Friday, September 24, 2010

New cheeses in the case, new pairing for your tummy.

Q: How do you know when it's fall?

A: Rogue River Blue is back in stock!

That's right, after too many months of waiting the BIG DADDY of the Rogue Creamery line is finally back in the stores! This raw milk blue is made only in autumn, and wrapped in grape leaves that have been soaked in pear brandy. Stephanie and Agela think that in addition to the flavors of berries, hazelnuts and mushrooms that this cheese has a chewy, fudgy texture and a lingering flavor that is emparted by the grape leaves.

Brand new to our cases is the Robiola di mia Nonna from Reichert's Dairy Air in Knoxville, Iowa. All of the cheese is made from the milk of only 15 goats. With such a small supply of cheese available it's out the door almost before it has a chance to get into our case. Complex and assertive, the cheese has a lovely tang that evolves into pleasant earthy flavors and a lush creamy texture. Yes, you need to have this cheese. Seriously.

This week for our pairing the cheese comes to us from award-winning Uplands in Wisconsin. As you all know, Pleasant Ridge Reserve is a fantastic cheese, so fantastic in fact that in august it won Best of Show at the ACS for the third time. Unfortunately, we're all sold out right now. Never fear though, every cloud has a silver lining and ours is that we are now carrying Pleasant Ridge Extra Reserve.

At it's core, it's the same cheese. It's a farmstead cheese that's only made from May-October when the animals are grazing on pasture. The same love and care goes into each wheel made, and it's aged the same way. The difference is in how long the wheels are aged with the wheels of Extra Reserve aged for a minimum of 15 months-twice as long as the younger cheeses.

These particular wheels are from the batch that Cesar and Cristi picked oh so many months ago and the cheese was made on June 3 of 2009. Along with a slight milky sweetness you'll find notes of toasted nuts, grass, fruit and a little tang of clover.

Mike Gingrich says that he finds a slightly sweet Reisling is a perfect pairing for the cheese. Far be it for us to disagree with the well-respected award-winning cheesemaker, so we're pairing the Hirscbach & Sohne Reisling from Mosel, Germany.

Wine buyer Jill comments that this wine is ripe and slightly sweet with a lively acidity and balanced richness that Riesling is known for. Aromas of stone fruit like apricots and nectarine with a flavor profile that includes honey, white flower and roasted pears.

Together this is a dynamic duo with the wine enhancing some of the floral characteristics of the cheese while the nuttiness of the cheese perfectly compliments the honey and pear flavors of the wine. Yum!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Have a four day weekend with Pastoral

This coming weekend is the Chicago Gourmet at Millenium Park. This coming Saturday and Sunday we will be offering deliciously cheesy samples at our booth in the NASFT pavillion. As a bonus, we're also going to have a few cheesemaker guests.

On Saturday 9/25 from 12-2pm Leslie Cooperband of Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign, IL will be offering up samples of her delicious farmstead goat cheeses. But wait! There's more. From 12-3pm we welcome Wisconsin's renowned Holland Family Farm, specializing in farmstead Gouda.

Sunday 9/26 we're bringing in a bit of Michigan. Creamery manager Mike Baptista from Zingerman's Cremery in Ann Arbor will be offering up some tasty examples of their fantastic cheeses.

Monday 9/27 Our locations on Lake St. and in the French Market will be hosting the producers of our brand new cheeses and honeys. Join us from 12-1:30 at our Loop store or from 5-6:30 at the French Market as we showcase some of the finest Italian honeys, cheeses, and vinegars. Monofloral honey from Meli Thun, balsamic from San Giacomo and Italian cheeses from various producers. We are honored to have these fantastic artisan craftspeople from Italy in our stores.

Tuesday 9/28 If you missed the events on Monday don't worry, we're continuing our cheese and honey tasting at our Broadway store today from 5:30-7:30

Friday, September 17, 2010

Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise

We've kidnapped cheesemaker Jeremy Stephenson for the day. At the ACS conference last month Tarentaise, made on Spring Brook Farm won first place in the farmstead cheese category and third place in the all-around Best of Show competition. For your tasting pleasure, we've kidnapped cheesemaker Jeremy Stephenson for the day. Starting at noon today you can stop by the shops, meet Jeremy, taste his cheese, and pepper him with as may questions as you can imagine.

Lake St. from 12-1:30
French Market from 4-5:30
Broadway from 6:30-8

Shockingly, the Tarentaise is our cheese of the week. Tarentaise is a washed rind, semi-hard, raw milk, cooked curd, farmstead cheese. What's farmstead cheese? It means that the cheese is made on the same land where the animals are raised. Having the cows and the cheese at the same location allows the cheesemaker and the herdsperson to work closely together in producing a truly unique and distinctive artisinal cheese.

Nutty, grassy and slightly sweet with a nice buttery mouth feel this cheese is one of two Vermont farms making Tarentaise. Spring Brook Farm isn't just about making delicious cheese, they're also giving back to the community as a part of the Farms for City Kids charity. This program takes city kids and their teachers and gives them an educational week on the farm. The kids learn how to apply their school work to life outside of the classroom and they get a great education in where food comes from. They help take care of the animals, help turn cheese, garden and have a fantastic learning experience in the process. We are very excited and proud to help support this great organization.

Xian suggests the Ommegang Tripel Perfection to sip alongside this fantastic cheese. In it's traditional style, tripels are fruity, malty beers with well-hidden warming alcohol notes. It's kind of conjecture, but the story goes that these beers are called "tripels" because the monks brewing the beer indicated the high alcohol level (8-10%) by marking "XXX" on the jugs.

The makers at Brewery Ommegang in upstate New York took three years to formulate the "perfect" recipe in the style of a traditional tripel, but with a touch of spice here and there to add complexity. the Tripel has notes of vanilla bean, tropical fruit, banana bread and just a hint of bubblegum. This is a one-time-only beer, and they only brewed 2,000 cases total. Although very tasty now, this beer can be aged for two or three years.

This is a great example of a truly harmonious pairing. The cheese serves to emphasize the sweet, yeasty nature of the beer, and the naturally produced bubbles in the beer soften the mouth feel of the cheese, creating a wonderfully buttery flavor and texture.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What Is a Cheesemonger?

This year during the conference held in Seattle the ACS held their 2nd annual Cheesemonger competition. Cesar, our senior buyer and head fromager and myself-Cristi, the store manager at our French Market location- paired up to represent Pastoral.

The competition is modeled on the internationally recognized Caseus Competition held every other year in France. Some of the other retailers involved came from Whole Foods, Murrays, DeLaurenti and St. James Cheese. There were four areas, critical to the job requirements as cheesemonger on which we were judged: building a cheese case, wrapping, customer service and product presentation.

Building the cheese case was the first event of the day. Each team were given twenty cheeses of differing sizes and formats and two hours in which to build a case. Instead of the open case that we have at each of our stores, we had to work with a closed case. A bit tricky, but we worked hard to not just make the case beautiful, but to keep it close to what you see represented in our stores every day.

Up next was the wrapping challenge. Cesar took the reigns here. He was given five pieces of cheese paper and five cheese of various sizes and shapes. There was a scant 10 minutes on the clock in which to wrap all of the cheeses without using tape of any kind. Wrapping cheese perfectly under the experienced and watchful eyes of David Lockwood of Neal's Yard Dairy wasn't easy, but Cesar did a fantastic job and finished in record time.

Customer service is one of our strengths here at the shops and we brought those skills to Seattle. While Cesar was busy wrapping the cheese I was engaged in an exercise with three of the judges. For 10 minutes I was ask a series of situational questions designed to coax out the kind of responses we would give in a real world situation. While answering questions like "What's the difference between soft and hard cheeses?" and "I'm having a party for five people, what would you recommend I serve?" are easy to answer in the shops, trying to sell cheese to Herve Mons-one of the judges and easily one of the most well respect affineurs in France- was quite unnerving.

Finally came the product presentation. Cesar and I chose to do our 10 minute presentation on Pleasant Ridge Reserve (the eventual winner of Best of Show) from Uplands Cheese Company in Dodgeville, WI. For us picking that seasonally-made, farmstead cheese was the obvious choice. Pleasant Ridge Reserve is a prime example of what we at Pastoral strive to represent: small handmade batches of cheese made in a traditional manner by cheesemakers who are not just extraordinary craftsmen, but excellent stewards of their land and their herd.

In the end the fantastic team from DeLaurenti's in Seattle won the competition. We did walk away having learned something, and with a reaffirmation of why we do the things we do, and the way we do them. We are very proud of the work that we did and look forward to the competition next year. Montreal, here we come!

This part of the competition was at 7am. We look perky and focused though don't we?

Friday, September 10, 2010

New Additions to the Stores

Coming straight off of it's 1st place win in it's category for aged goat cheese and 2nd place Best of Show win at the ACS conference we're tasting the Bonne Bouche from Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery and pairing it with a Viogner blend from South Africa.

Bonne Bouche is a young ash-ripened cheese that first made it on the scene in 2001. Translated the name literally means "good mouthful" and is a French turn of phrase used to describe a tasty morsel.

Bonne Bouche is made from pasteurized goat milk an set in tubs for lactic coagulation for 24 hours. The following day, the curd is carefully hand ladled into moulds and drained overnight. The cheeses are then unmoulded, goated in ash and moved into the drying room before making it into the aging room. The entire process takes seven to ten days before the cheeses are packaged into their individual micro-caves.

Bonne Bouche can be enjoyed fresh or aged up to 45 days. As a young cheese the rind has a distinct flavor while the paste is milk and acidic like a fresh chevre. As the cheese ages, it becomes softer, and the rind more dry and piquant. When aged, a little bit of a vegetable "green" flavor starts coming through along with some earthy notes. Absolutely deserving of its name.

For the wine Jill has brought in a new white from South Africa. Located on the Western cape, Juno Winery from Paarl is nestled in the heart of South Africa's wine country. The Juno Arthouse is a blend of 40% Viognier, 30% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Chenin Blanc.

The big, bold, sun ripe flavors of apricot from the Viognier grapes are well balanced by the tropical pineapple flavors and crisp acidity from the Chenin Blanc and the floral and fresh lime notes from the Sauvignon Blanc. The discreet oaking adds some length and balance.

This wine is bigger and bolder than most white blends and has a wonderful long finish. The crispness and acidity of the wine will pair beautifully with the citrus and rich goat flavors in the cheese. Come into any of our three locations to get a taste of this fantastic combination and congratulations to the whole team at Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery for their win!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Family Farmed Cheese and Beer

We've got two great products this week with Belgian traditions and American twists. Read on!

The Cheese, Bridgid's Abbey is from the mother and son duo at Cato Corner farm in Colchester, Connecticut. This Trappist-style monastery cheese has a smooth consistency and an irresistibly rich, and mild taste. The flavor is slightly milky, with a nice balance of acidity and sweetness.

Originally this cheese was inspired by a Belgian recipe brought to cheesemaker Mark by a Belgian cheesemaker named Freddie Michels. This is a rinsed curd cheese which is made by replacing a portion of the whey with water. This reduces the lactose and slightly warms the curd during the cheesemaking process.

Made from raw milk this washed-rind cheese changes throughout the year. Summer batches are firmer with a slightly higher acidity. The winter batches are creamier and often a bit stronger in paste and aroma. The deep yellow color of the paste is a result of the beta carotene that comes from the Jersey cows' pasture diet.

For the beer we go to Belgium. Brewed for Vanberg & Dewulf by Schelde Brouwerij the Hop Ruiter takes the lively, yeasty tradition of Belgian blond ales and pairs it with a touch of American hoppy aggressiveness. There are some orange blossom and biscuit aromas, a creamy mouth feel, and pleasing presence of bitterness from Nelson Sauvin hops in the finish. This beer is raucous, rustic, bold and alive!

Together these are both lovely examples of amazing, special, small batch products. The Hop Ruiter is an assertive beer that tempers some of the salty , lactic nature of the Bridgid's Abbey and brings out a hint of earthy complexity. The fine carbonation tangles with the richness in the cheese creating a delightful mouth feel.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Pairing and ACS

This week the annual ACS conference is happening in Seattle. In addition to the fantastic seminars, meet-ups, book-signings and Festival of Cheese there was a Cheesemonger competition that took place on Thursday. While the official results won't be revealed until tomorrow we're immensely proud of Cesar and Cristi for the fabulous job they did representing Pastoral. We've got our fingers crossed for you guys!

Housekeeping Note:

This is our lost posting on the Blogger platform as we are moving our blog over to Wordpress. Stay tuned for the new site. It's going to be bigger, better, super awesome and rad!

For our pairing this week we're going north and south.

The cheese comes to us from Fromagerie Tournevent in Quebec, Canada. Chevre Noir is a goat's milk cheddar aged for approximately one year. In 1976 Lucie and Rene quit their city jobs to move to the rolling hills of Chesterville, Quebec where they started a dairy goat farm.

As many dairy farmers before them, they soon realized that they had more fluid milk than they could market and decided to focus on cheesemaking as a way to use the surplus milk. In 2007, Tournevent was purchased by Damafro, another cheese company in Quebec.

Made in the Cheddar style and aged for a year this goat's milk cheese continuously surprises. Hard and crumbly, with a long finish and refreshingly fruity flavors, this cheese inevitably gets people's attention. This wine is perfect with Chinon or Chenin Blanc wines.

We've decided to go to South Africa for the wine.

Rietvallei Chenin Blanc is an honest expression of one of South Africa's signature white grapes. Rietvallei is also one of the oldest family-owned estates in Robertson, located in the Western Cape, South Africa's premier whine growing region.

Chenin Blanc is originally from the Loire Valley and has a high acidity that makes is suitable for creating everything from sparkling wines to dessert wines. It's also known in South Africa as "Steen" where it is the country's most planted grape variety.

The Rietvallei Chenin Blanc is comprised of old-wine, hand picked grapes. The juice is then stainless steel fermented at a low temperature until considered a dry wine. The result: a fruity, cristp Chenin Blanc with lovely floral aromas of dried apple and musk sweets. The palate is full-bodied with a balanced acidity complemented with a lingering aftertaste.

The rich, creamy texture of the Chevre Noir Cheddar is a great juxtaposition for the Chenin's fruit-like acidity. The subtle nutty flavors in the cheese give a salty boost to the pairing when it meets with the sweeter quince-like notes that are exhibited in the wine. Salty+Sweet=Yum!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Importance of Having Good Chocolate

This week we're pulling from three of the most important food groups, chocolate, cheese and wine.

The chocolate comes to us from Antica Dolceria Bonajuto in Sicily, Italy. Founded in 1880 by Francesco Bonajuto, Antica Dolceria, has been recognized world-wide for it's chocolate production.

The chocolate begins with a mass of semi-ground cocoa that still contains its cocoa butter. The mass is heated to make it fluid, and when ready it is mixed with caster sugar and spices (either cinnamon or vanilla). The mixture is kept at a temperature that prevents the sugar crystals from melting and allows them to remain an integral part of the chocolate.

This chocolate is pure, without the addition of butter, vegetable fats, milk derivatives or lecithin, just sugar and spices. We are sampling the vanilla bars at the stores, but if you're looking for a deeper spice and slightly more savory characteristics I suggest pairing with the cinnamon bar.

Humbolt Fog comes to us from Cypress Grove in California. Cheesemaker Mary Keehn is one of the leading ladies that put a spotlight on goat cheese in the American dairy scene and introduced high quality goat cheese to the American palate. She began raising Alpine goats in the 1970's and quickly discovered that she had a natural talent for breeding goats. Her herd began winning numerous awards and before she knew it, Mary was recognized as America's premier Alpine dairy goat breeder.

Like many farmers she soon was faced with a surplus of milk and so turned to cheesemaking. Eeventually Mary made the decision to sell her goats and instead to focus on the artisan production of cheese. Cypress Grove supports the agricultural community in Humboldt county and buys milk from people who practice sustainable farming.

Humbolt Fog is an elegant, soft goat cheese. The texture is creamy and luscious with a subtle tangy flavor. Each handcrafted wheel features a ribbon of edible vegetable ash running through its center and a coating of ash under it's white exterior.

The wine is Jorge Ordonez Malaga Special Selection Muscat. Muscat is a phenomenal grape that yields some of the most wonderful sweet dessert wines and dry whites as well. It is a variety that is grown around the world with great success.

Special Selection comes from thirty year old vineyards in the mountains of Axarquia in the south of Spain. Fermentation is carried out completely in stainless steel tanks and, as is characteristic of this type of wine, the alcohol comes exclusively from grape fermentation.

Pale gold in color with intense fresh notes of orange and exotic spices, floral and musk this sweet wine is powerful on the palate, embracing and warm with just a punch of minerality.

The sweetness of the wine, slight acidity and tang of the goat cheese and the rich spice of the chocolate all come together to make a well-balanced, delicious, party of happiness in your mouth!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Belgium+Wales=Yummy in Your Tummy

Have you met Xian yet? In addition to his duties as Assistant Manager of our Broadway location over the past few months he has taken our small beer program and turned it around 180 degrees. Interesting craft beers both domestic and international have been popping up on our shelves lately and it's all due to our beer-passionate Xian. After you try this particular pairing you may want to take a special trip up to Lakeview and thank him in person for bringing in such awesome bubbles.

This week we're featuring McChouffe, a beautiful, special Belgian dark ale . It started when two Belgian brother-in-laws started homebrewing in the 70's and eventually turned their hobby into a business by opening up a brewery in the 80's. Their beers quickly attained a cult following, which resulted in their joining up with Duvel for importing and marketing purposes.

This beer has rich notes of caramelized sugar, a little bit of bubble gum, and some dried figs which are common in Belgian darks due to the roasted malt and proprietary yeasts. The McChouffe is uniquely refreshing which makes it a perfect full-flavored beer for the summer. Super smooth going down with a swift hit of hops to sweep away any cloying remnants.

Our cheese this week is exclusive to us in Illinois thanks to the fabulous team at Neals Yard Dairy.

Hafod has only been in production since 2007. This Welsh Cheddar from is made by cheesemakers Sam and Rachel Holden. While the cheese is a new venture, the farm that they work on belonged to Sams' father and is the oldest registered organic farm in Wales. Using a modified recipe for the cheese Linconshire Poacher and with a herd of Ayrshire cows in the fields, this cheese has a bit of a Swiss quality that compliments it's Cheddar aspects.

Hafod is a raw cows milk cheese with a smooth close knit texture and a golden color. The predominant flavors are buttery, rich and nutty with a slight tang at the finish. Together the beer and cheese are magnificent with the the brown sugar notes in the beer balancing the salt, tang and fattiness found in Hafod.

Send all hugs and complimentary emails to Xian and Cesar for such a great pairing.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Virginia Meets France

Using the Taleggio-styled Grayson with the Rhone berry nuanced Plume Bleue is a pairing that will take your taste buds on a fantastic journey through both the Old and New Worlds.

Washed-rind, seasonally-made and ACS award-winning Grayson from Meadow Creek Dairy is one of our staff and customer favorite cheeses.

Meadow Creek Diary is a family farm in the mountains of southwest Virginia. At an elevation of 2800ft. the combination of pure water, clean air and deep soils produce an ideal environment for growing diverse, mineral-rich pastures.

Since 1980 the Feete family has focused on farming and working closely with their herd of Jersey cows, giving them the best care, and developing a herd that is best adapted to their farm. By practicing sustainable farming and treating their cows naturally, they produce milk of the highest quality which in turn translates to healthy, full-flavored, ecologically friendly cheese.

We'd like to welcome Jill Pienta as our new wine buyer replacing Jamie Kluz who is moving on to work at the Penninsula hotel here in Chicago.

Jills' suggestion for this week is the 2007 Laurence Feraud Selection's Plume Bleue.

Plume Bleue is a negociant wine (grapes are sourced from outside the estate) created by Laurence Feraud of Daomaine du Pegau, a very reputable estate in Chateauneuf du Pape. Laurence Feraud is one of France's young progressive winemakers. wine making is a family affair with her father helping with the wine-making process and her mother manning the administrative end. Laurence uses the family estate to created traditional Rhone style wines in addition to experimenting with negociant labels to work around AOC rules.

Wanting to create a Vin de Pays d'Oc, Laurence sought out top quality fruit from the surrounding Rhone area to create this 50/50 blend ofGrenache and Syrah. This charming wine offers vibrant red fruit character with hints of pepper and toasted herb. Medium-bodied with subtle tannins, this wine is perfect with grilled meats, charcuterie and of course washed-rind cheeses.

-Cesar & Jill

Friday, July 30, 2010

Bees and Cheese

This week we're doing a great cultural pairing of Old World wine and New World innovative cheese.

Domaine de Beaurenard is a family run estate that has been producing wonderful Chateauneuf du Pape and Cotes-du Rhone Villages wines for 7 generations. The estate was originally called "Bois Renard" (wood fox) but the name slowly transformed in Beaurenard over the years, although the Coulon family still uses "bois Renard" for their special cuvees.

The fruit of this estate is 100% hand-picked and sorted to separate the best grapes from immature or damaged clusters. Using only indigenous yeasts the Coulon family have made wine the sameway for generations. Based in the philosophy of minimal intervention and combined with a few modern technology upgrades they continue to create natural wines that truly express the terroir of the region.

The 2009 domaine de Beaurenard Rose is comprise of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah. The grapes are de-stemmed, gently crushed and are placed in a vat-just like it would be if making red wine. The skins are bled of color by staying in contact with the juice for 24-36 hrs. This process is known as the saignee method and the contact imparts the rose color and lends the terroir and fragrances of the grapes tot he wine. In essence it has the body of awhite wine with red wine aromas and flavor characteristics.

This wine should be served chilled and has aromas of strawberries and raspberries. On the palate it exhibits vibrant fruits found in the nose with a chalky minerality and a dry finish. It pairs nicely with charcuterie, saltier cheeses, seafood and roasted pork dishes.

The cheese this week comes to us from Beehive Cheese Company in Utah and is called SeaHive.

This Cheddar-like cheese is hand-rubbed with Beehive wildflower honey and Redmond sea salt from Redmond, Utah. The sea salt contains unique glints of color due to the more than 50 natural trace minerals. Back in 2005 Tim and Pat with the help of the Western Dairy Center of Utah State University opened up their shop. Beehive Cheese is among only a few artisan cheesemakers working in Utah, and make some of the most innovative cheeses we've tasted.

This cheese has a creamy and sweet component with a slight tang, and a deliciously salty (but not too salty) finish. The mild acidity of the wine plays nicely with the creaminess and dry finish of the cheese and compliments the sea salt .

-Cesar, Jamie, Jill

Thursday, July 15, 2010

AOC protected Morbier Is Hard to Find

You asked for it and we've finally gotten in Morbier. This raw cow's milk cheese is superb and has a very interesting history as well.

Named after the small village of Morbier in the Jura region-the same region as Comte-and shares an intimate history with Comte as well.

Traditionally after making Comte the cheesemaker would have curd leftover, but not enough to make another wheel. They would take the remaining evening curd into a mold and spread ashover it to protect it overnight. The layer of ash was used to protect the cheese from flies, or any other undesirables intering the cheese. The next mornings' leftover curds were placed on top, creating a two layer cheese.

Nowadays this cheese is often made from one milking with the line of ash added for a more traditional look. Unlike many Morbier found in the U.S.A., our cheese is a true AOC cheese. It comes to us from a company that still practices the tradition of using the rich evening milk-which is full of nutrients due to the cows grazing all day-as well as curds made from the morning milk. Flavors of butter, hay, and sweet milk can be found in the paste while the washed rind adds flavors of leather and a slight bitterness.

Cesar talks about the beer:

Blanche de Bruxelles - Witbier is a very old type of beer, a speciality of the farm-breweries of old Brabant. The master brewers used their very best crops to make this beer. Blanche de Bruxelles owes its natural cloudiness to the large percentage (40 %) of wheat that goes into its composition.

The natural spice aromas of coriander and bitter orange peels are added during the brewing process. The brewing method, which includes infusion, is very slow. The beer, which is not filtered, is bottled and re fermented with yeast and brewing sugar. The beer has a fresh and mellow flavor with a hint of orange. It is really not like any other beer.

Every once in a while we come across a pairing that add flavors to the combination that were not there before. In my opinion this is one of them. While the beer has a light citrus flavor the combination gave it a floral depth. Xian says- "it tastes Purple", I think it's more lilac, and Kelly goes with lavender. Purple it is!

For the cheese it accentuates the earthiness from the rind and allows the rich milky flavors to shine. A fantastic combination that must be tried!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Georgia On Our Mind-and In Our Tummies

Our current pairing is already going gangbusters at all three stores this week. For the cheese we have a new-old addition to our case. Green Hill from Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville, Georgia. This cheese is a little delicious disk of creamy goodness. Made in the style of Camembert, this double cream cheese is made from the rich buttery milk that comes from happy Jersey Cown raised on pasture. It's a bit like eating a wedge of farmstead butter with hints of clover, yellow dandelion tops and a slight mushroomy earthiness in the rind. A fantastic cheese that has made more than one cheesemonger at the store very very happy.

What to drink with just a sumptuous cheese? Jamie suggests a bubbly Cava. Gran Sarao Brut Cava from Penedes in the Northeast part of Spain. his dry sparkler has aromas of apricots, green apples and minerality with a bit of freshly baked bread thrown in the mix. Bubbles aren't just for special occasions, they're for any occasion-especially one that includes a voluptuous cheese such as Green Hill.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Cheesemonger Competition in NYC

Twice a year the NAFST puts on the Fancy Food Show. In the winter it's held in San Francisco and in the summer, New York. It's three days of aisle after aisle of deliciousness.This was my first time going and I have to tell you, it's a bit overwhelming. Held at the Jacob Javits center every kind of food you could want to try is represented. I tasted all sorts of deliciousness while there. Jam, meat, dry goods, international foods from all over the world, and of course cheese.

But this isn't about walking for miles and miles in a convention center sampling products until I was stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey. It's about the Saturday night before the show and what it is to be a cheesemonger.

Everyone knows that making cheese is hard. So many things can go wrong. Too much salt, not enough, a weird strain of bacteria is somehow introduced, you age your cheese and right before you go to sell it, a pipe bursts. It's a craft that takes perseverance, determination, and a mastery of chemistry that most of us just don't have.

Once the cheese leaves the aging facility/make room or creamery it's given to us to care for, nurture and sell. This past weekend I was able to go to a contest that focused solely on the skills necessary to be a fantastic cheesemonger.

Adam Moskowitz from Larkin-the cheese importer in the 5 boroughs-in NYC came up with the idea to hold a competition. Each monger (there were nine competing) would have to go through a series of challenges. Accurate cutting 1/4#, 1/3# and 1/2# pieces in a timed event; wrapping cheeses of various shapes; pairing cheese and beer; making an advertisement for a retail shop; putting together a cheese plate; and being able to identify milk type and old world vs. new world. In other words, this competition wasn't playing around.

It was a great opportunity to watch my fellow cheese-lovers put their skills up on the block for everyone to see. A lot of other cheese retailers were there, but for me one of the best parts was seeing cheesemakers at the competition. After all we are all connected. Without their lovely products we don't have jobs and without cheesemongers...well, I hate to even think of it.

Congratulations to Matt Rubiner of Rubiner's Cheesemongers & Grocers in Mass. for kicking some butt and being crowned the winner! Watch out though Matt, the ACS is having their second annual cheesemonger competition next month and our very own Cesar will be competing. I smell a challenge brewing.