Appetizing Cheese Board

Putting together an appetizing cheese board is one of my favorite things.

Cheese Platter

We gather each evening, sip wine, talk about our day, sharing the time with family and friends, often as the sun slowly sets.

A few easy elements will ensure your cheese boards are exciting, tasty and everyone will enjoy.

First, you need cheese! Pick something you like. If you have more than one cheese, choose different varieties; creamy like Camembert or Brie, sharp like cheddar or goat, or blue, aged like  Gouda or Parmesan Reggiano or Pecorino Romano. If you are unsure, ask someone at the cheese counter to help you select. Often you can taste the cheeses too so it is beneficial to talk to the cheese person at your store.

For our evening appetizer platter often I just put out one great piece of cheese. In a pinch, you can use cream cheese, just dress it up with the rest of the elements of a great cheese platter.

Next, after you have the cheese, select some fresh fruit.

Grapes, pears, apples, fresh figs, cherries, berries, you don’t need a lot, but some.

Next add some dried fruit: apricots, dried cranberries, or dates make great choices for this category. If you have enough fresh fruit, you don’t need dried fruit too. You decide.

Choose some nuts: Almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts (filberts), Brazil nuts, cashews are some suggestions.

This is my favorite part, selecting some “toppings” to compliment. Choose marmalade, whole fruit jams, pepper jelly, or honey. This is where I like to use the honey that comes in the comb; slice off a bit, place the cut comb on the platter and let the honey drizzle and ooze all over. Scoop it up with a spoon to drizzle it over the cheese.

Compotes on cheese platter

The flavors you choose here can really set your platters apart.

If you wanted to add olives, pickles or charcuterie meats to a cheese platter you can. That brings it into the entertaining and party realm and is still easy and goes a long way when entertaining.

Finally add some crackers, flat breads, lavash, toast points or bread to a bowl or basket on the side.

Now it’s time to get your wine and enjoy!

Eating Local

This is my interpretation of “eating local“:

Local Fare

Local Fare

The multi-grain bread was made by me and cooked on the grill. The sourdough culture I use is nearly 2 years old and came to me from a friend.

I grew the lettuce.

I made the goat cheese from milk from local goats. I could find out the names of the goats if I wanted. I buy the milk from our organic farmers market who bring it in fresh. Low-temp pasteurized, yeah buddy!

The tomato is from a farm just down the road whose family has been growing vegetables and operating a working farm on the land since 1775. These tomatoes are the first to ripen with any flavor, just perfect for the goat cheese!

So there you have it. Local food for lunch.

A Basic Fresh Goat Cheese: Chevre

I made Fresh Goat Cheese!

Fresh Goat Cheese!

Fresh Goat Cheese!

Actually I was surprised at how quick and easy it actually was to make. Having the right equipment and getting good milk are key.

I get most of my supplies from The New England Cheese Making Supply which is a great resource for everything cheese.

Ever since I returned from the cheese making workshop a few weeks ago, my hands have been looking forward to getting into some milk.

First I had to find a source for good, clean, fresh goat milk for goat cheese and I still need to source Jersey cows for their milk for other cheese. For now, I have goat!

I LOVE the “barnyard” flavor of a strong goat cheese. While in France, I fell in love with Pouligny St. Pierre goat cheese which is a creamy smooth aged amazing bit of heaven to put into your mouth. It is my goal and intention to make some of that here, but obviously with the “terroir” of North Carolina.

OK, so here’s how I made this batch of Fresh Chevre:

I started with one gallon of fresh Goat Milk from Round Mountain Creamery in Black Mountain, NC. The milk comes in glass bottles, which I love!

Order a batch of CHEVRE culture from New England Cheese Making Supply. One packet will culture one gallon of milk, so plan what you want to make. I never seem to order enough.

Additionally if your milk is pasteurized (PLEASE find milk that is low temp processed as Ultra-Pasteurized milk does not work for making cheese) you will need 1/4 teaspoon of calcium chloride per gallon of pasteurized, cold-stored milk.

In my next batch, I want to ripen it for a few weeks so I will be adding other cultures for different effects.

Equipment needed:

2 large pots; the small one holds 1 gallon easily. I can use the larger pot for larger batches. Just need to find a pot to nest it inside of for a reasonable price.

2 large pots; the small one holds 1 gallon easily. I can use the larger pot for larger batches. Just need to find a pot to nest it inside of for a reasonable price.

2 large stock pots: the one the milk goes into needs to be stainless steel (Non-reactive)

The second one needs to be large enough to make a double boiler or bain marie, the first needs to nestle into the large one so you can heat the milk easily and slowly.

A good thermometer: You NEED to be in control of temperatures, not too high or too low.

Cheese Muslin, butter muslin, closely woven cheese cloth– the normal loose woven is way too loosely woven. Invest in a yard or two, wash it and use it over and over.

Use cold water to remove any cheese particles, then hand wash. Rinse and boil it in a pot with some baking soda for 5-10 minutes, rinse and hang to dry. It will be fresh and good to go for the next round of cheese!

Here is how to make the cheese:

Wash and sanitize everything!! Have a pot of boiling/simmering water to drop cheesecloth, molds, tools into to sanitize them before they come into contact with cheese.

Pour the milk into the pot, place it over the water (about 80°F). Warm the milk to 72-78°F.

Please be aware that this will feel cold to the touch, this is not warm milk, just milk warmed from refrigeration to 72-78 degrees.

Open 1 packet of the Chevre culture and sprinkle it over the top of the milk. Allow it to hydrate for 2-5 minutes before stirring it into the milk.

Goat milkAdd 1/4 teaspoon calcium chloride is using cold-stored pasteurized milk.

Allow this to sit undisturbed for 6-12 hours. This is the hardest part as you want to go see what is happening and you want it to hurry up and do its thing. But be patient, it takes time.

This batch sat for 8 1/4 hours before testing the cleave of the curd. When it is ready to test, you should see a thin layer of whey over the curd and a slight separation from the sides of the pot.

Testing the cleavage break

Testing the cleavage break

Insert a knife or a spoon, slightly on the surface, the curd should cleave clean and the whey that floats into the separation should be clear.

Carefully lift the curds with a strainer into a colander lined with cheese muslin. Be sure to place the colander over a large bowl to catch the whey.

Gently fold the cheesecloth over the curds and allow them to drain for 6-12 hours again, depending upon your desired finished texture. Less time for sweeter cheese, more for tangy cheese. The longer the whey stays in contact with the curd, the more tangy it gets.

You must be very careful NOT TO PRESS the curds. Allow them to drain gently at this point. The whey should be clear dripping, if it is cloudy, you are losing milk fat and your cheese will be dry.

You can also put it into molds at this point if you are using a mold. It will result in a smoother sided end product.

Control the room temperature and the curd temperature to maintain as close to 72-78°F as possible. I let the curds form while still in the bain marie as the water in the host pot will maintain the temperature of the curd mass.

I usually let this happen overnight while sleeping. The next day is such a surprise!

Unfold the cheesecloth and reveal your fresh cheese! Now it is time to salt. For this batch, 1.5-2 teaspoons of non-iodized cheese salt.

You can consider the cheese finished at this point but this is also where you can be a bit creative.IMG_6161

As you fold in the salt, also consider adding other flavors like herbs, minced garlic or shallots or onions, crushed peppercorns, ash, use your imagination.

IMG_6171Store your fresh goat cheese in a bowl or tub and consume within 10 days. Refrigerate the cheese, but allow it to come to room temperature before serving to allow all the wonderful flavors to come through.

A Word About Seasonings:

Please use dried seasonings and herbs due to the risk of bacterial contamination that may be introduced by using fresh herbs and seasonings. If you use fresh, be sure to eat the cheese soon. It can’t hang out for a while like plain cheese.

A Word About Food Safety:

The temperature the milk gets processed is in a temperature range that is smack dab in the extreme temperature danger zone. Everything you use needs to be “sterilized” in the boiling water bath before it comes in contact with the curds or milk. I cover my curd formation and the curd draining with a glass lid (so I can see what is going on!) to prevent anything falling or flying into the curd mass.

Since my kitchen is FULL of wild yeast from all the bread I make, the introduction of wild yeast is totally possible. This could have a spoiling effect on the curd. This is another reason I boil things before they touch the milk/curds.

The hardest part is WAITING! I strongly suggest you get to a farmers market and buy some goat milk and try this. It is easy, very tasty and you will feel so good about making a tasty goat cheese you’ll make more.

If you do make any cheese, take notes on the temperatures, conditions, milk etc so you can repeat successful processes. Most of all remember DO NOT USE Ultra-Pasteurized milk!

So that’s Fresh Chevre in a nut shell. There is a lot of information out there on making cheese. I’m really just starting and am looking forward to making more!

Please let me know how you do if you make some fresh Goat Cheese!

A Cheese Making Workshop

This past weekend two of my colleagues and I got to travel to Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts to take a Cheese Making Workshop conducted by cheese master Jim Wallace.

Master Cheese Maker, Jim Wallace

Master Cheese Maker, Jim Wallace

We learned about the processes of making Cheddar, Camembert and Vacha Toscana, about a lot of the science, theory and instinct involved in cheese making as well as an evaluation of the cheese each of us brought for him to trouble shoot.

We had a great group: Seth from Vermont/New York, Martin from St. Augustine, Michael and Belinda from Pennsylvania who want to buy a boat soon and sail the eternal summer; two of my colleagues and myself.

Our Group

Our Group

Each of us have tinkered with cheese for a few years and this workshop allowed us to take our skills to another level. I hope we can stay in touch somehow, I want to hear about the cheese making adventures at sea!

Jim’s cheeses are not only beautiful but very tasty.

Cheese in the cave

Cheese in the cave

His “Cave” and drying rooms are places I could spend hours.

Cave door

Cave door

The drying room

The drying room

In addition to making cheese, Mr. Wallace also makes some lovely wine and impressive beer.

Wine making

Wine making

The workshop began at 9AM with the introduction of milk, cultures, rennet, stirring, curd cutting,

PH lab

PH lab

draining, molding and finally pressing.

I was amazed how easy it seems to be to make Camembert. Can’t wait to try it!

Jim’s lovely wife Robin made lunch for us both days. The table was full of lively conversations, great food, cheese, wine and beer. (Jim told us we must have been a special group as he doesn’t usually share his beer and wine with classes. So if you go, don’t expect it!)

Sunday morning, Robin and Jim were making fresh butter from the butterfat that floated to the top of the whey from Saturdays cheese making.

Really fresh butter! Boy did that butter taste good!

Really fresh butter and you know how much I love butter!

Really fresh butter and you know how much I love butter!

Both Jim and Robin were professional photographers who traveled and sold their work at shows. This resulted in an amazing collection of original art work from photographs of their own and others, sculpted art pottery, bead work, and dinner/serve ware style pottery. It was great to be in the presence of so much creative energy.

Jim works with Ricki Carroll of The New England Cheese Making Supply on development, workshops, recipes and website.

If you have any interest in cheese making, I highly suggest you get in contact with Jim to see what he has coming up. He has limited space so make you plans early.

You can contact him at jim@cheesemaking.com.

He can give you the cost, dates and availability of up coming workshops. I would say these aren’t for someone who has never made cheese before because he gets quite technical. If you never made cheese before, find a local class that teaches mozzarella, marscapone, lemon cheese, cream cheese and other quick, easy fresh cheese.

If you like the process, play with making a couple aged cheese, THEN go take a workshop from Jim.

These are the cheeses that everyone brought for the evaluation session

These are the cheeses that everyone brought for the evaluation session

Bring your cheese with you and he will tell you what you did right, what went wrong and give great advice about your cheese. Everyone got a lot out of this session.

I will create posts on the cheese we made and the cheese we make now that we are back from the workshop.

It will be quite fun and interesting to get to make these. The challenge will be in allowing them to ripen and age enough before cutting into them.

Some age for a couple of weeks, and others several months, We think once we get the process started, we can have a perpetual flow of amazing artisan and farmstead cheese.

Watch for these posts over the summer!

If you take a workshop from Jim, let me know what you get to make as his workshops are all different. We guess it depends upon what his cave needs and his social schedule as he always brings cheese.

You’ve got to pace yourself though, it is easy to get cheesed out if you don’t normally have a lot of cheese in your diet.

Let’s make some cheese!

Aged Cheddar

Aged Cheddar

Almost ripe Camembert

Almost ripe Camembert

Aging Vacha Toscana

Aging Vacha Toscana

Jim's cheese we tasted at lunch. The Bavarian Feta (rectangle cheese top left) is my favorite!

Jim’s cheese we tasted at lunch. The Bavarian Feta (rectangle cheese top left) is my favorite!

 

Potatoes Au Gratin

I have been on a comfort food kick the past few days; Potatoes au Gratin are one of my favorite creamy delicious side dishes.

We always had them as a kid sometimes from scratch and sometimes from a box. The box variety always fascinated me.

The clear plastic looking chips, the powdered sauces, pour over boiling water and bake. Voila! Potatoes au gratin or Scalloped Potatoes all from a box. It was amazing stuff.

Making the same potatoes from scratch is far more satisfying, both nutritionally and esthetically.

First you have to get some good starchy potatoes – russets are the best as they are a ‘high-starch, low moisture’ category of potato.

Peeling is your option, but be sure to scrub them clean.

Have everything ready to go before you start slicing the potatoes so they don’t turn colors on you.

If you don’t know what I mean about potatoes turning color, take a slice and just let it sit out on the counter or on a plate. Look at it again in 5 minutes. It is oxidizing with exposure to air. Process potatoes quickly to avoid this color change happening.

“Green” on the potatoes is called “Solanin” and it is a sign of a potato that has been stored incorrectly with an exposure to light.  To avoid green potatoes, always store potatoes in a cool, dark place.

While it would take quite a bit of solanin to cause severe damage, it is an intestinal irritant. Simply cut away the green with your peeler. It isn’t very deep.

Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator, the cold converts the starch to sugar. Restoring to room temperature, over a few days will convert back to starch.

I made this dish for Robert and me but it would easily feed four. I used an All-Clad oval stainless baker pan, you can use any oven-proof dish you want. Adjust the quantities if using a large pan.

Potatoes Au Gratin

Serves 2-4

  • 1 or 2 large russet potato, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 4 whole large shallots, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1/2 container Herbs and Garlic Boursin cheese (or 1/2 cup any shredded cheese of your choice)
  • 1 cup heavy cream, brought to a boil
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional: Monterrey Jack cheese to top and get all golden brown

Method:

Thinly slice potatoes and shallots by hand or use a mandolin.

Be careful when slicing on a mandolin! Slicing on the mandolin ensures even slices so they cook at the same rate.
HINT: Slice shallots by hand.

Butter the dish, place a single layer of sliced shallots on the bottom of the pan, top with potatoes laid in a single layer, top with shredded cheese, spoon 1/4 cup of warm cream, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle a light sprinkling of flour and repeat layering until the dish is full. The top layer should be cheese.

Here is the layering sequence again:

  1. sliced shallots
  2. sliced potatoes
  3. cream
  4. salt and pepper
  5. flour
  6. cheese
  7. repeat leaving cheese as the top layer

Butter the dish, layer shallots then potatoes

Notice how the potatoes are shingled into a layer

Sprinkle flour over the cheese and potato layers

Keep alternating layers to the top

Top with cheese and bake

Place the filled dish on a parchment paper lined baking sheet to catch all spills. Place in a 400°F oven for 1 hour or until the dish is bubbling and golden brown on top.

We usually gobble these up pretty quickly but if you have any leftover, cut them into shapes and reheat either in the microwave or the oven until nice and warm in the center.

Variations on the theme:

  • Scalloped Potatoes: Leave out the cheese and make sure enough cream covers the top slightly. Top with breadcrumbs; Bake the same way.
  • Add your favorite herbs for an herbal variety.
  • Use different cheese: Goat cheese, Havarti, Asiago, fontina, add some bleu to the mix.
  • Use cheese that you know will melt nicely. If you want to make this with cheddar, please add some hoop cheese to it for melting purposes. Cheddar does not melt well all on its own.

I’m sure your family will enjoy this as much as mine does. Your home will smell wonderful as they cook. Since they are in the oven for so long, it is a good time to plan a baked chicken or pork chop to go along with the potatoes.

Sometimes I’ll have a plate of just potatoes au gratin for lunch, if there is any left over.

Plated Potatoes au Gratin