Monday, August 29, 2011

Cheesemaking at Home: Creme de Ricotta

Got 45 minutes to spare? Then you've got time to make Creme de Ricotta.

Sheana Davis, California cheesemaker and cheese shop owner extraordinaire, was in town this past weekend, teaching a class at the Carr Valley Cooking School in Sauk City. Over the course of 90 minutes, we got to try five different Wisconsin beers, five different Carr Valley specialty cheeses, consume two stellar appetizer courses, and in between, make a giant stock pot of Creme de Ricotta.

A fifth-generation native of Sonoma, California, Sheana teaches home cheesemaking courses on the West Coast. She's also the creator and cheesemaker of Delice de la Vallee, an award-winning fresh cheese. And while I've been to her Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference the past two years (and just made my hotel reservations for the 2012 conference,) this was the first time I had ever seen Sheana in action teaching a course.

Let me tell you, the lady not only knows her cheese, but also makes a mean Carr Valley Beer Cheddar, Wisconsin Sausage and Beer Mustard Sauce Sandwich on a Pretzel Roll. (Recipe to follow - scroll down past the cheese talk).

When we weren't drinking beer and eating cheese, Sheana had all of us actively involved in making a batch of stove-top Creme de Ricotta. She's perfected a recipe that's all her own, and involves four simple ingredients: whole milk, whipping cream, white vinegar and sea salt (complete recipe follows the narrative).

First, we heated the milk and whipping cream to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring often with a big flat circular spoon to prevent scorching on the bottom.

Once the milk was at 200 degrees, we turned off the burner, and stirring the milk clockwise, quickly poured in white vinegar (this is key, as it provides the acidity needed to curdle the milk) and then sprinkled with salt. The milk starting coagulating immediately, with white curds were already floating in the whey before we put on the lid and allowed to rest for 10 minutes.

While waiting, we lined a colander with 200-count cotton cloth, drank some more beer and ate some more cheese, and once 10 minutes was up, gently ladled the curds into the cloth, starting in the middle of the pot, cutting toward us, and gently lifting them to the side of the cloth-covered colander.

Because we were anxious to eat the cheese, Sheana then gathered the four corners of the cloth and gently lifted, allowing the whey to drain off, while at the same time, gently pressuring the liquid from the cheese. Another option would be to let it drain for up to 30 minutes on its own and then serve, still warm.

Warm and fresh Creme de Ricotta is fluffy, fresh and delicious - kind of like eating fluffy cottage cheese or chunky creme fraiche, only better. Sheana mixed some jam and dried berries into one of the batches, which provided a nice sweet taste. Other options are sprinkling in lemon zest and fresh ground black pepper, or fresh basil and garlic, or even maple syrup and pecans. Go wild and be creative, as almost anything goes with this cheese.

Here's the recipe:

Creme de Ricotta
By Sheana Davis, The Epicurean Connection

14 cups whole milk
4 cups whipping cream
1-1/2 cups white vinegar
2 teaspoons sea salt

1. Combine milk and whipping cream in large stainless steel stock pot and heat slowly to 200 degrees. Stir often to prevent scorching.
2. Remove from heat. Stir milk clockwise, quickly pour in vinegar and sprinkle with salt. Cover and allow to rest 10 minutes.
3. Line colander with fine cheesecloth or 200-count cotton cloth. Gently ladle curds into cloth. If adding fruit or jam, add now. Allow to drain for 30 minutes or gently lift and allow whey to drain off.
4. Remove cheese from cheesecloth and serve warm on a baguette. If desired, drizzle with desired pairing.

And, as promised, here is the recipe for the appetizer we heartily consumed while waiting for the milk to heat:

Carr Valley Beer Cheddar, Wisconsin Sausage & Beer Mustard Sauce Sandwich Served on a Pretzel Roll
By Sheana Davis, The Epicurean Connection

4-6 links or 1 pound Wisconsin sausage
8 ounces Beer
1/2 cup mustard
8 Pretzel Rolls, sliced 3/4
8 slices Carr Valley Beer Cheddar Cheese, sliced

Over a medium flame, using a heavy bottom skillet, place ingredients and bring to a simmer. Stir together, cover with lid and allow to simmer for 10 minutes or until sausage is thoroughly cooked. Remove from heat, allow to cool, slice sausage, place back in pan and re-heat when ready to serve. Serve on a Pretzel Roll with slice of Carr Valley Beer Cheddar and glass of Leinenkugel's Honey Weiss.

Last but not least, I have to share a stellar cheese pairing we had at the class. While all five pairings were good, the last was take-your-breath-away perfect. The next time you want to impress your friends, serve this simple pairing: Carr Valley 4-Year Cheddar and Ale Aslyum Madtown Brown. One word: awe----some.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mascarpone: The Other White Cheese

Rich, buttery and sumptuous: Mascarpone cheese was made for summer. Whether used in a dessert, dip or spread, Mascarpone's creamy white appearance and smooth, thick texture makes it a natural choice for recipes that call for sweet creamy cheese.

Mascarpone originated in the Lombardy region in Italy. It is perhaps best known for its starring role in the traditional Italian dessert, Tiramisu, combining Mascarpone with lady fingers soaked in espresso. But these days, the cheese can be found in a variety of applications, with two Wisconsin companies specializing in making it:

BelGioioso Cheese
In 1990, BelGioioso became the first American company to craft Mascarpone in the United States, and the company now offers three types for various applications. Its Classic Mascarpone is naturally light and blends well with other ingredients. Tiramisu Mascarpone is the company's flavored version, mixed with real coffee and sugar, while Creme di Mascarpone is sweeter than the classic version. BelGioioso's Classic Mascarpone won a Best in Class Gold Medal at the 2010 World Championship Cheese Contest.

Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese
Fresh and sweeter than its original Italian inspiration, Crave Brothers' Farmstead cheese is custom-made for desserts. Crafted on the Crave dairy farm, the family's Mascarpone is sweet and dreamy, with a light, sweet, creamy taste. A multiple award-winner, Crave Brothers' Mascarpone just won a Best of Class Blue Ribbon at the 2011 American Cheese Society, held August 6 in Montreal.

Earlier this month, I had the amazing fortune to judge the Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese annual recipe contest at the Waterloo Farmer's Market, and a dish - featuring Mascarpone, of course - took top honors. Created by Deb Dunstan of Deerfield, Wis., Summer Strawberry Delight was inspired by a friend and her fresh strawberry bread. Deb took that thought to a new level, and with carrot cake frosting in mind, added mascarpone to cake batter, reduced the sugar in half, and added chopped strawberries. The result is fantastic. Here's the recipe:


Creamy Cheese Batter
8 oz. Crave Brothers Mascarpone Cheese at room temperature
¼ cup of white sugar
¼ cup fresh strawberries, finely chopped - or - unsweetened frozen berries, thawed, drained and mashed.

Cream mascarpone cheese and sugar together until smooth.  Stir in strawberries.  Set aside.

Cake Batter
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced - or - unsweetened frozen berries, thawed, drained and chopped

Mix flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the oil, eggs and strawberries. Beat until the dry ingredients are just moist.

Pour into greased and floured 9" round pan.

Spoon the creamy cheese over the top of the cake batter.  Gently swirl and fold the creamy cheese into the cake ensuring that it does not totally mix in but also gets to the bottom of the pan.

Bake at 350F for 55 - 60 minutes.  It is done when a toothpick comes out clean.  Serve with ice cream or when chilled, sprinkle with powdered sugar and dollop with whipped cream.

For additional recipes featuring Wisconsin Mascarpone, visit and Enjoy!

Friday, August 12, 2011

So Many New Summer Cheeses, So Little Time

Somehow I get the feeling Wisconsin cheesemakers don't take summer vacation. With all the new cheeses out on the market this season, it's hard to keep up. Here are few new favorites worth trying before the summer is over:

Mediterranean Fontina, Sartori Cheese
Master Cheesemaker Mike Matucheski has hit another home run with this new creation, just now launch in national markets. It features the earthy flavors of garlic, thyme and olive oil, even giving off a little heat, courtesy of the Aleppo pepper. This beauty just won second place in its class at the 2011 Wisconsin State Fair Cheese Competition.

Ricotta Salata, BelGioioso Cheese
Known as The Italian Feta, Ricotta Salata starts as a milky ricotta. Salt is added to aide in moisture loss and the cheese is then hand scooped into cheesecloth and pressed into wheels. During the 60-day aging process, its texture becomes dry and crumbly, producing a wheel that is easy to slice, cube, crumble and shave. It's perfect for topping hot pastas or cold salads. BelGioioso's Ricotta Salata won a second place at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest in March and is just now hitting retail shelves.

Quark, Cedar Grove Cheese
There's never a dull moment when Master Cheesemaker Bob Wills is around. His latest addition to the Wisconsin cheese scene is German Style Quark, a fresh cheese that's a cross between cream cheese and cottage cheese. Common in Europe, Quark is just now catching on in the United States. Try mixing fresh herbs for a spread or using it in a cheesecake. I've also had it mixed with dark chocolate and strawberries - yum! - courtesy of Cheesemaker Blair Johnson. Available in select Wisconsin specialty cheese stores. Call your cheesemonger and request it!

Evalon with Cumin or Fenugreek, LaClare Farms Specialties
U.S. Champion Cheesemaker Katie Hedrich has rolled out two new cheeses. Evalon, a semi-hard goat's milk cheese, is now available with either a strip of cumin or fenugreek down the middle. Both cheeses are new to the market, but can be found in specialty cheese shops across the state. The fenugreek style just won a Blue Ribbon at the American Cheese Society in Montreal. Congrats, Katie!

Friday, August 05, 2011

2011 ACS Best in Show

It's official: Rogue River Blue is the big cheese.

After a heart-warming and tear-jerking speech earlier in the day about his mentor and former Rogue Creamery owner Ig Vella (who sold the plant on a handshake), Rogue co-owner David Gremmels made the long walk to the podium tonight after the big bold blue that's made the company famous was once again named Best in Show at the 2011 American Cheese Society competition. This is the second time Rogue River Blue has taken the honor, last winning in 2009.

Of 1,676 cheeses entered by 258 different companies across North America, three more cheeses took top honors. Earning Runner Up Best in Show were two cheeses that tied: Wisconsin's very own Carr Valley Cheese, which won for Cave Aged Marisa, and Ontario's Finica Food Specialties for its Lindsay Bandaged Cheddar. Fromergerie du Presbytere of Quebec took Second Runner Up Best in Show with its Louis d'Or.

The awards ceremony this year was particular festive, as a giant screen showing a live cam of winning cheesemakers receiving their ribbons was displayed at the front of the room. Several cheesemakers took the opportunity to smile and wave at the camera, including Wisconsin cheesemaker Marieke Penterman of Holland's Family Cheese, (that's her, pictured at right), who showed off her disco dance moves after sweeping the Flavor Added-Dutch Style category with First place Marieke Gouda Cumin, Second place Marieke Gouda Black Mustard and Third place Marieke Gouda Mustard Melange. (Of course, Marieke is still on a high after being named yesterday as the first woman Grand Master Cheesemaker at the 2011 Wisconsin State Fair. It's days like this where she wishes she could be in two places at once)!

Another Wisconsin cheesemaker doing her own happy dance was Katie Hedrich of LaClare Farms Specialties (pictured at left). Of the three cheeses she entered, two won their classes. Earning Blue Ribbons were Evalon (also the 2011 U.S. Champion Cheese), and Evalon with Fenugreek. You go, girl.

And then of course there were the perennial favorites - Sid Cook of Carr Valley captured 11 awards in addition to his Runner Up Best in Show, BelGioioso Cheese wore a path in the carpet on their way to the stage to get all of their ribbons, and Sartori won so many awards that cheesemaker Mike Matucheski had to roll up his shirt to carry them all.

Here's a look at all the 2011 ACS Blue Ribbon winners from Wisconsin:

  • Mascarpone, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo
  • Brick, Klondike Cheese, Monroe
  • Tomato & Basil Feta, Klondike Cheese, Monroe
  • Monterey Jack, Burnett Dairy Co-op, Grantsburg
  • Cocoa Cardona, Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle
  • Cave Aged Marisa, Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle 
  • Cave Aged Mellage, Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle 
  • Casa Bolo Mellage, Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle 
  • Marieke Gouda Cumin, Holland's Family Cheese, Thorp
  • Marieke Gouda Smoked Cumin, Holland's Family Cheese, Thorp
  • Little Boy Blue, Hook's Cheese, Mineral Point
  • Gran Queso Reserve, Emmi Roth USA, Monroe
  • Sartori Parmesan, Sartori, Plymouth
  • Sartori Reserve Black Pepper BellaVitano, Sartoi, Plymouth
  • Fresh Mozzarella Thermoform, BelGioioso Cheese, Green Bay
  • Burrata, BelGioioso Cheese, Green Bay
  • Evalon, LaClare Farms Specialties, Chilton
  • Evalon with Fenugreek, LaClare Farms Specialties, Chilton
  • Driftless-Cranberry, Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby
  • Farmstead Feta, Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby
  • Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Uplands Cheese, Dodgeville

In addition to our many awards, Wisconsin was also honored earlier in the day, as the ACS inducted a class of pioneer goat cheesemakers into its Academy of Cheese. Taking home a giant crystal statue of cheese was Anne Topham of Fantome Farm (pictured third from left). Anne's been selling her goat cheeses at the Dane County Farmer's Market in Madison for more than 20 years and it was nice to see her in Montreal getting the recognition she deserves.

Congratulations to all the ACS winning cheesemakers! I'm looking to celebrating with you all tomorrow night and eating your cheeses at the Festival of Cheese.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Meet the Cheesemaker in Montreal

Thousands of people trek to the American Cheese Society conference every year to attend the Festival of Cheese, by far the most popular event of the annual shindig. And while I definitely look forward to trying not to get sick by eating 1,600 cheeses, my favorite ACS event instead happened tonight in a much smaller room, attended by far fewer people.

It's a little thing called Meet the Cheesemaker.

I don't know why, but I find something absolutely magical in walking around a room, eating cheese from dozens of different companies, and getting to shake hands and talk shop with the man or woman who makes each cheese. Every year, I especially try to seek out new and upcoming cheeses, and this year did not disappoint. A few discoveries of the evening:

Mountina, Vintage Cheese Company, Montana
This washed rind cheese is made by cheesemaker brothers Dwayne and Darryl Heap, both of whom attended tonight's Meet the Cheesemaker. The pair market their cheese as "an Alpine cheese from the mountains of ... Montana."

The pair have been been making thier Mountina cheese since 2009, but just released a new version called Mocha Mountina, which is washed with coffee and cocoa beans. Surprisingly, the coffee compliments  the natural nutty flavor of the cheese.

The Heaps' father, a cheesemaker by trade, came up with the coffee and cocoa bean wash recipe before passing last year. Larry Brog, of the famed Swiss cheesemaking family of Star Valley, Wyoming, helped the Heaps perfect the recipe and method. And to tie it all together, Larry's uncle, Paul, a Swiss immigrant and cheesemaker, trained Dwayne and Darryl's grandfather to make cheese. It's a long and winding story, but the cheese is totally worth it.

Shepherd's Basket, Valley Shepherd Cheese, New Jersey
Eran and Debra Wajswol host between 20,000 and 30,000 tourists at their farm every year. Built as a family destination, agri-tourism site, Valley Shepherd Cheese is making some pretty good cheeses from the milk of their 600 sheep, 30 goats and 20 cows. My favorite is Shepherd's Basket, a Manchego-style, raw sheep's milk cheese made in a five-pound wheel with basket-like weave rind.

I'd love to show you a picture of this beauty, but when I asked my hubby to get a shot of it, he instead took a close-up of a cotton-ball sheep with googly eyes sitting on the Valley Shepherd Cheese table. Sigh. So you'll just have to take my word for it - this cheese is a keeper.

Le Sein d'Helene, La Moutonniere, Quebec, Canada
This cheese was quite popular with the fellows at the Meet the Cheesemaker event, as it is shaped like and named for a woman's breast. Cheesemaker Lucille Giraux said she created the cheese to represent the mountains of where she lives, and then thought of the name afterward, in honor of her village, Ste. Helene-de Chester in Quebec.

Made from a mixture of sheep and Jersey cow milk, Le Sein d'Helene has a natural rind and is aged between two and four months. It's sweet and buttery, which makes it the perfect table cheese. If only I could get this in the United States. Sigh.

Espresso Bellavitano, Sartori, Plymouth, Wisconsin
Master Cheesemaker Mike Matucheski has done it again. The wizard behind Sartori's line of fruity BellaVitano cheeses, the company's newest offering is Espresso BellaVitano, rubbed with oil and espresso beans and then cured between two and six months, allowing the espresso flavor to work its way through the rind and into the heart of the cheese.

While in Montreal this week, I learned something new about BellaVitano. The cheese was actually inspired by a cheesemaking trip to Italy, where the Sartori cheesemakers tasted Piave, an intense, full-bodied cheese, reminiscent of Parmigiano Reggiano. The team returned to Wisconsin with a mission to make their own style of the same cheese, and voila ... BellaVitano was born. In the process, they created an American Original beloved by many.

Thanks to all the cheesemakers to attended tonight's event - it was awesome to meet each and every one of you!

O, Canada!

Update: Good news. I wrestled and won my bout with inferior Canadian wifi. The result: a successful upload of the pure joy that is "Duck in a Can." 

I am embarrassed to admit that before visiting Montreal this week for the American Cheese Society's annual conference, what little knowledge of Canada I possessed stemmed from watching the 2010 Winter Olympics on television.

From that vast data bank of knowledge, two particular items are seared forever into my memory: 1) the closing ceremonies where giant inflatable beavers were pushed around on the ice, accompanied by a giant inflatable moose (yes, really - watch the video), and 2) the annoyingly catchy "O Canada" national anthem sang at what seemed like every freakin' medal ceremony, and of which I hummed incessantly for weeks afterward.

So you can imagine my surprise after spending just two days in the beautiful city of Montreal to discover Canada is WAY more than oversized inflatable rodents and addictive show tunes. It's also home to the largest population of restaurants outside France specializing in serving foods fried in duck fat.

I discovered this little known fact after spending an amazing day touring and tasting our way through the city's cheese shops - including Fromagerie Maitre Affineur Maitre Corbeau (I'd highly recommend the Delice des Appalaches - a Canadian stinky cheese washed with ice cider), and La Fromagerie Hamel (I somehow talked the French-speaking cheesemonger into letting me taste Oka, the famed Quebecian cheese) - as well as visiting a lovely little goat cheesrie in Mercier run by Caroline Tardif, named Fromagerie Ruban Bleu. (Below, that's Alma Avalos of the Pasta Shop in California, getting some lovin' from a friendly goat at Tardif's farm).

After eating a total of 12 different cheeses, a whopping lunch of smoked brisket, duck-fat fried french fries, cole slaw and a pickle speared with a miniature Canadian flag on a toothpick. I was completely and utterly not, in the very least, at all hungry.

This is why I immediately joined a group of friends, caught a cab, and went to dinner at Au Pied de Cochon in the Latin Quarter of Montreal. With nary a Latin restaurant in sight (the area gets its name from the Latin Quarter of Paris, home to a number of higher education establishments), our group of six decided to order several different dishes and share each.

I decided to maneuver around the Pig's Head for Two and Tarragon Bison Tongue, instead ordering the Canard en Conserve, or "Duck in a Can." This little gem of a dish, and I use "little" only in a figurative sense, consists of a duck breast, a half pound of foie gras, a healthy dose of balsamic demi-glaze, roasted garlic, and two branches of thyme. All of this is boiled in a can for 30 minutes and then opened and served at the table, spilling over a plate of a buttered crouton topped with mashed potatoes.

Yes, really. I am not making this up. My hubby took a video of the process and if I ever figure out how to successfully upload it to my You Tube channel while here in Canada, I'll send you all a link. (It ends with a charming shot of me holding the can and giving a thumbs up).

Long story short, I of course ate my giant plate of steaming hot duck fat, along with Steak Frites fried in duck fat, poutine topped with fois gras, a giant rib bone better suited for dinner with the Flintstones, Foie Gras 'Tout Nu', as well as a smattering of dishes all shared around the table, including a beet and goat cheese salad, tomato tart, and apple and blue cheese dish.

Oh, plus two strawberry daiquiris.

With the conference tours finished, attendees now look forward to two full days of educational and cheese tasting seminars at the Palais des congrès de MontrĂ©al, with more evening receptions and dinners no doubt featuring dishes fried in duck fat.  Here's hoping they serve the occasional salad at lunch. At this rate, I may not fit into the airplane seat on the way home. Damn, I love Canada.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Cheese Geeks Unite!

It's cheese week, baby! Yep, this is the one week of the year where I seem normal. That's because starting today, I am amazingly surrounded by more than a thousand cheese geeks, all of whom this year are trekking from across North America and descending upon Montreal in Quebec, Canada for the American Cheese Society’s 28th Annual Conference & Competition.

Held in a different city every year, this is the first time the conference has been held in Canada. However, no matter the location, the faithful few gather each year to talk shop and witness the shock and awe of more than 1,650 artisan, farmstead, and specialty cheeses from Canada, U.S.A., and Mexico.

Today and tomorrow, the cheeses are being sorted and judged, and by the end of the week, they will all be sliced and served, giving attendees a rare chance to get an up-close-and-personal look, sniff and taste at thousands of artisanal cheeses, most not available on a national retail level, as they are crafted by small, farmstead and dairy artisans and sold locally.

My glorious week of cheese eating actually started a bit early this evening, as dinner in downtown Montreal featured the famous local dish of Poutine. What is Poutine, you ask? Oh, let me tell you. It's a big bowl of home-made, hand-cut French fries, smothered in rich and smooth beef gravy like your mother used to make, topped by a glorious smattering of fresh cheese curds. Yes, cue the angel chorus. This heavenly dish is then placed in front of you in all its glory, beckoning you to ingest all of its 13,000 calories.

Damn I love Canada. Who doesn't love a country that specializes in a dish combining the three basic food groups - potatoes, gravy and cheese? If the rest of the week goes as well as tonight, this may be the best ACS conference ever.

Stay tuned all week, as I'll be blogging about cheese tours, cheese seminars and of course, the cheese awards ceremony where we'll learn who takes home the coveted Best in Show trophy. For up-to-the-second news, follow all of us cheese geeks on Twitter by searching the #Cheese Society11 hashtag.  Cheese geeks unite!