Our Cheeselog

Keep on Rockin’: Installment 3

I stopped in Magnolia Bakery because when you walk past Magnolia Bakery, you stop in. Beautiful, whimsical cupcakes were in abundance, including the one I ultimately selected, Rockette Red Velvet. Everything a red velvet cupcake should be: moist and tender with a tangy frosting. And the fact that it was topped with a tiny Rockette pushed it over the edge of cuteness. A joy, even though I had red cake in my teeth for like an hour.

Once our friends arrived from Penn Station, and while my husband was still in his conference, we decided to strike out and try Mama Mexico, a highly recommended Mexican joint near our hotel. The guacamole presentation was the most impressive I’ve ever seen. It was delicious, too, as was the rest of our food.

The service was pretty spotty, especially when the same waiter tried to take our order twice after he had already taken it. For all the attempts at order taking, you would think the food would be out quickly, but I feel like I aged at least a year while waiting. Luckily, it was exceptional Mexican food. However, service is next to godliness in my book.

Warning: Charming Cheese Monger Alert! We next hopped on a train and headed down to Essex and Delancey to visit Saxelby Cheesemongers in the Essex Street Market. We were lucky enough to meet Anne, who was in the middle of cutting a thousand tiny pieces of cheese for a special order. It reminded me why we don’t cut pieces of cheese for special orders. Yikes!

Anyway, Anne was delighted to talk about her business, as any proud owner would be, and she just glowed, despite the arduous task in which she found herself immsersed. Her selection was small but thoughtfully and beautifully presented. My favorite feature, and one that we would see several more times on our tour, was the see-through walk-in where her extra cheeses were stored. What a lovely feature! If only we had the space, it would be my next addition.

Next stop: Pickle Guys. The name is actually a bit misleading, because despite being called Pickle Guys, these guys sell pickles (ok – that was a little joke). Their barrels are filled not only with pickled cucumbers, but pickled watermelon, string beans, tomatoes, carrots……. They pretty much pickle anything that will sit still long enough to be immersed in vinegar. I’ve never seen, much less tasted, so many pickley treats. And they were SO super nice, letting us try all sorts of things. Lucky for us, they ship, so it will not be long before our pack-o-pickles arrives.

After the vinegar adventure, a little something sweet was in order. Off to Doughnut Plant! Once the owner found out what I did for a living, he insisted that I try the carrot cake doughnut filled with cream cheese frosting. In fact, he ripped open three of them before he found one that he deemed cheese-filled enough for me. It did not disappoint.

All in all, we tasted crème brulé (he actually torches the top so it’s crunchy), marzipan, coconut cream filled, jelly filled, carrot cake, and cinnamon sticky bun. The place is tiny, consisting more of kitchen than retail space, but it’s big enough to get the job done (the job being to get a pile of doughnuts in a bag for us). Coolest feature: his filled doughnuts still have a hole in the middle so there’s not this big puddle of filling in the center like a typical doughnut. Instead, he pipes the filling throughout the entire circle so each bite has a perfectly-distributed amount. A genius!

I had to visit Di Palo’s in Little Italy. It is the place to go for fresh Mozzarella, which they leave in a pile, simply wrapped, on the deli case. Ours was still warm when we tasted it. As we pulled it apart with our fingers, it actually leaked whey all over the sidewalk. It was that fresh. I, of course, could not be dainty for long, and proceeded to eat most of the remaining ball like an apple. Juicy and tasting of fresh cream. It lived up to and exceeded my expectations.

The folks behind the counter were SO nice, which I didn’t expect since it’s a super-old and super-established business, but everyone was lovely – and they even gave me chocolates as I was leaving. Thanks, Di Palo guys!

Next we visited the Tenement Museum and learned about the lives of Irish immigrants in the 1860’s. Suffice it to say that I left feeling very fortunate that I am not an Irish immigrant in the 1860’s. Fascinating but sobering. Also not food-related, so I’ll move on now to…

SoHo! I could walk for hours in SoHo. There’s just so much to see. We happened upon Rice to Riches, which has like 50 different kinds of rice pudding. I love rice and I love pudding, so the two in combination were heavenly. We chose Mascarpone with cherries. It was so creamy and rich that the sourness of the cherries was the perfect complement. This place was totally cute and had the funniest signs throughout. We spend a good amount of time just reading them. What a great little place!

We really needed a cocktail so we popped into Mercer Kitchen. The hostess upstairs was super-nice but the gentleman host downstairs at the bar was so snooty and nasty, we left. Poor form.

Obviously, we hadn’t eaten enough yet, so we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner at Veritas. The restaurant was super-cozy and accommodating. We also sat next to some really cool Portuguese guys. And oh what a wine list! We started with a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc and then moved onto a California Syrah that we paired with the rest of our 4-course menu. Each course was better than the last. Wagyu filet was outstanding. After dessert, they brought out more little tasty treats like macarons (I love when places do that). If wine is your thing, get thee to Veritas.

Phew! Time for bed. We have a lot of work (a.k.a. eating) to do tomorrow.

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Keep on Rockin’: Installment 2

“Would you like your bacon crisp?” I want to marry this man. I’m sitting at Norma’s on 56th Street. Normally I shy away from hotel restaurants (this one is in Le Parker Meridien) but Norma’s was so emphatically recommended by ‘egrossman’ that I could not resist. Let me start by saying there is no pleasure as great as breakfast by oneself. Aside from a wine-laden dinner with close friends, this is my favorite meal. I asked my server which item I should order from the “Your Mom Can’t Make This” section (full of waffles, pancakes, French toast, etc.) and he immediately replied that the Crunchy French Toast was the only choice to make. Complete the offering with the aforementioned crisp bacon, steaming coffee (my very own pot!) and fresh-squeezed OJ. As I’m waiting for my food to come, I will update you on dinner last night.

When you walk into a Michelin-2-Star restaurant as highly praised as Alto, you are bound to be disappointed. So imagine my surprise when in fact, my expectations were surpassed. What a delightful evening! Our seat was amazing: we were perched high above the larger dining room on a little glass-enclosed balcony. It was the ultimate people-watching perch and made me feel like I was flying. Please see my poor excuse for a photo here:

On to the rest of the experience: I love a restaurant where the server wears a suit. Like a real suit (not a hipster suit-as-uniform suit). He looked like an adult – a super-knowledgeable, super-friendly, super-professional one. He knew everything about the menu (believe me – I tried to stump him). He immediately sent over the somellier who kindly helped us select one of the most delicious Chardonnays I’ve ever had. This one was from Piedmont, Italy, and it defied all expectations (and biases) I have regarding Chardonnay. No oak. No butter. Just a silky, full body that took me effortlessly through seared scallops, spicy lamb/mint pasta, and roasted Branzino. We finished our meal with a cheese course. Perfectly done, Alto! The cheeses were appropriately at room temperature and were served with simple but delicious accompaniments, including warm toasted raisin bread. It’s a cheese presentation I would have done myself and it reminded me that Raschera is one of the best cheeses on the planet (and the glass of Moscato didn’t hurt, either). Overall, a sublime experience. 

Back to breakfast:
Well, imagine my bliss when I realized that the “Crunchy French Toast” was crunchy because it was coated in Rice Crispies. Snap crackle pop, baby!


The toast itself, being about 2 inches thick, falls into the “there’s no way you can eat all of this” category but I gave it the old college try, making it through one piece. It came with two little glass bottles of syrup, but who needs syrup when there’s caramel sauce? So I put them in my purse for my daughter (she, being small, likes all things small). This menu is fantastic. I’m sad I was unable to order more than one item because man oh man do they have a lot of sinful starchies. Every type of pancake, waffle, toast, and crepe you can imagine – and many you can’t. Surprisingly, the woman next to me is eating Muesli. MUESLI!!! With yogurt!!! What is wrong with this person? At least her date is making up for her transgression by shoveling down a huge pile of gooey pancakes with some sort of creamy pudding on top. Good for you! Do not cave to the Muesli eaters of the world!

Ah, he just refilled my OJ. I really want to marry this man. Oh wait – I’m already married. Honey, I’d like my bacon crisp.

Next stop: Magnolia Bakery. Only cause it’s on the way back to my hotel. And cause they have cupcakes.

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Keep on Rockin in the Food World: Installment 1: The Train

Posted a couple hours after writing, since there is no wi-fi on Amtrak.

Sitting on the Acela Express into Penn Station. Just finished what I refer to as my first culinary experience: Jujyfruits. Perfectly chewy. Tangy yet sweet.

As I sit here listening to Robert Earl Keen (Note to self: when listening to music on your headphones, do not start humming or singing along – others CAN hear you), I am reveling in the knowledge that for the next three days, my sole job is to see and taste of as many culinary destinations as possible. After arriving at my hotel room, I will head out solo to check out what’s in my immediate neighborhood. I can’t go too far because we have a reservation this evening at Alto, a 2-Michelin-Star restaurant specializing in Northern Italian cuisine. Perhaps the only thing I love more than Italian food is Italian wine. Those from the Piedmont, for instance, are as near to heaven as I’ve tasted. Drawback: only one bottle? I think a tasting menu might be in order, so at least I can try as many wines as possible.

Oh – and apparently, we were upgraded to a suite at the hotel. Cause Lord knows one tiny NY room will not be large enough to fit my food-filled self!

Side note: We just passed a concrete building on the outskirts of Philadelphia. The structure was covered with huge graffiti tags. One of them was “CHEESE”. I question: who is “Cheese”? How did he/she earn that moniker? Is it considered a compliment? One wonders… Regardless, I will consider it a good omen for my upcoming trip.

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Contest Announcement!

Our first-ever Cheesetique contest is here and I will call it: “Keep on Rockin’ in the Food World: NYC”.

In December, I will embark on a 3-day “culinary tour” of New York City and I’m looking for recommendations of places I “cannot miss”. I will narrow them down (the top three get a $25 gift certificate) and the winning recommendation gets dinner for 2 at Cheesetique. PLEASE NOTE that this is not the contest for you if you’re shy and private. I will blog all about it. It’s not like I’ll post your last name or social security number, but be prepared to have me talk about your recommendations, OKAY?

1. How is the winner determined?
Out of the three finalists, it has to be the one that rocks my world. Subjective? YES! (See FAQ #5)

2. How are the three finalists determined?
Out of all recommendations I receive, I will pick the ones that sound the coolest. Subjective? YES! (See FAQ #5)

3. Does my recommendation have to be cheese-related?
No, but please make it food related. Don’t try to send me to this “great little children’s boutique you visited”.

4. Tell me again about the prizes.
The top three recommendations will get a $25 gift certificate to Cheesetique.
The winner (chosen from one of the three), will be based on the overall wow-ness of my experience, and will ALSO win dinner for TWO at our Cheese & Wine Bar.

5. Why are your judging criteria so darn subjective?
Cause subjectivity makes the world go ‘round. And cause it’s my stinkin’ contest!

Email your recommendation(s) by using our Contact form.

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Wine Promotion: Graham Beck Brut Rose NV

This is your opportunity to take home what Master of Wine Jancis Robinson recommends to her own friends: Graham Beck Brut Rosé NV. To call this sparkling wine “festive” is an understatement. But it is so much more than that. Perfectly crafted for maximum fruit and brightness, it is also structured enough to pair with dinner. There’s nothing quite as jolly as toasting with a glass of rosé. Moreover, there’s nothing quite as jolly as showing up to your next party with this exceptionally beautiful gift pack. And at this special price ($14.99 per bottle) there’s no reason to say no.

Please keep in mind that there are

only 60 half-cases available

, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. Order enough to take you through the holidays – it will perfectly suit any occasion from Halloween to New Year’s Eve.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the wine and to order. You don’t want to miss this opportunity – so get to clicking!

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Not-so-live from Chicago: Food on the Town!

First stop: Lincoln Park Farmers’ Market!
What you need to understand right off the bat is that Chicago is not only in a different time zone than Virginia, but it is in a completely different weather zone (more on par with the arctic tundra). As such, you will see that we are coated and scarfed, despite the fact that it was 75 and sunny in Virginia. The flowery mound hanging on the front of me in the picture is my blanket-covered infant in carrier. Just wanted to make sure you didn’t think I had developed a large unsightly growth.

Anway, in between hand-warming sessions, I stopped by a local cheese stand and picked up a really cool blue cheese/mascarpone/pistachio nut roll. Now I am not normally a nut roll fan, but OH MY was this delicious. If I were a tackier person, I would have eaten it in the middle of the market like a candy bar. Being that I am dainty and proper, I waited to inhale it till we got home. In my left hand is a bag of super-yummy cheese curds. Mild, tangy, creamy. I was a bit disappointed, however, that the tell-tale squeak of many cheese curds was absent. Probably cause it was SO DARN COLD!

After the farmers’ market we visited Gepperth’s butcher shop, a fine example of butchery if I’ve ever seen it. The gentlemen behind the counter all wear shirts and ties under their aprons, giving the place a really cool old-world feel. Plus, they gave my little girl gummy candies to munch on, so they couldn’t be any cooler in my book.

Next stop was was Little Italy, which is less full of Italian storefronts than I would have liked. However, we did visit Conte di Savoia, which makes the world’s best fresh mozzarella. They keep it on the counter in a large bucket. Not glamorous, but OH SO SUCCULENT. It’s hard to not eat it while driving back. The key: NEVER refrigerate. If you can’t eat it within a few hours, you’re just not doing your job.

Our Chicago trip was wonderful. We ran out of time to do a cheese shop tour (go figure!) but we will be back soon so you can expect another update then!

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Live from Chicago: It’s uh-LIN-eeya…

not ah-lin-AY-uh.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, on to the experience.

Anyone who has read – and/or dared to cook anything from – the Alinea cookbook knows that this revered Chicago establishment is on the cutting edge of culinary science. A.K.A. “don’t try to cook this unless you have a $4000 Pacojet and a steady supply of chemicals that might get you added to an FBI watch list”. Chef Grant Achatz has made quite a name for himself as someone who creates dishes like “Hot Potato Cold Potato”, which sounds cutsie but is in fact a NASA-level culinary invention. One of the coolest parts of the evening was our approach. The building has an unassuming black facade with no sign. Like NO SIGN AT ALL. Luckily, my sister-in-law lives close-by so she knew this fact. As we approached from a block away, a coat-wearing stranger cut in front of us, walking slowly. I was concerned until I realized he was in fact the doorman, who somehow sensed that we were destined for Alinea’s hallowed halls, and escorted us in. Started creepy, ended cool.

The restaurant is very elegant and simple. There is minimal decor (trust me – the food is enough) and there is no music. Not even a subtle background tinkle. So, if there’s a lull in your conversation, which is bound to happen during a 4 1/2 hour dinner, it’s a serious lull. On to the food.

Wait – no. On to the staff. Super friendly, super chic, super funky, super knowledgable. Just super great all-around. Ok – now on to the food.

We ordered the “Tour” menu, which is 24 courses. Not a type-o. It’s 24 courses. We naturally had to request the wine pairings because why bother eating 24 exacting courses without the perfect vino? We were not disappointed with the restaurant’s choices. Spot-on and always exceptional. Plus, the gentleman in charge of pouring and explaining the wines was a real gem. And his hair was outrageously cool. Wish I had a photo.

Each course was a work of art, literally. By course, I really mean a bite or so. Some courses I liked more than others (yeah to the Black Truffle Explosion, not-so-yeah to the Sea Urchin mousse, served in its own sad carcass). Each was a feast for the eyes. The Brook Trout was splendid and it was served with local caviar hand-harvested by the chef. It was a little intense for my blood, but my husband was in fish roe heaven.

One of the most memorable courses was the “Tomato”, not because it was my favorite to eat but because it was my favorite to experience. We were first presented with a large centerpiece bowl filled with hot stones, tomato vines, and basil “to simulate the aromas of working in the garden”. Bingo! This fascinating touch made the entire course.

One of the dessert courses stood out – not only because they covered our table with a sheet of stretchy silicone and then poured berries, liquid nitrogen-frozen ice cream, and various accompaniments all over it, but because Chef Achatz himself was the pourer of said goodies. It was neat to see him in person – a true culinary artist.

The final touch was a sheet recapping the entire meal, including wines. Not only was everything listed, but each course is illustrated by a graphical representation of flavor intensity, sweetness, and portion size. So cool, Alinea people!

Overall, an amazing experience that I am so glad I had. The food was of course over-the-top, precious, and highly involving. The wines rocked my world. This was not a stuff-your-gullet, stumble home kind of meal. Alinea puts on a great show – part dinner, part theater for 4 1/2 hours and 24 courses.

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Reporting live from Chicago: Wholly Loving the Lincoln Park Whole Foods

I love Whole Foods. To be clear, I have always loved Whole Foods, even before being BLOWN AWAY by my recent outing to the newly established branch in Lincoln Park, Chicago. Not only is this store a mecca of all things that we love about Whole Foods (great selection coupled with great education) but they have the coolest little sub-businesses in place. For instance, interested in a glass of beer? Stop by the pub-style bar near the entrance. Itching for a cheese course? Plop down at their super-hip little wine bar and treat yourself to a flight of wine and cheese. Jeff and I enjoyed the “Off the Beaten Path Whites” flight (best was the Verdejo – one of my new favorites) and the “Cheesemonger’s Choice” cheese flight, which included Smokey Blue, Reserve Gruyere, and Camembert. They coupled it with candied pecans and a wonderful fruit drizzle. All in all, a nice little repast to distract me from the arduous task of selecting which Sopressata I wanted for my Stromboli tomorrow. Oh – and did I mention there’s a food court thing with BBQ, Taqueria, Sushi, Soda Fountain, etc.? Impressive to say the least. One word of advice to our local Whole Foods: get to Lincoln Park and check out your super-fly big brother. Maybe you could at least add the soda fountain? I’m jonesing for a milkshake.

Next stop: Alinea. Oh my.

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Over the Top Down Under

October’s wine event is SO cool! The main reason is that I love when my preconceptions are dashed. I’ve never been a big lover of Australian wines. They always seemed too lush, too round, too velvety. Boy was I surprised when I tasted the wines we are featuring in the wine event. Shocking! Please take a moment to sign up. You won’t regret it!

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Best in Show Has Arrived: Rogue River Blue

Yes, folks, after much begging and pleading with the folks at Rogue River Creamery, the country’s best cheese is now at Cheesetique. Rogue River Blue is a raw cow’s milk blue aged for nearly a year and wrapped in native Syrah leaves which have been soaked in Pear Brandy. According to the producer, “The grape leaves add additional complexity to the terroir driven flavors of the cheese and preserve its moist creamy texture.” And boy does it have the most amazing flavor ever! Not to mention its creamy yet chewy texture.

Rogue River Blue was just selected as Best in Show at the American Cheese Society conference in Austin, Texas. It beat out over 2000 other cheeses to receive this honor. This makes Rogue River Blue the undisputed BEST CHEESE IN AMERICA.

For those of you lucky enough to attend our upcoming American Winners cheese class, you will get to taste this exclusive cheese, which must be ordered months in advance. For those of you not coming to the class, YOU SHOULD COME TO THE CLASS! There are still spots open (www.cheesetique.com/events). You can also purchase this cheese for the steep but oh-so-worth-it price of $36/lb.

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