Our Cheeselog

Grayson, a.k.a. Sir Stinks-a-lot

Grayson is one of those cheeses that people either love… or can’t stand. Like literally can’t stand near it. Falling into the Washed-Rind category, Grayson is a particularly heady specimen. Not only it its rind moist and pungent, but the cheese is also unpasteurized, which makes the flavors even more pronounced. The paste is velvety and rich while the edible rind is supple and piquant (yes, this rind is edible – try it!)

Some call Grayson “meaty” or “farmy” or even “fruity” (yes – those are the hard-core stink lovers). I call Grayson a work of art, made by hand on a family farm in Galax, Virginia, called Meadow Creek Dairy. The cows are pasture-born and pasture-raised, never confined, and dine on rich grasses all season long.

Cheeses like Grayson are best paired with off-dry white wines like Riesling or for the optimal combination, go for a full-flavored beer.

Learn how to store stinky cheeses like Grayson at home in this handy-dandy video by our owner, Jill Erber.

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Dragon’s Breath: Raw. Fiery. Fierce.

Keswick Creamery’s Dragon’s Breath has been with Cheesetique almost from the beginning. Once we tasted it, we knew that it would be the only cheese on earth that could make our Pimiento Cheese so special. We used it then. We use it now.

Keswick Creamery is a special place. Located near Newburg, PA, it takes pride in its herd of Jersey cows, which graze on fresh pastures and never see artificial hormones. Keswick uses organic practices and time-honored cheese-making techniques.

Dragon’s Breath is a raw cows’ milk cheese in the style of Jack, but with the addition of Jalapeño, Habanero, and Birdseye peppers. This trifecta of fire makes for such a unique, layered heat, that Dragon’s Breath is elevated from merely a “pepper jack” to a work of art. Another reason this cheese is so exceptional? The unpasteurized milk gives the cheese itself such defined flavor, it really stands up to the spice.

If you want to try Dragon’s Breath in the flesh, ask for a taste at our cheese counter. Or take home a tub of our Pimiento Cheese. You won’t regret it.

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Pecorino Romano: Savory and Sassy

In Italian, the word “Pecorino” simply means “sheep’s milk cheese.” There are hundreds produced, ranging from young and tender to firm and intense, and including anything from peppercorns to truffles to red pepper flakes.

Because we cook so much with cheese, I’m always seeking flavorful, robust, low-maintenance additions to our cheese drawer. One that often cycles through is the beloved Pecorino Romano. This cheese is made today just as it has been for over 2000 years (in fact, it was carried as rations for ancient Roman troops because it was so nutritious). When you taste Pecorino Romano, you are tasting history.

Milk: 100% Sheep

Taste: Salty and super-tangy. Some would even call it “gamey.” But in a great way.

Texture: Very firm. Perfect for grating, but also for slicing. Serving at room temperature is CRITICAL for this cheese, as the high fat content will cause it to be brittle and almost flavorless when cold.

Cooking: Melts well, but is especially impactful when grated over roasted vegetables or pasta, as its flavor is robust throughout heating.

 

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Fish & cheese taste great together

One of the greatest misconceptions is that seafood cannot be paired with cheese. I’m not really sure where this originated, but it must be debunked. Hopefully, this recipe will help.

Grilled Grouper with Melon/Cucumber Salad and Feta Cheese

1) Cut 1/2 pound each of watermelon, cantaloupe, and cucumber into bite-size chunks.
2) Toss with 1/4 cup fresh lime juice and 1 tsp. toasted chili powder (toast chili powder in a dry pan over medium heat until fragrant).
3) Salt and pepper 1 lb. of fresh grouper filets, then grill to desired temperature.
4) Plate grouper, top with generous scoop of melon/cucumber salad, and crumble 1/4 lb. Feta over the entire dish.
5) Garnish with chopped parsley.

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Feta Cheese: Ancient & Awesome

Feta is one of the most ancient cheeses in the world. In fact, some claim it was the “first” cheese ever created. Since this was many thousands of years ago, we may never know the full story, but suffice it to say that Feta has witnessed every major world event since the foundation of human society. Wow.

Feta is very simple – a fresh cheese whose curd is pressed and then preserved in salty brine. Stored this way, Feta can last for months, which would have served ancient people well in the days before refrigeration.

Milk: Originally, Feta would have been made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. Today, most Feta in the world is made from milder cow’s milk, as it is more plentiful (Feta is very popular).

Taste: Because of its unique preparation, Feta is a very salty cheese. If made from sheep’s milk, it is also quite full-flavored (almost gamey). When made from cow’s milk, it’s still salty, but you won’t get that nice full flavor – you get mostly salt.

Texture: Since the curd is just lightly pressed together, Feta is very crumbly, and works beautifully as a topping to other dishes. When you put it in your mouth, however, high quality Feta will become quite creamy, not grainy.

Cooking: Feta melts well, turning soft, not gooey, and maintains its flavor when heated.

One way to serve Feta which will blow your mind is to mix it with fresh melon of any kind. It’s a life-changer. Check out this recipe, where we pair Feta, melon, and grilled Grouper (yes – FISH!) with Feta. If you think fish can’t go with cheese, this will change your mind.

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An Epic Battle of the Goudas

Just for kicks, we decided to have our own little Battle of the Goudas at Chez Erber. The final decision was made by a toddler, so that’s always exciting.

Beemster XO (right), with its deeper color, advanced crystallization, and brittle texture competes against Wilde Weide (left), with a more buttery color and firm but creamy texture.

The first contestant was the ever-popular (and eternal Cheesetique staple) Beemster XO, a 26-month pasteurized cow’s milk Gouda renowned for its deep butterscotchy flavor and dense, chewy texture. The second, a relative youngster, was Wilde Weide, a raw cow’s milk Gouda aged for about 15 months. Both cheeses hail from the Netherlands.

The big question is: will advanced age beat out raw milk?

Aroma: You can smell Beemster’s sweet richness a mile away. Your hands smell like butterscotch after you’ve handled it. Wilde Weide is more delicate so you don’t get that same aromatic punch. Winner: Beemster.

Texture: Beemster is chewy and crunchy, bordering on brittle. Wilde Weide is also super-firm, but raw milk makes it more creamy on the palate. Winner: Wilde Weide.

Flavor: Beemster is intensely sweet and savory at the same time, tasting of salty butterscotch. Wilde Weide is more subtle, still having butterscotch notes, but not so “in-your-face.” Winner: Wilde Weide.

Overall: For a more nuanced flavor with excellent creaminess, go for Wilde Weide. If you want an intense “a little goes a long way” experience, go for Beemster.

To make the final decision, I checked with the nearest 2-year-old child, who happens to be the exact same age as the Beemster we tested. Which did she prefer? The pictures speak for themselves.

The moment of anticipation. Which will she choose?

The moment of anticipation. Which will she choose?

The first bite. Not necessarily the method I'd recommend in good company.

The first bite. Not necessarily the method I’d recommend in good company.

Hmmm...

Hmmm…

The face says it all. The winner is... Wilde Weide! (at least for this toddler)

The face says it all. The winner is… Wilde Weide! (at least for this toddler)

Filed in: Blogging, Cheeses

This “First Lady” is no Cheese Diva

What is one of my go-to cheeses for almost any event? When I’m out of Parm (yes, that does happen), what makes a worthy substitute? What is one of the lowest-maintenance cheeses on earth (despite its operatic name)?

It’s… Prima Donna!

Prima Donna is a Gouda-style cheese from Holland made from 100% cow’s milk. It is aged for about a year, resulting in a mild, balanced flavor and a supple, chewy texture which is never brittle. At first chew, this delightful cheese turns all creamy on the palate, literally coating your tongue with cheesy goodness. And when I say that no one dislikes Prima Donna, I mean NO ONE. It’s the definition of a crowd-pleaser.

I call Prima Donna “low maintenance” because it can sit out at room temperature for quite a while without losing its lovely appearance or texture. In fact, its flavor will only become more interesting.

Pair your Prima Donna with any robust red wine like Syrah or Zinfandel, as the caramel notes of the cheese will bring out the fruit in the wine.

Watch “The Long View on Prima Donna.” Ain’t she lovely?

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The Cheese Lady’s Favorite Cheese

Wedge of Piave, complete with photobomb by Ballston Server, Kouamy.

Over thirteen years ago, I tasted a cheese called Piave Vecchio and it opened my eyes to the wonders of hard-aged cheese, which could be both bold and incredibly nuanced.

After opening my own cheese shop, I began to taste hundreds of different cheeses, assuming that as my palate developed, Piave would lose its luster. Amazingly, all these years (and thousands of cheeses) later, Piave Vecchio is still my favorite cheese. Before we talk about why, let’s get a little background.

Piave Vecchio (meaning “Old Bridge” in Italian) is a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from the Veneto region of Italy. Aged for at least 12 months, it is similar to Parmigiano Reggiano, but its texture is more tender and smooth, making it easier to eat straight.

So, how can one cheese remain a favorite for so many years? Simply put, because Piave Vecchio is really a bunch of cheeses rolled into one.

1) Its texture is dense and chewy but also creamy, something very difficult to achieve. This makes it an ideal eating cheese, but also perfect for grating.

2) Its flavor is muti-layered. At first, you taste salty then fruity then butterscotch-y then nutty. All of this complexity means that the cheese never tastes the same twice. How mysterious! Plus, its flavor holds up to heat – even more reason to cook with it.

3) Its crystals are crunch-tastic. Piave is filled with crystalized proteins that only the finest aged cheeses possess. These crystals have no flavor, but boy do they make chewing fun!

Eat it straight, grate it on pasta, cook with it, or dip chunks in honey as a quick, rustic dessert. And as if you needed more reason, Piave pairs beautifully with red or white wine.

Piave Vecchio: the perfect cheese.

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A Cheesy Moment… Del Ray’s Scott Freestone

Today, we focus on Del Ray’s Front of House Manager, Scott Freestone. What he writes about cheese is moving and, frankly, poetic. Scott LOVES cheese, the people who make it, and the people who appreciate it. Read on!

1. How long have you worked at Cheesetique?

It will be three years this August.

2. What advice would you give to a cheese novice?

Taste. Taste. Taste. The only way to know what you like is to try everything, and that means finding out what you don’t like as well. It’s easily the best thing about cheese from a consumer’s standpoint. Forget country, milk type and style when you taste things so you’re not hoping for something you’ve had before and so you can take every cheese at face value. Soon enough you’ll have a solid idea of what you do and don’t like and the rest will come naturally. Finding great cheese is like searching for a great record or bottle of wine, you have to hunt for it and work for it! You should try to be as adventurous as your palate will allow (and then go a little bit further).

3. How do you know a great cheese when you find it?

A great cheese will tell YOU it’s great, not the other way around. It plays such an important part of the human experience, not simply as a food but as a cultural and regional tradition that can stretch back farther than we’ll ever probably know. It connects people to not only their personal upbringing but the history of a specific region and the collective experience of the people that created it. Great cheese always makes me imagine people sharing that same wheel long before I was alive and gives you a small connection to that past and to why makers work so hard to keep a traditional cheese’s integrity. At the bottom of it, I think a great cheese simply highlights the animals, land and people that made it, and you can truly taste all of those things in the best of the best. When you can’t decide why exactly, but you know you have to have just a few more tastes, you’ve most likely found something really special. 

4. You will be participating in The Cheesemonger Invitational in New York this year. What are you most nervous about?

Other mongers that have participated in CMI have been so open and excited about their experience that it takes some of the fear out of it. I’m really nervous about what to expect, just the unknown. OK and the written test. Having a chance to sell a cheese to the person that made it is both really exciting and makes me sweat a little bit just to think about. I’m really excited to get a chance to absorb as much experience and knowledge as possible while getting to meet a ton of energetic and accomplished mongers. This is the greatest profession in the world if you want to meet people that are passionate about every step in the process from maker to counter that even the most knowledgeable are still seeking new info and experience to make them better day-to-day. The community is so supportive that the competition is really just for fun and bragging rights compared to the chance to learn from acclaimed makers from around the globe.

5. Cow, Sheep, or Goat?

Sheep. Period. All day every day. Sheep are stingy with milk, but what they give is so pure, earthy, sweet and specific to a place. They start smooth and grassy and age out to a beautiful nutty and caramel-y earth flavor with the most unique texture. Not only that, but adding just a little bit of sheep’s milk to a cow- or goat-dominant wheel brings out the best that the other milk has to offer. All milks are so unique and specific that every meal, drink, or snack calls for something different, so who could really choose?

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4 Steps to Make Grilled Cheese Great

In order to transform your Grilled Cheese from “good” to “great,” follow these four simple steps:

1. Most importantly, a great Grilled Cheese starts with… great cheese. Sometimes we are tempted to use “easy-melting” artificial cheese. I’ll let you in on a little secret: most cheese is “easy-melting” when you shred it first. So, pick a great cheese (nothing too aged, as its moisture is so low), shred it, and spread evenly on the bread.

2. Use olive oil, not butter. Many recipes recommend butter, but in the time it takes to properly toast the bread and melt the cheese, butter tends to burn. Ick. I use olive oil instead – its higher smoke point is your friend here.

3. Cover the pan and cook over low heat. Once you place your sandwich in the hot oiled pan, give it a little press with a spatula and then cover the pan and cook on low until the bottom bread is nice and toasty. Then, flip the sandwich, press again, and cover again. Your cheese will melt nicely without burning the bread.

4. Let it sit for a minute after removing from the pan. This allows the melted cheese to settle in a bit before cutting. And remember – your cheesy creation will be HOT, so bite carefully.

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