As many of you know, our beloved 8 ft. cheese case, Big Bertha, is no more. My first big equipment purchase when Cheesetique opened, she kept our cheeses cool and our community fed for eleven long years. Sure, she needed some tweaks and repairs along the way, but on that fateful Sunday when her spirit failed, we knew it was time to let her go.
While we waited for her replacement to arrive, she sat there, empty and warm, a mere shadow of her former self. It must have hurt to see the neighboring cheese cases absorb her cargo, even if fitting her cheeses into their smaller profiles was a struggle. But in true Big Bertha form, she never complained, stoically holding her ground.
As a small token of our love, we emblazoned her with a large canvas on which well-wishers could write notes of condolence. I gotta say I was surprised that people embraced this with such humor, cleverness, and – yes – genuine emotion. Here are some of my favorite excerpts for your reading pleasure.
*Note – Big Bertha was taken away today and her replacement slid into her slot with humble grace. I think she knows the shoes she’s being asked to fill and we have faith that she will do so, while remaining cool, of course. Watch for the chronicle of Big Bertha’s life, demise, and removal, coming soon.
Years ago, my husband expressed his dream of being able to dry age meat at home. One day, as he browsed Kickstarter, he exclaimed, “Someone invented my idea!” Naturally, he immediately “Kickstarted” this piece of equipment, called the Steak Locker… and waited. Lo and behold, about a year later, his Steak Locker was built and delivered. And here is the story of how we will fulfill his years-old dream. We call it, “Dry Aging in the House!”
Our Steak Locker arrived and Jeff immediately installed it in the oldest/coldest part of our basement, right next to the wine fridge. My secret hope is that the two will mate and produce little tiny fridgelets. But I digress.
Once unpacked and plugged in, Jeff set up the atomizer (for humidity control) and the UV light (for preventing really funky things from growing) and we were ready to go! The next step? Pick the meat. Jeff decided on a bone-in NY Strip rack for two reasons: 1) Bone-in supposedly dry-ages better; 2) NY Strip is freakin’ tasty! We selected USDA Prime grade meat, which is less than 2% of meat available, because the marbling and tenderness are considered superior. Go big or go home, right?
I contacted one of Cheesetique’s vendors, Chefs’ Warehouse, to see what they had to offer. Allen Brothers is a pretty amazing producer and they had exactly what we wanted, so we had it delivered on Friday. Right into our kitchen fridge it went, to await my husband’s joyful return.
The Steak Locker awaits… the purple block at the top is salt (to control humidity and enhance flavor) and the green cube at the bottom is the atomizer.
Here is our Assistant Front of House Manager, Alexa, cuddling the 15 lb. hunk o’ meat after it arrived in Shirlington.
Time to weigh the meat so we can determine the true yield once fully aged (the meat will lose LOTS of weight in the process). Our NY Strip sheepishly stepped on the scale…
Once weighed, Jeff opened, rinsed, and dried the meat.
Gloves are key.
Blot blot blot
Here is the proud papa with his pride and joy. We named it Bertha, just because we could never name one of our children that without her hating us forever.
Next, it’s into the Steak Locker! No trimming, so seasoning, no wrapping, nothing.
Rest well, my little morsel.
Finally, Jeff set up the Steak Locker app, which will automatically monitor and adjust temperature, humidity, and air circulation during the aging process (we’re aiming for 45 days).
And “Bertha” is born.
This will quickly adjust upward to about 70%.
This will quickly adjust downward to about 34 degrees.
That’s it for now! I’ll post updates every week so you can see how the meat changes. Then, in about a month and a half, IT’S FEAST TIME!!!
At Cheesetique we have hundreds of cheeses, each chosen for a specific reason, from flavor to color to story. With so many cheeses, how do we answer the question, “What makes a great cheese?”
I decided to go right to the experts: the amazingly talented folks of Cheesetique. I asked each one the simple question, “What makes a great cheese?” And here is what they said…
- Thomas (Store Director): “Depth of flavor. It has an initial flavor that develops into something else.”
- Charisse (Bartender): “Flavorful, not too funky.”
- Ellie (Cheesemonger): “The perfect balance of sweet and salty.”
- Ross (Server): “Flexible. Both physically and within the cuisine.” (I’m not quite sure what he means by “physically flexible” – does it need to be able to do a back bend?)
- Angel (Manager): “Starts from the ground up and is taken care of every step of the way from the dairy to the creamery to the customer and gives you a sense of place.” (Angel wins for the most beautiful answer delivered so smoothly you would think he’d practiced it.)
- Moe (Kitchen Supervisor): “To me, the texture. A lot of cheeses I don’t like just because the texture is wrong.”
- Jeff (my husband): If it’s called “Mt. Tam,” “Beemster Gouda,” or “Shropshire Blue,” it’s a great cheese. (For the record, he had the most trouble answering this question. It was like pulling teeth. Perhaps Angel could tutor him.)
So that settles it. A “great cheese” has depth of flavor, lack of funkiness, balance, flexibility, a sense of place, pleasant texture, and it may or may not be named “Mt. Tam.” There you go!
Myth: Cheese is not for hot weather.
Fact: Cheese is a year-round staple. Read on to learn a few tricks for maximizing enjoyment… and minimizing cheese sweat.
Cheese is fat. And what happens to fat when it gets hot? It liquefies – and in the case of cheese, it sweats. You’ve all seen this – the telltale droplets of oil that collect on the surface of your cheeses, especially firms ones, when they get too warm. Even though this does not affect overall flavor, it can be off-putting. And letting it go on too long can result in an oddly-textured cheese.
So what’s a warm-weather cheese lover to do?
1. Serve softer, creamier cheeses instead of hard-aged ones. They will sweat less. Also, their lighter flavor and texture will make them more attractive to your guests.
2. Re-plump your platter often. Instead of putting out large hunks of cheese and letting them bake in the heat, serve smaller pieces and plump them up with fresh ones as needed (or make two smaller platters, one of which you keep in the fridge, and then do a magical switch-a-roo).
3. Don’t be afraid to blot. Yes, grab a paper towel and dab your sweaty cheese to remove oil droplets. Do not use the same towel to dab your face because you will smell like overheated cheese, which is a party foul.
4. Pair your cheese with fresh, cool accompaniments. Cold fruit and crisp veggies work wonders. And of course, don’t forget the chilled white or rosé wine. You should have gallons of this on-hand all summer anyway.
Hope this helps, heat lovers!
One of my favorite restaurants used to make a lip-smacking Grasshopper Pie. It was so good that my husband and I would get it to-go even if we were full so we could eat it later. It was so good that we would hide it from our children and eat it after they went to bed. Then one day, I went to eat with some friends and told them, “just wait till dessert – you’re going to die when you taste the Grasshopper Pie.” When we ordered it, I almost did die – but only because they said they no longer had it on the menu. WHAT?!?!?!?!
I briefly considered taking the loss in stride, quietly mourning a sweet held so dear. But as luck would have it, I own a restaurant… and we began developing our own version days later. Now that it’s on the menu at Cheesetique, I can order a delicious Grasshopper Parfait whenever I want. Which is way too often, frankly.
So, to that other restaurant, I still love you and dine with you often. But when I want the best Grasshopper in town, I hop down the street to Cheesetique, where necessity was the mother of dessert invention.
Tonight we are cooking a beloved Mario Batali recipe – Spicy Black Pepper Drumsticks. It calls for a blue cheese dipping sauce and Batali recommends Gorgonzola. At which point my husband puts his foot down.
Jeff is very particular about his blue cheese. Not a fan of the “soapy” flavor which he claims some blue cheeses have, he avoids Gorgonzola and pretty much anything American and instead leans toward traditional “earthy” blues like Stilton, Shropshire, Valdeon, and Bayley Hazen. Basically, if it’s cave-aged, it’s right up his alley. In contrast, the only qualification I have for a blue cheese is that it needs to be heading toward my mouth.
But when it comes to a dipping sauce, I start getting all picky. I like my dipping sauces zingy and fresh (or “bright” as I often call it), nothing with overly-earthy notes. And I don’t want an off-putting gray color, which can result from mushing up super-moldy blues (ahem, Valdeon).
So, we compromise. And this is where Cashel Blue comes in. No one would call Cashel timid. It is creamy and luscious, perfectly salty without being to heavy. And the best part? It has bright notes of flavor while being earthy enough for even Jeff’s palate. You could say it’s a choice made in cheese heaven.
Signing off so I can drink the resulting Cashel Blue dipping sauce with a straw.
What is Marcheese Madness?
We have selected 32 of our top cheeses for an epic taste-off! These are the cream of the crop, with a couple underdogs thrown in (because who doesn’t love an underdog?) Every day, two cheeses go head-to-head in each Cheesetique location, with the day’s victor chosen by the customer vote. Winners from each day advance through the rounds until the leaders from each location compete for the 2015 Marcheese Madness championship!
How do you participate?
Between now and this Friday, PRINT (or pick up in person) your blank Marcheese Madness Bracket. Fill it in and drop it off at either Cheesetique location by Friday, March 20th. The tastings (and voting) begin on Saturday, March 21st, so come in every day to sample that day’s cheeses and cast your vote. Winners will be announced on Monday, April 6th.
The bracket winner from each store will receive a massive gift bucket worth $200. Yes, $200 of cheesey goodness could be yours!
Print your blank bracket here: Marcheese Madness Bracket 2015
Her: “What do you do for work?”
Me: “I own a cheese shop.”
Her: “Wow! I just LOVE tea!”
Me: “No… it’s a CHEESE shop.”
Her: “Yeah, I know. Like Teavana!”
Me: “Yes, exactly.”
Well, it’s only three weeks into the new year, so now’s about the time for me to post my top 10 Cheese Resolutions for 2015. Some are personal and some are Cheesetique-related.
1. Travel more to cheese-centric places. (With a newborn in the house, this might prove the biggest challenge. But I’m willing to try!)
2. Get creative with alternatives to Parmigiano Reggiano. (Aged Gouda on truffle pasta? Yes, please!)
3. Eat some form of cheese every day. (No, I do not currently do this. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble.)
4. Add brunch on Saturdays at Cheesetique. (Oh wait – we already did that! YAY!)
5. Eat more raw milk cheese. (Enough is never enough.)
6. Eat more sheep’s milk cheese. (So much calcium and other goodies. Plus, sheep are really cute and I want to support them.)
7. Eat more raw sheep’s milk cheese. (Ossau Iraty, I’m coming for you!)
8. Begin making our own Mozzarella every week. (This has been a years-long desire that JUST NEEDS TO HAPPEN ALREADY!!!)
9. Drink more beer with my cheese. (Or without my cheese. Really, just drink more beer.)
10. Have another cheese-tastic year at Cheesetique. (Shouldn’t be too hard with all our our amazing customers and staff!)
A new Cheese-mas installment from our ever-creative Asst. Front of House Manager, Dave Vaala.
Twas the holiday season
And all ’round our store
the Mongers were scurrying
about the retail floor
The servers had set
All the tables with care
In hopes that our customers
Would soon sit there.
The white wines were nestled
Right next to the reds
And the cheeseboards were stocked
With New York Flatbreads.
The kitchen was prepped
With mountains of macs
Our wine glasses polished
On shelves and on racks.
Then all of a sudden
There arose SUCH a clatter
The managers hurried
To see WHAT was the matter!
They flew from the office
And right to the bar
And caught sight of our owner,
Getting out of her car.
Over her shoulder
Was a red sack made of wool
That caused her to wobble
(cause it was so full)
She jumped from the sidewalk
threw open the door
Her bag tumbled over
And onto the floor
Out spilled wedges
And wheels of cheese
Beemster and Daffinois!
And Prairie Breeze!
Jill sprung back to her car
Quick as a flash
And off through the streets
We saw her drive past.
As the snow flurried
And as sleighbells all rung
The wind carried her voice
And the words that she sung:
On Stilton! On Cheddar! on Cambozola Blue!
On Gouda! On Grayson! And Ewephoria Too!
Her voice disappeared
As she drove out of Sight
With a Merry Cheese-mas to all!
And to all a goodnight!