Our Cheeselog

What the Heck is a Quince?

Still life of a Quince, before and after.

Still life of a Quince, before and after.

Our good friend the Quince might be a stranger to most of you. Usually, the only time we see one is after it’s been cooked to death, mixed with a ton of sugar, and allowed to solidify into a firm, slice-able paste. Creatively enough, this paste is called “Quince Paste”, or in much-prettier Spanish, “Membrillo” (mem-BREE-oh), and is one of the uber-traditional accompaniments for cheese.

The Quince is almost never seen in public in its original form (much like Cher), so imagine my delight when I visited the Grand Mart and saw a huge pile ‘o Quince (Quinces?) just waiting to be snatched up. I literally jumped up and down, clapping.

Once we got home, my daughter was eager to taste it (after all, Mommy leaped for joy). First, she could hardly get her teeth into it. Then, she looked at me, all puckery, like, “Mom,  I hate to disappoint you, but…” So of course I had to try it for myself. Although our Quince looked and felt much like a large yellow apple, biting into it revealed an unyielding, chewy interior and a muted yet sour flavor. Frankly, it tasted kind of icky.

So, how do I sum up the experience? It would be sort of like meeting Richard Simmons and finding out that he’s really rude. Kind of a let-down. So, dear Quince, I enjoyed our little rendezvous, but next time we meet, you’ll be in paste form.

~ Like what you’re reading? There’s more where that came from! Like us on Facebook and see new posts hot off the presses. ~

Crossing the DC Border for Good Liquor

Outside Schneider's of Capitol Hill. A great experience awaits within.

Outside Schneider’s of Capitol Hill. A great experience awaits within.

In preparation for an upcoming Tequila/Mezcal appreciation party, we needed to get our hands on some major Tequila – and we needed assistance is setting up a respectable Tequila buffet. I searched online for the best liquor store in DC and up popped Schneider’s of Capitol Hill. Easy!

The first thing you notice about Schneider’s is that it is small. Like REALLY small. And REALLY full of every liquor you could imagine. We were immediately greeted by Terry, who foolishly asked, “can I help you find something?” Well, 30 minutes later, poor Terry was still helping us. Not because he didn’t know anything, but because he knew everything about everything. He was a Tequila expert. He was a Lillet expert. He was an Absinthe expert. He was a Scotch expert. He helped me pick my new favorite Gin (Green Hat – from DC!), which made the perfect martini last night, and a new Vodka that he said would knock my socks off.

Let me put it this way – we went in for Tequila and walked out with a massive box of everything. A box that someone carried out and placed in our trunk! And we walked out with the most valuable thing of all… the memory of a GREAT experience.

Sadly, the whole time I was in Schneider’s, all I could think about was that it is impossible to have this kind of quality experience in Virginia. Simply walking into a state-run liquor store here is depressing. Trying to get any information is futile (unless you want “the Tequilas are over there” type of guidance). Schneider’s provides superior education and unique products so customers can’t imagine going anywhere else – and DC allows them to do that.

So, to sum up, Schneider’s = awesome experience.  Next time we need to stock up, this is where we’ll go. Oh – and state-run monopolies are bad.

Farm to Table Dinner with Smith Meadows’ Forrest Pritchard

Smith Meadow's farmer, Forrest Pritchard

Smith Meadow’s farmer, Forrest Pritchard

Last night, we attended a “Farm to Table” dinner at Bastille in Old Town, which focused on the amazing meats from Smith Meadows in Berryville, Virginia. Not only were the chicken, pork, beef, and lamb present and accounted for (and quickly filling my belly), but the farmer, Forrest Pritchard, was there to talk about the spirit of his operation. An actual English scholar, Mr. Pritchard had no problem speaking eloquently about what makes his agricultural heart go “pit-pat”. My favorite part was his explanation of how grass-fed meat better reflects “terroir” than corn-fed. This concept of terroir is something we spend a lot of time on at Cheesetique. Sure, everyone knows that wine reflects its environment, but they are often surprised to learn how important an animal’s surroundings, diet, and overall state of mind can be to the milk it produces (and the resulting cheese). Mr. Pritchard did a wonderful job of explaining this in terms of meat as well.

When I got to work this morning, I immediately had to check out the Smith Meadows website and happened upon their blog, which is hysterical – as only pooping goats can be – and also really inspirational. My favorite post so far: “What’s the Dumbest Farm Animal?” Please take a moment to read this – it will make you giggle (and also rethink how you deal with those around you).

In summary, the food was fantastic and the insights were… um… insightful. Hearing Mr. Pritchard talk about how farmers and customers are intrinsically connected was really heart-warming. You can feel this sensation yourself when shopping at our own Del Ray Farmers’ Market, where Smith Meadows just happens to have a booth. 

Is that a salami in your pocket? A cheese & meat love story.

Hunka-hunka-yummy salami from Creminelli Fine Meats.

Hunka-hunka-yummy salami from Creminelli Fine Meats.

Cheese and salami are two of my favorite foods, not only because they are both fatty and delicious, but because even though one is made from milk and the other meat, their origins, preparation, components, and variety are amazingly similar.

1. Origins: Cheese and salami were born out of a need to preserve highly perishable ingredients so people didn’t starve to death in the winter. Let me repeat: SO PEOPLE DIDN’T STARVE TO DEATH IN THE WINTER. How hard-core is that?

2. Preparation: Both are prepared by manipulating raw ingredients, adding salt, and storing in precise conditions for long periods of time. Both become more interesting as they age, developing complex flavors and supple textures. The true miracle of aging, though, is that the product is preserved (and improved) over weeks or months without rotting. (Because rotten food = starve to death in the winter, kapish?)

3. Components: Cheese and salami both rely on their skins to survive. Cheese skin is called a “rind” and salami skin is called a “casing”. The rind/casing protects the cheese/salami from drying out or getting unwanted stuff in it. Salami casing is often a section of animal intestine, but can also be synthetic. Happily for all of you vegetarians out there, the rind of a cheese is never an intestine (it’s usually just more cheese). Rinds and casings are almost always edible, but some choose to remove them before eating (whimps).

4. Variety: The multiple steps involved in preparing and aging cheese and salami can vary in myriad ways, resulting in thousands of different salamis from all over the world mainly from the same basic ingredients. Most are pork, but you will also find duck salami, venison salami, and even wild boar salami (tusks not included).

Cool Salami Fact #1: Along with Prosciutto and other hams, salami is a member of the “cured meat” family. Just like your relatives, the cured meat family is full of different personalities. Unlike your relatives, however, cured meats are always fun to be around… and they never ask to borrow money.

Cool Salami Fact #2: As you can see in our sexy centerfold photo, salami comes in all shapes and sizes. It is best served sliced (thick or thin) and you can dab on a bit of mustard if you like.

Cool Salami Fact #3: The fine white powder on the outside of salami’s casing is mold. Yes, mold. Get over it.

So, now that the lesson is over, go forth and indulge in two of the most miraculous foods on earth. I personally guarantee that you won’t starve to death in the winter.

~ Like what you’re reading? There’s more where that came from! Like us on Facebook and see new posts hot off the presses. ~

Don’t go out of your whey…

Curd and whey, before separation.

Curd and whey, before separation.

When transforming milk into cheese, we end up with two products: curd (the clumped-together solids that had been floating around in the milk) and whey (the liquid which holds of the solids). The curd gets to move closer toward immortality when it becomes a cheese. But the “leftover” whey is more than just a byproduct of cheese making. Whey is full of protein and lactose (this is why there is actually very little lactose in cheese). This means that whey is both nutritious and deliciously sweet. We can use whey for several things:

1. Ricotta cheese. The word Ricotta means “recooked” in Italian. By heating the whey, even more sneaky solids will settle out. Those creamy/fluffy bits become one of the simplest delicacies: fresh Ricotta. Great in lasagna. Even better on a spoon.

2. Feed your critters. Whey can be added to animal feed as a way to enhance the nutritive value.

3. Fertilize your crops. Yep, pour some whey on your crops and you have natural approach to plant food.

4. Grow your muscles. Ever wonder about those enormous containers of “whey protein” in the health food store? Well, wonder no more. This is simply dehydrated whey, full of protein (obviously) and used to “pump you up” for generations.

So, as they say, waste not, want not. That’s whey cool!

Filed in: Blogging, Cheeses

Is that cheese… or a traffic cone?

A lovely yellow Mustard Seed Gouda from Holland.

A lovely yellow Mustard Seed Gouda from Holland.

Milk is white, not orange. Ever wondered how orange cheese was born?

Historically, cheese with more butterfat could be sold for a higher price at market. Higher butterfat naturally gives cheese a deeper, more creamy/yellowy color, so shoppers could look for more color when they wanted the best, most nutritious cheese. When ancient cheese makers wanted to cheat, they would skim the cream off of their milk and turn that into butter to make additional income. Then, left with only skim milk with which to make their cheese, they invented a way to give their “skinny” cheese the “heavyweight” color. Adding artificial colors from flower petals and other sources tricked consumers into paying more.

How and when this slight influence of color turned into the neon orange cheeses we see today, I have no idea. It must have been like someone who uses too much spray tanner… they just don’t know when to stop (and they think they look great).

Interestingly, orange cheeses have become staples of certain cultures. For instance, East Coast Americans want their Cheddar white and Midwestern Americans want their Cheddar orange. In fact, some cheese makers will produce the same cheese in both orange and white for different regions. Today, cheeses can be colored naturally (using annatto seed) or artificially (using synthetic dyes).

Tribute to delicious Alexandria Businesses: Willie Nelson thanks you

Yesterday, my husband and I hosted a “Happy Birthday Willie Nelson” party at our home. The red-headed stranger is turning 80 and what better tribute than to strut around in red bandanas, listen to Willie and his friends, inhale good old-fashioned American grub, and eat a huge cake decorated with Willie’s image?

In planning the party, I relied on three local Alexandria favorites to make sure the food was awesome (’cause I had a lot of red bandanas to fold):

1. Mama Reacer’s on Mt. Vernon Avenue: fried chicken, collards, yams. I ordered with Chef Chris on Friday and when I arrived to pick up on Saturday, there was such an impressive collection of hand-made foodstuffs, I almost cried. The love and care with which each item was prepared and packaged was amazing. I was shown each item and told exactly how to store then warm at home, putting extra emphasis on keeping that chicken crispy. Between the muffled grunts, lip smacking, and finger licking, I am sure that all of our guests fully enjoyed… they couldn’t believe I had access to this stuff a mere 4 blocks from my home. Just call me lucky.

2. Buzz Bakery on Slater’s Lane: enormous Willie Nelson-inspired birthday cake. When I first called and spoke to Kevin, I thought he would label me insane – “you’re having a party for whom?” I asked if his team could prepare a large sheet cake with an image of Willie. His response, “Wow – this is fun. Let me talk with our pastry chef and we’ll reference some images for inspiration. I’ll call you back soon with ideas.” My thoughts? “Is this guy for real?!?!” I soon heard back from Kevin, who told me that Alex was up to the challenge. They’d have it ready for me at 2:00, but they’d take it out of the fridge at the break of dawn so it was perfectly room temperature when we ate it. Nice!

3. Rockland’s BBQ on Quaker Lane: Mega helpings o’ BBQ. Poor Rocklands… I called them at 12:30 and asked in my nicest voice whether I could pick up 10 pounds of pulled pork (with buns), 4 quarts of coleslaw, and a quart of pickles in an hour. Their answer? Sure! When I picked up my order, the gentlemen behind the counter helped me pick some of their favorite hot sauces from the “Shelves of Fire”. I apologized for calling so late. Their response? “No problem at all! If you had called us 5 minutes ago, we still would have had it ready for you.” Um… can I bottle that Rockland’s hospitality please? Oh wait… they already have 🙂

Needless to say, the party was a huge success. Making a bunch of grown adults wear red bandanas ensures a fun afternoon. And giving their kids unlimited lollipops doesn’t hurt. Oh – and the weather was heavenly. But what really made the party memorable? The food! I have never seen guests take home so many leftovers – they were actually waiting in line to fill their to-go plates. Now that’s some good grub!

But what made me so super-duper proud was the collection of exceptional businesses right in our back yard. Each helped me plan, order, and execute and incredible spread. There was pride in every step, from Mama Reacer’s Chef Chris saying with a smile, “You made me work hard this morning“, to Buzz’s Alex laughing because after she put the cake photo online, her friends thought she actually knew Willie Nelson, to the kind folks at Rockland’s making sure I had three unique yet equally-complimentary sauces for both pulled pork and fried chicken. As a business owner, I know how hard it is to pull off the ultimate combo: great service and great product. It was great to see these folks in action.

Thank you all!

Oh – and check out that cake – it’s amazing what a gifted person can do with buttercream…

WillieCake

MarCheese Madness at Cheesetique: Get the Latest Results Here!

The only thing I know about “brackets” is that they tend to hold things in place. But when our Cheese Director, Tommy Ferraro, recommended a massive cheese taste-off to coincide with some little basketball event, I jumped at the opportunity. And a new epic event was born.

Tommy picked 32 of our most popular cheeses and strategically pitted them against each other. (For the record, he compared this to “picking your favorite child.”)

Each day, in each location, YOU will taste and vote on your favorite. Thus the narrowing-down will begin. Building in anticipation, day after day, we will approach the “Fromage Four” and then there will be just two. The winner from each store will face off… with only one rising to true supremacy.

Hurry to a Cheesetique near you (or both, if you can) to taste and vote. Make it happen, people!

MarCheese-Madness-Bracket

(click to view the current MarCheese Madness bracket)

Filed in: Cheeses, Events

OMG! Food & Wine!

I’ve never really been an “OMG” person, but suffice it to say that it is every restauranteur’s dream to be featured in Food & Wine Magazine. And this month, that honor is ours! Cheesetique’s original and classic Mac ‘n Cheesetique was selected as one of the best mac ‘n cheeses in the entire country! Thank you so much, Food & Wine folks. You really made our Christmas!

Check out the details here.

Filed in: Blogging

Hell hath no fury like Santa scorned: the stinkier side of Christmas

So, here’s my theory. Santa is kind of a vindictive guy. If you’re naughty, not only will he withhold gifts, but he will even go out of his way to leave a piece of coal in your stocking. Coal is heavy and carrying a load of it on a sleigh is no small thing. You have to be really irked to roll this way. You’re not just ignoring people’s requests – you’re actually leaving a mean little reminder of the fact that they failed at basic niceness.

This holiday season, I have a great – dare I say revolutionary – idea for Santa. Instead of leaving coal, leave a big hunk of stinky cheese. Here are just five of the reasons:

  1. You think coal is punishment? Imagine waking to find a warm, gooey wad of super-stinky cheese jammed at the bottom of your stocking.
  2. Stinky cheese will stick with you. You dig your hand down, looking for chocolate, but NO! Instead, you are marked for the rest of the day by the tell-tale funk of naughtiness. And I challenge you to wash it off – not happening! It’s like the Scarlet Letter and Macbeth all rolled into one. Out, damned stink!
  3. Stinky cheese is less wasteful. Honestly, what are all the naughty kids going to do with their hunks of coal? Nothing! If you leave them stinky cheese instead, there’s at least a chance one of their grandparents will say, “Hey – no need to waste that cheese. Just get me a cracker.”
  4. Stinky cheese is more humane. Let’s not forget about the extra work for the elves (hopefully just the naughty ones), who are probably forced to mine all that coal while being prodded with candy canes. It’s a sad thing.
  5. Stinky cheese is flexible. Someone was just a little naughty? Leave them a wedge of Reblochon. Medium-naughty? Limburger. Super-naughty? Stinking Bishop all the way.

Santa, I like you. You’ve always been good to me (I particularly remember the year you brought an Easy-Bake Oven and a set of walkie-talkies). Plus, I get you. You’re not a turn-the-other-cheek kind of guy. You reward the good and wreak havoc on the bad. But trust me when I say there is WAY more reeky havoc at your fingertips. Just give me a call and I’ll hook you up. I’ll also mention it to our Elf on the Shelf just in case.

Merry Christmas to all you hard-core Santas out there! And we’ll have your stinky cheese waiting!

Filed in: Blogging, Cheeses