Our Cheeselog

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

How much cheese is “enough” cheese?

Quick! You’re hosting a group of six for hors d’oeuvres before dinner. Naturally, you choose to serve cheese. But how much is enough, without being too much? A good rule of thumb is four ounces total cheese for each person. So, let’s say you have four cheeses and six guests: 6 bellies x 4 oz. divided by 4 cheeses = 6 oz. (1/3 lb.) of each cheese. Simple, huh? Don’t forget bread/crackers and some nice accompaniments to round out the presentation. And always serve your cheeses at room temperature – an hour out of the fridge will do it.

Filed in: Cheeses, Shop

Cheers! to a Red-Friendly Dessert

Leftover red wine after your turkey dinner? Not usually easy to pair with dessert. Unless, of course, your dessert is a sublime mixed milk cheese bathed in chocolate sauce. Intrigued? Read on…

About the Cheese: La Tur

Oh La Tur, how I adore you. Every time I take that first bite, I think, “this is what cheese should taste like.” Made in Piedmont, Italy, from a blend of cow, sheep, and goat milk, this mini drum with its delicate rind will remind you why you fell in love with cheese to begin with. Served solo, it will shine (just make sure you let it set out of the fridge for an hour). In this warm, chocolatey recipe, it takes on a whole new meaning. Please make this dessert. It’s easy – if you can whisk, you can do it.

Ingredients

1 wheel La Tur cheese
1 oz. semisweet dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 small baguette

Instructions

  1. Remove wrapping and label from cheese. Folding parchment paper, wrap cheese like a present (consider this practice for Christmas). Set packet seam-side down on a rimmed baking sheet; let stand at room temperature until softened, at least 2 hours or up to 4 hours.
  2. When cheese is softened, fill a small saucepan with 2 inches water; bring water to a simmer. Put chocolate and salt in a metal bowl. Set bowl over (but not touching) the simmering water and, whisking, heat until chocolate is melted and salt is mostly dissolved. Remove bowl from heat, then whisking constantly, add oil in a slow and steady stream; set aside sauce.
  3. Heat oven to broil with rack about 5 inches from heat. Tear bread into small pieces, then arrange crust-down on baking sheet with cheese packet. Lightly drizzle bread with oil. Broil bread and cheese until both parchment and bread are charred, 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Transfer baking pan to a wire rack; let stand 3 minutes, then transfer warm cheese packet to a large serving platter or wooden board. Arrange toasted bread around packet. Tear open top of packet, then drizzle chocolate sauce over warm cheese and onto platter. Serve immediately.

 

*recipe courtesy Brooks Headley of Del Posto in NYC.

Filed in: Recipes

An Ode to The Cheese Stands Alone – and Matt Parker

Back in 2004, there were no cheese shops in our area. Sure, there were wine shops which also sold cheese, but no one who was fromage-focused. That needed to change, obviously. I knew cheese but I had no idea how to run a cheese business – I had never even worked in retail before. Having no immediate resources, I consulted the trusty internet and was surprised that all over the country, there were very few true cheese shops. Of course there were the superheroes, like Murray’s in New York, but that would be like asking Barbra Streisand for singing lessons. I had to find someone who did what I wanted to do… and who would help me learn.

Enter Matt Parker of The Cheese Stands Alone, which had opened in Chicago the year before. One email was all it took – Matt responded right away and not only offered to answer my questions, but invited me to shadow him in his shop. Imagine that! Back then, I didn’t realize what a big deal it was. Now that I own my own business and see how exhausting and engrossing it is, his openness was nothing short of extraordinary. Little did he know when he encouraged my questions that I would show up with multiple pages of them. The cheese cases I bought? Matt told me to go True. The slicer? Twelve inch blade, just like Matt said. The care we take with our cheeses? Matt showed me it could be done with passion and precision. Eight years later, there is nothing about which he steered me wrong.

So why this belated homage? I just found out that The Cheese Stands Alone closed back in 2008, right about the time when we were expanding and freaking out about adding a restaurant. A cheese restaurant. A cheese restaurant that might never have been if a kindly cheese pioneer like Matt Parker had ignored me… or said the cheese business was awful… or told me to take a hike.

Thank you, Matt Parker, on behalf of myself and the 80 wonderful cheese geeks who work in our two locations today. I hope you’re kicking ass somewhere great and keepin’ it real. And the next time you’re in DC, please come by – I owe you a drink (and a lot more).

Filed in: Blogging

Welcome to Ask the Cheese Lady

Is there something you’ve always wanted to know about cheese? Post it as a comment here! Cheese Lady Jill Erber will get you an answer in no-time.