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Why is Cheese Orange?

A lovely yellow Mustard Seed Gouda from Holland.

A lovely pale 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. Legend has it that when old-world 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 people who use 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 communities. 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 (annatto seed) or artificially (synthetic dyes).

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.

Stop! Don’t toss that rind.

Once the delicious Parm has been grated away, most of us just toss the rind, believing it to be useless. It’s hard. It’s waxy on the outside. It has writing on it, for goodness sake! Well, that rind has not seen its last hurrah – because what is the rind of a wheel of Parm? Super-concentrated Parm! The flavors within are just waiting to be released.

No, you can’t put the rind on your cheese platter, but you CAN cook with it! Simply toss the rind into soup or sauce while cooking and the cheesiness will melt seamlessly, boosting flavor and adding richness. Once your dish is done cooking, simply remove the (now squishy) rind and throw it away.

Can’t use the rind right away? Place it in a ziploc bag and store it in the freezer. No need to thaw before using.

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Thank you, Del Ray, for 13 Amazing Years!

In September of 2004, Del Ray welcomed Cheesetique with open arms. In the 13 years since, Cheesetique has expanded to three locations. At the same time, my husband and I have grown from a family of two to a family of five, with our three daughters born and raised right here in Del Ray. This neighborhood is more than just the heart of my business; it’s the heart of my home and family – and I am proud to live and work here every day. Thank you, neighbors, for making Del Ray such a special place… and for continuing to support Cheesetique for all these years!

Yours in Cheese,

Jill

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Entrees are Here!

We are so excited to announce that all three Cheesetique locations now feature a full entree menu (after 5pm). Of course, each entree highlights cheese in an exciting way. For those of you searching for a heartier choice, these were made for you!

From left to right: Your Own Lasagna; Chicken Alfredo con Piave; Steak and Blue; Shrimp Cypress. Try all four! Maybe not at the same time, though 😉

For more details, check out our online menu.

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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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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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