Cheese & Beer by Janet Fletcher Andrews McNeel Publishers 128 pages $24.99 hardcover
Could there be a more perfect cheese book for summer? Just as we're busily contemplating which craft beer(s) to bring to our next outdoor party, along comes cheese expert Janet Fletcher with a new book, Cheese & Beer, that plants the seed of an intriguing idea: you might consider bringing some cheese along with your beer.
Some will ask -- cheese and beer? Really? People often wonder why we bother with pairing cheese. Yes, cheese is fantastic just on its own, let's just get that out there. But something happens when you pair cheese with other things, particularly beverages like beer or wine. All three are products of the fermentation process and that affinity makes them particularly good partners. Here's how Fletcher describes what you'll get out of the pairing process:
When you serve a toasty Marzen that echoes the toffee aroma in aged Gouda, or find a triple-cream cheese that mellows the bitter, roasted notes of a stout, you treat yourselves and your guests to the experience. You also give the craft brewer and the artisanal cheesemaker their due by putting their wares in the best possible light.
Pairings take both cheese and beer to the next level, showing off subtleties and highlighting flavors that may not have been noticeable before. It's a bit of an art but not that hard, and ultimately the journey is the reward. And this book is a superb way to get yourself started.
In Cheese & Beer, Fletcher guides readers through the complex worlds of, you guessed it, both cheese and beer, outlining the finer points of ales vs. lagers and providing all sorts of information and suggestions for storing and serving beer and cheese. Fletcher's wealth of knowledge and experience shines throughout. A former chef and author or co-author of more than twenty cookbooks, she is perhaps best known in the cheese world as the force behind the San Francisco Chronicle's Cheese Course column. Her deep knowledge of food and flavor informs this book and the pairings; readers are in good hands here.
As you might expect, the heart of this book is in the pairing descriptions. Fletcher has put together a wide ranging guide to beer styles from pilsner to amber ales to stouts and everything inbetween. Each section offers a discussion of the beer style, some favorite brands made in that style, along with a list of cheeses she's selected as having a particular affinity for that beer. So for example ESBs, Fletcher says, pair best with fairly easygoing cheeses such as Cowgirl Creamery's Wagon Wheel or Montgomery's Cheddar from England. On the other hand, stronger and heartier stouts with malty flavors do well with nutty cheeses that complement the malt like Comté. With 23 beer categories covered (and various styles within categories), this book will keep you busy pairing beer and cheese for a very long time.
One more thing: if you find yourself really getting into the idea of pairing beer & cheese, think about expanding your repetoire to include cheeses made with beer - kind of the ultimate pairing, really. In the Pacific Northwest, that includes Pondhopper from Tumalo Farms washed in Deschutes Mirror Pond Ale and Chocolate Stout Cheddar from Rogue Creamery, a cheddar cheese made with Chocolate Stout from Rogue Ales. Then there's cheeses washed in beer -- Briar Rose Creamery's Lorelei comes to mind, a goat's milk cheese washed in Laurelwood IPA, as does Naughty Nellie, a cow's milk cheese from River Valley Ranch near Seattle and washed in Pike Brewing's ale of the same name. Really, there's no end to this whole beer and cheese thing once you get started. Is that bad?
For several years, Kirstin Jackson has been captivating cheese interested readers with her witty and informative blog, It's Not You, It's Brie. Now she's unleashed her considerable talents in a longer format, and we have It's Not You, It's Brie: Unwrapping America's Unique Culture of Cheese- the book. Part travelogue, part tasting guide and part cheese encyclopedia, the book is a fabulous romp through the world of domestic cheese, with recipes for good measure. Like her blog, Jackson's book is smart, funny and irreverent all at once- in other words, totally absorbing. I'm thrilled to see an author stray from the worshipful, remote prose so common in books about cheese.... in It's Not You, It's Brie, Jackson brings the world of cheese and cheesemakers to to life, in all of their stinky, funky glory. Kirstin Jackson was kind enough to take a few minutes to chat about the book, how she got into cheese, and her take of the cheeses of the Pacific Northwest.
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Right away in the introduction, it's clear that this is going to be a different kind of cheese book. What did you have in mind when you were writing?
Well, thank you! I wanted to write a book that explored why domestic artisan cheese is the way it is -i.e. awesome- through exploring its styles, flavors, and cultural and historical influences in-depth, but also keep it lighthearted. It was important to me to avoid writing a book that was too serious or exclusive, because enjoying and learning more about our artisan cheese is within everyone's grasp. That said, another aim in writing this book was to thoroughly appease my inner cheese geek by asking TONS of questions of the 48 different cheesemakers profiled in the book, and to travel around the country eating pounds of cheese in the name of research. I also went with a publishing house and editor that let me have a lot of fun writing- I could be a little... less traditional with my descriptions.
Tell us a little about your background. You went to UC Berkeley (majoring in anthropology, I believe?) and culinary school. How did that evolution into food come about? And then how did you arrive at cheese?
Immediately after graduating high school I went to culinary school, cooked for three years in restaurant kitchens, and then decided that I wanted to return to school to to write about food. That inspiration struck when I picked up my first Saveur magazine in the late nineties, but working in kitchens didn't provide me with the time to do actually write. A couple years later I transferred to UC Berkeley, and yes, studied cultural anthropology and worked as an interviewer and transcriptionist in the Regional Oral History Food Program. After Cal, I worked in a cheese shop and started managing a wine bar and directing their cheese program. I went on to teach- at Solano Cellars, the Cheese School of 18 Reasons, Murray's and beyond.
My love of cheese likely spawned from two things- first, a firm foundation in artisanal fermented milk. My parents used to drive me around Northern California cheese country as a child and teenager, and I quickly realized that cheese was a very, very good thing (and an excellent way to get a fifteen year-old to sit for hours in a car with their parents with "minimal" complaints). Second, as a student of anthropology, I'm enamored with the stories- cultural, geographical, political, everything- behind cheese.
There are some killer recipes in this book - I mean, crisped rice treats with Mayor of Nye Beach cheese from Rivers Edge Chèvre? Awesome. (That's on page 175 if you're following along at home.) Would it be fair to say that cooking with cheese requires a different kind of understanding of cheese?
Glad you like them! And, does cooking require a different understanding cheese?Sometimes. It can be fantastic to consider a cheese's flavors, textures and nuances so one can arrive at a stunning final dish that highlights the cheese like in a sheep's milk ricotta-pine nut cheesecake, or those crisped rice treats. But sometimes it's just as lovely to simply grate or crumble a cheese into a bechamel sauce, bake it with noodles, and top it with breadcrumbs and call it a delicious day. It depends how involved you want to get.
Based on your cheese related travels and tasting experiences over the past few years, what's your take on the cheeses of the Pacific Northwest?
I love them! We get some like Mt. Townsend, Beecher's, and Rivers Edge in the Bay Area, but oh how I wish we could get more of the Dinah I wrote about in the book, or the tasty little numbers that never leave your farmer's markets. The land the animals get to hang out on isn't bad either. In other words, if it wasn't so rainy, I'd move there.
What do you think the future of domestic artisan cheese looks like? Or, to put it a different way, what will we be eating in 10 years?
Hopefully more buffalo milk cheeses. Hopefully more funky, washed rind, stinky, adventurous cheeses and blues. Many more blues. But more importantly, I hope that in ten more years, we'll be eating much more artisan cheese, period, not just more of a certain style, that we'll embrace artisan cheese's breadth.
Obligatory question - what's next?
I'm not sure! I might make a brief trip out of the U.S. to refresh my look at domestic cheese. Play around. Sometimes it's hard to really see what's in your own backyard when your head and tummy is so saturated. It would be hard to leave our good stuff for a long time, but I might take a couple weeks and go eat raw milk cheese and pet foreign animals elsewhere.
Thank you for hosting me on your blog, Tami. I'm very flattered to be here!
It's Not You, It's Brie: Unwrapping America's Unique Culture of Cheese By Kirstin Jackson Illustrations by Summer Pierre Perigee Books 240 pages $19.00 hardcover
The Cheesemaker's Apprentice: An Insider's Guide to the Art and Craft of Homemade Artisan Cheese is a new book that represents a meeting of three great minds: Sasha Davies, author of The Guide to West Coast Cheese; David Bleckmann, avid (he would say "obsessed") home cheesemaker and keeper of the blog The Joy of Home Cheesemaking; and Portland, Oregon based photographer Leela Cyd. Together, they have created an informative, gorgeously photographed book that will inspire you to take your home cheesemaking to the next level...or make a great gift for someone who enjoys experimenting in the kitchen.
At the heart of the book are recipes for a range of cheeses ranging from fresh ricotta to more challenging cheeses such as gouda and cheddar. The recipes are interspersed with inspiring interviews by a range of cheese professionals including Allison Hooper of Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery, Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm and French affineur Herve Mons. David Bleckmann, who created the cheese recipes featured in the book, was kind enough to take a few minutes to talk the ins and outs of home cheese making and the process of writing the recipes for the book. Warning: his enthusiasm is infectious!
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First, tell us how you got into making cheese in the first place?
I have always been fascinated by how food is made and love to take on the challenge of making something from scratch that one would normally buy at the grocery store Some of my past endeavors include making marshmallows, bacon, and birthday candles shaped a roman numeral ‘X’ for my wife’s thirtieth birthday. Over the years I worked my way through numerous culinary crafts such as brewing beer, preserving fruit, curing bacon, and roasting coffee. In 2009 my wife Caroline surprised me with a cheesemaking class, and I was hooked. Turning milk into cheese seems a magic process when you see it take place, and behind that magic is a lot of really interesting food science. I was compelled to learn all about the process. My goal was to write about home cheesemaking to try to explain what is going on in the milk and cheese when cheesemakers practice their art.
What was it like writing the recipes for this book? You must have been making cheese for months!
Creating and writing the recipes were a big challenge. In the span of four months I had to develop 16 recipes and make the cheeses enough times that we could photograph all of the stages of the make process, including aging which in most cases took nearly three months. It involved weekends preparing cheese at home followed by full days of photography. I am proud to say that nearly all of the photographs that accompany recipes were of cheese that I made for the project (we did have to use commercial cheese a few times). It would not have been possible without the support of my wife, Caroline, who put up with our kitchen being taken over weekend after weekend with vats of coagulating milk and curds draining in the sink.
A lot of people think making “real” cheese at home is beyond their capabilities. Are they wrong?
It is extremely easy to make fresh cheese at home like cream cheese, mascarpone, or fresh chèvre. You simply ripen the milk until it is thick like yogurt and drain it in cheesecloth until it is thick. Creating aged cheese like cheddar, gouda or gruyère is more challenging, and the new home cheesemaker should be prepared to have a few failures while they are learning. In fact due to variables that are difficult to control in the home kitchen, even if you follow recipes perfectly it is likely you will not get the cheese you were trying for over 50% of the time. This is part of the process, and with practice your success rate will improve. I have learned to embrace the inconsistencies. If I make a gouda-style cheese that turns out a bit too acidic and perhaps has caught a bit of blue mold from a neighbor in the aging cave, I might rename it a “blue cheddar” and enjoy it anyway. So I would say it is very easy to make real cheese at home (especially fresh cheese), but it takes some practice, patience and luck to make good aged cheese.
You cover a lot in this book, with recipes from fresh cheeses to blue cheese to bloomy rinded cheese. Where should a newbie begin?
I recommend people start with fresh cheese. Even if you only make fresh cheese, it is delicious and you can impress friends with your culinary skill when you serve it with pride. The first recipe in our book is for cream cheese and requires only one or two items that may not already be in your kitchen. The same recipe also can be used to make chèvre, mascarpone and fromage blanc, whose recipes immediately follow.
Many people think they can’t make good cheese at home because they don’t have an aging cave like the pros. How do you solve that problem? And does it really work?
An aging cave is an environment with a controlled humidity and temperature. Depending on the style of cheese, the temperature is between 45°F and 60°F (8°C and 16°C) and the relative humidity is between 70% and 95%. Wine refrigerators maintain the temperature in the perfect range, but unfortunately they often have circulation fans that dry out cheese if it is not sealed in wax or plastic. A much better solution is to obtain a second hand dorm style mini refrigerator and attach an external thermostat (available online and at homebrewing suppliers) to maintain the proper temperature. These refrigerators often have no circulation fans and by placing a pan of water or damp towel inside the proper humidity can be achieved. I wrote an article on my blog at joyofcheesemaking.com that outlines the process of retro-fitting a refrigerator (see that article here). And yes they do work. The cheeses shown in our book were all aged in one of my three caves in my basement!
Do you think it’s helpful for people to learn about the various cheese styles, (fresh, bloomy rinded, aged, etc.) before making their own cheese at home?
I think it works the opposite way. By making cheese at home you learn what makes each of the various cheese styles different. You can explain how the cooked curd process contributes to the texture of gruyere or emmental to someone, but I think it is much easier to understand how the “cooked curd” process differs from any other process when you have gone through the steps of cheesemaking yourself.
How do home-made cheeses typically compare to their [commercial] counterparts? For example, how would your home produced blue stack up to familiar brands like Maytag Blue or Oregon Blue?
As I mentioned previously, there are a lot of variables that are hard to control in the home kitchen and it is a challenge to get every wheel of aged cheese to turn out perfect. That said, the first blue cheese I ever made was a stilton style from raw cow milk. The final cheese had a distinct yellow paste and was riddled with internal air spaces that had filled with blue mold. It had a strong mushroom flavor but also had rich, smooth mouth feel. I would have proudly put it up against any commercial blue. Unfortunately, though I have made many delicious blues since that first one, none have really matched that success. But I am still trying to figure out exactly what I did right that first time to get those results, and I am having fun trying.
I am also fond of pointing out that I enjoy cheese much more now that I make it myself, and I am willing to pay $30-$40 per pound for a product I now know requires great craftsmanship to make well consistently. I know cheese made in my kitchen and aged in a homemade cave in my basement won’t always be as good as the cheese I can buy, but when it is I feel pretty proud of myself.
What cheese have you made at home that you are most proud ?
It is a tie between the stilton style blue I mentioned above, and the muenster I made for The Cheesemaker’s Apprentice that appears on the cover. Muenster is a washed rind cheese, which is the most difficult style to master. When the rind turned bright orange and the center was soft and pudgy, I knew I had a winner.
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The Cheesemaker's Apprentice: An Insider's Guide to the Art and Craft of Homemade Artisan Cheese, Taught by the Masters by Sasha Davies, recipes by David Bleckmann photos by Leela Cyd Quarry Press 176 pages $24.99 paperback
I've said this before but it's worth saying again - If you’re interested in learning more about the ins and outs of how cheese is made – and especially if you have an idea that you’d like to start making and selling cheese – Washington State University is the place to go. I especially recommend the Basic Cheesemaking Short Course for beginners…more than just an average how-to, this course demonstrates the intricate complexities of the cheesemaking process. Many, many current professional artisan cheesemakers in the Pacific Northwest have taken a WSU courses at one point in their cheese careers.
Basic Plus Cheesemaking February 19-21, 2013 in Chehalis, WA
Intended as a beginning course for those interested in making and selling cheese; serious hobbyists are welcome as well. Includes lots of hands-on activities as well as tours of local cheese plants. Cost is $529, additional charge if you register after Feb. 5th.
Advanced Cheesemaking March 5-7, 2013 in Pullman, WA
Designed for experienced cheesemakers, managers and/or plant supervisors. Instruction provided by leaders in cheesemaking and dairy community. Includes hands-on cheesemaking at WSU Creamery. Cost is $739, additional charge if you register after Feb. 5th.
Pasteurization Workshop April 3-4th, 2013 in Pullman, WA
Covers vat and basic HTST pasteurization systems, with additional discussion on other types of systems. Designed for plant operators, suppliers and those who supply milk to the industry; includes hands-on instruction at WSU Creamery. Cost is $289, additional charge if you register after March 3rd.
For more information and to register online see the website here, or contact Cathy Blood at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elephant's Delicatessen in Portland will present a Mozzarella Making Class on Wednesday August 8, 2012 at 7pm. The course will be led by Claudia Lucero of Urban Cheesecraft. The course is $35/person, which includes all class materials. Attendees will also receive appetizers and a glass of wine, and be able to take home the fresh mozzarella they make in class. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me!
If you're interested, call the deli at 503-299-6304 to register for the event. The course will be held at Elephant's NW 22nd location in Portland, in the Garden Room.
For all of the contemporary enthusiasm about cheese, I’m surprised by how little has been written about the history of the cheese and dairy industry in general. Now that’s starting to change, most recently with the publication of Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and its Place in Western Civilization by Paul Kindstedt.
In his first book, American Farmstead Cheese, author Paul Kindstedt devoted the first section to a brief historical overview, and spent the balance of the book discussing the finer points of cheese chemistry. Kindstedt notes in the introduction to Cheese and Culture that he wrote the history part of that first book in order to grab readers' interest and provide context for what was intended to be a technical manual. But in the process he became fascinated with the depth and complexity of all of the history that he'd begun to uncover.... and in his new book, Kindstedt revisits the historical side of that earlier project in much more depth.
In Cheese and Culture, Kindstedt focuses primarily on the ancient origins of the production of dairy products and cheesemaking. It's heady stuff: evidence of dairying goes back not just centuries but millennia to as early as 6500 BC in southwest Asia. Technological advances such as the development of the craft of pottery making led to the creation of sieves and strainers that early cheesemakers used to funnel the whey off of coagulated dairy products, enabling the production of increasingly larger quantities of cheese. By 3000 BC, Kindstedt says, cheesemaking was a firmly entrenched part of Egyptian culture. Rennet-coagulated cheeses emerged later and by the era of the Greek and Roman empires (extending through about 500 AD) cheese was an integral part of both the diet and way of life of each of these civilizations.
Kindstedt devotes a lot of time in this book to unpacking the finer points of ancient history; much of it is complex and fascinating, though some reviewers have commented on what they perceive as an "academic" tone to the book. Most interesting for me was Kindstedt’s examination (starting in Chapter 6) of the more modern origins of styles of cheeses that still exist today - though in this context "modern" is relative and we're still looking back at least one thousand years. While it can be hard to visualize what types of cheese might have been made in Ancient Egypt (though Kindstedt does his best to guess), his take on the gradual evolution of more familiar types of cheese is thoroughly engrossing....eating Brie just got a lot more interesting.
In a recent interview on Anne Saxelby's Cutting the Curd, Kindstedt opined that "If cheese can help us understand the origin of civilization, it can help us understand who we are as a species." If food could be said to be a necessary foundation of human culture, then it makes sense that cheese would be a lens through which we might view its development. With Cheese and Culture, Kindstedt has made a valuable contribution to our understanding of the ancient origins of a food still very much enjoyed today.
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Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and its Place in Western Civilization by Paul Kindstedt Chelsea Green 288 pages $24.95 hardcover
see the publisher's page here for a summary of news, book-related events and Paul Kindstedt's appearances and interviews.
When I read Kurt Timmermeister's new book Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live off the Land, I immediately thought of Thoreau's Walden (you remember, the whole back to the land thing, living deliberately, etc. etc.).
On the surface, Timmermeister has the same general idea as Thoreau - he aims to get away from the 'corruptions' of modern food and live more essentially. For Timmermeister, the impetus for this move is embodied in the form of dreadful cases of frozen chicken breasts ("chicken popsicles") and frozen pork loin that weeps pork fluid as it defrosts, that he finds himself bringing into his restaurant, the former Cafe Septieme in Seattle. He yearns to get back to what's real - in this case, real food. And while he is not entirely certain what that is or what it will mean, he knows he wants to try. The rest of the book is that journey.
As Timmermeister leads us through his story, we begin to see that this project of growing, making and producing 'real' food on his small farm is complex, expensive, incredibly time and labor-intensive...and that's not even the half of it. Timmermeister's city-boy plunge headfirst into agriculture looks at times like a noble undertaking and at other times a quixotic quest. And he is as frank about his failures as he is about his successes, which is one of the things that makes this book so refreshing and compelling. His play-by-play of setting up and maintaining a beehive, slaughtering an animal, or even growing vegetables (for fun and profit!) is simultaneously a instructive primer and a stern warning....instead of reading this book and plunging headfirst into the idyllic life of a farmer, some readers may run screaming from the idea, never to return. And that's kind of the point. That being said, Kurt Timmermeister has made farming work for him - he's making and selling cheese. Probably he's milking a cow while you're reading this. So it CAN work, he seems to be saying. But can you handle it?
There's a lot of Thoreau's idealism in contemporary notions about farming and food: we celebrate all things rural and tend toward putting farmers on pedestals without always taking the time to really understand the complexities behind who and what makes our food. Growing a Farmer is kind of like a Walden for the twenty-first century, a book that takes us back to the essence of real food and real farms while simultaneously problematizing the cultural constructs we've built around those very things. Because beauty and harmony and pleasant sunsets are real, but so are cold winters and bad soil and disease and death. And crop failure and listeria. And ultimately, it may be that you can't have only the good parts of the life you choose, because it just doesn't work that way.
In this day and age we're way too jaded for the pastoral idealism of days gone by, but Timmermeister is deftly forging a new ideal in this book (and in real life). Best of all, the story's not over yet. I loved the fact that there's no real answer here. Growing a Farmer is ultimately a snapshot of an ongoing event; Timmermeister himself is quick to say that he doesn't know where this whole farming project will end up over time. Fair enough - I for one can't wait to see what happens next.
---> Watch Kurt Timmermeister's recent appearance on Martha Stewart's show here.
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Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live off the Land by Kurt Timmermeister W. W. Norton, 335 pages, hardcover $24.95
Those of us who live on the West Coast are familiar with Sunset Magazine, "Your Guide to Living in the West." It's a lovely magazine that coveys a lifestyle through food, design and travel. A few years ago Margo True, formerly of Saveur and Gourmet, came on board as Food Editor and I think the food section really evolved into something interesting and noteworthy. More recently, they began a blog called One Block Diet and I started to take notice. The blog's project was and still is to develop a feast using products grown and raised on the magazine's grounds in Menlo Park, California. They are doing and learning everything - and I do mean everything....from growing a whole variety of fruits and vegetables to raising chickens to making vinegar and salt and cheese and raising bees for honey. It's a locavore's fantasy come to life - raise the food you eat and in the process evolve a deep understanding of the time, effort and ingenuity it takes to achieve such a feat. Of course there are the inevitable twists, turns and failures...but regardless of the issues that come up, there's always a meal - perhaps not the one that was planned, but a meal regardless - to be made in the end. The underlying imperative becomes to create nurturing sustenance with what you have. In the end, it's all good.
The One-Block Feast is at its essence the book version of the blog. Margo True has condensed down the daily experiences of putting together their project of creating an ongoing seasonal, local feast into a compendium of stories and recipes. And, like the magazine, it's colorful and engaging. You could read this book as the narrative of an extended adventure, as a cookbook or as a seasonal gardening journal. And it wouldn't be a Sunset-related book without lots of how-tos, diagrams and killer recipes....check, it's got those too. (The real nuts-&-bolts stuff is usually absent from most of the books of the 'urban farmer' genre).
You may have noticed there's been a number of these back to the land, how-to-do-it-all and grow-it-all books coming out lately, each with its own spin and its own message. Granted, Sunset comes from a bit of a different place than some of the other authors (i.e. Michael Pollan, Noella Carpenter, Kurt Timmermeister), since it's a well-funded organization with numerous staff members eager to play along. But one thing I liked about both this blog and the book is that they're stretching Sunset beyond the boundaries of its carefully manicured magazine image into messier territory where things sometimes work and sometimes don't, and the weather or the bees might not cooperate. I think that's a positive evolution that's bound to engage more readers (be they from the West Coast or other parts of the country), people who are becoming increasingly interested in where their food comes from and want to try to grow it or make it themselves.
-----> Follow the One Block Diet Blog here.
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The One-Block Feast: An Adventure in Food from Yard to Table by Margo True & the staff at Sunset Magazine Ten Speed Press 272 pages hardcover $24.99