Archive for the ‘cheese’Category

Black truffle pizza tricks

truffle pizza
I got some of my best ideas about how to adapt truffles for home preparations from Doug Psaltis of RPM Steak (rpmsteak.com), RPM Italian (rpmitalian.com), and Paris Club (parisclubbistroandbar.com) in Chicago, who is the biggest user of Aussie truffles in the U.S. Psaltis credits his comfort level with truffles to the seven and a half years he spent working for Alain Ducasse (he opened Mix in New York).

chef Doug Psaltis loves black truffles “I learned the best thing about truffles—that they are really delicate and not overpowering,” he told me. “There are a lot of aromas to truffle dishes but what I really savor is the actual flavor of truffle. Handled right, it’s light and delicate. You can add lots of butter and lots of cheese to make a Parmesan pasta with black truffle and it’s great. But sometimes I just prefer some crushed truffle, a little bit of garlic and pine nuts and just a sprinkle of cheese tossed in great pasta. Then the truffle comes through.”

Psaltis’s advice to cut back on the fat gave me a new way of thinking about truffles, since most traditional truffle recipes pair the fungus with lots of butter, beef juices, or other fat. (I’ve even seen chefs in Italy’s Piedmont shave white truffle over a plate of lardo, which is pure raw pork fat.) One of Psaltis’s other favorite treatments surprised me.

“I love a great burrata with tomatoes and black truffles,” he said. “You get a little bit of the earthiness and the tang from the burrata and the acid of the tomato and a little bit of raw garlic in there with the truffles.”

I’m looking forward to trying both of Psaltis’s treatments this summer when the new harvest is available. And when a chef of such accomplishment spoke about the simple pleasures of tomato, mild cheese, and black truffle, it inspired me to bring some of those same flavors together to make a black truffle pizza.

Restraint is part of the secret of any good pizza, and for a black truffle pizza it was even more important. I use a pretty standard pizza dough that’s easy to make but requires several hours to rise. It’s been adapted from a pizza class adaptation of a Cook’s Illustrated adaptation of a New York baker’s no-knead dough that rises in the refrigerator. It’s best if it rises overnight in the fridge, but it works fine if you let it rise all day on the counter.

FOOD PROCESSOR PIZZA DOUGH


210 grams flour
1/4 teaspoon instant dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
150 grams ice water
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

In food processor fitted with steel blade, add flour, yeast, and sugar. Process 30 seconds to mix. With processor turned on, dribble ice water through feed tube until absorbed. Process another 30 seconds.

Let sit at least 10 minutes before proceeding. This allows the yeast to get a head start on the salt.

When the wait period is over, add salt and olive oil and process until the dough pulls away from the sides of bowl.

Turn out and place in greased 1-quart bowl to rise, preferably six hours or more. Punch down periodically when dough reaches rim.

This recipe requires some modest kneading on an oiled surface and then working by hand to stretch the dough into a 16-inch round. Cooked at 450°F, it produces a Neapolitan-style crust in about 10 minutes—crisp and browned on the bottom and slightly chewy on the top.

BLACK TRUFFLE PIZZA


truffle pizza 2The firm cheese is an aged goat cheese from the French Pyrenees that has a grassy/fruity flavor and melts very smoothly. It’s a bit of a splurge, but it’s worth it for the perfect pairing with the delicate truffle flavor. The truffles only go in the oven for the last few seconds that the pizza is being cooked, mostly to activate their aroma and let the cheese melt around them.

Crust (as above) rolled out on pizza pan
3 ounces tomme de chevre Aydius, coarsely grated
1 ounce fresh goat cheese
1 cup diced fresh tomato, well drained
10 grams grated or shaved black truffle
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, minced

Distribute cheeses evenly on crust and top with diced tomato, as shown above.

Cook until crust starts to brown on the bottom. Remove from oven and sprinkle pizza with black truffle. Return to oven to cook another 30-45 seconds. Remove from oven, sprinkle with basil, and cut into slices.

05

06 2015

Sweet corn tamales with black truffle

Australian truffle
During last July’s research trip to Australia, I babied a single prize black truffle all the way home. I kept it cool inside a rigid plastic box wrapped with absorbent paper that I changed every 12 hours so it wouldn’t get too moist. When asked at Border Control if I had any fresh food, I said, “yes, a black truffle.” The agent said, “OK,” and waved me through.

shaving a truffle The real question was what to make with this spectacular faceted lump (see above) that was an 80-gram culinary gem? How could I stretch it as far as possible without skimping on the flavor in each dish? After an indulgent meal of black truffle sliced over buttered pasta (see last post), I decided to set aside the truffle shaver in favor of a microplane grater that could produce gossamer ribbons of truffle. As I learned in Australia, maximizing the surface area pumps up the flavor.

Many top North American chefs rave about truffles with sweet fresh corn—one of our first tastes of summer at the market. But I had never seen truffles with sweet corn tamales. It seemed logical enough. After all, the Mexicans have been eating tamales filled with huitlacoche (an inky corn fungus) for centuries. As it turns out, truffle and corn tamales are a match made in culinary heaven.

This version is adapted from Mark Miller’s original “green corn tamales” that he used to serve at Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe. I’ve changed the dough a little and filled the tamales with soft goat cheese blended with black truffle. We serve them without a sauce, but with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche on the side.

Sweet corn tamales with truffle

SWEET CORN TAMALES WITH BLACK TRUFFLE


With apologies to Mark Miller and millions of Mexican chefs, I abandon the colorful corn husks or banana leaves for more practical aluminum foil to wrap the tamales for steaming.

For dough

3 large ears fresh corn, shucked
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup butter (one half stick) cut into pea-sized pieces
2 cups masa harina
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup warm water

Cut kernels from cobs and transfer to a large bowl. Blend 1-1/2 cups of the kernels, the sugar, and the butter until it forms a chunky purée. Return to bowl with remaining kernels and add masa harina, salt, baking powder, chopped parsley, and water. Mix by hand until a soft dough forms, adding a little extra water if the dough is crumbly.

For filling
190 grams soft goat cheese
10 grams of finely shaved truffle ribbons

Mix truffle ribbons into cheese.

Divide dough into eight equal pieces. Flatten each and put one-eighth of cheese in middle. Fold over from two sides to seal. Wrap in aluminum foil and seal tightly. Repeat until you have eight tamales.

Steam for 50 minutes. Unwrap and serve with crème fraiche or sour cream.

Why Parmigiano Reggiano is king

Wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano
The king of Italian cheeses is Parmigiano Reggiano, which is head and shoulders above the various imitators sold as “parmesan” in the U.S. and Canada.

2-cows I had always wondered why the D.O.P. product was so clearly superior, and a visit to Caseificio Poggioli (+39 059 783 155, http://poggiolicoopcasearia.it/en/) on the Via Montanara in Spilimberto outside Modena helped me understand. The new €6 million facility is a cooperative of four dairy farmers of Modena province and was built, partly with public financing, after the May 2012 earthquake that destroyed so many of the region’s cheese factories and aging warehouses. Yet to be tested by seismic events, the facility is equipped with state-of-the-art controls for the time-honored process of making Parmigiano Reggiano.

3 - bales of hay Under the D.O.P. regulations, all the milk must come from herds within a prescribed geographic area in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and Mantua on the right bank of the Po river, and Bologna on the left bank of the Reno river. The rolling plains between the rivers are covered in rich grasslands, and all the feed for the cattle, both green pasturage and stored hay, must also come from the region. The cattle are not allowed to eat silage because—unlike most other Italian grating cheeses, such as Grana Padano—Parmigiano Reggiano is not pasteurized.

4-fresh curd In many ways, the cheese production proceeds as it always has. Milk from the evening milking is placed in shallow steel trays overnight and is partially skimmed in the morning before being placed into copper-lined cauldrons with an inverted bell shape. It is topped with whole milk from the morning milking to bring the volume up to 1,100 liters. Rennet is added and the mixture is heated to promote coagulation of the proteins. The new equipment at Poggioli stirs the curd, allowing the factory to make a lot of cheese with very few cheesemakers. When the cheese reaches a texture determined by the cheesemaker, he or she will cut the curd in half. Each piece will be cradled in a linen cloth and lifted from the whey.

Fresh curd begins its transformation into Parmigiano Reggiano The bulbous masses go on a line to drain and be transported to another room, where each one is lifted into a plastic form. Each form has a band that imprints the place and date and numbers each wheel separately. After sitting in a seawater bath for about three weeks, the wheels are cleaned and dried and placed on wooden shelves to begin aging.

6-cutting By regulation the cheese must age for at least 12 months. In practice, Parmigiano Reggiano is rarely sold until it is at least 24-30 months old. At that stage, the cheese begins to develop protein crystals that give it a slight crunch. As it continues to age, the umami flavor becomes ever more pronounced. At 36 months, most wheels begin their decline as they become too dry.

From just four farms, Poggioli makes 18,000 wheels of cheese per year, which is a lot of sprinkles on top of pasta. The aging rooms contain more than 50,000 wheels at a time. The photo below shows just one row of one room of the warehouse. When the last earthquake hit, wheels went flying off the shelves. If another big one strikes, they should stay put, thanks to giant shock absorbers.

The cheeses from Poggioli are exquisite. You can buy them by the piece at the factory in sizes from half-kilo chunks to entire wheels. It’s also available at the public market in Modena.

aging Parmigiano Reggiano in Poggioli

15

04 2015

Recognizing real balsamic vinegar of Modena

La Vecchia Dispensa tasting bottles

La Vecchia Dispensa tasting bottles

Few culinary terms have been so abused in recent years as “balsamic vinegar.” A generation ago, the only people who knew true balsamic vinegar were either wealthy gastronomes or members of old-fashioned families in the Modena and Reggio Emilia districts of Italy’s region of Emilia Romagna — best known even then for Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and prosciutto di Parma.

Simone Tintori of La Vecchia Dispensa in Castelvetro, Modena “It was a traditional family product,” explains Simone Tintori (left) of La Vecchia Dispensa in Castelvetro di Modena (Piazza Roma 3, +39 059-790-401, www.lavecchiadispensa.it), a fourth-generation commercial producer of the two controlled types of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (aceto balsamico di Modena). “And everything you have been told about it is probably wrong.”

The two categories of protected Modena vinegar are IGP and DOP, and it’s helpful to understand the differences so you get what you pay for. The Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP must be made from wine vinegar and grape must (from any of seven grapes, but usually Trebbiano) and must be aged in wood in the province of Modena and bottled there. Furthermore, it has to pass taste tests by the consortium of traditional producers and must be sold in a traditionally styled 100ml bottle that cannot have any reference to age on the label.

The other protected type is Aceto Balsamico de Modena IGP (without the “Tradizionale”). The IGP is a geographic designation under European Union law. The permitted ingredients are wine vinegar and grape must, but the producer is also allowed to use grape must concentrate and to add caramel coloring. The vinegar also must be aged and bottled in the province of Modena and pass a set of laboratory tests before it can be bottled with the IGP label.

modena 1 The mechanics of making balsamic vinegar are not particularly complicated. Grape must and wine vinegar are combined. The most expensive products may have as much as 70 percent grape must with just 30 percent vinegar, while the cheapest could have as little as 20 percent grape must. The mixture is aged in wooden barrels—usually a sequence of increasingly smaller barrels for the DOP product and usually in large wooden casks for the IGP. Over time, some vinegar evaporates, concentrating the vinegar that remains behind. The barrels are used repeatedly over decades, so little flavor of the wood is imparted to the vinegar. The best of the products become almost syrupy in their viscosity, as the sugars from the original grapes become more and more concentrated.

While Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP tends to be fairly consistent from producer to producer (and generally costs $75-$200 for a 100 ml bottle), Aceto Balsamico de Modena IGP bottlings vary a lot in both quality and price. The least expensive use grape must concentrate, which is a little like making a marinara sauce using tomato paste but no fresh tomatoes. It’s tomato-y, but not the real sugo. That said, it can be a tasty and useful vinegar—just not the gustatory powerhouse of a DOP or a better IGP vinegar.

With a deeply concentrated mix of fruitiness and complex spice, the DOP vinegar is principally for use as a drop or two on a steak, roast, or hunk of incredible cheese. For salads and cooking, most of us are happy with the modestly sweet and tangy IGP product—if we can get a good one.

Modena 4 After visiting La Vecchia Dispensa in Castelvetro (old castle), I went a few kilometers down the road to visit Antichi Colli in Castelnuovo, or “new castle” (Via Rio dei Gamberi, 2, +39 059 533 1332, www.antichicolli.it). A complex of vast stainless steel tanks with an attic of aging barrels, this large firm mostly produces IGP vinegars. Interestingly, they only use concentrated grape must in the lowest grade, which retails at about $10 per 250ml bottle. Their IGP vinegars go up in price to around $120 per 250ml bottle.

So what should you look for? First, look for the IGP insignia or the DOP seal. Second, reject any product stamped with the number of years it has been aged (if it has the seal and a claim of years of aging, it’s a fraud). Third, if you’re looking for flavor complexity, skip any vinegar that lists “concentrated must” or caramel coloring as an ingredient. They are legitimate, but usually lower-quality. Finally, taste it if you can. For salad dressing and the like, we use a Whole Foods-branded IGP Balsamic Vinegar of Modena that’s both reasonably priced and versatile in the kitchen (and is made with concentrated must). We keep the DOP for drizzling on really old Parmigiano Reggiano cheese….

Aging barrels at Antichi Colli, Castelnuovo, Modena

Aging barrels at Antichi Colli

25

03 2015

Chasing Dublin’s most famous cheese sandwich

Interior of Davy Byrnes Pub in Dublin
Having spent a glorious hour or so sampling and buying farmhouse cheese at Sheridans (see last post), we thought it would be a great idea to lunch on the most famous cheese sandwich in Dublin, even if it doesn’t involve an Irish cheese.

Exterior of Davy Byrnes Pub in Dublin Although much refurbished and modernized, Davy Byrnes Pub (21 Duke Street, +353 1 677 5217, davybyrnes.com) has been a downtown fixture just off Grafton Street since 1889. It was a popular watering hole among the literati long before James Joyce immortalized the bar in Ulysses, published in 1922. In chapter 8, “Lestrygonians,” Leopold Bloom stops in on June 16, 1904, and orders a Gorgonzola sandwich. The dish is still on the menu, though the pub now fancies itself “Dublin’s original gastro pub” and emphasizes food over drink more than it did in Joyce’s day.

In Ulysses, “Mr Bloom ate his stripes of sandwich, fresh clean bread, with relish of disgust, pungent mustard, the feety savour of green cheese. Sips of his wine smoothed his palate. Not logwood that. Tastes fuller this weather with the chill off.”

We did not fare as well. “All out of Gorgonzola” was the refrain for several days running. We inquired at Sheridans if the pub bought its cheese from them. “Just once a year, on Bloomsday,” came the answer. We’ll have to go back on June 16 to see if they’re serving the sandwich.

As it turns out, enough people have been able to taste the sandwich that they offer descriptions of the assembly, so here’s a reasonable facsimile of Leopold Bloom’s light lunch intended to fend off hunger until tea. We made it at home, and can attest that, all in all, it’s not bad. By the way, we’ll be posting a delicious recipe for Irish brown bread soon.

Recreating Mr Bloom's sandwich

BLOOM’S GORGONZOLA SANDWICH

Ingredients assembling the Gorgonzola sandwich

Butter
2 slices of Irish brown bread
1/4 inch slab of mountain Gorgonzola cheese
1 slice tomato
Leaves of butter lettuce
Freshly ground pepper
Pungent Dijon-style mustard

Directions

Butter both pieces of bread. Add the slab of Gorgonzola. Top with tomato slice and lettuce leaves. Grind a hefty sprinkle of black pepper on top.

Cut sandwich in three or four strips. Lift up the bread and deposit a generous portion of mustard. As Joyce notes, “Mr Bloom … studded under each strip yellow blobs.”

27

01 2015

Exploring the world of Irish farmhouse cheese

Dominique Dorman at Sheridans in Dublin It’s not really surprising that Irish cheeses all come with a story. Probably the best place in Dublin to hear these tales is the local branch of Sheridans Cheesemongers (11 South Anne Street, +353 1 679 3143), conveniently located a short distance from Grafton Street, just around the corner from the Celtic Whiskey Shop (more on that another time), and close by St. Stephen’s Green. For a cheese-loving visitor, Sheridans amounts to a crash course on Irish farmhouse cheeses — and the perfect source to get pieces shrinkwrapped to take home in your luggage. Get a preview at sheridanscheesemongers.com.

Milleens sample at Sheridans Several commercial Irish cheddars reach North America, but farmhouse cheeses are another matter. In fact, farmhouse cheesemaking had nearly died out in Ireland, as dairy farmers focused on butter as a way to preserve excess milk. But in 1976, Veronica and Norman Steele began making cheese on their farm at Milleens, County Cork. Veronica had taken a course in large-scale commercial cheddar production, but used her newfound skills instead to make a washed rind cheese. Called Milleens, it was an instant sensation and helped to relaunch small-farm artisanal cheesemaking in Ireland. That’s a sample of it at the right. That’s one of the great things about Sheridans. Samples abound, and cheesemongers like Dominique Dorman (that’s her above, offering a sample of an Irish tomme) have all the tales that go with every taste.

Dorman explained that Ireland is so small and the cheesemakers all so individualistic that if someone stops making cheese, a whole style or category of cheese is lost. Fortunately, when her husband Eugene passed, Mary Burns, also of County Cork, kept making Ardrahan, a sublime washed rind cheese. Part of the secret to the flavor, we understand, is that Burns (like many Irish cheesemakers) holds onto her brine for years. Over time, the brine influences the flavor and determines which good molds grow in the rind—and which bad ones don’t.

Cheeses on display in Sheridans, Dublin Not all the Irish farmhouse cheeses are semisoft, washed rind varieties. We were blown away when Dorman gave us a nibble of Coolea Mature, a Gouda-style cheese made by Dickie Willems Jr. from the recipe of his parents. In 1980, the Dutch couple moved to Coolea on the Cork/Kerry border, got a cow, and started making cheese with their excess milk. The operation has expanded considerably since. All the milk comes from cows grazed on fresh grass, so the cheese varies with the season. As it ages past about 20 months, the cheese takes on toffee overtones and develops a slight crystalline structure. Needless to say, we brought a half kilo home….

It’s not surprising that a champion of farmhouse cheeses would be deeply involved in all manner of Irish artisanal food. For the last five years, Sheridans has sponsored an Irish food festival at its Virginia Road Station headquarters in County Meath. This year it takes place (along with the Irish brown bread competition) on Sunday, May 24. For details, see the website.

19

01 2015

Red Arrow big burger grabs headlines

Red Arrow - Newton Burger Old-fashioned diners certainly love their giant burgers. We wrote about the Miss Washington Diner in New Britain a few weeks back, marveling at the monstrous burger called The Monument. In a piece in today’s Boston Globe about the 24-hour Red Arrow Diner (61 Lowell Street, Manchester, N.H. 603-626-1118, www.redarrowdiner.com), we came face to face with the Newton Burger, presented above by general manager Herb Hartwell.

Red Arrow in Manchester N.H. In all fairness, the Red Arrow does serve salads, Jell-O, and other low-fat options, but the main clientele seems to gravitate to some of the heavier entrées. The place is known for its mugs of chili and its baked mac and cheese.

And its burgers. A burger on toast was on the menu when the Red Arrow opened in 1922, and there are some truly giant burgers on the menu today. The Newton Burger might be the ultimate cheeseburger, since instead of placing the ground beef patty on a bun, the kitchen stuffs it between two complete grilled cheese sandwiches — but not before dressing it with a scoop of deep-fried mac and cheese. The lettuce, tomato, and onion are window dressing. Didn’t you mother tell you to eat your vegetables?

Given its location in New Hampshire’s biggest city, the Red Arrow gets more than its share of campaigning politicians, especially during the quadrennial presidential season. The Red Arrow could save the country a lot of grief, trouble, and expense if they invited the candidates to a Newton Burger challenge.

May the best eater win.

Eat hearty at the Miss Washington Diner

NB06
Our story about New Britain, Conn., is in today’s Boston Globe (“Industrious city enjoys artful update”). But we didn’t have the space to write more extensively about the Miss Washington Diner (10 Washington St., New Britain, 860-224-3772, www.misswashingtondiner.com, breakfast and lunch $3-$11). Dan Czako, shown above, has been the owner of this early Fifties gem since 2011. Constructed in the optimistic postwar Modernist style, the diner has 24 stools lined up along the long counter as well as a clutch of booths. Czako is the head cook and a whiz at the grill. He’s big on hearty American meals at affordable prices. It’s the perfect combo in this working-class city.

Miss Washington Diner, New Britain, Conn. The Miss Washington also offers one of those great eating challenges. Czako calls it The Monument. It consists of four eight-ounce hamburger patties topped with four slices of bacon; layers of American, Swiss, and Provolone cheeses; two onion rings, A1 Sauce; and the usual burger salad veggies of lettuce and tomato. There’s also a pickle. Consume The Monument in 20 minutes and it’s on the house. Take too long (or leave some) and it costs $30. Many have tried, few have succeeded. Above, Czako shows off the Mini-Monument, which has only two-ounce patties. Even the Mini is a popular order for big, husky guys, and at $8.99 it’s a steal.

If you meet The Monument challenge, let us know!

03

12 2014

One tapa with the entire taste of Spain

Taste of Spain
While all the tourists are milling around the Mezquita and the Alcázar in Córdoba, the Córdobans are getting together over tapas at the first gastronomic market in southern Spain. Mercado Victoria (www.mercadovictoria.com) was installed in May 2013 in a feria pavilion in the Jardines de Victoria, just northwest of the Judería’s Puerta de Almodóvar. The 30 food stalls cover all the bases of a conventional fresh food market—fish, meat, produce, baked goods, and beverages—but most also offer food for immediate consumption on the premises. There’s also a kitchen workshop for classes and demonstrations. By early evening, the entire glassed-in pavilion is jammed with people eating and drinking, making it one of the most lively tapas scenes in town. But we were especially amused to spot this tapa. It’s a slice of Manchego cheese, topped with a piece of roasted red pepper, and an anchovy. That pretty much captures three of the essential flavors of Spain on a single toothpick.

Tags:

07

03 2014

Pimento Cheese for holiday South in your mouth

Pimento cheese
Chef Matthew Bell hails from Montana, but after about a decade in the South, he felt confident to head the kitchen at South on Main restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas. It’s a collaboration with the Oxford American, the magazine that chronicles the literary and cultural life of the South and is often called the ”New Yorker of the South.”

”We are taking our cue from the magazine and keying in on the cuisine from all regions,” Bell told a gathering of writers who previewed the restaurant and performance place while it was still under construction. ”Arkansas cuisine is a microcosm of the whole South with influence from the Ozarks and the Smokies,” he said. ”We have a long growing season and close access to the Gulf for seafood.”

Now open for business, Bell is offering updated versions of classic dishes, such as a starter of pork cheeks with gnocchi, parmesan, and a fried egg, or a main course of catfish with fried brussels sprouts, hushpuppies, and rémoulade. But for my small group he proved his chops with a masterful version of the Southern staple Pimento Cheese. I like to serve the colorful dip during the holidays — all you need are some celery sticks and a few crackers.

PIMENTO CHEESE

To add heat, chef Matthew Bell favors Frank’s Red Hot Sauce or Crystal Louisiana’s Pure Hot Sauce. Since I had neither on hand, I used traditional red Tabasco from Louisiana’s McIlhenny Company.

Ingredients

1/2 roasted red pepper, peeled and seeded and finely chopped
1/2 pound grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon finely grated garlic
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons pickle brine from your favorite dill pickles
3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
pinch of salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Using a strong wooden spoon and a bowl, combine all ingredients in order, stirring well after each addition. Pack into small bowl or ramekin and serve with celery sticks or crackers.