Posts Tagged ‘cheese’

Remembering Italy — first with Montasio cheese

With the advent of short days and cold nights, menu planning in my house switches from summer vegetables to the heartier foods of winter. So when the Legends from Europe promotional team (legendsfromeurope.com)came through Boston last week and bequeathed me a small cache of Montasio, Grana Padano, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses and a few precious ounces each of San Daniele and Parma prosciuttos, I started recreating some of the great dishes I remember eating in northern Italy. I’m sharing them on the site as a series of four courses. All five products are registered under the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) program – a guarantee of regional authenticity. Accept no substitutes! So-called “parmesans” from Wisconsin or Argentina may be tasty cheeses, but they are not Parmigiano Reggiano by a long shot.

Of the products in the consortium, Montasio cheese is the least well known in the U.S. It is a distinctive aged cow’s milk cheese made in the foothills of the Alps in northeast Italy. It hails from the northern section of the Veneto and from the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. I was really pleased to get my hands on some to recreate one of my Friulian favorites, frico con patate.

The simplest way to make frico is to fry grated Montasio until it begins to crisp and serve it as a lacy wafer with a glass of white wine as a snack or an appetizer. But in Friuli, people like to add potato and onion to make a hearty eggless “omelet” like the one detailed below. I served it last week with slices of the last remaining garden tomato that’s been ripening on a counter since I rescued it from frost just before Halloween.

FRICO CON PATATE

Serves 2 as an appetizer

Ingredients

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 bunch scallions, white and pale green portions, thinly sliced
1 medium waxy potato (red bliss or yellow Finn), peeled and coarsely grated
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated Montasio cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

Add olive oil to a non-stick omelet pan and place over medium heat.

Combine half the scallions with grated potato and add to omelet pan. Sprinkle salt over mixture. Cook, turning frequently with spatula, until potato is cooked through.

Combine remaining scallions with cheese. Sprinkle over potato and cook without stirring over low heat until Montasio melts and forms a lightly browned crust on bottom – about 10 minutes. Loosen edges with spatula and turn over to brown other side about 3 minutes.

Blot excess oil and divide in half to serve.

04

12 2012

Six things to bring home from New Hampshire

In our last post, we mentioned six items we like to bring home from trips to Vermont. Since Food Lovers’ Guide to Vermont & New Hampshire has about the same number of entries from each state, it seems only fair to mention some of our favorite foods to bring back from the Granite State.

Flag Hill Winery & Distillery (297 North River Rd., Lee, N.H.; 603-659-2949; flaghill.com) doesn’t need our imprimatur to sell their immensely popular, often sweet wines made from berries and apples as well as first-generation French-American hybrid grapes. Our preference goes to products from the artisanal distillery. The barrel-aged apple brandy is a classic American applejack, and the neutral spirit, a vodka triple-distilled from apples, is smooth and sultry. It’s named for Revolutionary War hero General John Stark. Deeply chilled, it is excellent to sip neat.

Doug Erb’s family has operated Springvale Farm since the mid-20th century, but the dairy herd really rose to greatness in 2009 when Erb launched Landaff Creamery (546 Mill Brook Rd., Landaff, N.H.; 603-838-5560; landaffcreamery.com). We’re fond of his original Caerphilly style cheese, but the French-style, washed-rind tomme is even more evocative for its taste of terroir. Many stores sell the original Landaff, but we’ve only found the tomme at the farm.

The Littleton Grist Mill (18 Mill St., Littleton, N.H.; 603-259-3205; littletongristmillonline.com) started grinding flour and meal in 1798 and continued into the 1930s. Restored in the 1990s, it produces a prodigious variety of stone-ground flours from organic grains. We’re partial to the buckwheat flour to use in making pancakes and crepes.

We like bacon with our pancakes, and some of the most subtle New Hampshire bacon comes from the chambers of Fox Country Smoke House (164 Brier Bush Rd., Canterbury, N.H.; 603- 339-4409; foxcountrysmokehouse.com). Located on a backwoods road, the facility looks like something from the opening minutes of the Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter. Many stores sell Fox Country bacon in sliced form, but we like to pick out our own packages of unsliced bacon, opting for smoky pieces with good streaking for the breakfast table, more lightly smoked extra-lean chunks for dicing into seasoning for risottos.

Even with the great salumerias of Boston’s North End, we finding ourselves stopping in Manchester, N.H., so we can shop at Angela’s Pasta and Cheese Shop (815 Chestnut St., Manchester, N.H.; 603-625-9544; angelaspastaandcheese.com). The homemade sauces are Italian-American heaven, but what suckers us in every time are the handmade gnocchi that we buy from the freezer case. These are the best frozen gnocchi we have ever found.

If we’re anywhere in the upper Connecticut River Valley, we make sure we visit the Robie Farm & Store (25 Rte. 10, Piermont, N.H.; 603-272-4872; www.robiefarm.com). The honor-system store has organic beef and sausages from the family’s own cattle and pigs. They also sell raw milk, cream, and a couple of farmhouse cheeses. The Italian-style alpine Toma (also available smoked) has a rich creaminess that conjures up the valley’s green pastures when you bite into a piece and close your eyes.

29

06 2012

Six things to bring home from Vermont

It’s official. The Food Lovers’ Guide to Vermont & New Hampshire has shipped to stores and is available online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Thanks to our efficient editors, we beat the technical publication date of July 3.

In addition to restaurants, the book highlights great shops and local food producers. Vermont may be best known for maple syrup and cheddar cheese, but there’s a whole lot more. Here are some of our favorite things to bring home from the Green Mountain State.

The Red Bar from Middlebury Chocolates (2377 Route 7 South, Middlebury, VT; 802-989-1610; www.middleburychocolates.com) is the hardcore chocolate lovers’ chocolate. Stephanie and Andy Jackson make all their chocolates straight from the bean. The Red Bar, says Andy, is “a throwback to the earliest known recipes.” It has a wild mix of sour, mellow, toasted, and sweet notes. While the book was at press, the couple moved into spacious new quarters south of town. They re-open for business on Friday (June 15).

Who would expect wine—let alone good wine—in Vermont? But Snow Farm Vineyard (190 West Shore Rd., South Hero, VT; (802) 372-9463; www.snowfarm.com) produces some outstanding estate-grown varietal wines. Many are available all over Vermont, but you have to go to the winery to buy the limited-edition Pinot Noir, American Riesling, and (our favorite), the Late Harvest Vignobles, a lush dessert wine with pronounced apricot notes.

We love the controlled smoke flavor imparted at Green Mountain Smokehouse (341 Route 5 South, Windsor, VT; (802) 674-6653; www.greenmountainsmokehouse.com). Koreen and Jake Henne smoke all their meats on the premises and sell to individuals only at their factory. We like to stop for the bargain-priced bacon ends, which we dice up to use in chowders, stews, and in place of guanciale in amatriciana. (See here for our recipe.)

When we go to the farm or catch them at a farmers’ market, we’ll often buy a young, soft-rind cheese made by Consider Bardwell Farm (1333 Route 153, West Pawlet, VT; (802) 645-9928; www.considerbardwellfarm.com) to eat right away. To take home, we’re partial to the creamy Pawlet aged raw milk cheese from Jersey cows. It’s an Italian-style Toma and multiple award winner from the American Cheese Society and World Cheese championships.

Mark Simakaski and Nichole Wolfgang taught beekeeping when they were in the Peace Corps; now they make mead (honey wine) that ranks among some of the world’s best. Artesano Meadery (1334 Scott Highway (Route 302), Groton, VT; (802) 584-9000; www.artesanomead.com) produces about 1,000 cases a year. We prefer the dry traditional mead without fruit infusions.

Sheep are always grazing on the hillside when you approach Vermont Shepherd Cheese (281 Patch Farm Road, Putney, VT; (802) 387-4473; www.vermontshepherd.com), and the little sales building looks like something out of a fairy tale. You can buy yarn spun from the herd’s wool as well as local honey. But we make a beeline for the refrigerator and pre-cut wedges of the best aged ewe’s milk cheese in North America.

12

06 2012

And then there was amatriciana

While Tsatsu Nicholas Awuku was teaching us to make bucatini cacio e pepe (see below), Alessandro Sillani, the chef of Ristorante-Caffe di Rienzo (Piazza del Pantheon 8/9, 06-686-9097, www.ristorantedirienzo.it), demonstrated the equally popular and almost as simple sauce for bucatini all’amatriciana. Tradition holds that this sugo (sauce) originated in Amatrice, a town in the mountains of Lazio on the border with Abruzzo. Many families from the region settled in Rome, adding this dish to the capital’s own cuisine.

Sillani heated olive oil in a large frying pan, sautéed sliced onion until it was soft, and then added a thick pinch of hot pepper flakes and a handful of diced guanciale — cured pork cheek that is similar to pancetta but typically leaner. He kept cooking until the onion was golden and the guanciale well cooked. At this stage, Sillani tossed a serving of bucatini into the fryer converted to pressure cooker, then returned to making the sauce.

The rest of the sauce went swiftly: He ladled in pureed tomatoes and kept stirring the sauce over high heat until the bucatini was cooked (about 9 minutes), then added the drained pasta to the sauce.

It could not have been simpler or more delicious — and it’s just as easy to make at home.

BUCATINI ALL’AMATRICIANA


We have adjusted this recipe to serve four as a pasta course or two as a main course.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
3 oz. guanciale (or pancetta), cut in 1/4” dice
1 lb. bucatini
3 cups pureed (”ground”) tomatoes
freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions

Saute onion in olive oil in large frying pan. When onion is soft, add pepper flakes and guanciale and saute over high heat until onions are golden and guanciale begins to brown.

Add pasta to boiling water.

Add tomatoes to frying pan and continue heating over high flame.

When pasta is cooked firm (about 9 minutes), drain and add to sauce in frying pan. Toss to coat.

Twist mixture tightly with a large fork and transfer to serving plates. Serve with Pecorino Romano cheese.

11

05 2011

Learning Roman pastas (#1)

Much as we love Trastevere and its restaurants, one of our other favorite eating establishments is right on one of Rome’s most tourist-thronged plazas—just the type of location that we usually avoid at meal time. But when we stopped for coffee one morning at Ristorante-Caffè di Rienzo (Piazza del Pantheon 8/9, 06-686-9097, www.ristorantedirienzo.it), we struck up a conversation with Marianna Di Rienzo, whose father opened the restaurant in 1952. She even invited us to come back at dinner time so that the chef could show us how to prepare some classic Roman pasta dishes.

Chef Alessandro Sillani has been with Di Rienzo for 15 years. When we returned around 6 p.m., he and his assistant Tsatsu Nicholas Awuku were not even breaking a sweat sending out dishes to early diners. They decided to demonstrate two of the simplest, but to our minds, most delicious of Roman preparations, cacio e pepe (or cheese and pepper), and amatriciana (tomato and lardons of cured pork cheek). They made both with the thick tubular pasta with a tiny hole in the middle called bucatini. In fact, the restaurant uses Barilla dried pasta, widely available in the U.S. The specific size that seems to be used all over Rome is Bucatini No. 9. Like many restaurants that serve a lot of pasta, Di Rienzo had converted deep-fry vats to boil salted water. The chefs could simply toss the portions of dried pasta into the fryer baskets, lifting and draining in a single motion when the pasta was al dente.

Awuku handled the cacio e pepe. He melted a gob of butter in a skillet, then mixed grated Pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper together in a stainless steel bowl. He poured in the melted butter, mixed well and checked the consistency. When it seemed a little dry, he added a drizzle of olive oil. Once the pasta was al dente (Romans prefer their pasta very firm), he added the hot pasta to the cheese mixture and tossed to coat. He twisted the unruly and springy pasta very tightly to form a nest, transferred it to a plate and then sprinkled on more cheese.

We ate our pastas at an outdoor table, looking at the classic facade of the Pantheon and listening to jazz being played by street musicians. It could not have been more charming, or, for that matter, romantic. And the pasta was delicious. We supplemented our meal with white wine and the superb breads and gelati that Di Rienzo makes in-house. It was humbling lesson that sometimes you can even get a terrific meal on the square with a tourist attraction.

BUCATINI CACIO E PEPE
We have adjusted this recipe to serve four as a pasta course or two as a main course.

Ingredients

1 lb. bucatini
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons butter
olive oil as needed
extra Pecorino Romano to taste

Directions

1. Cook pasta about 10 minutes in salted water.

2. While pasta is cooking, combine black pepper and grated cheese. Melt butter and add to cheese mixture, stirring well to combine. Add olive oil as needed to create a thick cheese sauce.

3. When pasta is cooked firm, drain and add to bowl of cheese sauce. Toss to coat.

4. Place on plate with large fork, twisting mixture tightly. Add extra cheese to taste.

30

04 2011

Cooking with Comté

If you’ve ever eaten a croque monsieur in a cafe anywhere in France (my absolute favorite is served at the News Cafe in Paris at 78 rue d’Assas across from Jardin du Luxembourg), chances are you’ve eaten Comté cheese. The firm and nutty Comté is the largest selling hard cheese in France. I’d always figured that only a big factory could turn out enough Comté to satisfy the appetites of the fromage-loving French, but it turns out that Comté is still made pretty much the same way that it’s been made for about a thousand years–that is, small-scale and personal.

And the whole process is open to the public: from brown-and-white Montbéliarde cows grazing in buttercup-laden meadows, to milk delivery and early morning cheese-making in the cooperative dairies that are town social centers, to row upon row of wheels of cheese aging peacefully on spruce shelves.

Sandwiched between Burgundy and Switzerland, Franche-Comté is less than three hours from Paris by train. Yet it’s far enough off the beaten path to make an amusing Slow Foodie tour visiting some of the 3,000 family farms, 170 fruitières (as the cheese dairies are called), and 20 affineurs (aging facilities) squeezed into an area about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. The cheese industry’s La Maison du Comté (www.maison-du-comte.com) in the tidy town of Poligny explains the whole process process and provides a map to find farms, dairies, and affineurs that welcome visitors. They’re marked with a green and white sign of ”Les routes du Comté.”

It’s no surprise that locals eat Comté several times a day, often starting with a few slices on a baguette for breakfast. The cheese also melts with just the right consistency for fondue. All the locals are Comté boosters but they still debate the merits of young (up to 8 months of aging) Comté vs. cheese that has mellowed for a full year. This being France, they are all preoccupied with food in general. One pleasure of spending a few days in the region is the chance to visit some of the rustic inns where Michelin-starred chefs offer complete tasting menus for the price of a main dish in Paris.

One of my favorites was Le Bon Accueil (www.le-bon-accueil.fr) in Malbuisson. Chef-owner Marc Faivre has held a Michelin star for a decade and grows much of his produce on the grounds. Of course he uses Comté, including in amazing little cheese crackers (sables) that he sets out casually on the table with the appetizer course. ”It’s just equal parts butter, flour, and cheese,” his wife Catherine shrugged when I practically begged for the recipe. No seasonings, no herbs.

Comté tastes so good by itself that it really doesn’t need other flavors to enhance it. That’s certainly true with the local quiche. ”It’s just like quiche Lorraine but without the ham,” everyone says. I think the best versions are made with crème fraiche.

David and I have been working on the Comté recipes, and have decided that the cheese is going to brighten our holiday: the sables for New Year’s Eve with sparkling wine, and the tarte for New Year’s Day brunch.

SABLES DE FROMAGE COMTÉ

The proportions to make these addictive little crackers isn’t quite equal parts flour, butter, and cheese. We played around with several similar recipes until we came up with this version, which uses a little cream to form the dough. It is a pretty good approximation of Marc Faivre’s recipe. A food processor speeds up the creation of these crackers and allows you to make the dough without warming it with your hands. As a result, it’s ready to bake sooner.


Ingredients

1 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
5 Tablespoons butter cut in 1/4” cubes (pea-sized)
4 oz. Comté cheese, grated
5 Tablespoons heavy cream

Directions

1. Place flour, salt, and pepper in bowl of food processor. Pulse briefly to mix.

2. Add pea-sized pieces of butter and pulse several times until mixture is like coarse sand.

3. Add grated cheese and pulse perhaps a dozen times briefly to blend. With food processor running, dribble cream in feed tube until dough just comes together.

4. Remove dough to counter, divide in half, and roll each half into a log about 1 1/2” in diameter and about 4 1/2” long. Wrap in wax paper and place in freezer while pre-heating oven to 350F.

5. Work quickly to slice dough into 1/4” rounds. Place on baking sheet covered with parchment paper or Silpat sheet, leaving about 1/2” between crackers.

6. Bake 12 minutes, or until edges are brown and centers are firm. Remove and cool on wire rack.

Makes 3 dozen

TARTE AU COMTÉ

Crème fraiche can be tricky to find in American grocery stores. We make a good substitute by mixing equal amounts of whipping cream and Greek-style yogurt that contains live cultures, and letting the mixture sit on the counter for several hours until it thickens. Refrigerate any that remains after making the recipe, and use within three days.

Ingredients

1 cup crème fraiche
1 extra large egg
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup (packed) shredded aged Comté
Partially pre-cooked 9” pie or tart shell

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Beat together crème fraiche, egg, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

3. Sprinkle Comté cheese over bottom of pie shell. Top with crème fraiche mixture. Bake 40-45 minutes until crust is golden and filling puffs up and browns

4. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing.

30

12 2010

Say cheese in Montreal


The graffito above pretty much says it all. Montrealers love their cheese. We’ve been in Montreal for most of the last month doing the research for Food Lovers’ Guide to Montreal, to be published next spring from Globe Pequot Press. (See our first volume in the series, Food Lovers’ Guide to Massachusetts, under the tab ”Some Books.”) We have to admit that we are staggered by the explosion in artisanal cheese-making in Quebec. La Belle Province is beginning to rival La France when it comes to great fromage.

Many of Quebec’s best cheeses are made from raw milk, but thanks to NAFTA, all Quebec cheeses are allowed into the United States, even though similar cheeses from France might be banned.
Gilles Jourdenais, owner of Le Fromagerie Atwater, the wonderful cheese shop in the equally wonderful Marché Atwater (138 avenue Atwater), told us that there are about 400 Quebec cheeses now – and that about half of them are very good. Of the 850 cheeses in his shop, about 175 are from Quebec. Jourdenais is particularly high on:

1608, a semi-soft cheese from milk of a 17th century heritage breed of Canadienne cattle.
L’Hércule du Charlevoix, an Alpine-style cheese made from milk from Jersey cows.
Le Fleurmier, a brie style also made from Jersey milk.
Grey Owl, an ash-covered goat’s milk cheese from Fromagerie Le Détour in Notre-Dame-du-Lac.
14 Arpents, a farm cheese similar to a Pont l’Evesque
Sauvagine, a washed rind cheese from St-Raymond de Pontneuf, that was crowned grand champion of Canadian cheeses in 2006

Out in Outremont, La Maison du Cheddar (1311 avenue Van Horne) focuses entirely on Quebec cheeses and carries about 300 examples. Co-owner Jean-Pierre Gariepy can talk for hours just about the cheddars, and he uses three-, four- and five-year-old cheddars from St-Guillaume for tastings in the shop. He tends to second Jourdenais’s choices, but he is also a big fan of some other Quebec cheeses:

Chèvre Noir, a goat cheddar that Gariepy calls “a masterpiece” from Fromagerie Tournevent in Chesterville.
Riopelle de l’Île, named after the painter who often vacationed on L’Île aux Grues, where the cheese is made. It’s somewhere between a brie and a Camembert.
Pied-de-Vent, a raw cow’s milk cheese from Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
Victor et Berthold, one of the pioneer cheeses of the Quebec artisanal cheese movement that got started about 15 years ago.
Le Cendrillon, an ash-covered soft goat’s milk cheese whose name translates as “Cinderella.” Made by La Maison Alexis de Portneuf, it was chosen as the best cheese in the world in an international competition held on the Canary Islands in 2009.
Le Douanier (“the customs officer”) made by Fritz Kaiser, in the village of Noyan near the Vermont and New York border.

When we visited, Gariepy was using Le Douanier, a slightly tart semi-soft cheese made in the style of a French Morbier, along with a confit of onions, apple, cinnamon, and white wine, in his ”grilled cheese sandwich of the week.”

07

11 2010

The tang of Burgundy’s other signature taste

You literally walk on wine in Beaune, the center of Burgundy’s wine trade, because the town is honeycombed with cellars dug by the monks who were Burgundy’s first vinters. Millions of bottles sleep their way to perfection under the cobbled streets, and millions more are tucked into the cool, dark recesses of the town’s 15th century fortified walls. The rough streets, old stone buildings, and a profusion of statues of the Virgin Mary (including one where she holds the infant Jesus in one hand and a bunch of grapes in the other) make Beaune undeniably picturesque. But it’s even more fun to taste Beaune than to look at it. As close as I can tell, there are no statues of Mary hefting a bag of mustard seeds, but there should be.

Fallot moutarderie In the Middle Ages, mustard was made everywhere in France. Today the Burgundy region is best known for mustard, especially the Maille firm in Dijon, 25 miles/40 km north of Beaune. But Beaune’s own family-owned La Moutarderie Fallot (31, Faubourg Bretonnière, 011-33-0380-221-002, www.fallot.com) holds its own against the bigger, slicker operation. The last moutarderie in Beaune, Fallot began stone-grinding mustard seed in 1840 and still uses stone wheels to make mustard paste, which is still stored for 24 hours in wooden barrels before bottling. Tours are sometimes arranged through the tourist office (port Marie de Bourgogne, 6 boulevard Perpreuil, 011-33-0380-262-130, www.beaune-burgundy.com).

Fallot mustards Given the French fixation with terroir, I was surprised to learn that most French mustards are made with seeds from Canada. Within the last couple of decades, the French have started to replant mustard, but the mustard fields can only meet about 5 percent of the demand. If you’re a purist, look for mustard labeled “made with mustard from Burgundy.” It is also made with white Burgundy wine (Aligoté) instead of vinegar to blend with the seed, water, and salt. Most processors also make flavored mustards — tarragon, cassis, gingerbread, etc. — but Burgundians far prefer the unflavored “natural” product.

Cheeses at Alain Hess I always bring home a few jars for the pantry, but some of Beaune’s mustard delicacies are best enjoyed there. I can’t visit the town without stopping at Alain Hess Fromagerie (7 Place Carnot, 011-33-0380-247-351), an affineur (cheese-ager) who also produces his own Delice de Pommard, a soft cow’s milk cheese rolled in mustard bran. It’s great first cheese for a picnic, ideally followed by a Cîteaux (a semi-soft cheese that Hess procures from a 12th century Cistercian monastery) and finally a spectacular Époisses de Bourgogne, a soft cheese whose rind is washed with Marc de Borgogne. The great epicure Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin called it the “king of cheeses.” To drink? A modest Burgundy, of course.

No surprise — the wine is also good with chocolate. Chocolatier Bouché (1 Place Monge, 011-33-0380-221-035) blends mustard seed into chocolate ganache, then enrobes the pieces in dark chocolate. Called Le Sénevé, the morsels combine a complex sweetness with bitter and salty undertones.

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07

07 2010

Bringing food through US Customs

Sometimes you can’t bring the taste of travel back home. We learned the hard way by trying to bring in a large block of mountain ham from Spain. Mind you, this was the choicest grade of jamón ibérico (from acorn-fattened black-footed pigs), and priced accordingly. The salesperson at the factory in Jabugo assured us that it would go right through U.S. Customs because it was vacuum-sealed.

When we declared the ham, Customs promptly confiscated it as if we were smuggling uncle Guido’s homemade country sausage. You can argue the validity of the policy all you want, but Customs people do not make policy. They only enforce it. One of us was already tired of pungent Spanish ham anyway.

To avoid disappointment, costly or not, it is a good idea to have a working knowledge of the USDA and FDA regulations that U.S. Customs will enforce.

Meat is not welcome. In theory, this even extends to canned meat and meat derivatives, like sausages in tin cans, soup mixes, bouillon cubes, or jerky snacks. By contrast, most fish and fish products are welcome—even dried salt cod, should you wish to really foul up your luggage.

The regulations on bringing cheese into the U.S. are complex, but in the absence of extensive paperwork, Customs officials use a rule of thumb: Firm and hard aged cheeses are fine. Soft and runny cheeses are not. Fresh cheeses like ricotta and feta are out of the question.

Most fresh fruits and vegetables are no-no’s at Customs. In theory, many of them are permitted if you can prove where they were grown. In practice, they are almost universally confiscated. An interesting exception are fresh truffles. Truffles are OK—as long as not a speck of soil clings to them. Soil is strictly forbidden without a special import license.

In theory, the restrictions on food are supposed to protect American agriculture and ensure that foods meet U.S. health standards. Dry goods in general are OK, and they are the easiest to pack. Spices and condiments take up little space in your luggage, and they often concentrate some of the essential flavors of a cuisine. Customs frowns on rice from Asia and Africa, but we have never had a problem bringing home Italian and Spanish rice for making risottos and paellas. Specialty flours are no big deal. Ditto dried mushrooms and chile peppers.

This being the government, the rules are subject to constant change and there are many, many exceptions. For a full run-down on the regulations on any given day related to any product and any country of origin, see the databases at the Animal and Plant Heath Inspection Service of the USDA.

07

12 2009

Raclette made simple

Raclette sandwich And speaking of cheesemongers…. We have fond memories of eating raclette–a big plateful of melted cheese with cornichons and boiled potatoes–after a tough day of winter snow hiking in Switzerland. It has always seemed too much trouble to make at home: Buy a big block of raclette cheese, find or build an open fire, etc., etc. But one day when we were in Rubiner’s Cheesemongers in Great Barrington, Mass., we wandered into the Rubi’s Cafe for lunch and found the perfect solution to our raclette craving. Rubi’s piled shredded raclette cheese and sliced cornichons onto sourdough bread slathered with Dijon mustard and stuck the sandwiches into a panini press. Voila! Instant raclette in your hand. (And easily duplicated at home.)

16

11 2009