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Updated: 1 week 2 days ago

Dinner’s Ready

March 23, 2020 - 11:00am

In the Napa Valley, where we are sheltering in place, caterers are delivering cassoulet to people with deep pockets. The rest of us are plundering our pantries, gardens and freezers. Frankly, I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of making do in the kitchen. What tasty thing can I concoct from the bits and pieces? Being resourceful feels good, especially now. With my own hands, I can feed my household. I remember an elderly Italian friend who lived through the Second World War telling me that the rural people were better off than the city folks because the people in the countryside knew how to forage. Feeding yourself is a basic life skill, and this crisis is revealing that a lot of people can’t.

Kitchen staple: Barrel aged Greek feta

It’s likely you have all the ingredients for this Greek pasta frittata on hand. If not, substitute what you do have. The original recipe calls for egg noodles, but I use bucatini. Even a short pasta like penne would be fine. I have only made the dish with feta but use whatever cheese you have. Herbs are optional. Olive oil instead of butter? Sure. You can even make the dish with leftover spaghetti in tomato sauce. I learned that from Rosetta Costantino, with whom I collaborated on My Calabria. We had to delete the recipe from that book for space reasons, but I love it and include it below.

Feta and Pasta Frittata

Adapted from Vefa’s Kitchen by Vefa Alexiadou (Phaedon Press, 2009). Vefa Alexiadou is Greece’s Julia Child—a beloved television personality and cookbook author. She recently turned 87. I hope she knows how much comfort and sustenance her simple frittata recipe is providing right now. Toss a salad and dinner is done.

  • 5 ounces long dried pasta, such as bucatini

  • Olive oil

  • 6 large eggs

  • 9 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh chives or other herbs, optional

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, preferably clarified, or ghee

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and boil until just al dente, about 10 minutes for bucatini. Drain, transfer to a bowl and drizzle with just enough oil to keep the noodles from sticking. Let cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs well. Add the pasta, cheese, herbs (if using) and pepper.

Heat a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add half the butter. When it melts and sizzles, add the egg /pasta mixture, spreading it evenly. Cook, adjusting the heat to prevent burning on the bottom, until the mixture is almost firm on top, 5 to 6 minutes. Invert onto a large plate. Add the remaining butter to the skillet. When it melts, slide the frittata back into the skillet and cook on the second side until crisp, about another 5 minutes.

Slide the frittata onto a cutting board and let cool for a few minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Serves 4

Frittata with Leftover Spaghetti

Cooking teacher Rosetta Costantino and her mother, Maria Dito, taught me this dish when we were testing recipes for My Calabria, a book about the food of their homeland. Whenever they have leftover cooked spaghetti, they repurpose it in a frittata, the spaghetti strands making graceful swirls on the surface. Add chopped ham, prosciutto or mozzarella, if you like.

  • 6 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped basil or parsley

  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino cheese

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • About 1 pound of cold cooked spaghetti in tomato sauce (from 4 ounces of dried pasta)

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the broiler.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, herbs, cheese, salt and several grinds of black pepper. Stir in the leftover spaghetti.

Heat the olive oil over moderate heat in a 10-inch nonstick skillet. Add the egg mixture and distribute it evenly. Cook until the frittata has begun to firm and brown on the bottom, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the middle rack of the oven and broil until the top of the frittata is firm, golden and puffy. If you’re not sure that it is fully cooked, make a small slit on the surface with a paring knife and look for runny egg.

Slide the frittata onto a cutting board and let cool for a few minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Serves 6

Categories: Food

Cheese Takes a Beating

March 16, 2020 - 11:00am

Travel woes: (clockwise from upper left) Camembert au Calvados; Clochette; Burrata; French ashed cheeses

Maybe cheese wasn’t the first thing you thought about when President Trump announced a 30-day ban on flights from Europe last week. But cheese is, indeed, a victim. It won’t be getting on planes, either. All those lovely soft spring goat cheeses from the Loire Valley…fresh mozzarella and burrata from Campania…delicate robiolas from Piemonte…these cheeses and many others have effectively had their passports revoked. “Trump said it’s not going to affect cargo, but it doesn’t work that way,” says Stephanie Ciano of World’s Best Cheese, a major importer.

Many cheeses, especially those with short shelf lives, are air-freighted to the U.S. and they don’t come on cargo planes. “Air-freighted cheese comes on passenger flights,” says Ciano, vice president of international purchasing for World’s Best in Somerville, MA. “And airlines are not going to run flights without people.”

Frequent flyer: Mothais sur Feuille

Ciano estimates that the flight ban will cost her company hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue. Guffanti’s baked lemon ricotta, a popular choice for Easter, will be MIA, at least temporarily, along with lightly ripened cheeses like French Couronne de Touraine and Mothais sur Feuille and Italy’s La Tur.

The ban is arguably even more burdensome for Michele Lanza, whose Bay Area-based import and distribution company, Fresca Italia, brings all of its European cheeses by air. (Most other importers get hard cheeses by boat, which is slower but cheaper.) “Our strategy has always been to fly everything,” says Lanza. “Even if it’s a cheese that could go by boat, we’ve always believed that flying is best.”

Like Ciano, Lanza was caught off guard by the President’s announcement. “If we had had this conversation a couple of days ago, it would have been ‘business as usual,’” Lanza told me last Friday. His Italian suppliers were still making cheese and filling orders, exempt, as food producers, from the lockdown devastating other parts of the economy. Last Thursday, the day after the President’s speech, Lanza thought his cheeses might still catch one of the last flights out of Rome. On Friday, he learned they would not.

Ban victim: Michele Lanza

Lanza began scrambling for alternatives, such as flying the cheese out of Heathrow or on a cargo plane, but congestion pricing quickly kicked in. “To give you an idea, the cost per kilo to ship our products would be higher than the cost of the products,” says Lanza. Ciano had the same experience. “There’s a lot of price gouging going on,” says the importer. “The rates are like 350% of what they were.”

To make matters worse, the flight ban comes on top of plunging cheese orders from restaurants as Americans drastically curtail dining out.

“The situation is unprecedented,” says Bob Stonebrook of Aniata Cheese Company, a Southern California-based importer and distributor of fine cheese. Aniata’s European partners are trying to find transport for the perishable cheeses that U.S. shops have ordered, but whatever they arrange will be costly, says Stonebrook.

Ciano is hopeful that the U.S. government will quickly address the flight ban’s collateral damage. In the meantime, Lanza will likely be forced into shipping harder cheeses by boat. As for more fragile cheeses, “we can find alternatives,” says Lanza, “but the cost is going to be outrageous.”

UPDATE (March 16): From Stephanie Ciano: “The situation changes hour by hour. We are working with our freight consolidators to be able to get the freight out. We are going to get our Guffanti shipment and Alta Langa [La Tur and others]. Pomella mozzarella shipments are blocked through mid-April. French and Swiss air shipments are completely blocked. All flights by United Airlines and Air France are canceled between France and the U.S. American Airlines has canceled 75% of its flights and not allowed any cargo. Passengers and their belongings are the priority. Unlikely to arrive: Epoisses Berthaut, Chaource, Munster AOP, Camembert and all fresh French cheeses; from Switzerland, no Moser Truffle, Moser Screamer or Petit Vaccarinus. Hopefully an avenue will open up, but things are looking bleak right now, particularly from France.”


Categories: Food

Here We Go Again

March 9, 2020 - 2:00pm

Photo: Kral Photography

For the second time, a team of expert judges has voted Michael Spycher’s Gruyère the World Champion Cheese. It’s a head-spinning achievement given the size of the field: 3,667 entries from around the world. If you think of Gruyère as an ordinary sandwich cheese sold in every supermarket—well, this ain’t that.

To understand Spycher’s “special sauce,” I spoke to Joe Salonia, the U.S. sales rep for Gourmino, the Swiss company that ages and markets Spycher’s cheeses and others. He has visited the creamery a couple of times. “I didn’t think it would be possible,” he told me about the Gruyère’s repeat win. “It’s the Tom Hanks of cheese now.”

World Champion Cheese is a biannual competition held in Madison, Wisconsin. This year’s record number of entries came from 26 countries, including Croatia, Brazil and Japan.

What distinguishes this contest is that the 62 judges are, with few exceptions, technical experts—dairy-science professors, professional cheese graders and quality-control specialists who spend their workdays tasting cheese for defects. Other major competitions typically include judges who are cheesemongers, distributors and others on the selling end of the business. These folks tend to focus more on aesthetic features and less on the flaws—like a soft spot or slits in the interior—that consumers don’t notice.

Here are the top three finishers and note the closeness:

Gourmino Le Gruyère AOP (score: 98.81)
Gallus Grand Cru from Hardegger Käse (score: 98.70)
Lutjewiinkel Noord Hollandse Gouda PDO (score: 98.66)

Phot0: Kral Photography

Spycher gets his milk from a dozen dairy farms, all within four kilometers of the creamery. He makes the cheese just like every other Gruyère producer, following the procedures required by the AOP (appellation law). Still, his cheese is different, Salonia believes, citing notes of consommé, sautéed leeks and vanilla. “It’s assertive but balanced,” says the sales rep, “with so many notes playing at once.” Many factors could separate his cheese from the pack: the microflora on the dairy farms or in his caves; his handling techniques in the cellar; or his skill in selecting the perfect wheel to submit.

As a media guest, I had the opportunity to taste the final round alongside the judges. My own notes describe the Gruyère’s aroma as “brothy; roasted onion,” echoing Salonia’s. “This is a star,” I wrote. Not everyone agreed. I spoke to one judge post-results who thought the Gruyère was too grainy. Although judges taste blind, you can’t mistake a Gruyère; the name is on the rind.

Two-time winner: Michael Spycher

Spycher has been making cheese since he was 15; he’s now 53. He also produces the fabulous Hornbacher. The 80-pound wheels of Gruyère spend their first four months in his cellar, then move to Gourmino’s mountain bunker where affinage experts tend it for the next few months. The winning wheel was 13 months old and Spycher, not Gourmino, selected it.

Salonia compares Spycher’s Gruyère to that racehorse that hangs back until the last stretch. “It takes off at the 10-month mark,” he says, “and starts getting its own flavor profile.” For retail sources, click here.

Want to taste this two-time world champion? Join me on Wednesday, April 15, in Napa, for a cheese class devoted to some of the world’s finest raw-milk cheeses, including Michael Spycher’s Gruyère.

Categories: Food

Your Cheese Dreams Come True

March 3, 2020 - 12:00pm

California fresh: Nicasio Valley Cheese Foggy Morning

Can I brag on my state? California is about to host its 14th annual Artisan Cheese Festival, a three-day event that just keeps getting better. (I have perfect attendance.) Cheese fans: Your dreams can come true here. Want to step inside the aging cellars of an artisan Cheddar producer? Or visit three super-hip craft distillers? (There will be cheese. And a driver.) Want to meet the latest rock-star cheesemaker? (Hint: She’s not old enough to vote.)

This year’s California Artisan Cheese Festival is Friday, March 27, through Sunday, March 29, and the entire schedule of activities is online. My advice: Take a farm tour on Friday, sign up for an educational seminar on Saturday and come hungry to the walk-around festival in Santa Rosa on Sunday.

Some highlights:

Visit Bivalve Dairy in Petaluma, a longtime supplier of cow’s milk to Cowgirl Creamery, now making its own cheeses. I’m looking forward to trying its Foundry Fresh cheese and Mendonça, a Portuguese-style aged wheel.

Supernova: Shooting Star Creamery’s Avery Jones

Tour Wm. Cofield Cheesemakers in Sebastopol, a Cheddar producer that doesn’t typically open its creamery and aging room to the public.

Meet Avery Jones of Shooting Star Creamery, the 16-year-old wunderkind whose sheep cheese took third place at last year’s American Cheese Society competition. She’s bringing that cheese (Aries) and two other new sheep cheeses to the Festival marketplace on Sunday.

On Saturday, I’ll be leading a tasting of cheeses paired with a beverage I could drink every night: the elegant sparkling wines of Roederer Estate. Three of them! Winemaker Arnaud Weyrich will join me. If you’re not yet convinced that bubbles are the most versatile wine for cheese, well, be there.

A portion of ticket sales goes to local agriculture-related nonprofits. So far, the festival has raised $135,000 for these worthy causes.

Cheese Class: Raw-Milk Cheese Showcase

Wednesday, April 15
Silverado Cooking School
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

We’ll celebrate tradition in this class devoted to cheeses made exclusively with raw milk. For many purist cheesemakers, in the U.S. and abroad, working with full-flavored, unpasteurized milk is non-negotiable. Come taste some standouts.

Categories: Food

She’s Gotta Have It

February 25, 2020 - 12:00pm

When I posted about cacio e pepe recently, I didn’t realize I was headed down a rabbit hole. I like this dish—pasta with pecorino romano and black pepper—but I’m not obsessed with it. Then I discovered someone who is. Her Instagram, cacioepepelove, has 6,600 followers and climbing. I took one look and couldn’t stop looking. Every day, a new cacio e pepe. Who was behind this funny, mouthwatering, passionate love letter to a pasta dish?

Jessica Roffe (above) works for the University of Maryland by day and curates her quirky page in the off hours. Initially, the 29-year-old posted images from her own dining adventures, but then the floodgates opened. The tantalizing bowls of cacio e pepe on her Instagram now come from restaurants and amateur cooks everywhere. Roffe is never judgmental, although she has firm opinions about the right way to prepare this tricky dish. (She made the version pictured above left.) Check out her own recipe on her Instagram stories for pointers. I spoke to her recently by phone.

Roffe. Sounds Italian.

I like to think I’m Italian but I’m not. I studied abroad in Florence for four months, but I think I had my first cacio e pepe in Siena. I went to this restaurant almost every night for two weeks. I became obsessed. I’m a picky eater, and cacio e pepe is really simple.

How did the Instagram start?

Cacio e pepe started blowing up in America, and I was looking to see if there were any Instagrams dedicated to it. I thought it would be a fun hobby. I’ve gotten really positive feedback. People message me and say, “Your page has made my life.”

Secret no more: Roma Sparita’s cacio e pepe

Most memorable cacio e pepe?

When I visited Rome, a friend took me to Roma Sparita. They serve cacio e pepe in a fried Parmigiano shell, and that was life changing. (She’s talking about frico, the lacy cheese crisps.) The restaurant was on “No Reservations,” Anthony Bourdain’s show, but he didn’t want the secret out, so he didn’t mention the restaurant’s name.

Any estimate of how many different versions of cacio e pepe you’ve eaten?

My husband would probably say too many. I’m trying to get all the D.C. places checked off my list.

Do you prefer to make it or to eat it in restaurants?

I’m a bit of a snob now. I know the right way to do it, so I’m very particular. A lot of places will put butter or oil in it, but it’s just three ingredients (pasta, pepper, cheese). Whole Foods came out with a cacio e pepe sauce in a jar and the first ingredient was cream. I thought, I’m not even gonna try this. There’s no cream in cacio e pepe. We got a pasta attachment for our KitchenAid, so we’ve been trying to make it at home on Friday nights.

How would you describe the perfect cacio e pepe?

It has just the right amount of creaminess, which comes only from the pecorino mixed with pasta water. It should have really fresh cracked pepper. It shouldn’t be watery—no liquid underneath. You have to use the right amount of pasta water to soak up the cheese.

And what’s the right pasta?

When I first had it, it was pici, like thick spaghetti or bucatini. But people make it with everything these days. I’ve seen it made with mafalde. At Left Bank, in New York, they use a curly pasta. I’ve been trying to go there.

Can you play around with the pepper? Green peppercorns? Pink peppercorns?

I got a recipe recently with four peppercorns and I do want to try that.

Any do’s and don’ts?

I crush the peppercorn with a mallet. A lot of people use Parmigiano Reggiano but it’s just supposed to have pecorino. It melts better. You have to put the cheese in gradually or it will clump. People get feisty on Instagram. The only negative comments I ever get are from Italians. The other day, I posted a cacio e pepe that had lemon in it, and somebody said, “Real cacio e pepe doesn’t have lemon,” and I’m like, I know, I’m just trying to show variety. People are very serious about this.

Any other crimes against cacio e pepe?

People don’t know how to pronounce it. (Say cotch-o eh peh peh.) That makes me laugh. A lot of people call it elevated mac and cheese but that’s another misconception. I’m not a fan of mac and cheese.

Have you been back to Rome for cacio e pepe?

I’m going back this summer, but I won’t have much time there. I have to pick one restaurant. I’ve been struggling, but I’ve got it down to two: Roscioli and Da Ottello.

What do you like to drink with it?

Red wine. Anything Italian is good.

How long can you keep this going?

I’ve been thinking about that. I try to post every two days, but we’ll see how long I can keep that up.

Cheese Class: Raw-Milk Cheese Showcase

Wednesday, April 15
Silverado Cooking School
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

We’ll celebrate tradition in this class devoted to cheeses made exclusively with raw milk. For many purist cheesemakers, in the U.S. and abroad, working with full-flavored, unpasteurized milk is non-negotiable. Come taste some standouts.

Categories: Food

Cheese by the Numbers

February 18, 2020 - 12:00pm

The numbers are in and they’re not pretty. Wisconsin lost a record number of dairy farms last year. More than 800 farms folded. More than 2,700 have called it quits in the past five years.

How does this happen when artisan cheese consumption is booming? And what does it mean for all those amazing Wisconsin cheeses we love? For insights, I turned to a couple of Wisconsin’s most respected cheesemakers: Andy Hatch (above right) of Uplands Cheese Company, a farmstead producer of Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Rush Creek Reserve; and Bob Wills (above left) of Cedar Grove Cheese, who buys milk from more than 30 Wisconsin farms for his cheeses. This post is longer than usual, but these gentlemen have a lot to say and we need to hear it.

First, some background: The average milk price paid to Wisconsin’s dairy farmers cratered after peaking in 2014. Too much supply, too little demand. Americans are consuming less. (Soy latte, anyone?) The Chinese are buying less. And cows have gotten way more productive. So while Wisconsin has lost thousands of dairy farms, the ones that remain are much bigger and they’re turning out too much milk.

Andy, doesn’t this oversupply mean that Wisconsin cheesemakers are paying less for milk? That’s good for them, right?

Peak moment: Little Mountain named 2016 Best of Show for Wisconsin’s Chris Roelli

Hatch: Smaller cheesemakers who make their living on quality, not efficiency, pay a premium to their farmers and always have. They don’t ride the tide of the commodity milk price. They recognize that they need to keep their farms healthy.

You’re a farmstead cheesemaker; you have your own cows and don’t buy milk. Is your business affected by this crisis?

Hatch: Our little business is sustained by the dairy infrastructure in Wisconsin: the number of vets in the countryside, the people who service milking parlors, the trucks picking up milk. When that infrastructure is threatened, our survival is threatened. All these services require critical mass. One thing that made Wisconsin special is that we had enough small farms for these services to exist. Big farms have services in house. They have their own vets and repair people.

Are you alarmed by this decline or is it just part of an economic cycle?

Hatch: The milk market has always been cyclical, but this is an aberration. Prices have stayed low for so long because the supply hasn’t contracted. Big farms are adding more cows. Dairy farming was an economic miracle in the early 20th century and it built our whole state. Does it need to be replaced by something else? Yeah, maybe. But we ought to be careful before we let it go. It has been so good at distributing prosperity throughout the countryside.

You go through Iowa and Nebraska now, with their huge corporate farms, and the tractor dealer is rich, the seed guys are rich, and a couple of farmers are rich, but there’s nothing in between. The great thing about small dairy farms is they kept our small towns full. I don’t know what could replace them that would be as good for our rural economy.

What’s wrong with big farms? Number one, consolidation of wealth. Number two, can they manage their environmental impact responsibly? It’s a lot of manure on fewer acres and that can pose risks. But you can’t just say that big farms are worse. A lot of small farms don’t have the resources to invest in facilities to handle manure properly.

Wisconsin gem: Deer Creek Indigo Blue

Beyond the environmental risk, there’s a big risk in consumer perception. The upswelling of public sentiment against animal agriculture has been incredible. A lot of it is due to the rise of plant-based meat and cheese. They’re demonizing animal agriculture, and most Midwest farmers I know just have their heads in the sand over this. The optics aren’t good. We are not doing a good job of explaining animal agriculture.

Bob Wills, if there’s plenty of milk and the price is low, is that not a good thing for you?

Wills: If I have to buy from a few really big farms it creates instability for me. If one of them picks up and goes somewhere else, it can really disrupt my supply. We prefer working with smaller farms we’ve worked with for a long time. We know their values and the quality of their product. Plus, a lot of small farms are grazing, and our preference is to have a significant component of grass milk in our cheese.

Immigration issues can’t be helping matters.

Wills: Finding any employees is ridiculous right now. We’ve located potential employees and then they were unable to get visas. The labor situation is killing industry in this country. There’s only so much growth you can do if you don’t have money to mechanize or people to do the work.

Are you alarmed by this decline or is it just part of an economic cycle?

Wills: It’s up to consumers. Whenever there’s really low-cost cheese coming into the market, it challenges us because the way we do things is not cheap. As the price gap grows between factory-farm cheese and artisanal products, it’s a harder choice for consumers to make. But it is their choice. They have to understand who they are buying from and why.

Whole communities are falling apart. In our town the grocery store has closed; the restaurant has closed. The farmers who went out of business were customers in their community. Last summer I went to a funeral in a tiny church for one of my farmers—a natural death—and learned that two farmers in the community had committed suicide that year. The community toll is a lot more important than what’s going to happen to artisan cheese.

Categories: Food

Four-Star Cacio e Pepe

February 11, 2020 - 12:00pm

The classic Roman dish, spaghetti cacio e pepe, seems to be having a moment. I have no idea why. Americans tend to prefer pasta with more stuff on it. This sauce is about as simple as it gets, although it’s easy to screw up. With Valentine’s Day on the brain, I bought a truffled pecorino recently and started to wonder if it would work in cacio e pepe. Genius, I must say.

The sauce’s name, cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper), is practically the whole grocery list. You’ll need long dried pasta like spaghetti, linguine, perciatelli or bucatini. You’ll need a pepper mill or, better, a mortar to make freshly cracked black pepper—lots of it. And you’ll need some cheese. Pecorino romano is traditional, but a truffled pecorino ups the ante.

I’m not aware of any creamery that adds the prized black winter truffles (Tuber melanosporum) to cheese. Most cheesemakers use less expensive summer truffle plus truffle aroma. The truffled pecorino I purchased was Moliterno al Tartufo (pictured below), an aged sheep’s milk cheese from southern Italy that’s injected with truffle paste. I guarantee you the truffle aroma persisted in the dish.

Despite the few ingredients in this recipe, there’s some technique involved. The cheese needs to melt into a creamy sauce, but it wants to clump. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s method, which I stumbled on online, is convoluted but foolproof. It works if you follow it.

Cacio e Pepe al Tartufo

Moliterno al Tartufo

Lopez-Alt’s method involves some back-and-forth between two skillets but it works. The sauce comes out creamy, as it should. Have the wine poured and be ready to eat. This dish waits for no one.

  • 6 ounces spaghetti

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter

  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

  • Pinch of kosher or sea salt

  • ½ cup freshly grated Moliterno al Tartufo or other truffled pecorino, plus more for garnish

Put the spaghetti in a 12-inch skillet with lightly salted water to cover by about ½ inch. Have ready a tea kettle of boiling water in case you need more. Bring the water in the skillet to a simmer over high heat and cook until the pasta is al dente, according to package directions. Add boiling water from the tea kettle if needed to keep the spaghetti covered.

While the pasta cooks, put the olive oil, butter, black pepper and salt in a 10-inch skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter melts and the mixture begins to sizzle, set it aside.

When the pasta is almost ready, add about 2 tablespoons of the pasta water to the oil in the skillet. With tongs, lift the spaghetti out of the pasta water (don’t shake it dry) and into the smaller skillet. Pour off but RESERVE the pasta cooking water, then transfer the contents of the smaller skillet to the now-empty large skillet. OFF THE HEAT, add the grated cheese and begin tossing and stirring vigorously, adding a splash of the reserved pasta water if needed to make a creamy sauce. The cheese should melt, not clump. Divide among two bowls, top with a little additional cheese and serve immediately.

Serves 2

Cheese Class: Raw-Milk Cheese Showcase

Wednesday, April 15
Silverado Cooking School
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

We’ll celebrate tradition in this class devoted to cheeses made exclusively with raw milk. For many purist cheesemakers, in the U.S. and abroad, working with full-flavored, unpasteurized milk is non-negotiable. Come taste some standouts.

Categories: Food

Right Place, Right Time

February 4, 2020 - 12:00pm

If a truffled triple-cream cheese sounds like the right thing for Valentine’s Day, keep reading. I’m going to help you make one. Whether you use fresh black truffle (best) or truffle paste (second best), the result will make you a hero. The cheese pictured here was an impromptu gift from Ken Frank, chef-owner of La Toque in Napa—talk about being in the right place at the right time—and later the chef shared a video of how he made it.

Ken’s restaurant is elegant, pricey and, alas, not on my regular rotation. But I was testing recipes with him in La Toque’s kitchen for a book project recently, and we began talking about truffled cheeses. I knew that the restaurant offers a special menu every January with black truffles in every course. That’s how I got lucky. January was almost over and Ken had prepared too many truffled Mt. Tams. He made me take one.

Needless to say, La Toque’s deluxe version uses fresh hand-chopped black truffle, and you should do so if budget allows. But I’m persuaded that a high-quality truffle paste (La Rustichella is a respected brand) will yield results worthy of the occasion. Ken uses Mt. Tam or Brillat-Savarin. Délice de Bourgogne is another French triple-cream that could stand in for Mt. Tam. Cowgirl Creamery sells a Truffle Tam Home Kit, but it includes two cheeses.

You’ll want to apply the truffle treatment at least three days ahead to allow the scent to infuse. On Valentine’s Day, bring the cheese to room temperature for serving, and make sure the toasts are hot. If you have cheese left over, enjoy it the next day on top of polenta or stirred into risotto.

Cheese Class: Raw-Milk Cheese Showcase

Wednesday, April 15
Silverado Cooking School
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

We’ll celebrate tradition in this class devoted to cheeses made exclusively with raw milk. For many purist cheesemakers, in the U.S. and abroad, working with full-flavored, unpasteurized milk is non-negotiable. Come taste some standouts.

Categories: Food

Adieu to a Bread Diva

January 28, 2020 - 12:00pm

Cheese without bread? Mon dieu. I still remember when I forgot to bring baguettes to a cheese tasting and got reprimanded by an irritated Frenchman. I’ll never do that again. Sturdy, chewy bread is maybe the only thing I love as much as cheese (well, wine is up there), and Della Fattoria loaves are a gold standard for me. Last week, we lost Della Fattoria founder Kathleen Weber—too quickly, too soon. 

An ex-hippie whose home-baking hobby spawned a business she never planned (her husband, Ed, jokingly called it “the hobby from hell”), Weber was in the forefront of the wood-oven baking movement. She was also an early advocate of baking only with natural starters and no added yeast. 

Weber received a cancer diagnosis late last year and was gone within two months. Her son, Aaron, has been the head baker for the Petaluma, California-based bakery for years, so the business isn’t threatened. But we have lost a pioneer, a generous spirit, a mentor. When my husband was trying to improve his own home-baking skills, she invited him to spend a day at the bakery, helping and watching. (I should put “helping” in quotes.) He came home exhausted.

“Kathleen’s bread was super unique,” says Craig Ponsford, an instructor at Petaluma’s Artisan Baking Center and professional baking coach. “I can pick out the Della Fattoria bread anywhere.” Weber made Italian breads her focus when everyone else was still baking French, notes Ponsford, and she was a woman in a male-dominated industry. “A tough woman, by the way,” he adds.

I first visited the bakery, at the Webers’ rural Petaluma home, to do a story for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1998. In a head-spinningly short time, Kathleen had gone from baking for her family to baking for friends to getting an unsolicited order from a prominent chef. In the early years, demand grew so swiftly that Kathleen claimed that she did most of her sleeping at stoplights. “The people behind me would let me know when the light changed,” she joked.

Today, Della Fattoria encompasses not only the wholesale bakery but a thriving Petaluma café, a true nexus of the community. Her book, Della Fattoria Breadhas a place of honor on my husband’s bookshelf. In it she wrote to him, “When it comes to bread, we are kindred spirits. You are a gifted baker and my hope is that you will have fun with these recipes.” She also told him to send her photos of his results. How nice is that?

Kathleen Weber’s Pimento Cheese

From Della Fattoria Bread by Kathleen Weber (Artisan). 

  • 2-1/2 cups (about 8 ounces) lightly packed grated extra-sharp Cheddar, preferably half white and half orange

  • ¾ cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade

  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped drained piquillo peppers or other roasted red peppers

  • ¼ teaspoon Sriracha or other hot sauce to taste

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

With a fork, mix the cheese and mayonnaise in a medium bowl until combined but not completely smooth (the cheese should still stay in shreds). Add the peppers and season with the Sriracha, if using, and salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight. The flavor will get better and better.

Makes about 2 cups

NEW! 2020 World Cheese Tour Classes Announced

Please join me for the ninth year of the World Cheese Tour, a monthly series of guided cheese tastings at the beautiful Silverado Cooking School in Napa. You’ll find new class themes this year and, as always, many new cheeses. I rarely repeat a cheese! Come learn more about Spanish cheeses, raw-milk rockstars, or cheese and wine pairing. Find the complete schedule here.

Categories: Food