By Lassa Skinner
Springtime means renewal. Sunlight strengthens and lengthens, vegetation responds with robust new growth, and the natural course of life restarts its captivating cycle. This season of vitality is especially apparent in goat's milk cheeses, which show off the densest, richest milk of the year, full of nutrients for the newborn kids. The same abundance is true, of course, for other milking animals, but as inspiration for a spring cheese board, nothing compares to fresh goat's milk cheeses. Versatile and varied, they are made in a myriad of shapes and sizes with an assortment of coatings, rinds, and wrappings including ash, leaves, herbs, and flowers.
This classic dish is to Bavarians what mac-n’-cheese is to Americans. To make the little dumpling-like spaetzle, a soft dough of flour, egg, and milk is forced through the holes of a spaetzle-maker into a pot of salted boiling water and cooked until tender. (You can use a flat grater with large holes as a substitute for the spaetzle-maker, but this is more time consuming and can be messy.) The spaetzle is then drained and layered with bergkäse (Alpine cheese) and onions and baked briefly in a casserole. If you can’t find imported bergkäse, substitute Gruyère.
As spring's fresh cheeses arrive,
some wine lovers see red
When my editor at culture asked if I could match a red wine to spring's fresh cheeses, I answered, "Sure," although I was not sure at all I could find said red wine. After all, Sauvignon Blanc is the classic pairing; who needs anything else?
If I had a nickname in the kitchen, it would be the Approximate Chef. It’s an approach I inherited from my mother, who, as far as I know, never followed a recipe exactly and never made any dish the same way twice. So when Elaine (the editor of culture) challenged my kids and me to a rainy-day project of making cheese, I felt a pang of anxiety reading the recipe for fresh ricotta cheese in The Paley’s Place Cookbook. A parenthetical note on the page reads, “Remember, cheese making is a science and temperature is crucial.” Fortunately, one of the many advantages of cooking with kids (and with hanging around with them in general) is that such details do not deter them.
A party dip, a fondue, or a casserole—this over-the-top queso fundido has something in common with all of them. It features queso Oaxaca, the tangy Mexican string cheese, which bubbles over a layer of toasted chilies, shredded chicken, and a creamy sauce infused with allspice. At Doña Tomás, they like to serve it with a refreshing Paloma Cocktail: run a lime around the rim of a highball glass and dip it in salt spiked with ground chilies. Fill the glass with ice, add 1½ ounces of Reposado tequila, and top with a squirt of soda and a wedge of lime, squeezed, and dropped into the glass.
It’s a real show when Jimmy Shaw makes chicharrones behind the sleek counter at Loteria Grill. A blizzard of shredded Mexican manchego hits the hot griddle, then a pinch of cilantro, a sprinkle of onion, and seconds later you’re handed a fantastically lacy, golden crisp. Alas, you are not Jimmy Shaw, so here’s how to do it at home: make several smaller, less dramatic chicharrones instead of one huge one. Use a slightly lower temperature. And think of them like pancakes—the first will be ugly but good, and they’ll keep getting better.
This is a beautiful version of a classic dish, with a distinct clarity of flavor. Unlike many other renditions, this one is meatless, so the creamy white cubes of panela bob among the green avocado and cilantro in a red broth, lightly smoked with chipotle and brightened with lime. If you can, make your own chicken broth. It’s worth it.
Prepare the Red Tomato Salsa. Set aside.
If you’ve never made fresh tortillas, don’t be intimidated. Prepared masa can be bought at most Mexican markets and some restaurants; tortilla presses are readily available (even at Target). And this recipe for a flaky, fried quesadilla is about as easy as making a grilled cheese sandwich. But what a thrill it is to take this off the stove: a crackling shell filled with the earthy flavors of yellow corn, tangy cheese, and a pop of fresh epazote. Serve it with good guacamole and salsa, and maybe a few greens.
THE FILLING: In a small bowl, toss together the manchego, panela, cotija, and epazote. Set aside.
A retailer muses on the changing state of American cheese
I think I was about twenty years ago that I got up to speak at the American Cheese Society conference in San Francisco, and held up at the podium a slice of processed American cheese. Addressing the audience with my prop, I voiced a couple of predictions: two decades into the future, when they thought of American cheese, most people would no longer envision pre-sliced singles of the sort I was holding, but rather fl avorful, wellmade, interesting wheels and wedges. Furthermore, when those of us in the industry heard the word craft, we would think of skillful, hands-on production, not a multinational conglomerate cranking out processed cheese. Generally speaking, I don’t consider myself
much of a soothsayer, but I think there’s little doubt that these positive changes—and others—have been fully realized in the cheese world.
Forgo sloppy water bottles and inconvenient electric blankets in favor of a microwaveable heating pad—one disguised as a furry friend, that is. Maine Warmers are sewn of soft, hypoallergenic Berber and stuffed with faintly fragrant corn kernels to fashion a microwaveable package that can help alleviate aches and pains with ease. Snuggle up!