Once teamed up with meat, Italian fruit mostarde are now playing the cheese field
Mostarda, the glistening candied fruit spiked with mustard oil that Italians typically serve with boiled meat, has a new job description. On stylish tables in northern Italy, it now accompanies the cheese course, a novel pairing for this country steeped in culinary tradition. Robiola with melon mostarda. Parmigiano-Reggiano with pear mostarda. Gorgonzola with fig mostarda. These fresh ideas for a condiment with ancient beginnings inspire Paola Calciolari, a Mantua native whose 20-year-old company, Le Tamerici, produces hand-crafted mostarda from local fruits.
Turn a used appliance into your own cheese-aging cave
My life as a home cheesemaker began several years ago with an attempt to make a Gouda-style cheese. I recall putting my first batch of the cheese into a wine refrigerator to age for three months, and within a week it had seriously cracked (due to air circulation drying out the cheese). Like other amateur cheesemakers trying to make aged styles like Havarti, Gouda, and cheddar, I had underestimated a critical part of cheesemaking: the environment. I had to improvise a way to control the climate for aging my wheels so they could mature and ripen. (The French have a name for this: affinage.) The solution? Retrofit a small used refrigerator to create my own “cave.”
The cave’s job is to maintain steady temperature and humidity. Depending on the cheese style, the ideal temperature and humidity fall between 45°F and 58°F (7°C and 14°C) and between 80 percent and 98 percent, respectively.
You can prepare the tangy-sweet filling for these roll-ups in advance, leaving just a quick assembly and baking. Served with a side salad, the roulades are just right for a light spring dinner.
6 medium pitted dates
2 large shallots
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1¼ pounds)
¼ cup (2 ounces) goat cheese
¼ cup (2 ounces) Neufchâtel cheese
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 slices prosciutto
In the days before big agriculture converted much of our country’s arable land to vast swaths of corn and soy, the American dairy cow lived a very different existence. Grain crops were a valuable resource reserved primarily for human consumption, and cattle were obliged to get by on whatever they could forage from the pastures on which they lived.
As a native landrace breed, the Randall cow represents a throwback to these bygone days of agriculture. The term “landrace” refers to a strain of animals or plants that developed naturally in isolation and with minimal interference from humans. Like all other American landrace breeds—most of which have long since vanished—the Randall is an amalgamation of stock imported from Europe by the first settlers.
Q: What is the difference between Brie and Camembert? A:To understand the true differences between Brie and Camembert—both flat, soft disks of white, mold-ripened cow’s milk cheese—one must look to the original recipes. In the case of Brie, these include Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun. In the case of Camembert, Camembert de Normandie. (The first records of Brie appear in 774; Camembert was created more than a thousand years later, in 1791.)
How a journey from Europe to Asia led to a new brew
In the late 1700s, brewing was big business in England. As British colonists traveled throughout the world, breweries were charged with the task of providing the comforting flavors of hometown ales to countrymen thousands of miles away. The problem, of course, was that the road from brewery to consumer was a long and arduous one.
Certainly this was the case when supplying thirsty Englishmen in colonial India. With the hot climate and poor water supply, brewing in places like Calcutta was not an option. Instead the British relied on trade ships to transport large wooden casks of beer from country to country. But after weeks at sea, the dark, rich beers so commonplace in London would be received at Indian ports with a great deal of disappointment—the stuff was flat and downright funky. Beer is a living thing, after all, and prone to spoilage when stored in the hull of a warm ship.
Depending on whom you ask, the mild taste of chicken is either a merit or a handicap. Is it a blank canvas or a bland cutlet? The answer, of course, is that it’s both. All good cooks know this and use it to their advantage, easily transforming a ho-hum piece of chicken into a savory main dish by virtue of just a few added ingredients. When cheese is one of those additions, the dish gains exactly what chicken lacks—a melty richness, a little luxury, some softening around the flavor edges. If the cheese is a complex one, it can even add a bit of intrigue. Imagine that. Better yet, taste it with any of the main-dish chicken recipes featured here. When the bird meets curd, it’s all good.
Fruit wines bring a light, bright, alternative to cheese pairings
It’s about this time of year when fear of scurvy begins to set in. The last time a local piece of fruit appeared in my farmers’ market was December, and even then those were some sad-looking apples. Domestic citrus were great until about a month ago; Chilean produce—well, you get what you pay for. (And I’m cheap.) But there’s another way to get a taste of summer’s bounty while waiting for the spring thaw: fruit wines. And there’s no better way to show them off than beside some cheese.
Of course, most wines are made from grapes, and those are fruits—but the grapes used to make wine tend not to be the sort that we eat, so grape wines tend to taste more like, well, wine than they do table grapes. (This, in the wine world, is a good thing: “grapey” is often a derogatory word, a euphemism for simple, little more exciting than grape juice.)
Cheeses, like people, are generally more interesting when they gain a little age and exposure to different “cultures.”
A fresh unripened cheese can be lovely and delicious for sure, but rarely is it intriguing. No wonder that as Americans discover the complex charm of a mature wedge or wheel, the population of cheese is shifting—goat cheese in particular.