Cooking in New York

We’re in New York for the month (you can catch up on my cheese postings on if you’re “hungry” for more, and I do have about 10 draft posts waiting for research that extend back to my trip to Wisconsin and Brazil. Those should be up in the next few weeks).

But.. aside from the concerts and the general enjoyment of the city, we decided to sign up for some cooking classes while we were here, and so far, the experience has been mostly fun. Last night, I did a basic bread baking course at Le Pain Quotidien on Bleeker. This is a chain started in Belgium by Alain Coumont back in the 1980′s (if I recall correctly). The place has a rustic feeling, focuses on fresh, natural foods, and makes some pretty good bread.

Daniel and the oven

Daniel and the oven

The class was taught by Daniel, who’s been baking for 8 years. That’s him on the right, getting ready to load baguettes we made into the oven.

There were seven people in our class. LPQ organizes their classes quite nicely. If you’ve ever baked bread, you know that there’s a lot of “down” time waiting for the dough to rise, rest or bake. The class actually starts in the middle of the process; we were given dough that Daniel prepared earlier in the day, so we could start making bread right away. We cut the dough into squares to shape the baugettes, then set them to rest. We then did the same for chocolate and butter rolls, wheat batards with dried apples and raisins, and epees. We worked through the forming steps for each, placing them on a rising rack. When we got through the first “steps”, we returned to the baguettes, forming them in preparation for the oven.

Here’s the basic dough that Daniel made earlier in the day:

Basic dough

Basic dough

After we baked everything expect our pizzas, we went back to step 1, and made the dough that was the basis for almost everything we made. The finished product was sent home with each student to bake in their own oven. It was a great way to organize the class; you got to experience all of the steps of the process, but did not have so much downtime.

If you’re going to be in the City, or you live in an area where Le Pain Quotidien offers classes, check it out and bake some bread!

First forming of the baguettes

First forming of the baguettes

Making the baguettes look like baugettes

Making the baguettes look like baguettes

Chocolate and butter rolls

Chocolate and butter rolls

Making pizza dough

Making pizza dough

Baked baugettes

Baked baguettes in the oven

Filled bread fresh from the oven

Filled bread fresh from the oven

Chocolate volcanos

Chocolate volcanoes

Fruits (or grains) of our labor

Fruits (or grains) of our labor



Our pizza at the communal table


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Wisconsin’s blue collar cheese: Saxon Creamery

Saxon Homestead
Photo by Bob Galivan

Although the origins of American cheese-making are in the Northeast, it is Wisconsin that became the heart of the American dairy industry in the early part of the 20th Century, as transportation to the eastern population centers via the Great Lakes and Erie Canal turned the Midwest into America’s primary source of food. One of Wisconsin’s early pioneers founded the Saxon Creamery, just outside of Cleveland, Wisconsin. From the early days of farming, to dairying, to cheese-making, back to dairying, and finally returning to cheese, they’re still in operation today – and making some great cheeses to boot.

Saxon’s Jerry Heirmel
-Photo Bob Galivan

I visited with Jerry Heirmel, owner/operator of Saxon Creamery, during a recent trip to Wisconsin. He was kind enough to share his creamery, farm, and family history with me. In today’s world of globalization and industrialization of our food system, it’s refreshing to be peer into the past, and even get a glimpse of the future, talking with producers like Saxon. It was also fascinating to see that whether you operate on the scale of a farmstead operation like Saxon, or on an industrial scale like Emmi-Roth (who I also visited), the fundamental process of making cheese is pretty much the same.

French trappers were the first Europeans to inhabit what is now Wisconsin, arriving in the early 1600’s. French explorers and missionaries traded and proselytized in the area until 1763, when the English won most of North America in the French and Indian war. After America’s war for independence, England ceded the territory to the newly minted Americans, and settlers started heading west.

The first settlers were lead miners; there were about 10,000 in the territory by 1828. Improvements in transportation – canals and steamboats – opened the way from New York to Lake Michigan, which borders Wisconsin to the East. The government was selling land to all comers for $1.25 per acre; by 1836, enough people had migrated to the area to petition to become an official US territory, and by 1848, the population had grown sufficiently for Wisconsin to become the 30th state in the union.

Fredrick and Elizabeth Klessig left Germany in 1848. In 1850, they purchased 160 acres for $500.00, naming the tract Saxon Homestead in tribute to their homeland of Saxony. They cleared the land and began farming small grains, as was common for the area. By the 1860’s, the widespread practice of monoculture cropping (growing the same crop on the same land year after year) resulted in the depredation of the soil, insect infestation, and plant disease in the area. Many families, including the Klessigs, grew their cow herds from a food source to a vital part of agriculture. The introduction of grazing, especially rotational grazing, allows the animals to fertilize the soil. That, together with the production of hay, broke the cycle of plant bugs and disease.

Saxon’s herd
-Photo Bob Galivan

The resulting increase in cows meant in increase in milk, so the Klessigs built a cheese plant to handle their excess milk. The cheese they made was an American version of cheddar, called “American cheese.” During the 1800’s, cheese became an important part of Wisconsin’s economy. The state’s first cheese production facility (outside of small farmstead operations) was built by Anne Pickett in 1841 near Lake Mills, Wisconsin (about 50 miles west of Milwaukee). Pickett rented cows from her neighbors, producing cheese in her “kitchen factory.” Wisconsin’s first true cheese factory was built in 1864, near Ladoga (about 60 miles west of Cleveland) by Chester Hazen. Hazen’s factory operated separately from other farm operations, with production levels sufficient to require the purchase of milk from neighboring farms.

Klessig’s American cheese was sold both locally and to outside markets such as Milwaukee, Chicago, Philadelphia, even finding its way to England. Their operation continued until the 1930’s, when economic pressures and changing markets forced the closing or consolidation of many small creameries around the country. Saxon continued operations as a dairy farm until 2007 when current owner Jerry Heirmel was bitten by the cheese “mite,” and decided to once again begin making cheese. His goal: to make a cheese accessible to (as he put it) blue-collar people. So much cheese is aimed at the gourmet/high-end of the market that the average consumer is left out when it comes to real farmstead products. You could say that Saxon is a true “blue collar” cheese: It’s a high-quality, delicious cheese  that’s approachable, accessible, and affordable.

Today, Saxon is owned by the fifth generation of the founding family: Karl & Liz Klessig, Robert & Kathy Block-Klessig, and Jerry & Elise Klessig Heimerl, and their families. Their creamery produces four cheeses: Green Fields, a monastery-style washed-rind cheese; Big Ed’s, a farm style Gouda named in tribute to “Big Ed” Klessig, father and grandfather to the current generation; Pastures, a farm style cheddar; and Saxony, and alpine style cheese. It’s good cheese too: Green Fields won first place in the washed rind category, and Pastures 2nd place in the bandaged cheddar category, at the American Cheese Society’s annual cheese festival.

Saxon’s Greenfields cheese
-Photo Saxon Creamery

If you live near Milwaukee, you can find Saxon’s cheeses at Larry’s Market in Brown Deer. It’s also carried by some Whole Foods stores, some Kroger’s markets, online at Fromagination, and Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese. If your local market doesn’t carry it, ask! And, please visit the Saxon website for more information about the family and their cheeses.

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Buying and storing cheese

A perfect Brie

Cheese has become almost ubiquitous in many parts of the country, with cheese shops springing up, and retailers branching out to carry a larger variety of cheese. Even though transporting cheese and storing it properly along the way is a challenge, more and more cheese makers and distributors are getting it right. But how do you, the consumer, pick the “right” cheese from the dairy case or display, and once you get it home, how do you store it so that it stays fresh and delicious, and continues to age properly while you consume it?

The first step is to identify good quality cheeses that are near their peak point of ripeness – either just coming in or just coming out. It’s generally better to find one that’s coming into its peak, rather than going out, but it’s not always possible. That requires a bit of diligence and some backbone on the part of the consumer.

Here are some general rules:

Vermont Butter & Cheese Bonne-Bouche

Does the cheese look like something you would put in your mouth? That sounds fairly obvious, but there are some cheeses that look and smell pretty yucky that are quite the gourmet find. In general, though, it’s a good rule to follow. What you do not want to see are ugly molds – furry ones, colored green, rusty orange, or black. There should be no moisture in the package or under the cheese, and it should not look caved in or collapsed. Some cheeses, like Vermont Butter and Cheese’s Bonne Bouche, do tend to be a little droopy, but no cheese should look like it’s ready for the grave.

If possible, try to smell the cheese. If it’s a wrapped cheese at the grocer, that may not be possible, but in a cheese shop you should always ask to taste the cheese – when you get the slice, take deep whiff. If the cheese is packaged, as some of the smaller format cheeses are, get your nose near a seam and breathe deeply. What you do not want to smell is ammonia. Some of the tomme-style cheeses can give off a tiny bit of ammonia odor, but it should dissipate very quickly. None of the softer cheeses, like brie or camembert, should ever smell like ammonia. If they do, don’t buy. Ammonia is a by-product of the cheese aging process; the presence of ammonia means that the cheese is likely past its peak. Probably long past.

Always smell and taste the cheese you are going to buy. Obviously, the small format cheeses like Vermont Butter & Cheese Bijou can’t be cut, nor can small format brie, but if you’re in a cheese shop, or an upscale grocer, ask to taste. Warm the cheese in your hand for a minute or two; cold reduces the aromas and flavors of the cheese. How does it smell? How does the cheese taste? It should never be “nasty,” slimy, greasy, or rotten tasting. Let the cheese melt on your tongue. It should melt and coat your mouth. That coating – the mouthfeel – should not be unpleasant. It should be part of the evolution of the flavor development, never making you feel like finding the closest spit bucket. It is always possible that you will not like the cheese – that’s OK, but that dislike should not border on disgust or nausea!

Saxon Green Fields cheese

Remember that the cheese shop has to move their inventory; although a good cheese monger is not going to deliberately sell you a bad cheese, it’s not unheard of to sell a marginal one. It may be OK when you taste it, and OK when you get it home, but it goes bad within a few days of your bringing it home. If you get a bad cheese, return it! The shop may not realize that the cheese has turned; letting them know that the cheese is over the hill is doing them a favor.

If you try a cheese in the shop that tastes bad, or if you get a cheese home that turns out to be unpleasant, do NOT assume that is how the cheese actually tastes! Make it a point to visit the cheese counter often, and watch for the cheese to come in fresh. It is often a pleasant surprise to find that your first impression was not the right one. As the song says, “Give Cheese A Chance!”

Once you get the cheese home, it is important to store it properly. You can buy the best cheese in the universe, but if you don’t store it properly, it’s going to disappoint you (and maybe your guests at the party you serve it at…!).

The basic rule for storing cheese is: no plastic and lowest part of your fridge. You want to provide your cheese with a cool climate and some air, so that it can breathe without drying out. Cheese storage supplies are pretty simple: waxed paper, aluminum foil, glad fold-top bags (the old sandwich bags are great for storing cheese), and plastic deli containers.

  • Murray’s Cheese cave

    Rule # 1: try not to buy more cheese than you can consume in about a week’s time

  • Rule #2: store the cheese in the lowest (coldest) part of your fridge. That’s usually the vegetable drawer. If you have a fridge with its own temperature-controlled drawer, set the temperature as low as you can, but not below 34 degrees.
  • Rule # 3: Never wrap cheese in plastic. If you bring cheese home from the grocer, it’s probably been wrapped in food-grade plastic for display purposes. Take the plastic off!
  • Rule # 4: Blue cheeses are best stored wrapped in aluminum foil.
  • Rule # 5: Soft cheeses, like brie, camembert, or fresh goat cheese, should be placed inside a deli container (any plastic container with a lid), and the lid laid on top – NOT snapped shut. You want a little air circulation. This applies to any cheese that gets melty or squishy at room temperature. Each time you take the cheese out, dry out the container and put the cheese in upside down from how it was stored before.
  • Rule # 6: All other cheese should be wrapped in waxed paper, then put inside a Glad flip-top sandwich bag, with the top closed and flipped. This lets the cheese breathe, and since the bag is not air tight, allows air to circulate. Change the paper every 2-3 days, or if it feels damp when you touch it.
  • Rule # 7: if you’re not sure exactly how to store the cheese, go with rule #6

If a hard cheese has grown some white or golden fuzzy mold on the cut sides, simply trim a thin slice from the surface. This is probably mold from the cheese you have stored, and isn’t harmful. However, if the mold is furry with green, black, or orange color, you’ll want to trim deeply, or discard the cheese. You’ll find that if you handle the cheese every day or so, and not allow its environment to get too damp, it will do fine.

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Washington state wine tasting at Anacapri, Coral Gables

Winemaker Brian Rudin, Cadaretta winery

Miami’s Anacapri restaurant,together with Opici Wine Company, recently hosted a wine pairing luncheon featuring wines from Washington State at the restaurant’s Coral Gables location. The guest of honor was Brian Rudin, resident winemaker for Cadaretta Wines, in Walla Walla, Washington. Three of the wines presented were from his vineyards; the rest were from other wineries in the Walla Walla region, all know to Mr. Rudin.

There were four whites and three reds; the whites were all Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blends, while the red were all Cabernet Sauvignon or cab blends. The first white, served as a reception wine, was Rudin’s Cadaretta SBS 2011 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillion blend. It was a nice, fleshy, aromatic wine with light floral aromas and a crisp, herbal palate.

The remaining wines were tasted blind; each participant knew the style of wine (given that it was written on our placemats) but not the exact blend or wine maker. The idea was to try the wines without being prejudiced as to who made them, and then enjoy a lunch to explore pairings.

The first wine was from Buty Winery. It was a 2010 Sémillion (61%)/Sauvignon Blanc (30%)/Muscadelle blend from Washington’s Columbia Valley. This wine was bright and crisp with nice floral aromas, great body, and pleasant flavors that showed white fruits, a hint of floral, and some vegetal flavors. A portion of the wine is aged in mature oak barrels, with the remainder aged in cement tanks. Winemakers believe that aging wine in cement tanks helps to bring out brighter, fresher elements of wines, without the impact that new oak can have on the flavor profile. shows this wine retailing for $20-$25.00.

The second white was Cadaretta’s 2010 SBS. This wine is 75% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Sémillion. It was quite different than the first wine. It did not have the same body on the initial taste, but showed more elegance and depth. As the wine developed in the mouth, the body emerged. It was the favorite at our end of the table, and certainly a good wine to keep on hand. The flavor was slightly vegetal, with nice white fruits and a delicate aroma. shows this wine retailing for $20-$25.00.

The third white was a 2010 DeLille Chaleur Estate, with 77% Sauvignon Blanc and 33% Sémillion. What was absolutely fascinating is that even with a similar blend as the second wine, the DeLille had a very rich, very luscious, velvety body. The difference between the two is that this wine received malolactic fermentation, while wine #2 did not. That, plus oak aging, brought out a sublime essence in this wine. shows this wine retailing for $30-$34.00.

Our Cabs were a 2008 Woodward Canyon Artist Series, a 2008 L’Ecole Cabernet Sauvignon 41, and a 2008 Cadaretta. All were quite nice, each from the same area, and all nicely different.

The 2008 L’Ecole is 100% cabernet sauvignon. It had a very high nose of alcohol, which was kind of off-putting, but as the wine sat in the glass, those aromas faded. It turned out to be woody, with cherries and a hint of chocolate and spices (there was some cardamom in there), and nice flavors of cedar and red fruit. The body was OK – I thought it was a bit thin, but the mouthfeel was nice, and the finish pretty good. shows this wine retailing for $20-$30.00.

The Woodward Canyon was my favorite of the cabs. It is a blend of 90% cabernet sauvignon, 6% petite verdot, and 4% syrah. The nose had great depth and complexity; my very first sniff was reminiscent of freshly sanded Brazilian Cherry wood. There was menthol and cherry, and a rich, sexy back-note that I could not figure out. The flavors were cherry, bitter chocolate, licorice and cedar. The mouthfeel was rich and velvety, with a nice, long finish. shows this wine retailing for $30-$40.00.

The Cadaretta had a nice, subtle nose with menthol, bitter chocolate, and a bit of cherry-licorice. It is a blend of 86% cabernet sauvignon, 6% petite verdot, 3% cab franc, and 2% merlot. The flavors were rich, woody, with cherry and chocolate, a hint of spice and rich red fruits. The body was moderate – better than the L’Ecole but not as full as the Woodward. The finish was medium-long, and faded pleasantly into fruit and spice. shows this wine retailing for $35-$40.00.

My meal was a Caesar salad (complete with anchovies), and grilled skirt steak on a bed of arugula. The whites were not up to any of the dishes, although the DeLille fought bravely. Of the cabs, the Woodward was outstanding with the meat/arugula combination. It enriched the flavor of the beef, and revealed some more depth of its character. The L’Ecole did not fare well, becoming kind of bitter and thin, while the Cadaretta worked nicely with the beef alone, but was a little bitter when the arugula was included.

All in all, I would be very happy to drink any of these wines. The whites were all enjoyable with good flavor and structure. The Cabs were nice as well; I think that the cabs from Napa/Sonoma have more depth, but they also have a much higher price point making the Washington wines a very good alternative.

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Vivant Fine Cheese

Vivant Fine Cheese

I was able to spend some quality time in Paso Robles this past July. Paso is the heart of San Luis Obispo (SLO) County’s wine region. It’s become the powerhouse behind California’s Central Coast Appellation, helping to raise the quality of the wines near the level of Napa/Sonoma. For wine lovers, it’s a great place to add to any wine tasting adventure; the area is more laid back than Napa, and the wineries not as crowded. There are more than two hundred wineries within about an hour of each other, located near the downtowns of Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo. These towns are divided by the Santa Helena Mountain Range; Paso is to the East, San Luis Obispo to the West.

I had not visited the region before, and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the wines I found. Not a lot of variety; most of what I tasted was GMS, along with some killer Zins from Turley.

Planning for the trip, I did a pretty intensive search for cheese makers and shops, and was only able to come up with a couple; Dairy Goddess, Central Coast Creamery, and Vivant Fine Cheese. Central Coast sent samples, Dairy Goddess and I hooked up at the San Luis Obispo farmer’s market, and I hit Vivant one day during my tasting travels. It was worth the visit.

Market, Paso Robles City Park

Vivant is downtown, near what passes for a village green (City Park). My visit was on a Tuesday, when a market runs in the park. I am a big fan of local markets, and visit when I find them. Vivant is a pretty typical urban cheese shop, with displays of cheese in cold cases and on counters. They have tables and chairs inside and out on a shaded terrace, where you can have lunch or a glass of wine (or both). The shop carries about 150 cheeses, nicely weighted to local producers, with a good mix of other American and European Cheeses. Like many shops, they offer a selection of salads and sandwiches, and wine by the glass.

This type of operation, where the shop has gone beyond cheeses, is become almost critical for smaller shops to survive. It’s definitely a step up from the typical cut and wrap operation, because it not only gives customers more reason to stay in the store, but also to try new cheeses and pairing combos. It is a great place to have a light lunch (with cheese) and a glass of wine.

Vivant's Cheese Counter

The owner of the shop is Danika Reed, a veteran of the cheese business. She opened Vivant in 2006, using her degree in Dairy Science from Cal Poly and her experience as a cheese maker for them, as well as a strong background in sales and marketing with Hilmar (one of the country’s largest cheese producers for private labeling and food service). Between Vivant and Hilmar, she worked in a variety of other positions in the cheese business, giving her a very wide range of experience. Its been put to very good use.

Vivant’s first incarnation was as a mobile cheese tasting room, with Reed at the wheel. Her target customer were local restaurants; chef’s could come to the truck and taste her variety of cheeses, purchasing them on the spot. This gave local foodies a new dimension in cheese courses, beyond the typical Brie, Provolone, and Manchego, that make up most menu options. It also helped the restaurants to control  their costs by working with smaller quantities of cheese, something that large distributors are not able to do. After selling the truck in 2007, she continued to work with local chefs to provide exciting cheeses for their menus, gaining name recognition with diners; Vivant is branded on menus so that diners know where the cheese came from – and where to go if they want more. Reed took that model one step farther, creating similar relationships with wineries in the SLO area. If you’re tasting through SLO, and the winery offers a tasting or pairing menu, chances are Vivant’s cheeses are there.

I am a HUGE advocate of building relationships between local restaurants and cheese retailers, because there is such potential in moving away from the distribution model of buying cheese. When a restaurant has to buy 3 pounds of cheese (resulting in around 25 servings) the potential to lose 10%-20% of that purchase to spoilage is pretty high. If you figure that the wholesale cost of a good cheese is around $15 per pound, it can get pretty expensive. That’s why you mostly find Brie (factory brie…), Manchego, Provolone, Gruyère, Comte, and other mainstream (read boring) cheeses as the cheese course. If cheese shops would recognize the potential in cross-marketing with restaurants, and sell cheeses in small quantities in return for branding, everybody would win – especially the consumer, who would see a much bigger and better selection of cheeses on the menu.

Fingers crossed…

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Lucien Albrecht wine dinner at DB Bistro Moderne

Marie Albrecht and Eve Bordarier of Pasternak Wine Imports

Each November, my wife and I attend Sunset Corner’s annual Champagne and sparkling wine tasting, and work our way through around 80 sparkling wines. It seems that no matter what passes our lips – Cristal, Dom, Moet, the label we come back to year after year is Lucien Albrecht, maker of delicious Cremant d’Alscace wines. It’s a light, pleasant, easy drinking wine with great flavor and finish.

Albrecht has a prestigious history, dating back to 1425 when the winery was founded by Romanu Albrecht, who settled in the town of Thann. A member of the family has made wines since that time, making it one of the oldest family run wineries in the world. Their heritage runs to the typical Alstatian wines, such as Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer. Their sparkling wines are a relatively new addition to their portfolio.

Pasternak Wine Imports and the JW Marriott Marquis in Downtown Miami recently hosted a wine dinner in the hotel’s DB Bistro Moderne, featuring the wines of Domaine Lucien Albrecht. To make the evening even better, Marie Albrecht, the 26-year old daughter of the estate’s current winemaker, Jean Albrecht, headlined the event. She is acting as the export manager for the brand, while her sister Cecile studies oenology and viticulture at Montpelier University, in France. The dinner featured the cuisine of Executive Chef Jarrod Verbiak, and Pastry Chef Jerome Maure, paired with eight of Albrecht’s wines.

The evening started with their two Cremant d’Alscace sparkling wines, Brut Blanc de Blancs and Brut Rosé. The Blanc de Blancs is a blend of 80% Pinot Auxerrois, 10% Pinot Blanc, and 10% Chardonnay. It has a light, lively aroma with floral notes and a bit of tropical fruit, and a nice palate, with flavors of apple, pear, and a touch of floral. The Rose is 100% Pinot Noir and (in full disclosure) one of my favorite sparkling wines. It has a pleasant nose of light red fruits and flowers, with flavors of strawberries, cherries, and a hint of raspberry. These two wines were paired with a variety of butlered hors d’oeuvres.

First on the menu was a Pressee de Poulet et Foie Gras, with Pickled Forest Mushrooms, Mache, and Jus Cassé. This was paired with Albrecht’s Cuvée Balthazar Pinot Blanc 2010 and their Cuvée Romanus Pinot Gris 2010. The Pinot Blanc had a delicate nose, with light floral notes, a touch of minerality, and a hint of green apples. On the palate, it was full bodied, with flavors of light citrus and lemon peel. It was tart and crisp, with good mouthfeel. The finish was medium-long, and evolved nicely. The Pinot Gris had a more complex nose, with pears, white peaches, faint green apples, and a hint of lemon. On the tongue, it was tart, with green apples, citrus, grapefruit, unripe peaches, and tropical fruits. It had a medium-long finish with nice evolution, showing a hint of minerality, green fruits, ending with flavors of a ripe, juicy, orange.

Of the two wines, the Pinot Blanc was the better stand-alone wine, but the Pinot Gris paired better with the dish. Both wines retail for under $20.00.

The next item was Roasted Sea Scallops, with Creamy Endive Marmalade, Speck Ham, and Black Truffle Vinaigrette. This was paired with Albrecht’s Pfingstberg Grand Cru Riesling 2007. The wine had a faint petrol/rubbery nose (not unpleasant), with white peaches, a hint of citrus peel, red apples, and very light floral notes. The flavors were red apple skins, white peaches, a touch of tropical fruits, and a hint of jasmine. The wine had a moderate body with a nice mouthfeel. The finish was medium-long, with lingering minerality and jasmine. It retails for about $40.00. I was not able to try the dish with the wine (pork does not like me), but speaking with my tablemates, the consensus seemed to be that the pairing worked, with the dish slightly overpowering the wine.

Next up was a Shallot Encrusted Lamb Chop, with Flageoulet Ragout, Carrots Vichy, and Thyme Scented Jus. This was paired with Albrecht’s Amplus Pinot Noir 2007. If memory serves, Ms. Albrecht indicated this was a “new” wine for the vineyard, first bottled in early 2000. The wine is 100% Pinot Noir, and had a complex, rather fascinating nose. My first impression was a hint of earthy forest and a touch of menthol, followed by strawberries, faint cherry, and a hint of talc. It was spicy, with smoky fruits, but at the same time, had a softness to it that presented as a rather elegant, understated feeling. On the palate, I found moderate tannins, woody notes reminiscent of cedar, loamy flavors, restrained fruits, and a hint of licorice. The wine had a medium body that was a little on the thin side, but offered good mouthfeel and a nice presence. The finish was medium-long, and evolved through cedar, cigar box, and dark fruits. What was interesting about this wine was each sip hinted at fruit, but moved quickly towards earthy notes, leaving a taste of fruit lingering on my lips while at the same time, a nice earthiness in my mouth.

The pairing worked, but more in favor of the lamb than the wine, which seemed to move to the background of flavors, enhancing the richness of the meat. The wine retails for about $60 per bottle.

The last course was dessert, featuring Confit Honey Apple Crisp, with a Cinnamon Puff Pastry Twist, Green Apple Coulis, and Mascarpone Ice Cream. The pairing for this course was two Gewürztraminers, from the 2009 vintage. The first was Réserve Gewürztraminer, the second Cuvée Marie Gewürztraminer (so named by her father because she and the wine were spicy!).

The Réserve had a very perfume-y nose, with violets, ripe pears, and intense floral notes, with hints of red apples and light tropical fruits. The first flavor that I detected was Jackfruit, followed by pears, pineapple, a bit of flint, and lychee (typical of a Gewürzt). The wine had a nice body and a medium long finish in which the Jackfruit popped up again, along with hints of honey and sweet pineapple.

The Cuvée Marie had a richer nose, with pears, light honey, lychee, floral notes, and a bit of pineapple. It also had a very nice mouthfeel, with lychee, light oranges, sweet pineapple, red apples, and pears. The finish was medium long, lingering with lychee and honey.

The pairing worked with both the wines. The dish had a complex interplay of flavors. The construction of the dish and the structure of the wines created an enjoyable, interesting pairing. Both wines worked equally well. The Réserve retails for about $20 per bottle, the Cuvée Marie for about $30.

I had the opportunity to speak with Chef Verbiak after the meal about his menu choices. He indicated that he created the dishes after trying the wines, relying on memory and the tasting notes, rather than the actual wine, to develop each dish. Overall, his efforts were a success. Planning wine dinners is part art, part science, and it takes a good chef with a good palate to do a good job developing a menu that compliments both the food and the wines. Chef Verbiak certainly made the grade.


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Landaff, a delicious cow cheese from New England

Landaff Cheese

Landaff cheese is a wonderful American “riff” on traditional Welsh cheeses. It is a raw milk, farmstead cheese, produced by Landaff Creamery in Landaff, New Hampshire. The owners of the Creamery, Doug and Deb Erb, own Springvale Farms, which supplies the milk from their herd of Holstein cows.

The cheese is produced using traditional rennet, and is aged by the Cellars at Jasper Hills, in nearby Greensboro, Vermont. Jasper Hills provides affinage for a number of local farmstead producers, in addition to making their own great line of cheeses. The farmers/cheese makers can focus on producing quality milk and unique cheese without having to make the substantial investment in aging facilities. It’s a great partnership.

The cheese has a rich, ivory paste with a matte surface. The paste is “breaky and flakey” with a few very small eyes. The cheese has a natural rind that develops in Jasper Hill’s caves. The paste turns darker brown near the rind, as is typical with this style cheese.

This is a semi-firm cheese with delicate, yet complex, aroma and flavor. On the nose, it has a light lemony fragrance, with creamy, lactic, and grassy notes. As the cheese warms, a hint of nutty notes creeps in. The flavor is citrusy, with some herbal notes, a hint of rosemary, and some nice nutty flavors near the rind. The mouthfeel is pleasant; the paste crumbles, then melts into a medium finish. As the flavor evolves, then fades, I detected a hint of brown butter, and even a bit of caramel. It’s a very nice cheese.

I tried this cheese with a couple of different wines; it’s suited for light reds – perhaps a Beaujolais or a Côtes du Rhône, or a fleshy white. It was nice with a Heron Hill Riesling, and I suspect other off-dry wines might work well also.

Landaff is available directly from the creamery, or from a number of cheese shops. I found it at Murrays, and it is also carried at some Whole Foods stores.

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Celibrity Equinox kitchen tour

Photo by Bob Galivan

Dinner on the Equinox

Cruising is a real pleasure – like taking your hotel with you as you travel. One of the real pleasures (and dangers!) of a cruise is the food. There is so much and it is so very good. On our recent cruise aboard the Celebrity Equinox Mediterranean cruise, I was able to go behind the scenes in the kitchen and find out just how the feed all those people!

It seems like food is available 24 hours a day, in amazing quantities, and of superior quality. It takes an army to manage that day in and day out. I was fortunate to get a behind-the-scene look at the main kitchen of the ship, through the kitchen tour and later by special invitation to watch the brigade prep for dinner.

Provisioning a ship requires serious advanced planning and some pretty incredible logistics. Because the base of Celebrity’s operations – the ships chandler, warehouses, etc. are based in Miami, much of what is used on board has to be available at the embarkation port. When the Equinox cruises out of Miami, that’s not a big deal because it’s local, but when they cruise out of Rome, containers of products flow across the sea on a continual basis. Perishables are purchased in port, but non-perishables, repair items, liquor, and wine, are all shipped over. According to wine chief Laslo Pinter, the wine is ordered 6 months in advance – and on a typical 10-day cruise, they will go through about 25,000 bottles of wine.

Other provisions for a 10-day cruise include:

  • 3,000 pounds of beef tenderloin
  • 4,500 pounds of whole chicken
  • 1,900 pounds of chicken breast
  • 2,740 pounds rack of lamb
  • 1,150 pounds of pork loin
  • 2,900 pounds of salmon
  • 2,000 liters (over 500 gallons) of heavy cream
  • 2,300 dozen fresh eggs (that’s 27,600 eggs)
  • 12,300 pounds of potatoes
  • 2,600 pounds of onions
  • 3,00o pounds of cookies
  • 1,000 gallons of ice cream
  • 75,000 pounds of fresh fruit (no, that’s not a typo…)

Other interesting statistics:

  • 95% of the food served is fresh, and they keep tight control of production to reduce waste, as unused food must be disposed of.
  • It takes 1 hour and 15 minutes to serve 1,200 meals.
  • The server has 1 minute 30 seconds to take 12-14 plates out to the dining room
  • All of the ice cream consumed on board is made on board
  • All of the bread and all the food decorations are made on board

The galley is just off the main dining room, and the ship offers a tour at various times during the cruise, after breakfast is finished. It’s a large space, but you can’t imagine all the work to prepare the meals happening here; turns out that much of the prep is done below-decks in a separate area for all the kitchens, then the components are sent up to be cooked and assembled for the meals.

As you walk into the galley, the first area is for salads. it’s a cooled storage area that holds the salads that will be served for dinner, organized into sections. The waiter comes in, selects what is needed, and heads around to the main prep area.

Salad Station


Past the salad station is the special prep area, where special diets are made to deal with allergies, religious, or special requests that have been provided to the ship.


Celebrity Equinox special prep area


To the left of the specialty area is the main galley, where the bulk of the meals are prepared. It’s a huge area – the photo is deceiving. The counter runs almost the width of the galley, with numerous cooking areas behind. The counter itself is for the waiters to use as the put together a meal, moving down the line and pulling their various dishes. Most of the prep work for the dishes is done below-decks, then sent up by dumb-waiter for final cooking and assembly.


Celebrity Equinox main prep area


Past the prep area (to the starboard – right – side of the ship) is the dessert area. The ship makes everything from scratch on-board: The ice cream, breads, pastries, and so on, are all made fresh.


Celebrity Equinox dessert station


The door in the foreground is where the servers exit with the now-assembled meals for the guests. The area to the right is where the dishes are placed after clearing for later cleaning.


Celebrity Equinox final station


Celebrity Equinox dessert art

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Appalachian cheese from Meadow Creek Dairy

Meadow Creek Dairy, in Southwest Virginia, is best known for their washed-rind Grayson cheese, but, as it turns out, Appalachian is their first cheese, and a nice example of their craft. Meadow Creek is a farmstead operation; the milk comes from their own herd of grass-fed Jersey cows, and the cheese is made on the farm. They’ve been in operation since 1980 and have accumulated a raft of awards for their cheeses.

A wheel of Appalachian cheese

Appalachian is a raw milk, semi-hard, tomme style cheese made using traditional rennet. “Tomme” is a generic term given to a variety of cheeses, mostly semi-soft to semi-firm, made in smaller formats. Some typical tomme style cheeses include French cheeses Tomme Savoie, Tomme de Crayeuse, or Capello del Mago from Italy.

The cheese is produced using raw milk from the dairy’s herd. The curds are lightly cooked, pressed, and then aged for 60 days in their cellars. The rind grows a coat of penicillium molds, helping to protect the curd and develop the flavor of the cheese. The cheese is rectangular in shape, with a dusting of white mold over a grayish rind. It looks a bit like a paving stone.

The paste is a nice ivory-yellow color with small eyes and some pink highlights. The aroma is earthy, lactic, fruity, with some vegetal notes. It’s quite pleasant – fresh and bright. I found the flavor to be creamy, buttery, with grassy notes and a little “bite” in the back of the throat. It has a nice mouthfeel – silky and smooth, with a nice melty texture. The finish is medium-long. It lingers on the roof of the mouth; it’s juicy, tending a bit towards acidic with some pepper and a little earth.

The cheese pairs well with lighter white wines; an un-oaked Chardonnay worked nicely, as did a Pinot Grigio (on the tart side), and even a Torrontes. The cheese also managed to hold up against a light Sangiovese. It serves well on a cheese plate, great on toast, or even used in a sandwich – I tried it on some Lebanon Bologna with a touch of brown mustard. Tasty!

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Anatomy of a wine dinner: part 3

Peter Figge

On April 12th, Società Dante Alighieri of Miami  will present what should be a stellar evening of wine and food pairing at Por Fin Restaurant in Coral Gables. Stellar, because unlike many wine dinners, Steve Stein, the wine director of the Dante, along with several willing volunteers (including this writer) gathered at Por Fin to taste the wines with the planned menu. It was a worthy exercise that resulted in a number of excellent combinations.

The wine chosen for the evening is made by Peter Figge, of Figge Cellars, in Monterey, California. Figge makes five wines: two Chardonnay, two Pinot Noir, and one Syrah. The Chardonnay is closer is style to Burgundy than California, while the other two varietals are more true to their terroir.

In my favorite pairing guide, What to Eat with What You Drink, the following are suggested pairings for these wines:

For Chardonnay, the suggestions cover a rather broad range – as do Chardonnays. Some of the suggestions include chicken in any form (baked, grilled, etc.), crab, white fish, lobster, salmon, scallops, shrimp, veal, and vegetables. Rich dishes, such as those with cream sauce, or buttery sauces, fare better with typical oaky California chards. Dishes that are more flavorful, especially grilled foods like salmon, scallops, and chicken, do better with a Burgundian style.

Pinot Noir is more appropriate for protein-based dishes, such as cheeses, beef, chicken, duck, mushroom dishes, pork, salmon, lamb, and tuna.

Syrah (one of my favorite wines) is a robust wine, and needs robust dishes, like barbecue, aged cheeses, grilled meats, mushrooms, sausages, and so on.

For the wine dinner menu, Chef Quant suggested the following:

  • An appetizer course of Fried Quail Eggs with Serrano ham and Truffle Oil, to be paired with a Prosecco Valdiviano, and passed to diners as they arrive.
  • A second course of Grilled Octopus atop Squid ink, Arborio rice, sautéed squid, sofrito, and green pea puree, paired with a Chardonnay
  • The third course of Irish organic salmon, potato crisps, tomato confit, Kalamata olive drizzle and crispy leeks, paired with a Pinot Noir.
  • A fourth course of Braised Short Ribs with Mahon Cheese Crust and Red Wine Sauce, paired with the Syrah.
  • A dessert course of a simple tropical fruit sorbet.

We started by trying the wines. Figge’s Chardonnays come from two vineyards: one from the Peilo vineyard, the other from the La Reina vineyard. The Pelio shows pineapple, light mineral, a hint of petrol, some mango, and tropical fruits on the nose, and was citrusy, flinty, and bright on the palate. It had a medium-long finish that was juicy and pleasant. The La Reina had a nose of light talc, vanilla, flint, pineapple, with a light floral note; on the tongue, we found orange peel, grapefruit, flint, white peaches and pears in a medium-long finish. Both wines had a good balance with nice acidity. Of the two Chardonnays, our favorite was the Pelio. More and more, wines are being regarded for their “cocktail” potential as much as for their food pairing potential, and quite often, the decision as to which wine to use with food comes from the cocktail, not the pairing, perspective.

Then came our first course: the grilled octopus. We started with the Pelio; it did not work well with the octopus. The food took on a bitter, slightly metallic flavor that was not pleasant at all. It turned out that the La Reina didn’t work well, either, but it paired nicely with the rice/sofrito/pea puree. In fact, the green pea puree was very good on it’s own with the La Reina; with the dish, it acted as a catalyst, pulling the ingredients together and creating a great compliment for the wine. A suggestion was made to substitute a grilled scallop for the octopus. The chef complied, and a pairing was made. The result was that our favorite of the two wines – the Pelio – was great on its own, but did not work in the pairing. La Reina became our choice.

We next tried the two pinots, one from Paraiso vineyard, the other from the Pelio vineyard. The Paraiso  showed cherry, smoke, a little earth, and some cardamom. On the palate, it gave cherries, tobacco, menthol, dark fruits, and some dried cherries. It had a medium finish, good acidity, and mild tannins. The Pelio was more towards the earthy side: smoke, forest floor, chocolate, and faintly herbal on the nose, with dried cherries, pepper, strawberries, and a hint of licorice in a medium-long finish.

Of the two we liked the Pelio best, and it turned out to pair best with the Salmon. The Paraiso went very well with the Potato Crisps, but the winner of the pairing was the Pelio. We expected there to be some clash with the olive drizzle, but that addition turned out to add a very nice note to the flavor profile of the pairing. Grilled salmon is a classic Pinot Noir pairing, and it certainly lived up to that billing in this combination.

Our final dish was the short ribs. Our task was slightly easier, given that there was only one Syrah, but we forged ahead: The Syrah is from the Sycamore Flat vineyard, and showed chocolate, dark berries, a hint of tobacco, and some slight herbal notes on the nose, with black raspberries, cherries, and plums on the palate. The body was light, with a good mouthfeel. Syrahs can have a fairly wide flavor profile, and an equally varied body. I felt that this body of this wine was on the lighter side.

The short ribs were delicious, but the initial presentation of a manchego cheese crust did not really compliment the wine; the suggestion was made to try a Cabrales blue cheese sauce, but that turned out to be a bit strong. The final combination that won us over was when the chef altered the sauce a bit, combining honey with the Cabrales; that toned down the sharpness of the cheese, and brought the dish into harmony with the wine.

It turned out that the fact that the Syrah had a ligher body fit in well with the fattiness of the short ribs, and the richness of the sauce. Blue cheese is one of the recommended pairings for Syrahs, and the combination of the honey and the cabrales (which tends to be a fairly strong blue) worked quite well.

The final menu became:

  • Tataki de Atun: Seared tuna, charred scallion, romesco sauce, paired with a Prosecco Valdiviano
  • Arroz Negro con Vieras: Squid ink, Arborio rice, sautéed squid, sofrito, and green pea puree served with a seared scallop, paired with 2009 La Reina Chardonnay
  • Salmon con patatas, tomate y kalamata: Irish organic salmon, potato crisps, tomato confit, Kalamata olive drizzle and crispy leeks, paired with 2009 Pelio Vineyard Pinot Noir
  • Costillas De Res: Por Fin’s famous short ribs served with carrot puree, sweet potato crisps, honey cabrales and red wine sauces, paired with 2006 Sycamore Flat Syrah
  • Sorbet de Coco con Espuma de Maracuya: Coconut sorbet served with passion fruit foam and mint granita

The next step will be the dinner! On April 12th, at Por Fin in Coral Gables. If you’re in town and you’d like to render your own opinion about our pairing prowess, please contact the restaurant at 305.441.0107, and join us! Otherwise, check back here later that week for what our diners thought of our efforts.

Read part 1…..

Read part 2…

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