Saturday, June 30, 2007

Carr Valley Billy Blue

Carr Valley has quickly become one of my favorite cheesemakers. I've raved about their fascinating Mobay Cheese before, and this past week I discovered their Billy Blue goat cheese. I highly recommend it.

Unlike most blue cheeses, which are made from cow's milk, Billy Blue is made from Wisconsin goat's milk. Carr Valley also makes Ba Ba Blue, a blue sheep's milk cheese. The tremendous variety of cheeses made at this single creamery is amazing.

The chèvre and blue in Billy Blue make for an interesting combination. The white part of the cheese has many of the typical features of chèvre--a fairly bright white color, a soft, crumbly texture and a mild flavor. The mildness of the white portion contrasts nicely with the sharpness of the blue veins.

Billy Blue is aged only four months and took 3rd place in the "New Cheese" category at the 2006 American Cheese Society Competition.

Shopping tip for readers in Buffalo: The Wegman's by the Boulevard Mall has a small display case devoted to Carr Valley cheeses. Other Wegman's stores in western NY may have similar displays. Carr Valley cheeses are well worth investigating.

Monday, June 25, 2007

1989 Inniskillin Vidal Icewine

Over the weekend my family and I enjoyed a picture-perfect picnic at Niagara-on-the-Lake, the capital of Ontario's icewine region. The weather could not have been better, and the peaceful view of Lake Ontario was unbeatable.

We also stopped by Inniskillin, producer of both the highest quantity and the highest quality of icewine in the world. While we were there, we had the special privilege of tasting the icewine that garnered the highest award any Inniskillin wine has ever received. It was a 1989 Vidal Icewine. In 1991 at the VinExpo Bourdeaux, an international panel of judges awarded this wine Le Grand Prix D'Honneur, the fair's highest award. However the wine may have tasted to the judges in 1991 was surely nothing like what it tasted this weekend. Sixteen years of bottle aging had given the wine greater subtlety and an amber color one simply doesn't see in icewines. The fruity, apricot and tangerine aromas of its youth had given way to unique butterscotch and caramel aromas with quiet hints of raisins. It was truly a unique experience. A half bottle of this particular wine sells for $500, so don't expect me to bring it to your next party.

If you are interested in buying some icewine, I strongly recommend that you buy something from Inniskillin. Of the four primary varieties of icewine they market, I most strongly recommend their basic Vidal Icewine. It sells for around $50 for a 375ml bottle. Inniskillin also sells a more expensive, oak-aged version of this same wine, but it is less fruity and not worth the extra cost.

Inniskillin also makes a Cabernet Franc Icewine. It has a unique rhubarb and organge nose and is quite tasty. But it costs twice as much as the basic Vidal without being twice as good. Inniskillin also makes the only sparkling icewine in Canada, but again I think their basic Vidal Icewine remains the best buy.

Icewine pairs well with fruit-based desserts and strong, rich veined cheeses. Avoid serving it with extremely sweet and chocolate-based desserts. Because of its syrupy sweetness, icewine can also serve as a dessert all by itself.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Saenkanter: An Incomparable Gouda

OMG (Oh, My Gouda), Saenkanter is the most intensely flavored cheese I have ever tasted. Made in north Holland, this cheese has a rich, nutty, butterscotch and caramel flavor with subtle hints of sherry. Aged at least 3 years, it is rock hard and has a deep amber color. Crystalline protein structures scattered throughout this cheese give it an interesting crunch.

This Dutch Gouda is made from pasteurized cow's milk, but don't let the fact that it's a Gouda fool you into thinking it's a boring cheese. Gouda, Double Cream Gouda and (heaven forbid) Gouda Lite are among the dullest, least flavorful cheeses in the world. Aged Gouda, however, is another story.

Although I've never seen Saenkanter in Buffalo (I bought mine at the Dean & Deluca store in Napa Valley), Wegman's carries a small but interesting selection of aged Gouda. Look for the names Beemster, Old Gouda and Old Amsterdam. I recently bought a five-year-old Gouda from Wegman's that didn't quite measure up to Saenkanter but was nonetheless pretty interesting. Aged Gouda is like nothing you've probably ever tasted.

A few days ago I cooked the following scrambled egg dish (from Cheese 'n Things) using the aged Gouda I bought at Wegman's. The egg dish was rather strongly flavored but quite interesting:

6 Eggs
1/2 c Saenkanter cheese (or other aged gouda)
1 Shallot
1/8 c. Cream
Coarse sea salt
White pepper
Mince shallot and sauté in butter until translucent and golden brown. Set aside. Cool frying pan and pour 1/8 cup cream in. Then crack 6 eggs into the pan, making sure nothing's cooking yet. Turn heat to medium low, and gently blend eggs and cream until mixture is a consistent pale yellow color. Grate 1/4 cup Saenkanter into egg mixture. Adjust heat to lowest flame and stir continually. Summon your patience and keep stirring until serving–it takes a little while. If you see scrambling action before thickening, your flame is too high. Add two pinches of coarse salt and a few shakes of white pepper. When your eggs are properly cooked (moist but not runny), stir in the shallots. Top with one quick grating of the cheese. Serve with toast that cuts the richness like toasted sourdough or rye.
(Photo credit: D. Ryan Anderson)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Is Sake Wine?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: Even though sake is often called 'rice wine,' something can be wine only if it is made from the fermented juice of some fruit. So, strawberry wine, plum wine, apricot wine and [insert gagging sounds] even watermelon wine are all genuinely wine (even if not all genuinely good). Since sake is made from a grain rather than a fruit, it has much more in common with beer than with wine.

Whether a distilled spirit is made from a fruit or a grain is also what determines whether it counts as brandy or whiskey. Brandy (from the Dutch word brandewijn, meaning 'burnt wine') is any distilled spirit made from fermented fruit juice, whereas whiskey is any distilled spirit (with the exception of vodka) made from fermented grain sugars.

The primary distinctions between types of sake are based not on the varieties of rice that are used but rather on how much each grain of rice has been milled or polished. The core of a rice grain has a greater concentration of starches than the exterior region or "husk." Rice grains that have greater percentages of this exterior portion removed through polishing can produce sakes with more intense and complex flavors. Serious sake begins when at least 30% of the rice grain has been removed. 40-50% polishing is common. Less polishing results in a cheaper, lower quality sake with less flavor and complexity.

Good sake should be served chilled. Cheap sake is often served hot at sushi bars to mask the poor quality of the product being served.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Suggestions on Serving Cheese

Here are some suggestions that can make serving cheese a more enjoyable experience:

1. Serve a cheese plate to your guests. Instead of placing a few large wedges of cheese on a platter that everyone must hack away at, provide your guests with pre-cut servings of cheese on plates of their own. Although the French traditionally serve a cheese plate at the end of a meal, I think it works much better as an appetizer course.

2. Select cheeses with contrasting flavors. One kind of contrast can be effected by serving cheeses made from the milk of different animals--e.g., sheep, goats and cows. You might also consider some combination of the following: (i) one blue cheese, (ii) one hard, dry cheese (e.g., Parmigiano-Reggiano), (iii) one flavored cheese (i.e., a cheese to which something like fruit, herbs or beer has been added) and/or (iv) one soft-ripened cheese (i.e., a mushy cheese with a fuzzy, white rind like Camembert or Brie). Arrange the cheeses from mildest to strongest and instruct your guests to enjoy them in this order.

3. Offer a selection of fruit and nuts on your cheese plate. You can include fresh fruit (e.g., pears, apples, honeydew melons, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries), dried fruit (e.g., dates, figs, cranberries, cherries, raisins, prunes), and/or toasted nuts (e.g., black walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts or pecans). The Lexington Co-Op has an interesting selection of dried fruit. I especially enjoy their dried figs on a cheese plate.

4. Other items. Olives, roasted sweet red peppers, and paperthin slices of prosciutto can also go well on a cheese plate. Serve your cheese with warm, fresh bread instead of crackers.

Monday, June 4, 2007

MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir

Each time I've had lunch at Brodo, my favorite lunch place in Buffalo, I've enjoyed a glass of MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir. This affordably priced wine is a pleasure to drink.

MacMurray Ranch is located in the heart of the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. The Ranch takes its name from the late actor, Fred MacMurray, star of My Three Sons and Billy Wilder's classic film noir Double Indemnity. MacMurray owned the ranch for 50 years. After his death it was sold to E & J Gallo.

The freshly harvested grapes for the MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir are cold soaked for several days before primary fermentation, giving it the deepest ruby color I have ever seen in a Pinot Noir. According to winemaker Susan Doyle, this process also results in an optimal extraction of flavor.

I don't know whether the dark color of the wine is fooling me into thinking this or not, but the MacMurray Pinot Noir seems to have a thicker consistency than other Pinot Noirs. Aromas of blackberries and raspberries can be detected in the wine, along with hints of vanilla from the oak aging.

This tasty wine comes in two primary varieties. One carries the 'Sonoma Coast' label and sells for about $20, and the other carries the 'Russian River Valley' label and sells for around $35. I highly recommend buying it.