Saturday, August 25, 2007

Mildly Aged Gouda: Vintage Van Gogh

In a previous post I raved about a certain kind of aged Gouda--viz., Saenkanter--that is one of the most intensely flavored cheeses on the planet. The problem with Saenkanter, however, is that it's not widely available. I don't like to write about products that readers cannot easily find. The trouble with the aged Goudas that are widely available--e.g., Beemster, Old Amsterdam--is that they simply do not taste as good as Saenkanter. They are more interesting than delicious. In fact, many people find them quite difficult to eat.

I am pleased to announce I have discovered an aged Gouda-style cheese that is both delicious and widely available: Vintage Van Gogh from Roth Käse in Monroe, Wisconsin. Made from full-cream cow's milk, this mild Gouda is aged only six to eight months--in contrast to the three to five years of more "serious" aged Goudas. The cheese has a wonderfully mellow and creamy texture, with only a slight hint of caramel.

Ordinary Gouda, double-cream Gouda and Gouda Lite are almost completely tasteless. I am of the opinion that Goudas need to be aged or smoked before they become interesting. The short amount of aging Vintage Van Gogh receives provides it with just enough flavor to be tasty, yet not so much that it becomes dry and harsh. To give you an idea of how accessible this cheese is, my three-old daughter loves it. I'm going to serve Vintage Van Gogh at my next dinner party.

Roth Käse recommends serving Vintage Van Gogh with dried cherries, cranberries, cashews, almonds, or pecans. Roth Käse also offers a delicious array of cheese-based recipes on their website.

Shopping tip for Buffalo readers: I bought my Vintage Van Gogh at Wegman's, which is fast becoming my favorite place to buy cheese.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Wine Markups at Restaurants

Have you ever wondered what the markup is on the wine you buy at your local restaurant? Because my most disappointing Buffalo dining experience occurred at the Empire Grill on Hertel Avenue, I have chosen them as the focus of my post on wine markups in the restaurant business.

Below you will find the price Empire Grill charges per glass of wine. Under this price you will find how much it would cost you to purchase an entire bottle of each wine. A standard 750ml bottle holds 25.368 fluid ounces of wine. Restaurants usually serve 4 to 6 ounces of wine per glass. So, you can take one bottle to hold roughly 4-5 glasses of wine.

Woodbridge White Zinfandel
Empire Grill price: $5 per glass
Premier Wine price: $9 for a jumbo 1.5L bottle

Jekel Riesling
Empire Grill price: $7 per glass price: $10 per bottle

Francis Coppola Bianco Pinot Grigio
Empire Grill price: $6 per glass
Premier Wine price: $9 per bottle

Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc
Empire Grill price: $5 per glass
Premier Wine price: $7 per bottle (regular price); $4 per bottle (sale price)

Sebastiani Chardonnay
Empire Grill price: $8 per glass
Premier Wine price: $13 per bottle

Beringer "Founder's Estate" Pinot Noir
Empire Grill price: $7 per glass
Premier Wine price: $13 per bottle

L de Lyeth Merlot
Empire Grill price: $7 per glass
Premier Wine price: $9 per bottle

Francis Coppola Rosso
Empire Grill price: $6 per glass
Premire Wine price: $10 per bottle (when it's not on sale)

Gallo Family Vineyards "Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon
Empire Grill price: $8 per glass
Common internet price: $10-12 per bottle

One interesting feature of the Empire Grill's wine prices (and those of other restaurants as well) is that the lower the quality of wine you buy, the higher the markup percentage is. You can see why I much prefer to drink wine in the comfort of my own home. I get a great deal more wine for my money.

Readers from Buffalo may wonder what was wrong with my dining experience at the Empire Grill. Like many others, I waited with anticipation for what Buffalo Spree called an "architecturally gorgeous restaurant" to open on one of North Buffalo's best strips of restaurants and bars. When my wife and I sat down to eat there for the first (and last) time, we couldn't find a single dish we were interested in ordering. Almost every one of the appetizers was deep-friend, and the rest of the menu looked straight out of Chili's or Applebee's. My wife and I ordered a single bowl of soup and left without eating dinner there.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Myths About Moldy Cheese

Cheese Myth #957: "If there is only a small amount of visible mold on a cheese, it can always be scraped off and the remaining cheese salvaged."

Some supporters of this myth think that cheese cannot be ruined by mold because in some sense cheese is mold or at least is derived from mold. While it is true that molds are often used in cheesemaking, it is not a necessary ingredient.

Cheese is simply what you get by isolating the solid material in milk. Separating the curds (the solid part of milk) from the whey (the liquid part) most often begins with the addition of a starter culture to fresh milk. Starter culture is always a kind of bacteria, whereas mold is a kind of fungus. I think Myth #957 gains some of its support from the conflation of mold with bacteria.

In any case, starter bacteria is not even strictly necessary to cheesemaking. Its primary role is to increase the acidity of milk, so that the separation of curds and whey happens more quickly. Some quick and easy cheesemaking recipes bypass the starter culture and call for adding lemon juice to fresh milk to increase its acidity. This doesn't result in the best cheese, but it illustrates how starter bacteria is not absolutely essential to the process.

After curds are isolated from the milk, you've got cheese. The curds they can be cut, pressed or enriched with various additional flavors without molds ever entering the picture.

Molds do play an important role in the production of blue cheeses and soft-ripened cheeses like Brie and Camembert. Penicillium roqueforti, for example, is used in the production of Roquefort and other blue cheeses, and Penicillium camemberti and Penicillium candida are used in Brie and Camembert. (A different variety of Penicillium is used to produce penicillin.) Most types of cheese, however, do not require the action of any kind of mold.

In my early days as a cheese taster, I made the mistake of buying some blue cheese from an ordinary grocery store instead of from a specialty cheese retailer or an upscale grocer. Unsurprisingly, the cheese was nasty. Who knows how long it had been languishing in the display case. When I returned the cheese to the store, one of the workers was reluctant to give me my money back for the following reason: I complained that a blue cheese smelled and appeared nasty, but blue cheese is supposed to smell and appear nasty.

The grocery clerk's mistake lies in thinking that any kind of nastiness is appropriate in a blue cheese because allowing the cheese to mold is an essential part of its production. The fact is, however, that only a carefully selected strand of mold was introduced into the cheese--and this under closely monitored conditions. It is not the case that any old mold will do.

Some think of the growth of mold on cheese as a kind of controlled spoilage. One should not forget, however, that it is controlled rather than indiscriminate spoilage. Cheese Myth #957 fails to separate controlled spoilage from spoilage due to incorrect storage, refrigerator mold, bacteria or other foreign pathogens.

I don't think the 'controlled spoilage' motif is a very good one because 'spoilage' wrongly suggests destruction. The biochemical processes involved in mold growth on cheese, however, are productive. Baker's yeast (another kind of fungus) doesn't spoil flour and oil. It makes certain kinds of bread possible. Do the yeasts that turn grape juice into wine "spoil" the grape juice? Not if your intent is to make wine. In that case, it's an important part of the production process.

If you find a small amount of mold growing on a hard cheese (e.g., Cheddar, Parmesan), you can generally scrape it off and the cheese will be OK to eat. To some extent, then, there is a grain of truth in Myth #957. Unwanted mold on soft cheeses, however, is more of a problem. One reason is that the molds can more easily penetrate into the heart of soft cheeses than they can into harder cheeses. This causes spoilage from within that cannot be scraped away.

When buying soft or blue cheeses, there are several things you should look for. First, look for grey or pink discoloration around the edges. Fresh, unspoiled cheeses never display these colors. Also, look to see how many wedges of the cheese you want to buy are in the display case. Never buy one of the last wedges of a cheese round. In ordinary grocery stores, blue cheeses do not sell quickly. In fact, even at Premier Gourmet, where I buy most of my cheeses, the blue cheeses move rather slowly. In such a store, the last wedge of a blue cheese will likely be spoiled before anyone buys it. One nice feature of Wegman's grocery stores is that they put the date a wedge is cut on the label of the cheese.

Don't be afraid to ask the person behind the cheese counter to cut you a new wedge of cheese, even if several can be found in the display case. Also, feel free to ask them to remove an unwanted outside portion of a cheese round if it doesn't look like something you want to eat.

Finally, if you didn't already think America had enough pointless holidays, here is one more: October 9th is officially Moldy Cheese Day.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Vin de Pays D'Oc Pinot Noir

When people tell me they know of a great tasting $5 wine, I never believe them. Well, I'm here to tell you that I know of a great tasting $5 wine. (Actually, it normally sells for $9, but I bought it on sale for $5.)

I never buy wines under $10. So, when I saw that Prime Wines had bottles of Baron Philippe de Rothschild's Vin de Pays D'Oc Pinot Noir on sale for $5, I paused over it briefly but kept on walking. I thought that no matter what name may appear on the bottle, it would always be a $5 bottle of wine.

Well, thanks to a party at David and Rose Hershenov's--home of western New York's most popular floating bar--I got to try some. I couldn't believe how drinkable this wine was. And by 'drinkable' I don't mean "drinkable by those who don't know good wine from a Dr. Pepper." I have since bought half a case, and I may go back for more.

The Rothschild Pays D'Oc Pinot Noir had a deep red color and a fruity nose, the latter being dominated by black cherry with some hints of violets. It had a smooth but firm tannin structure. I can't imagine a better $5 wine.

The 'Vin de Pays' label denotes an intermediary quality level that lies between the Vin de Table category and the class of wines that receive the appellation d'origine contrôlée certification. The Pays D'Oc region is located in the south of France and encompasses Languedoc and Roussillon. It is the largest Vin de Pays region, accounting for 70% of Vin de Pays wine production.

In 1995 Baron Philippe de Rothschild S.A., maker of the world-renowned Château Mouton Rothschild, expanded beyond its traditional châteaux-based wine production into the varietal-based wine market. It now offers eight varietal wines from the Pays D'Oc. The Pinot Noir in this family of wines is the perfect party wine--tasty and inexpensive. It's a good bet the other Rothschild Pays D'Oc wines are good buys as well.