Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Grilled Cheese

In case you missed it, April was Grilled Cheese Month. (Who decides these things, anyway? I wouldn't be surprised if the Kraft Corporation weren't behind this one.)

Foodies have gotten rather serious about grilled cheese lately. Some cities have even hosted Grilled Cheese Invitational Competitions (details here and here).

The Food Network recently hosted a Grilled Cheese Throwdown between celebrity chef Bobby Flay and the owners of the Pop Shop, which offers 31 varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches. In the "Throwdown" series Flay shows up to a dining establishment without warning and challenges makers of certain specialties to a cook-off.

The Pop Shop's jack cheese, roasted turkey, bacon, avocado, and house dressing (balsamic mayo) on foccacia sandwich lost by just a hair to Flay's grilled brie and goat cheese with bacon and green tomato sandwich.

According to the Pop Shop, the best accompaniment to a grilled cheese sandwich is tomato soup. I'll have to try that with my daughters.

Grilled cheese recipes from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board can be found here. Recipes from Clementine's, a purveyor of fine grilled cheeses in LA, can be found here.

In a post such as this I can't resist reminiscing a bit about Diana Duyser, the woman who in 2004 sold a grilled cheese sandwich that allegedly bore the image of the Virgin Mary for $28,000. Have you ever wondered what happened to her? (Probably not.) But just in case here is an update: the Miami Herald reports that in 2007 she paid $1000 to have an image of the sandwich tattooed on her chest. People are strange.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Arina Goat Gouda

Arina Goat Gouda is a semi-hard, Gouda-style, goat's milk cheese from Holland. It is aged four months and has a wonderfully mild, nutty flavor. You might not know you were eating goat cheese, unless you were told. Both its flavor and texture are unlike the tart, fresh chèvre most people are more familiar with.

In order to make a Gouda-style cheese, the curds must be pressed and heated to expell a good deal of the whey. I also believe (though I do not know for certain) that Goudas require the use of a particular strand of bacteria as the starter culture that aids the initial separation of curds and whey.

Arina Goat Gouda is a great party cheese. I brought some a couple of weeks ago to Ken and Jenn Shockley's annual philosophy gathering, and it was gone within minutes. The hosts didn't even get to try any.

Some other Gouda cheeses I've reviewed include the following:

Some salad recipes using Arina Goat Gouda include:

Arina would probably make a good grilled cheese sandwich, too.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Cheese Facts and Myths

Question #1: Is it OK to Freeze Cheese?

Most cheeses do not freeze well. Only soft, unripened cheeses like cream cheese, cottage cheese, mascarpone and ricotta can be frozen without becoming ruined. And even then they should be used only in cooking after thawing.

Soft-ripened cheeses like Brie or Camembert should not be frozen, nor should just about any other cheese. Most cheeses lose both texture and flavor during the freezing process.

Question #2: Do Cheeses Made from Sheep and Goat Milk Contain Less Lactose?

This question is important to those who suffer from lactose-intolerance but who enjoy the taste of cheese. In spite of what you may have heard, sheep milk and goat milk do not contain lesser amounts of lactose. According to an article by Phillip Collman (Ph.D., gastrointestinal physiology) in the Ontario Cheese Society newsletter, the lactose content for all three species is around 4.5%. Collman's advice to lactose-intolerant cheese lovers is to select aged cheeses: "The longer a dairy product has been aged, the more lactose is converted into lactic acid, which doesn’t cause any gastrointestinal discomfort."

Friday, May 9, 2008

Expensive Wines Really Do Taste Better

We've all heard that higher price tags tend to make people think more highly of a wine. The conventional wisdom suggests that an inflated price tag can't really make a wine taste better. Recent neuroscientific evidence, however, suggests otherwise.

According to a report in Scientific American Mind ("Paying for Pleasure," Apr/May 2008), 20 volunteers were recently given 5 supposedly different wines to sample. Each wine was identified by a certain price. In reality, only 3 different wines were sampled--2 of the wines were presented twice with different price tags. As expected, the subjects gave the wine with the cheapest price tag their lowest rating, while the most expensive wine was everyone's favorite. Subjects gave the "most expensive" wine a lower rating when that same wine was presented with a lower price tag.

While the subjects were sampling the wines, their brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging technology. The scans revealed an increase in activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex while subjects were tasting the more expensive wine. This area is believed to underwrite or encode for the pleasantness of various experiences. Changing subjects' expectations via doctoring the price tags had a measurable effect on pleasure-related brain activity.

In other words, the wine really did taste better with an inflated price tag. The subjects underwent qualitatively different experiences when the wine was labeled with a more expensive price than when the same wine was labeled with a lower price. Granted, it should not have tasted any better, but that's another story.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

People in Need

True or False: The following pictures have nothing to do with wine or cheese.

Caption: Sunglasses €24.- Access to water €8.-

Caption: Handbag €32.- Food for a week €4.-

Caption: Pint of beer €4.50
50 liters of fresh water €1.50