Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cheese of the Week: Dragon's Breath

Dragon's Breath

Country: Canada

Milk: Cow

Description: A soft blue cheese from veteran Nova Scotia farmstead cheesemaker Willem van den Hoek, also known as That (damned) Dutchman. It stinks, hence the name. But the blue flavour is mild and the soft and creamy texture make it perfect for spreading on crackers or serving with crisp apples or pears.

Link: www.denhoek.ca

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Cheese Report

The world of cheese is wide, varied and sometimes stinky. To help you navigate this pungent paradise, I've put together something of a 'best of' list. Enjoy!

Best birthday gift for the female cheesehead

Eau de Stilton, a perfume blended specifically for the Stilton Cheese Makers Association. The scent reportedly "re-creates the earthy and fruity aroma of Blue Stilton cheese in an eminently wearable perfume." Personally, I'm holding out for Eau de Prosciutto for my next birthday.

Best cheeses to gross out your friends and neighbors

On smell alone, the crown has to go to Vieux Boulogne, a washed rind cheese from Normandy that topped the list of the world's whiffiest cheeses, as decided by researchers at the UK's Cranfield University. For taste, however, my vote is with Strachitunt, so far the worst cheesy concoction I have ever put in my mouth. I'm willing to give it another try, however, as the piece I ate was positively green, as was my face after eating it... Anyway, it's an Italian taleggio, painstakingly made with morning and evening milk, streaked with blue, gray and green molds and aged in limestone caves for two months.

Best reason to go to Britain this spring

What else but the 2007 Gloucestershire cheese rolling festival. It's been a long, cold winter. You've been stuck inside with nothing to do. Spring breaks, the sun begins to shine and, lo and behold, you find yourself running to the nearest hill with a wheel of cheese in your hands. Feeling triumphant at the top of the hill, you proceed to hurl the cheese, and yourself, down the hill. And a sport is born.

Best way to satisfy your cheese and coffee addictions

Cappucino cheese, of course! Introduced in limited quantities in the UK, it is the product of blending white stilton with Colombian coffee to produce a dark base layer, topped by a layer of white stilton with vanilla. Coming soon to a Starbucks near you?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Chef Wolfgang Puck joins natural-food movement

LOS ANGELES, March 22 (Reuters) - Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck has decided to be kinder to the animals he cooks.

In an announcement made with the cooperation of the Humane Society of the United States, Puck launched a program to bar animal cruelty from his $300 million-a-year business empire.

He said his restaurants would no longer serve foie gras, which involves the force-feeding of geese and ducks, or use pork or calves that have been kept in crates or use eggs from caged hens on his menus.

Puck removed the contentious food items from all his Wolfgang Puck restaurant menus and pledged to use only certified, sustainable seafood, and all-natural or organic chicken and turkey from progressive animal welfare-compliant farms.

Puck told Reuters that going natural was one goal easily within reach.

"We use organic vegetables already. We want to use humanely treated animals, and we want to be responsible citizens. We want to look into children's nutrition ... and sustainable seafood, and so on," he said.

He said the naturally raised veal, pork and chicken tasted better, and the cost, while as much as 5 percent higher, would be a small consideration for customers.

Puck's decision was praised by the Humane Society of the United States and the animal advocacy group, Farm Sanctuary, which served as an adviser after years of campaigning against Puck's restaurants.

"Our guests ... want to know where the food comes from and how the animals were raised," Puck said earlier in a statement.

"They want to eat healthy food in good conscience, and they know that we can make healthy taste decisions," he said.

The program will affect the company's 14 fine-dining group restaurants, including his famed Beverly Hills restaurant Spago, and more than 80 Gourmet Express casual restaurants and 43 venues across the United States, where 10 million customers ate in 2006.

Foie gras is the fatty liver of a duck or goose, which is produced by force-feeding the animals through a tube and served as a luxury hors d'oeuvre.

Crated meats are those in which the animals are kept in small cages that prevent movement or proper growth.


Colossal calamari, rodents and $1,000 pizza

Food news could hardly get sillier than these little tasty bites:

Fishermen in New Zealand dragged up what they think is the largest squid ever caught. The poor sucker weighed 1,089 lbs. and measured 33 feet long. Scientists are now studying the beast to learn all they can about it, resisting the temptation of cutting it up and making calamari the size of truck tires.

Rodent: it's what's for dinner. The New York Times reports that capybara, a rodent the size of a Labrador retriever, is a delicacy in Venezuela. The meat apparently costs twice as much as beef and is an Easter delicacy akin to turkey at Thanksgiving.

Speaking of delicacies, a New York restaurant is taking pizza to new heights. Nino Selimaj, a restaurateur whose 'Nino'-branded restaurants are almost as ubiquitous as Starbucks in Manhattan, has opened Nino's Bellissima, with the Luxury pizza as the star attraction. The pizza, which costs $1,000 and has had two takers since the restaurant opened recently, is topped with creme fraiche, chives, eight ounces of four different kinds of Petrossian caviar, four ounces of thinly sliced Maine lobster tail, salmon roe, and wasabi. And no, it's not available for delivery.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Cheese of the Week: Abbaye de Belloc

Abbaye de Belloc

Country: France

Milk: Sheep

Description: Made by Benedictine monks in an abbey near Biarritz, this sheep's milk cheese has a caramel flavour that comes from a six-month aging process. It has a firm but creamy texture and pairs well with wines such as Zinfandel.

Link: www.belloc-urt.org (in French)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Eat Chocolate, Save the World

Chocolate is possibly the most popular food on earth. It's also one of the oldest known foods - the Maya and Aztec peoples of modern-day Mexico and Central America are the first to have made cacao into chocolate.

For many, chocolate is a 'guilty' pleasure mostly due to its high fat content and its allegedly addictive nature.

It can be good for us though, in the right proportions. Chocolate contains protein, riboflavin, calcium and iron, all of which contain health benefits. A Harvard University study even found that men who ate chocolate lived one year longer than those who didn’t.

Above all, chocolate makes us happy when we eat it and being happy makes us feel good. It's not only interesting, but very important to think about where chocolate comes from and how it's made. Jacques Torres, known as Mr. Chocolate, has a great 5-minute video on his website explaining the process of how chocolate is made.

Going even deeper, however, you can make a commitment to sustainability by ensuring you purchase and consume chocolate that comes from fair trade cocoa farmers. This means that the cocoa is farmed in a responsible way, free of exploitative labor practices. It also means that farmers emphasize renewable resources and soil and water conservation, grow crops without using synthetic fertilizers or the most persistent pesticides and avoid genetic engineering or ionizing radiation. TransFair USA has a list of fair trade chocolate companies.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Cheese of the Week: Montgomery's Cheddar

Montgomery's Cheddar

Country: Great Britain

Milk: Cow

Description: A hand-made cheddar from Somerset, this cheese has been made in the same tradition for generations. The nutty flavour and dry, crumbly texture is at its best after about 12 months of aging.

Link: Farmhouse Cheesemakers

Friday, March 09, 2007

Cheddar Vision TV

The web is full of weird and wonderful things. One of the weirdest of the year, a live webcam that lets you watch as a wheel of cheddar ages. As of right now, the tomme of Westcombe cheddar has been doing its thing for 77 days, 1 hour and 14 minutes. More fun than watching paint dry? You tell me...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Cheese of the Week: Affidelice


Country: France

Milk: cow

Description: Small and soft, this cheese is washed in Chablis and packaged in a wooden case. The wine gives it a pungent aroma and enhances the complex and pleasing flavour.

Link: Fromagerie Berthaut (in French)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Who cut the cheese?

I'm quickly discovering that there is so much to learn about the world of cheese, including the fact that cheesemongers have their very own version of a World Cup.

It's called the International Caseus Award and the 2007 competition was recently held in Lyon, France. Teams were challenged with conducting a sales pitch and identifying the names, ages and origins of several cheeses simply by tasting them. In another heat, competitors had to cut wheels of cheese into specific weights and sizes in 30 minutes or less.

This year a team from the United States entered for the first time, although Canada has been in the running for a few years. The North Americans faced stiff competition from their European counterparts, however. This year's top prizes went respectively to France, Belgium and Italy. Incidentally, the US team came in dead last... but there's always next year!

Asked about his favorite cheeses, Rodolphe Le Meunier from Team France replied:
"Appreciation of cheeses depends upon the situation in which one finds oneself. Feeling peckish at 10 am? Is the temperature outside 30°C or - 2°C? Is there a bottle of red wine on the table? Is it to finish or make a full meal? In fact, what I appreciate most, is eating the best cheese at the right moment."
I couldn't agree more... It may be a few years before I am proficient enough to compete at this level, but at least I now have my goal clearly in sight: the Cheese Olympics here I come!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Roundup: Food Blogs

It's nearly impossible to keep track of all the food blogs out there. Each one offers something different: recipes, beautiful photos, practical advice, catty gossip... Everyone has their favorites. Here are a few of mine (in no particular order):

A food-obsessed, user-driven site designed like a photo album - the links can be hit-or-miss but the concept is great.

Leite's Culinaria
Helmed by well-known food writer David Leite, this site features recipes, reviews, resources and great writing.

Kitchen Unplugged
Terrible logo, but great photos and recipes of all things doughy: breads, pastas and pastries.

Coconut Chutney
I like this one because it's easy on the eyes. Plus, I LOVE coconut chutney (even though the site is not about it!)

Bea's Kitchen
Just came across this site, which has such an exhaustive list of links that I think I'll stop now.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Biggest Cheese

The folks at Artisanal set a world's record yesterday on NBC's Today Show by making the largest cheese fondue ever - 2100 pounds of it cooked in a cast iron pot in Rockefeller Center. Left, Terrance Brennan of Artisanal tastes the results.

(On Tuesday I helped prepare the buckets of white wine that went into the mixture and I can tell you that the sight of a garbage pail filled with warm, yellow Chardonnay is in itself one for the record books - not a pretty sight!)

Anyway, MSNBC has shared the recipe for fondue which, if you haven't tried it at home, is a must. It's a real treat. I hope the homeless people who ate the leftovers from yesterday's stunt enjoyed it!