Tag Archives: Restaurants

Cheese of the Week: Fiscalini Farms Bandage Wrapped Cheddar

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Moving further along our superb Girl and the Fig cheese course, in order of distinctiveness (to me), we find the Fiscalini Farms Bandage Wrapped Cheddar. This was my husband’s very favorite cheese on the plate.

It is, indeed, a special cheese. It has a wonderfully strong, complex taste that features a mix of salty and sweet flavors. There are hints of grass and nuts, along with a pleasing buttery quality.

Far from the gummy, uninteresting, mass-produced cheddars that can give this cheese a bad name, the Fiscalini is dry and on the crumbly side, without sacrificing any creaminess of texture. It’s aged 18 months, using unpasteurized milk from the Fiscalini Farmstead cows and traditional methods that include bandage-wrapping the wheels in cheesecloth. The cheesecloth lets the cheese breathe as it ages and lends it a nice porous rind.

The Fiscalini Cheese Company, in the California Central Valley town of Modesto, has been operating since 1914. Their current cheesemaker, Jorge “Mariano” Gonzalez, studied at Montgomery Farms in England and perfected his methods at Shelburne Farms in Vermont. His bandage-wrapped cheddars consistently win awards, competing with such cheddar stalwarts as Neal’s Yard Dairy in England.

Cheddar doesn’t boast the same name-protection as some other European cheeses, which can only call themselves by certain names if they come from specific geographic areas. As such, cheddar is produced in many parts of the world. The first cheddars were created in Medieval times, in the village of Somerset, England, and it is the “Somerset model” that some use to determine a true traditional farmstead cheddar.

Randolph Hodgson, the proprietor of Neal’s Yard Dairy, has worked with the Slow Food Movement to develop standards for artisan Somerset cheddar. These include using unpasteurized milk from a farm’s own herd, employing traditional “cheddaring” methods, like stacking and turning the curd by hand, and aging at least 11 months. Aside from geographic considerations, Fiscalini fits the bill, and is the only American farm to do so. (Shelburne Farms makes a clothbound cheddar, but it is in extremely limited production.)

After enjoying this tangy cheese, it will be harder for me to take the cheddars for granted. Pair the complex Fiscalini with a hearty ale or a fruity wine, and crisp apple slices. Due to quality and price, I’d make it a nibbly cheese, rather than a cooking cheese. And I’d certainly give it its rightful place on the cheese board.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow News Day: Vermont’s First IHOP to Serve Real VT Maple Syrup

When International House of Pancakes finally opened a franchise in Vermont (the 50th state to get an IHOP), its General Manager, Sam Handy, Jr., successfully petitioned the franchisor to allow the South Burlington shop to serve real maple syrup, instead of the corn syrup blend that is served at the other approximately 1,400 IHOPs in North America. Handy is quoted in the New York Times as saying, “(Vermont is) a small state, and buying local is important.” He also wants to explore buying eggs and dairy items from local farmers.

So, it seems that fast food, in Vermont anyway, just inched a tiny bit slower.

Not to be outdone, New York Senator Chuck Schumer recently proposed to IHOP CEO Julie Stewart that New York State’s IHOPs similarly wean themselves off their mass-produced toppings and onto maple syrup made in New York. This is not the senator’s first foray into the maple. Last year, he introduced legislation designed to — wait for it — tap into his state’s underused maples by providing incentives to landowners for producing syrup. More information on New York’s maple situation is here.

I love maple syrup, and one in particular, which we have been getting delivered (a luxury) since trying it and many like it on a delightful road trip through New England five summers ago. That syrup is from Sugarbush Farm, in Woodstock, VT, where we got to touch the actual maple trees and learn about the entire tapping and production process. We also learned that we generally prefer the robust Grade A dark amber syrup to the lighter Grade A medium amber, or the even lighter “fancy” syrups.

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Lucky me. My daughter and her friend whipped up some French toast for themselves and for me this weekend. We all agreed that it turned out picture-perfect, especially topped with Sugarbush maple syrup and a helping of super-sweet Delta Blue organic blueberries from Stockton, CA., the closest-grown berries we could find.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Haystack Mountain Queso de Mano Goat Cheese

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Continuing down our Girl and the Fig cheese plate, I really enjoyed the Queso de Mano goat cheese, from Jim Schott’s award-winning Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy in Niwot, Colorado. This is a superb raw-milk cheese — it has a wonderful, prominent, goat taste that is slightly sweet, and carries with it an undertone of nuttiness, as well as a hint of its farmstead grass and herbs. All that makes it terrifically complex and interesting, especially if you love goat-milk cheeses, as I do.

The Queso de Mano also manages to combine a firm texture with a velvety mouth feel. The cheese is aged four months and has a natural washed rind. It would be great with toasted almonds, fresh cherries or apricots, and a good fruity red wine.

For a long time, Haystack Mountain was the last remaining dairy in Boulder County. Sadly, local and other business expenses forced the company to sell its goats to the State Prison in Canon City, Colorado, which has operated an inmate-run dairy for 70 years. The upshot, though, is that the company is still producing and distributing its fabulous cheese from its headquarters in Longmont, Colorado, inmates at Canon City are doing fruitful work and learning a skill, and the Nubian, LaMancha, Sanaan and Nubian Cross goats are continuing to thrive and produce the milk that goes into Haystack Mountain’s cheeses.

The Queso de Mano is the second cheese from the right:

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Bohemian Creamery Bo Poisse

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I recently ducked into the fantastic Girl and the Fig restaurant in Sonoma and shared a wonderful cheese course with My Man. Of the six cheeses, the Bo Poisse, from Lisa Gottreich and Miriam Block’s new Bohemian Creamery in Bodega, was the absolute standout. The first thing that hits you about Bo Poisse is its sweet, pungent smell. When you bite into it, you find a delightfully creamy, almost wet cheese that tastes of mushroom, cream, a slight bit of ash. This is followed up by a lusty, tangy finish that brings with it more than a hint of a barnyard on a hot afternoon.

This cheese totally commits — As such it’s not for everyone. I loved it.

Bohemian Creamery is a small-batch, artisanal producer. They handcraft each round on their seven-acre farm, much of the milk coming from their own goats. The cows-milk Bo Poisse is made with milk from neighboring Jerseys. The washed-rind cheese is created using an Epoisse recipe. The French village of Epoisses is known for its pungent, soft, washed-rind cheeses. Napoleon was supposedly a fan, as was early epicurean/writer Brillat-Savarin, who called it “the king of all cheeses”.

The restaurant’s bubbly, sweet Fig Royale proved a nice companion to the complex cheese. I could see Medjool dates working with it, as well. Though my husband had other favorites on the cheese board (that’s what makes the world go ’round, plus more Bo Poisse for me), I can’t wait to have this cheese again, and I wish Bohemian Creamery great cheese-wheel-shaped success.

Look for my other reviews from this tasting, as we work our way down the cheese plate, bit by bit.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Alta Langa La Tur

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I first had this superb cheese, which hails from the Alta Langa Dairy in Italy’s Piedmont region, at Absinthe Brasserie in San Francisco. It was part of an after-dinner course of cheese, during which I thought, multiple times, Why would anyone ever have a dessert course consisting of anything other than cheese?

(For the record, the cheese course also consisted of a Monsenicio blue, also from Piedmont, which was drizzled with Il Caratello aged balsamic vinegar, and a Coupole goat cheese, from Websterville, Vermont, which was paired with cherry chutney. Yum!)

Even given those spectacular cheeses, the La Tur might have been the standout. This extremely creamy cheese is made from a combination of cow, goat and sheep milk. When store-bought, it comes in a disk shape in a pleasingly delicate paper wrapper. As the cheese warms to room temperature, it practically oozes from beneath its flavorful, bloomy rind, which itself adds an interesting juxtaposition of flavor and texture.

The flavors of this soft cheese come alive only after one takes in the buttery texture, and when they do, they yield a mushroomy and pleasantly cave-like taste that I can only describe as ancient. The taste is complicated, earthy, and redolent. The texture continues to add a sensuous and delightful element and, as is especially easy with such a creamy and interesting cheese, it is gone before you can say, “La Tur”, or “Do you think we can get some more?”

Because it spreads so well, La Tur is made to go with crackers or slices of baguette. Absinthe paired it with Medjool dates, as did I. My beloved Dalmatia Orange Fig Spread also worked (with a little going a long way, as the tastes toggled back and forth), as did a medium-bodied Syrah.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman