Cheese Heaven. A new page listing my all time favorite artisan cheeses and where to source them, both in NYC and online. Enjoy!
Monthly Archives: November 2011
Everyone has a side dish that is a must on the holiday table. What seems strange to one person is a yearly tradition to others. My sister-in-law makes a really bizarre apple sauce/colored marshmallow concoction that makes an appearance every year but I can’t bring myself to try it, for her it was one of her mom’s favorites, memories of past holidays with loved ones no longer with us. For me it just wouldn’t be a proper turkey dinner without my mom’s spicy sausage stuffing. Really it’s my own addiction to this spicy, savory dish that keeps it on the table every holiday. Not only for the main meal but late at night piled high on cold turkey sandwiches slathered with mayo and cranberry sauce. For many years my sister Bonnie and I would end the Thanksgiving evening with these, often fueled by late night munchies, dragging everything out of the fridge again to build huge sandwiches on glowing white pieces of wonder bread. These days I also add a veggie stuffing substituting the sausage for portobello and port wine soaked dried cherries, given a choice I pick the spicy dish but with a few vegetarians in the family it’s a must, damn good but just not connected to my past holiday memories.
For holiday beverage pairing traditions I’ve always thought of it as a time to drink luxury wines, the ones I’d been saving and longing for an excuse to open. This Thanksgiving I wanted to switch things up a bit and go American. In the past I’d bring a Champagne to start followed by a Grand Cru Burgundy, a selection of German Riesling and a Port or Sauterne for dessert. I’ve even converted a few non wine lovers with my array of luxury treats, one year my dad was thrilled that his lady friend finally found a wine she loved, until he went to buy it and later called me to ask if I was insane for drinking a wine priced at $125 for a half sized bottle. In the last few months I’ve sampled many different local wines and in support of local vintners I wanted to share my favorite picks for pairing, all under $20. I was happy to see a few of the other family members had the same idea so there was a vast array of different wineries and grapes represented.
Three or four Finger Lakes Rieslings, a Connecticut wine, four Hudson Valley offerings and a few local sparkling wines were tasted and compared. While I really liked the Rieslings my two favorites for pairing where both from the Hudson Valley, Millbrook’s Cabernet Franc, 2008 and Whitecliff Winery’s Traminette 2010. Traminette a cross of Gewurztraminer and the French-American varietal Johannes Seyve 23-416 was created by H.C. Barett, then of University of Illinois. Seeds were sent to Cornell’s grape research program in 1968 but not released till the mid nineties. This cold hardy, late ripening grape shows great promise in New York. It has all the intoxicating lychee, dried fruit and spice qualities from its German parentage with a crisp acidic apple finish. Whitecliff’s version was a great pair with both our spicy stuffing and other rich dishes.
Millbrook’s Cabernet Franc was also a wonderful pairing with aromas and flavors of raspberry, forest floor, olive and baked potato. Hailing from France this grape is making a name for itself in the colder regions of New York, from the Finger Lakes to the Hudson Valley. I’ve had some pretty tasty NY wines made from this grape, both old world in style with a bit of funky earthy aroma to a fresher fruity new world style. Millbrook’s Cabernet Franc paired best with both dark meat turkey and the portobello mushrooms in our veggie stuffing.
True to form after dessert, cleaning up, crazy family conversation, more wine and a catnap my niece and I dragged out the leftovers for sandwiches, all that was missing was my sister who was down South this year. Here’s to the start of the holiday season! Share your old traditions and create new ones! Food and wine always tastes better when shared with others. Enjoy!
Spicy Sausage Stuffing
1 1/2 12 oz bags dried seasoned bread cubes for stuffing
2 medium carrots, diced fine
2 celery stalks, diced fine
1 medium onion, diced fine
1 1/2 teaspoon bells poultry seasoning
1 package (tube) spicy breakfast sausage, I like Jimmy Dean hot/sage
1/2 stick butter
4 fresh sage leaves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
4 cups chicken stock, warmed
salt/pepper to taste
Add sausage to large fry pan over medium heat. Break up into small crumbles with a heat safe spatula and cook till just done. Add onion, celery, carrots and bells seasoning to sausage and cook on low till onions are transparent, stirring often. Put bread cubes in large bowl and add sausage/veggy mixture, mix well. Warm chicken stock and butter over low heat till butter is melted. Slowly add in broth mixture to bread/sausage/veggy mix stirring to incorporate liquid. Finished mix should be a bit moist but not mushy. Mix in fresh herbs and transfer into baking pan or half size aluminum tray. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes in 375 degree preheated oven. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes more or until a bit browned on top.
When I owned my restaurant this was an employee favorite, made for many a staff meal. We had a few gluttons we called stuffing monsters who would gobble this side dish up in no time. Left overs can be made into sandwiches as suggested or used as a filling for stuffed pork chops or chicken breast with a pan gravy of your choice.
Wishing all a delicious holiday season!
New York is full of wine bars, over at Dr. Vino’s wine blog there is even an map of the dizzying array of places to tip a glass or two. I admit I’ve been to more than a few but most don’t lure me downtown on a chilly fall evening. However Alta, a little gem of a place in the West Village is worth a trip from anywhere.
I arrived early to a full but well attended bar and chose to start the evening with a Markowitsch Rose, 2010 made from a blend of Zweigelt, Blaufrankish and Cabernet Sauvignon. Dry but full of rich ripe berry and cherry it paired well with the fried goat cheese and lavender honey I ordered. According to yelpers it was the not to be missed dish on the menu and it didn’t disappoint!
When Jude arrived we selected a bottle of Taupinot Merme Bourgogne Passetoutegrain, 08, a fruity but interesting blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir. It was the perfect wine to go with the dishes we ordered. As we talked and caught up with each others lives we feasted on hen of the woods mushrooms roasted with sea salt, grilled octopus and an incredible short rib dish over beet pasta that was my favorite dish of the evening. All the while our charming server checked in on us and even offered up a small pour to finish our food with. All in all this is a great, warm, inviting place to enjoy a glass of reasonably priced excellent wine and food. Put it on the list of must visit wine bars in NYC.
You’ve got to hand it to the Italians, they know how to entertain. One of my first foodie memories is visiting my Uncle’s Italian family for Sunday dinner. I watched in amazement as his sisters tirelessly prepared yards of fresh pasta, paper thin fried eggplant, giant trays of misto and a main course of rabbit for scores of friends and relatives. The adults washed down our feast with glasses of homemade wine (each family had their own barrel) or Chianti poured from the straw covered bottles so popular in the 60′s, I was even allowed a sip or two on this special occasion. I loved this dinner! The wonderful aromas of our meal together coupled with after dinner tales and laughter put a smile on my face. The warmth and welcoming nature of these people was infectious! Dinner with other branches of my family paled in comparison. How could I ever tolerate days of bland funky meatloaf, simple roast beef or only milk with my meal ever again? Thankfully we did visit my uncle’s family again but not often enough for my adolescent curiosity into this foreign culture.
This year I had the opportunity to tour the wine region of Friuli Venezia Giulia on a post trip with the EWBC. Looking forward to discovering first hand the people, wine and food culture I couldn’t help but to think of my Uncle’s family and all of the fond memories of my first glimpse into Italian cuisine and wine. I had been to Italy before but remember little else but the dreamy eyes of a young artist I fell madly in love with on my first visit, not even an Italian. I wondered, would I fall in love again? After all a single gal can dream can’t she? Well I did fall but for the amazing wine, food and people of Friuli in addition to one unusual red wine and a cheesy potato dish that’s a decedent guilty pleasure!
My first day in Friuli was packed with vineyard visits. Before dinner I had the opportunity to taste some additional wines with several vintners. This special intimate tasting was set up in a walk around format with each winemaker only showcasing 2 to 3 wines. I found myself drawn to the reds made from the rare red grape Schioppettino very interesting. Schioppettino, also known as Ribolla Nera is one of the most interesting red varietals of the Friuli wine world. This indigenous grape has a fascinating history, changing from local criminal to indie rock star in a little over 40 years. At one time Schioppettino was virtually extinct, less than one hundred vines remained. Two factors lead to its near demise, disease in the form of phylloxera and favor of international varieties such as Cabernet and Merlot. Such was the demand for international varieties that this indigenous grape was almost abandoned. Planting Schioppettino was banned as it was classified as an illegal varietal. In 1978 a European Union decree authorized its cultivation in the province of Udine that saved Schioppettino from an untimely death. Today it is still planted in limited quantities around the villages of Prepotto and Albana, considered to be it’s elective home. Hopefully this grape has a bright future as it makes a delicious perfumed, medium-bodied red with a hint of spice and the capacity to age. The best examples I tasted possessed an edgy feminine side with a heady perfume, a bit of a naughty vixen of a wine. It can also have a bit of an acidic pop on the finish that makes it an excellent food friendly find. Schioppettino literally translates to “little crack” for the sound it makes upon opening.
My two favorites where poured by 2 very different men. Fabvio Bressen’s Schioppettino had a bit more of a pronounced presence to it, not unlike the man who produces it. I really liked the bit fuller, earthy taste and length that would make this a perfect wine with everything from the cheesy, crispy, regional specialty Frico to a variety of pastas made with meat ragu or roasted veggies. Fabvio welcomed our group with open arms telling me why he loved bloggers. He explained his take on online wine writers/bloggers was he liked the honesty of you like it or you don’t, enough said, with no pressure from large clients or a point system.
My other favorite was from Borgo Conventi. This wine had subtle aromas of violet with a silky mouth feel. The young man representing this estate owned by Ruffino in Collio Goriziano was thrilled to have representatives from so many countries tasting his wines. As I talked with him he was very happy to share his passion for the region and how much he was looking forward to hosting us at a dinner the following evening. Given a choice of numerous wines at his estate I chose his Schioppettino to pair with my dinner..
1/2 pound Montasio or Grana Padano Cheese coarsely grated
2 medium baking potatoes, scrubbed clean
2 ounces Coach Farm or other mild fresh goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 small onion sliced thin and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 scallions sliced into small pieces
pinch kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Boil potatoes in their skins till just fork tender, drain, chill in fridge or cold water. Peel and slice into thin rounds. Set aside to further cool.
Saute onions in olive oil till translucent in non stick skillet, add potatoes, salt, pepper and saute with onion till they begin to brown. Remove to shallow bowl and mix in goat cheese crumbles, be careful not to mix to well, just till loosely incorporated.
Sprinkle half of shredded cheese into bottom of skillet on medium heat and top with potatoes mixture pressing down to form flat disk.
Push potatoes down into cheese with a spatula and look for browning on edges. As cheese melts and browns it will give off some oil. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and cook for around 5 minutes watching that it doesn’t get too brown. Shake and slide pan to prevent sticking (much like making popcorn)
Slide onto plate and inverert or flip uncooked side into skillet from plate. Brown till golden and slide onto platter to serve, garnish with sliced scallion.
Note- It took me a few flips to reach desired crispness, have patience it turns out crazy good!
I’ve always been drawn to people that push the limit. Those that instead of choosing a more conventional way seek out a path that can be rocky, not easily traveled but worth it in the end. Call them trail blazers, mavericks, risk takers or just plain lunatics most that chose this path have the stones to go where others too timid only dream of. They tend to have the heart and passion to craft great works of art, amazing cuisine or some other creative endeavor sharing a piece of themselves with the world. The small village of Prepotto in the Carso region is home to more than a few of these creative thinkers.
The families Skerk and Kante are comprised of people that not only battle the average problems of day to day vineyard work but happen to be located in a part of the world that planting and cultivating a vineyard is to say the least incredibly challenging. The Carso, a small region located between the border of Slovenia and the Adriatic sea is known not only for it’s ruggedly beautiful limestone stone cliffs, fierce winds called the Bora (northern to north-eastern strong winds that rage through the vineyard), but also very imaginative, driven people producing fabulous wine.
Soil- The Carso is basically a land without a soil, there is limestone subsoil, but little topsoil. To create a vineyard, deeper soils have traditionally been dug up from near Trieste and trucked in, enough to provide about 80 centimeters depth of red earth. It can take up to 1,000 truckloads per hectare to form a vineyard; this should provide a bit of contemplation for those who wants to argue about terroir being defined by the soil of an individual site. This red, iron-rich reclaimed soil lends the wines a characteristic acidity and mineral notes. This is how it has been done in the Carso for generations and once a vineyard is set soil amendments are rare. Paperwork for this daunting task can take up to 5 years according to Goran the nephew of Edi Kante who guided our group in the vineyards and cellars of his uncle’s estate in the village of Prepotto.
Cellars- The wine cellars of Carso are truly some of the most magnificent and imaginative I’ve ever seen! Edi Kante’s fabulous cellar reminded me more of the lair of some evil super villain than a place to make and age wine. Kante created a cellar deep underground with 3 different rooms, three different temperatures, three different humidity’s and all containing the ideal conditions for the wines to be aged and matured in a natural condition. That translates to 18 meters below the surface of the earth, solid limestone with walls that are cold like a refrigerator and housing approximately 70,000 bottles.
Skerk’s cellar created by winemaker Sandi Skerk, (an engineer by trade) is also a sight to behold. Formed by cutting through the limestone with diamond studded cables its smooth walls are interspersed with traces of old vine growth and natural pockets of cavernous grottoes. A small grate on the floor covers a hole that according to Sandi was at least 100 feet deep. They had gone down that far before coming back up but felt breeze from further below. I couldn’t help thinking of the secret shaft in the book “ Journey to the Center of the Earth” by science fiction author Jules Verne. Just how far down did it go? Was there an alternate wine universe down there?
Varietals- The vineyards of the Carso are planted with a variety of grapes including Pinot Grigio, Malvasia and Sauvignon Blanc but the two indigenous varietals that seem to be the soul of the region are a white called Vitovska, a crossing of Malvasia Bianca Lunga and Prosecco Tonda and Terrano a red that comes from the Refosco Istriano family. Vitovska is a thicker skinned variety that can withstand cold winters, summer draughts and the strong winds of the Bora. Terrano is thought to be a local health tonic for it’s high levels of iron, minerals, anthocyans, anti oxidants and lower alcohol content as well as it’s ability to pair well with a number of local foods.
Wines- At Kante we started our tasting with their signature sparkling KK Brut, NV made from a blend of Chardonnay and Malvasia. Although I liked the clean fresh flavors with notes of fennel and herbs my research on return to NYC puts the price of this around $50 dollars, not exactly an impulse purchase for me these days.
Next Kante’s Vitovska 2009 with hints of sage and fresh citrus fruit cried out for a plate of raw clams or poached shrimp. The Malvasia Istriana 2009′s mouth filling orange blossom and hazelnut notes reminded me a bit of Viognier but I really enjoyed it when paired with the local cheeses offered at our tasting.
The shining star for me was the barrel fermented La Bora di Kante 2001 Chardonnay. Hints of banana’s foster, baked apple and a lacy minerality wafted up from my glass. Scoring a bottle of this I drank it my last evening in Italy, sadly it is not readily available in the US.
At Sandi Skerk‘s his ramato or orange style wine was my favorite. Called Ograde it is a blend of Vitovska, Malvasia, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. The Pinot Grigio macerated on it skins is what gives the wine its distinct color. The grapes that are used to make Ograge are harvested, destemmed and placed in open barrels for 15 days, during which time fermentation occurs with the wine in contact the skins. Sandi punches them down by hand and then presses the grapes and transfers the wine into 550L Tonneau barrels. The wine remains there until next harvest, when it is racked, blended and placed in stainless steel until the following spring when it is bottled.
Sandi also offered us barrel samples of his tasty Vitovska and Malvasia. These grapes are left to ferment for about 15 days uncovered, then the barrels are covered and the wine is left on its skins for 3 months in 20-25L barrels. The wine is then pressed and returned to the same barrel where is rests till the next harvest and under goes the same treatment as the Ograde.
Spelunking for Cheese and the Tradition of Osmice -
Many local farms and vineyards open their doors to offer not only wine but cheeses, olive oil and other food products produced locally. This tradition is known as osmice, a word stemming from the Slovene word for 8, osem. In the past the establishments participating where open for 8 days a few times a year. Today in Carso this may extend to 10 days or more at different times throughout the year. Small roadside signs adorned with ivy branches point to these locations but a local map is available online.
At Kante we where served an array of locally produced meats and incredible artisan cheeses that where very different from others I had been served on my Italian adventure. When I asked about them I learned that not only where they all cows milk but a few where aged in a very unusual way.
Cheesemaker Dario Zidaric’s Jamar cheese was my favorite with a nutty, buttery yet earthy taste finishing with slight notes of pineapple.
Dario’s 90 cows produce 700 liters a day of unpasteurized organic milk (resulting in 150 lbs, of cheese). He makes eight or nine different styles of cheese from the regional specialty Montasio to to the wildly delicious Jamar that are sold both locally and in restaurants in Austria, Italy and Switzerland.
What is so different about Dario and how he ages his cheese? His aging cave is not a fancy temperature/humidity controlled walk in fridge or even a cellar, it’s actually a cavern deep in the earth. Dario’s Jamar spends four months ripening in this very damp, very dark cave 250 feet underground. Now I’ve been in many cheese caves but I’ve never had to suit up in anything other than a hair net and sterile booties. This cave requires wearing serious mountain climbing gear, you don’t walk down, you drop down, in full spelunking or potholing gear. Dario does this once a week, taking 100 fresh, 10-lb cheeses with him and bringing a similar number of aged cheeses back up from their makeshift shelving. I wish I had the opportunity to see this but maybe next visit!
Note: I would like to thank Gabriella, Ryan and Robert the minds behind the EWBC and the Consortium of Carso Winemakers for making this visit possible.