Creamy, Dreamy, Oozy, and Luscious

Finished product

I am, of course, referring to heavenly burrata cheese; fresh, soft mozzarella filled with rich cream and stracciatella, small hand-torn pieces of cheese. What’s not to love!

If you haven’t tasted burrata – and I would define this as the worst culinary crime – you can likely purchase it at your local cheese counter, Whole Foods, or at a contemporary Italian restaurant. Cutting into freshly made burrata, topped with a drizzle of bright olive oil causes the sumptuous innards to spill forth, forcing you to quickly slather the oozy goodness atop a warm slice of garlic-infused crostini. The experience, if you can’t already imagine, can border on transcendent. Combining burrata with slices of late-summer heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil – mind blowing!

Why do I have burrata on the brain? I recently participated in a hands-on cheese making class at the Cheeseboard Collective in Berkeley. Taught by the Milk Maid (aka Louella), this cozy class made up of burrata enthusiasts, taught the art of making fresh mozzarella and burrata cheese. A friend joined me and together, we paid close attention and followed each step of the cheese-making process.

With the right instructor and the proper ingredients, making fresh mozzarella and burrata isn’t as difficult as I expected. You really get your hands into the ingredients, making it a fun, tactile experience. The best part was returning home with handmade examples of both cheeses, and then sharing them with my very appreciative (and lucky!) family.

Click here for a great step-by-step burrata recipe and demonstration brought to you by a fabulous blog called Sunday Suppers. If you haven’t already developed a love-affair with burrata, go in search of some. Let me know what you think!

Pulling apart the cheese

Stretching the mozzarella

My burrata

Grilled Cheese? Yes, Please!

What the world needs now is more cheese martyrs. A selfless crew of individuals like myself, willing to sacrifice their time and taste buds to bring attention to the plight of neglected cheeses. I can’t think of a tougher hardship than being trapped in a room full of curd-nerds, forced to eat freshly made, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, a plate full of artisan cheeses, and a selection of wines that paired beautifully with each cheese.

Last night, for the greater good, I participated in an outstanding class at the Cheese School of San Francisco, called “Grilled Cheese, Please!” Led by the inimitable, surprisingly funny, and most fabulous Laura Werlin. Laura, who is a consummate cheese professional, led us through an informative and entertaining two-hour session of cheese and wine tasting. Although I consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to the subject of cheese, there was much to learn. I couldn’t have fathomed all of the sublime flavor combinations that can be had between two slices of quality bread.

The cheese selection included Redwood Hill Farm’s Goat Feta, Marieke Gouda from Holland’s Family Farm in Wisconsin, Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Co., two types of fromage blanc (goat and cow), Pt. Reyes Farmstead’s Toma (crazy about!!), Hook’s 5-year Cheddar, and Cabot Creamery’s Clothbound Cheddar (love!!).

We were offered four examples of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, each made with the cheeses I mentioned, as well as other surprising ingredients like sautéed leeks, sour cherries, spinach, basil, kalamata olives, bacon, avocado, and maple syrup. Go figure!

My favorite grilled cheese by far was ‘The Greek’, a riff on spanikopita. Buttery, golden-grilled multi-grain sourdough filled with sautéed leeks, spinach, garlic, and a meltingly good combination of the Redwood Hill Farm Goat Feta and the Marieke Gouda. Although the sandwich paired well with the Scharffenberger sparkling wine we were served, it was impressive on its own.

Caleb and Sadie will be thrilled when we start experimenting with the cheese-packed sandwich recipes I came away with. I also look forward to testing out my own grilled cheese concoctions, with a combination of cheeses and ingredients that compliment them. I think I could get used to being a ‘cheese martyr’. Somebody’s got to do it!

Who Cut the Cheese?

She did it!Who cut the cheese? Not I. However, dozens of artisan cheese producers came out to the annual California’s Artisan Cheese Festival last weekend and man were they cutting some serious cheese!

Abandoning my family in the early morning, I drove up to Petaluma on Sunday where I volunteered all day at the festival. You could find me walking around – practically floating on a cloud – pinching myself and asking “Is this what heaven looks like?” They even provided me with a “Curd Nerd” apron to wear as I welcomed festival guests into the large white tent (one of two) for the afternoon market event.

There was live bluegrass music, local wine and ale being poured for all carrying a wine glass, delectable prepared foods, even a portable wood-burning oven churning out gorgeous pizzas, but stop the presses there was a sea of tables topped with some of the best cheese I have ever tasted. Let me clearly state the gravity of the situation…I, Anya Soltero, lover of all things ‘cheese’ was surrounded by tons and tons of amazing fresh and aged cheeses, all produced locally! Can you dig it!? Artisan cheese makers included Cypress Grove Chevre, Cowgirl Creamery, Pugs Leap, Point Reyes Farmstead, and dozens of others (full list).

It was such a treat for me to sample a host of new cheeses from dairies that I hadn’t yet heard of and a rare opportunity to talk with representatives from dairies that I am already a devotee of. My day at the festival was fun, educational, heaven for my taste-buds, and the perfect volunteer opportunity. I’m already chomping at the bit to return next year to sample some newcomers and savor some of my favorite cheeses.

Artisan Cheese Fest DSC_0130Capricious and others

A Visit to Harley Farms

I just completed a three-day cheese intensive for aspiring cheese professionals, produced by The Cheese School of San Francisco. This was an incomparable learning experience designed to equip participants with the knowledge they need to procure, sell, care for and serve premium cheeses at a professional level.

We studied cheese classification, the responsibilities of a cheesemonger (a highly trained and skilled seller), tasting and pairing, sales and distribution, as well as the art of cheese making. I have never consumed so much delectable fromage in my life and was floating on a cheese-shaped cloud for three consecutive days.

On day two, we visited Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, California. What an operation! I could envision myself living on this farm with its rustic barns, happy goats, and fresh (and slightly goaty) smelling green pastures. For as long as I can recall, I have loved the fragrance of goat dairy products, and certainly the taste. There’s nothing better than a shmear of fresh chevre on crostini. Harley Farm’s serves as the perfect example of a small dairy operation (with approximately 200 nanny goats), that produces outstanding and attractive goat cheese products.

On our tour, we learned the history of the farm, the dairy operation, and then went out to the pasture for a meet n’ greet with ‘the ladies’. What a friendly and social bunch of nanny goats! After greeting you, they would nibble gently on your coat corners or lovingly nuzzle your hips and elbows. I came away determined to build a small goat family of my own one day. At the very least, I can dream!

After touring the pasture and the milking operation, we went into the cheese production facility. We could see bags of cheese cloth filled with new cheese (milk was first pasteurized, then starter cultures or helpful bacteria was added) hanging over a large sink – the whey separating from the curds into large buckets below. The curds are then skillfully transformed into fresh chevre, goat cheese – some encased in edible flowers and herbs grown on the farm, feta, fromage blanc, not to mention goat’s milk fudge, and other delightful goat’s milk-based products.

I arrived home with my photos of the day and a goodie-bag of fromage blanc, feta, and fudge for my family. After painting the picture of my day, I showed them a slide show. Once they had learned a little about goat cheese production, I spread some of the delicious fromage blanc onto crackers, and topped with fig preserves. Caleb and Sadie were over the moon, gobbling up the goat cheese with wild abandon. I was thrilled to have shared my adventure with my family in some way, and I look forward to introducing them to ‘the ladies’ on a future family fieldtrip.

C is for Cheese

If you know me well enough by now, you’re clear on at least two things…I’m crazy about cheese and I love my City. Can you imagine how happy I was last night to take a cheese class in San Francisco?

After work, I trekked into the City by BART, then jumped on a classic trolley car (F Line) stuffed with tourists, and headed toward the The Cheese School of San Francisco. The class was called Cheeses of France and it felt like I was walking toward the gates of heaven.

Once I arrived, I received a warm welcome and a glass of French white wine (2011 La Cadette de Fiere Côtes de Gascogne). Participants were invited to sit around a large table, which was nicely appointed with gorgeous plates of cheese at every setting, as well as elegant wine glasses, baskets filled with sliced baguette, a ramekin of chutney, and a dish of sweet, ripe strawberries.

The instructor began to walk us through each cheese, placed clockwise on our plate. With such joie de vivre, she described the cheese and what region in France it originated from, had us touch it, smell it, observe the color and texture, and then slowly place a piece in our mouths. We were challenged to slowly savor each sample and observe the reaction on our palates. Was the cheese buttery, salty, sweet, nutty? Did it have a lasting aftertaste? Was it elegant, surprising, reminiscent, palatable? Yes! Yes! Yes!

I slowly devoured each piece, interspersing sips of French wine (we were also served a 2009 Delas, “St. Espirit,” Côtes du Rhône), nibbles of bread, dried fruit, and ripe strawberries. I swear I was levitating above the ground in a transcendent state of cheese bliss.

A few things I learned: you cannot make good cheese with bad milk, it’s not a ‘Brie’ if it’s not made in the Normandy region, raw milk has more flavor, the cheese maker’s style of ladling the curds affects the flavor of the cheese, sourdough bread doesn’t pair well with cheese, and American wines contain too much alcohol to pair effectively with cheese…best to enjoy with French and other wines that contain a lower percentage of alcohol.

I will leave you with a list of the cheeses I sampled and encourage you to visit your local cheese purveyor to explore some of these on your own:

Brillat-Savarin – Triple crème, pairs well with champagne, buttery, grassy, and slightly peppery.

Valençay – One of my favorites! Stinky, creamy, delicious. Pyramid shape – creamy on side, compact in middle. Don’t serve before dinner.

Tomme Crayeuse – Butter scented, creamy, barn-yardy, chalky in middle. Pairs well with Syrah wine, best enjoyed when funkier looking (riper).

Trois Lait – Nutty, high in butterfat, rubbery texture, melts well.

Comté – Equivalent to Switzerland’s Gruyere, nutty, firm, and perfect for fondue.

Époisses – Ooh la la! Salty, ripe, drippy, grassy, wash-rind cheese. Elegant, pungent, and pairs well with a Pinot.

Tomme Brûlée – A Basque shepherd’s cheese – delicious, nutty, rich, and truly tastes like it was made high up in the Pyrenees.

Fourme au Moelleux – The show-stopper! A blue-veined cheese that could be a meal to itself. Rich, salty, and covers your palate completely, leaving your taste-buds absolutely enchanted!

The Cheese School of San Francisco is located at 2155 Powell Street, 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94133

Cheese Glorious Cheese!

We have a new family member, Pascal Tomini. He’s young, pasty, and a little high-maintenance. Pascal is the pet cheese I brought home from the fabulous cheese-making class I participated in at the Cheese Board in Berkeley.

As you can imagine, seconds lapsed between the time I heard about this class and when I registered for it. Any opportunity to stand in the back of the Cheese Board kitchen, with a collection of other cheese devotees, was a huge attraction. I own a book on home cheese making, but am intimidated by the step-by-step process. Having an experienced teacher walk me through each step would make it much more accessible.

On Wednesday evening after work, I met up with my friends Kerry and Jennifer at Cheese Board Pizza, just a few doors down from the Cheese Board (where the class was to be held). It was raining wildly outside as we sat inside, gobbling down delectable slices of pesto covered zucchini pizza, enjoyed with a glass of red wine. Live jazz music was playing at one end of the room, and the place was packed. I could have sat there all evening soaking up the cool Berkeley atmosphere.

It was time to head over to our cheese-making class. We grabbed our umbrellas and walked two doors down to the bakery. Once inside, we were offered white aprons and were ushered to the back of the kitchen where the class was getting underway. Our teacher simply donned a name tag that said “Cow”, so that’s how I’ll refer to her. Cow runs a cheese school called The Milk Maid in San Francisco and is an experienced cheese maker and instructor.

My friends and I stood around the large kitchen prep tables under soft lighting, surrounded by other participants who were as eager to learn the steps involved in cheese-making as we were. I was in heaven! The expansive cheese counter to my left, the large ovens that produce some of the best baked goods I’ve ever delighted in, to my right.

In front of us were cheese forms, a large cookie sheet, and a tiny tray with a sampling of various cheeses made from a variety of processes. Cow explained that we were going to learn how to make a crottin or tomini recipe (a lactic set cheese, best eaten fresh to moderately aged), and then she walked us through the basic steps for making ‘lactic set cheeses’. As I had hoped, the instructor demystified the process, making it accessible and exciting.

The experiential portion of the class involved ladling large curds of cow’s milk into my small plastic form and allowing it to drain over the cookie sheet. After listening to Cow’s clear instructions, we all went home with happy cheese-filled bellies, and our curd-filled cheese forms, soon to evolve into true aged cheese.

So, Pascal Tomini and I drove home together in the rain. I introduced him to the other family members, and then put him to bed on the kitchen counter. Excited to expose Caleb to the cheese-making process, I involved him the next day by having him gently remove the cheese from the form, then sprinkle both sides with salt. We carefully placed Pascal in a Tupperware container (lid not quite on) and then into the fridge.

Over the next few weeks, Caleb and I will follow his progress, turn him over daily, and take in deep inhalations of the promise of good cheese eating to be had.

Stay tuned…