Tag Archives: Cheese

The Cowgirls’ Guide to Cheese and Potato Gratin

Cowgirls gratin

Posted by Lynda Balslev 

I am not gonna lie. I am a cheese fanatic. Those of you who know me already know this. I adore cheese, and relish serving it on pretty boards, tumbled into salads and cooked with gratins, pastas, eggs, you name it. I even call it dessert when given the choice. I think I know a little about cheese, gleaning knowledge from my international life, tasting, favoriting and cooking with locally produced cheese from the various countries I’ve called home and traveled to. People ask me about cheese, seek recommendations, and even pay me to create lavish baskets and wooden boards covered with blocks, rounds, wedges, and slabs of mild, creamy, floral, moldy cheese. And then I met this book: Cowgirl Creamery Cooks and realized that while I know about cheese, the gals at Cowgirl live it. And I envy them.

cowgirl book

Sue Conley and Peggy Smith are the Cowgirls behind the Marin creamery, located in Point Reyes, California. They met in college, and have both worked as chefs in Berkeley restaurants before launching Tomales Bay foods, which promoted West Marin’s farms and dairies to Bay area chefs. From there it was a quick leap to producing their own cheese from locally produced milk from Strauss Family Creamery. Nearly 20 years later, the Cowgirls are known throughout the Bay area and beyond, garnering numerous awards, including the induction into the Guilde des Fromagers.

This book is a great read for cheese lovers and organic food aficionados. Not only is it Conley and Smith’s personal story, it’s a how-to on all things cheese – including tasting, buying, storing, and pairing with 75 recipes and photographs by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton. It will entertain and enlighten, and most importantly, leave you very hungry. Here is a taster.

Red Hawk Potato Gratin

Red Hawk is a rich triple-crème washed-rind cheese with a strong aroma and mellow flavor. Camembert may be substituted. Serves 6 to 8.

Recipe reprinted with permission from Cowgirl Creamery Cooks

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, julienned
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup heavy cream
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
10 ounces Red Hawk cheese, cut into 16 wedges

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat a cast iron skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and olive oil to the pan. When the butter has melted, add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and add the cream and half of the Parmesan.

2.Transfer half of the onion-cream mixture to a glass 13 by 9-inch baking dish or casserole. Arrange half the potatoes in an overlapping layer on top of the mixture, and then top with 8 of the Red Hawk wedges. Add the remaining potatoes in an even layer, the remaining half of the Red Hawk, and the remaining onion-cream mixture. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.

3. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the top is browned and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Let the casserole cool for 10 to 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Cowgirl Creamery Cooks. All opinions are my own. 

Holiday Entertaining: Perfecting the Cheese Board

Food52 Cheese BasketDuring the party season, let the cheese board take center stage. Cheese and charcuterie are a perfect accompaniment to cocktails, and, with a little thought, provide a stunning centerpiece. I never tire of arranging cheese platters and baskets, using the season and holidays for inspiration. For this wintry cheese basket I picked sturdy deeply colored greens with firm, spiky and frizzy leaves to provide the bed and border and studded it with woody gnarled garnishes such as burdock root and Jerusalem artichokes. The cheese selection was equally hearty and texturally diverse: Ash-rubbed goat cheese, crumbling blue veined gorgonzola, a pungent brandy-washed rind cheese, and billowy soft white cheese. The crisps and crackers were dark, rough and seeded, weaving through the cheese like paths in a forest. cheeseboard tf A cheese board can be lavish or simple. No matter the size or level of fanciness, try to balance your cheese selection in strength, texture, flavor and color. As a simple rule of thumb, serve a blue, a soft white molded cheese such as Camembert, a goat cheese and a hard alpine cow or sheep milk cheese. Vary the shapes as well, choosing wedges, bricks and molded rounds. cheese Use edible garnishes and decorations with a variety of colors and textures that emphasize the season. Snipped rosemary sprigs, mustard greens, chicories, purple kale, frisée, miniature red pears, black radishes, burdock root, gourds, black olives, pumpkins seeds, dried currants and cranberries are all great cold weather decorations. Scatter the crisps and snacks throughout the board, piled in small bowls or nestled in cabbage heads or radicchio leaves. Nuts and seeds, black sesame rice crackers, dried fruit and nut crisps, crisp flatbread, and chunks of dense fig and almond cake are perfect for December. Arrange the cheese on a background of black slate or a weathered cutting board, or place a cutting board in a large wide basket. Arrange smaller wooden plates or decorative bowls on the boards to fill with olives, nuts or to contain runny cheese. Finally, don’t skimp – enjoy and don’t hold back! cheese garnish

Figs and Brie

fig cheese tastefood

Figgy cheese – or would that be cheesy figs?

Simplicity combined with fresh ingredients is the essence of great summer food. There need not be a lot of fuss when produce is at it’s peak in flavor. Keep it simple so that nature’s flavors shine through. I made these figs as an appetizer the other night with a minimum of ingredients in 10 minutes. You can too.

Oven Roasted Figs and Brie with Thyme

Drizzle a little honey over the figs after they roast, if desired. These figs were so sweet and sublime I chose not to add anymore sugar. These figs are also delicious on crostini.

Makes 12

6 large ripe fresh figs, halved lengthwise
4 ounces soft rind cheese, such as brie, camembert, reblechon
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh thyme sprigs

Heat the oven broiler. Place the figs in a cast iron pan or baking dish cut-side up. Slice the cheese and cut in squares no larger than the width of the figs. Lay the slices in the center of the figs. Broil until the cheese is melted and lightly golden. Remove from the oven and drizzle with a little olive oil. Lightly season with a few pinches of salt and a grinding or two of black pepper. Garnish with fresh thyme. Serve immediately.

More fig inspiration:
Prosciutto Wrapped Figs with Goat Cheese and Rosemary from TasteFood
Grilled Figs with Honeyed Mascarpone from the Kitchn
Roasted Fig Flatbreads with Chevre and Greens from Annie Eats

More Castello Moments: A Recipe Roundup

Castello

This is a sponsored post.

Where there’s cheese there’s a crowd – at least in my house. A few weeks ago I posted on my great luck to receive a sampling of Castello Cheese. Well, we are still noshing on them – and so are a number of other bloggers who’ve had the opportunity to sample Castello’s new Triple Alpine range of cheese. For more recipe inspiration check out their delicious posts:

Seaweed & Sassafras – Braised Short Rib French Onion Soup
The Roasted Root – Wine and Cheese Pairing 101
Anecdotes & Apples – Lemon Artichoke Pesto Pasta
An Edible Mosaic – Savory Cheese Crackers
Lemon Sugar – Potato Gratin
Shared Appetite – Four Creative Crostini Recipes
Foodie Fiasco – Cauliflower Au Gratin
Fun & Food Café – Cheese & Jam Cookies
My Humble Kitchen – Roasted Sausages and Vegetables with Garden Pesto
The Daring Gourmet – German Picnic Salad
Kitchenette – Beer & Cheese Pairing
Lizzy Pancakes – Roasted Garlic, Beer & Cheese Dip
Itsy Bitsy Foodies – Three Cheese Flatbread
The Village Cook – Spinach & Cheese Bake
29 Calories – Baked 2 Cheese Dhokla
Girl Chef – Cheese Tasting & Pairing
Blogging over Thyme – Triple Alps Cheese Gougeres
The BCritic – A Gooey Affair
Fritos and Foie Gras – Alpine Pizza
Nourish Your Life – Alpine Cheese & Caramelized Onion Biscuits
Homemade Delish – Triple Alps Cheese Souffle
From Brazil to You – Castello Moments Paignets
Cooking with Chester – Broccoli & Red Onion Quesadillas
Camile – Chive Chili Cheese Souffle
Cooking with Books – Cheese Platter Perfection
30A EATS – Shrimp Tacos
The Colors of Indian Cooking – Cheesefest

Win a Private Cheese Tasting in your own home – enter by clicking on the banner below. Castello Momenst and this post is a collaboration between TasteFood and Arla Foods USA.

Win Castello Cheese Tasting

Castello Moments: Cheese Inspiration and Recipes

Castello

This post is sponsored by Castello Cheese – a brand that is near and dear to my heart. The recipes and opinions are my own.

There’s something infinitely pleasing about serving a singular slab of cheese as a cheese course. I’m not talking about the dainty pre-cut triangles in the supermarket; I’m talking about a giant quarter of a wheel weighing in at a hefty 4 pounds. While you can get all pretty and fancy with a cheese assortment and garnishes, sometimes size indeed matters. In the case of a 50 years birthday party on a beach for a good friend, one huge hunk seemed appropriate. We plunked it on a board and passed around the knives. Everyone dug in and before we could say “happy birthday” the cheese was gone. It was primitively perfect.

I don’t usually have a 4 pound block of cheese parked in my refrigerator, but, luckily for me and our fellow party goers, I had recently received 3 samples of Castello’s new line of alpine cheese to taste and review. Castello is a brand of cheese I know well from our life in Denmark, and the mere mention of its name elicits fond memories and misty eyes in my family. When I learned that Castello had a new line of alpine cheese they wished to promote I couldn’t resist. After all, we also lived many years in Switzerland, and some of our favorite cheese hails from Europe’s mountain regions.

Castello Hirten was our hands down favorite, a crumbly, nutty cheese with hints of caramel and flecks of salt crystals. Imagine a blend of the finest Parmigiano Reggiano and an aged Gouda or Prima Donna cheese. This cheese deserves to be eaten straight up with a glass of jammy red wine or Port. If you manage to save enough for cooking, it’s also a fine grating cheese and a robust alternative to aged Parmgiano or salty Pecorino Romano. Serve it grated over hearty pasta dishes, such as Pappardelle with Pork Ragu.

pork ragu tf

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Castello Classic
is a smoother cheese with the grassy floral notes found in French Comté or a mild Gruyère. Serve it as a mild cheese course with light to medium bodied red wine or white burgundy. This is my favorite cheese for a gratin or fondue, as it melts beautifully while imparting a strength of flavor without overwhelming. It stands up well to earthy kale in these individual Kale Gratins.

kale gratinee

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Castello Weissbier is the mildest cheese, smooth and buttery in flavor and texture. It’s a perfect melty cheese for your favorite family-friendly dishes such as Mac ‘n Cheese or a cheesy pizza such as Broccoli Rabe and Sausage Pizza.

Broccoli Rabe Pizza TasteFood


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Win a Private Cheese Tasting in your home – enter by clicking on the banner below. Castello Moments and this post is in collaboration between TasteFood and Arla Foods USA.

Win Castello Cheese Tasting

Alpine Cheese Fondue

fondue vignette
~ Alpine Cheese Fondue ~
(from the TasteFood archives, because it’s that time of year)

It perplexes me when the subject of cheese fondue comes up, and it’s often accompanied by a snide reference to the seventies. I find it sad that this quintessential alpine dish is relegated to a by-gone era evoking images of shag rugs, unfortunate hair and textured bell-bottoms. Certainly this was not intended when the rural inhabitants of Swiss and French mountainous villages devised a warming winter dish incorporating their local cheese and winter staples.

I may be biased. I was never a fan of the seventies, even when I lived in them. Conversely, I am a huge fan of Switzerland. After all, I lived there for 10 years following my stint at cooking school in Paris. My husband and I were married in Switzerland, and our children were born there. As a result, Switzerland holds a special place in our hearts and will always be considered home to our family.

The best way to a country’s soul is to experience its cuisine. As an expat in Geneva it was a delicious pleasure to embrace Swiss specialties, namely chocolate and cheese. We’ll leave the chocolate for another post. As for the cheese, we enjoyed it in all of its forms, and the Swiss tradition of melting it in deep pots with wine and spirits quickly became a favorite. When we eventually moved from Geneva to London, and then on to Copenhagen, I became more reliant on making my own version of fondue for wintry family dinners to satisfy our wistful cravings.

This recipe has been tweaked and fine-tuned over the years, influenced by taste and available ingredients. In addition to serving it with the usual bread, I like to pass around bowls of parboiled baby potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli florets for dipping.

Alpine Cheese Fondue

Do not skimp on the cheese. Purchase the best quality, cave-aged Swiss or French alpine cheese you can find such as Gruyère, Emmental, Comté, Beaufort. I like to use 2/3 Gruyere and 1/3 Emmental.

Serves 6

1/4 cup Calvados or Poire William brandy
3 to 4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for serving
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3 cups dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1  garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 pounds high quality alpine cheese, grated
1 large loaf peasant-style or levain bread, cut in 3/4 inch cubes

Note: Have all of your ingredients ready before you begin. Once you start, the fondue will come together quickly, and during this time it must be constantly stirred. The fondue must not come to a boil during this time.

Combine Calvados, cornstarch, salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and nutmeg in a small bowl, stirring to dissolve the cornstarch. Set aside.
Add wine and garlic to a large heavy saucepan or fondue pot. Heat over medium heat until tiny bubbles form, giving the wine a fizzy appearance without bringing to a boil. Add cheese one handful at a time, stirring constantly until each handful is melted before adding the next – do not let the fondue boil.
Once cheese is added, continue stirring one minute – do not let the fondue boil.
Stir in cornstarch. Continue stirring until mixture thickens to fondue consistency. (I find that some cornstarch brands thicken more easily than others. If your fondue remains thin, add 1 more tablespoon cornstarch diluted with 2 tablespoons white wine.) Remove from heat. Pour cheese into a warm fondue pot if necessary. Serve immediately.

Serve with extra ground pepper, bread and parboiled vegetables such as small potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli florets.

A Taste of Italy and a recipe for Montasio Frico

In the lead up to San Francisco’s Fancy Food Show, I was invited by Legends from Europe to a sneak preview and tasting of their products and a cooking demonstration by award winning chef, author, and restauranteur Joanne Weir. I needed no prodding to accept.

Legends from Europe is a 3 year campaign funded by the European Union and launched in the U.S. to increase awareness and celebrate “the legendary quality, tradition and taste” of five authentic PDO products (Protected Designation of Origin) from Europe: Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di San Daniele, Grana Padano and Montasio. These happen to be 5 of my favorite products to cook with and to eat. I know them well from when I lived in Europe, and now that I live in the US, I continue to use them – either presented on a cheese and charcuterie board or integrated in a number of my recipes. It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of rustic European cuisine, and each of these superior products bring a little taste of old world Europe to my California kitchen.

joanne weir

~ Joanne Weir presenting her  Montasio Frico ~

Not only am I a fan of Legends products, I am equally a fan of Joanne Weir, an award winning chef, author, television personality and chef-owner of the popular Copita Tequileria y Comida in Sausalito. As an added treat for this event, Weir created 5 mouthwatering recipes with the Legends products including Endive with Prosciutto San Daniele and Gradano; Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Brown Butter and Parmigiano Reggiano; and a Fennel Radicchio and Arugula Salad with Shaved Grana Padano. My 2 favorites (which says a lot) were a Prosciutto di Parma wrapped Halibut on a bed of Spiced Lentils and a sinfully rich Montasio Frico – a crispy wafer-thin cheese and potato tart for which I would have no qualms to wrestle my children for the last bite. Finally, to complete the experience, each dish was perfectly paired with a wine selected by Elisabetta Fagioli representing Cantine Giacomo Montresor, a well known Italian wine producer in Verona Italy.

halibut prosciutto~ Prosciutto di Parma-Wrapped Halibut with Spiced Lentils and Arugula ~

Of the 5 products represented by Legends from Europe, Montasio is perhaps the least well-known. Montasio cheese is a firm cows milk cheese that ranges in color from ivory (fresh or young aged) to straw yellow (medium aged). Its origins  may be traced back to a 17th century mountain monastery in the Alps of Friuli Venezia Giulia in Northeastern Italy. The fresh cheese is mild and delicate in flavor while the aged cheese is firmer in body with more strength in flavor. Fresh Montasio cheese is used in making the Friulan cheese crisp known as frico.

Montasio Frico with Bacon and Potatoes – recipe courtesy of Joanne Weir

For a vegetarian option, omit the bacon.

2 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2/3 cup sliced and boiled potatoes
5 ounces Montasio cheese, shredded

Cook the bacon until golden in an 8-inch non-stick pan over medium heat. Pour off all of the fat. Add the cheese and cook until the cheese is melted and the edges are golden brown. The frico should be firm enough that it moves in the pan. (You may have to use a spatula and shake the pan a little). Blot with paper towels if there is an excess of oil on the top.

Place the potatoes in a single layer on the cheese. Invert a plate onto the top and turn the pan and the plate. Slide the frico back into the pan. Continue to cook until the second side is golden and the inside is still a little soft. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.

Disclaimer: I was not paid to write this post and all opinions are my own.

Onion Soup au Gratin

onion soup au gratin

~ More Bowl-Food: French Onion Soup au Gratin ~

When I think  of winter I think of skiing and fireside dinners at the end of an active day spent outdoors. I think of warm, rich, soul-satisfying meals that are deeply flavorful and nourishing. I think of French Onion Soup.

The key to a good onion soup is time and patience. I’ve written about this before, and there is no denying that the best way to attain a full flavored onion soup – the one with a mahogany burnished broth, butter rich and slick with caramelized onions – is to cook the onions for a long long time. As they cook, they will sweat, break down, release their juices, caramelize and melt into a sweet slump of slurp worthy soup. I’ve posted a recipe which requires 3 hours of slow cooking in the oven, and by all means if you have the time to do this I encourage you to do so. But if you are spending the day skiing the slopes of your favorite mountain (lucky you) or simply working during the week, 3 hours of cooking is simply not possible without a crock pot.

So here is a recipe that still respects the time involved to extract the sweet goodness of onions, yet may be prepared in little over one hour. This gives you plenty of time to warm up from the cold, stoke the fire, pour some wine and relax by the fireplace before your soup is ready.

Onion Soup au Gratin

This soup is very rich, even without the gratineed bread. For a simple rustic meal serve with a big green salad and a platter of salami and cured meats.

Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
5 large yellow onions, about 3 pounds, thinly sliced
3 leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced
Salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 cups organic beef stock
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup Calvados brandy
Freshly ground black pepper

6 slices peasant style or Levain bread, 3/4-inch thick
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere and/or Emmental cheese

Melt the butter with the oil in a large Dutch-oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, leeks and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook until the onions begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Remove lid and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring from time to time until onions are dark golden brown, about 45 minutes. (As a brown crust forms on the bottom of the pot, be sure to stir it up into the onions). When the onions are golden, sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add wine and bring to a boil. Add 4 cups stock, Calvados, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Stir to blend, and add additional stock to desired consistency. Simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

While the soup is cooking, prepare the bread. Heat oven to 350 F. Place bread on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven off without removing the bread. Leave bread in until crisp, about 15 more minutes.

Heat oven broiler. Ladle soup into oven-proof bowls or crocks. Cover the soup with bread slices. Sprinkle cheese over the bread. Broil until bread is golden and cheese is bubbly, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve hot.

If you like this you might enjoy these recipes from TasteFood:
Pate de Campagne with Cranberries and Pistachios
Caramelized Onion Tart
Anelletti Pasta with Bacon, Peas and Sweet Potato

Thanksgiving Side: Spinach Gratin with Cheesy Breadcrumbs

~ Spinach Gratin with Cheesy Breadcrumbs ~

You might also call this a “fill-in-the-blank gratin.” I had spinach in the fridge, but other sturdy greens such as kale or Swiss chard will work equally well in this recipe. The preparation is simple, consisting of sautéing the greens-of-your-choice, followed by a quick nap of cream. A crunchy topping of breadcrumbs and cheese finishes the gratins in the oven. And I dare say if there is someone in your family who is less inclined to favor these leafy superfoods, this gratin may be just the vehicle to get them munching.

Spinach Gratin

There is no thickener such as egg or flour in this recipe, so the results are akin to creamed spinach in a cup, with a cheesy breadcrumb topping. Because of this, I like to serve the gratin in individual ramekins. Makes enough for 4 individual gratins.

1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
12 ounces fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped if large
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 375 F. Mix breadcrumbs, cheese and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper together in a small bowl; set aside. Heat oil in a large pot or deep skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and red chili flakes. Sauté 1 minute. Add spinach, cover pot and cook over medium-low heat until leaves soften, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cream and salt. Simmer, uncovered, 1 minute. Divide spinach between 4 (3/4-cup) ramekins. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese. Bake in oven until tops are golden and gratins are bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve warm.

If you like this, you might enjoy these seasonal gratin recipes:
Potato Gratins from TasteFood
Broccoli Blue Cheese Gratin from Leite’s Culinaria
Roasted Yellow Beet and Ricotta Tian from TasteFood
Artichoke Hearst au Gratin from Kalyn’s Kitchen
Cauliflower au Gratin from TasteFood

Potato Gratins

Yes, that’s potato gratins in the plural – not singular. I made these last weekend. Not only are they very cute in their individual ramekins, they are also elegantly and cleverly portioned. This ensures that you will be less likely to find yourself gobbling up half a baking dish of gratinéed potatoes or wrestling your child for the last crunchy cheesy corner stuck to the rim. Just saying. It happens.

Potato Gratins

A mandoline works best for thinly slicing the potatoes. Keep the skins on for extra nutrients and texture to balance out all of the cheesy goodness. Makes 8.

Unsalted butter
2 cups full-fat sour cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds small white, Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold potatoes, washed, very thinly sliced – no more than 1/8 inch thick
8 ounces grated Gruyère cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter 8 3/4-cup ramekins. Whisk sour cream, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper together in a bowl. Arrange 2 layers of potatoes overlapping in ramekins. Top with a heaping teaspoon of sour cream, spreading to cover the potatoes. Sprinkle with cheese. Repeat layering process, occasionally sprinkling with additional salt and pepper, until ramekins are full, gently pressing down on each layer. Finish with a layer of sour cream and grated cheeese. Arrange ramekins on a baking tray. Bake until potatoes are tender and top is brown and bubbling, about 1 hour. (If top browns before potatoes are fully cooked, lightly cover with foil to prevent burning.) Serve hot.