Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fromagerie Guilloteau: Florette

When someone gives you a bag of fresh porcini mushrooms, all other menu plans go out the window.

My roommate's partner has an old tree farm out by Estacada, and he's been collecting pounds and pounds of porcini lately. I had a bag of button mushrooms in the refrigerator because the cheese I was planning on writing about, the goat's-milk version of the Fromager d'Affinois type called Florette, has a lovely mushroomy-herby flavor to it, and I had been mulling over various combinations of mushrooms, apples, and sage to go along with it. When I saw the porcini, I knew exactly what to do.

Florette, and all of the other cheeses grouped under the "Fromager d'Affinois" or "Pavé d'Affinois" label, are bloomy-rind cheeses similar to Brie made of cow, sheep, or goat's milk by Fromagerie Guilloteau, which started production in 1983. They use a technique called "ultrafiltration" (or "microfiltration") which concentrates the fat and milk proteins at the beginning of the cheesemaking process, instead of in the middle. The standard method is to add the coagulant (rennet) to the raw or pasteurized milk, wait for the curd to form, then drain the whey from the curds leaving the milk solids. With the ultrafiltration method, the milk solids are separated before the coagulant is added. According to the company, this ensures that more of the nutrients and proteins are retained - twice the amount of calcium, for example, in the Pavé d'Affinois compared to Brie, and four times the protein. This method also speeds up the production process, with two weeks for ripening instead of six to eight. The company has two main facilities in the Rhône-Alpes region, the original one in Belley (just an hour away from Lake Annecy, where I worked as an au pair many years ago) and a newer one in Pélussin.

Whether you're wandering the foothills of the Cascades or the Alps, if you come across any porcini, you might want to try this recipe. To balance the richness of the cheese and mushrooms, serve with a traditional French salade de carottes râpées.

Sauteed Porcini with Fromage d'Affinois

2 Tbs butter
1/2 tsp minced garlic
3/4 tsp minced fresh sage
3 to 4 fresh porcini, brushed clean
1/4 c water
4 oz Florette, sliced in half and each half split
croûtes (toasted bread rounds)

Melt the butter in a large skillet and saute the garlic and sage over medium-low heat for a minute or two while you slice the mushrooms into 1/8-inch slices vertically, keeping the stem and cap attached where possible. Put the mushroom slices in the pan in one layer and saute for two minutes. Turn the mushroom slices over, add the 1/4 c water to the pan, and cover. Cook for two minutes more. Uncover the pan, flip the mushrooms over carefully, and cook for a final two minutes. Put two or three slices of toasted bread on each of two plates and divide the sauteed mushrooms between them, reserving the liquid in the pan. Top the porcini with the cheese, and drizzle the pan juices over.

Salade de Carottes Râpées

1/4 tsp honey
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs olive oil
3 c grated carrots
3/4 c chopped fresh parsley

Combine the honey, salt, lemon juice, and olive oil in a large bowl until well mixed. Add the carrots and toss to coat thoroughly. Add the parsley and mix well.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Beecher's Handmade Cheese: Flagsheep

Now that I've learned that everything I thought I knew about lactose intolerance and cheese was basically wrong, I've started eating non-goat cheeses again. Of course, it might turn out that I have an allergy to milk, in which case I and my shining dairy-filled future are screwed, but until I get tested (and because ignorance may be bliss in this case, that could be postponed indefinitely) I will merely see what happens when I consume small portions of, for example, aged cheddar. Due to the fact that most of the lactose drains out of the curds during production, and that the long aging leads to the breakdown of much of the remaining lactose, well-aged cheddar has next to no lactose at all.

Beecher's Flagsheep is a mixed cow- and sheep's-milk cheddar that is wrapped in muslin (a style of aging called "clothbound" or "bandaged") for 18 months or so. They do several cow's-milk cheddars in this traditional English style, including one that's aged for four years. Unlike the industrial brick cheddar you might be used to, Flagsheep fractures into shards when cut, following lines of tiny crystals in the paste. The sheep's milk gives it a rounder flavor than cow's milk alone - though I'll have to taste the four-year version and see how deep that becomes through the aging process. Flagsheep won 3rd place in the open/mixed-milk category at the 2011 American Cheese Society competition in August.

Cheddar cheese has a history dating back hundreds of years in England, specifically to the region around the town of Cheddar, where the cheeses are aged in the caves of Cheddar Gorge. During World War II, traditional cheesemaking dropped significantly due to the rerouting of milk to the war effort, and much of the cheese produced was "government cheddar," a processed industrial cheese similar to the "government cheese" distributed in the United States to food stamp recipients and low-income households. Perhaps due to the bland sameness of this product, cheese consumption dropped off, and in the 1960s the British Dairy Council started promoting cheese by marketing the "Ploughman's Lunch" - a plate of cheese, pickles, and bread - as a traditional pub meal, perfect for the working man with little time and a desire for a midday pint. With enough alcohol and mustard-seed brine, I expect any cheese would probably taste all right.

Since I'm the great-granddaughter of a Scottish fisherman, I decided to make a fisherman's lunch today instead. I'd bought some smoked salmon at the market last Saturday from The Smokery, and a jar of hickory-smoke "bacon pickle" from Unbound Pickling, and with a few Walker's oatcakes and the Flagsheep I was all set. Or almost; a raw or pickled onion is often found on a plate of ploughman's lunch, and I had a half onion sitting on the butcher block. I didn't want to eat it raw, nor did I want another pickle, so I decided to pan-roast the onion and give it a touch of sweetness with a whiskey-honey glaze that I thought would emphasize both my Scottish roots and the salty tang of the cheese. Everything worked well together, no matter what I paired: the cheese with the salmon, the pickle with the onion, the onion with the cheese, the pickle with the salmon and a bit of cheese, and bites of the oatcakes in between. No beer required.

Uinnea Ròiste Mealach (Honey-Roasted Onions*)

1/2 medium yellow onion
1/2 Tbs butter
1/2 tsp honey
1 tsp whiskey

Peel the onion and trim the root end just enough to remove the root ball. Slice the onion half into four wedges, making sure the layers stay connected at the root. Melt the butter in a small skillet and lay the onion wedges on their sides in the pan. Cover and cook over low heat for ten minutes. Carefully turn the wedges over and cook covered for another ten minutes. Lift the wedges out to a plate, turn the heat up to medium, and add the honey. Stir to melt the honey and combine with the butter, then add the whiskey and stir well. Place the onion wedges back in the pan and coat both sides with the glaze. Remove from the heat and let cool.

* a totally pathetic attempt at translation into Scottish Gaelic

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Rivers Edge Chèvre: Beltane and Valsetz

Since 2005, Pat Morford at Rivers Edge Chèvre has been producing award-winning artisanal farmstead goat cheese, building on the traditions of French cheesemaking techniques and adding her own innovative touches. The clean-tasting sweet milk produced by her carefully-bred herd of Alpine goats lends itself to a variety of cheese styles, from raw-milk aged tommes to fresh creamy chèvre, plain or layered with basil pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, or truffled honey, in one of her signature tortes. Some of her most popular cheeses are the bloomy rinds (croûte fleurie), which range from small peppercorn-studded crottins to large wheels slashed through with smoky paprika. One of her newest bloomy rind cheeses is Beltane, an ash-coated log of soft curd that has been colored with annatto, a natural vegetable dye that lends a smooth nutty flavor to the ripe cheese along with its distinctive orange-gold color. I've been pairing this cheese with sourdough walnut bread and slices of roasted Delicata squash brushed with a little honey.

One of Pat's first cheeses was the traditional log-shaped Valsetz, named for a former timber town in the Coast Range near Pat's farm in Logsden. It's a versatile cheese with a firm texture and mildly sharp flavor when young, excellent for slicing to top crostini or salads.

As the cheese ages, the paste turns from firm to creamy and the flavor becomes more deeply savory and rounded. While the rind is edible at any stage, some people may not like the intensity and slight bitterness, though I think the combination of the rind with the underlying milky sweetness of the paste is ideal. Again, it's good just smeared across warm toasted bread, but I wanted to pair it with beef for some reason - it's a hearty cheese and can hold its own with any flavors. I headed over to New Seasons to talk with Dave the butcher, who suggested adding it to butter to melt over a steak. That triggered the thought of beurre maître d'hôtel, the compound butter used to top grilled meats, and I decided to turn the meat and topping inside out, stuffing a slice of the cheese into a seasoned beef patty and grilling that. The recipe below makes six small "sliders" that, if I weren't gluten-free, I would put inside buttered toasted mini-brioche, with some sliced summer-ripe tomatoes and cornichons on the side. But they're pretty tasty just by themselves.

Valsetz Sliders

1 1/2 lb 10% ground beef
3/4 c minced fresh parsley leaves
1/2 tsp coarse-ground black pepper
1/8 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh lemon zest and 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice (one medium lemon)

4 oz Valsetz (or other firm log-shaped goat cheese), cut into six 1/2-inch slices

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix the beef, minced parsley, pepper, salt, lemon juice, and lemon zest together and divide the mixture into six portions. Flatten one portion into a thin patty, put one slice of cheese in the middle of the patty, and fold the meat over the cheese to enclose it. Repeat with remaining meat mixture and cheese slices.

Heat an unoiled oven-safe skillet large enough to hold the six patties without crowding over high heat until hot, and add the patties. Sear for one minute on each side, then put the skillet in the oven for three minutes to finish cooking.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Etivaz Cooperative: L'Etivaz AOC

In the Swiss canton of Vaud, along the steep-sloped valley walls above the Saane River near Chateau d'Oex, two dozen families make cheese from May through September during the alpage, when their cows graze the mountainside on herbs and grass and flowers. The families are part of the Etivaz cooperative, 70 producers who follow traditional methods of cheesemaking: only using the milk produced during the summer, culturing the curd with whey saved from the previous day's cheesemaking, and heating the milk and curd in copper pots over an open wood fire. In 2007 I spent a week in Chateau d'Oex and met one of the cheesemakers, François Raynaud, who invited me up to his chalet, Le Rodosex (built in 1860 by his great-uncle), to learn more about the making of this mountain cheese.

Because I didn't have a car, I called a taxi to pick me up at 6:00 a.m. at my cousin's family's chalet in Chateau d'Oex so that I could get up to Le Rodosex in time to see the whole process. I didn't get there quite in time - François had already done the morning milking and was cleaning the outside milking parlor, and Mureille was unwrapping the pressed cheeses from the day before and clearing off the drainage board. Mureille laughed when I arrived, saying, "We've never had a taxi come up to the door here!"

The milk from that morning had already been mixed with the milk from the previous evening and the culture made from leftover whey and heated to approximately 90°F in a copper kettle over the wood fire, and was resting off the heat. While we were waiting for the curd to firm, Mureille and François and I drank coffee and talked about their routine during the year. In the summers, they essentially live in the chalet up on the mountain with their children - the oldest, Corentan, was already helping with the cheesemaking - and in the winter after the desalpage, when the cows come down out of the summer pastures, they move in to their home in Chateau d'Oex where the children go to school. In the winter, the cows are fed the hay grown in fields that are so steeply inclined that the hay has to be cut by hand and the bales brought down by helicopter. At least that's what François told me ... I didn't see any airborne fodder while I was there, but did see some of the lower hayfields, with the combines chugging along tilted at a dangerous 45-degree angle, so I wouldn't be surprised if it were true. Mureille showed me the jars of pickles that she makes using mushrooms from the fields around the chateau; she said that the pickled mushrooms are an excellent accompaniment to the cheese.

Once the curd was firm enough to cut, Mureille and François used a harp and clean dustpans to cut the curd into small bits, and stirred the kettle vigorously to help extract as much of the whey from the curd as possible.

Once the curd was broken down, the cauldron was put back over the fire, and the curd and whey heated to exactly 56.5°C (133.7°F). A generator-powered stirring mechanism kept the mixture moving while it was heating.

François told me about the Etivaz cooperative, and how the communal cheese caves and centralized marketing took a lot of the pressure and cost off his shoulders and guaranteed a steady income. With some of the big-ticket (and time-consuming) aspects of cheesemaking handled by the administration of the cooperative, he was able to focus on taking care of the cows and making the cheese. We got so involved in the conversation that we nearly forgot about the cheese currently being made, but luckily Corentan was watching the gauge, and called out that the milk had reached the target temperature.

François took a large clean square of cheesecloth, dipped it and his arms elbow-deep in cold water, and then with Mureille holding one end of the cloth, plunged his arms into the kettle, under the curd, scooping up half of the curd into the cloth. It took both of them to carry the heavy bag of curd over to the press. François told me that the cold-water treatment helped him not feel the heat of the whey - at least not too much. Each kettle full of curd makes two cheeses. According to the Etivaz website, François makes 3,500 cheeses each season, but I'm not quite sure where that number comes from because that's ten times the number I calculate he could make at two per day for five months. I'll have to go back and ask.

The cheese was left to drain for half an hour in the molds while Corentan and François scrubbed out the kettle and cleaned the rest of the equipment. François then flipped the cheeses over and added a label made of casein (a milk protein) to identify each cheese. He's given a set of labels at the beginning of each season, showing his producer code, the Etivaz identifier, and the sequential number of the cheese.

The cheeses are flipped and put back in the press after another hour, again at noon, and turned a final time after the evening's milking is done. By covering the press and molds, François is able to keep the cheese from drying out too quickly, and maintains an even temperature in the quick chill of the mountain nights.

In a small closet off the main room, François keeps the cheeses on wooden shelves, covered in cloth, between three and seven days before taking them to the caves at the cooperative in Etivaz. Each day, the ripening cheeses are scrubbed with salt and turned over on the shelves. While François washed the cheeses, Mureille used some of the whey she'd saved to make the culture for the next day's batch, and poured it in a thermos to sit overnight.

Although he hadn't planned on taking a batch of cheeses in to Etivaz that day, François was kind enough to go ahead of schedule so that I could see the facilities. He and Corentan loaded up a half-dozen cheeses in the truck, and we drove off past the cows along the winding mountain roads to the cooperative's headquarters.

The Etivaz cooperative was started in the 1930s to help local cheesemakers succeed by providing them a place to age and store their cheeses, something that would remove the difficulty of finding adequate space and time to tend the cheeses, and give the cheese a controlled place to ripen, which would help guarantee its quality, and therefore improve the chances of successfully marketing and selling the cheese. The original storage facility quickly proved to be too small, and it was expanded in the 1940s, again in 1974, and then in 1986 and 2005. They're in the process of building up again, and construction of the new caves should be completed next year.

Each producer brings their marked cheeses in and the workers at the caves move them to the specific sections reserved for that producer. Once the cheeses are in the caves, François doesn't have to worry about them any more; the cooperative is in charge of the brining, aging, marketing, selling, and distribution.

There is a special section set aside for particulary good cheeses, as identified by the cooperative's affineurs, to age an additional six months at a lower humidity. These cheeses are designed to be shaved thin, where the moister, younger cheeses are eaten in larger blocks or used for cooking.

The facility is so large, and holds so many cheeses, that they use robots to turn and brine the cheeses. This machine rolls along the aisles, using a mini-forklift to carefully grab each cheese, dunk it in a saline solution, and flip it over before placing it back on the shelf. The shelves are made of spruce boards that have been left rough-hewn, not planed smooth.

In 1999, Etivaz gained AOC designation (appellation d'origine contrôlée), and is now one of ten Swiss AOC cheeses, along with Gruyère, Tête de Moine, and Sbrinz. No one in the Portland area carries this cheese, though Katie at Pastaworks said they used to several years ago. I'll just have to go back to the high green fields of the Vaud, and get some straight from the source.