Burrata is back!

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It is with much happiness that we can report…Burrata is back! The truth is, all the cheeses which we sell in our Cheese Shop are delicious. They each have their own personality, unique flavor profiles and textures which speak to palates of all sorts. But there are a handful of special items which we don’t have all the time, and which when they return are met with joyful abandon. Burrata is one of those.

Burrata, Italian for buttered and pronounced “boor-ah-tah”, is a luscious jewel box made of mozzarella on the outside and filled with cream and tiny shreds of mozzarella on the inside. Need I say more? It’s the Fabergé egg of food. It looks like what Gucci would make if they made drawstring purses out of cheese.

These beautiful, bright white balloons of mozzarella, when popped, exude an oozy, cream-filled center. If you already like fresh mozzarella, you’re going to love Burrata. It’s wonderful as a topping for crusty bread or dotted on top of a pizza, but really shines as the star in a Caprese Salad in place of standard fresh mozzarella. When the creamy contents are mixed with a drizzling of olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar, the dressing it makes for heirloom tomatoes is out of this world!

Originally Burrata in Italy was made with the milk of water buffaloes; these days it is more often made with cow’s milk. After working with several brands both domestic and imported, we decided our favorite was Luizzi Angeloni Cheese, from North Haven, CT. A multi-year American Cheese Society award winner, Luizzi Cheese is a fifth generation artisanal cheesemaker utilizing rBST hormone free milk from dairies in Vermont and New York.

Jump into warm weather now with a container of fresh Burrata. You can enjoy it by itself or by using it with any of these recipes: http://www.finecooking.com/ingredient/burrata 8oz $8.99

Welcome, The Goat Days Of Summer

jumping baby goat Forget the Dog Days of [Minnesota] Summer. We've got GOAT. As the sun scorches down in the Midwest and outdoor activities reach their screaming peak (hello, Minnesota State Fair!), is there really a better animal to ring in the final month of summer than a frolicking baby goat? Here at the France 44 - St. Paul Cheese Shops, we're totally torqued to take advantage of the weather and produce and sandy beaches of August, all with a little tangy goat cheese by our side.

One of our favorites is a triple-creme round called Kunik. It's made at Nettle Meadow Goat Farm & Sanctuary in Warrensburg, New York. Over 300 goats of all ages call the farm home, from energetic little kids to geriatric "retired" goats that just want to laze and graze. The farm also houses llamas, chickens, ducks, and provides a safe space for rescued farm animals. (If you've always wanted to adopt a pet goat, this is the place for you.)

Kunik cheese

Nettle Meadow's Kunik is actually a delicate mixture of goat and cow's milk. It's a great cheese for converting goat cheese haters because, while goat's milk brings a tangy, herbal character to this cheese, the cow's milk tempers it into something luscious and buttery. It also happens to be an organic cheese made with vegetable rennet instead of the traditional animal rennet.

We've collected a few of our favorite staff pairings for this cheese, so we can enjoy it all month long. See if you can try them all before the golden light of September sets in.

Enjoy Nettle Meadow Kunik with...

• Red Table Royal Ham; salty, herbaceous pork plays well with tangy, lactic goat cheese [Carol Ann]

• A spoon! Or eat it wtih some tart American Spoon Sour Cherry Preserves [Sam]

• Frog's Leap Sauvignon Blanc; crisp and creamy [Natalie]

• Skinny Jake's urban honey; this combination makes both the honey and the cheese even better [Peter]

• Grace & I Ghost Pepper Peach + Preserves! [Mallory, while doing a back flip of joy]

• Ames Farm Single Source Buckwheat Honey; yeasty and surprising [Emily]

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Feelin' Territorial: Cheese Terroir

English Territorials Map What is a territorial cheese? At first listen, it might sound like a rather possessive breed of dog. In reality the term refers to a group of cheeses that honor time and the tradition of cheese making. These cheeses acquire their names from the land that they come from. We’ve all seen new innovative methods of cheese making pop up over the years. But what I’m talking about are the classics, the OG’s, those wonderful black and white films that started it all.

Here’s a tiny bit of history: The cheese world almost suffered an inconceivable loss in the 1900s. During the world wars, many cheese makers were forced to make government cheese to help the cause. Many of the traditional farmhouse wheels--which were common at the time--began to transform into orange and white blocks wrapped in plastic. And then there was the beginning of the Milk Marketing Board in the 1930s, which put pressure on small cheese makers. Pretty soon, cheese had gone from a complex, region-specific delight to a mass-produced product washed of its many unique identities.

Luckily, territorial cheeses have made a comeback! Territorials celebrate what once was. They are the originals. And much like great wine, these wheels of cheese express terroir, meaning they speak to a unique plot of land and elements that can't be replicated just anywhere. If you want to take a trip back through time and experience tradition, all you have to do is taste a Territorial.

Here are a few of our favorites from England:

Appleby's Cheshire The eldest, Appleby’s Cheshire, is the serious, studious type, spending her time at the library in Shropshire with a good book and a tasty apple. She’s got a clean and refreshing vibe that is both sophisticated and accommodating. As the last traditional Cheshire around, Appleby's is truly a farmhouse cheese. The flavor has a mineral tinge that comes from the cows' diet of maize, slow growing grass, and grass silage (fermented, high-moisture dried grass).

Kirkham's Lancashire Then there's Kirkham’s Lancashire from Lancashire. This is definitely the frivolous and intuitive sibling of the bunch. Lancashire's texture is positively cloud like. I’ve never come across something so fluffy and rich in one bite. It seems impossible! Cheese maker Graham Kirkham combines three days of curd in his process and allows his milk to develop more naturally than most by using very little starter culture. Oh, and let’s not forget the wonderful butter seal that is rubbed on each wheel. Lancashire's delightful texture is matched by rich and tangy flavors that wash over your taste buds.

Hawe's Wensleydale And last but not least, Hawe’s Wensleydale, the young headstrong gal from North Yorkshire. This little lady has survived, despite almost being shut down and moved to Lancashire in the early nineties. Cheese makers and locals alike rallied together to keep this favorite of Wallace and Gromit where it belonged--in Wensleydale. I love this cheese because it completely evolves in your mouth. Wensleydale is soft and supple near the rind and then gets crumbly in the center. Awesome.

Step back in time and taste what cheese used to be and could be once again. These cheeses hold on to tradition and embody the land. Not to mention, they're delicious!

--Katie Renner, Cheese Buyer

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What's The Deal With Raw Milk Cheese?

why_raw This post was originally written for and published by Serious Eats in 2014.

Raw, or unpasteurized, milk has been a controversial topic for quite some time, with strong arguments on each side. But with the FDA's recently increased inspections on raw milk cheese, the debate has picked up new steam—some believe it's the agency's first step toward changing current regulations, or even banning raw milk cheese altogether.

Given the depth and breadth of this particular dispute, there's simply too much to tackle here (we've got it covered in more detail right this way). But in short, some people believe that raw milk cures allergies and a host of other ailments, while others think raw milk in any form is incredibly dangerous. As someone who sells raw milk cheeses for a living, I obviously have a natural bias on this topic. But before I go into my own reasons, let's take a look at the basics —here's what you need to know about raw milk cheese:

  • Pasteurization kills pathogens such as Listeria and e. Coli (plus others like Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella) which can be present in raw milk. Opponents of raw milk assert that the only truly safe cheese is pasteurized cheese.
  • Cows kept in dirty, confinement conditions are much more likely to develop udder infections or other illnesses that can contaminate milk.
  • Raw milk proponents argue that milk from well-treated cows kept in sanitary conditions is safe and pathogen free.
  • If you want to purchase raw milk cheese in the United States, it must have been aged for a minimum of 60 days, whether it's produced domestically or imported from another country. The "60 days rule," which was designed to allow the acids and salt in cheese enough time to destroy harmful bacteria, was set back in 1949 with an almost total lack of scientific evidence. It is, in fact, an arbitrary number.
  • This means traditional raw milk cheeses such as Camembert (which is aged for only two weeks) can only be imported in their pasteurized forms.
  • Pasteurization is not a guarantee against bacterial contamination of cheese. There have been outbreaks of pathogens in both raw and pasteurized cheeses.
  • Though extremely rare, bacterial contamination from cheese (whether raw or not) can be quite dangerous.

Politics aside, we have some phenomenal raw milk cheese makers in the United States. Every raw milk cheese maker understands that the stakes are very high. If these producers aren't fastidious with the cleanliness of their operation, they run the risk of not only potentially endangering consumers, but also bringing negative attention to all raw milk cheese makers. They take their responsibility very seriously and that is undoubtedly the reason why food-borne illness from raw milk cheese is very rare. According to the CDC, there have been 27 outbreaks traced back to raw milk cheeses between 1993 and 2006.

Even with so few incidents, why take the risk? Many argue that raw milk cheeses are more delicious than pasteurized cheeses—pasteurization kills not only potentially harmful bacteria, but also other bacteria that are responsible for infusing cheese with natural, spunky, exciting flavors that can't be simply replicated. Heating milk to high temperatures changes its composition, for better or for worse. But you can count me in the group that believes raw milk cheeses really do have deeper flavor profiles that ought to be appreciated. Here's a list of some of my favorite, domestically-produced raw milk cheeses. Check them out and see for yourself:

Cato Corner Hooligan, Colchester, Connecticut This cheese stinks! In the best way possible. Cato Corner's Mark Gillman quit his job as a teacher to return to his family farm and become a cheese maker. Mark once sent us cheese so afflicted by stink that the DHL delivered it to us in a bright yellow metal hazardous materials drum (true story). Cato Corner's washed-rind Hooligan is rusty orange, and when made with fat winter milk, it bulges at its rind. Perfectly ripe Hooligan is meaty and practically cries out for a Belgian ale to gulp alongside it.

Meadow Creek Grayson

Meadow Creek Grayson, Galax, Virginia More washed-rind madness. The first time this cheese arrived at our shop it filled the whole space with an aroma that can best be described as cow poop. Square, Halloween-hued wheels of Grayson evoke Taleggio but pack a much beefier punch. Let this (and all cheese!) come to a perfect room temperature and the paste will soften and become silky. Then pair Grayson with some dried figs and a medium-bodied red wine.

Consider Bardwell Manchester, Pawlet, Vermont There aren't many producers of aged, raw goat cheeses in the US. They're finicky to make, and many goat cheese producers focus on fresh style cheeses. But luckily, we've got Manchester. It is a visually stunning cheese, with a mottled, natural rind that reveals snow white paste. Deep, earthy wheels of Manchester vary from batch to batch—sometimes they're a little sweeter and creamier, sometimes a bit funkier and drier. However you find it, Manchester is always well-balanced, with just the right amount of acidity.

Spring Brook Tarentaise, Reading, Vermont Behold, the French Alps in Vermont! Modeled after the famous French cheeses Abondance and Beaufort, Tarentaise is a pure representation of the pastures of Vermont. 100% Jersey cow milk is transformed in copper vats into twenty-pound wheels which are aged for a minimum of ten months. Nutty, caramel-like, and slightly sweet, Tarentaise makes a sublime grilled cheese sandwich.

Vermont Shepherd, Putney, Vermont One of the first artisan sheep milk producers in the United States and still one of the best. David Major's cheese making is dialed in so well that he includes a card with every wheel describing his flock's diet on the day that particular batch of cheese was made. Vermont Shepherd is made for only a short period of time each year, when the sheep are out on pasture and supplies of cheese remain limited. David Major's daughter worked at one of our shops for a time and even that didn't help us obtain any more of this highly sought after cheese. Wheels start shipping at the end of August and are usually exhausted by January. Sweet, with the texture of soft lanolin and hints of pasture herbs, Vermont Shepherd truly lets rich sheep's milk shine.

--Benjamin Roberts, Cheesemonger-In-Chief

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Holla For Challerhocker

Challerhocker Columbia Cheese--a super cool cheese importer--wrote a lovely missive on Charllerhocker, one of our favorite cheeses from Switzerland:

I first met Walter Rass in May of 2012 at his dairy in Tufertschwil, Switzerland. I was immediately struck by the remarkable hybridity of the operation- here was this master cheesemaker, 25 years at his own family dairy, producing a unicorn he called Challerhocker, a cheese built for the modern cheesemonger; alongside, on alternating days, he was still making an exceptional Appenzeller for the mass market.

Both cheeses were studies in precision, every wheel seemed perfect and consistent and photo-ready. That day I even met his Appenzeller dealer- the man responsible for grading his every batch of Appenzeller cheese- and they let me join them bending plugs and sniffing rinds. He was effusive in his praise, pointing to Walter’s vaunted status in Appenzeller circles- the best of the best. Yet, here he was very publicly steering his ship toward a cheese of his own design, one that would harness the precision and economy of Appenzeller production but also reach back through time to reintroduce true craft into creation.

Within the bright white walls of the sparkling dairy upon which Walter rebuilt his family home years ago, he was infusing Challerhocker with the spirit of his home and his village- the cultures were now embedded in yogurt his wife Annelies would make in weekly batches. The rennet arrived not in freeze-dried packets or tan vials but as whole calves stomachs, dried and ready to be cut slowly into strips and steeped in this same family brew. To drive the point home the rough, hand drawn label read “Walter and Annelise Rass, Tufertschwil Switzerland”.

Challerhocker became even more deeply rooted in our and our customers unconscious minds. The next year found Challerhocker production surpassing Appenzeller. Finally by June of 2014, we arrived at the dairy to the news that Challerhocker was now the only way forward- Walter had officially ceased production of Appenzeller.

This didn’t just mean that we would have enough cheese to fill orders through December for the first time ever. It meant Walter had turned a corner, and that we- and by “we” I mean Columbia Cheese and our retail partners throughout the US- were now written into the story. The cheese was coming and it was up to us to help it find a home, to share what we loved and give it shape to the folks wandering into our shops each and every day.

As a part of this process, I traveled again last week to see Walter and Annelies and to attempt an objective documentation of the cheeses, the process, the milk supply, the cultures, etc. Frankly, I was trying to get to the essence of the ephemeral. It proved to be a challenging assignment. What I was hoping to share was the precision by which Walter transforms his traditional raw materials (fresh, small-herd milk/ house produced cultures/ house made rennet/ simple brine) into a now familiar and remarkably consistent “product” by way of modern mechanics (a hose to transport curd from vat to the typical contemporary press) and historic craftsmanship.

The difficulty was in finding where recipe and development and daily craftsmanship intersected. Walter’s every movement seems designed for a specific, minute task and frankly it was difficult to keep up with him (as the blurry photo of the pouring of culture into the vat attests). The ongoing and immediate adjustments were impossible to capture. And in spite of some obvious consistencies and efficiencies procured from years of success, the essential nature of the production remains enigmatic. Why does he skim the fat from culture with a gentle blowing of air across its surface? How does he know exactly how many cheeses he can wash in the cellar before returning to a properly prepared cut curd? He couldn’t answer these questions, either.

As the morning wound down, I found myself watching Walter as he collected every single rice-grain-sized curd in the draining table, as he has every day for 25 years. It was a stark reminder that these cheeses were historically instruments of an essential agricultural economy. It is only through innovation, superior craftsmanship, and the everyday work of the dedicated cheesemonger that they have become objects of desire, lifted out of the commodity market and given a place at the center of our culinary lives.

Yours in cheese, Jonathan

Walter Rass mixing house-made starter / Calf rennet (a whole stomach!) / Challerhocker and other Alpine cheeses

Re-posted with permission from Columbia Cheese columbia cheese

3 Myths About Parmesan

Cravero Parmigiano-Reggiano Raise your hand if trying to understand the Parmesan vs. Parmigiano-Reggiano debate hurts your brain. Which one is better? Are they the same? Does it matter at all?

It does matter, if you want it to. There's that old saying, You are what you eat. If that's the sort of daily mantra you like to repeat to yourself, and if munching on the most delicious food is your thing, than you're going to want to know how and why parmesan is quite different from Parmigiano-Reggiano. Let's discuss a few myths:

1. The word parmesan means Parmigiano-Reggiano This is true! Parmesan is the English translation of Italy's Parmigiano-Reggiano. However, this doesn't mean that products designated parmesan are made in the same way or of the same quality. The United States has a stinky little history of not following international laws for naming. Much like Champagne and Kobe Beef, Parmigiano-Reggiano must be made to very specific specifications, and under specific circumstances, before it can be christened with that name. Very simply, the rules are: Parmigiano must be made with only three ingredients. Those ingredients are milk made in the Parma/Reggio region of Italy, salt, and animal rennet. It seems so simple, but check the back of the next bag of grated parmesan you buy. If it contains cellulose powder, potassium sorbate, or other ingredients like that, then it's an imposter. No Parmigiano for you.

2. All versions of Parmigiano-Reggiano (real or otherwise) tend to be dry and best for cooking Completely false. If you're seeking out true Parmigiano, you'll find that it's actually wonderful eaten on its own. Cravero Parmigiano-Reggiano (the one we sell at our shops) is particularly succulent, with sweet notes of caramel and cherry. Giorgio Cravero--the man who selects and ages each wheel at Cravero in Bra, Italy--prefers his Parmigiano to have intentional sweetness and moisture. Thank goodness! Because it's lovely and worthy of a spot on your cheese board. Skip the round green shaker of grainy parmesan in favor of a Parmigiano you can actually taste.

3. All versions of Parmigiano-Reggiano are fatty and bad for you, just like most cheeses Oh no. No no no. So long as you avoid the bastardized versions of this cheese that contain anything other than milk, salt, and rennet, you're consuming something good for you. The concentration of pure milk in Parmigiano's paste means it's full of protein, calcium, and phosphorous and is free of additives and preservatives. True Parmigiano is so uniquely nutritious that it's been known to be a staple with astronauts on space missions. So take that on your next portage to the boundary waters, hipsters!

[images via Cravero]

The Year of the Sheep

Year of the Sheep “People born in the Year of Sheep are tender, polite, filial, clever, and kind-hearted. They have special sensitivity to art and beauty and a special fondness for quiet living.” —The Internet

Sometimes we like to wax philosophical behind our cheese counter. We spend our entire days surrounded by fermented milk. That’s kind of an odd sort of thing to do, no? But it’s a wonderful exercise to stop, think, and imagine where our fermented milk originates. And what better time to take stock than during Lunar New Year?

This Thursday is Lunar New Year and it so happens that 2015 is the year of the Sheep (we think). We love sheep’s milk cheeses at our cheese counter. I mean really love them. Several of our bestselling cheeses are made from sheep’s milk, quite the feat considering that the vast majority of our cheeses are cow’s milk and we might only have 3 or 4 sheep’s milk cheeses at any given moment.

Why so few sheep cheeses? The biggest reason is that sheep just don’t produce a lot of milk. A sheep produces milk seasonally—for about half the year (and not a lot of it while it is milking), whereas cows produce milk for up to 300 days of the year. That means a sheep cheese producer must produce all of their cheese for the year in just a few months.

French Manech Sheep

The most popular sheep cheese at our counter (and a staff favorite) is Abbaye de Belloc. It is a gorgeous cheese with a textured, dusty rind. Crack it open and you reveal a silky bone white paste. This is a monk’s cheese—meaning the recipe was developed by monks at an abbey in the Pyrenees mountains of France.  Abbaye de Belloc doesn’t hit your tongue with an immediate punch of salt or sweet, rather its richness builds and it releases subtle caramel and faintly grassy flavors. The texture is just killer. Not too dry, not at all waxy, just dense and perfectly chewy.

Monks and sheep, apparently, both have a special fondness for quiet living. The beginning of Lunar New Year is, however, a great time for celebration. We are more likely to think of fireworks or lion dances than we are to imagine meditative contemplation. One fortune prediction for the year of the Sheep 2015 is that it is a year to be tolerant of family. So perhaps a wedge of Abbaye de Belloc, a nice bottle of something from the Southern Rhone, and a trip to your cantankerous Uncle’s house are in order.

Happy Lunar New Year!

[purchase Abbaye de belloc] [original illustration by Nate Braun / sheep image via]

In Praise of Bavarian Cheese

Alpe Loch Travels by Bike German cheese has kind of a bad rep. Or not really a rep at all, if you think about it. What do Americans think about when they think about German cheese? Probably that smeary, stanky Limburger cheese that's more often the butt of jokes than a key player at the dinner table.

But there's one German cheese exporter who's trying to change our trepidation into infatuation: Kaeskuche, a little 9-year-old operation run by Norbert Stieghart. Norbert's whole mission is to reacquaint the world with Bavarian cheeses (Bavaria being a primary cheese-producing region in Germany).

According to Norbert, after WWII, German cheesemakers and consumers became more interested in cheap protein sources than the care and craft of delicious cheese. It's been a long time since the country's traditional mountain cheeses have had a champion. Do a simple Google search and you'll see--quality German cheese is like a super fast unicorn that you only catch glittery glimpses of before wondering if you're just a crazy person standing alone in a fake enchanted forest.

Then in swoops Norbert! This guy is dedicated. He's so committed to German cheeses that he'll ride his trusty motorbike up grassy hills and gnarly peaks that cars can't reach (see above!), all to transport 30-pound wheels of cheese to his customers in Singapore, Dubai, and the United States. We're pretty lucky to have him, right?

Alpe Loch is one of these giant Bavarian beasts. The Fuchs family crafts this cheese at their high-altitude dairy, which was actually destroyed twice by avalanches in the past. Their cheese (which has been aged for over a year) bursts with all the nutty, grassy complexity that comes from cows allowed to graze on rich, green mountain pastures. This is cheese with character, cheese with a distinct Bavarian-ness that you'll only understand once you've taken a bite.

[awesome illustration by Cheesemonger Nate Braun]