A Vegetarian's Guide to the Cheese Shop // Part II

vegetarian_guide_image_2 Meet Eliza, our cheese shops’ resident vegetarian! She’ll be showing you around the shop from an herbivore’s point of view. This is the first in a multi-part series.

This past month I turned 24, marking a decade-long abstinence from meat consumption. Eating vegetarian has become a deeply ingrained habit for me and when I started working at the France 44 Cheese Shop last September, I made it my job to carve a vegetable-shaped path through my experience.

Despite the presence of countless delicious (allegedly) meat-centric products, the France 44 and St. Paul Cheese Shops have a bounty of vegetarian options. Back in June, I shared a few tips to following an herbivore's lifestyle and here I am again to bestow some more knowledge upon you vegetable lovers. This time I’ll focus more on home cooking and the great products you can buy at our cheese shops to create delectable meals of your own.

1.Whole Milk Ricotta, the single best-kept secret of the Cheese Shop Our Ricotta comes from Calabro Cheese Corporation, in my beloved home state of Connecticut. This fluffy, luscious, smooth ricotta was originally distributed out of New Haven—home to the country’s best pizzeria and Mecca for delicious Italian fare—so you know it’s good. Though we don’t sell this cheese directly out of our case, we almost always have it, so please ask us to package some up for you!

Ricotta is versatile. You can bake it in lasagna, put it on pizza, eat it for breakfast on toast with honey, or have us smear it all over your favorite sandwich. Calabro ricotta is fresh and delicious and if you are anything like me, you will steal a bite whenever you can.

2. Pasta! So all this talk of Italian food has you hungry for pasta. Well you’re in luck because we sell pasta in every shape and size! Trust me, I have a new appreciation for our selection after having recently rearranged the shelves. We have a lot of pasta and it's all impeccably made. From buccatini to ringlets to shells, we’ve got it. And you can also always ask a monger if you need a recommendation. Pick up pasta with some delicious Scarpetta sauce or our house-made Smoked Paprika Parmesan and you are good to go. Mix in some grilled vegetables from our deli case for that extra wow factor.

3. Soup Though it’s only August, fall is right around the corner and that means soup. We offer a smattering of delicious vegetarian soups in the grab-and-go case. Here are some of my favorites:

Carrot Fennel: Oh man, it is simple and delicious and it’s so healthy it’s almost like you went for a run just by eating it. Shave some of our Cravero Parmigiano-Reggiano right on top and invite me over for dinner. And don’t forget to dip one of our freshly baked baguettes in that bowl of golden soup!

Gazpacho: I know I know, I’m getting hasty thinking about fall and not even savoring summer, the absolute best season of the year. Gazpacho is basically synonymous with summer soup so eat some chilled deliciousness on your next picnic at the beach.

Tomato Soup: Let the tomatoes speak for themselves! They are delicious and so is this soup, which truly highlights all the natural sweetness and deliciousness of everyone’s favorite summer vegetable.

4. Melts

In my last post, I told you all about the different vegetarian sandwiches you can order at the cheese shop. What I failed to mention is that every once and a while it’s important to switch it up. Regular sandwiches are great, but you know what can be even better? Melts. Offered exclusively at our St. Paul Cheese Shop, our savory Melts are decadent, oozy grilled cheese sandwiches that are oh so vegetarian-friendly! Unlike our cold sandwich menu, which skews to the meaty side of things, more than half of our St. Paul shop's Melts are meat free. Check out these mouth-watering options:

• Barber’s English Cheddar and house-made harrissa • Melodie Comté with caramelized onions and whole grain mustard • Calabro whole milk mozzarella with house-made tomato-garlic confit • Double cream brie with cranberry chutney

And the best part? Each Melt is served with a shot of the tomato soup I mentioned above. Perfect!

I’m happy to say, after working at the Cheese Shop for nearly a year, I am still discovering new vegetarian indulgences. Remember, you can always ask your cheese monger for vegetarian options or alternatives. Enjoy that meat-free lifestyle!

The Meat Shop Reuben // Now With Beef Tongue!

reuben_email Before we opened the St. Paul Meat Shop, a group of us went on a reuben sandwich tour around the Twin Cities. It was a great bit of staff bonding and an opportunity to assess the reuben landscape. Unlike the pastrami and the chacarero, I have no emotional tie to the reuben. It’s a classic, it’s delicious, but it’s one of those sandwiches that can turn into a greasy mess of muddled flavors very easily. This was going to be a sandwich that we turned on its head a little bit.

reuben_collage

We’re a whole-animal butcher shop, so of course, we use every little bit of the animals we source. We wanted at least one of our sandwiches to really reinforce that message, and that sandwich turned out to be the reuben! Beef tongue is a magical cut and it seemed perfect for this sandwich because, once pickled, it is incredibly similar to corned beef. In fact, we think it’s richer and more tender than most corned beef, without all of the extra fat that comes along with brisket. Beef tongue adverse? Don’t be scared, this sandwich will help you conquer your fears!

The other big change we made to the classic reuben was serving it at room temperature. Is a reuben really a reuben if it's not served hot? You can decide that for yourself, but we love the creaminess of the unmelted raclette next to the crunch of the fermented cabbage. Textural bliss. And finally, our Russian dressing has just the right amount of sweetness to pull off the tricky balancing act of salt, acidity, and savoriness. I hope you'll give it a shot!

Ask A Butcher // What's the Lamb American Roast?

ask_a_butcher This will be a regular series, in which our St. Paul Meat Shop butchers, Scott and Peter, answer your questions about meat! Sign up for our emails and never miss a post.

Q: What is the Lamb American Roast and how should I prepare it?

A: The Lamb American Roast comes from the same place on a lamb as it does from a cow (namely, the chuck section). The big difference is that the lamb version is a smaller 1-2 person roast, while the beef version can feed 3-5 people.

This cut has loads of rich lamb flavor. It's really well marbled and great for slow roasting. As usual, we recommend cooking this guy to medium rare.

Each Lamb American Roast weighs about 3/4 of a pound and there are only two per animal. That means we only have two of these roasts a week in our meat case. Plan ahead for this one!

Meet The Chacarero

chacarero My first job out of college was working in an office tower in downtown Boston. As a carefree 22-year-old with a salaried job, I had zero concern for packing a lunch. Lunch was eaten on the streets of the Boston financial district and, more often than not, at a Chilean sandwich counter called Chacarero.

The original Chacarero was a window in the side of the old Filenes at downtown crossing in Boston. By noon the line would be 20 people deep. You paid in one line and then moved to the next line where you’d wait again until it was your turn to customize your sandwich exactly the way you wanted. The protein options were chicken, beef, or vegetarian and then you went down the line with your sandwich picking your various toppings.

It’s the green beans that make the Chacarero iconic. Blanched green beans on a sandwich? Kinda odd. Then there’s muenster cheese, tomato, cilantro-avocado spread, salt, pepper, and a secret spicy sauce. A small sandwich is enough to make you sleep, a large one means you don’t need to eat dinner.

The Chacarero (which interestingly translates to “farmer”) we serve at the St. Paul Meat Shop begins with brined and roasted pork shoulder. We knew we wanted roast pork on a sandwich and the Chacarero seemed like the perfect place to put it. The green beans are exactly the same as the original Chacarero, but for cheese we went with Comté (c’mon, we run a cheese shop after all) to bring a little sweet nuttiness to the sandwich. Instead of avocado we have a bright chimichurri, which brings the cilantro without getting in the way of the Comte’s creaminess.

Every time I eat one of our Chacareros, the flavors are just reminiscent enough to make me instantly homesick for that little sandwich window back in Boston. We’ll never be as good as my memories, but for sure I feel we’re paying a respectable tribute to the sandwich-slinging folks on the east coast.

--Benjamin Roberts, Manager-In-Chief

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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In Praise of Pastrami

pastrami sandwich When we decided to open a butcher shop in St. Paul, I knew that we were going to have a pastrami sandwich on our menu. I also knew that this was going to be the most difficult sandwich to execute (cue dramatic music). Much has been written and said about the state of the humble pastrami sandwich here in Minnesota and there was no way we were going to head down that path.

I grew up on the East Coast and NY deli pastrami sandwiches were part of my upbringing. Sure, we weren’t going to be competing with Katz’s sandwich, but I wanted to offer something that would be evocative of the sandwiches of my youth. It took us over 6 months to get it right and we cut it so close to opening that I wasn’t sure that we would actually open the doors with our sandwich ready to go!

The first big decision we had to make was whether to use a wet brine versus dry rub. And here’s the thing: each brisket cures for a minimum of two weeks, which means each time you need to make an adjustment you have to wait a long time to see how your changes turned out. It’s a lot like navigating a giant cargo ship instead of driving a zippy little sports car. After a month and a half we knew that we wanted the dry cure—bigger, bolder flavors.

Once we’d settled on the cure it was on to the length of cure. Too short and the cure doesn’t penetrate the meat enough. Too long and you just have salted beef. Sixteen days ended up being the magical number. A side note: because we selected the dry rub, we have to flip our 100 pound batch of brisket everyday during those 16 days! I think Brisket Flipping is part of the CrossFit regimen, no?

Adding smoke turned out to be the easiest part of the recipe. Two hours luxuriating in the smoker is perfect for our pastrami. And sorry, we’re not going to tell you what kind of wood we use (that's a secret!). And of course, the last step is cooking. That time and methodology was also tricky to figure out and is another detail we're keeping under our hats for now.

Our pastrami sandwich is served very simply, on toasted rye bread that's custom-made to our specifications, with a little house-made brown mustard. These three simple ingredients mean we can't hide any mistakes. We'd love to hear your feedback! I know I'm biased, but if I could marry this sandwich, I think I would.

--Benjamin Roberts, Manager-In-Chief of both our Meat and Cheese Shops

Ask A Butcher // What's The Teres Major?

ask_a_butcher This will be a regular series, in which our St. Paul Meat Shop butchers, Scott and Peter, answer your questions about meat! Sign up for our emails and never miss a post.

Q: What sort of cut is the teres major and how should I prepare it?

A: Teres major is a cut of beef that comes from the chuck section of the cow, right below its front leg. It is about the size of a pork tenderloin and happens to be the second most tender cut from a cow (after the tenderloin, of course). Fun fact: Teres major takes its name from the same spot in human anatomy. Whaaat?!

Teres major has a much richer flavor than beef tenderloin, however. Because this cut comes from a very active part of the cow's body, it experiences greater blood flow and thus develops more complexity. Normally, lots of physical activity leads to tougher meat. However, because teres major sits just below the cow's leg, it remains melty tender with all the added flavor benefits of the leg.

Treat this cut very simply. Salt and pepper it and then roast or grill it whole to your desired temperature (we like medium rare). Grass-fed beef tends to taste pretty great on its own, without much special treatment. Why? Typically, cows that are corn-fed fatten up quickly and get sent to slaughter around 8-10 months old. Grass-fed cows have more time to mature and develop rich flavor. At our butcher shop, we usually receive our cows (from Hidden Stream Farm in Elgin, Minnesota) when they're 28-30 months old.

**Note: Teres major is a rarer (but affordable) cut, which means our shop on Grand Ave carries a limited number of them every week. Something to keep in mind when you're planning dinner! 

In Praise of Minnesota Produce

Strawberries In our humble little cheese shops, we’re not trying to change the world. We’re simply trying, the best we know how, to make scrumptious food and send you home with it. It's no coincidence, however, that one mission can accomplish both. A mission to support our endlessly dedicated farmers brings us the tastiest ingredients. A need to pay homage to the tastiest ingredients roots our cooking in tradition, simplicity, and the elegance of native-grown produce.

Think about the last time you ate a fresh garden tomato or a summer strawberry. Maybe you’re naturally green-thumbed and have had the pleasure of growing it yourself. Was it so juicy that it seemed to spring a leak when you bit into it? Did its deep ruby shade and bright, bursting flavor beg you to enjoy the moment just a second longer? Perhaps it caused an involuntary “mmm…” or “whoa!” to escape your lips. Now compare it to its cloned, out-of-season grocery store counterpart. Maybe the inside was white and spongy or mealy, like it was part edible sand. Maybe there was simply nothing lovely enough about it to be memorable at all.

If we can agree on the beauty and intense flavor of a tomato and a strawberry at their most delicious, we certainly don’t need to ask the question, “Why local?” It isn’t surprising that something grown near us, picked at its peak of ripeness, sugar development, and water retention, packed carefully and driven across town to be used in the following days (not weeks or months) is overwhelmingly more delightful than the alternative. I think I’d be bruised, battered, and lifeless after an international flight, too. A walk around the block is much simpler.

Minnesota Produce

The massive and obvious difference between homegrown fare and the shipped-in variety inspires all kinds of wonder. A small, but palpable phenomenon occurs every time we infiltrate the Cheese Shop kitchen with any neighborhood-procured bounty. Mouths water at the sight of dazzling beet jewels. Questions abound watching garlic scapes being snake-coiled inside pickling jars. Ideas trickle in from unlikely sources and grandmother’s recipes long forgotten. Hilariously-shaped irregular carrots make the rounds to give everyone a snicker. The entire staff anxiously awaits spring greens as their memories of last year's spicy greens already fading like a wispy dream. Text messages proclaiming, “These strawberries are BLOWING MY MIND. They are so red all the way through!”, and the shock and awe of a significant other noticing, “This celery tastes salty and… green? Normal celery tastes like crunchy water.”

It’s hard not to love the people and communities who work tirelessly to bring us such delight. They are often covered in dirt, dressed like camp counselors, a little stinky and sweaty, and smiling from ear to ear when they appear in our kitchen. The pride in offering their life’s work in a cardboard box and sharing it with their community is contagious. It is impossible to say no to the prettiest kale or butter lettuce when it's presented by the guy who tended and picked it. And how could we not order bushels of peaches by faxing an order form and deposit to a farm that still does mail-order?

Our dedication to capitalizing on the heartbreakingly-short Minnesota growing season isn’t always all warm fuzzies and happy days, though. It typically means hard work and long hours. When ripe tomatoes hit and can’t wait patiently for our attention, we bring in hundreds of pounds a day to can, stew, roast, dry, and purée. Then we play Freezer Tetris to try to store it all for use in our roasted tomato risotto throughout the fall. Cases upon cases of Honeycrisp apples overtake our walk-in coolers, prep spaces, hallways, and lives as we feature them in house-made strudel or a signature honey, blue cheese, and apple sandwich, and pair them with cheese plates. Occasionally, you’ll hear the distant mad cackling of a kitchen employee who’s putting away the world’s silliest-looking pile of rhubarb or someone asking, “Are you absolutely sure you want to order $500 worth of ramps?!”

Anyone who’s tried gardening and growing, whether on a small or large scale, can sympathize with how frustrating, back-breaking, and rewarding it is. The committed individuals we’ve gotten to know over the years, not picking machines or shipping companies, are trading their time and energy for your delicious plate. Let’s enjoy it, and thank them by acknowledging (and paying for) the difference between a December tomato and a backyard beauty.

*At the France 44 Cheese Shop, the St Paul Cheese Shop, and the St Paul Meat Shop, you’ll find local produce featured in every way possible, and pick up a local fruit pie every Friday in the Meat Shop! **Special thanks to Afton Orchards, Stone’s Throw Farms & Shared Ground Farmer’s Cooperative, Hidden Stream, and the Minneapolis, Kingsfield, and Fulton Farmer’s Markets

On Managing a Meat Shop

nick_blog_star Here’s an interesting etymology: the word “manage” comes from the Italian “manèggiare,” or, “to put a horse through its paces” on the “manège,” a training area particularly for racing horses. What’s it been like managing a meat shop? I feel like I’ve had to learn the rules of horse racing, the regulations of horse training, the basics of horse physiology, and the philosophy of what it means to race horses, all while on horseback (though I’ve had lots of help). It’s been invigorating and fun, though I’d be lying if I told you my head wasn’t spinning. I think I like the way the horse training etymology works as a metaphor. Managing a meat shop, training a racing horse—mostly, what you are being asked to do is to take care of something that is important.

The role that I play as the general, day-to-day manager of the St. Paul Meat Shop is one of ensuring the soundness of its operations, and the delivery of the highest-possible quality of customer service. This latter item is something that I, personally, have cared about for a long time (of course, we are nothing—we are less than nothing—without being really, really on top of our day-to-day basic stuff!). I remember as a child growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, walking into Zingerman’s Delicatessen, being greeted by workers there who treated my family as if they already knew us, and then being given transcendentally delicious food to eat—the kind of food that, after the first bite, you just know is better than almost everything else you’ve ever eaten. The completeness of that experience is rare and special. I think we offer it at our cheese shops already: you can walk in, have somebody who is really nice in a basic human way offer you an artisanally-crafted, mind-blowingly tasty piece of cheese, and then be transported somewhere else by way of your taste buds.

The vision we have for the Meat Shop is very similar. We believe that you can raise animals for meat in an artisanal way—this goes beyond buzzwords like organic, local, sustainable, grass-fed, although these are all awesome principles and necessarily a part of what we do. The big idea is that there are some producers nearby who are really passionate about delicious meat, and have the know-how to make it happen. In theory, it’s not so different from affinage, or the art of aging or finishing a cheese. “Finishing” an animal on grass is an art, and “grass-fed,” on its own, simply isn't a guarantor of taste. We’ve found four farming partners who are doing great stuff, and we’re proud to be a market for them.

Returning to our horse racing metaphor, I’m only a trainer. The Meat Shop is the product of the passion of many people, starting with the farmers who raise their animals the way they believe is right, even in the face of a market that doesn’t always reward that conviction; continuing to our management and butchering team, whose collective belief in what food should taste like and what a retail experience should feel like is what animates our existence; and our amazing owner, who cares about good food, good wine, and about creating special opportunities for people to pursue these passions.

My part in this is to ensure we’re a reliable and friendly place to get awesome meat, but much of our shop’s functionality and personality is owed to our high-functioning and personable group of jockeys behind the counter, whom I would gladly buy meat from, but would also, were I in the neighborhood, perhaps just pop in to say hi to and maybe even consult for general advice. Managing a meat shop has been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work so far—now that we’re off to the races I hope you’ll come by and say “what’s up” to us soon!

--Nick Mangigian, Manager of the St. Paul Meat Shop

Meet Our Butcher // Scott Filut

scott_blog_star Meet the St. Paul Meat Shop's lead butcher, Scott Filut! He's the passionate, grinning guy behind the good things you see in our meat case. Scott spends most of his time butchering at our kitchen in Minneapolis, but you can catch him now and then behind the counter on weekends.

Where are you from? Eden Prairie, MN

How did you become a butcher? I became a butcher when we opened a butcher shop! Haha.

In actuality, butchering is a skill used in every kitchen I have ever worked in. Most places bring in smaller pieces of meat that are trimmed and portioned for a dish, but a few places would receive whole animals that I was able to learn from. While most of my education has happened on-the-job, I've also done plenty of studying with different books and online butchering groups, especially over the last 6 months as we prepared to open the St. Paul Meat Shop.

What intrigues you most about butchering? I like butchering because it’s one of the first steps between the farm and the table. I get to work directly with small farmers who care as much about the final product as I do, if not more, and I'm able to pass along a great product to customers. Also, the art of butchering is a dying trade. I like being a part of keeping it alive.

What is the most challenging part of your job? The hardest part of my job is really understanding the structure of all the animals I work with. Every cut counts. If it's done in the wrong spot, we can't give customers what they want.

The best part? The best part of my job is passing knowledge along to others. Whether it's our staff or customers, I really enjoy helping others understand the technical side of my job, and how I do it differently than some other butchers. The taste testing isn’t bad either.

What's something we might not know about butchering? While butchering any animal, it's always my goal to not cut each piece of meat, but rather cut between the pieces and then go back to trim the meat up later. The structure of each animal is laid out for me, and it's my job to not mess up that structure.

Any book recommendations for meat lovers? The most comprehensive book I have found about butchering is The Gourmet Butcher's Guide to Meat by Cole Ward. There is a PowerPoint that comes with the book which is very detailed. The way Ward breaks down meat isn't the way I do it, but it gives the reader a great idea of what to look for when approaching animals. There are many other great books by whole-animal butcher shops around the country, like The Meat Hook Meat Book by Tom Mylan or Whole Beast Butchery by Ryan Farr.

What's your favorite cut of meat to cook? My favorite cut of meat is a hanger steak, cooked to medium rare in a cast iron pan, seasoned only with salt and pepper. There is only one hanger steak per cow, but it’s delicious!

Favorite thing about the Twin Cities? My favorite spot in the Twin Cities is either Target Field or any golf course.

What's your spirit animal? My spirit animal is Natalonies (my dog)!

Any big summer plans? My summer plans include making big pieces of meat into small pieces of meat.

A Vegetarian's Guide to the Cheese Shop // Part I

Vegetarian's Guide Meet Eliza, our cheese shops' resident vegetarian! She'll be showing you around the shop from an herbivore's point of view. This is the first in a multi-part series.

We’ve entered a new era of ethical eating here in Minneapolis. From Wise Acre’s locally-sourced produce, poultry, and meat to our friends at Red Table Meat Co. in Northeast Minneapolis, the Artisanal Meat Renaissance is upon us. Heck, we just opened a brand new nose-to-tail butcher shop in St. Paul! And while I am totally down with these conscientious consumption practices, I find my once thriving cohort of vegetarians quickly dwindling. So this blog post is for you, my fellow vegetable lovers. This is your Vegetarian’s Guide to the Cheese Shop.

As the sole vegetarian among a staff of carnivorous cheesemongers, I’ve come to learn a few tricks about eating at the France 44-St. Paul Cheese Shops. Though it may seem like we have many meat-filled treats, there is always a vegetarian-sized loophole.

1. Vegetarian Surprise With the recent renovation of our sandwich menu, you might have noticed that your go-to veggie sandwiches are now missing. Before you mourn their loss, recognize that this is an opportunity for you to get something totally crazy and new. Order a veggie surprise! From our sweet and spicy pepper onion relish to harissa to garlic pickles, there are lots of ingredients that you’ve probably never had before. Find new frontiers! Explore your palette! Order that veggie surprise!

2. You’re Not That Into Surprises? Well, the vegetarian sandwiches you loved (and a few new ones) are still available on the Unofficial Secret Vegetarian Menu. All you have to do is ask.

Classic Mozz Veg: Oozing with tomato-garlic confit goodness paired perfectly with some refreshing mozzarella and topped off with crunchy greens. I bet you miss this guy, but you know what? He’s still there. Our sandwich line is stocked with the ingredients, so you can order it anytime. Substitute the mozzarella with chèvre or brie depending on your mood.

RGC: This delicious sandwich is spread with creamy house-made roasted garlic chèvre (a.k.a. RGC), dusted with smoky paprika and banyuls, enhanced with caramelized onions, and completed with greens. YUM.

Pear Brie: Yep, I just coined a new sandwich. It's a combination of double-cream Fromage D’Affinois with lots of sweet and savory house-made pear mostarda, a drizzle of honey, and some greens. This is one of my favorite go-to sandwiches and it never disappoints. Try it on a baguette if you feel like getting fancy. [pictured at top]

3. Salad! A little known cheese shop fact--we make lots of awesome salads. Let us put our creative forces to good work and whip up something new and exciting for you! Just order a surprise salad, we’ll know what you mean.

4. The Untapped Land of the Deli Case It’s summertime and that means the deli case at our Minneapolis shop is bursting with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s the best season to be a vegetarian! Now is your chance to capitalize. Check out a few of my favorite items:

Polenta Cakes: These crisped, corn-based cakes are perfect warmed and topped with your favorite cheese, Mexican mole, or salsa. Garnish with cilantro if you’re really feeling fresh.

Snap Pea and Ginger Slaw: Refreshing AND beautiful. Enjoy it as a snack, down it is as a palette cleanser, eat it as a meal. Just make sure you eat it.

Strawberry Kale Salad: Strawberries, cashews, roasted red peppers, hearty kale massaged by hand. Does it get any better?

Song’s Pasta Salad: Tomatoes + Feta + Orzo Pasta + Dill X A hint of olive oil = One perfect summer pasta salad

Okay, have I convinced you yet? The cheese shop is practically a vegetarian’s mecca! Don’t let the meaty facade fool you. There is so much to enjoy. I haven’t even mentioned the bounty of delicious grocery items (hellooooo INNA Jam) or the sweet treats or that refreshing gazpacho. Stay tuned for future blogs posts from your favorite (and only) vegetarian cheesemonger.

--Eliza Summerlin

Diary of a Meat Shop // III

Meat Shop sandwich We’re opening up a third location–this time, a butcher shop on Grand Ave in St. Paul. Our Cheesemonger-In-Chief will be chronicling the adventure here on the blog. Look for our shop in June!

Of course, our new butcher shop will have sandwiches. Of course! It's one of our favorite things to champion at the Cheese Shops. But because the Meat Shop is just a 5-minute walk from our cheese shop on Grand Ave, we knew the Meat Shop sandwiches would have to be their own thing--a brand new army of lunchtime goodies.

I love a great sandwich, but I'm consistently frustrated by the choices here in the Twin Cities. I never seem to find exactly what I'm craving. So when we started messing around with the sandwich menu for the Meat Shop, my first inclination was towards the killer pastrami sandwich I've been dreaming of. It’s a bit of an obsession and really difficult to get right. But I figured a new butcher shop would be the perfect excuse to give it a shot!

Our team members are big fans of composed sandwiches, as opposed to the Subway-like choose-your-own-adventure style. On a composed sandwich, each ingredient is purposeful and doesn't compete with the rest of its friends in between the bread. We've been working for months now on a set of composed sandwiches--including that fabled pastrami--that will wow our Meat Shop patrons.

As of this blog post, we are still working on the pastrami. And if it isn’t exactly right by the time we open, then we’ll just have to open without it. But that's because recipe testing for every aspect of this new business has been exhaustive. Recipe testing is a funny thing because it's like working in a vacuum. We know what we think is delicious and we just have to hope that our customers will enjoy what we come up with. In the past, our team has obsessed over a detail at one of our shops for hours, only to realize that the idea wasn’t quite right in the first place. To combat this, I’ve eaten countless iterations of sandwiches, cookies, spice rubs, marinades, and more. Tough work, I know. And this testing doesn’t even include the 15 different NY Strips our team has consumed from every meat counter in town. But I'm hoping this attention to detail will equal a menu that satisfies some of the other latent sandwich cravings floating around the Twin Cities and keep our customers coming back for a sandwich they can count on.

Want a preview of the menu? See it here >>

--Benjamin Roberts, Cheesemonger-In-Chief

Diary of a Meat Shop // Part II

diary_part_2 We’re opening up a third location–this time, a butcher shop on Grand Ave in St. Paul. Our Cheesemonger-In-Chief will be chronicling the adventure here on the blog. 

A butcher shop had been on our radar for several years. Partly because we feel the Twin Cities are underserved by specialty meat providers, but mostly because we feel passionately that selling humanely-raised meat is a natural extension of what we already do. We ask lots questions before a cheese finds a home in our case, to make sure it's something we adore and can stand behind. This level of examination is the starting point for our butcher shop.

Our food landscape is crowded with buzzwords: “local”, “natural”, “artisan” are just a few of the descriptors thrown at food. It's hard to know what to do with these words. Which is why we hope that shopping at one of our cheese (and soon meat) shops is a conversation. We will tell you why we find something delicious or why a product exists in our shop, and then you can make the informed decision whether or not to enjoy it.

I know that I want to know where my food is coming from, so I hope that most of our customers wish the same. Our team has spent many hours researching Minnesota farms and farmers, and then tasting their goods to be sure that flavor also aligns with ethical practices. We truly hope that all of that investigation and diligence will result in delicious meat from people who are just as passionate as we are.

We'll be opening in June, featuring meats from these venerable local producers. Can't wait!:

Lamb Shoppe | Hutchinson, MN Yker Acres | Wrenshall, MN Kadejan | Glenwood, MN Hidden Stream Farm | Elgin, MN --Benjamin Roberts, Cheesemonger-In-Chief

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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3 Ways To Up Your Snack Game

salmon_bagel I've always thought the word "snack" was particularly cute. If it were personified, it might be a fluffy, pink-nosed bunny hopping in and out of the edges of your day, softly cooing, "Time for a snack! Time for a snack!" Yes, time for a snack. A mini treat. A pre-meal meal. Something small, right?

A lot of us grow up learning that snacks are innately insubstantial and menial, like a handful of peanut butter M&Ms or grapes or a bag of chips. We think of them as the doesn't-really-count prelude to a steak dinner. But a snack can be so much more. In fact, it can actually satisfy that hungry hole in your belly while being delicious, too.

One of our favorite ways to snack at the Cheese Shop is to get creative with our dips and spreads. Check out these three ways to have a snack that won't leave you wanting:

1. Bagels + Smoked Salmon Spread (pictured above) If you thought bagels were just for breakfast, you thought wrong. Spread a sesame bagel with some classic smoked salmon spread (made with dill and cream cheese, of course!), top it with some crunchy cucumber slices, and YUM.

artichoke_pimento

2. Veggies + Dip Up your veggie intake by dunking raw carrots, zucchini, and celery sticks in our lemony and light artichoke tarragon dip (on the left) or our spicy pimento cheese dip (on the right). That pimento cheese is also wicked when melted on toast.

paprika_pasta

3. Pasta + Smoked Paprika Parmesan And when you need to go a little heartier, toss some hot pasta with a few healthy spoonfuls of smoked paprika parmesan dip and dig in. Not bad with a happy hour glass of wine too, I might add.

Eat hearty!

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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Diary Of A Meat Shop // Part I

meat shop construction We're opening up a third location--this time, a butcher shop! Our Cheesemonger-In-Chief will be chronicling the adventure here on the blog. Stay tuned!

It’s been six years since France 44 last opened a new business. Our original cheese shop at 44th and France had been open a little more than a year when we decided to just go for it and open up a smaller sister store on Grand Avenue in St Paul. I couldn't have imagined it would be another six years before we embarked on a new venture.

We’ve been looking at real estate across the Twin Cities for the last several years, hoping for the perfect place. A couple of prospects were intriguing but didn’t come together in the end, so we kept on shuffling. But this winter, our search finally ended when a space opened up a couple of blocks away from our St Paul cheese shop. Mac-Groveland has been a wonderful, supportive neighborhood and we knew exactly what we would do at 1674 Grand Avenue—a butcher shop called The St Paul Meat Shop.

Our first challenge was to transform a former hair salon (with one helluva bright purple awning) into an empty box of a space. That meant removing a staircase which interrupted the retail space and then tearing the entire place down to the studs. Several months of demolition later, we were left with a clean slate. Call up the architect, draw up some plans, and start crunching some numbers! We've got work to do.

--Benjamin, Cheesemonger-In-Chief

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]

Baby Goats Are Budding!

On goat dairy farms, March is a pretty common time for kidding to go down. Kidding refers to the birth of baby goats. It's an exciting, energetic, and slightly stressful time of year for goat farmers. After all, for about 5 months (the most common gestation time for most breeds) farmers and does (female goats) alike have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of squirming little kids.

Even better than a collection of adorable baby animals to cuddle? Goats' milk! Once a doe has given birth (often to triplets, by the way) she will begin to produce milk. If she's milked continuously, she'll provide her farmer with 10 months-worth of delicious white stuff.

We love the tangy expression of goats' milk cheese at our cheese counters, so spring is an exciting time of year. It means we can begin looking forward to another round of some of our favorite cheeses from Vermont Creamery and other producers.

For lots of swoon-worthy photos of kidding season, check out Fat Toad Farm's website. They make the most luxurious goats' milk caramel, too, which we happily carry on our shelves. For an extra seasonal treat, mix their caramel into this St. Patrick's Day cocktail recipe:

irish_cream

GOAT'S MILK CARAMEL IRISH CREAM Yields 1/2 gallon to share | Adapted from Fat Toad Farm

1 cup heavy cream 1 cup whole milk 2 cups Irish Whiskey 8 oz Fat Toad Farm Goat's Milk Caramel 14 oz sweetened condensed milk 1/4 cup chocolate syrup 2 teaspoons instant coffee 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 teaspoon almond extract

Put everything into a blender and blend for 30 seconds. Pour over ice and enjoy!

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