Minnesota

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

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

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

How To Stay Warm

fondue_image In Minnesota, it's frigid and snowy outside. But inside our houses, we melt nutty cheeses in little pots, add a little white wine and some spices for oomf, and dip things into this smooth cheesy mess all day long. It's a winter ritual. It's a delicious way to stay warm.

Classic Cheese Fondue

1 clove garlic, minced 1/2 pound Gruyère, grated 1/3 pound AppenzellerComté Melodie, grated 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour 1 3/4 cup Petit Roubie Picpoul de Pinet wine 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg A splash or two of Kammer Black Forest Kirschwasser (optional)

Toss the cheese with the flour. Rub the interior of a medium saucepan with the peeled garlic. Place over medium heat and the add wine. Bring to a simmer and add the cheese mixture, one handful at a time. Stir in the nutmeg and minced garlic.

Stir over low heat until smooth and cheese is melted and bubbling. Add a splash or two of kirsch and continue stirring until it starts to bubble just a bit. Transfer cheese mixture to a fondue pot and you’re ready to go! Don’t forget to stir frequently.

Try dipping hunks of baguette, blanched vegetables, tiny cornichons, or cubes of salami. The possibilities are endless, even if your stomach isn’t. Enjoy!

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