cheese

Burrata is back!

burrata.JPG

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

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

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

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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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]

The Sharing Song

Happy Valentine's Day

It's mine but you can have some With you I'd like to share it 'Cause if I share it with you You'll have some too. Well if I have a cake to eat If I have a tasty treat If you come to me and ask I'll give some to you. --Raffi, The Sharing Song

If you were a child or parent in the late 80s and early 90s, you're familiar with this little acoustic tune. It's the perfect missive to being a good friend, the kind of song little kids start to mumble along with if you gently sing it to them enough times. And bonus! It mentions the word "cake." I remember the pink image of a generously iced, multi-layered birthday cake popping into my mind whenever The Sharing Song warbled from my parents' tape player. Yep. That would get me to share for sure.

But the loveliest part of The Sharing Song is its simple reminder. Sharing is inherently worthwhile. Its benefits and resultant fuzzy feelings don't even need to be explained; If I split that piece of cake with you, well then "you'll have some too." Because to own something is great, but to share it is an experience, a memory you knit between yourself and another (or many) human being. And anyway, if a cake is baked in the woods and no one is around to eat it with, does anyone enjoy it?

soft cheese with goat's milk caramel

Instead of mushy, glittered, cardboard-cut-out love, this Valentine's Day we're focusing on sharing. Especially food. As M.F.K. Fisher would put it, “Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.” When we offer the things that sustain and delight us to another person, then we show them true affection.

Here are a few yummy things that we love to share at the France 44 / St. Paul Cheese Shops:

-Green Hill // a small round of soft-ripened cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy that's perfect for two -Fat Toad Goat's Milk Caramel // drizzle it over everything, but especially that round of Green Hill cheese for dessert (pictured above) -Langres and Coupole // wrinkly button-shaped cheeses that are great with Champagne -Rogue Chocolate // a single-source bar of extreme quality; choose your chocolate partner wisely, because this one's a major treat -Baby jars of Pâté // little pots of silky duck or chicken liver to split with a buddy and some crusty baguette -Brownies, caramel corn, and toffee // sweet snacks for a Valentine's Day movie with a friend, perhaps?

Instagram Love // California + Good-Byes

We've been some busy mongers. Instagram collage

Clockwise from top left: A cheesemonger's breakfast. / Some of our cheesemongers and wine staff from France 44 Wines & Spirits visited the cows at Point Reyes Cheese in California (that's Karina!). / Cake! We make it. / This week we bid farewell to one of our long-time cheesemongers, Carey. Miss you already!

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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]

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!

[image on right via]