Author Archives: cheesist

The Spritz and the Cheeseburger

The large wineglass is cool and inviting, the small rounded-ice cubes slowly melting into the deep, bright, clear, orange drink.  As I swirl my glass, the ice cubes crackle against the thin frame of the glass. The first sip is cold and frizzy, sweet with a faint lingering sensation of bitter, and a persistent taste of syrupy candied orange. As the alcohol trickles down my throat, I know this will make me hungry.

It’s Aperitivo time in Bra, at around 7 PM, many students of the University of Gastronomic Sciences, along with local Braidesi find themselves on the cobbled streets of Bra’s historic centre. Our choice of location is most often Boglione, one of the most popular bars in town, and our choice of poison is Spritz, a concoction made of two parts Prosecco, one part Aperol or Campari, topped off with a splash of seltzer. I choose Aperol, as it’s less bitter than Campari, but to each their own.

The Cool Aperol Spritz

Boglione, like most bars in the area, serve a bit of food with your drink during aperitivo time. Although the selection differs from bar to bar, you’re most likely to find some form of cheese as well as some focaccia, and some raw Salsiccia di Bra, if you get lucky. On our plate are small square morsels of pizza bread, with a tomato salsa topping, cubes of semi-hard cow’s milk cheese, and small squares of spring onion tortilla. The cheese is a welcome sight, as it cuts through the syrupy nature of Aperol. As I pop it in my mouth and crush it slowly, it’s soft, elastic, with a milky and sweet, almost hazelnut flavor. There is no bitterness at all, nor is there much salt. The oiliness left on my tongue makes me realize it’s sweated a bit under the heat of the late afternoon.

The spring-onion tortilla is not really much to look at, but it’s surprisingly warm, moist, melting, grassy and herbal, ever so slightly caramelised spring onions giving way to a persisting black pepper aroma as I swallow the bite.

Onto the main course


There are many reasons why I like Boglione, and end up at Boglione in one way or another. It may partly be due to the fact that their back door opens up into my courtyard, and it’s only about 10 metres from there to my door step. But I know that’s not the whole story. From the first day I got into Bra, which was on a dreary, dark, grey November afternoon, when an almost Monsoon-rain downpour was flooding many parts of Piemonte, Boglione provided a sort of a safe-haven.

It may have been the location, smack in the middle of Via Cavour, one of the main attraction points in Bra’s Historic Center, or the interior, late 19th century wood paneled walls and framed mirrors reflecting the inviting glazed wood bar, with its selection of Rums from Guyana to Cubaney to El Dorado, or it may have been the people.

Enrico behind the register and Hanna, my favourite bartender, behind the counter

Alessandro and Enrico are the current owners of the place, which they bought about four years ago.  They’re both ex- Slow Food employees, friends who’ve known each other for over fourteen years, and both with a passion for good food, and good drinks. In 2008, at a moment when they were trying to figure out what to do with their lives, their work, and what would make them happy, they decided to buy up the place and turn it around.

Boglione is not just a bar, and it’s not like many of the others around town. Enrico likes to call it more of a bistro, as well as a spot where bar, food, and art meet. They have good strong drinks yes, Mojitos, Caipirinhas, Cuba libres, you name them, but they also have a strong wine and beer list. Comprised mainly of the great wines of Piemonte; Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetta, Barbaresco and Barolo; as well as artisanal beers from around the world, Belgian Ales, Italian beers – Birra del Borgo and Birrificio Citta Biunda among them – American IPAs, English Pale Ales, and Stouts, Boglione provides good stuff from both small and large producers with a reputation for producing good, clean and fair wines and beers.

And they have students of the University of Gastronomic Sciences, the “Slow Food University”, cooking up the lunch and dinner service, the menu changing seasonally, and according to the cook’s strong suits. Alessandro says it was actually the students’ idea to start cooking at Boglione. They needed jobs, and we needed good cooks he explained. The first student to work in the Boglione kitchen was Ben (who now works at Noma), and lately it’s Marcello, a Roman with a passion for the Lazio cuisine.

Marcello in the kitchen

While the menu changes seasonally, there is one dish on there that I’ve had on a regular basis ever since that grey November afternoon. The cheeseburger made with Piemonte beef, topped with glazed onions, bacon, home-made mayonnaise, and a side of cubed fried potatoes. The menu on the website of Boglione calls it “mythic”, and in most occasions I would agree. There is some rumour that I have forgotten to confirm, that the meat of the burger comes from the butcher shop of Alessandro’s father, one of the most well-known butchers in the Bra-Pollenzo area. I wouldn’t be surprised.

So, once I am done with my Aperol Spritz, and have had my fill of onion tortillas and cheese (I have a feeling it’s Bra Tenero, a DOP local cheese), I order my usual cheeseburger, not in a bun, but on a plate, although the burger paninis at 11 PM have a whole other charm. I decide to pair it with a hopped pale ale from Birra del Borgo called My Antonina, a collaboration beer with one of the most well-known artisanal breweries in the US, Dogfish Head.

My Antonina

As I pour My Antonina into the “Teo” beer glass (more on that in another post), the good head (foam) covers the cloudy, amber coloured liquid. The beer is unfiltered, as well as unpasteurized, so the cloudier the better in this case. The aroma of hops, herbaceous, citrusy, grapefruity reach my nostrils as I take my first sip.

As I swish the beer in my mouth, it’s cool, refreshing but with a good body. The alcohol is obvious, and when I turn the bottle around, it’s easy to see why, it’s got a good 7.5 Alcohol by Volume, a good strong ale. It’s cool, rich, thick texture gives way to similar aromas to the ones I experienced in the nose, grapefruit, herbaceous, with a slight toffee flavor. But there’s no sweetness, and little sourness. My Antonina is dry, with a persistent bitterness balanced by a low to medium acidity. As the bitter of the hop lingers in the back of my mouth, so does a bit of citrus.

The burger arrives as I finish nearly half of My Antonina. I inadvertently turn my head around towards the plate as it arrives, as my nostrils pick up on the whiff of fried crispy bacon. Sitting atop the melted Bra Tenero cheese, the bacon’s juices infuse the cheese and the Piemontese meat that waits underneath. The caramelized onions perfect the scene. But where’s my mayonnaise? I want to cut little bite-sized pieces of my burger, and drain them in that home-made stuff. Surely enough, after a small request, the mayo arrives, safe and sound, straw yellow, creamy, and dotted with mustard seeds. It’s more a Dijonnaise this time I guess.

 

As I chop my burger into pieces, I sadly realize that it’s slightly drier than the ones I’ve had previously. It’s full-on well-done. Oh, well. But the bacon is crunchy, salty, greasy, animaly; the caramelized onions supple and sweet. I can work with this.

The Mythic Burger?

It soon becomes obvious that the juiciness and taste of the burger is massively augmented by the mayo/dijonnaise concoction, but the bra tenero sandwiched between the bacon and the beef is too meek, too understated. A gruyere style, or even a more aged cheese like a Bra Duro would’ve made a better accompaniment.

No matter, the mythic cheeseburger as a general does not disappoint, it’s humble, satisfying, and ever-so-slightly addictive.

I’m not extremely satisfied with my combination skills though. My Antonina, though as a stand alone beer is great, messes with the flavor of the cheeseburger with its overly hoppy character, and persistent bitterness. Next time, I may go for a double malt instead. Nevertheless, it cleanses the palate perfectly after I’ve devoured the cheeseburger, and prepares me for the next course. As long as I wait a good ten minutes for the bitterness to die down!

The dessert

The dessert is an old-fashioned Panna Cotta, dressed with drizzled caramel glaze. It’s wobblier than the ones I’ve had at Boccondivino (another good restaurant in the area, and they make the best panna cotta!), soft and melting, like a beached jellyfish under a hot sun. This ivory jellyfish smells faintly of crème-caramel, quite eggy. I slurp, rather than take my bite, as the gooey panna cotta almost drips down my fork. (I may blame the weather for this, a good 35 degrees Celcius, with high humidity at 8PM!)

Gooey Panna Cotta

Understated sweetness, egg and boiled milk aromas fill my mouth as the tender, slimy, creamy and cool panna cotta melts on my tongue. Toffee and boiled milk persist for moments after I swallow. An alright Panna Cotta, not very complex, and in need of a bit more structure, but it seals the deal. No Passito is served at Boglione, very unfortunate, so the Panna Cotta gets a tougher beating than the burger.

Next up is a bottle of a Friuli-Venezia white wine, ordered by friends, fellow students, out to enjoy the Friday evening. But after a glass of Aperol Spritz, a bottle of My Antonina, and the prospect of a cold glass of white wine, I put down my pen, close my notepad, and continue to enjoy, with a little less discerning eye. Salute!

Enrico and Alessandro taking a break after a long night…

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Ode to the Warm Pasta-Filata

I could barely see what was happening, as we cluttered in a small corridor with glass panels separating us from the sterile production site. As five men worked in their usual gear of white rubber boots and aprons, feeding the curd into machines that would stretch and then cut it to form what in the end would become a world-renowned D.O.P. Mozzarella di Bufala, we scribbled production details into our notepads.

We were inland, in the Caserta province of Campania, a site famous for its production of buffalo milk mozzarella, at one of the area’s most modern production facility. The Class of Food Culture and Communications at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy were being “co-producers” in making this most beloved cheese. As the men on the other side recognized our presence, they decided to put on a show for us, leaving the steel machines that were popping out palm-sized buffalo mozzarella, bringing smaller vats closer to the glass panels, and proceeded with the act of “artisanal” cheese making. All we could do was watch beyond the glass panel,  away from the sounds and smells,  distant voyeurs of the process, as their hands popped in and out of the vat. About ten minutes later, the men were back to regulating the machines.

We were then led to a characterless meeting room, where Mozzarella di Bufala, the cheese that is perceived to be Italian cheesemaking at its best throughout the Western world was presented to us in rectangular plastic tubs laying on a table, accompanied by rectangular cut pieces of cold focaccia. As we placed the cool, white bocconcini, and halved “regular” shaped mozzarellas first onto paper plates, then into our mouths, staying away from the focaccia, the Mozzarella Consortium leader talked on.

The cheese was fresh, chewy, slightly sour, and not very salty, with the potent buffalo milk fat persisting on my tongue and the sides of my mouth. It smelled faintly of yoghurt, with the lactic aromas breaking through the cool temperature of the cheese. Did I expect a lot from this infamous Mozzarella, hailed as the greatest Italian cheese in any corner Italian restaurant from London to New York, now that I was a few metres away from the renowned buffaloes that produce this highly valued milk, a few doors down from the men that have been making this cheese for years on end? Yes. Did it satisfy me? Hardly. It was just a fine fresh cheese, perhaps a bit too sturdy in texture for my taste, produced in a steel-filled,  germ-phobic  environment to keep up with the ever increasing worldwide demand, and yet managed by people still eager to produce even more.

Buffaloes in Caserta

Nearer the sea, stuck in between the hillls that provide a lean passage for the breezes of the Amalfi coast, we then visited the small comune of Agerola. The Agerolese are also proud of their own version of the pasta filata cheese, though much lesser known and reputed outside of Italy than the Mozzarella, the Fior di latte, made of cow’s rather than buffalo milk.

The caseificio looked more like a white washed single story home of an old lady on the outside than an actual production facility. As we headed inside, the mother of the producer welcomed us in, while the son waited in the production room, a medium-sized vat of whey and curd by his side, its temperature slowly rising up to thirty-five degrees Celsius.

The room smelled of boiled milk and rendered butter, with a distinct aroma of milk fat. While twenty-seven students filled his little work space, this small man first emptied the now sufficiently heated vat’s whey content. There were no machines in sight as he proceeded to hand cutting the curd, and dropping them in another, smaller rectangular shaped vat, where the curds sank into a ninety degrees Celsius water and salt solution. And when there were no more curds left in the first vat, he calmly dipped his hands into the ninety degrees brine, and started stretching.

As we watched, standing right beside the vats, he first dipped one hand holding a miniature wooden peel to bring up the curd that had now formed into a massive white blob, holding the blob steady with the other hand. Bringing the peel out of the vat, and back into the vat, he slowly stretched the curd that would give the cheese its texture and shape. As he continued working, fumes of hot brine rose with each move, his hands and face getting redder and redder. When he felt the curd had sufficiently stretched, he caught a bit of the blob in his palm, squeezed, and in between his index and thumb popped out a piece of Fior di latte, ivory and round. He handed it to us, for us to try.

Stretching the curd

The Fior di latte was a little bud, still warm, elastic between our fingers, but very easy to break. As it was still fresh, the soft exterior barely had had time to settle into its new shape. When we broke the cheese, we could almost see milk oozing through.

The first sensation in my mouth was the warmth of the cheese. It was not the kind you get from melted cheese, where the flavors are more compact, more infused into one another. It was first warm, then salty; saltier than I had imagined; as it had just emerged from a hot brine bath, then milky, with the lactic as well as boiled milk flavor taking over, then slowly giving way to a mild sweetness that can be likened almost to a fresh coconut or fresh almonds.

The small man with the meticulous hands then dipped in for another batch, but this time, rather than making a small bud, made a small braid out of the stretched curd, which he also handed over. When he felt we were sufficiently satiated, he took his hands out of the brine.

Braided fior di latte

As we were walking out, I took a photograph of this hard-working man, with his white plastic apron, the sleeves of his white sweatshirt rolled up around the elbows, reddened hands holding the sides of the vat, and a small smile sitting in between warm cheeks. I loved this man, I loved his cheese, I loved his mother who waved us goodbye as we walked out of the caseificio, a small smile of contentment sitting on the corners of our mouths.

Perhaps the warm fior di latte of the nameless man, produced for local consumption, in the no-name caseificio in the ordinary, small, stuck in between the hills town of Agerola will never reach the palates of the western consumer.  And they will just have to make do, and continue ordering Caprese salads and higher priced pizzas with the cool and sterile Mozzarella di Bufala, ordered and served with an air “superiority” over cow’s milk pasta filata.  In the meantime,  I will continue yearning; yearning for the understated, warm and delicate fior di latte.

The Cheesemaker

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I Work in Cheese!

I think it is time to admit that for the past 12 months I have actually been working in a cheese shop. Much unlike the Monthy Python example, we stock over 160 types of cheese, and we rarely run out.

We have:

cow’s, ewe’s, goat’s buffalo’s,

hard, semi-hard, semi-soft, soft,

runny, pungent, mild,

bloomy rind, washed rind, natural rind,

crumbly pate, spring pate, clay-like pate,

whatever one desires, we almost got everytime.

It started out of sheer curiosity, and also a bit of obsession with cheese.

I had always worked in media before, mostly behind the camera, producing a whole array of programs for various audiences in multiple countries.

But I always had a little dream.

Whenever I decided to leave the media industry, perhaps in my sixties, I would be back in Istanbul, and I would start up my cheese shop.

A small, cosy, smelly shop where I would have my regular clientele, with whom I would chat about the weather as I gave them a slice of Morbier to taste, or a tiny bit of Comte to nibble on. And we would smile, and be merry as the cheese melted in our mouths. I would bring into their life a bit of something nice.

It happened sooner that I thought.

At a moment when I was having a tougher time than usual to find the kind of work I was really intersted in producing in the media field, I thought to myself, who don’t you give cheese a try.

And so I retailored my CV. One of my key strengths became “Passion for Cheese.” Within a few weeks, I had found a job as a cheese assistant at one of London’s top cheese sellers.

I started working with cheese everyday.

Every morning as I entered the cheese shop, a very particular smell reached my nostrils, that of cheese and wood, and mould (the good kind).

My first moment of fascination was when I discovered that the three cellars we have, goat’s and bloomy rinds in one, hard cheeses in the other, and washed rinds in the third, smelled completely different than one another, while all leaving a sugary taste in my mouth, as the odours hit my nasal passage.

Then came affinage.

My fingertips stank with cheese all night after that day, even though I washed my hands at least six times afterwards. But it was all worth it.

To this day,  a whiff of the Livarot washed rind, sweet and sour, and alcoholic, makes me salivate.

Since then, I’ve tasted all the cheeses in the cheese room, every single one of them.

I’ve fallen in love with a few of them, Persille du  Marais (Goat’s) and Zelu Koloria (Ewe’s) from Blues,

Ami and Livarot from Washed rinds,

Ticklemore, St. Maure, Valencay, and especially Truffe Noire from Goat’s

Tomme de Cleon, Comte D’estive, and Fribourg from the hards,

And Gabietou, and Napoleon, oh so sweet, oh so delicately sweetly perfumed milky beauties from the Ewe’s,

And yes Brie aux Truffes, a whole Brie de Meaux cut in half, smeared generously with  a secret Truffle concoction, and put back together again for a measure of frivolity.

I  work with cheese;

I smell, clean, cut, wash, cling film, sell cheese, all sorts of cheese every day, day after day, sometimes from seven in the morning until early evening, and I still love it.

I guess this love really is a keeper.

Maybe one day, I’ll marry the two, my love of media, and my love of cheese. This is just the beginning:)

Surrounded by cheese!

(I had written the first version of this article about five months ago. Since then, my love for cheese has directed me into a path that I never thought I could make a career of. I am still very much in love with the product that is cheese, but have now decided to widen my horizon. There is still so much to learn, so much to experience, and to write about. This is all a wonderful experience.)

Cheese or Font!!

Another mad cheese game, this time thanks to CulinaryAnthropologist’s fans.

http://cheeseorfont.com/

Evening of Cheese at Borough Market

An evening of cheese at the Borough market. 15 Dec. 2010, wednesday, between 4 and 8PM. Save the date ladies and gentlemen, this one sounds more like a festival for both the eyes, and the tastebuds!

See you there!

On Affinage and Cheese Tasting

An interesting entry from the other side of the Atlantic…

http://chezpim.com/uncategorized/an_afternoon_wi

The Best Cheese Game Ever!

Which part of France do these delicious cheeses come from, take the quiz to put your expertise to the test!

Beware, it’s highly addictive!

http://www.jeux-geographiques.com/jeux-geographiques-Les-fromages-de-France-_pageid80.html

Didn’t Expect to See This!

Club De Fromage

Outside a performance venue!

Crottin De Chavignol after dinner, with a Riedel full of Spanish Red

I never knew how wonderful a semi-mature crottin de chavignol could be. A goat’s cheese in the shape of a pressed sphere that fits into the palm of a woman’s hand, covered with the infamous geotrichum mould that give it the very slight farmyardy taste that geotrichum is known for, this small but mighty cheese has everything one needs after dinner. It has got both the white, dense, chalky interior without too much salt, just the way it should be, with the geotrichum providing the magic of a rind and edges that are softer, saltier and melting in the mouth. I’ve paired it with a tumbler full of Petalos 2007, Descendientes de J. Palacios from Bierzo DO, a full bodied beautiful red with the aromas and colours of plums and blackberries, 14% alcohol, satisfying tannins and just the right amount of acidity. Not too shabby to drink with one of the oldest and well known cheeses of the Loire Valley, though the crottin really starts looking like horse dung as it matures. (It’s not me saying it, it’s Patrick Rance, and the slightly ancient folk who’ve named it crottin!)

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