Cheese for the Trees on Tu B’Shevat

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Tu B’Shevat fruit tree platter by Helen Goldrein on her kosher blog Family Friends Food

Some Jewish holidays lend themselves readily to cheese-centered feasts: Shavuos with its bountiful dairy dishes; Chanukah and the cheese-inspired story of the heroine Judith; and Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees. Read any article on creating a party cheese platter and you will run across myriad fruit pairings, many of which are tree fruits. And let’s not forget olives and nuts, excellent sidekicks which also play into the tree tradition. Also appropriate are any items representing Israel.

 

The Seven Species (Hebrew: שבעת המינים‎, Shiv’at HaMinim) are seven agricultural products which are listed in the Hebrew Bible as being special products of the Land of Israel: wheat, barley, grape (wine), fig, pomegranates, olive (oil), and date (honey). (Deuteronomy 8:8)

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Brie and Pomegranate Seeds

Fruit and Cheese (tree fruits plus “vines” of the Seven Species):

 

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Fresh goat cheese, fruits and nuts

Chèvre/goat cheese: figs, pomegranate, peaches, apricots, mango, plums, pluots (plum and apricot hybrid), cherries, dried cranberries
Feta: watermelon, grapes, olives
Blue/bleu: pears, figs, pecans, walnuts, red grapes
Aged gouda: apricots, apples, pears, pecans
Gouda and Edam: cherries, peaches, apples, pear, apricots, pecans, walnuts, dates
Smoked Cheeses: grapes
Manchego or other firm sheep: quince, quince paste or preserves, cherries, apricots, figs, pomegranate, olives, almonds, dates, Marcona almonds

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Dress up a Cheddar!

Cheddar: grapes, apples, varied nuts, avocados
Brie: plums, apples, cherries, pluots (plum and apricot hybrid)
Gruyere: pears, cherries, varied nuts and dried fruits
Fontina: apples, plums, pears, grapes, walnuts, hazelnuts
Asiago: figs, grapes, varied nuts
Parmigiano-Reggiano: pears, nuts, grapes, dates, dried figs

 

Long story short, a variety of accompaniments work with a variety of cheeses on a cheese platter. Besides offering three to five cheeses, I shoot for colors, fresh and dried fruits, a couple of types of nuts, a spread or honey, and bread or crackers.

The Tu B’Shevat holiday inspires healthy eating that can span the entire “year of the tree” in creative, colorful ways. Start yours today!

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress
www.cheesemistress.com

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It’s National (Kosher) Cheese Lover’s Day!

cheeseday1I don’t just love cheese; I adore it. So much so that every day, for me, is “cheese lover’s day.” Cheese is one of the most fascinating foods around, from its myriad incarnations and international versatility to its funky history. I have compiled a list of questions and answers on my true love and appreciation for cheese. Consider this an ode to Cheese—How do I love cheese? Let me count the ways.

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Reggianito from Argentina

Why cheese?
Why not cheese? I truly don’t understand this question. It’s like asking a fine pastry chef, “Why éclairs?” Cheese is delicious. It’s beautiful. It’s protein- and calcium-packed. It comes in many shapes, colors, milks, flavors, and styles. It is versatile enough for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, and snacks. It has a rich history and regional terroir. With its many personalities, cheese is funny and quirky by nature. It is alive. It speaks if you listen closely. Oh, and it can melt! Cheese is the ultimate toy and storyteller.

How did you get into cheese?

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A Taste of France at the Makabi booth, Kosherfest 2015

I loved cheese from an early age, and dairy products from birth. As a baby, I drank a remarkable one quart of milk a day. I loved milk, and when I got old enough to appreciate cheese, I did. My earliest cheese memory is eating pimento cheese sandwiches in pre-school. By the time I was eight, I was eating chunks of Cheddar like a lollipop. I truly came into cheese when my high school French teacher introduced the class to Brie and chèvre at a class party. Once I travelled to Europe in high school, I discovered even more cheese in France and Italy, where I was studying language. My passion for cheese only grew as my knowledge deepened.

What’s your favorite cheese?
My favorite cheese is usually the one I have eaten most recently! The cheese type I eat the most often is Cheddar. However, my go-to favorite cheese is goat cheese. Fresh goat cheese logs are very common now on the kosher market, and Makabi is importing a bloomy-rinded goat log from France called Fromage de Chèvre.

How do you eat so much cheese and stay thin?

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Blue Cheese, The Cheese Guy

Cheese is part of my healthy diet—one which keeps my weight in check. I eat cheese with great frequency on a daily basis, but not in great quantities.

I have been overweight and I even had high cholesterol in my early 20’s, but it was not the cheese’s fault; I was eating too much high carb/low fiber food, namely pastries. When I switched back to cheese as my #1 filler-up source, and replaced the sweets with fruits, I lost the weight and the cholesterol issues. I also work out a lot as cheese provides me with sustaining, long-lasting energy vs. the crash and burn of sugar.

Do you make your own cheese?
Yes and no. I have made fresh (unaged) cheeses at home before, including ricotta, mascarpone, and cream cheese. My main source of cheese, however, is store-bought. Going through the cheesemaking deepened my understanding of my favorite food.

I also rarely eat meat; the waiting time after meat conflicts my need for cheese every two hours! Eating meat is a six-hour sacrifice for me and personally not worth it.

Is there any cheese you don’t like? Do you eat process cheeses?

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Schtark’s Hot Pepper Cheese, a process cheese

Yes, there are a few cheeses I don’t like, but they are not the usual suspects. They are not inherently bad cheeses—just not my cup of “cheese.” On the other hand, I believe that (almost) every cheese has its purpose and should be appreciated per its unique reason to live. Process cheese, for example, is far from artisanal, but no one can deny that it is a great melter and part of culinary Americana. Who hasn’t enjoyed the simple pleasure of dumping salsa into a bowl of process cheese cubes, microwaving it, and kicking back in front of the TV with some tortilla chips?

What about kosher cheese?
What about it? Kosher cheese is, fundamentally, no different in production from other cheeses, except that it must be made from the milk of a kosher animal (cow, sheep, goat, or any ruminant animal with cloven hooves that chews its cud). cropped-wine-and-sukkah-2009-056-comp-cut.jpgThe production must be overseen by a rabbi or mashgiach food inspector. No one magically “blesses” the cheese, but rather, the production area must not include any traces of non-kosher products. For example, a kosher cheese may not be made on equipment where non-kosher cheese has been made, such as cheeses made with (non-kosher, or sometimes even kosher) animal rennet or any additives such as pork (prosciutto mozzarella roles, for example), cheeses soaked in non-kosher wine, or cheeses from a non-kosher animal such as a camel or horse. Yak cheese is acceptable, though! If it’s made all kosher

Is non-kosher cheese better than kosher cheese?
Fundamentally, no. The only issue I see with kosher cheese is that most is industrial and does not represent enough countries—but that is changing—and you can help change it!

http://forward.com/food/308836/the-kosher-cheese-guy-and-all-the-dish/

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Brent Delman, The Cheese Guy from an article in the Forward, with his unique artisanal kosher cheeses

Although my personal mihag allows for cheese with animal rennet, I fully support the kosher industry, especially where cheese is concerned. I firmly believe that if more people bought kosher cheese on a regular basis, the industry would see more mainstream cheeses with hashgacha, and the variety would increase as well. Once kosher consumers explore cheeses outside of mild Cheddar, process cheeses, and “pizza” cheese, new industrial styles from other countries will appear, as has happened with the Makabi French line and The Cheese Guy’s international selections. Once strictly kosher consumers have experienced the varieties of cheeses possible, the road will be paved for even more truly “artisanal” and “farmhouse” cheeses on the market.

Thus, I promote the kosher cheese industry with great passion and hope.

Cheese On!

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress
www.cheesemistress.com

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The Cheese Guy Rings in the New Year with Blue Cheese

How can kosher Blue Cheese fit into a secular New Year’s Day dinner? I’ll tell you.
coins-dollarsGrowing up in Alabama, I ate my fair share of black eye peas and various greens, especially on New Year’s Day. According to my mother, eating these foods on January 1st guaranteed a year of prosperity in the money realm, and the more you ate, the richer you would be! How? Why? These Southern favorites are dripping with symbolism. My family ate cabbage for the “green” paper money and black eye peas for the pennies. Other families served collard greens, but any type of green leafy vegetable would do, whether it’s cooked down to mush or served crisp in a fresh salad.

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Goya Blackeye Peas are OU kosher

This year, 2016, I bought not only collard greens and a can of peas, but I also got a bag of baby spinach, some tomatoes, and Blue Cheese by The Cheese Guy (OU-D kosher, cholov stam) to make a salad. Extra “bills” can’t hurt, and they are healthy!

 

The Cheese Guy, Brent Delman, travels all over the world, visiting cheesemakers. He works with them to create private label kosher cheeses with a variety of hechshers; most are cholov stam with some cholov yisroel cheeses scattered throughout the collection.
BlueCheeseCG78The Cheese Guy’s Blue Cheese wedge is snow white with dainty blue-green veining throughout. While the blue coloring is not prominent, the flavor is definitely there. This is a bright, tangy cheese that crumbles with ease and is not overpowering. It is handcrafted and aged 60 days. It hails from Wisconsin where it is made along with 3rd generation cheesemakers.

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The blue color is faint but the blue flavor is full.

This blue cheese is equally at home on a gourmet cheese board as it is crumbled over salad or stirred into dressings, both creamy and vinaigrette. It is available in random weight 6-8 oz. wedges or in crumbles. Some even like blue cheese crumbles on black beans or peas!

 

Southerners in the U.S. are not the only ones to celebrate an occasion with symbolic legumes.

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A wealth of protein, calcium, and vitamins.

Your Jewish Speech provides an overview of the customs the week before the bris, including the eating of chickpeas. One meaning of the peas is that they are in multiples, symbolizing the “wealth” of Abraham in terms of progeny:

 

A bit from YourJewishSpeech.com on the customs in the week before the bris:

“On the Friday night after a baby’s birth (and before his circumcision) Ashkenazi Jews often invite friends and family to join them after the meal to mark the birth. Food, drink, words of Torah and song are shared.

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Brit Yitzchak – Isaac’s circumcision, Regensburg, c1300

Traditions: Often chickpeas and round lentils are served as they are symbolic of fertility and of the cycle of life. One Hebrew name for chickpeas is “arbis” and tradition connects this word symbolically to God’s promise to Abraham, ‘I shall multiply (arbe) your seed like the stars of the Heavens (Genesis 22:17).’”

Have a happy and healthy secular New Year! And remember to eat your peas and leaves. The more money you have, the more cheese you can buy!

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress
www.cheesemistress.com

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Mak’Tomi – a fresh “tome” from France

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Tangy and delicious with fresh fruit!

Smooth, creamy, and tangy, Mak’Tomi by Makabi is a French cheese made in the tradition of a southern Tome Fraîche or Tome de Laguiole. This semi-soft beauty is butter-yellow on the inside with a light dusting of white on the outside, which creates a thin and delicate rind. (The label says inedible, but I beg to differ.) It is a mild, lactic cheese with a hint of hazelnuts and would make a great party favor; it has enough character to be interesting to cheese lovers of all levels without being overwhelming to anyone.

 

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Sturdy package with all the trappings of high level kosher.

Its short aging period and the absence of affinage curing give it a high level of acidity and a pleasant sour edge that reminds me of buttermilk.

 

It is a melts-in-your-mouth cheese that is an even better melter when cooked. Traditionally, this type of cheese is one of the principal ingredients in aligot (pureed “mashed” potatoes with cheese, crème fraîche, milk, butter, and garlic or onions.

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My version of potato “aligot” using Mak’Tomi, Makabi Beurre de Normandie, Quark, milk, and green onions.

My approximation, not pureed, is hand-whipped potatoes with Mak’Tomi cheese, Quark crème fraîche-like kosher cheese, whole milk, Makabi Beurre de Normandie unsalted butter, green onions, and salt and pepper to taste). The cheese becomes soft and stringy when heated, though not as stringy as a mozzarella.

 

Mak’Tomi also works well in other warm, cozy French dishes such as la patranque (a casserole with bread cubes, onions, and cheese).

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Photo from delcampe.net

Its slightly sour flavor and lively acidity—and its excellent melting properties—have extended its usage to gratins, vegetable tartes, pizzas, panini, and sweetened tartes. It also finds a place on a cheese platter or cubed for a mixed salad.

Here is a recipe in English for la patranque, from Edible Jersey:
http://ediblejersey.com/recipes/sides/pumpernickel-patranque/

And here is a recipe for aligot pureed potatoes with cheese and onions:
http://frenchfood.about.com/od/sidedishes/r/aligot.htm

Makabi gourmet French cheese and dairy products are distributed by ELBY Corp. Mehadrin kosher, cholov yisroel, and kosher l’Pesach.

The Makabi/Elby booth was one of my favorites at Kosherfest 2015!

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress
http://www.cheesemistress.com

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Having a ball with Quarkbällchen! (Quark Ball Donuts)

quarkballs07Quarkbällchen is a traditional German treat that is similar to a donut, but much tastier. The name translates as “little Quark balls,” with the first word “Quark” (pronounced kvark) referring to a yogurt-like fresh cheese. Each of these golfball-sized Quarkbällchen originates from a batter blended with Quark for extra moisture and milky flavor, is deep fried, and then rolled in sugar, either granulated or powdered. Fluffy, soft, and light, these sweet sugared balls melt in your mouth. They are great hot or at room temperature.

 

QuarkspoonSo what exactly is Quark, a cheese unfamiliar to many Americans? Quark is a silky, fresh (unaged) cow’s milk cheese. Usually categorized as a curd or cottage cheese, it has a low fat and salt content, and a texture similar to that of Greek yogurt or sour cream. Quark is often used in baking and serves as a base for many desserts, especially cheesecake.

 

When I lived in Germany, I just ate it plain with multi-grain crackers. Others treated it much as one would yogurt; topped with granola or mixed with fruit, especially berries. It also adds low fat luxury to mashed potatoes, and when blended with chives, it becomes a flavorsome cream for baked potatoes.

 

quarball11Vermont Creamery, one of the few producers of Quark in the U.S., boasts an entire page of recipes for Quark, including Crème Fraîche Potatoes au Gratin, Lemon Quark Muffins, Curried Apple and Walnut Salad, Cold Quark & Cucumber Soup, and various interesting dips. (Recipes at Vermont Creamery.)

Vermont Creamery’s Quark is Kof-K kosher. Quark Balls are interesting for Chanukah because they combine the oil story with the Judith cheese story, all in one ball!quarkball14
Although the bakery where the Quark Balls were purchased is not kosher, they can easily be made at home.

Here is a recipe for Quarkbällchen:

For the dough:
3 eggs
5 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 package vanilla sugar
1 cup Quark (a Vermont Creamery container is 8 oz.)
2 ¼ – 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Additional Ingredients:
Oil for deep frying
Powdered or granulated sugar

1. Combine the dough ingredients.
2. Form dough into balls.
3. Heat the oil in a large pot or deep fryer. Fry each Quarkbällchen for 8-10 minutes, turning to make sure all sides brown nicely.
4. Place fried Quarkbällchen on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Allow to cool.
5. Dust the finished Quarkbällchen with powdered sugar, or roll them in granulated sugar.

Elizabeth Bland
The Cheese Mistress
http://www.cheesemistress.com

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Kosherfest Cheeses Coming Soon!

I attended Kosherfest 2015 last week and returned with much literature, great first-hand knowledge, and a ton of cheese! I am slowly but surely getting through the cheeses, tasting them, and writing notes. There were cheeses from the U.S., France, Italy, Israel, and Argentina, to name a few.

Here’s a pic of the Elby Corp./Makabi booth, with French cheeses, all k0sher and cholov yisroel. (Several are available at Benz’s Fish in Brooklyn).

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le Bleu Doux

More on this soon! I would like to start with France, given recent events in Paris. There was a lot of French spoken at Kosherfest.

Elizabeth Bland
The Cheese Mistress

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Alouette Gentille Alouette

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My two favorites…Italian and Mexican style.

Alouette cheese, je te mangerai! I will eat you! Which is what cheese is there for, right?

The name Alouette means “lark” in French. The song–which every French student must learn at some point–is a story about a bird singing at dawn and waking people up. In revenge, the bird gets plucked by the angry sleepers.

Although that image is not so pleasant, I can’t eat Alouette cheese without getting the song stuck in my head.

Alouette80Most of Alouette’s cheeses are kosher, OU-D, cholov stam. My latest favorite is the 8-pack line of tiny spreadable squares in different flavors. They are only 40 calories with 3 grams of fat. My two favorite flavors are Parmesan & Basil, and Garden Salsa, each with a touch of yogurt for extra tang and texture.

The other flavors are Garlic & Herb, and Cucumber & Dill.

Alouette91They are meant to be eaten almost like “triangle” cheeses – something you toss in your lunch bag or have for a quick snack on a cracker. I don’t eat them that, though. I add them to frozen dinners or mashed potatoes for extra oomph. The cheeses make everything just that much fluffier and creamier, and without a huge calorie and fat deficit. They are also good on sandwiches in place of mayo.

“Little Cheese Spread, Big Flavor,” as their slogan goes. http://www.alouettecheese.com

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress
www.cheesemistress.com

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