FOOD

Cheese Up the Holidays

By Christine Hyatt

The holidays are upon us, and once I get past the disbelief that another year is drawing to a close, I get to thinking about how I can appropriately celebrate these final weeks of 2009 in a meaningful way. 

Having relocated recently to the less-cheese-centric Phoenix metro area, my thoughts immediately turn to cheese and the wonderful creations of the Northwest.

During a recent trip to Portland for the second annual Wedge Festival in early October, I was blown away by the growth and evolution of the cheese scene in the short year that I’ve been gone: more people making more incredible cheese, and more people discovering and embracing their local and regional cheesemakers. It’s a wonder to behold. 

I’m nostalgic for the incredible Northwest vibe in the fledgling Southwest cheese region, and this year I plan to introduce my growing cadre of friends to a true Northwest experience with an air-shipped package of goodness from one of Portland’s finest cheesemongers. 

I’ve thought long and hard about which cheeses will grace my table at my Ultimate Cheese Celebration and I chose the following cheeses not only for their incredible taste and quality but also for the exceptional families who work hard to craft these products for our enjoyment. 

Willapa Hills | Two Faced Blue

Relative newcomers to the cheese scene, Amy Turnbull and Stephen Hueffed make some outstanding blue cheese from their flock of Lacaune-East Friesian cross breed sheep at their creamery in Doty, Wash. Two Faced Blue combines their sheep milk with cow’s milk from a local dairy to produce a “wild-aged” cheese inspired by classic Mountain Gorgonzola.

Estrella Family Creamery | Grisdale Goat

From the Estrella family of Montesano, Wash. comes a naturally cave-aged raw milk goat cheese with a flavor as unique and beautiful as its hand-pressed shape, which resembles a giant mushroom cap. The paste is dense and semi-firm with beautiful hazelnut notes on the finish.

Black Sheep Creamery | Tin Willow Tomme

This aged cheese is a cooperative effort between the Gregory family of Black Sheep Creamery in Chehalis, Wash. and the folks at Tin Willow Farm in Lexington, Ore. The recipe is similar to the eponymous Black Sheep Tomme but incorporates milk from the Tin Willow flock. The combined milk produces a cheese with wonderful grassy and sage notes. 

Rivers Edge Chèvre | Astraea

Pat Morford and her daughters Spring and Astraea handcraft many wonderful, beautiful cheeses using the milk from their herd of goats. For this four-month-old cheese, the rind is rubbed with spices, including Vietnamese cinnamon, smoky dried chipotle peppers and white pepper, giving the final product a distinctive spiciness that blends perfectly with the savory paste.

Ancient Heritage Dairy | Adelle

This diminutive, soft-ripened gem comes to us from the Obringer family of Scio, Ore. in the foothills of the Cascades. The cheese is a seasonal blend of sheep milk and Ayrshire cow’s milk. The rich and buttery texture is sublime and the edible rind adds a lovely bit of complexity to the flavor. 

Iinvite you to savor cheese at one or more of your holiday gatherings. Use my list as a springboard or work with your friendly local cheesemonger to discover your own “greatest hits.” This cheese selection will pair well with a festive Oregon bubbly or an elegant Pinot Noir. 

You can feel good about your purchase—whether it’s for yourself or a gift—because handcrafted cheese is the almost perfect food. Not only does it taste great, but it is the antithesis of the banal everyday flavors of commodity-issue products, ideal for making your holiday memorable. 

Beyond the great taste, supporting Northwest cheesemakers sustains community, keeping your food dollars local and communities thriving; it is the foundation of regional food security, incredibly valuable in these challenging economic times.   

Have a wonderful holiday season, and be sure to include some cheese in your celebrations and share the story of the talented and hard working cheesemakers of the Northwest.

Christine Hyatt is a Cheese Educator and food writer. Check out Christine’s gift-worthy cheese pairing recipes featured this month on the new www.cheese-chick.com .

RECIPE

Honey Crisp Almonds

“These deliciously addictive nuts are a super-easy holiday gift paired with creamy cheeses like Adelle and those in the semi-firm style like Havarti and Fontina.” — Christine Hyatt, Cheese Chick 

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup honey
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, more to taste
½ teaspoon allspice
2 cups almonds, roasted and unsalted
½ cup Turbinado sugar
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

1. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add honey, salt, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne and allspice. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture boils for 1 minute. 2. Add almonds, stirring constantly. Cook for an additional 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer almonds to a greased sheet of aluminum foil, being careful to drain off as much syrup as possible. 3. In a gallon-size baggie, combine Turbinado sugar, ¼ teaspoon cayenne, salt and cinnamon. Add approximately 1 cup of nuts to baggie and coat with sugar mixture. Remove nuts from bag and repeat with remaining nuts. Allow to cool thoroughly prior to storing in an airtight container.

For more cheese-centric holiday gift recipes, visit www.cheese-chick.com .

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