Cheese Plate, Emiliano’s Cafe

Cheese Plate, Emiliano's Cafe

I hate to sound bourgeoisie, but there’s something lovely about lunching on the terrace on a beautiful day. Especially with a glass of sangria and some pretty little bits to eat.

I was in bit of a sulk the other day, a random day The Man and I had off work together, and he was trying to coddle my irrational female moods. So he gave up his need for Sachels pizza and took me downtown to find a patio to sit on. I like the area because you can park and walk to any number of interesting places, even though the streets are mostly brick and my heels get trapped often.

We’ve always tried to like Emiliano’s Cafe more than we actually do. It’s a typical Downtown Gainesville restaurant–old building, interesting menu, full bar, live music occasionally. But to be quite honest, it feels somewhat like an elegant woman that has been letting herself go for a few years now. The intention is still there, but there’s a lack of the magic that gives something its personality.

My sangria tasted out of a box, the salad was out of a bag, and The Man’s fish sandwich looked better in the picture I took than it tasted going down. Nothing was outright bad, but it just wasn’t remarkably good. Nothing I would openly recommend to friends.

On the other hand, we were always fond of their cheese plate, and although it wasn’t on the lunch menu, the waitress passed our request to the kitchen, which was happy to do up a plate for us. The Man and I are of the belief “You don’t ask, you don’t get.”

(Stop talking and tell me about the cheese!) Okay!

So there was the usual fruits–apple, grapes, mango–and walnuts and slivered almonds, as well as some fairly crisp crostinis (ask for it without the mean to avoid prosciutto or seranno ham). I couldn’t even tell you what the third cheese was–some sort of cow’s milk thing, medium-soft, non-offensive, somewhat sweet and mild. A pure white color like vintage milk glass. Yes, I will try to find out what it was eventually.

Then there as a wedge of Manchego, a Spanish sheep’s milk cheese (Manchega sheep, don’t you know), made in La Mancha. Land of Don Quixote. It is a somewhat dense, oily cheese with a gorgeous nutty, salty flavor. The rind is usually a dark basket-weave pattern that is easily recognizable, and the body is a glowing off-white color. Manchego cheese is cave-aged for 2 months or more, and if you’re in the shops, look for a 12 month cheese since it gets nuttier and richer with age.

The main cheese on the plate as far as either of us were concerned was similar to the Manchego, but the rind was crusted with rosemary and olive oil. The flavor permeated the whole body of the cheese. It turned out it was actually in the same family as Manchego, the sheep’s milk from La Mancha family. But this style is called Romao Queso al Romero. It’s described as “rubbed with rosemary and olive oil”, but the rosemary is pressed into the rind and packed tightly. (Some makers use lard instead of olive oil, so keep an eye on this is you want to avoid lard.)

A rosemary rind looks quite pretty on the plate. Don’t think of it as decoration though. The mild nutty Manchego style (this one probably aged from 3 to 9 months) is elevated by adding rosemary’s earthy, wild flavors. This is not a timid cheese, and should be paired with something equally strong and earthy. I loved the walnuts with it, but the fruit on the plate was too mild or sweet. I would eat this with pesto on a sesame cracker, some strong green olives (Castelvetrano!), or with a glass of Spanish tempranillo wine. This cheese has such a beautiful flavor curve that it doesn’t need any other food to enhance it.

Despite the ho-hum meal, the weather was great (for an inland Florida July), the cheese was fantastic. And of course it was nice to have the day off with The Man. He might tell a different version of the story since he had to tolerate me being an irrational, moody female.

Manchego Sheep’s Cheese
Approx $20-40 per lb.

Romao Queso al Romero
Approx $16-26 per pound

Emiliano’s Cafe
7 SE 1st Ave
Gainesville, FL 32601
www.emilianoscafe.com
:: Cheese Plate (tapas menu) – $12

[Girl21]

Chèvre, a.k.a. Goat Cheese

Chevre, aka Goat Cheese

Leave it to the Welsh. Their version of goat cheese is called Pantysgawn. (Say it out loud if you have to.)

Chèvre is goat milk cheese. Many cultures have their own version of goats cheese because, let’s face it, humans and goats go back a long time. Because of the many different ways of turning the milk to cheese, there are many variations in consistency and flavor. Thus you have the above Welsh version of the cheese. Another cousin which is quite popular is feta, a Greek combination of goat and sheep milk made into a dense block.

Goat milk is much more popular worldwide than cows milk because it’s more accessible and keeps longer without refrigeration. It’s also closer to human milk than cow milk is, so easier to digest for children, the ill, and the elderly. And those of you with lactose intolerance make note of this because you’ll be much better off if you fall off the wagon with goat or sheep (milk products, I mean).

If the accent over the e didn’t give it away, chèvre is the French version of fresh goat cheese. It’s soft and bright white like cream cheese, but dry like a very smooth ricotta. Except for the mild furry, barnyard flavor that is the cornerstone of any goat cheese flavor curve, chèvre is quite mild. It is rich without being buttery, and has a fresh, grassy flavor profile that makes it ideal for including with other delicious foods rather than on its own. It is a pacifist in the cheese family. It just wants everyone to get along.

A favorite way to elevate chèvre is to mix it with seasonings and spread it on some lovely rosemary bread from Uppercrust. It’s handy that you can get just the right size slab of chèvre at Uppercrust (in fact you can get it pre-seasoned, but we prefer our version because it has so much flavor). It’s best to make this a few hours before you intend to use it so it can marinate and release the flavors. Take a lush slab of the chèvre (about 8 oz. give or take), and add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of a general Italian seasonings. And the key is at least four cloves of fresh garlic, pressed. Simply stir to combine well and refrigerate for a few hours.

Instead of just slathering it on bread with the finesse of a fifteen-year-old learning how to use cologne, try slicing the rosemary bread pretty thin and toasting it in the oven for a few minutes before spreading the chèvre on the warm bread. Try adding some marinated asparagus or very thinly sliced gouda.

You can also slice chèvre and bake it on the bread, with a sprinkling of oil and seasonings. It can be tricky since goat cheese doesn’t melt much, but it does get toasty and dry. Try it fresh and plain on a spinach walnut salad, or even with pears and apples. It compliments foods with mild but persistent flavors without overwhelming them.

It’s a lot of fun to experiment with chèvre as an alternative to cows milk cheeses. French chèvre is somewhat easy to find and is available under many names because there are many regionally protected varieties. Besides feta from Greek tradition, you could find goat cheese from several other origins such as Norway, China, and Australia… and of course the Welsh always have Pantysgawn.

[Girl21]

Morel & Leek Jack Cheese

Great Midwest Morel Leek Jack

When I was a teenager, we lived in a house that had a dark, musty patch of yard to the side of it. After my older brother ran off to live in the student ghetto and join a band, I was next in line to be the kid that mows the lawn. (My parents held no gender bias when it came to household chores.) So I got to intimately know the bumps and overgrown stumps in our lawn. And of course I got to know the smell that lingered for hours after mowing this side yard, always rampant with onion grass and mushrooms.

The reason I bring that up is that when I opened the seal on this cheese, I was transported instantly to that earthy, musty patch of yard, and all of those hours mowing over the dubious things that grew there. This cheese had the same mix of sharp, pungent green onion high notes, and dank fungal undertones. It smelled like old feet in the best possible way.

Great Midwest produces this young monterey jack cheese infused with leeks and morel (a type of mushroom that would make most teenagers giggle on sight). Leeks are in the same family as garlic and onions, and they carry a little flavor from each of their cousins. So that sharpness is a great balance for the funky mushroom base. In this case the leeks were a bit stronger that the morel.

Monterey jack is not ‘monterrey’ after the Mexican city, but ‘monterey’ after the town in California where Mexican friars started making this cheese in the 1800’s. (What’s the difference? Do you care? If the cheese is good…) It’s a semi-soft American variety of cheese that is only aged 1 to 3 months, so infusing it with other ingredients like jalapeño or mushrooms and leek, or even mixing it with colby, is fairly straightforward.

On a completely different note (and because I’m a geek), while reading up on jack cheese, I discovered something called a ‘cheese effect’. Unfortunately this isn’t related to being a turophile. Most aged cheese (and other aged food like beer, tofu and meats) and a lot of other berries and nuts have a chemical called tyramine that has been known to cause headaches and migraines. Fresh cheese like ricotta and neufchatel are exempt, and apparently of aged cheese, jack has the lowest amount of tyramine so it’s safe for people with migraine issues.

Okay, back from my geeky tangent… so this morel and leek jack cheese is pungent, smooth, and so full of flavors that the cat was sniffing at it for a few minutes before she could decide what to do about her sample. We had our first tastes with breakfast today and decided this would be perfect on some toasted sourdough bread with a bit of mustard and some diced green olives. Yummy sandwich. But warn anyone before trying to kiss them.

We found this at our local grocery store, and at $4.50 for a 1/2 pound little wheel, it’s not a bad price. It needs a crunchy toasted bread or crackers to contrast with the very creamy texture of the cheese. If you’re doing a cheese plate for a party, add this to the selection for a bit of fun. It’s definitely something you would serve with a meal you’re also serving beer with. Preferably a hoppy IPA.

Great Midwest
Morel & Leek Jack
$4-5 lb.

[Girl21]

Roncal Sheep Cheese

Roncal Cheese

The Man returned from a recent trip to the store and announced he had some sheep milk cheese. Even before he pulled it out of the bag, I could smell it. Salty, warm, old, dry, definitely ‘of the earth and soil’. This was not just a sheep milk cheese. This was Roncal.

It comes from the Navarre region in Northern Spain, an area that is as rife with extremes as this cheese is. The tiny territory has high, dry mountains, as well as deep, fertile valleys. The peoples range from Trans-Pyrenean Roman roots, touchy Basque communities, and convivial Mediterranean farmers.

These extremes are perfectly reflected in this cheese that gained regionally protected status. It can only be called Roncal if it is made here. Like the land and people, this cheese is at the same time oily and dry. Salty and subtly sweet. Tough to chop but easy to gently break. It comes from sheep who are hairy and unpredictable as goats, but somewhat more docile and drowsy. But you can still taste the fur, the warm press of bodies, and the green, moist feed.

I can’t help of think of an art project back in high school. We had to reproduce a portrait by a famous artist. I chose a self-portrait by Goya, not knowing anything about him except that I was drawn to the conflicted look on his face. If this cheese was a person, I imagine it as an older Spanish artist like him. Once young and passionate, but aged into an introspective character, riddled with opposing and undecided opinions.

The first notes from Roncal are on the nose, an saltiness that is animal and earth. Then is the layer of oils sweated from the hard, wax-like cheese. A knife is met with resistance, but it flakes like a soft granite under you bare fingers. The dark rind looks almost dirty. As if it was a rock in a cave for decades. But beneath the animal brine flavors, runs sweeping strokes of sweet butter, nutty warmth, and a gentle almond finish. It would be best crumbled and paired with a simple flat bread, maybe a mild mustard, and olives or asparagus. Drink a Spanish red wine with it, a Rioja or a strong tempranillo.

This artesian cheese can be found under several labels from a shop that offers specialty cheese. You can expect to pay anywhere from $18 to $30 per pound. It varies from semi-firm to hard, and varies from off-white to dark almond. The rind is thick and hard, often appearing dark and dirty.

Like Goya, this cheese is not for a pretty dinner party where you chat about celebrity gossip and cosmetic surgery. If you are serving anything you made from a recipe from Martha Stewart, you don’t need this cheese. If you are offering your guests finger bowls, you don’t want this cheese. This is for late evenings with friends on your back patoi, drinking wine and beer, and sharing from a loaf of bread and a bowl of olives.

[Girl21]

Old Quebec Cheddar

Old Quebec Cheddar

Those wacky Canadians! There’s only two kinds of cheddar… orange and white. Right? It’s that blocky stuff you get for grilled cheese sandwiches and grating over tortilla chips. Why would you spend $33.00 per pound on cheese that’s been sitting around for seven years?

Ah… vintage cheddar! When it’s super sharp, and aged long enough to flake instead of slice. When it has those crystals that make little gritty burst of saltiness on your tongue. It becomes slightly translucent, a little milky clear, almost glowing. Oh my!

Yes, yes! I know it’s just cheese, but we broke down in front of the cheese display at Uppercrust and got some Old Quebec Super Sharp Cheddar, aged 7 years. The blue-label reserve. The good stuff. This is no longer just cheese. This you can eat by just dropping a postage-stamp sized flake on your tongue and letting it dissolve. And you’ll be happy with that. It’s that good.

Cheddar cheese originated in the Somerset area in England, but cheddar as a name is so widely used now that they are bringing their style of cheese to the EU PGS board as West Country Farmhouse Cheddar. (There is much argument about ‘cheddar’ soon to come in the food arena, including stopping it from being artificially made bright orange for no reason whatsoever. And don’t get me started with the whole cheese-in-a-can rubbish.)

Proper cheddar should be treated as Old Quebec treats theirs, analyzing the process of making cheese, and honoring each season’s herds, feed, production cycle, and even weather during cattle grazing. They create cheese the way that it should be crafted, with a sensitive thought towards the final product. It’s let properly rest, mature, and age until it becomes something you would pay $30+ per pound for. Sometimes it is aged in caves. Like wine. Hm… what a coincidence.

This is not something you grate into your Kraft Macaroni & Cheese from a box. This isn’t something you would melt onto a gourmet sandwich, even if it included gold leaf. This kind of cheddar you eat naked (the cheese, not you, so please put your shirt back on). Serve it with sliced apples and pears. Some bits of crusty, fresh bread. Kalamata olives. Mustard. Or maybe some honey.

I can recommend a good cheddar for your next dinner party because it’s familiar and tasty enough for those people that think ‘fancy’ cheese is usually god-awful smelly. And it’s flavorful and well-crafted for your foodie friends to enjoy. Cheddar also pairs well with a mild wine or beer, so again, a great way to avoid scaring off your noob foodie friends.

Old Quebec Chaddar
OldQuebecCheddar.com

[Girl21]

Roquefort: Cheese of the Angels

Roquefort Cheese

As a general rule, something moldy and smelly should not be put in one’s mouth. We all know this. It’s wired into our little lizard brains at the base of our spinal column. Moldy, stinky food brings digestive problems that were once blamed only on a plague from god himself.

But at some point someone decided to try rotten dairy products, and discovered it can be quite yummy and only cause a bit of wind that helped to keep the body lice under control. Those wacky, backwards Europeans. I mean, in the middle east they were inventing religious squabbling and perfecting the art of crucification, and the French were eating moldy cheese and reciting poetry to their favorite sheep.

You are free to click through to read more on the history of Roquefort cheese and how the original mold was grown and introduced to the sheep milk curds. I’m not going to turn you off the cheese until after you’ve tried it and fallen helplessly in love with it.

Roquefort is a blue cheese, and it is one of France’s first regionally protected foods (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) that they got on the list because it’s so freaking good. This means it can only be made in the Roquefort region, and the ingredients are very specific. In fact, even the breed of sheep that can produce the milk for it are limited to three (although they used to add some cow or goat milk, they’re not even allowed to do that anymore). The reason I bring this up is to reassure you that although this moldy, stinky cheese looks a bit suspect, you’ve nothing to be afraid of.

We were taken aback the other day to be at Uppercrust and find an almost bare cheese cabinet. The Roquefort called out for us though, and we liberated her (along with a cheddar and a specialty cheese). This was a smallish wedge of Société, and not inexpensive. But I promise you this is worth every penny.

I served this and the cheddar, each gently sliced into chunky slabs, along with a rosemary batard, a sliced granny smith apple, and some kalamata olives. We opened up a bottle of red wine (Our Daily Red, to be exact). This was easily one of the best meals I’ve had in six months. I am not exaggerating.

The Roquefort is a creamy blue cheese. Although it has a distinct salty, nutty flavor, it has a lovely sweet undercurrent and a clean finish. Keep in mind, a little goes a long way. Tear a piece of bread and top it with a small chunk of Roquefort and the flesh of a kalamata olive. Nothing fancy. When you wake up from your drunken food stupor and find the plates are clean and the wine is gone, you’ll thank me for suggesting one of the most perfect things you’ve ever put in your mouth.

If you’re still afraid of this cheese, it has one of the highest levels of glutamates in almost any food. This is an amino acid important for learning and memory. Be smart. Eat your stinky, delicious cheese!

[Girl21]