Recently, we were lucky enough to visit some points of cheese interest in Vermont.
Taylor Farm, right outside of Londonderry is a small farm of 50 dairy cows that produces some EXCELLENT local Gouda-style cheeses. They are open to the public, and while you are at the farm, you are free to take a walk around the grounds and meet the chickens, ducks, guinea fowl, goats, and cows!! When we drove in around 4:00pm, the cows were literally coming home; it was milking time!
We walked in the shop/welcome center and sampled some of the cheeses. Again, Taylor Farm makes Gouda-style cheeses—Vermont's only! In addition to original, they also have maple smoked, Chipotle, Garlic, and Nettle. My personal two favorites were/are the Nettle and Maple Smoked versions.
After tasting some cheese and talking to the fun fowl, we went to visit the ladies in the barn.
We were able to see the milking process—and even taste some of the fresh milk. I'd never tasted better milk. It kept saying it tastes like the field—in a good way. I wish we were able to buy more raw milk products in the US.
Before leaving, we went back into the shop and began asking some questions. Before we knew it, we were shown the cheese-making room! They'd just made cheese that morning, so we missed seeing the cheesemakers in action, but it was still very interesting.
After the curds are separated out from the whey, they are cut, cooked, salted, pressed and formed, and then placed into a brine/whey mixture.
After brining, the cheese is set to dry and cure in a refrigerated room. In the photo above, you can see the difference in the batches made, I believe, a week apart.
Cheese coated in wax and set to age.
I definitely recommend stopping by Taylor Farm if you are ever in the area of Londonderry, VT. Our next plan is to do an entire Cheese Tour of Vermont. I'm excited for that. I would love to visit some of the farms making the cheeses we sampled last year in Vermont as well as the many others the state has to offer. If anyone knows of a particularly good local dairy farm or cheese maker we should include on our tour, please let us know!
I had some pears from my parents' trees in Vermont, and I wanted to do something special with them. I found a recipe for a Ginger Pear Upside-Down Cake and decided to give it a whirl. It was good and pretty nice-looking and easy to make. I think I would add a bit more spice to the actual cake though...either that or make some more of the "topping" as a sauce one could drizzle on top of each slice. Give it a try and let me know if you have any suggestions!
For the topping: 3 Tbs salted butter, at room temperature ½ cup light brown sugar 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon 1 tsp salt 4-5 medium to large ripe pears, peeled, cored, and quartered lengthwise
For the batter: 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature ¾ cup light brown sugar 2 Tbs peeled, grated ginger 3 large eggs 2/3 cup molasses 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 1 ½ tsp baking powder 1 ½ tsp baking soda ½ tsp salt 1 ½ cups buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Oil a 9-inch springform pan, and line the bottom with a 10-inch circle of parchment paper.
To make the topping: combine 3 Tbs butter, ½ cup brown sugar, cinnamon & salt in a medium saucepan. Melt the butter over medium heat for about 1 minute; then pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan, completely coating the parchment paper. Place the quartered pears on top of the butter-sugar mixture, lining the pieces up tightly in a decorative circle so that none of the bottom shows through.
To make the batter: cut 2 sticks of butter into 1-inch pieces, and put them in a large mixing bowl. Add ¾ cup brown sugar, and cream the mixture on medium speed for 3-5 minutes, until it is smooth and a pale tan color. Add the grated ginger, and beat 1 minute more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the eggs one at a time, beating on low speed and making sure that each egg is fully incorporated before adding another. When all the eggs have been added, slowly pour in the molasses and beat to fully mix. The mixture will look as though it is “breaking” or curdling, but don’t worry—it will come together when the dry ingredients are added.
In a separate medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to fully combine.
Alternately, add small amounts of flour and buttermilk to the batter, stirring and folding with a rubber spatula until the dry ingredients are just absorbed. Do not overmix the batter. Pour and scrape the batter into the pear-lined pan, smoothing the top with a rubber surface. The pan will be nearly full.
Carefully transfer the pan to the center rack of the oven, and bake for about 1 hour and 45 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the cake’s center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Cover the pan with an upside-down serving plate; then carefully invert them together. Release the sides of the pan, and lift it away. Gently lift the pan’s base off the cake, and peel away the parchment paper. Allow the cake to cool for a half hour or so, and serve warm, with whipped cream.
As we get closer to the Tots Sants (All Saints) Holiday, bakery and confectionary windows here in Andorra have begun to advertise for the traditional All Saints treat, panellets. Literally meaning more or less "little breads", panellets are delicious little confections made primarily of marzipan. The most popular and arguably most delicious are those dipped in pine nuts and glazed with egg whites. Any fan of marzipan, almonds, or nuts in general MUST try them. At around 1€ a piece, however, they are not the cheapest sweet habit to get into.
The panellets, along with roasted chestnuts (castanyes torrades), sweet potatoes (moniatos), and a dessert wine like a sweet moscat (moscatell dolç) make up the traditional Tots Sants dessert spread. I'm thinking I need to learn how to make panellets myself and post a recipe ;-)
After a bit over a month of residing in the Principality of Andorra and enjoying all the wonderful food here, I think it is about time I shared some of my experiences. I hereby decree the commencement of 'A Taste of Iberia and the Pyrenees', with frequent installments featuring products, recipes, and anything else related to food and beverage in this glorious corner of the world.
For this first entry I would like to recount a small beer tasting we held casa nostra in which we progressively tasted the 3 primary varieties of the Portuguese beer 'Sagres'. Given that the Portuguese make up some 12% of the Andorran population, it is no surprise that Portuguese food and beverage are easy to come by. The name Sagres comes from the Portuguese town of Sagres, located at the Southwest tip of the Iberian peninsula. The biggest selling beer brand in Portugal, Sagres was first introduced at the 1940 Exposição do Mundo Português and has had great success ever since.
The first beer to be tasted was the simple Pilsner Sagres Branca, the flagship brand and biggest seller. The taste was simple and clean, but nothing to write home about. It is comparable to many of the other inexpensive pale lagers produced in Spain and Portugal and would probably be best described as a simple table beer. It has a 5% alcohol value.
Next on the list was the Sagres Bohemia. Launched in 2005, Bohemia lager is a noticeably darker amber color and presumably inspired by the beers of the Czech Republic. This is my favorite of the 3 for an everyday beer - it is aromatic and flavourful but not too heavy on the wheat, which can make one feel uncomfortable after throwing a few back. It has a slightly higher alcohol content of 6.2%.
Last but not least we tried the Sagres Preta (with Preta meaning "dark"). At 4.3% alcohol it is the least alcoholic of the three, but what it lacks in punch it makes up for in flavor. Also available since 1940, it was for a long time the only available dark beer in the Portuguese market. To me it had a slightly smoky flavor, and I was surprised by how light it was considering its darkness. Andrew and Mike picked up some some coffee and nutty tones, but unfortunately my congestion prevented me from any deep tasting insight. I could definitely see myself drinking this while stuffing my face with say...pork ribs, since clearly I would want to fill up on the meat, not the alcohol, but at the same time would still want to have a nice, rich beverage to enjoy.
Still on the list to try are the LimaLight - Sagres' answer to BudLight Lime and all of those other Chelada-type beers - and then the Bohemia 1835 Reserve. Unfortunately I have yet to see either in the stores - and trust me, I have explored the grocery store options here in Andorra. Given the number of Portuguese in Massachusetts, I know as a fact that Sagres is available back home, but as to the Bohemia and Preta varieties, that I couldn't tell you - keep your eyes peeled!
Our second day in Napa started out by Bry and I driving another way into Napa so we could see Sonoma Valley on the way. Sonoma has such a dynamic landscape, we both thought it was much better to go this way, over the Golden Gate Bridge, than over the Bay Bridge as we did the first day. Our agenda for day two was: Frog's Leap Winery, followed by Grgich Winery, lunch at Bouchon, then Stag's Leap Wine Cellars.
I had made reservations for the tour and tasting at Frog's Leap on the recommendation from the NY Times. Before going on the tour, I didn't hold Frog's Leap in very high regards, but afterwards, I consider it, one of my favorite wineries and wines. We met our tour guide Rachel in a beautiful house that was relatively new to the vineyard. It had huge windows facing out onto an organic garden and vases of flowers and straw hats dotted the rooms throughout. The tour began with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Rutherford in the dining room of the home. It was crisp and lovely. Rachel took us then outside to get a better view of the vineyard and gardens and gorgeous mountain view. She explained to us that Frog's Leap is an organic and biodynamic vineyard (it's LEED certified). Frog's Leap also believes in "dry farming", this means that the vineyard does not use a drip irrigation system to water it's vines. This causes the vines to grow their roots deeper into the soil, some 22 feet (this is the same method used in France but those roots reach 100 feet deep). Not only does this make the vine stronger but it enables the farmer to till the soil around the vine 4 ft deep. Drip irrigated vines have shallow roots and root balls and if you were to till around them, the roots be ripped apart. Not being able to use a tiller creates the problem of weeds for the farmer so they resort to weed killers, chemicals, and other non-organic fertilizers (since the weed killers destroy the good bacteria in the soil too). On top of all this, since the root system is more shallow, the vine is not as strong and therefor needs to be replaced every 13 years or so whereas the organic deep-rooted vine can live up to 80 years before being replanted. This is one of the reasons why Frog's Leap can produce more consistent, cheaper wine that some of it's competitors. Since each vine costs 1000 bucks to replace (yes, $1000....I didn't type that wrong) other vineyards must mark-up their wine to cover the cost of the replanting as well as their expensive oak barrels that they use (again, these cost $1000 a barrel). Since Frog's Leap is organic, they do not want to mask the flavor of their wine at all so use the oak barrels for about 8 years before they replace them which give a much more subdued oaky taste then brand new barrels and again this causes the wine to be cheaper in price as well. Each of the Frog's Leap wines were delicious (besides the Sauvignon Blanc, we had a Zinfandel from Napa Valley and Merlot from Rutherford) but the one that really stood out was their 2005 Rutherford wine. At $75 a bottle, it's about half the cost as other wines that taste just as good. The Rutherford wine comes from a single vineyard run by Frog's Leap but owned by a guy that everyone lovingly refers to as Uncle Joe. The tasting and tour at Frog's Leap is only 15 dollars and is worth every last penny. The property, our tour guide, and of course, the wine were all just fantastic.
After Frog's Leap, we headed over to Grgich Hills. Grgich is known for their whites because the man who started the winery Mike Grgich was the wine maker who was at Chateau Montelena when it won the Judgement of Paris in 1976. Needless to say, the Chardonnay and Fume Blanc we tasted were both excellent (as were the reds: a Zinfandel and Cab) but the most amazing part of our tasting was that Mike Grgich was actually there and he signed a bottle of his Fume Blanc for us! I was in happier than a pig in mud. This bottle will definitely be my favorite souvenir of Napa.
After all that excitement, we needed a break so we headed over to Yountville for lunch at Bouchon. Bouchon is owned by Thomas Keller, one of the top, if not the top, chefs in America. Keller owns the French Laundry but since reservations there are nearly impossible, many settle for his more casual, French bistro-style restaurant Bouchon. Bouchon is wonderfully appointed, it's a relaxed Napa-infused French bistro atmosphere where palm trees dominate the dining room and warm reds and tiled floors make diners smile with delight. The food is perfect. Simple but truly delicious. The menu is printed on butcher paper that's folded up and wrapped around your napkin.
After reviewing the menu, I ordered the Boudin Blanc, a white sausage with potato puree and French prunes. Bry ordered the Gigot d'Agneau, a roasted leg of lamb with merguez sausage, braised kale, crispy polenta, pearl unions, and lamb jus. As a side we ordered the Macaroni au Gratin (no translation needed). We were served bread in the shape of a wheat stock which we thought was super cool. The bread was good but we both thought it was slightly a bit too crusty. My sausage was delicious and it was so nice to know that the actual sausage was made right on the property and not store bought and just thrown on the grill. (It's good to note that near Bouchon, and across from the French Laundry, Thomas Keller has a vegetable garden where he grows many of his ingredients. Anyone is welcome to walk around and take in the sites and smells) The prunes and potato puree were excellent as well. Bryan said his lamb was very tender and flavorful, they told him it would be rare but when it came out Bryan said he could have had it a bit more rare. He thought the fried polenta was the most intriguing for him (he's southern) and that everything worked very well together.
For dessert, we ordered the profiteroles which came with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce and the special which was a "bouchon". Many times, when you order profiteroles, the puff is not tasty and you end up enjoying the ice cream the most...the puff becoming just an after-thought. What I liked about these profiteroles was that the puff was so fresh and not chewy. The bouchon was three small chocolate cakes (similar in texture to a brownie)shaped like a wine cork that were served with mint ice cream, chocolate sauce, a champagne gastrique, and a wisp of solid chocolate. These bouchons were delicious. They were warm and soft in the middle and with the gastrique sauce (which I can't even begin to explain) combined with the mint ice cream (that tasted like real mint!) was the perfect end to a perfect meal.
With a full belly and wonderful memories we headed back into San Francisco; another day beautifully spent.