Monday, February 28, 2011

Cheese: Goat Gouda and Parmigiano-Reggiano

While in San Francisco we visited the Cowgirl Creamery in the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero and bought two kinds of cheese, one in particular that was really outstanding. I am a huge Gouda fan. Gouda is a yellow cheese made from cow's milk and is named after the city of Gouda in the Netherlands. It is round and has a mildly sweet and fruity taste and tends to be bland and mellow. Gouda does not have to be made in the Netherlands, it can be and is made all over the world. To make Gouda, cultured milk is heated until the curds separate from the whey. Some of the whey is drained and water is added which is called "washing the curd." It creates a sweeter cheese because some of the lactic acid is removed. It is pressed into a circular mould which gives it its characteristic shape and then it is soaked in brine and then dried. It can be aged from a few weeks to over seven years. Aged Gouda is one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die. With aging, it "takes on entirely new identities." After one year, it starts getting brittle, but can still be sliced with a sharp knife. At five or six years, "it can be as hard as a Parmigiano-Reggiano, packed with a powerful, complex flavor and calcium lactate crystals that make it almost crunchy when chewed."  For goat Gouda, the production process is similar. One of the cheeses we got was goat Gouda made at the Central Coast Creamery in Paso Robles. 
It is made with goat milk and some added goat cream which gives it additional flavor and perhaps has something to do with its white rather than usual yellow color. It is aged five months or more. The aging makes it semi-hard and a little more grainy.  
It has a "slightly nutty, sweet flavor and a caramel aroma." This is one of the most amazing cheeses I've ever tasted. I'm not sure if it is the use of goat milk, the added goat cream, the aging, or most likely the combination of the foregoing, but this is no mild, bland or mellow cheese:  it is a taste powerhouse and packs a wallop. 
The sharp taste assaults the taste buds like a strong cheddar, overwhelming the mouth like a jalapeno, but in a sweet cheddar-like manner.  It is best eaten in very small doses so as to enjoy the spectrum of the taste and physical impact. In larger quantities my mouth was completely overwhelmed and could not appreciate or detect the complexity of it. 

The other cheese we got was a Parmigiano-Reggiano made by La Villa Reggiana in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. 
It is made from raw milk of Bruna Alpina and Rossa Reggiana cows and is aged more than two years. It is a hard cheese with deep, rich flavors and is also one of the 1001 Foods
It was apparently Napoleon's favorite cheese and is an ingredient in pesto, great shaved in salads or eaten in "bite-size chunks." 1001 describes it as having a "wonderful complexity of flavor...[i]nitially salty and nutty, the taste opens up into an intense rich tang with surprisingly subtle fruity notes." 

I grilled some Chinese eggplant on our gas grill and added each type of cheese to some pieces, then melted the cheese on the eggplant briefly in the microwave. It was very good, but I found that both types of cheese were best appreciated by themselves, in small quantities.

I recently bought some goat gouda from Trader Joe's, aged 16 months.
It was not white colored, like that above, but did have the amazing wallop-packed taste. 
The taste is very complex, and as with the other, it is best to eat one small piece and wait awhile to get a full appreciation for the taste. I don't think this had the same over-powering effect as the gouda above. I would love to taste them side-by-side. Too much time has passed between them to accurately assess their relative merits. 
Rachael recently got some cheese from Cypress Grove Creamery in Arcata, California. One of them was Cypress Grove Creamline Midnight Moon, 
a pasteurized gouda made out of goat cheese and aged at least six months. It is made for Cypress Grove in Holland and shipped to the U.S. It was not as strong as either the Central Coast Creamery or Trader Joe's goat goudas, discussed above, but it was still delicious. I know the Trader Joe's was aged substantially longer and I'm guessing the Central Coast Creamery goat gouda was aged longer as well. I can say that I am a major fan of aged goat gouda. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ataulfo Mango

When we were in Chinatown in San Francisco recently we encountered a fruit that I had no clue what it was. It was small, yellow, weirdly kidney shaped and had a label that said "Cabello." 
I bought three of them to try. The box said mango on the outside, but I wasn't sure if they were in the original box. 
They were much smaller than any mango I've ever seen. 
When we got home I sliced into one and it clearly was a mango. The flesh looked and tasted like mango, but it was less than a quarter of the size of the traditional mangoes we normally eat. 
It was also less stringy than the normal mango and the seed is comparatively like a microchip. 
It is very thin (see above in the right half and below in the center - a side view)
and thus allows more mango flesh as a percentage of the mango, making it easier to cut (below the thin seed is just right of center and barely visible because it is a head-on view). 
Cabello is a company that specializes in marketing ataulfo mangoes. The ataulfo is grown in southern Mexico, in the states of Michoacan, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco, Veracruz and Chiapas. Wikipedia says they are sold between March and September, although I bought mine in February and they were ripe and tasty. If we had them available locally I would buy them. They are much easier to deal with than the traditional mangoes and the flesh is wonderful. I had some on my boiled whole wheat for breakfast and it was great. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Manzanos Banana

Manzanos bananas are grown in South America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. They are stocky, pale yellow, and about four inches long. 
I found the flavor described as "apple and strawberry overtones," "a delicious sweet taste with a hint of apple and strawberry," and a "combination of banana and pineapple and maybe a bit of strawberry," One website said they are ripe when their yellow skins have turned completely black. Another website said to "wait to eat it until the skin is black (not just a little black: BLACK) otherwise it is just "blah" with a tannic aftertaste. But if you wait (and I mean WAIT - like three weeks well past what you think is a reasonable wait for a banana) then you will be rewarded with a tropical disco in your mouth - smooth, creamy, pineapply, strawberry, banana love." I tried my first Manzanos after buying it at a Philippino store in Koreatown and without reading about it before-hand. The outside skin was a beautiful yellow 
and it looked short and wonderfully sized for a nice snack. 
What I bit into was horribly bitter and I ended up spitting it out into the garbage. It left a terrible aftertaste. While in San Francisco last week, Judy and I were in a produce market and I pointed out to her some Manzanos bananas. 
The proprietor, a Chinese woman that could not speak much English, pointed at me to buy them. I replied, "they're not ripe yet, they need to be black." This was, of course, after I'd read about them following my first encounter. The proprietor walked over to a bunch, pulled one off, peeled it and handed it to me. It was ripe and it was good. I now felt obligated to buy some and bought about four that I ate later that day at the airport. Meanwhile, the Manzanos I bought in Koreatown have been ripening 
and I've been eating them, one by one, as they have been progressively ripening. 
I did not wait until the peel was completely black. I think I prefer them better a little less ripe. 
Unlike some other banana types, I really like the Manzanos, despite my initial horrible unripe one. The peel is very, very thin and they bruise very easily. 
I love the size. They are a perfect size for a snack. I wish they were more available. So far, I have only seen them in small ethnic stores.

I decided to really wait on a couple of Manzanos and let the peels turn black.
As I've said previously, I'm not a major fan of real ripe bananas. The banana itself was obviously very ripe with darkening, not a bruised darkening, but a ripe darkening. 
Texturally and taste-wise, the ripe darkening was easier for me to take than the bruised darkening. The banana was more fruity and did have more taste. I did eat the whole banana. 
I think it would probably taste better in ingredient based banana recipes like banana bread than a less-ripe version. With practice and experience I could learn to like the real-ripe version, but the physical feel and look is still a little off-putting to me. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

St. Francis of Assisi Church - San Francisco

My great grandfather, George Q. Cannon, a participant in the gold rush, spent the greater part of 1850 in the gold fields near Sacramento. His journal for 1850 did not begin until September 24th. On October 25th, he and some other participants in the gold rush, arrived in San Francisco as they prepared to leave for the Sandwich Islands on a mission. On October 29th, he mentions a parade through the streets of San Francisco in celebration of California being admitted as a state "into the Union." As part of the celebration, he mentions a prayer by a "Rev.------" before an oration by the "Hon Nathan Bennet" which lasted 1 1/2 hours in the "Public Square." On November 15th they boarded the ship Imaum of Muscat in preparation for their departure.

George Q. returned to San Francisco from the Sandwich Islands on August 12, 1854 and helped Parley P. Pratt prepare his autobiography. He stated, "San Francisco has altered much; new wharves and new buildings have given the place another aspect. In levelling the streets they have had great labor in blasting, excavating &c, the ground being very hilly." On September 23rd he left San Francisco to return to Salt Lake. George Q. returned to San Francisco in 1855 to print the Book of Mormon in the Hawaiian language and to publish a newspaper. He arrived in late June 1855. He finished typesetting the Book of Mormon around January 26, 1856. Just a few weeks earlier than that, on January 4, 1856, he ran a prospectus for a weekly newspaper to be called the Western Standard. The first issue of the Western Standard appeared on February 23, 1856. In December 1857, with an army advancing on Utah, George Q. closed up shop in San Francisco and returned to Salt Lake City.

At the beginning of the gold rush in 1849, San Francisco had the Mission Dolores, or the mission church of San Francisco de Asis, which primarily worked with the native Indians. It was 3 1/2 miles from the docks. The city consisted of about 450 inhabitants. With the gold rush,  San Francisco quickly grew by thousands. On June 12, 1849, the Catholic Church officially established St. Francis Parish and had a small wooden shack serving as the church. This is the church George Q. would have seen before leaving for his mission to the Sandwich Islands. There is a drawing of the church at the church website. On June 17, 1849, the first parochial mass was celebrated in California. In 1851 an adobe structure replaced the wooden one. This is the church George Q. would have been familiar with while helping Parley P. Pratt on his biography, while preparing the Book of Mormon for publication and while printing the Western Standard. On October 2, 1859, the cornerstone was laid for the new St. Francis church to be built right over the existing structure. On March 17, 1860, a Norman Gothic church with twin campaniles, was dedicated. Following the San Francisco earthquake on April 18, 1906, the interior of St. Francis Church was gutted by fire, but the outer brick walls remained entirely intact. The church was completely rebuilt using the existing brick walls and rededicated on March 2, 1919. The church is now the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi and includes holy relics of St. Francis, Clare of Assisi and Anthony of Padua.

While Judy and I visited San Francisco recently, we stopped in to the St. Francis church. It is located in North Beach, now the Italian section, very close to Chinatown.

It is quite distinctive, sitting on a hill with almost a luminescent paint job and small crosses on each of the spires.
It would have been quite close to the water when built. The land extends quite a bit farther now than it did then due to ground fill. Just down the street is the landmark Transamerica building. 
The date 1849 adorns the church, the date when the first wood shack was built. 
A historical bronze plaque on the front of the church.
It is small but beautiful inside:

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Rambutan is an amazing fruit from Southeast Asia which I only recently discovered when I started to eat and enjoy Thai food. It is red or yellow (I've only seen red), covered in what looks like Muppet hair, but is pure heavenly delight in taste. The name is derived from the Malay word "rambut" which means "hairs." We were recently in Chinatown in San Francisco and I found some for sale in a produce shop. 
I purchased three of them, not quite sure what I was getting into. Judy and I sat down in a gelato shop to share some chocolate gelato and I pulled out one of the rambutans and started to peel it. The outer "hair" is quite stiff 
and the outer skin is stiffer than I would have imagined. It comes off much like an eggshell, in chunks, 
and reveals a dull white membrane. 
Inside the membrane is the gel-like translucent fruit 
which contains an almond-like seed. 
A bite into the fruit produces an explosion of wonderful sweetness, 
followed a little later by a more subtle citrusy taste. At that point I wished I'd purchased more than I had. Apparently rambutans do not travel well, so they are rarely found outside of the areas where they are grown. I'd previously purchased a can of rambutan in syrup 
and was saving it with the hope that I could find some fresh rambutan and compare the two. Shortly after we got home from San Francisco I opened the can 
and sampled the canned and sweetened version. It is not a favorable comparison. 
The heavier syrupy sweetness completely destroys the natural sweetness of the rambutan and the flesh becomes more dense. It thus becomes the best advertisement for fresh rambutan. However, an additional day removed from the fresh rambutan, I cut up some of the canned fruit and put it on my boiled whole wheat for breakfast and it was actually pretty good. The texture is not as nice as pear on wheat, but the taste works well. I can only imagine what fresh rambutan would be like. From here on out, if I see more fresh rambutan in a market, I'm buying it. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Before leaving for San Francisco last weekend I talked to one of my partners about places to eat while there. He called a person he knows, a real food connoisseur, who was able to rattle off about ten great restaurants in San Francisco off the top of his head. He knew I liked to eat unusual foods, so he put at the top of his list of suggestions Incanto, located at 1550 Church Street (between 28th Street and Duncan Street in Noe Valley), San Francisco, CA 94131 (phone: 415-641-4500). I called and made reservations for Saturday night. Incanto is known for using the entire animal, including and usually focusing on the parts of the animal that most other restaurants won't even use. The comments on Yelp were full of descriptions of dishes that looked very fun, including the leg of beast and a whole pig that you have to have a larger group to order. The menu changes daily, although there appear to be certain items that are available regularly. Before ordering, we were brought several kinds of bread and bread sticks with an olive mixture. 
The bread sticks were unusual and of several kinds, one kind having a bit of a licorice taste to it. We enjoyed it so much we had them bring us another plate of it, along with a bowl of olives, later in the meal. We ordered two starters. First was Boccalone Iberico di bellota lardo, shinku pear & mint. What I could gather was it was the lard of a Spanish (Iberico) pig on pears with mint. 
The waiter said that Spanish pigs are different in that they are only fed on peppercorns, I believe, and have a different taste to them. The shinku pear is a crunchy pear, like an Asian pear. I was disappointed in the dish in that there was not much pork lard and what was there did not really stand out as far as taste. I was wishing we'd picked a different starter. The other starter we had was not on the menu, so I can't give the correct name, but it was basically pieces of pork skin and fat, including pork cheeks, in beans and onion. 
It was much better than the other starter. The beans were good and the pork skin and fat was moist and went well with the dish. However, we had no salt or other seasonings at the table and it was too bland for my normal preference. Even Judy was wishing we had salt, so it was just not me, the saltaholic, that wanted it. As an entree I got venison with kale, carrots and juniper. 
The waiter strongly recommended it. Said the chef shot the deer in Texas just recently. The meat was quite stringy and difficult to cut, but it was cooked a nice medium rare and had a nice taste, a little gaminess to give it some flavor. The kale was wonderful, probably the only kale I've ever eaten that I really liked. It was good, but again, I wish I'd ordered a different entree, given what this restaurant is known for. Judy ordered the winner of the night: roasted lamb neck, smashed roots, tatsoi rapini and gremolata. I was expecting something like a tough turkey neck. What she got looked like a neck on mega-doses of steroids. It was huge and jammed full of meat! 
And my-oh-my, it was tender, melt-in-your mouth lamby goodness! Judy says it is probably the best lamb she's ever eaten. They cook it for 15 hours at 200 degrees and it just falls off the bone. It is full of fat and so it is moist and full of flavor. I ate all she would give me (she held back on some because she knew she'd be dealing with my snoring that night - made worse if I was really full). I would go back just to get a full serving of my own, but I would sneak in a salt shaker. This dish revealed that these people can cook! For dessert we shared a chocolate tart which was good. This is a place I have to come back to. I would love to try everything on the menu. In particular, I would love to get a group and eat a whole pig. I would also love to try their bone marrow (not on the menu the night we were there).