Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Reypenaer Cheese Tasting

When I think of Holland, or the Netherlands, one of the first things that comes to mind is cheese, particularly gouda cheese. When Judy's siblings and their spouses signed up for a river cruise from Basel to Amsterdam, finding a way to experience cheese in Amsterdam became a priority. We found that the no. 12 ranked activity on Trip Advisor in Amsterdam (out of 137) was the Reypenaer Cheese Tasting Rooms. We'd never heard of Reypenaer Cheese, but after a little investigation, we added it to our itinerary.
Reypenaer is a Dutch cheese company that has been making cheese for more than 100 years. The original Reypenaer warehouse is located in Woerden, 25 miles south of Amsterdam and 24 miles southeast of Leiden. The historical way of ripening cheese still takes place in the old warehouse, with natural fluctuations of temperature and humidity the only constant. In modern cheese facilities, the ripening process is artificially regulated and controlled by modern technology, with lower temperatures and higher humidity. A claimed consequence is that the Reypenaer cheeses, made the old way, tend to lose more weight in the ripening process than their competitors' cheeses. Reypenaer also claims that the microflora of bacteria and molds in the wood of the planks, beams and floors, in the old warehouse, accumulated over years of cheese making, adds to the unique tastes of the cheeses.

Reypenaer makes three types of cheese in the old warehouse: (1) Reypenaer, aged for one year; (2) Reypenaer V.S.O.P., aged for two years; and (3) Reypenaer XO Reserve, aged for 2 1/2 years. Cheeses from the new warehouse carry the name Wyngaard. Wyngaaard Affineurs are made of cow milk and Wyngaard Chevre are made of goat milk.

At our cheese tasting class we were paired up with a cutting board, six blocks of different kinds of cheese and a printed grid for taking notes. We wrote down each of the six kinds of cheese, its color, its smell, its taste, its consistency, its age, our overall impression and our grade, on a scale of 1 to 5.

My least favorite of the six cheeses was Wyngaard Chevre Affind, made out of goat milk and aged for four months. 

It smelled a little sour, like goat, was mild and slightly sweet tasting, and the consistency was a little rough, not real smooth. I gave it a grade of 3.

Surprising to me after-the-fact, is my grade for Reypenaer, a cow's milk cheese aged for one year.
Reypenaer has been named the Supreme Champion Cheese (of all 260 categories of cheeses) three times, in 2005, 2007 and 2009, at the International Cheese Awards in Nantwich, England, a premier cheese show held each year since 1897. I gave it a grade of 3.25. 

What surprises me is that I rated the Wyngaard Affineurs a little higher at 3.5. 
It is also a cow's milk cheese aged for five months. Both were yellow and the Reypenaer had a slightly stronger smell. The Reypenaer had a little of a crystally consistency while the Affineurs was buttery smooth. The Reypenaer was stronger tasting, but the Affineurs was sweeter and had a bit of a grassy taste. It was described as a breakfast cheese.

Next, in terms of preference, was the Reypenaer Wungaard Kaas B.V. Reserve Special, which I am assuming is the XO Reserve. 
It was aged for two and a half years. The cheese itself was a darker yellow, particularly near the rind, and it had white spots in it. 
Its consistency was much denser, it was dryer and crunchy with crystals. It did not smell as strong as the Reypenaer V.S.O.P. cheese, aged for two years, but it did have a stronger after-taste and it was a little sweeter. This particular cheese is only made of summer milk and is their most exclusive cheese. I gave it a 3.75 rating.

I gave two cheeses a rating of 4. My favorite of the Reypenaer cheeses was the V.S.O.P., aged for two years. It was the strongest smelling, and strongest tasting, a little saltier and very crystally.

The other 4, my favorite of all the cheeses, was the Wyngaard Chevre Gris, a goat milk cheese aged for eleven months. 
It was more cream color than its less aged goat companion. It also had a stronger goat smell and was sweeter, more complex and woody tasting. It was dryer, grittier and more crystally than its companion.
As with other cheese tastings we've done, it is fun to see how aging and type of milk have such an impact on overall taste and texture. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Pont L' Eveque Cheese

Pont L' Eveque cheese is a French AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlee) cheese which must meet the following restrictions: (a) the milk must come from the area around the village of Pont l' Eveque, France (Calvados Department, northeast of Caen and south of LeHavre) ; (b) the curd must be divided, kneaded and drained; (c) the cheese must be washed, brushed and turned; (d) and it must meet one of several sizes (it comes in a square shape). It has been made since at least the 12th century, when it was called "d'Angelot," and it is probably the oldest Norman cheese still in production. Legend claims it was first made in a Cistercian abbey. A manuscript from that era states that a good meal should always end with some Angelot. In the 16th or 17th century it started to be called after the village where it was mainly produced. It is also known as Moyaux cheese. It is now one of the most popular cheeses in France along with Brie, Camembert and Roquefort. In France it comes from uncooked cow's milk, but when imported to the U.S. the milk must be pasteurized. The outside washed rind is white with some orange  coloration and cross-hatch impressions.
The center is soft and creamy and yellow in color with a mild barnyard aroma. It gets creamier with age. There are about six dairies that make it, but mine came with a Trader Joe's label and so I am unsure which dairy made it. 
Culturecheesemag.com describes the manufacturing process: Milk is warmed in a vat and cultures and rennet are added. It is allowed to coagulate. About an hour later, the curds are transferred to a table lined with linen. The curds are broken apart, releasing the whey which is allowed to drain. The solids are put into square-shaped molds. They are allowed to drain further before being placed on plastic mats laid across wire racks. After three days the cheese is salted which promotes draining and rind growth. They are aged until at least 15 days old and can't be released for sale until at least 20 days old. 
I have seen the taste described as "mild, milky and grassy" flavored; a "delicate bouquet...reminiscent of the Norman countryside"; "fruity, subtle, and refined"; and "a flavor of freshly cracked hazlenuts."  
I have learned to enjoy the barnyard smell that comes with washed rind cheese. It usually guards a beautifully mild tasting cheese within, kind of like the spines that protect a succulent cactus.  For those not familiar with washed rind cheese, it creates an expectation that it will be quite strong tasting and the mental aspect turns them away. I laughed as I read a well-written post on the cheese from a Proper Bostonian. After purchasing some Pont L'Eveque they "noticed a strange odor each time [they] added something to [their] shopping bag. It was the cheese...[They] wrapped it up as well as [they] could in a second plastic bag.." After getting home they spread the cheese on some bread and "took a bite. [They] surveyed the cheese, figured out, individually, that [they] could carefully remove it from the bread without too much damage, and did so. [They] contented [them]selves with some aged Gouda [they] had lying around. The French cheese was wrapped back up and put into the freezer for trash time." 

The center of the Point L' Eveque has a brie consistency. At room temperature I found the taste very mild. But it melts very easily and develops a much stronger taste that I enjoyed. I melted some on toast and put some egg cooked over-easy on top and it was fantastic. The stronger earthy taste complemented the egg which also came from the barnyard. Mmmm.  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Billy Graham Library - Charlotte

As a Mormon growing up in Salt Lake City, Billy Graham had a name and a persona that I was very familiar with, but I knew virtually nothing about him. I saw occasional glimpses of tv shows with him preaching in stadiums full of thousands of people and news clips of him meeting with presidents over the years. 

It was recently, reading the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, that he really caught my attention. Unbroken is a tremendous book about Louis Zamperini, a fantastic college runner, and participant in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, whose plane crashed in the Pacific during WWII. After being adrift in a life raft for months, Louis was eventually captured by the Japanese and held under brutal conditions as a prisoner of war. After his release at the end of the war, Louis married and turned to alcohol to escape the memories of his treatment as a POW. The alcoholism and his hatred for and desire to murder one of his Japanese tormentors doomed his marriage. His wife decided to seek a divorce. In the fall of 1949, Billy Graham, as vice president of Youth for Christ International, set up a circus tent in Los Angeles  where he held revival meetings for eight weeks. Louis' wife encouraged him to attend and as Louis was dragging his wife out of the meeting while Graham was ready to pray, Louis recalled a promise he'd made to God  while stranded in his raft in the Pacific: "If you will save me, I will serve you forever." Louis turned toward Graham who encouraged him to come forward, saying, "God has spoken to you. You come on." Louis went home that night, threw out his liquor, his cigarettes and his girlie magazines and for the first time since the war was able to sleep without the nightmares of his Japanese captors. Louis dedicated his life to helping troubled youth, rescued his own marriage, and opened a boys camp in the San Gabriel Mountains called Victory Boys Camp. It is one of the most amazing transformations of a life that has ever come to my attention. If Billy Graham did nothing else in his life, besides changing the Life of Louis Zamperini, who has in turn transformed the lives of so many others, it would be a life fulfilled.

Judy and I had a trip planned to the southeastern U.S. We were flying into Charlotte, North Carolina, then driving to Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia, before returning to Charlotte to fly home. We had lots of options that excited us in Charleston and Savannah, but nothing that really looked too interesting in Charlotte. The Billy Graham Library was ranked as the no. 1 of 60 attractions in Charlotte, but it didn't have much draw for us. However, I really wanted to do something in Charlotte and recalled the Louis Zamperini story and coaxed Judy into visiting the library. 

As a Mormon, I tend to be a little wary of evangelical Christians who are quite outspoken about Mormons being non-Christian. I was heartened in October 2012 when Billy Graham endorsed Mitt Romney for president and removed references to Mormonism as a cult from his website. 

The Billy Graham Library is just off the Billy Graham Parkway, and very near the Charlotte airport. As we drove down a long driveway, we eventually had to get past a guard station, where we were questioned briefly and then let in with a free pass. 
We first visited the Graham Family Homeplace, which was originally about four miles away, but moved there in 2006 to be part of the library complex. 
Graham lived in the home from age 9 until he went away for college. 

I engaged in a conversation with one of the hostesses about the Louis Zamperini book I'd read and she mentioned that an author who had been a prisoner of war had visited the library some time back and I assumed (correctly) that it was Zamperini, who is still alive. 

We left the Graham home and headed to the library, entering the barn-like structure, which represents the farm Graham grew up on, through a large cross-shaped entrance.
What followed was an experience much like a non-Mormon has when visiting a Mormon visitor center. It was kind of fun to be on the receiving end. Instead of being able to wander on our own through the exhibits, we had to be part of a group that went through in lock-step. We found that we did not have enough time to do the full tour and get to the airport on-time for our flight, so we asked if we could get a sped-up version. The supervisor told us to wait until the group in front of us finished, then to sit through the first movie presentation, then skip quickly through the next couple of rooms and make sure we visited the film at the end before leaving. Not surprisingly, in retrospect, we rushed through the historical information on Graham's life, what we were there for, and had the part of the presentation that focused on bringing us to Jesus, what they were there for.  

One of the exhibits was a tent representing the "Greater Los Angeles Revival," the event that changed the life of Louis Zamperini.
Unfortunately, as directed, we rushed through this exhibit. Most of the exhibits involved video presentations, staffed by volunteers (presumably), very similar to what you will find in a Mormon visitor center. Then as we entered the climax theater, just the two of us, we were told that if we wanted to pray with someone following the movie, we could be led to a prayer room on the other side. I don't really remember the details of the movie, there were many images of Billy Graham preaching. 
But the climax involved the four steps to finding eternal life.  The first step is understanding that God loves us and wants us to experience peace and life, eternal life. The second step helps us to understand that we, as sinful people, are separated from God, who is holy. The third step is understanding that there is only one way to bridge the gap between our sinful selves and God, and that bridge is the cross, Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose from the grave, paying the penalty for our sins. 
The fourth step is our necessary response, to receive Christ. Do we want to receive Christ right now? To do so we must admit that we are sinners, be willing to repent, believe that Christ died for us on the cross and rose from the grave, and through prayer invite Christ to come in and control our lives through the Holy Spirit. At the end of the movie we are informed that there are representatives out side the door waiting to take us to a prayer room if we would like to receive Christ as our Lord and Savior. We passed through a door in the shape of a cross and were met by four or five people. 
One of them nervously stammered, asking us if we would like to go to the prayer room and accept Christ. I thought of my own two years as a Mormon missionary in England, sometimes teaching people how to pray and then nervously asking them if they would like to pray to learn the truthfulness of our message. They were all very friendly and there was not any undue pressure to conform. I felt somewhat of a kinship, shaped by a similar experience many years ago. 

I think the biggest thing I came away with was an introspective look at my own experience as a missionary, seeing it through different eyes. Recognizing the similarity of many of the same steps I followed with prospective converts and being on the receiving end. We wondered aloud if the Mormons had learned from the evangelicals, or the evangelicals from the Mormons, or if there is a common formula.

Judy next to a statue in the bookstore that follows the tour. The statue represents the parable of the sower.
We found copies of Unbroken in the library and mostly confirmed our belief that it was indeed Louis Zamperini who had visited earlier (and confirmed later by the website). 

Finally, we went outside and visited the memorial prayer garden.
It was beautiful even among the mostly bare trees. There was found the grave site of Ruth Graham, Billy's wife, and the spot where Billy will be laid to rest when his remarkable life expires. 

At the end we were both glad we'd made this visit. We had a little more knowledge about the life of Billy Graham, we had a better feel for the worldview of the evangelicals, and we had a chance for introspection, to see our own worldview in a different light. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Cafe - Key West

During a short stay in Key West, Florida, we ate at The Cafe, located at 509 Southard Street (305-296-5515). It gets 4.5 stars on Yelp and is rated #7 out of 288 restaurants in Key West on Trip Advisor. They have a decent vegetarian selection and the menu items are different from what I normally see at vegetarian restaurants and were quite good.
Judy got the baked brown sugar acorn squash stuffed with curried Israeli couscous, red quinoa, zucchini, dried cranberries and pine nuts, over sauteed spinach. I don't believe I've ever seen acorn squash on a restaurant menu before and this was our first time eating red quinoa, something we have since purchased and made at home. The unusual mix of items tasted home-made, I guess because I've only ever had anything like it at home, or by La Fuji Mama who loves her various types of squash, like ambercup and kabocha. I would characterize this as a meat and potatoes dish in a vegetarian genre, nothing real fancy, just good basic, good-for-you food, which is real nice when you are traveling and trying to find something healthy. It was not flashy, not a taste powerhouse, but Momma's home cooking friendly. 
To share, we ordered the roasted stuffed red peppers, vegetarian sausage, brown rice, eggplant, onion, portabella mushroom with parmesan cheese, marinara and grilled asparagus. I didn't even realize, until doing this post, that we got green peppers instead of red peppers, they must have been out of red. As with the stuffed squash, I don't think I've ever seen stuffed peppers as a restaurant dish, but I've had it cooked many times by my mother, by Judy and by La Fuji Mama. This dish had a little bit more of a flavor quotient, supplied by the vegetarian sausage, particularly, and the parmesan cheese. And the marinara tasted home-made. 
I got the falafel pita with three bean salad. It was very good, I think the best thing we had. It was a very large pita with marinated salad (cucumber, tomato, onion, parsley), hummus, tahini, pesto and several chunks of falafel that were moist and mixed in well with the pita, unlike some falafel that can be so dry, all dripping out the sides, so nicely wet and moist and flavorful. The three bean salad was home-made type, better than store-bought, healthy tasting.
I've been to a lot of restaurants and this is a hard one for me to pin down and categorize. Maybe the name is a clue: The Cafe. How unoriginal and boring can a name for a restaurant be. But look at the sign, it looks Van Goghish, with big lush carrots and carrot tops jumping out of a blue background. 
Then the menu, stuffed peppers and stuffed squash, pretty basic stuff if you're cooking at home, but for a restaurant - extremely unusual. So what this restaurant is is a fun blending of home cooking with a restaurant that actually makes the restaurant very unusual, when at first blush it seems so bland. I highly recommend it for anyone traveling to Key West. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Water Buffalo Mozzarella

Water buffalo mozzarella is mozzarella cheese made from the milk of water buffalo. I recently tried and enjoyed a grilled water buffalo steak and when I spotted some cheese made from water buffalo, I had to try it. 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die (Frances Case, p. 274) lists Mozzarella di Bufala Campana as one of its 1001 items. It is a mozzarella made in Italy from water buffalo milk. Italy is where water buffalo mozzarella was originally developed and there it has DOC status. According to Wikipedia, there are references to buffalo cheese in Italy as far back as the 12th century (I found where one Italian cheesemaker claimed, without any authority, that the water buffaloes were brought into Italy by Hannibal). However, water buffalo cheese is now produced in many other countries including Switzerland, Spain, the U.K., the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Australia, South Africa, Egypt, Israel, India and Thailand. Water buffalo milk is much richer than cow milk, with greater levels of minerals, protein and fat. Because of that, it takes just under one-third less water buffalo milk, as opposed to cow milk, to prepare cheese or butter.  1001 notes that mozzarella gets "its name from the Italian word mozzare, which means 'to cut off.'" The cheese curd is kneaded, like bread dough, until it is smooth and shiny. Then in a process called mozzatura, a strand is pulled out and pinched off (or "cut off") with the finger and thumb to form a ball of cheese. The cheese balls are then put into a brine bath and soaked until they develop a "fibrous and elastic consistency." 1001 describes the taste as "delicate milky" and when cut "it oozes a chalk colored watery fluid with a gentle tang of milk enzymes." Sam Anderson, in an article in the New York Times Magazine, titled "Go Ahead, Milk My Day," went rhapsodic in describing the cheese. It is "almost unrealistically soft - it seems like the reason the word 'mouthfeel' was invented - with a depth of flavor that makes even the freshest hand-pulled artisanal cow-milk mozzarella taste like glorified string cheese...It lives (along with clouds and mercury and lava and photons and quicksand) on the mystical border between solid and liquid." He quotes  cheesemonger Steven Jenkins, "When cut...it will weep its own whey with a sweet, beckoning, lactic aroma." It comes in a container (a plastic tub or bag) filled with a watery whey. According to The Walks of Italy Blog, it needs to be kept moist. Once the cheese is exposed to air the taste starts to break down. Therefore, it should be eaten immediately. It should also be eaten on its own, not used in cooking or mixed with other flavors, because the delicate flavors of the mozzarella will be overwhelmed. 

I bought some Annabella buffalo cheese made from water buffalo raised on native grasses in Colombia. Annabella claims to have the only 100% grass-fed water buffaloes in the world. Their water buffaloes are not confined, are never fed grain and are moved from pasture to pasture year round to prevent overgrazing. The Annabella buffalo mozzarella is preserved in a milky white brine and packaged in a vacuum-packed plastic bag. 
The only ingredients are pasteurized buffalo milk, salt, cultures from buffalo milk and enzymes (Michael Pollan would approve). I now know why Sam Anderson went rhapsodic. Regular cows milk mozzarella, compared to the buffalo version, is beef hamburger compared to a bison ribeye. The texture and taste are completely different. Removing the buffalo mozzarella from the brine filled package feels like removing brains from amniotic fluid. It is squishy, delicate, watery. 

When cut it clumps together in oozy, undifferentiated masses. The taste is informed by the slightly salty, milky brine and the cool, soft pudding-like texture with a slight sweetness. As noted above, the best bites were the first slices, just fresh from the bag, alone and with a little bit of olive oil on top. 
I made some massaged kale salad, mixed with Himalayan sea salt and olive oil. I added the water buffalo mozzarella to it and it was tremendous. And as noted above, when I tried some of the left-over kale salad several days later, it had lost its magic. It was still good, but the mozzarella had no juice. 
This is a food item that is very different and that is worth the additional expense for a special occasion. I intend to try it again and I will probably just eat it plain, or perhaps with a little olive oil and some sliced tomatoes. It is as advertised. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Halloumi Cheese

I was in Von's the other day and saw a cheese I'd never heard of before. I bought it and found that it is one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die (Frances Case, p. 311). The package identifies itself as "sheep's milk cheese" and "the grilling cheese of Cyprus." Cyprus is an island located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and is the third largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily and Sardinia.
The label indicates it is a product of Cyprus, imported by Mt. Vikos, Inc. and that it is made from pasteurized sheep's milk, salt, microbial rennet, and mint. Wikipedia notes that it is unusual that no acid or acid-producing bacterium is used to set the cheese, it is all done by rennet (enzymes produced in a mammal stomach that coagulate milk and cause it to separate into solids (curds) and liquid (whey). Mint leaves were traditionally used as a preservative and to maintain tradition, it is often now packaged with fragments of mint leaves on the surface. Other brands of halloumi may also include goat and sometimes even cow milk. 

Part of what attracted me to the cheese was the wonderful packaging: a Greek Orthodox looking building with a mountain in the background.
I'm not finding an actual Mount Vikos, other than the name of the company, but there is a Vikos Gorge in the Pindus Mountains of northern Greece and a village of Vikos which is nearby. 

1001 indicates that halloumi cheese was "originally made by Bedouin in the Middle East, as its good keeping qualities made it ideal for their nomadic lifestyle." Production then spread to Greece and Cyprus. Halloumi is now made in "Cyprus using centuries-old methods." There, halloumi "'police' visit stores and dairies to ensure that the time-honored mehtods are being upheld." 

1001 describes it as "creamy white soft to semihard...with a fibrous, springy texture." It notes that it "can be sliced but not crumbled, and it is at its best when cooked.
In Cyprus, thin slices...are cooked in a hot pan until the outside is crisp and golden and the inside is soft. Or it is grilled and drizzled with olive oil, and then served with salad and pita bread." Wikipedia notes that it has a high melting point due to fresh curd being heated before being shaped and placed in brine. It can be fried brown without melting. 
Compared to feta, which would be the cheese most like it, at least that I have had, halloumi is saltier and  more rubbery. I'm finding browned pictures of fried halloumi on the internet which makes me determined to get more and try frying or roasting it. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fried Salted Sea Trout

Last weekend we spent some time with Andrew in Los Angeles and visited a Korean supermarket. They had salted wild sea trout for sale and I couldn't pass it up.
I've never eaten sea trout and I've always wanted to try it. Sea trout is also known as salmon trout, and is a form of brown trout that spends much of its life in the ocean before returning to freshwater to spawn. Sea trout is one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die (Frances Case, p. 365).  1001 indicates that the flesh is soft pink because of its diet of crustaceans and that it tastes similar to salmon, but is more creamy. 
I found a recipe for pan-fried sea trout, peas & chorizo fricassee by Gordon Ramsey. I wasn't sure how much salt had been used to prepare the trout I purchased, but I decided to treat it as though it had not been salted. I followed the part of the recipe that related to the preparation of the trout. I scored the skin of the trout at close intervals and then put on generous portions of sea salt and black pepper. 
I put some butter and a little canola oil in a frying pan, got the butter melted and put the trout in the pan, skin-side down. I fried it about 8 minutes, then turned the trout over to the non-skin side and squeezed half a Meyer lemon on to the fish and cooked it for another minute, basting it with the lemony pan juices. I turned off the heat and left the fish in the pan. 
The fish was cooked perfectly, a nice bit of crisp on the outside and wonderfully moist on the inside. 
It is a very mild fish and the salt and pepper spiced it up nicely. The recipe was fantastic. Judy said it was a little salty for her, I'm sure a consequence of the salting before I purchased it, but I thought it was just right and I look forward to trying sea trout again.