Monday, May 4, 2009

Cheese Tasting

If you want to see grown women act positively giddy, sit them at your dining room table and tell them you're going to serve them cheese. And wine. And beer.

Our Food Tasting party this month was all about cheese. The party was held at Jen's house and to say her house was "a hit" would be a serious understatement. The majority of the girls at the party had never seen or been to Jen's beautiful log home, so first, there was some gushing, then there was some drooling, some touring, more drooling, and then several rounds of compliments. Once we got everyone settled down from the excitement of Jen's home, we stirred things right back up when we sat them down to taste some cheese.

Our very favorite Canadian friend and wine connoisseur, Sarah helped us choose some wines to compliment the cheeses along with a beer or two. She helped serve up some white wine, red wine, a lager, and good old H2O in some little Dixie cups so we could taste them with the cheeses.

For fun, Jen, Sarah, and I decided (okay, I decided, but they agreed to play along) to start things off with a little deception. The girls were so revved up and ready to taste some cheese, that since the first cheese up for tasting was Saint Andre - a cheese out of France that's buttery, soft, delicate, and described as a "triple cream cheese", I thought it would be funny to secretly serve up Philadelphia Cream Cheese as the first cheese and just see how it played out.

Since everyone at the table was a cheese fanatic, they ate it up - no questions. Patty and Carrie made the comment that it did indeed, taste like cream cheese, while Karen just smiled and said "Ummmm. I like cheese." When we confessed to the Philadelphia, nobody was surprised and nobody was disappointed because cheese IS cheese. Still, they were anxious to get started with the real good cheeses - no offense Philly!

So, St. Andre - most everyone really liked this buttery, spreadable cheese and it was agreed that it tasted better on a simple cracker compared to a baguette, simply because the cracker allowed the subtle, but fabulous flavor of the cheese to take the spotlight.

The second cheese, that we determined tasted best on soft bread was the Blue Jacket Herbed Chevre . This particular brand of goat cheese is made locally and it had a fabulous flavor that we all agreed would taste great with veggies. Karen told us about a wonderful appetizer that she makes with goat cheese and red peppers and she thought this cheese would be perfect for that recipe. She promised to share.....

Cotswold, out of England, was the third cheese tasted. It's very similar to cheddar, but it's not as hard. It's been nicknamed the "Pub" cheese because it goes so well with beer - particularly the strong, dark ales. But don't count it out if you're not a beer drinker, because this cheese is not just for the bar-stool warmers, this cheese can also be washed down with some Shiraz or Zinfandel - we know - we drank it. Everyone really liked this one! It was a winner in our book, even though I'm not sure there are any losers when it comes to cheese - unless we're talking velveeta - which we're not because it's not cheese. I intentionally showed our lack of respect for this processed product by refusing to capitalize it! Why eat velveeta when there is so much great cheese in the world to be eaten?!

That's for all the cheese lovers who feel the same way!

Moving on...

Cheese number four - Parrano. YUM!
This little number raised a lot of eyebrows and turned some already happy smiles into positively goofy grins. It had a nutty Parmesan flavor with a gouda-like texture. Word on cheesey street is that this cheese is very versatile and can be grated, sliced, or melted - what more could you want? A beer? Have a cold Ale, Lambic, or Lager - Parrano gets along with all of them. Not only that, he too, can hang nicely with a Shiraz or Zinfi.

Side note: The next day I sauteed a small garden of vegetables in my wok for Sarah, Jen, and Noah. I tossed in some orzo to add a little weight and substance to the meal and to top it all off, I shredded in some of the Parrano left from the party - YES! believe it or not, there was cheese left over when the party broke up. Let me just speak for Jen and Sarah here when I say, "Wow! Yum! Deelish! Perfection!"

And then there was Grafton Cheddar. We were told by the extremely helpful and delightful young lady from Whole Foods that helped us choose the best cheeses for this affair, that Grafton is their most popular and best selling cheddar. Sold! It's an aged cheddar that's strong and goes well with apples, pears, and grapes. Toasted walnuts, whole grains, and crackers can hold their own with this cheddar too, because they all have assertive enough flavors to hang with the strength of this cheddar.

Side note: We made cheeseburgers the next day using the Grafton as the cheese and it stole the show. I guess you could say it's a showstopper, eh? (That "eh" is for our Canadian friend, Sarah, who we miss already!)

Sadly, our last cheese may have been misplaced in the line-up. Since all these cheeses were new to us, we only had Google to rely on for information. With that information, we decided the order the cheeses would be eaten in - starting with the mildest, of course. Mahon, our final cheese, was described as sharp, lemony, salty, and tangy. The young lady at WF told us that it was a perfect nibbling cheese.

Unfortunately, Mahon just wasn't enough of a powerhouse to compare to the Parrano and Grafton and everyone decided that even though it was a pleasant cheese, it wasn't a cheese we would cross the kitchen for. It was like trying to get excited about sparklers after watching a magnificent fireworks display - a slight disappointment.

Interesting Side Note: Later that evening, when everyone had left and Kendall and Noah were tucked into their beds dreaming sweet dreams, Jen, Barry, Sarah, and I started to notice our appetites returning. It was nearly ten o'clock at night and we found ourselves with a serious case of the munchies. We open the fridge and what do we see? Cheese. "Let's eat cheese!"
As we all stand at the counter next to the fridge, we start nibbling away at the cheese and crackers. We're eating and conversing, eating and conversing, eating and conversing, when we finally realize that the cheese we're all "fighting" to get another piece of is the Mahon! We couldn't believe it! It was then that we realized how wrong we had been, how judgemental we had been, and how unfairly we had treated this cheese - throwing him into the line-up totally out of proper order. He didn't stand a chance following the strong, aged cheeses, but once he had a chance to stand on his own, he revealed himself as a superstar cure for the midnight munchies.

So, to all the ladies at the party who turned their nose up at Mr. Mahon, like we did, we suggest that you take another taste of this cheese and prepare yourself for the inevitable smile it will bring to your face when you realize that there is yet another cheese out there you WOULD cross the kitchen for!

Before the party was even over, everyone agreed that there definitely needed to be future cheese tasting parties because these six merely put a dent in the wheel. So, after we make it through the tomatoes, apples, and pears, we'll consider hitting the cheese wheel again. Stay tuned!


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