Cheese Twins Blog
By Charlie Kalish
Crackers are a simple and fail-proof vessel for serving cheese, and so are crispbreads. Crispbreads are common in Scandinavia and are essentially sourdough crackers, and I eat them with cheese and cultured butter on a regular basis.
I like crispbreads because of their crunch and the delectable flakes of salt that melt on the roof of your mouth. By adding seeds and spices and toppings, you can create unlimited combinations of flavors and textures (as well as pairings for cheese, wine, beer, you-name-it). Beyond being tasty and having excellent shelf life, they also have a pleasing visual aesthetic.
How to make your own
Getting Starter with a Starter
The recipe below is adapted from Tartine Bakery's recipe for "Wheat-Spelt Crispbreads with Sesame & Fennel Seeds" (p.212) in Tartine Book No 3. In order to make this crispbread, you will need a sourdough starter to create a leaven. Sourdough starter takes a week to develop, and requires minimal cost, time and effort, but it's easier to pilfer some starter from a friend if available. If starting from scratch, here is a starter/leaven recipe from the New York Times' instructions for Tartine's Country Bread (see Steps 1-3) and another from Serious Eats.
1. Mix the leaven and water in a medium bowl until leaven is blended into the water. Set aside.
2. To the second medium bowl, add the flours, wheat germ and sea salt and mix with your hands. Add the water-leaven mixture and mix to form a dough.
3. Cover the bowl with the kitchen towel and let ferment in the refrigerator overnight.
4. In the morning, portion the dough into 50 g pieces and work with your hands into balls (see right)
5. Coat a flat work surface with wheat or rye flour and add one dough ball. Press the ball flat with the palm of your hand and coat the top with more flour. Roll out with rolling pin until a thin sheet. Alternatively, roll out until flat enough to put through a pasta machine, which is not only quicker and easier but also ensures even thickness which will help ensure even baking. If uneven, thin parts may burn while thick parts remain chewy and un-fully baked.
6. Transfer the dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush top of the dough lightly with water and sprinkle with toppings. Set seeds and salt into the dough by pressing gently with your hand.
7. Bake dough at 425 deg F (220 deg C) until golden brown, 8-15 minutes depending on the strength of your oven. If the dough starts to darken (and it'll happen quickly), it's all over, so keep a close eye on it. As soon as the dough changes to golden brown, remove from the oven and place on a wire rack. Repeat with all of the remaining crispbreads.
8. Once you have baked all of the crispbreads, reduce the oven temperature to 200 deg F (95 deg C). Return the crispbreads to the oven all at once, placing them directly on the metal racks, and continue to bake for 10-15 more minutes with the oven door slightly ajar. This will further dehydrate the dough, giving it a nice crispy texture. The color should not change.
9. Transfer the finished crispbread to a cooling rack and enjoy!
That's it, you're done! Now spread some blue cheese (February is Blue Cheese month) on it and enjoy. Also delicious with butter and fresh cheeses, like farmer's cheese or goat cheese (fresh chevre).
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To learn more about Tartine Bakery, visit their website. You can also purchase their book, Tartine Book No 3, from virtually any major bookseller.
It was once said that cheese comes before dessert because it is the first dessert. Fromage blanc (when blended with sugar) makes a great cheese cake; a young triple cream pairs wonderfully with strawberries. I consider eating these cheeses equal to shotgunning a can of whipped cream, but with class. They’re great, everyone’s going to love them.
But in my opinion, the finest dessert cheese of all time is blue cheese. Pairing it with fruit, honey or late harvest wine provides a window to human happiness, as it might have existed thousands of year ago.
Many of my favorite blues come from Rogue Creamery. Founded by David Gremmels and Cary Bryant, the mission of the business is to help sustain the rural landscape and economy of Southern Oregon by making some of the world’s best cheese. That means you can fill your face with their cheese and still feel like you’re making a sacrifice for the common good. This is one of the few American companies that exports their cheese to France (Enough said?).
I sat down this week with Rogue Creamery’s talented cheese monger, Chelsea Faris, to learn more about Blue cheese, and in particular, Rogue Creamery's Caveman Blue.
MICHAEL: Why are people afraid of blue cheese?
CHELSEA: People tend to be scared of mold and potent flavors. People may have tried some blue cheeses that weren’t super quality and they thought that’s what all blue cheese taste like. I went to grade school in Ohio and then moved to Wyoming. We always stayed with the tried and true, cheddar. And being from Ohio, we would eat processed cheese. I didn’t taste a blue cheese until I was in my twenties.
MICHAEL: How is Rogue Creamery’s Caveman Blue distinct from the others?
CHELSEA: The texture is like peanut butter, super fudgy. We call it luscious [laughter] and it’s full of umami flavor without being too sharp or strong. It’s also Certified Organic. We called it “Caveman” after the mascot of Grant’s Pass, where the Rogue Creamery dairy is situated. We purchased the dairy a few years ago.
MICHAEL: What is your favorite way to enjoy Caveman raw?
CHELSEA: I really like Caveman on the raincoast crisps with a marmalade or pickled beets.
MICHAEL: So you like to go sweet?
CHELSEA: Yeah, it definitely can go that way. But I always enjoy savory pairings, too. You have to try it on a crisp romaine leave, with fresh or pickled beets, topped with orange zest.
MICHAEL: I will definitely try that. What is your favorite way to cook Caveman?
CHELSEA: This one time at David’s house (the co-founder), David threw an amazing dinner and topped it off with a Caveman soufflé! That is probably my favorite. Another one is Caveman s’amores (Below). It plays on the sweet and salty combo.
MICHAEL: What should people avoid doing with Caveman, or blue in general?
CHELSEA: You don’t want to cube or mash blue cheese. Serve it as a clean cut or crumble it into a bowl. You can also crumble it onto a cheese plate and round it out with crackers or nuts, so it doesn’t look like an accident. Maybe don’t make a milkshake?
MICHAEL: Really? I think a vanilla and blue milkshake sounds pretty good. What about ice cream?
CHELSEA: Salt and Straw, an ice cream parlor in Portland, makes a blue cheese ice cream with candied pear. I tasted it and thought, this is awesome. I’ll leave it to the chefs to figure out.
MICHAEL: What blue cheese would you recommend to an blue-phobic customer?
CHELSEA: We make 9 different blues, they’re all different flavors and textures, so there is probably something here that customer will like. If they gravitate toward milder flavors with sweet cream or fruit I would always recommend our signature classic Oregon Blue. However if you like mushroom, umami earthy flavors Caveman may be the right fit! For the adventurous try Smokey Blue, it’s unlike any smoked cheese you’ve ever tried and it’s candied bacon flavor is out of this world! Some like this and not other blue cheeses.
MICHAEL: What is the strongest blue cheese you recommend to a blue cheese lover?
CHELSEA: Age and distinction will attract blue fans. We have a mixed milk Blue called Echo Mountain that has 2 years of age on it, and of course you can’t leave out the famous Rogue River Blue! Aged 12 months before getting wrapped in syrah grape leaves that have been soaked in pear brandy. We actually have a blue called “Brutal Blue” that’s aged more than 2 years. It can be any of our core blues with the exception of Smokey. Just has to reach a certain flavor profile.
MICHAEL: Why is it a good idea to bring a blue cheese to the party?
CHELSEA: Blue cheese is a great way of rounding out someone’s cheese board. You can also get blue cheese from different types of milk. We have a lot of holiday parties around here and if I don’t bring some blue, people are disappointed. I’ll bring it as a stand-alone or incorporate it into a dish, which can make it a bit more approachable.
*Thanks to photographers Jon Jensen and H. Sterling Cross for the Rogue Creamery photos.
Melting has the magical effect of toning down the pungency of washed rind cheeses while ramping up the flavor, which explains why washed rinds make such an excellent (and unanimous) choice for gratins and savory quiches, and even mac n' cheese. While more expensive than a mass-produced cheddar, the end result is a richer, more decadent depth of flavor.
Granted not everybody appreciates a "smelly" cheese (or so they think), but if anything can convert a non-believer it is a tofu grilled cheese reuben.
Michael & Charlie Kalish are international cheese experts and winners of Season 7 of Food Network's Great Food Truck Race.