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Archive for the ‘Cheese for Dummies’ Category

The following is a reblog of a piece I wrote today for culture: the word on cheese. I don’t even have it in me to try and come up with a snappy hed to this post.

“I have the best job in the world. If I’m unhappy, it’s a failure of imagination.” —Anthony Bourdain

I met Anthony Bourdain in the summer of 2012, when “The Layover” was taping at my former place of work, a now-shuttered cheese shop in Seattle. Like so many, I’d been an ardent fan since reading Kitchen Confidential, his ground-breaking memoir-cum-expose on the dirty underbelly of the restaurant industry.

That book launched his career and, as has been well-documented, turned the former chef and recovering addict into one of the world’s greatest authorities on food, culture and travel.  Bourdain was a complex man of giant contradictions: Fiercely opinionated yet insatiably curious, cantankerous yet compassionate. Of the recent chef and restaurateur scandals exposed by the #MeToo movement, he’d of late seemed a curious mix of furious yet apologetic for his industry’s- and what he perceived as his own- failings.

None of us can ever know why he chose to end his life and regardless of how you felt about him, there’s no disputing the fact that Bourdain put himself out there in person and in print and on television. He deplored inauthenticity and celebrated the common man (and woman) through his deep-dive, documentary-style television shows.

Bourdain exposed millions of viewers to culinary customs and foods that have sustained regions or families for generations, and approached the traditional aspects of cooking, eating and wandering the globe with a fervor and intellect more often seen in academics trained in anthropology, sociology, political science and world history. Bourdain made food and travel greater than the sum of their parts. He changed the way we think about eating, and other countries and cultures for the better and for that, we should thank him for his not inconsiderable gifts.

Whatever personal demons Bourdain suffered- and he never shied away from admitting his quirks, neuroses and bad habits- he was also a man who adored his young daughter, was respected by his peers and was in the rarefied position of more or less writing his own ticket, it would seem. None of us can possibly fathom the pressures he faced nor the internal struggles related to being responsible for so many employees. The greatest tragedy is that he was clearly suffering and saw suicide as the only recourse.

We’re facing a mental health epidemic in this country of epic proportions and by remaining silent about our struggles (I, too, suffer from depression and this morning, after learning of Bourdain’s suicide, I made a promise to start using my journalism to help destigmatize this often-insidious disease), we perpetuate the shame.

The only good that can ever come from high-profile suicides like those of Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and countless other “celebrities” is a greater awareness of mental health issues and the need for more funding and better ways to provide help and treatment for all. A digital or print footnote for a suicide hotline isn’t a solution.

After “The Layover” taping (during which, he charmed all of us with his off-the-cuff comments and obvious love of cheese/repeated requests for “just one more” sample) at the shop completed, I shyly approached Bourdain, holding a copy of my recently published book, Cheese for Dummies (written with culture co-founder Lassa Skinner). Aware of the fact that his life was one of constantly being accosted by fans demanding things from him, I apologized for bothering him and said, “I’m in no way trying to make it look like you’re endorsing this, but would you mind taking a photo with me while I hold my book?” He graciously complied, and after I thanked him, I said, “Have a great time in Seattle.”

He put his hand on my shoulder, gave me what by all appearances was a genuine smile and said, “I always do.” And with that, Bourdain left the building.

Bourdain has left the building, and television- and the world- will mourn the loss, but his legacy, books, articles, interviews and reruns will remain. As the man himself once said,

“If I’m an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”

Rest in Peace, Chef. We miss you already.

Watching the taping.

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Photo love: Pulp Covers

For some reason (see: bank account balance), my international trips always require no fewer than five flights and at least one painful layover (there’s also the four-hour drive to/from Denver International Airport, which is but one reason for my forthcoming move to Austin). I’m not complaining: I love travel so much that I’ll fly in a cargo hold if that’s what it takes (Pass on the overhead bin). Last month, seven consecutive flights were required for me to get from southern Patagonia to Denver, which is less a commentary on my endurance than it is the size of the Americas.

Before sharing my duty-free pillaging hacks, allow me to explain why I’ve stepped up my pre-flight skin prep game. Five years ago, I had a rather traumatic experience while obtaining a Bolivian visa at 3am. I’d been in transit for a day and a half and didn’t realize I’d have my picture taken on the spot.

I’d include a copy of my visa photo here, but I’m single and need all the help I can get. Let’s just say I now know what I’d look like as a cadaver.

With apologies to Paramount Pictures

But. I have problematic skin (dry/”mature”/cystic acne- a lovely trifecta) and maintain a care routine at home, but I can’t afford the really good shit. So, before I board a long-haul flight destined to suck every molecule of moisture from my body, I hit a duty-free shop and slather myself with samples of costly serums, essences, creams and mists. I marinate in these luxurious products in-flight (I also try and drink as much water as possible, but the downside of Xanax is that I sometimes sleep too much and wake up feeling like/resembling a piece of jerky).

I took these photos during a day-long layover in Istanbul a few months back- it was part of a grueling, 40-hour journey home from Zimbabwe. After a month spent camping, rafting and trekking, I was pretty tore up and duty-free was a glittering oasis of redemption.

Step-by-step, here’s how to prep for a long-haul flight if you’re a broke-ass dirtbag:

During layovers or before a red-eye, I first cleanse my skin with micellar water (duty-free aside, I also carry this stuff in my daypack, as it’s perfect for camping, mid-flight and realllly long bus rides). I then begin my greedy regimen, experimenting with new products each time (the more costly, the better). Psst, this is how I discovered the miracle that is Kiehl’s Daily Reviving Concentrate.

Yaaaaesss.

Regardless of your age, your eye and neck areas will suffer in-flight; by the time you deplane, you’ll resemble an FBI age-progression image. Heavy eye creams can cause clogged oil glands (ew), so I use an antioxidant serum followed by a light moisturizer. I then slather my neck (thanks a lot, Nora Ephron) with lifting cream followed by an overnight mask. These steps are critical: Since starting this routine, I no longer want to put a bag over my head upon landing.  I draw the line at wearing a sheet mask in-flight because…I’m not a fucking supermodel.

This photo just confirmed my worst fears about my nose, which I broke twice over the course of two weeks last year. Tip: Turn on the light before you stumble to bed after a Netflix binge- sometimes the wind blows doors shut. Ow.

I highly recommend you only use skin care samples housed in pump dispensers, because…germs. I can handle being a walking biohazard, but other people’s pathogens? Nope.

Okay, so your face is primed, but what about the rest of you? You know that gross feeling, when you haven’t done laundry in two three weeks and you’re only halfway through a 30-hour journey home? No? Anyway. After an-insert-ethnic-slur-of-choice shower (aka baby wipes) in the restroom, I mist my clothes and hat with a light cologne from duty-free (hats are mandatory for travel- if I’m coming home from a backpacking adventure, I likely have quasi-dreads due to my fine hair. If there are hair products, I work some leave-in conditioner or oil-based serum into my ends to undo the damage).

Yes, really.

Don’t forget the sunscreen if you’re on a daytime flight: UV rays are brutal at altitude, so I always pack a lightweight scarf for my neck, as well. Pop a Xanax, don a pair of shades, cinch a hoodie around your head and drift off, with the happy knowledge you’ll wake up to better skin. And yes, you are correct: I won’t wear a sheet mask in-flight, but I’ll willingly look like the Unabomber. I’m vain, but not that vain.

And there you have it. Follow these steps and I promise you’ll arrive at your destination looking…passable. You’re welcome.

Got any duty-free beauty hacks to share? Comment, por favor.

I’m not a complete animal. Here I am brushing my teeth while camping on the Zambezi River. Stash a travel-size toothbrush, paste and floss in your daypack, in case your luggage goes missing. Or, you know: Mile-High Club.

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villager

A year ago today, a 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal. I missed the disaster by 24 hours. I’d been in Nepal for two weeks to trek, run the remote Tamur River, and research a feature for culture: the word on cheese, on Nepali cheesemaking. The story, which was slated to run last fall, was by necessity postponed to this spring; most of the cheesemakers I profiled were affected by the earthquake, but fortunately, they suffered only minor losses and no casualties.

Churrpi- dried yak cheese- air-dries in Gufa Pokari

Churrpi- dried yak cheese- air-dries in Gufa Pokari

On this, the anniversary of Nepal’s deadliest natural disaster, I’m sharing my culture feature in its entirety. It includes relief donation information (still critically needed), but it also it shows the beauty, generosity of spirit, and resilience of the Nepali people. It’s my dairy-centric love letter to the most incredible country I’ve ever visited.

“It’s perhaps the most unlikely spot on earth to taste locally made, French-style cheeses: the rooftop of an apartment building in the Lazimpat neighborhood of Kathmandu. It’s April 10, 2015, two weeks before a devastating earthquake will level much of the city and villages throughout this region of Nepal, causing an avalanche on Mount Everest and resulting in over 9,000 fatalities. An aftershock on May 12 will cause further devastation and increase the death toll.

 At the moment, however, I’m sitting with French cheesemaker François Driard in a high-rise urban oasis that seems a million miles from the smog and chaos below, watching the sun set and sipping Pastis between bites of his superb tomme. Driard owns Himalayan French Cheese and produces a diverse array of pasteurized cow’s and yak’s milk cheeses at his two creameries in the foothills of some of the highest mountains in the world.

 I’ve been fascinated with Nepali cheesemaking since researching my book, Cheese for Dummies, mostly because little has been written about it. Last spring I traveled there to explore both rural cheesemaking traditions and how Kathmandu-area producers such as Driard are modernizing their craft for a feature in the Autumn 2014 issue of culture. But nature had other plans. Now it’s also a story about how Nepal and the cheesemakers I met there are moving on, one year after the country’s deadliest natural disaster on record.”

Read the rest of the story here.

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Crooked Stave's divine Surete Provision Saison

Crooked Stave’s divine Surete Provision Saison

Today kicks off Denver’s Great American Beer Festival (GABF), so what better way to get all y’all inspired than to give you some guidelines for pairing beer and cheese? Few folks realize that  cheese is easier to match with beer than wine. The tannins, acids, and oak (when used for aging) in wine can be problematic when pairing with cheese, whereas beer and cheese have similar production methods (they’re both grass-based, fermented products, and tend to have similar flavor profiles- toasty, malty, yeasty, nutty, etc.).

Despite being a long-time Colorado resident, I confess I only got into beer fairly recently (my aversion being due to the usual generalized chick reasons: bloating, sleepiness, emotional scarring from too many warm, shitty, skunky brewskis at college keggers, and a still-rampant dislike of turbo-hopped beers). Fortunately, being in the cheese industry and living in a state home to some of the nation’s top craft brewers has set me straight.

While there are some key tips to follow with regard to pairing, there are exceptions to every rule. I say, eat and drink what you enjoy, dissenters and haters be damned. The cheese police are not going to come kick down your door. Still, a good match is, in the words of my lovely Cheese for Dummies co-author Lassa Skinner, like a good marriage. Both parties should have their own, distinct, positive qualities, but when combined, magic happens. Here are some tips to bear in mind when you’re shopping for a pairing:

  • Match intensities. A chocolatey Stout will completely overpower many cheeses. Conversely, a soft, delicate varietal will be lost when paired with a super funky or sharp cheese.
  • Bear terroir in mind. Don’t just assume “this beer style will go with this cheese,” because variations in climate, geography, vintage, and production method vary greatly. The same is true of cheese. Ultimately, tasting before you buy or serve is the best way to determine if you have a match; barring that, talk to your cheesemonger (or buy my book!).
  • Aim for similarities or contrasts. A rich, buttery cheese such as a triple crème or brie will go well with a beer with similar qualities. That said, too much butteriness is overkill. You want your palate to be refreshed and cleansed by the beverage.
  • Strive for balance; when in doubt, I’d go for something light and effervescent, be it a cheap Mexican brew or a killer lambic or saison.
  • Think about what you’re trying to achieve. If you have a super bomb, special cheese, talk to your local wine shop about what to serve with it. Conversely, if you have a limited edition import, make sure you find a cheese that does it justice.
Hello, Cantillon Kriek.

Hello, Cantillon Kriek.

I’ve compiled a little cheatsheet for you, to help you wrap your head around some basic beer and cheese love matches. Give these a try:

  • Fresh cheeses like burrata, mozzarella, or chevre: Lager or Pils.
  • Camembert or othery earthy, mushroomy bloomy-rinds: A fruit or vegetable beer, like Rumpkin barrel-aged pumpkin ale, from Avery Brewing Co.
  • Floral, grassy, or ash-coated bloomy rinds, like La Tur and St. Marcellin: Lambics, Saisons, or a Trappist Ales.
  • Blues: Try a fruity, non-assertive variety like Rogue River Blue (which is washed in brandy-soaked Syrah leaves) with a Kriek (cherry lambic) like Crooked Stave Mama Bear’s Sour Cherry Pie.
  • Nutty alpine styles or hard, aged cheeses like Cheddar, Gouda, or Pleasant Ridge Reserve, from Uplands Cheese Company: Go for a Porter or Stout; the deep, rich, complex flavors will play well of the buttery rich, umami notes in the cheese.
  • Washed rinds like Epoisses, Livorot, Pont l’Eveque, or funky domestics like Grayson, by Meadow Creek Dairy: Trappist ales, hard ciders, lambic, or floral IPA’s, baby.
  • Semi-soft, mild cheeses like Jack or Havarti: Lager, Pilsner, or a Mexican cerveza.
  • Aged cheeses like Beemster XO Gouda, robusto, or an alpine style like Gruyere will do right by a Porter or Stout.
Photo love: Murray's Cheese

Photo love: Murray’s Cheese

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Harvesting Tupelo Honey in Florida Panhandle

Harvesting Tupelo honey in the Florida Panhandle

I’m a purist when it comes to most foods. I was the kind of pain-in-the-ass kid who refused to eat items that were touching on the plate (actually, I refused to eat pretty much everything that wasn’t Kraft mac & cheese or mashed potatoes; my mom is wont to sigh, “You liked white food.”). While times have changed and I’m now apt to do things like ignore the “30-second rule” or snack on deep-fried crickets, I still retain my puritan philosophy when it comes to pairing ingredients.

I like to enjoy certain foods in their pure state. If, for example, I’m tasting cheese, I skip the cracker. I dislike cheese plates that feature jam or other condiments glopped atop the offerings. This isn’t to say I don’t find aforementioned jam alluring with cheese- I just prefer to serve the two separately, and then pair them at my discretion. This is my own anal-retentiveness at work, and certainly, there’s no wrong way to go about pairing cheese.

With that said, honey is absolutely bombtastic with cheese, whether you enjoy them solo, or drizzle a bit of liquid gold or smear a chunk of comb atop your dairy. In culture magazine’s first-ever dedicated Pairing Issue, I show you how to pair cheese and honey to maximum effect. Think fresh chevre or sheep’s ricotta with orange blossom honey, or specific combos like River’s Edge Chevre’s Up in Smoke with Turkey Hill’s Bourbon Barrel-Aged Honey, or Redwood Hill Farm’s California Crottin with Marshall’s Farm’s Pumpkin Blossom Honey. It’s the little things in life that make it sweet.

 

 

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