One of the fun parts of Cheese Tuesday is coming up with three cheese driven dishes each month. This is how Matthew Delisle and I came up with last week’s menu.
The theme was Vermont Artisan Cheese, I had three cheeses I wanted to feature with the savory courses (and 9 more for the grand cheese tasting) and it is the height of Spring. We started with the cheese, and threw out suggestions and ideas, until they coalesced into these dishes.
Spring baby beets with ginger poached rhubarb, Coupole, and verjus
Coupole, an aged goat’s milk cheese from Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery, has been my go-to cheese of late. It is a small dome shaped cheese with a wrinkly geotrichum rind and is packaged in a nifty little wooden box that allows it to age beautifully in a home refrigerator. It is perfect as a snacking cheese (I like it with a bit of honey) but is also a great team player as a component of a salad. Matt had some tender baby candy striped beets in house, and rhubarb is ubiquitous at this time of year. The tanginess of goat cheese is a perfect foil to the sweet earthiness of beets, and the smooth, light but dense texture of a moderately aged Coupole would be a great foil to the smooth, toothy texture of the beets. Uncooked rhubarb would be way too sour and would throw everything off balance, so Matt poached it in ginger syrup to sweeten it up and add a gentle warmth to the dish.
At plating time, Matt made a circle of the red, pink, and yellow roasted beets, interspersed with a dice of raw beet for crunch, and half-moons of the poached rhubarb. A nice wedge of Coupole was nestled in the center, and everything was drizzled with a tangy blend of verjus and the rhubarb poaching liquid. A sprinkle of baby basil from Apple Street completed the salad.
Smoked chicken, Lyonnaise potatoes, sautéed ramps, and a Raclette “veil”
Raclette is the classic Alpine melting cheese of France and Switzerland. It has a smooth, semi-firm texture, a gorgeous rosy rind, and a flavor that is a rich mix of earth and sweet milkiness. It is typically melted at the edge of a fire and scraped onto boiled potatoes. Spring Brook Farm in central Vermont creates an exceptional raclette from Jersey cow milk that has all the qualities of its European brethren, and an appealing upper register bite. As I reminisced about the wonderful Lyonnaise potatoes of my “youth” – my first job was in the 70′s at Ferdinand’s, a Harvard Square bastion of classic French – Matt suggested that ramps, those oh-so-everywhere but oh-so-good spring wild onions would be perfect with those slow roasted Lyonaisse potatoes. Smoked chicken would add a nice dimension to the earthiness of the raclette. With potatoes, chicken, sautéed and puréed ramps composed on the plate, Matt topped it all with a long, thin slice of raclette, put it all under a hot broiler for a few seconds until it created a melted veil, and finished it with a splash of cider and chicken roasting jus.
Maine beef sirloin with a Bayley Hazen crust, spring favas and fiddleheads
Andy and Mateo Kehler at Jasper Hill Farm create a medley of amazing cheeses, including Bayley Hazen, one of America’s finest blues. Rich, robust, and creamy, with a dark intensity, it can stand up to and even enhance the full flavors of a hearty steak. My association with beef and blue cheese goes back to the aforementioned Ferdinand’s, where Chef Drey would cut a pocket into Filet Mignon, fill it with Roquefort, grill, and top with bordelaise. I hoped it would be possible to capture some of the flavor elements of that heavy 70′s dish, but with all the light and exuberance of Springtime in Vermont.
Matt’s solution was to create a ragout of fava’s (which Tuscan’s eat each spring with a melt of pecorino), fiddleheads, wild spring onions, Vidalias, and bacon. The Bayley Hazen was crumbled, tossed with a few bread crumbs and a chop of fresh herbs, and pressed onto the Maine sirloin. After a quick grill, this was set aside the ragout, and topped with a frizzle of crisp fried onion.
This was followed by a tasting of 9 of my favorite Vermont cheeses – more on that later.