Although I am perfectly happy to eat a perfectly ripe cheese all by its perfect self, there is that added thrill of perfect contentment when it is combined with a wine or beer that, well, adds to the perfection and creates a proverbial “marriage made in heaven”.
Once a month my curd nerd self joins up with L’Espalier cork dork Erich Schliebe and a few guests in our Salon to explore a few pairings and see if we can come up with a few blissful combinations. This grew out of our Wine Mondays and Cheese Tuesdays, where we have been exploring wine/cheese pairings for ten years. But we wanted to do something a bit more focused and intimate, where we could interact with a few guests (we limit the sessions to 15 people) in a dinner party setting and talk about what we are tasting.
Our first Session was in August and we matched 4 styles of cheese with four styles of beer – sixteen combos and a simple rating system. Conclusion: Cabot Clothbound Cheddar tastes good with just about any beer, and Mystic Brewery’s Old Powderhouse tastes great with practically any cheese.
We skipped September, but in October explored some classic pairings (Port and Stilton, Sauternes and Roquefort, Champagne and Triple Creme, Sancerre and Chevre.)
On November 15 we are set for “Cow, Goat, Sheep; Red, White and YOU“. I’ve selected 3 cheeses that are similar in style and age but are of different milks, allowing the differences, subtle or not, in the three milks to be readily apparent. We will match these up with 3 wines that are notoriously cheese friendly, and see what conclusions we can all come up with.
Last month we launched our new Sunday Tea Tasting series. This afternoon tea experience is structured like our Wine Mondays, with all guests arriving at the same time. One Sunday a month we will gather at 3:00 to enjoy a themed afternoon tea with some special surprises, as well as taste our way through five different teas. The menu, teas and discussion on our first session on Nepal was lively and varied!
Along with discussing and tasting the various teas, we had the opportunity to chat about some of the local customs and cuisine of Nepal. We shared a welcoming drink made with Alliya, a Nepalese liquor distilled traditionally from either millet or rice. This is often made at home to serve to special guests (which of course our L’Espalier guests are!) or at festival time.
The last tea that we tasted was a Himalayan salted butter tea. When enjoyed in Tibet and Nepal it is traditionally made from Yak butter, but Yak butter is curiously hard to come by in Boston, so we enjoyed a version made from a recipe shared with me on my recent trip to the Illam tea district in Nepal utilizing cows milk. Rather than the clear glass teapots that we used for our other tasting teas, to best enjoy the color, clarity and hue of the teas, we enjoyed our salted butter tea from authentic Nepalese teapots.
As we finished up our meal, our guests had a chance to taste some lapsi, a popular Nepalese snack. The brown-orange squares shown are lapsi, a sugared dried fruit that tastes like a wonderful combination of mango and passion fruit perhaps with a touch of tamarind thrown in. The darker pieces are a variation that consists of pureed lapsi combined with salt, chilies and spices, then dried and fermented. Quite popular in Nepal, but the general opinion at our tasting is that it is an acquired taste!
At L’Espalier we are looking forward to Sunday, October 21st when we will take a focused look at the teas of Fujian province, China, the birthplace of both white and oolong teas. There are so many exquisite teas from that region, that my biggest challenge was deciding which teas for us to feature. But you’ll need to join us next week to find out.
Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the San Diego Spirits Festival to do some Tea Cocktail demos. Throughout the industry, bartenders are beginning to consider the use of tea, Camellia Sinensis, within their creations. I’m hoping for it to become a comfortable part of all mixologists arsenal, and not a ‘special’ ingredient to use. To this end, I demonstrated the concepts of infusing tea and other botanicals into your base alcohol, using tea in your simple syrups and using tea in various garnishes such as tea smoked salt drink rims. It was great fun and a wonderful opportunity to see what else is hot and new in the field. This festival was for both cocktail professionals and enthusiasts, so the audience was varied and appreciative.
One of many highlights of the multi-day gathering is the bartender competition. Twelve passionate and talented bartenders competed in a series of 4 elimination rounds. Seen below is a group of those bartenders, early in the heat.
The judges put the bartenders through their paces. Featured judges included Henry Preiss, Johnny Schuler, Kyle Hall, Jeff Josenhans, Scotty Wagner and Adam Stemmler. The final round was close, with only one point between runner up Nate Howell and the winner, Oscar Takahashi. Congratulations to Oscar, the 2012 champion.
In between the various parties, demos and competitions, I also had the pleasure of doing a number of book signings. San Diego is a beautiful city with wonderful cocktail and culinary options, hopefully soon to have a touch more tea added to their options.
Distillery 209 Gin supplied product for my demos, so a couple of drinks were planned to be served during the class using this gin. As soon as I tasted this beautiful citrus forward gin, I knew that one of the drinks that I featured needed to be a vehicle to play up on these clean, fresh citrus tones. Hence, the birth of the Gimlet 209.
This is a variation on the classic Gimlet which would normally be gin, lime juice and simple syrup.
Muddle 3 leaves fresh basil with a small amount of ice and the lime juice in a cocktail shaker. Add additional ice, infused gin and syrup. Shake well for 10 to 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add remaining basil leaf as a garnish.
Infused 209 Gin
Place 1 liter of gin in non-reactive container. Add tea leaves and lemongrass. Taste periodically until desired strength is achieved. Probably around 2 hours. Strain multiple times through cheesecloth or coffee filters until no visible tea or lemongrass remains. Store at room temperature or chilled.
Green Tea and Lemongrass Simple Syrup
Place sugar and water into a saucepan. Stir sugar up from the bottom, squeeze in citrus and add lemongrass. Place over medium-high flame and bring to a boil. Turn down to low and let simmer until a clear thick syrup is formed, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add tea leaves, stir and let sit until cool. May be left overnight at this stage. Strain.
It IS possible to eat too much cheese. It can also be nearly impossible to stop, especially if you find yourself slogging through a crowd of cheese addicts grabbing to get their fix at The Festival of Cheese, the culminating event at the American Cheese Society Conference, held this year in Raleigh, North Carolina. 1,700 different cheeses were sent into the ACS for entry into their annual judging competition, and after the prizes are awarded, all 1,700 are arranged in tiers on massive tables in a huge room. At the appointed hour, the doors open and the feeding frenzy begins.
Of course, This years Best in Show, “Flagsheep Reserve” from Beecher’s Creamery in Seattle, is the most sought after cheese in the room. An aged cloth-wrapped cheddar made from cow and sheep’s milk, it has a chunky, dense, but buttery smooth texture and a flavor of cream and caramel, with an underlying earthiness. Call it sweet and dirty. Adding to its appeal, almost no one had heard of it, let alone tasted it before.
Whereas I was delighted to try local favorites (and ribbon winners) such as Vermont Butter and Cheese “Coupole” (our friends at VB&CC won 12 ribbons!), Ruggle’s Hill “Greta’s Fair Haven”, Westfield Farm “Blue Bonnet”, a bigger thrill is in finding new extraordinary cheese. Among my favorites was a Tennessee beauty, Sequatchie Cove Creamery “Dancing Fern”. Styled after a French Reblochon – that is to say it is soft ripened to a velvety smoothness with rich flavors of butter and sweet cream and a slight appealing funk – it was one of the most talked about cheeses at the conference. Also high on my list was a soft ripened and ashed cheese, Black Sheep, from Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery in Illinois, and Bonnie View Farm “Tanasi Tomme”, creamy and soft/dense, with a pleasing sweetness and goaty tart quick.
Almost three hours later, my plate was filled with rind scraps, my stomach was in open rebellion, and thoughts of how to avoid cheese for a week or two were paramount in my mind. Well, that won’t happen, but I’m looking forward to tracking down some of these beauties and sharing them with friends and guests at L’Espalier
Members of the L’Espalier team recently enjoyed a visit to Bully Boy Distillery, owned and operated by brothers Will and Dave Willis.
New England has a long history of artisan rum distilleries stemming back to colonial times and the triangular trade routes. By 1770, New Englanders were exporting 5 million gallons of rum, the most profitable and prolific export item. It has been estimated that there were over 150 rum distilleries in colonial New England. During prohibition, the last of these distilleries closed down, but the Willis family farmhouse basement was home to a significant collection of local artisan spirits.
Some 70 years later, this hidden vault was rediscovered on the farm, inspiring in the brothers the idea for a new distillery to carry on Boston’s tradition of small-batch distilling. Their childhood home and fourth-generation working family farm now also supplies much of the grain used in their products. A small batch distillery which produces noteworthy (and award winning) spirits and also grows its own organic grain speaks strongly to L’Espalier’s core beliefs in artisanal and New England ingredients, so a visit was destined to occur.
Bully Boy white rum, which exhibits wonderful caramel and butterscotch notes, is made from Blackstrap molasses from New Orleans rather than the Caribbean molasses used by its colonial predecessors. It is a smoother and more complex product than the rums of our forefathers, but the artisan and entrepreneurial spirit is the same.
For their upcoming aged rum, they are aging in 80% old bourbon barrels and 20% old wine barrels, and they are currently slow-aging their first batches of aged whiskey (a bourbon and rye blend) in new American oak barrels. Among many aspects of this small batch distillery, it was fascinating for us to experience firsthand the talent, care and passion of the Willis brothers. An informative, enjoyable as well as delicious trip.
Autumn in the Park
This drink is perfect as summer comes to a close or as you head into the fall and the days begin to cool off. Darjeeling Tea plays beautifully with the natural caramel and vanilla tones of the Bully Boy white rum. If you have it available, a second Flush Darjeeling is ideal, but you will find that any good quality Darjeeling will give you memorable results.
1 1/2 ounces Darjeeling infused Rum
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 ounce Falernum (I use Trader Tiki’s brand)
1 1/2 ounces apple cider
1/2 ounce ginger oolong simple syrup
Shake all ingredients with ice for 10 to 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Optionally garnish with a floated dried apple ring or a slice of candied ginger on the rim.
Darjeeling Infused Rum
1 liter Rum
3 tablespoons Darjeeling tea leaves, preferably a second flush
Place 1 liter of gin in non-reactive container. Add tea leaves. Taste periodically until desired strength is achieved. Probably around 2 hours. Strain multiple times through cheesecloth or coffee filters until no visible tea remains. Store at room temperature or chilled.
Oolong Tea and Ginger Simple Syrup
2 cups white sugar
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup chopped fresh sliced ginger
1 wedge lime
1 tablespoon Oolong tea leaves, preferably a smoky high oxidation Oolong
Place sugar and water into a saucepan. Stir sugar up from the bottom, squeeze in lime and add ginger. Place over medium-high flame and bring to a boil. Turn down to low and let simmer until a clear syrup is formed, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add tea leaves, stir and let sit until cool. May be left overnight at this stage. Strain well. Will keep for weeks if stored covered and refrigerated.
There’s something very magical about using wild products that you’ve harvested yourself. Searching… searching…I found it! … No, wrong… Finally, on the verge of giving up, there it is! Once you find some, you see the multitudes.
The idea to pair salmon and wintergreen came some time ago, with inspiration from one of L’Espalier’s esteemed alums, Arti. We were discussing how foraged foods have become such an influential part of fine dining around the world, thanks to restaurants such as Mugaritz, Bras, Manresa, and of course, Noma. Arti recommended wintergreen as a possible New England product of value. I had never seen or known anything about it within the foraging context (however, I had chewed it many times). Sure enough a day or two later Arti brought in a few leaves from a wooded area near her house. It was wonderful, very minty with grassy notes and a flavor all its own. As time went by I thought of wintergreen and salmon, and then beets. It was not until a month or so ago that we could see the dish come to fruition, when the amazing wild Alaskan salmon started to arrive from Browne Trading of Maine.
The overall dish is a play on a smoked salmon plate. The wild salmon is lightly cured with salt, sugar, juniper, and black pepper. The fish is allowed to stand for about an hour before being cold smoked with fruitwood. This method allows for a distinctly familiar flavor of smoke and salmon, while still serving the fish at our preferred temperature of medium rare.
The salmon is accompanied by beets; one simply roasted, and the other juiced and then turned into a hot fluid gel. Still more beets are juiced and reduced with red wine, red wine vinegar, and a little sugar to form a beet syrup. This syrup is mixed with a wintergreen oil to form the dressing for the dish. To prepare the oil we first clean the wintergreen, washing it well and removing any stems. We then chiffonade the green leaves and combine them with grape seed oil in a 2:1 ratio. This mixture is sealed and circulated at 60 C for 1hr. The oil is then chilled and allowed to steep for two days, before being dripped through cheesecloth. The plate is garnished with pickled Vidalia onions, pumpernickel and caraway toast, salmon roe, and dill sprouts from Apple Street Farm. It is traditional with a unique flavor.
For me, the real joy of the dish is found not so much in the finished piece, as in the first step to achieving it – finding the Wintergreen. I’ve been collecting it in two spots: in the woods behind Tom and Judy’s house in Hopkinton, New Hampshire and in Essex, Massachusetts around Apple Street Farm. I was definitely pushed towards foraging by my interest in food and haute cuisine trends, however I think it was my childhood in the woods of New Hampshire that keeps me going back for more. We are growing our knowledge of wild products, a project that requires a new skill set and the time to search for them. Beginning a dish outside of the kitchen allows for a more inclusive creative process; one that marries not only traditional methods and modern trends, but also the natural world that surrounds us. A process that entices the imagination to see nature as a creative force and edible adventure.
Please harvest nature’s bounty responsibly, in order to preserve these pleasures for the future.
The upcoming Cheese Tuesday, “Summer’s Best”, will celebrate farmstead cheeses that are only available now, or are at their best during the summer months. (July 17 at 7:00)
I am often asked about seasonality: why are some cheeses not available year round, and why are some cheeses better at certain times of the year? We are talking about farmstead cheese (where the animals are raised and the cheese is made on the same farm) and small farm cheese. Industrially made cheese is the same day in, day out, year in, year out.
Well, it is all about the milk. Cows, sheep and goats all have a natural cycle of lactation, giving birth in the spring, and producing milk until the fall, when the animal goes dry, and rests up until the cycle begins in the next spring. It is easy to adjust a cow’s breeding cycle so that most members of a herd will always be producing milk. Not so easy with goats or sheep; sheep farmers usually run out of milk in October, and goats stop milking in November/December. No milk, no cheese.
Just as importantly, the content of milk changes dramatically during the milking season. After all, the purpose of milk is to feed a baby animal, and as this baby grows, its nutritional needs change, and Mamma knows best. Summer milk is relatively low in fat content, which shoots up dramatically in the fall. This summer milk is superior to fall milk if you are making hard cheeses meant to last: high fat content can lead to spoilage issues. Traditionally, Comté, a hard Alpine cheese with long aging potential is made in Summer months when the cows are grazing in alpine meadows. When the cows come inside and the fat content of the milk climbs in the fall and winter, production of Comté stops, and soft, lush and fatty Vacherin Mont d’Or is made instead.
Summer milk has other very desirable qualities. The grazing animals have a great diet of fresh grasses, wildflowers and herbs, the flavors of which are transferred to the milk and cheese. As the animals move from pasture to pasture, their daily diet changes, which leads to subtle but wonderful variations in the daily batches of cheese.
Industrial makers, on the other hand, use “standardized” milk, similar to supermarket milk that has been adjusted for fat content. No variation, no subtlety, no change. I recently read a great definition of artisan cheese making. The artisan changes the recipe to fit the milk. The industrial cheese maker changes the milk to fit the recipe. Vive la différance!
Your intrepid L’Espalier Tea Sommelier has just returned from an extra-ordinary trip to Nepal. If you have been in to join us for tea within the last couple of months, you may have already enjoyed an exceptional tea from the Kuwapani Estate in Nepal. I’m hoping that many of you can join us in the very near future to experience some breathtakingly fresh teas from Nepal that were still on the bush last week! There is so much that I’d love to share with all of you, so I’m breaking it up into multiple blog entries, with this being the first of several to come.
Nepal is an incredibly beautiful country, with wonderful teas that are unfortunately practically unheard of in the west. Part of the problem is that Nepal is landlocked, without the readily available ports found in China to the north and India to the south. In fact, a significant amount of Nepali tea leaves are routed through Darjeeling and then sold as Darjeeling tea, with very little of the money going to the Nepali farmers. Overtime, I hope that these very special teas will be appreciated here in the US so that the Nepali farmers will be able to sell their finest harvests directly to US importers.
I was fortunate to be invited to be part of a delegation from the US Tea Association in affiliation with USAid. We were traveling as a group of 9, with 6 of us being American, 1 Bengali, 1 from Holland and 1 from Denmark. The timing of our trip was non-ideal as the country is in a bit of turmoil over the finalization of their constitution. This resulted in our having an armed military/police escort at all times that we were traveling outside of Kathmandu, which was the majority of the trip. Depending on the determined risk within each area that we traveled, our escort varied between 4 and roughly 20 soldiers. All of whom where friendly yet professional at all times.
After being shown some of the local historic, architectural and religious treasures in and around Kathmandu the first day, we headed up and out to the mountains and the tea!! In addition to tea growth and production, which is always fascinating for me, I was particularly pleased to see an example of the local vermiculture, where live earthworms and a form of composting are used to produced a fully organic fertilizer which is used twice a year on the organic tea growth. Embracing organics is just a part of the Nepali ‘Code of Conduct’, an extraordinary set of self imposed rules followed within Nepal to embrace sustainability as well as improve the lives of the workers. In my next blog I’ll go into details on this exemplary practice.
For now, enjoy a good cuppa, hopefully of Nepali tea. I hope I will see many of you over the next few weeks to enjoy some hand-couriered incredibly fresh tea! Namaste!!
Pastry Chef Jiho Kim whipped up this dessert, which he calls “Breakfast”, a play on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, at Boston Magazine‘s Top Desserts event last week. Jiho’s dish includes a butter brioche cake, gianduja cremeaux (similar to Nutella), Concord grape jelly, bacon powder, milk foam, and milk sorbet (not pictured).
Here are all of the recipes for the components on the dish, should you dare try this at home!
Yield: 22 Cylinders
651g Heavy Cream
2.1g Agar (a gelling agent, derived from seaweed)
2.1g Iota (a gelling agent, derived from seaweed)
.53g Locust Bean Gum (a gelling agent, derived from the seeds of the carob tree)
2.1g Sea Salt
Bring cream to a boil with the gianduja and glucose. Hand blend all the dry ingredients into the water. Bring to a boil for 2 min, transfer to a vita prep (or blender) and blend for 2 min. Strain into ganache mix, whisk together and pour into cylinder molds.
Yield: 2.5 Dehydrator Trays
1000g Skim Milk
500g Mint Milk
1.25g Guar Gum
1 tsp Pregel Mint Extract
Bring milk to a boil and transfer to a Vita Prep (or blender). Add iota, guar, and sugar, blend well for 3 minutes. Strain and whip until stiff peak. Pipe into small “kisses” and dehydrate.
Concord Grape Fluid Gel
Yield: ~ 1qt
600g Concord Grape Puree
10g Low Gellan (gelling agent)
3.4g Sodium Citrate
1g Xanthan Gum
4g Malic Acid
Boil puree with water. Transfer to Vita Prep (or blender). Blend in remaining ingredients in order. Blend well. Set on ice, blend again, and pass through a chinoise for smoothness.
Yield: 1 gal
1800g Whole Milk
1200g Light Cream
120g Glucose Powder
4g Locust Bean Gum
200g Dehydrated Milk Solids
Whisk the chemicals into the wet ingredients. Bring to a rolling boil, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and hand blend for 2 minutes. Then hand blend in glucose powder, milk solida, and sugar. Set on ice. Blend in Vita Prep (or blender) and pass through a chinoise.
Brioche Microwave Cake
60g cake flour
120g brown butter
Vita Prep (or blend) together the eggs, brioche, sugar, and salt. Transfer to a bowl and whisk in sifted cake flour. Stream in melted, but not hot, brown butter while whisking. Load into a canister and charge twice with N2O. Pipe into a paper cup and microwave for 25 seconds or until fully cooked.
Bake bacon at 350F until crispy. Drain fat, mix in food processor with enough malto dextrin to make fluffy powder. Dip fried bacon in liquid nitrogen and Vita Prep to powder. Whisk into maltodextrin. Season with salt and glucose powder.