More than Manchego: Cheese in Barcelona


 
In April I took my first trip to Barcelona. It wasn’t the warmest time of year to visit the seaside city, but my traveling buddies and I thoroughly enjoyed the sun, art, palm trees and culture. 
In three short days we visited the main tourist attractions such as Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s epic masterpiece of a church, Las Ramblas, a main street leading to the ocean filled with shops and restaurants, and Barrio Gotico, the old city of Barcelona. Wandering the skinny streets of the Barrio Gotico was by far my favorite part of the trip, and I would recommend that anyone spend most of their Barcelona time in this area. In the maze of tiny alleyways you can find the most obscure shops, restaurants, and people, all coexisting successfully despite their shockingly close quarters. While exploring these countless twists and turns, I discovered a myriad of exceptional cheeses from Spain and beyond.

This cheese plate is an example of the random awesome cheese we came across. We snacked on these cheeses and other tapas from a carry-out restaurant while watching a Barcelona vs. Madrid football match at a tiny bar in the old town.
The plate was made of cardboard and the cutlery was plastic and flimsy, but the cheeses were delightful. I wouldn’t have expected so much flavor from such an unassuming presentation.

For most people, Spanish cheese is synonymous with Queso Manchego, a semi-firm sheep’s milk cheese produced in the La Mancha region. I couldn’t wait to try the world famous cheese in its home country, so we ordered this plate during on our first night while feasting on paella and patatas bravas. The flavor was much more robust and complex than the imported Manchego in the USA, which I often find to be too mild for my taste. While still smooth, this Manchego was bold and sheepy. I understand why this cheese is praised globally, because it’s a true crowd-pleaser.

Vila Viniteca

My favorite cheese experience of the trip was a recommendation from Dimitri Saad, the extremely knowledgeable Fromager at Casellula Cheese and Wine Café in Manhattan. He told me that on a recent trip to Barcelona he had a very good experience wandering into a small specialty foods shop called Vila Viniteca and asking for a sampling of the best cheeses in the place. I decided to do the same.

The server seemed delighted to make up a special cheese plate for us, and even provided wine pairings for each of the cheeses he presented. These are the cheeses
 we tasted in order from freshest to most aged, with my notes:

Capri Sevilla (Spain)

great cream line, flavor very goaty, not the best ever.


Bauma (Leeida) (Cataluna)
so f***ing good, smoked rind.


Brillat Saverin (France):
melt in your mouth. sooo 
delicious. like liquid.


Payoyo (Cadiz) (Spain) :
softer than expected, very “spanish”. payoyo = name of the sheep.


Shoppshire Blue
(England):
SO SPICY. with sherry it is SO GOOD –> perfect blend of sweet and spicy smooth. 
“I couldn’t eat the cheese by itself and I couldn’t drink the sherry by itself but together they compliment each other… it works.” – Lea G. 

All the cheeses were intriguing but I was most excited by the Shoppshire Blue. I made sure this cheese was included on my plate since Dimitri Saad had recommended it by name. Even though it’s technically a blue cheese, the color is orange, with greenish streaks of mold running through the creamy body. It hails from the British Isles but is obviously a favorite in Barcelona. As my notes say, the cheese is quite spicy but mellows out when paired with a good sherry. I brought a block of the Shoppshire Blue back home and shared it with my friends, and by pairing it with a random American sherry I was able to achieve the same third flavor that so amazed me at Vila Viniteca.

I left Spain with a great appreciation for Spanish culture, weather, food, and cheese. I hope to return in the very near future to eat and experience even more.


Ahora salga y comer un poco de queso.

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WATC goes to Switzerland: Cheese dreams really do come true.

Found in my friend’s apartment.

I fell in love with both cheese and Switzerland while living in Geneva during my junior year of college. I’ve been obsessed with the culture, politics, and dairy products of this tiny landlocked country ever since and have constantly longed to return to my once-home. A deep love of cheese is apparent in so much of the Swiss lifestyle (as seen on the toilet seat to the right), so it’s no surprise that I fit right in.

I’ve dreamed hundreds of times of what it would be like to travel back to Switzerland, and I’m overjoyed to tell you that all my dreams came true when I finally did so in April. I caught up with dozens of old friends, traveled to beautiful new towns, and ate cheese every step of the way.

If you haven’t been to Switzerland, I strongly suggest you do so in the very near future. Not only does it have great cheese, but it also has snow-covered mountains, the greenest valleys and bluest lakes you’ll ever see, incredible food and wine, and some of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

For your next Swiss excursion, here are some suggestions from World According to Cheese of how to make the most out of your visit (by eating as much cheese as possible, of course).


1. Eat raclette at a traditional Swiss restaurant.

In my “Festival of Pickles” post I wrote about a raclette I had here in New York, but the Reading Raclette made in Vermont could never compare to the authentic Swiss version. On my first night in Geneva I went back to my favorite traditional Swiss restaurant, Chalet Suisse, ordered a “cinq service” raclette dish (meaning five servings) and attempted to make it through all that melted cheese. I could barely finish my third dish, but I was utterly satisfied when I stopped eating. The raclette tasted fatty and sweet, offset by the tart and savory flavor of the cornichons and pearl onions. It was melty cheesy perfection.

This is what a plate of raclette looks like. I cut up my mini pickles and potatoes beforehand so that they served the cheese right on top of it all.

And these are the cornichons and pearl onions that you eat with it.

2. Order a cheese plate, and don’t choose the cheeses.

Lucerne is a vacation town that sits right on the edge of the picturesque Lake Lucerne. While visiting a friend from the area, we were lucky enough to experience the extremely elegant Restaurant Schwanen which sits right in the center of Lucerne on the edge of the lake. 

Along with my delicious tea, I ordered what appeared to be a cheese plate (the name was written in Swiss German, which to me is incomprehensible). The menu noted that the cheeses came from affineur Rolf Beeler, a maître fromager whose cheese I’d already encountered back in New York at Cheese on 62nd. I was so delighted to know an affineur featured on a Swiss menu!

When ordering a cheese plate in a foreign land, always ask the server to bring you whatever cheeses they think are best. In fact, the same rule applies to most food ordering.

The cheese plate looked like a giant flower.

So I photographed it from many angles.


3. Eat fondue, ideally while surrounded by snowy mountains.

The town of Saas Fee is so small that cars aren’t allowed. It’s so high up in the mountains that the air feels thinner and there’s a foot of snow on the ground in mid-April. I’ve never felt more like I was on top of the world in all my life. In this sleepy mountain town, I had an incredible fondue aux tomates and rösti in a deserted luxury hotel, complete with happy cow plates and a happy Lea. 


The feast was set before us.

We were delighted by the looks of the fondue- and the plates.
Lea seemed to enjoy the meal.

4. Visit a variety of cheese shops.

There is nothing cuter than a Swiss cheese shop. My favorite one is located on Plainpalais right next to my old apartment and though it was closed the day I visited, I took a variety of photographs anyway. Then I ventured over to Les Halles des Rives, a marketplace complete with three different fromageries. I tried all three in search of my beloved 24 month gruyere, and I found it at Bruand S.A. Fromagerie were I ordered more than a kilo to ship home. On the way, I encountered Müller & Fils where I purchased some Mont Vully cheese, winner of the Swiss Championships in 2006. This cheese contains white wine and a hint of paprika, which can be found in a variety of Swiss foods from fondue to potato chips (I shipped these home too).

My favorite cheese shop in Geneva.
Traditional cheese-making equipment and cows in the window.


Bruand S.A. Fromagerie.

Müller & Fils.
Presumably Muller’s son, posing with some Mont Vully.

5. Eat some double crème de gruyère with piped meringues for dessert.

Looking for the perfect dessert after a delicious Swiss meal? Look no further than this perfect collaboration of beyond-creamy double crème de gruyère and melt-in-your-mouth meringues. The blend of tart, thick cream and sweet, crumbly cookie create a perfect harmony in every bite. Plus, I’ve never seen a more aesthetically pleasing dessert.

The double crème contains 48% butter fat.

The meringues are a work of art.
The combination is beautiful and delicious.

Now go to Switzerland and eat some cheese.

Swiss Fondue in the USA

 I am SO excited to be heading off on a trip to Switzerland and Spain on Friday. And even more excited to return and tell you all about my cheesy adventures there! But first, a taste of Switzerland here in the USA….


As luck would have it, a Swiss arts organization owns the apartment across the hall from me and runs a program that gives emerging Swiss artists the chance to spend a few months creating in NYC.  The current artist living there is Mischa Camenzind, a brilliant guy who makes amazing pieces that provide a uniquely Swiss perspective of NYC and the world. Check out his artwork below.



The other night, Mischa was kinda enough to have my roommate and me over for a very cheesy meal: Gerber fondue, straight from Switzerland. Of course the Swiss have a prepackaged fondue, and of course it’s incredibly delicious. Mischa added a bit of wine and garlic, and the flavor he produced was unlike any you can find in the USA. I hadn’t tasted such a scrumptious and utterly Swiss fondue since I was in Geneva, and I can’t wait until next week to taste it again!

Two types of fondue: L’Original and Moitié-Moitié (half Gruyere, half Vacherin Fribourgeois)


Lots of Swiss flags and happy cows on the packaging.

Tea lights and burner plates: Mischa’s homemade fondue contraption.


Even better than a sterno.


Samara is happy while consuming pounds of melted cheese.


Bread and cheese. What more could we ever need?

No Swiss fondue is complete without a glass of Kirsch at the end- this cherry flavored liqueur helps you digest all that fatty goodness you just ingested.

Now go out and eat some fondue.

A Very Cheesy Birthday

Last Thursday was my 23rd birthday, and naturally I celebrated with cheese. While searching “birthday restaurants” on Yelp, Kashkaval Cheese Market and Wine Bar came up in the results, and I couldn’t believe I had never heard of this cheese-centric shop. I was apprehensive to try a new place on such an important day, but the reviews of the restaurant were very positive. The shop calls itself, “One of Hell’s Kitchen’s hidden treasures,” and my experience there lived up to this term. Tucked into the back of a bustling gourmet market is a tiny wine bar filled with a variety of great cheese dishes, wines, and tapas. I had an unforgettable birthday celebration and would suggest the restaurant to anyone for a large dinner party, romantic date, or simply a cheese purchase.

We ordered a large tapas plate and a selection of three cheeses that the waitress suggested. All three were utterly delicious, but the cheese that stood out to me was the Gjetost, a Norwegian cheese that tasted more like caramel fudge than a dairy product. Gjetost is made from the whey in curdled milk, while most cheeses are made from the curd. This difference gives it a dark brown color and a sugary flavor. I couldn’t believe how great the cheese tasted, but I also couldn’t believe it was cheese. 

food52.com

Igourmet.com gives this description:
It has an unusual, sweet flavor due to the way in which it is processed. The milk is cooked until the sugars in it have caramelized, giving the cheese its distinctive brown color and sweet flavor. The milk is then curded and pressed. The cheese became popular as a skiers’ snack and thus the label on the whole cheese is emblazoned with the words “Ski Queen”. It is widely popular among Scandinavians, and children in the United States are drawn to its sweet flavor.

baroodyimports.com

We also ordered a pot of Kashkaval fondue, the eastern European yellow sheeps milk cheese that lends its name to the restaurant. After one bite I could see why they chose to name the shop after this particular cheese, as the taste was truly remarkable. Wikipedia says, The taste of the kashkaval is sometimes compared to that of the United Kingdom’s cheddar cheese”, but the cheese has a flavor all its own. It was sweet and savory all at once, which happens to be my favorite taste when it comes to cheese.

Thanks to youKashkaval Cheese Market and Wine Bar, I had an incredible birthday dinner filled with Kashkaval fondue, Gjetost “fudge” cheese, and my closest friends. You can see just how happy I was here during my cheesy birthday celebration.



And speaking of incredible experiences… 
The only thing that could have made mine better would be to have beaten twelve world records during the celebration, like cricket player Freddie Flintoff attempted to do in only twelve hours:

(guinnessworldrecords.com)

Fastest time to wrap a person in newspaper, most kisses given in 30 seconds and more:



Most tennis balls caught in 1 minute, fastest 3 point turn and more:




Now go out and celebrate broken records by eating some cheese.

Cheese Addictions and Gum Art

People always say to me, “Wow, you’re obsessed with cheese.” 


Yes, I am. And studies show that I might have an even stronger attachment to cheese. Not only am I obsessed, but I have an actual physical addiction to the delicious dairy products. People have long discussed how chocolate and other foods have addictive qualities, whether it be psychological or physical. Everyone that gets headaches when they don’t have their morning cup of joe knows how addictive caffeine can be, and even use this fact as reasoning for consuming many cups each day.


I’m not surprised at the news of cheese’s addictive quality. What comes as a shocker is the ingredient that is responsible for this phenomenon: morphine. MORPHINE?! That’s right. Morphine is a natural ingredient in both cow and human milk, serving the purpose of creating a special bond between mother and child, and ensuring that babies get the nutrients they need. I’m serious! Learn more here:

Addicted to Cheese? Here’s Why (care2.com)

mediabistro.com

How does this information impact me? It doesn’t, except that now I have a reason for eating so much cheese. When people ask about my obsession, I can shrug and say, “I know, it’s bad. Someday I’ll kick this addiction.”


But I probably won’t, and that’s ok. On the list of addictive substances, a protein-packed dairy product is probably one of the least damaging. And most delicious.


And speaking of addictions….. Another on the list is chewing gum. In the U.S., people chew an average of 182 stick equivalents per person per year. This doesn’t seem terrible. What’s awful, though, is the amount of gum that ends up on the sidewalks of our cities. I’ve seen many train stations that have a chewing gum “carpet” on their platforms, due to years of wads of gum being discarded after they lost their flavor.


Now one artist has come up with a solution for all these disgusting gum marks. He’s making them beautiful! Check out these awesome designs that Ben Wilson is creating on some of London’s gum-infested sidewalks:





 Now go out and eat some (addictive) cheese.

So many cheeses, so little time!

I feel lucky to be facing a certain problem at the moment: I’ve had so many cheesy experiences lately, I can’t decide which I should write about! They are all so unique and fascinating in their own ways, and every cheesy event teaches me something new about the dairy product I love so much. I’m going to share as many as I can with you now.


Here’s a sampling of briny, illogical, and always fun cheese events that I’ve participated in lately:

Mozzarella Making Class

Cheese with some leftovers from class.
I took an important step in my personal cheese education by participating in a Mozzarella Making class at Murray’s Cheese. I was surprised by the simplicity of the process (although I must admit that I didn’t take part in the entire process, since we started with pre-made curd). We ran around filling buckets of water at varying temperatures and pouring it into large bowls of curd for a few minutes, and soon everyone in the class was salting and stretching their own personal mozzarella creations. After rolling it into an “uncooked croissant,” we pushed the ball through our fingers and placed it in salt water. Voila!


Me eating the mozzarella
I ate the cheese just two hours later with some friends, and I’m proud to say that it was DELICIOUS: fresh and milky, with a brine that accentuated the flavor. It was truly the best mozzarella I’ve ever eaten, and it wouldn’t have existed without me.

Briny: Like a sea animal, mozzarella survives best in a saltwater environment. If you remove it from the brine you’ll dry it out, and it will end up lifeless like this poor giant shark that was recently caught by Pakistani fisherman.



Giant Whale Shark Reeled In By Pakistani Fisherman (abc.com)

The Stinky Cheese Festival
I attended the annual Stinky Cheese Festival, hosted by Tour de France, which is a group of French restaurants in New York City. For one week, each restaurant offers a special cheese-filled menu, featuring delicacies such as Welsh Rarebit Tallegio, Poached Pears with Gorgonzola, Raclette Savoyard, and Fourme d’Ambert Ice Cream. It was difficult deciding which of the nine restaurants to visit, but finally I settled on Pigalle, because I had never even heard of it before. Most of the dishes were truly impressive, although I was slightly bothered by the small proportion of cheese to pairings and garnishes. Then again, I’m a cheese-a-holic, and it’s always hard to have enough cheese to please me.

We ate…

 Camembert in a hazelnut crust with a fruit compote on the side.

Raclette with a selection of charcuterie, cornichon, and mustard.

A fresh cow’s milk cheese dip with chives.


A Fourme D’Ambert ice cream served with a wine-poached pear and maple-walnut brittle. You can see that it was our favorite, because we gobbled it up before I could even take a picture.

Illogical: Some illogical thoughts become genius creations, such as the combination of ice cream and and blue cheese. Others don’t work out as well, such as this man’s idea to install a stove in his station wagon.

Homemade Baked Brie
Some of the best cheese experiences take place at home when you create your own cheese dish with friends. I whipped up this Baked Brie with Leah on a rainy afternoon last week, following her friend Emily’s recipe. The spatula got stuck, a few “flowers” fell off, but the finished product tasted spectacular. It was made all the better by the fact that it wasn’t a mass produced item, but instead a unique product crafted by our own hands.

Fun: Creating your own cheese dish at home is both delicious and fun. It could be almost as fun as shooting a marshmallow gun around the white house with the president.

Now go out and eat some cheese.

Why soy cheese isn’t cheese, retouching is cheesy, and other lessons from WATC.

Look at all this incredible cheese that I didn’t even get to try!

I’ve been told by a number of cheesemongers and experts that soy cheese ISN’T cheese. Just this weekend, sitting in on a mozzarella making class, I heard the instructor explain that dairy is a NECESSARY ingredient in cheese, and that if it’s missing then the food might as well be labeled as something else entirely. Until a few weeks ago I had never tasted soy cheese, and based on these descriptions I had no desire to do so. 


Then a very unfortunate turn of stomach events led me to the sad conclusion that I should try cutting out cheese for a while. It may have been the greatest challenge I’ve ever attempted (harder than eating maggot cheese) and I must admit that I failed at the challenge after a very short amount of time. I love cheese too much to abandon it, even for a very temporary period.

More cheese! So hard to resist!

While on this No Cheese Diet, I decided to taste the much-scorned soy cheese. I know they can do a lot with soy nowadays and make some pretty scrumptious food replacers, so I tried to keep an open mind as I walked into my local Westside Market and waded through all the beautiful cheeses to find the non-dairy imposters. I had to employ the help of a friendly Westside Market cheesemonger who has been working in cheese for 20 years, and he claimed the soy cheese “wasn’t that bad.”

Soy cheese. Look how boring it is.
(foodsubs.com)

He had me taste some soy gouda and soy cheddar. They tasted exactly the same to me: like soy. The flavor is similar to a Kraft single, only worse. Any semblance of cheesiness gives way almost instantly to an overwhelming taste of bean, which is not surprising given the main ingredient but still incredibly disappointing. My helpful cheesemonger advised that the cheese melts well, which I don’t doubt given its consistency. Melting wouldn’t change the flavor though, so I’m not sure how much it could help this food.


As I expected, I completely agree with all the cheesers who claim that soy cheese is not truly cheese. It’s an acceptable food, and if I hadn’t eaten cheese in years I could see myself enjoying it. However, I do eat cheese daily and savor every morsel I pop in my mouth. So I cannot say that I like soy cheese in the least.

Oh non-descript “Cheddar” Soy Cheese, I hereby crown ye… Cheese (Replacement) of the Week. *Clap*Clap*Clap*Clap*Clap*Clap*Clap*Clap*Clap*Clap*



Here’s a week filled with a new breed of cheese and stories that are beanyfake and daunting.

New Breed: Although most of these dog breeds have been around for hundreds of years, this year marks the first time that they will be represented in the Westminster Dog Show. Similarly, even though soy has been around for a long time, it has only recently begun to be included as a variety of cheese.
6 new breeds debut at Westminster dog show, but history shows rookies face long odds to win (washingtonpost.com)

Beany: This man was crowned “Captain Beany” when he took a bath in baked beans 25 years ago. Based on his name, I think he might be one of the only people who would prefer soy cheese over its dairy-filled parent. For his next fundraiser he’ll be bathing in a large bath of tomato soup, but maybe he could be convinced to bathe in soy cheese in the future.
Captain Beany turns soup-a-hero for day (thisissouthwales.co.uk)

designcollector.net

Fake: Sanna Dullaway’s attempt to reinvigorate history with color has sparked quite a controversy. While some people may enjoy the new look of these classic black & white photographs, most think that these famous photographs should never be modified with fake colors. I must agree that these photos should remain true to their hues, much like cheese should stay in its true dairy form.
Sanna Dullaway’s Colorized Series Of Historical Photos Creates Controversy (huffingtonpost.com)

Daunting: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stands at the whopping height of 7’2″, daunting even to Hillary Clinton. He is the NBA’s all-time scoring leader, and was recently appointed global cultural ambassador. Soy cheese might seem like a small challenge compared to all that Kareem has accomplished, but I bet even he would think twice before consuming this food.



Now go out and eat some REAL cheese.