They say that long ago a man had a container made from an animal’s stomach. Not uncommon in the BC years. He filled his pouch with some fresh milk one day in preparation for a long journey. Well, the rennin from the stomach lining helped coagulate the milk, producing curds and whey. Voila! Cheese was born. Of course, there’s no way to substantiate this story. I believe it – or something like it – is true. I like to call these phenomena “food accidents.” I’m sure that’s how wine and bread leveners were discovered as well. Call me a dreamer. But isn’t it amazing how such delicious foods can have such meager and haphazard beginnings?
There’s actually nothing meager about cheese. I believe it’s one of our most sophisticated foods. So many varieties, all with nuances that distinguish them from one another. Some have actually been knighted with the names of cities. I’m not surprised. Cheese, like no other food, shows that we are truly fortunate to possess taste buds. It speaks of history, craftsmanship and creativity. It makes for incredible pre-dinner fare, marvelous entrees and indulgent desserts. Not many foods can say that.
There are thousands of types of cheeses, from hard to runny, pungent to mild. Cheese can reflect the gentle fragrance of wind swept fields. Or it can be a bold and brassy thing that dominates the plate and fills a room with aromas. Excellent examples of the range of cheese experiences include everything from the delicate, milky texture of fresh mozzarella to the creamy, mushroom-like flavor of brie to the robust, in-your-face aroma of Roquefort. What’s for you? Well, I’m tempted to list every one of my favorites, and describe each one of them. But cheese is a purely personal thing. Really subjective. The best advice I can give is to visit a fine cheese shop, or even your supermarket, and explore. Use your eyes. What looks interesting? Take a sample. Better cheese establishments will gladly offer. Then take your choices home, and enjoy with crusty breads, fresh or dried fruits, nuts and of course, wine. You’ll know straight off what turns you on. Once you’ve established that, then you can begin to incorporate cheese into your culinary repertoire.
I personally look to add cheese to as many recipes as I can, to heighten complexity of flavors. When I’m simmering a chicken soup, I place a pecorino Romano rind into the pot. It doesn’t melt, I assure you. For my chicken pot pie, I incorporate a sharp cheddar into the crust. Really savory. My sizzling steak almost always includes a dab of blue cheese in the final presentation. As for my cream sauces, the addition of cheese is always a refinement. I usually begin with a béchamel, and then rely on my kitchen cleverness. I stir in grated parmesan to top my steamed asparagus. Edam is added when saucing my blanched broccoli. My Alfredo sauce gets a dollop of blue cheese, too. Just my taste. It all works.
Truth is, cheese really enhances and romances a meal. When I want to dazzle my love, it’s brie en croute as an appetizer, for sure. A gruyere soufflé for dinner, absolutely. Decadent cheesecake – especially the Italian ricotta variety – a must. It just adds richness to the occasion – especially when we’re not celebrating anything special. And that’s what I’m usually looking for. A way to make our culinary journey exceptional. Cheese surely does that. With sophistication. An in great taste.
With Vanilla Wafer Crust
This light, ethereal Italian cheesecake will not disappoint. Unlike the New York style cheesecake which traditionally uses only cream cheese, the Italian version includes sour cream for tang and ricotta for lightness as well as cream cheese for structure. The citrus zest is a must.
This cheesecake was inspired by one served in the 1990s in a little northern Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village called New Port Alba. It’s both rich and delicate. You can serve it with a few fresh berries or a fresh fruit coulis and a dollop of whipped cream. Just don’t overwhelm the luscious cheesecake.
Vanilla Wafer Crust
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
20 vanilla wafers (Nila is a good choice)
1 T sugar
4 oz. butter, melted
Tightly cover the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the wafers and sugar. Process until the wafers are fine crumbs. Drizzle butter into the crumb mixture. Pulse to combine. Press this mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.. Place in the oven on the middle rack and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.
1 lb. whole milk ricotta cheese
1 lb. sour cream
1 lb. cream cheese (or mascarpone)
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 stick sweet butter, melted
Pinch of salt
3 large eggs
3 T flour
3 T cornstarch
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 ½ T pure vanilla extract
¼ t fiori di sicilia (optional)*
Finely grated zest from one orange and one lemon
Have all filling ingredients at room temperature.
In a large mixing bowl beat together ricotta, sour cream and cream cheese until well mixed. Beat in sugar and then melted butter and pinch of salt. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour, cornstarch, lemon juice, vanilla, fiori di sicilia and zest, beating until completely mixed.
Lower oven heat to 300 degrees. Transfer to prepared pan and bake for one hour. Turn off heat and let cake stay in oven, door closed, for another hour. Remove and let cake cool completely in pan, set on a wire rack. Cover and refrigerate. Remove sides of pan and serve slightly chilled.
*fiori di silia-an intense vanilla and citrus flavoring available online from King Arthur Flour.
Photographer Bill Brady <a href=”http://bit.ly/9wFYxm” target=”_blank”>http://bit.ly/9wFYxm</a>
Written by Victor Ribaudo <a href=”http://theribaudogroup.com” target=”_blank”>theribaudogroup.com</a> theribaudogroup.comRecipe Provided by Phyllis Kirigin, aka sweetpaprika <a href=”http://sweetpaprika.wordpress.com” target=”_blank”>http://sweetpaprika.wordpress.com</a> http://sweetpaprika.wordpress.comFood Stylist <a href=”http://www.preston-campbell.com” target=”_blank”>Brian Preston Campbell</a>Blog syndicated at the datingsymbol.com <a href=”http://datingsymbol.com/” target=”_blank”>http://datingsymbol.com/</a>http://datingsymbol.com/