A USA cheese roadtrip! (suggestions welcome)

(source: http://www.50states.com/us.htm)

Over the last few months we’ve been making lots of decisions – about jobs, where to live and travel. In the end, we’ve decided to move back to Sydney. It seems to make sense for a lot of reasons but at the same time it’s really sad as we have to move away from friends all over again and leave London behind. The exciting part of this decision though is that we’re not going straight home. Instead we’re going to travel for a number of months, with a couple spent driving along the west coast of the USA.

It puts a slight hold on my cheese making but I’m hoping to make up for it by trying lots of new cheeses and learning about cheese-makers in California, Oregon and Washington. This is also where I’d love some help. I’m new to American artisan cheese and would love any suggestions of places I shouldn’t miss.

Australian cheeses beckon

It has all been very hectic lately. I’m heading back to Australia tonight for a holiday – the first time I’ve been back in over two years. I hoping Sydney can produce some sunny, warm weather as I really want to go surfing without a wetsuit!

And I have lots of cheese plans. There is a whole world of local cheese that I barely know and hope to share. So I’ll try and keep you posted.

Basque sheep cheeses

For Christmas this year, we had the unusual experience of staying in a converted stairwell on the Basque atlantic coast. I can only guess that the fading grandeur of the art-deco apartment building by the port in Guethary inspired some entrepreneurial thinking on how to raise funds but no matter, it was cool, with the old stairs leading up to a ladder, which climbed to a mezzanine and other tiny rooms, with a further ladder replacing the next staircase. Even better, it was within stepping distance from the sea and we could hear the waves hitting the port ramp all night.

While we were there, a surprising number of places were open and I tried what was called Basque brebis cheese, where it was served in thin slices with a small wedge of quince paste. I thought Brebis was a place at first, but eventually worked out it just meant sheep’s cheese, which made it more difficult to find out more about it once I got back. The cheese I ate had small air pockets throughout and a tough yellowy rind that is best not eaten (I did try, just to see). I did kind of expect more. There was nothing really wrong with the cheese, but it was mild and had a firm (although very slightly rubbery) texture. The smell was quite fresh, but it didn’t leave much of a taste behind, and was easily lost in the sweetness of the quince paste.

I tried another sheep’s cheese from Aramits when we were up in the Pyrenees after a day of snowboarding (well falling and trying to stand again really).

This one was better – served on fresh bread high in the mountains, which might explain the difference.

The perfect mix of anchovies and manchego

My favourite cheese dish in Spain was also the simplest.  On the recommendation of a friend who comes from Baiona, we headed one Friday night to the town of Sabaris to try Fidalgo. Actually we headed there earlier in the day to try and go for lunch but as it is the off season, it was closed, so we had to come back later.

Fidalgo is a small wine bar and jamonerie, full of large hanging hind legs, and a lovely cheese and charcuterie cabinet.  Opening at 7.30pm, by 8pm It was jammed with families, couples, pre-going out groups of friends and post-run joggers on  Friday night, making me wish this bar was around the corner. Once we started looking at the menu, we worked out that we really needed to be there in a group, rather than just to two of us, as we had to skip the large plates of mixed meats for other bits and pieces.  

The reason for this post was the manchego and anchovies. Manchego comes from the La Mancha  region and is another Spanish cheese protected by Denominacion de Origen (DO). Made from sheep’s milk cheese, a key requirement is that it is aged for a period of at least 60 days in natural caves.

 

The cheese we ate was served in firm wedges (a bit like parmesan). It was a little sharp and a little crumbly in the mouth, splintering off with the saltiness of the anchovies. It’s a dish I’m going to repeat at home.

I should also mention that  Fidalgo’s pulpo a la gallega was my favourite of the trip – served as extra thin slices, coated in sharp paprika and a full bodied, rich and gooey olive oil, and served with lots of warm crusty bread.

 If you end up in this part of the world, you should definitely go.

 Fidalgo, AVENIDA JULIÁN VALVERDE, 79 (SABARIS) 36393 BAIONA (Pontevedra) (no website)

Pulpo a la gallega (galician octopus)

I was excited about pulpo a la gallega well before I ate it. Lots of Galician food involves seafood but octopus seems to hold a particularly key place. Pulpo a la gallega (also known as pulpo à feira) is available everywhere, from tapas bars to fairs (which gives it the alternative name).

The large food tent at village fairs is a hub of octopus activity.  At one small festival we went to, we watched a large octopus being scooped from alarge pan into a boiling copper pot, churning and contracting in the water, then being ladled onto the hotplate for finishing and cutting into bits with scissors. It was then placed on a wooden plate and liberally sprinkled with sea salt, paprika and olive oil. Plenty of bread and red wine helped wash it down and mop it up.

The texture, a mix of firm centre and slimey edges,  I found a bit disconcerting for the first mouthful but rich olive oil and the salt made it very moreish. I liked it best in thinner slices, scooped onto bread with oil and the firm wrinkled tentacles, chewy and squishy all at the same time.  

I haven’t tried to make it at home yet, but if you have a large copper pot and a whole octopus, it seems quite doable. A good description of how to do it can be found here on EatDrinkTravel.

Vegetable markets in Stuttgart

Something about food markets makes me really happy. I like to meander through the stalls and buy random bits and pieces. So whilst this isn’t about cheese, I really wanted to show the vegetables I saw at some markets in Stuttgart the other weekend.

I think I mentioned before that I play roller derby. My team has an annual game against the Stuttgart Valley Roller Girlz and this year it was our turn to travel to them. Skating took up most of the fleeting visit but a few of us did manage to wander around the wet centre of Stuttgart for a couple of hours and came across an fantastic market.

The diversity of pumpkins and corn was amazing – some of these squash were as big as my head, in twisted shapes and in perfect spheres. If I could, I would have bought lots, but figured fresh produce wouldn’t really make it home so well. I did buy two small pumpkins  – neither of which I could identify so maybe they weren’t pumkins at all. One is white and knobbly and the other is kind of like a stubby zucchini (or courgette), so it might be a marrow I guess. They are still sitting prettily on my kitchen bench, but I’ll have to chop them up and work out what to do with them.

I’m off to Spain on holidays for a week, so I’ll post about that when I’m back.

Walk, eat cheese, walk some more

We went to Italy over the summer and I discovered the world of Agriturismo which translates, unsurprisingly, into agricultural tourism in english (it just doesn’t sound as good).

Some friends were coming to visit from Australia and rather than stay in London we wanted to go somewhere none of us had been before, so we went to the Dolomites in Italy.

Hiking in Italy was unlike any I’ve done in Australia or the UK  – you stroll past grazing cows, wander through valleys, hike up a few steep rocky slopes and then you reach a bar! Well a refugio really, which I had expected to be low key shelters but were instead these amazing buildings, often perched on the edge of cliffs and serving housemade pasta, beer and ricotta cake.

Hiking also involves stumbling across Malga (what I later found to mean alpine hut), where you can stop, eat too much home-made cheese and speck (from a relative of the pig in the nearby field) and then work it off as you continue up the mountain.

We found this farm whilst hiking from Passo Sella, where a diversion in the path, a post with a menu attached and an arrow down the hill made our decision for us.