To Rebekah Baker, fall was made for aged Gouda. Winter brings thoughts of triple-cream brie. Summer holds memories of fresh mozzarella.
Just as fresh fruit and vegetables have peak seasons, so do certain flavorful cheeses, said Baker, the corporate cheese buyer for Nugget Markets. A certified cheese professional, Baker handpicks many of the 400-plus cheeses carried by the Sacramento-area chain.
Some of those cheeses are available only brief periods each year such as Wisconsin’s shocking pink peppermint-rind Sartori Bellavitano or Cowgirl Creamery’s pepper- and mushroom-dusted Chimney Rock, made in Petaluma.
“Our cheese selection varies by the season,” Baker said. “We pull from all over the world, but we have a really big local focus. There are a lot of great California cheeses.”
October is American Cheese Month, a time when the nation’s cheesemakers celebrate their product. In the past decade, consumer knowledge has gone way beyond basic grilled American cheese.
“We’re seeing a lot more (cheese) education among our (patrons),” Baker said. “People are getting more and more excited about specialty cheese. They look for the unique factor – what’s new? What’s special? People are finding out cheese has a season. We’re seeing buying patterns shift domestically.”
As the weather cools, people crave strong flavored cheeses, she said.
“In fall, people want cheese with more flavor,” Baker said. “People crave aged Gouda and washed-rind cheeses or cheeses with flavored rinds. They gravitate to aged Gruyere or Emmental, the Swiss family of cheeses; those melt beautifully and are perfect in a lot of fall meals.”
Not all cheeses melt, she noted. For example, fresh chevre (made from goat’s milk) gets soft but doesn’t ooze, adding its own unique texture to dishes.
Halloumi, practically a meat substitute, holds its firm structure and can be grilled in a pan. “Don’t eat it uncooked,” she noted. “It’s packed in salt brine and is way too salty to just eat plain.”
Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.
Cheese ‘burgers’ with spicy mayo
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Halloumi, a goat and sheep’s milk cheese made with non-animal rennet and a touch of mint, hails from Cypress. Semi-firm, the milky white cheese bronzes beautifully in a skillet.
14 to 16 ounces halloumi cheese, juusto, bread cheese or queso fresco
4 hearty hamburger buns, such as pretzel rolls or whole wheat buns, split
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or green onion tops
1 teaspoon za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend (or your favorite spice rub)
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 large ripe tomato, cut into 4 thick slices
Thinly sliced seedless cucumbers or dill pickles
Arugula sprigs or romaine leaves
Cut the cheese into 1/2-inch thick slabs slightly larger than the buns. Toast the cut sides of the buns under broiler, watching carefully to prevent burning.
Pat the cheese dry. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot enough to make a drop of water sizzle on contact. Add a very light film of oil; swirl it around to heat. Add the cheese slices in a single uncrowded layer. Cook, turning once, until golden on both sides, 2 or 3 minutes total. Drain on paper towels.
Mix together the mayo, chives, za’atar and red pepper flakes to make the spice mayonnaise. Spread it on the bottoms of the buns. Top with a slice of tomato. Then top with a slice of fried cheese. Top with cucumber or dill pickle slices and arugula or romaine. Put a little of the remaining mayo on the top of the buns and serve.
Per serving: 328 calories, 15 g fat (6 g sat.), 36 mg chol., 33 g carb., 16 g protein, 462 mg sodium, 4 g fiber
Pork strips with carrot and leeks in chevre sauce
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 22 minutes
Flavors are light and clean-tasting in this simple dish, proving that fresh, seasonal ingredients (from a trip to the farmers market) can yield a main course that tastes as good the next day as room-temperature leftovers as it does warm on the dinner plate.
Not all markets carry crème fraîche; you can substitute sour cream.
Serve with crusty bread for mopping up the sauce.
Recipe adapted by Bonnie Berwick of The Washington Post from “Hot and Cheesy” by Clifford A. Wright.
12 ounces young, tender carrots
14 ounces boneless pork loin
2 thin leeks
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon walnut oil (may substitute grapeseed oil)
Leaves from 6 to 8 stems flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup dry white wine
4 ounces chevre (soft goat cheese)
1/4 cup crème fraîche (may substitute regular or low-fat sour cream)
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add a generous pinch of salt.
Meanwhile, peel and trim the carrots, then cut them in half crosswise and then lengthwise. Add to the water and cook for 3 or 4 minutes until tender but firm. Drain.
While the carrots are cooking, trim all visible fat from the pork. Cut the meat into 1/2-inch strips. Trim off and discard the root end and dark-green parts of the leeks. Cut the remaining leeks in half lengthwise, then crosswise into thin slices. Rinse well to remove any grit.
Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork and cook for about 2 minutes, until it loses its raw look.
Add the leeks and stir to coat; reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, finely chop the parsley to yield 1/4 cup.
Add the parcooked carrots and stir to coat; cook for about 3 minutes, then stir in the wine, chevre, creme fraiche and parsley.
Taste, then season with salt and pepper as needed. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, to form a slightly thickened sauce.
Divide among individual plates. Serve warm.
Per serving: 510 calories; 28 g fat (15 g sat.); 120 mg cholesterol:; 560 mg sodium; 21 g carbohydrates; 4 g dietary fiber; 8 g sugar; 39g protein
Smoked Gouda macaroni and cheese with cider
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Recipe adapted by The Bee’s Kathy Morrison. For a non-vegetarian variation, cook 4 slices of bacon until crisp and crumble into the macaroni with the cheese sauce before baking.
16 ounces small elbow macaroni or ditalini
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 onion, diced
2 tablespoons flour (Wondra preferred)
13/4cups milk, gently warmed
3/4 cup hard cider
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black or white pepper, to taste
6 ounces smoked Gouda cheese, shredded
6 ounces sharp white Cheddar cheese, shredded
Panko bread crumbs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook macaroni in a large pot of salted water until slightly undercooked; drain and set aside.
In a medium heavy saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook 1 to 2 minutes, until just soft. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Combine the milk and the cider. Slowly add liquid to the flour mixture, whisking constantly. Add salt and pepper, and continue whisking until the sauce is smooth and thickened.
Remove sauce from heat and stir in cheese, about 1 cup at a time, until cheese is melted.
Grease a large casserole dish with the remaining butter. Combine cheese sauce and macaroni. Pour into the prepared dish, top with bread crumbs, and bake until bubbly, 20-25 minutes.
If desired, finish by putting uncovered casserole under the broiler for 1 minute to brown the breadcrumbs. Serve hot.