Time Out New York made a list of all the best cheese shops in New York City. Take one guess who they named #1….
Hanukkah Cheesin’: The Forgotten Story of Curd and the Festival of Lights
Ed note: Loyal blog readers may remember this story from Hanukkah 2013. We’re republishing it this year because…well, because it’s an amazing story of how cheese saved the day, and we can’t get enough of those.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the Festival of Lights better than a big old wedge of curd. Every year, I make the schlep down to south Florida where the whole family gathers to enjoy a week of family time and fried food. And every year I brave the death-stares of fellow travels as I stink up the 3 hour flight with an insane amount of cheese stashed in my carry on. Although in my house I can’t guarantee that these treats will make it 8 days…48 hours would be a real miracle.
Until recently, I didn’t know that cheese, at one time, was part of traditional Hanukkah food celebrations. And just like any food tradition in the Jewish faith, there is a neat little story that will help us rationalize 8 days of gorging ourselves on some fantastic fromage. While this part of the Hanukkah story has become mostly forgotten in modern culture, it’s a great tale of heroism and the perfect excuse to munch on some curd, or gift a little wedge. It goes something like this:
Judith was a strikingly beautiful widow from the town of Bethulia in sixth century BC Israel. Her community came under siege, and annihilation looked inevitable. That is, until Judith came to the rescue. She put together a spread of wine and cheese and entered the enemy camp. The leader, Holofernes, was so smitten by her beauty, he couldn’t resist her offering of ripe cheese and intoxicating wine. He got bombed. I mean really, really drunk, like me at any Bar Mitzvah I have attended in the last 6 years. He was so wasted that Judith reacted in the most natural of ways: she stole his sword and cut of his head.
Jewish heroines really know how to bring the badass.
While this story takes place centuries after the Maccabees and their “Miracle of Light”, for many years it was incorporated into the Hanukkah celebration. Judith’s heroism was celebrated along with the Maccabees victory as an example of the perseverance of the Jewish people. But stories and cultures are not static, and this exciting tale has slowly been abandoned for the the modern Hanukkah story and celebration.
So, now that you know that it is not only acceptable, but encouraged that you get some cheese for Hanukkah, you might want a few suggestions for the platz-worthy wedge. The time and location that Judith’s story takes place would undoubtedly be a land full of goat and sheep milk cheeses. Allison Hooper, from Vermont Creamery, is what many consider the heroin of American goat cheese. She has helped to create the American market for goat cheese, and explored techniques and methods that have helped shaped a quality driven landscape of cheesemakers across the United States. Try some velvety and tangy Coupole or some fudgy and lemony Torus (and a dollop of their Crème Fraiche is a wonderful substitute for sour cream with your latkes). Nutty and grassy Ossau Iraty with a schmear of Seashore Honey will drive your great-aunts taste buds mashugganah, and a beautiful wheel of Cavemaster Reserve Hudson Flower will insure your eternal reputation as a real mensch.
One final piece of interesting cheese and Hanukkah knowledge. You know those potato latkes that Bubbie spends all day frying up? Potatoes were not brought over to Europe until the colonization of the American continent, but Jews had been making fried latkes for centuries. Guess what the original latke was made of? You guessed it, CHEESE!
Regardless how you celebrate Hanukkah this year, Murray’s hopes it is a fun and full of friends and family. Here is to the festival of lights, and really good cheese! L’chaim, y’all!
How to Throw A Raclette Party
Raclette comes from the French word Raclerâ, which means “to scrape.” It is a cheese traditionally eaten in Switzerland. The Swiss cow herders used to take the cheese with them when they were moving cows to or from the pastures up in the mountains. In the evenings around the campfire, they would place the cheese next to the fire and, when it had reached the perfect softness, scrape it on top of some bread. Today we use fancy machines to do the melting, but the results are just as tasty. The cheese has a mellow, slightly funky flavor that makes it the perfect accompaniment to almost anything, and the texture is ideal for melting.
Throwing a Raclette Party is easy. The key is to have a nice variety of meats, veggies and bread for topping with the gooey cheese. There are 2 kinds of raclette machines: one holds a quarter wheel of the cheese and heats it under a lamp, the other heats individual portions of cheese on little pans. If you don’t have a raclette machine you can use a nonstick pan to melt slabs of the cheese, it’s just a little messier.
Here are some of our favorite things to serve with raclette:
Vegetables: Small Potatoes, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Roasted Butternut Squash, Cipolline Onions, Cauliflower
Meats: Prosciutto, Speck, Jambon Royale, Finocchiona Salami, Chorizo, Roasted Pork
Fruits that go with cheese: Sliced pears, sliced apples
Fruits to refresh the palate: Grapes, Berries, Dried fruits
Acidic and briny bites to refresh the palate: Cornichons, Olives
How to Enjoy Winnimere to the Max
Beth Griffenhagen works in Marketing and Events at Murray’s Cheese. She doesn’t believe in rules for eating cheese, but does believe in the pursuit of max deliciousness.
First of all, if you are in possession of a wheel of Jasper Hill Farms Winnimere, be very excited. I’m not saying your life is about to change, but your life is about to change. Just look at that beautiful cheese!
What’s the Deal with this Cheese?
Winnimere is made of raw cow’s milk, so you get subtly nuanced flavors that sometimes get lost when milk is pasteurized. Jasper Hill takes the notion of terroir (roughly translates “taste of the land”) a step further by washing each wheel in a local beer, which gives the cheese a creamy texture and a lightly funky flavor. Are you transported to the rustic landscape of rural Vermont yet? No? What if I told you that Winnimere is wrapped in locally harvested Spruce bark? It’s true, they wrap a strip of fragrant, woodsy bark around every wheel to impart that special, earthy flavor. The result is like nothing you’ve ever tasted. (Ok, it’s a little like Forsterkase if you’ve ever had that, but way better!)
Serving Tips: Sharing is Caring
Most wheels of Winnimere weigh a little over a pound, and this is the type of cheese that is really best to eat in one sitting, two at most. So either you commit to eating a pound of cheese, or you invite 4 to 6 friends over and tell them to bring the wine. The choice is yours! No judgment here!
All cheese should be served at room temperature, but this is especially true for a cheese like Winnimere. If it’s too cold it won’t be as gooey and scoopable, and the flavors will be muted. When you’re ready to serve it, slice off a portion of the top rind to make for easy scooping of the luscious, creamy inside!
Take it to the Next Level
They say “the cheese stands alone,” but the truth is, there are a few ways to make this cheese even more delicious.
Drinks: Off-dry Riesling and fruity reds (mountain-y stuff from Austria works) make great pairings. You can also enjoy with a beer – after all, it’s washed in beer from Hill Farmstead Brewery!
Spread on: Thinly sliced baguette or a hearty cracker is the way to go.
Eat with: I love serving Winnimere with Speck to play up the smoky flavors in the cheese. (Speck is like bacon you don’t have to cook. Try it immediately.) You can also expand on the savory theme with olives, nuts, and pâté, or any other savory thing your heart desires.
BON APPETIT, you crazy cheese lovers!
Dips to fill your SUPER bowl
Quick, cheesy, yummy. What else can make your Super Bowl Sunday this delicious?
BLACK & BLUES DIP
This is the quickest blue cheese dip ever — great for wings and crudité.
1 lb. blue cheese, crumbled – use the Black River Blue from our new Super Bowl Shuffle package or order an extra pound.
1/2 Cup mayonnaise
1/2 Cup sour cream
2 TBS. apple cider vinegar
Dash of Worchestire sauce
Dash of Piri Piri sauce
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
Optional: minced baby chives
Place all ingredients with half of the crumbled blue in a mixing bowl or use your mixer if you would like it ultra-smooth. Whisk vigorously or pulse in mixer until blended. Add in the remaining crumbles for the chunky factor; salt & pepper to taste. Want it more savory with a hint of heat? Double dash with Piri Piri for that extra kick.
SPINACH FETA DIP
1 lb. pack frozen chopped spinach
1/2 Cup sour cream
1/2 Cup mayonnaise
1/2 Cup Crumbled Feta – either Bulgarian or French
2 TBS. dried oregano
Zest & juice of one lemon
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
Optional: 2 TBS. Walnut oil (adds great flavor!)
Optional: Toasted Walnuts (adds great flavor!)
Steam the frozen spinach and thoroughly drain the liquid. Place the spinach in a fine mesh strainer and press all of the liquid out of it. Chop the drained spinach on a cutting board.
Place the chopped spinach in a bowl and add all of your other ingredients and stir. Save a little feta to sprinkle on the top as well as the nuts.
Refrigerate in an air tight container, overnight is just fine. When ready to serve, you can mix in more lemon, salt, feta to flavor it, and top with feta and walnuts. Serve with endive, tortilla chips, flatbreads or crusty bread.
PIMENTO CHEDDAR DIP
1 lb. cheddar: our favorite is Tickler
1/3 lb. cream cheese
1/2 Cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. cayenne
8 oz. jar roasted red peppers
1 tsp. sugar
Dash Worchestire sauce
Optional: pickled jalapenos (if you like it spicy)
Use a grater or a food processor to shred the cheddar. Pulse the red peppers in the food processor. Add spices and cream cheese and pulse until mixed. Then just add in cheddar and pulse until mixed – go for a textured (not smooth) finish. Serve with celery, apples and bread.