I Heart Ewe

B(l)aaah, B(l)aaah, B(l)aaah

The heading is the answer to “what does the sheep say”. Well, it’s ONE of the answers! Another answer is “ try my delicious cheese”! Sheeps milk is one of the Big Three in the cheesemaking world (the others being cow and goat). Indeed, many fine (and well known) cheeses are the product of Ovis Aries, including Pecorino Romano, feta, Roquefort, Manchego. These are readily available in grocery stores, even in the small city in which I live. What IS more difficult to source, though, is fresh sheep’s milk cheese, even in places like my semi-local Whole Foods in Indianapolis.

PetitNuageWithBerry1

Fresh chèvre, the caprine (read: goat) white log of spreadable cheese, seems to have exploded in popularity within the past 10-15 years, going from exotic ingredient to supermarket mainstay. While not as ubiquitous as Slim Jims at a convenience store, fresh goat cheese has become so common that I can find multiple brands in my Muncie grocery stores. And I hardly live in a bastion of gastronomic innovation. But fresh sheep’s milk cheese? Nope.

PetitNuage1

Landmark Creamery’s Petit Nuage

On a recent food landscape exploration road trip to eastern Iowa and southern Wisconsin, I discovered Landmark Creamery’s Petit Nuage (or rather the wonderful staff at Fromagination helped me discover it). “Nuage” means “cloud” in French, and this little cloud is aptly named. Sold in a four-pack of crottin-sized, 1-oz. (28 g) buttons, Petit Nuage has a crisp, bright flavor underscored with grassiness. It’s mild flavor pairs well with berries and fresh herbs like parsley or chives. As a breakfast treat, I’ve enjoyed it drizzled with a mild honey (such as dandelion); avoid matching this with an assertive honey, which would overwhelm the cheese flavor. The cheese is smooth and spreadable, with a (very) slight granularity that add some real textural interest. I imagine this cheese would work well in salads, slightly warmed, though I’ve not tried that yet. Petit Nuage is a seasonal offering from Landmark, available from February to October.

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About Landmark Creamery

PetitNuageWithHoney

Landmark Creamery is a relatively new operation, the owners having met each other only in 2009. The two owners (or two Annas) are women, Anna Landmark and Anna Thomas Bates. According to their website, they met at a potluck for a group of women in sustainable agriculture. This serendipitous meeting grew into a cheesemaking operation!

Landmark Creamery also makes a couple of other cheeses, such as Anabasque (an aged sheep milk cheese). Indeed, that particular cheese is on my dinner menu for tonight. I sampled Anabasque at Fromagination and was taken with that offering as well. Sadly, I don’t believe either cheese is available in Indiana yet, so I’ll have to consider a return trip to Wisconsin!

PetitNuageWithBerry2

A Reminder

Don’t forget to bring your cheeses (Petit Nuage or any other cheese) to room temperature before enjoying them. Taking them out about an hour before you plan to serve them should suffice, assuming your house isn’t refrigerator-cold. Serve cheese too cold and you risk suppressing the flavors, losing your ability to taste the complexity of various cheese.

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Goet-ta Out of Here!

A Gift from the Queen City

Gliers

Glier’s Goetta

About a year or so ago, I was introduced to goetta (pronounced get-tuh, rhymes with meta), a type of breakfast sausage-combination-amalgamation-thing with its roots in Cincinnati’s German immigrant population. I’d heard of this semi-mythical gastronomic beast but, living in Hoosier Land, a two-and-a-half hour drive away from the Queen City epicenter, I’d never partaken of so much as a crispy, crunchy crumb of the stuff. It wasn’t (and to my knowledge, still isn’t) available in my local grocery stores.1 So leave it to a new relationship and an invitation to a Goettoberfest to initiate me in the Ways of the Goettarati.

As a mixture of meat and grain, goetta has been compared to scrapple, that morning mush featured as part of Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine. Certainly, similarities stand out—both contain some combination of meat, grain, and spices. Both share a German-American lineage. And both are an expression of creative frugality. But they are clearly two different kinds of treats.

So, What Is Goetta, Exactly?

Goetta, which combines ground pork, often pork shoulder (sometimes with ground beef), pinhead or steel-cut oats, and seasonings, was, historically, a way to stretch meat into multiple meals. In that sense, it served as a testament to immigrant frugality. Typically formed into a log or rectangular loaf, it’s sliced thin and then fried so that the exterior becomes crisp. Although goetta is most often deemed a breakfast treat, culinary creatives pushing the envelope incorporate it into other recipes (goetta pizza, anyone?).

Goetta’s closest relative may be the aforementioned scrapple, the Pennsylvania Dutch2 dish. Scrapple mixes porks bits (including offal), cornmeal, and spices, so there is that meat-grain similarity. It, too, is sliced thin and fried. But the grains are different, as is the origin of Germans behind these dishes. The revolutions of 1848 that brought many Germans to the United States served as the impetus of many of Cincinnati’s immigrants relocations, whereas the Pennsylvania Dutch primarily stem from the Protestant religious refugees of the Rhineland-Palatinate, southwestern Germany, and Switzerland during an earlier period. Additionally, the textures differ. Scrapple is fine-grained, whereas goetta is coarser and crumblier. Still, one cannot deny the correlation between scrapple and goetta.

Sources of Goetta

Eckerlin's
Eckerlin’s

The Greater Cincinnati area (which includes not only the Queen City herself, but surrounding counties, including some in Indiana and Kentucky), is Goetta Central. A number of producers supply the goetta-loving public and, having tried three of them, the recipes are like snowflakes—no two are alike. The standard (and most ubiquitous in supermarkets) is Glier’s, which comes in a tube. I’ve also had Eckerlin’s (from Cincinnati’s Findlay Market), which seems spicier and pepper-ier, as well as Mike’s (also acquired at Findlay Market), which has a more pure pork flavor. I enjoyed all three and wouldn’t turn any of them down. If you’re up for a challenge, you can even make your own (which I will, some day!). Until then, I’ll happily indulge in those available commercially.

Mike's Homemade (but Commercially Available) Goetta
Mike’s Homemade (but Commercially Available) Goetta

On Deck: Cooking Goetta and a Recipe for Goetta Grilled Cheese

In the next week or so, I’ll be posting some instructions on cooking goetta, as well as a recipe for goetta grilled cheese. With pictures!

1On June 16th, I checked both my local Marsh supermarket and my local Meijer superstore, neither of which currently carries goetta
2The proper term is actually Pennsylvania German, as “Dutch” is a corruption of “Deutsch”, aka German in German.

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It’s Better with Butter

My Favorite Fat

Butter had been removed from the list of Worst Dietary Offenders some time ago. I’d certainly done my time in the Low Fat Prison System. But much research since then indicates the benefits of fat (and yes, your body needs fat) as part of healthy diet. But as much as I love a good olive oil, it doesn’t hold a candle to my favorite fat—good, delicious butter! That’s great, because I certainly missed it!

When I talk of butter, though, I DON’T talk of mass-produced varieties, the kind sold in your supermarkets and trumpeted as a loss leader during holiday baking season (which, by the way, is rapidly approaching!) No, I’m talking about creamy, high butterfat varieties, preferably cultured. Indeed, favorites of mine include Organic Valley’s Cultured Butter or their Pasture Butter, though the latter isn’t cultured. Well yesterday I made an acquaintance with Tulip Tree Creamery’s Cultured Butter with Sea Salt. Suffice to say, I am in major Flyover Foodie crush mode!

Because Everybody Needs a Little Culture!

So, what exactly IS cultured butter? No, it doesn’t mean that the tub has a subscription to the symphony and reads literary classics. Rather, it’s butter to which some cultures (like the cultures one finds in yogurt) have been added, either naturally from the bacteria present or from an external source. Cultured butter, common in parts of Europe but not in the United States, has a slight tang to it, courtesy of those flavor-enhancing cultures. Your standard supermarket butter isn’t going to have this.

A most delicious buttery experience awaits the person who removes this lid!
A most delicious buttery experience awaits the person who removes this lid!

Enter Tulip Tree Creamery’s Butter

Tulip Tree Creamery, located in Indianapolis, is a relative newcomer to Indiana’s cheese landscape, having been established in 2014. But don’t assume that this “baby” is a baby! Tulip Tree Creamery is the brainchild of Fons Smits, whose cheese pedigree includes Cowgirl Creamery (Point Reyes Station, CA), Trader’s Point (Zionsville, IN), and Ludwig Creamery (Fithian, IL). The charming Mr. Smits, whom I was fortunate enough to meet, took time to answer my questions. At some point in the future, I’ll write a full blog post about Tulip Tree, though given my current schedule, I can’t say when that will be!

So, the butter. Tulip Tree is not a farm, but they source their milk (and the attendant cream) from a family farm located about 50 or so miles south in Seymour, Indiana. This farm refrains from using antibiotics or growth hormones. The butter produced by Tulip Tree is an artisanal product, traditionally crafted. The butter, besides being marvelously delicious, is truly a seasonal product, an exceptional expression of the cows’ diets. During the milder seasons, the milk reflects a diet of pasture greens. The cream in this luscious product is enhanced by the addition of sea salt, generating butter that is especially addictive. Yes, I can eat this plain!

And Eating the Butter?

Well, I haven’t gotten beyond eating the bread on butter (plain or with a slice of Tulip Tree’s beer cheese). Okay, I lied—I have also licked it off the knife! Anyway, I think this is a butter that is best enjoyed simply, with bread or perhaps garnishing some steamed broccoli or asparagus. I think it would be a shame to use this in a way that would mask the rich flavor of this butter.

Readers, you owe it to yourself to try Tulip Tree Creamery’s Cultured Butter!

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The Not-So-Lonesome Prairie: Goats!

Oh, Capricorn

WhiteGoatWithBrown

Perhaps when you think of “goat”, you think of Capricorn, the zodiac sign (Caprinae are the class of animal that includes goats and sheep). Not me. When I hear the word “goat”, I think of cheese, delicious goat cheese. And because of that, and my interest in the culinary geography of the Midwest and Plains, I made a pilgrimage of sorts to Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery, a goat creamery just outside of Champaign, Illinois (home of the University of Illinois’ main campus).

About Goat Cheese

Goat milk and goat dairy is preferred in some parts of the world. And that includes goat cheeses, which are typically piquant. Many people are familiar with fresh chèvre, the spreadable goat cheese that vaguely resembles cream cheese. Chèvre is creamy, tangy, sprightly, a delightful minuet on the tongue. But goat milk is employed in many other kinds of cheeses. Bûcheron, for example, is a semi-aged cheese, with an edible white bloomy rind covering a firmer ivory layer which in turn encases a softer white, lemony cheese that is spreadable. There are even firm aged goat cheeses.

Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery

On a pitch-perfect summer morning, with clichéd cloud-free sky and low humidities, I navigated the detours on N Lincoln Ave to make my way to Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery. I arrived at the farm, only to find a “Closed” sign. Well, this was not good. After all, I’d not only messaged them on Facebook to make sure they’d be open, I actually spent the previous night in Champaign to be able to visit them the next day. Undeterred, I drove in and parked my car. The creamery door was closed, but not locked, so I just walked in. And it was devoid of people. I snooped around a bit and finally saw a young woman with an infectious smile on the other side of the glass, working with cheese. She came over to help me. I explained that I was assured they’d be open. The young woman, Lynn (see photo below), was one of the cheesemakers and she, in turn, assured ME that they were certainly open. That they’d sell me some cheese and that I could wander around the farm. Fridays, she said, were less formal. So, we commenced with the tasting (and in my case, the buying!)

Lynn

My Cheese Haul

I tasted a number of wonderful goat cheeses. And I BOUGHT a number of wonderful goat cheeses—Little Bloom on the Prairie (a bloomy rind cheese—think Camembert); Angel Food (another bloomy rind goat cheese—in small rounds); Moonglo, a firm, aged cheese which has a washed rind (a brine is used to bathe the cheese); goat feta (deliciously creamy and tangy); and fresh chévre (which I’ve been enjoying by the spoonful!). Prairie Fruits also makes a raw milk goat cheese call Huckleberry Blue, which is a seasonal product. I didn’t get any because it wasn’t the season!

CheeseHaul

And Now for Something Completely Different: Goat Gelato!

Yes, you read that right. Prairie Fruits makes goat GELATO. As in the frozen dessert. Okay, it was brunch time and I hadn’t eaten (mostly in anticipation of this!), so I was all set to eat some gelato. There were about ten flavors available and I choose individual servings of Espresso and Peaches and Cream. Both were delicious, but the Espresso was especially exquisite! I sat down on one of the farm’s picnic tables to have my late breakfast. I would encourage anyone to swap out their oatmeal or bagel for some goat gelato to start the day!

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Wandering the Grounds

Both Lynn (the cheesemaker) and her colleague Sarah suggested that I wander around the farm. They told me to go visit the barns and see the milking does and the young kids (actually, teenagers by now). So I did (and I am sharing a few photos with you). I got a chance to see the pen where the retired does were frolicking as well. The goats’ eyes were soft, yet animated.

Goat2_RS

A Chat with Wes Jarrell

Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery is owned by the husband-and-wife duo of Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperbrand, former academics (see, friends, there IS life after academe! Rich life, too!) While I was enjoying my gelato, Wes came over, sat down, and chatted with me for a bit. That’s how I found out he had been a professor (even a department head at University of Wisconsin-Madison, I believe). We talked about the farm, about people not understanding (or paying for) the true value of food (remember that a lot of what you eat is subsidized and benefits big corporations). He told me about the gelato (how they had someone go to Europe to study gelato-making); the gelato, I found out, was a pretty new product for them. We talked about agricultural sustainability and organic farming (and they are NOT necessarily synonymous!) Mr. Jarrell was very, very generous with his time. He also shared with me that Prairie Fruits supplies the restaurants of Rick Bayless, the noted chef with some stellar restaurants in Chicago. With this kind of background, I knew I’d be enjoying those cheese very much upon my return to Muncie; it took a fair amount of willpower not to pull the car off the interstate and dig into my purchases.

Will I Be Back? In a Word, YES!

I should have bought more cheese. I know I’ll run out soon. That makes this Flyover Tapan sad. BUT, I will be back, maybe with some friends of mine! People, if you are at all interested in local and regional products and you love food, you owe it to yourself to visit Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery.

Little Bloom on the Prairie
A runny Little Bloom on the Prairie
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Braised Radishes

If you’ve only eaten radishes raw, try eating them cooked. This simple recipe adds another way of enjoying this root vegetable to your culinary repertoire. This recipe is based on one from Diane Morgan found in Fine Cooking (Issue 122).

What You’ll Need

  • knife
  • chopping board
  • large skillet or frying pan
  • measuring cup and spoons

Ingredients

  • 2 bunches radishes, tops removed (can save some of the radish greens)
  • 2 Tbsp butter, salted or unsalted
  • 3/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • salt and pepper
  • flat-leaf (Italian) parsley (or reserved radish greens)

How to Cook Braised Radishes

  1. Rinse and dry the radishes. Cut off the tops and root tails. Then slice into approximately ¼ inch rounds (if radishes are very small, feel free to halve or quarter them).
  2. Over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the radishes (with a pinch of salt), cover and cook them on medium-low for 5-10 minutes, stirring fairly often (of course, you’ll have to uncover them to stir). They should become noticeably softened.
  3. CookRadishes

  4. Once softened, add your stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Then add the vinegar, sugar, and salt (about ½ tsp, though you can use less if you opted for salted butter). Reduce heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally.
  5. Cook until the liquid is reduced to a glazy consistency.
  6. Garnished with chopped parsley or chopped radish greens. Serve immediately.

FinishedBraisedRadishes

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