Done? Done with Level One of the program? Sorry, wait, done? Yes, it’s true. The program is officially a little more than 1/6th of the way over and I’m reeling! This month went by like lightening. But this past week went by at a snail’s pace. The first week of Level 2 was bizarre, fun, interesting and bit hectic. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever attempted to absorb even a fraction of as much information as I attempted to absorb this week. Level 2 is probably going to be my favorite level of the entire program because we are going to be learning tons of pastry techniques! The pace is increasing and our chef instructors are expecting more from us everyday, but so far it feels good. Except for the fact that we had to cook organ meats the other day….
You heard me right. Now, don’t get me wrong – I have a pretty open mind about food and will try pretty much anything (I did drink Donkey Skin Tea while I worked at a Korean restaurant last year…and I liked it). And I did, I’m proud to say, try everything we made – and that included kidneys, sweetbreads, liver and TONGUE. Which, in case you’re interested, was probably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. I think the worst part of the experience wasn’t even the actually consumption of the tongue, but the preparation. We had to poach the tongue and then remove the skin on the outside of it! Enough said.
I think I learned more outside of the classroom than inside last week, which is surprising because we learn what seems like a DICTIONARY’S worth of terminology and techniques in a single week at school. On Monday, I attended a Forager’s Club tour of The Mast Brother’s Chocolate Factory in Brooklyn. It was the most inspiring and fascinating experience I’ve had in a long time. The chocolate factory is housed in a former brewery turned spice factory that has been completely renovated and turned into a magical, beautiful, enchanting chocolate “factory.” Please promise me right now that if you ever find yourself in Brooklyn, you will visit Mast Brother’s. It will change your life…or at least inspire you to think about changing your life. Mast Brother’s Chocolate is the only “bean to bar” chocolate maker in NYC, which is incredibly impressive all on its own. They – the Mast Brothers and their small staff – are completely dedicated to purchasing only the best cacao from small family farms and coops from around the world and are committed to being as green as possible. Plus, their chocolate will blow your mind and completely redefine what you think chocolate should taste like.
Last night, I attending my first cheese tasting at The Cheese Store in Hoboken, which is run by a super cool guy named Chung Park who I think probably knows everything there is to know about cheese. I thought I would share with you some of the cheese basics I learned…
The best way to learn about cheese is to examine it in terms of categories. Last night, we tried eight different cheeses, focusing on production methods. It’s best, when serving cheese for guests, to have a representative of each production category present. The first category was Bloomy Rind Cheese, from which we tried Delice de Borgogne (left) and Selles sur Cher (right; my favorite!). Bloomy Rind Cheeses have rinds that are covered with white, fuzzy mold, they are soft and grow softer with age.
Delice de Bourgogne is made in Burgundy, France and it is an enriched cow’s milk cheese. Before forming the cheese, cream is added to the curds, making Delice about 72-73 % butterfat (!) Because of this, Delice de Bourgogne is classified as a triple creme. As you can imagine, this cheese is very buttery and smooth with a nice salty tang. Selles sur Cher is made in the Loire Valley, which is arguably the best place in the world for goat’s milk cheese. Because these types of cheeses don’t survive the boat ride from France to the U.S., The Cheese Store imports fresh product and then ages the cheeses in house – how cool is that? I think this is the most incredible cheese I’ve ever tasted – soft, creamy, grassy, herbaceous.
The next category is Hard Ripened Cheese. These cheeses benefit from age, as they acquire more depth and complexity of flavor. We tasted 5 Year Borenkaas and Manchego.
The Borenkaas, which means “farmer’s cheese” is a gouda made in the Netherlands. The land it comes from was once below the North Sea and is rich in beta carotene, which explains the golden orange color. This cheese has a slight crunch due to extra proteins and amino acids with a caramel-y finish. Manchego, probably the most famous sheep milk cheese, is made in Spain and aged at least 12 months. This cheese has a nice little spice to it.
Next are the Wash Rind Cheeses which have been bathed in some sort of brine solution. This process promotes the growth of bacterium linens, making the cheese “stinky.” We tasted Taleggio and Morbier.
Taleggio is a cow’s milk cheese from Lombardy, Italy. Traditionally, this cheese is made after the Lombardy cows have marched down the mountains into the valley. Their milk is thinner because of this and results in a cheese with a wine-like flavor (this is my second favorite). Morbier is also a cow’s milk and comes from France. This cheese ripens a bit firmer than other wash rind cheeses and has a stripe in the middle which is actually a layer of ash. At one point, the ash was placed on cheese made in the morning to keep flies away and then the evening cheese was placed on top.
Last but not least, the Blue Cheeses. We tasted Gorgonzola and Stilton. Blues obviously have high mold content and are often served at the end of a meal because they compliment sweet dessert wines.
Gorgonzola is a cow’s milk cheese from Lombardy, Italy and is the most naturally soft of all blue cheeses. It is smooth, spreadable and mild. Stilton is a cow’s milk from England and is wonderfully pungent. This one is my third favorite. The flavor is so intensely wonderful.
Well now you know all I know about cheese! I’m looking forward to learning more about cheese – and chocolate. Maybe not so much organ meats.