So if you've tried to purchase tickets to Cheesetopia lately, you're well aware the event sells out quickly every year. This year was an all-time record - Cheesetopia Minneapolis sold out in seven hours. Yeehaw!
Of course, successful events are amazing, but the resulting hate emails, voicemails, texts and actual postage-stamped letters from people complaining they didn't get tickets is a little depressing.
That's why this morning, I posted on Facebook an opportunity for folks to win tickets to Cheesetopia. Every day between now and April 3, all you have to do is visit the Cheesetopia website, review the amazing list of 45 artisan cheesemakers and food producers who are attending, and then comment on the Facebook post by telling me who you're most looking forward to meeting, and why. In return, I promise to reply to your comment and practice my stand-up comedy skills. I'll pick one winner every day for 11 days. It's a win-win!
Click here to enter and comment on the newest post. If you already have tickets, or need a good smile, take a read through the comments - it's so nice to see people looking forward to meeting their favorite cheesemakers. It's nice to see cheese making people happy.
Friday, March 24, 2017
Wednesday, February 08, 2017
That's why I was especially interested to read in this month's Cook's Illustrated (shockingly, the subscription is in my husband's name, but I like to read it and tell him which dishes to make, which as you can imagine, he just loves) about the easiest-ever macaroni and cheese. Reading the headline, I thought: "Finally - I should be able to make this at home." And then I hit the words: sodium citrate, and went: "Crap. Never mind." Because who has sodium citrate laying around? Uh, no one.
And then I googled sodium citrate and found it on Amazon (of course) for the low low price of $15 for a 16-ounce jar. Whoo-hoo. Back in business.
In case you're not familiar with how sodium citrate can change your life, let me fill you in. Sodium citrate is an additive that's used as an emulsifier in lots of foods, including jam, ice cream and candy. If you've ever made homemade mac 'n cheese, you know that using an aged cheddar or any aged cheese often results in a greasy, lumpy mess, even if you go to all the work of making a Bechamel sauce first and then fold in the shredded, aged cheese.
It turns out that you can skip the Bechamel if you dissolve a tiny bit of sodium citrate in water, bring it to a simmer and then use a whisk (or immersion blender if you have one) to add handfuls of shredded or crumbly aged cheese. Within five minutes, the sauce is creamy and homogeneous. And it's fast: add some cooked macaroni and you have a delicious mac 'n cheese in less than 10 minutes.
In its article on easiest-ever macaroni and cheese, Cook's Illustrated also does an excellent job of explaining why aged cheeses break up when heated: "Cheese is an emulsion of fat and water bound up in a protein gel. When it's exposed to heat, the fat liquefies. As it gets even hotter, the protein network begins to break apart, the emulsion breaks down, the fat and water begin to separate out, and the cheese begins to melt and flow. Then the protein molecules find each other again and begin to regroup, this time in clumps or strings rather than in that tidy gel formation. The result is melted cheese with a pasty, lumpy texture and pools of fat." Yep, been there. Done that.
Cook's Illustrated continues: "Adding sodium citrate doesn't simply adhere to the cheese proteins, it changes them. When you add it to a cheese sauce, the calcium ions in the cheese proteins are replaced with sodium ions. This changes the structure of the protein in such a way that the protein itself becomes a stabilizing gel, holding the fat and water together so the sauce remains super smooth."
The article goes on to provide additional ways of making mac 'n cheese without sodium citrate, including using a 1:1 ratio of American cheese to aged cheddar. It turns out that the emulsifying salts in processed cheese, when used in the correct ratio, will prevent a cheese sauce from "breaking." This eliminates the need to make a Bechamel sauce (hallelujah) but you do need to add a bit of Dijon mustard and a small pinch of cayenne pepper to give it a kick in the flavor butt so that it's not too bland.
I also like to also add browned panko bread crumbs to the top of my mac 'n cheese for an interesting texture, but, let's get real, what I like even more is skipping the entire kitchen experience and ordering mac 'n cheese at both The Old Fashioned and at Graze, two restaurants in downtown Madison on the capital square. Both use aged cheddars with Bechamel sauces. The Old Fashioned uses cavitappi noodles, and Graze makes their own shell-shaped pasta from white flour. Both are delicious. Every time I go there, I think: "I should take a picture." And then I eat it all.
Monday, January 23, 2017
From September 21-30 this fall, we’ll visit and tour six Basque Country cheese factories, a Txakoli winery, the Asturias Coast, stay in boutique hotels and spend an entire day exploring San Sebastian, the most popular foodie city in the world. I'm excited to be your host for this tour, and am partnering with some amazing tour operators in Europe to visit off-the-beaten-path farms and creameries.
Here's a glance at the itinerary:
Day 1 - Thursday, Sept. 21 - Arrive Biarritz, Ainhoa
Upon everyon'es arrival in Biarritz, France, we depart in our own private coach bus for the French Basque cheese country of Ossau-Iraty in the French Pyrenees. We'll stop in the main hamlet of St. Jean Pied de Port, a delightful historic village on the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrim route. Then enjoy a cheese themed lunch and an afternoon visit to a small cheese factory producing Ossau Iraty. We'll settle into the picture postcard little village of Ainhoa for a free evening on our own. Overnight at Hotel Ithurria in Ainhoa. Meals: LUNCH
We start right away with a visit to a farm and French Pyrenees Basque cheesemaker of sheep’s cheese, Ardi Gasna, in the Nive valley. Ardi Gasna is a semi-hard cheese aged between four and six months. We’ll enjoy this scenic visit to the French countryside, see the farm’s animals, enjoy a fabulous tasting of all cheeses, and then spend the afternoon sightseeing to cheese shops and quaint villages. Dinner this evening is at the Michelen-starred restaurant of Hotel Ithurria and features a rustic French Basque experience. Overnight at Hotel Ithurria. Meals: BREAKFAST, DINNER
Day 3 – Saturday, Sept. 23 – Asturias
After breakfast, we’ll pick up and hit the road for Spain, crossing the border and traveling on to Asturias, known as the land of cheeses. We'll arrive in Vidiago, a stunning Llanes province and enjoy a tasting and tour at the tiny artisan producer, Queso Vidiago Collera. These cheeses are made from cow, goat and sheep milk, and are cured and macerated in olive oil for at least 90 days before being cut into wedges. A wonderful cider house lunch will follow at Casa Poli on the coast. In the afternoon, we'll visit the seafront and see the Bufon de Arenillas (natural sea geysers). Then travel to our Asturias hotel, which features a beautiful, cave-like spa. Overnight at Maria Manuela Hotel & Spa. Meals: BREAKFAST, LUNCH.
Day 4 – Sunday, Sept. 24 – Asturias
Engage in local culture with a visit to the delightful small country weekly market in Cangas de Onis, featuring local cheeses, foods and wares. Enjoy a walk up to the Roman bridge in Cangas. Lunch at a rustic, fun tapas restaurant, followed by a panoramic drive to Covadonga and its ethereal lakes. There is an easy and relaxed walking path along the lakes, featuring views of the Picos de Europa mountain range. You’ll have a free evening to relax or spend in the spa. Overnight at Maria Manuela Hotel & Spa. Meals: BREAKFAST, LUNCH.
In the morning, enjoy a visit to a Gamoneu cheesemaker, a Protected Designation of Origin cheese made in Asturias. Then the rest of the afternoon is devoted to Cabrales, a Spanish blue cheese. We’ll visit the CuevaMuseo of Cabrales to get an overview of the traditions of the area, and then follow with a full Cabrales experience from pasture to plate, experiencing a family run dairy making this famous blue cheese and visit the famous Cabrales caves. We’ll stop for sightseeing in Sotres and Tielves and enjoy an afternoon panoramic drive in the absolutely gorgeous Picos de Europa mountain range. Dinner tonight is at a wonderful, quaint, local restaurant in Cangas de Onis. Overnight at Maria Manuela Hotel & Spa. Meals: BREAKFAST, DINNER.
Day 6 – Tuesday, Sept. 26 – San Antolin, Pais Vasco
Pick up and head back towards the coast of Llanes and visit an artisan cheese producer near San Antolin, a famous surfer beach. Tour and taste mixed milk cheeses. Carry on to the amusingly named hamlet of Poo. Poo de Llanes, that is, and pronounced “Po”. Stop at the gorgeous Poo beach for coffee on the terrace, overlooking the sea and enjoy free time to get in a beach walk. This afternoon, we’ll enjoy a unique Cider experience at El Romano, where on a beautiful Atlantic stretch of northern Spain, the production and consumption of cider has a history that stretches back to the first century B.C. Visit a plantation with more than 200 apple trees and learn the cider making process. Enjoy a lovely lunch. In the afternoon, carry on to Pais Vasco and enjoy coastal scenery. Overnight at Villa Soro in San Sebastian, with a free evening to explore this famous city. Meals: BREAKFAST, LUNCH.
After breakfast, we'll visit an open air food market in Ordizia. This bustling market is located in a handsome columned marketplace and has operated every Wednesday since Queen Juana granted permission in 1512. We’ll have an hour to immerse ourselves in local culture before leaving to enjoy a full Idiazabal cheese experience on the “Idiazabal Gaztaren Ibilbidea” (cheese route). Nestled in the valleys of the lush green mountain ranges that rise up from the Aralar and Aizkorri Natural Parks, the area of Goierri is known for its shepherding tradition that has remained largely unchanged for thousands of years. Many farmers still practice transhumance, following ancient grazing routes up the mountains with their flocks in early summer, and retreating down to the valleys in winter. Lunch will be in a cozy Basque “Caserio” farm house where roast beef is usually the star of the day, served with rich Riojan wines. The afternoon will include stops at one or two medieval hamlets for photos and exploring, and then head back to San Sebastian in early evening for free time. Overnight at Villa Soro in San Sebastian. Meals: BREAKFAST, LUNCH.
Day 8 – Thursday, Sept. 28 – San Sebastian
We'll start off our experience in the most famous foodie city in the world with lunch at a traditional secret gastronomic society, including a visit beforehand to the local market to buy ingredients. Then our guides will give us options on exploring this fabulous city on our own for the afternoon. San Sebastian is one of Spain’s most attractive, charming and popular cities, and this sophisticated coastal gem, situated in the north of Spain, has much to offer. Lying on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, surrounded by hills, and offering a lively beach front means San Sebastian is a city that boasts a range of natural beauty. Its fabulous architecture, plazas and parks dotted throughout the city adds to its well-deserved label as the “pearl” of the North of Spain. At 7 pm, we’ll meet up as a group for a walking, eating and drinking tour of the beautiful old town of San Sebastian. Overnight at Villa Soro in San Sebastian. Meals: BREAKFAST, DINNER.
Day 9 – Friday, Sept. 29 – Hondarribia, San Sebastian
This morning, we'll visit Talai Berri, a Txakoli winery making one of the world’s greatest novelty wines. Produced in the breathtakingly beautiful Basque coast, the Txakoli winemakers have to fight the elements to make this famous white wine to supply the restaurants of San Sebastian. Txakoli is a genuine Basque product, unique in that it is only made in three main villages, and Basque Country is literally the only place on earth where you can find it. The owner, Bixente Eiagirre Aginaga, is the 4th generation of winemakers in his family, and is the head winemaker with his daughter, Itziar, second in command. In the afternoon, our guide will take us on a walk around the charming village of Hondarribia, one of the prettiest in Northern Spain. Twisted cobblestone alleys are lined with ornate churches, shady plazas and stately manor houses with balconies overflowing with flowers. We’ll celebrate with a farewell lunch at the best seafood restaurant in Northern Spain, Elkano, with Idiazabal cheese ice cream for dessert. The last evening of the trip is on your own to relax, enjoy a drink in San Sebastian and start packing for departure. Overnight at Villa Soro in San Sebastian. Meals: BREAKFAST, LUNCH.
Day 10 – Saturday, Sept. 30 – Departure
At our preferred time, ouor coach will transfer us to Biarritz airport for the journey home.
Price: $3,995 per person, (single travelers $599 extra), includes hotel accommodations in 3- and 4-star boutique hotels, eight private cheese experiences with tastings, visits and educational presentations, a cider experience, two local farmer market visits and numerous walking tours of medieval hamlets and villages, nine full breakfasts, six lunches with wines/cider, and three dinners with wines/cider, and private transportation via coach bus while in-country. We'll enjoy the services of a professional bilingual guide for the duration of the trip, as well as a detailed keepsake itinerary book with tour info, maps, shopping tips and more. Travelers must be 18 years of age or older.
Airfare is additional. You may reserve your spot with a $1,100 deposit by clicking here. I hope you'll consider joining me on this trip of a lifetime! To view the full brochure, please visit my website by clicking here.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
What is Cheesetopia? Well, it's where the best artisan and farmstead cheesemakers and food producers from around the Midwest (and beyond) sample and sell 150+ artisan cheeses and foods, attendees enjoy an open bar with free wine, beer and soda, and Fabulous Catering from Minneapolis serves amazing appetizers using local ingredients.
Tickets are $75. Only 500 tickets will be sold.
Cheesetopia 2017 is presented by Roth Cheese and Wisconsin Cheese Originals inside Aria, one of the most beautiful structures in the Minneapolis Warehouse Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With its soaring original brick walls, cavernous ceilings and crystal chandeliers, the home to Cheesetopia 2017 combines old world elegance with new world chic. Aria is indeed the perfect backdrop to one of the largest ever gatherings of artisan cheesemakers and food producers in the United States.
All attendees will receive a complimentary insulated shopping/lunch bag for their purchases, courtesy of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and the dairy farmers of Wisconsin. Score!
In addition, this year, a very limited number of VIP tickets that include access to skyloft Balcony Lounges will be available only to members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals for $125 each. VIP Balcony Lounges offer a bird's eye view of Cheesetopia: the perfect place to watch the action from above, get away from the crowd and enjoy a drink with friends.
This event sells out fast. If you’d like to guarantee tickets, consider supporting artisan cheesemakers by joining Wisconsin Cheese Originals for just $35 per year. Membership provides a backstage pass to tours, cheesemaker dinners, classes and events, with all membership dues supporting artisan cheesemakers through scholarships and promotional events. Join here.
Arriving the night before? Join me and the Minnesota League of Cheesemakers for a fun Curd Nerd Trivia Contest at the Renaissance Hotel Minneapolis at 7 pm on Saturday, April 8. Tickets: $25, includes snacks and beverages with cash bar. Prizes for top two teams! Tickets also go on sale January 17.
Wondering who will be sampling and selling at Cheesetopia? You can plan to meet and talk shop with the cheesemaker, producer, owner or senior representative of every company:
- Alemar Cheese Company, Mankato, Minnesota – Cheesemaker Craig Hageman sampling Bent River Camembert, Blue Earth Brie & Good Thunder Washed Rind
- Ames Farm Honey, Delano, Minnesota – Artisan Josh King and Owner Brian Fredericksen sampling Single Source Raw Honey
- Baker’s Field Flour & Bread, Minneapolis, Minnesota – Owner & Head Miller Steve Horton sampling an assortment of Naturally-Leavened Breads, made with flour that is stone-milled from local, organic grains
- Bleu Mont Dairy, Blue Mounds, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Aaron Peper sampling Bandaged Cheddar, Big Sky Grana & Cestino Pecora
- Burnett Dairy Cooperative, Grantsburg, Wisconsin – Kris Henning and Gloria Johnson sampling Wood River Creamery Alpha’s Morning Sun in various flavors, Burnett String Cheese in various flavors & Burnett Dairy Whips
- Caprine Supreme, Black Creek, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker and Owners Todd & Sheryl Jaskolski sampling Goat Milk Cheese Curds, Mild Cheddar, Lavender Jack, Creamy Parm, Goat Milk Brie, Feta, Gouda & Roh Kase
- Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle, Wisconsin – Sampling Goat Butter, Menage Butter, Spicy Beer Spread, Aged Asiago Spread, Menage, Airco, Marisa, Cranberry Chipotle Cheddar, Wildfire Blue & Sweet Vanilla Cardona
- Caves of Faribault, Faribault, Minnesota – Cheese Plant Manager Jill Ellingson sampling St. Pete’s Select Blue Cheese, Fini Cave Aged Cheddar and Winterfest Blues & Brews Blue Cheese
- Cedar Grove Cheese, Plain, Wisconsin – Meet Master Cheesemaker Bob Wills and sample a variety of artisan cheeses
- Cosmic Wheel Creamery, Clear Lake, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Rama Hoffpavir sampling Circle of the Sun, Antares & Moonglow
- Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, Wisconsin – Beth & Karl Crave sampling Marinated Fresh Mozzarella, Mascarpone, Farmer’s Rope String Cheese, Cheddar Cheese Curds & Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese Curds
- Deer Creek Cheese, Sheboygan, Wisconsin – Representative Kayla Immel sampling Deer Creek 1-Year Cheddar, 3-Year Cheddar, 5-Year, Cheddar, 7-Year Cheddar, Vat 17, The Fawn, The Stag, The Rattlesnake, The Robin, The Doe, The Blue Jay & The Imperial Buck
- Edelweiss Creamery, Monticello, Wisconsin – Master Cheesemaker Bruce Workman sampling Butterkase, Havarti, Dill Havarti & Muenster
- Emmi Roth USA, Monroe,Wisconsin – Cheesetopia’s Marquee Sponsor sampling Prairie Sunset, Grand Cru Original, Grand Cru Reserve, Grand Cru Surchoix, Roth Private Reserve, GranQueso & Sriracha Gouda
- Fortune Gourmet, Bensenville, Illinois – Gourmet Buyer James Croskey featuring a fun “Big Cheese Competition” with Cheddar Tasting, Guess the Weight, Cheese Identification & Guess the Retail Price
- Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Brenda Jensen sampling fresh Driftless in various flavors, Wischago, Ocooch Mountain, Vernon County Renegade, Bohemian Blue, Bad Axe, Timber Coulee & Meadow Melody
- Idyll Farms, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan – Cheesemaker Melissa Hiles and Owner Amy Spitznagel sampling multiple flavors of Idyll Pastures, multiple flavors of Spreadable Idyll Pastures, Mont Idyll, Idyllweiss, Idyll Gris & Camembert
- Jacobs & Brichford Farmstead Cheese, Connersville, Indiana – Cheesemaker Leslie Jacobs & Maize Jacobs-Brichford sampling Everton, Everton Premium Reserve, Tomme de Fayette, Briana & Briana with Truffles
- LaClare Farms Specialties, Pipe, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Katie Fuhrmann sampling Evalon, Martone, Chandoka, Raw Milk Goat Cheddar, Goat Cheddar & Goat Pepperjack
- Landmark Creamery, Albany, Wisconsin – Cheesemakers Anna Landmark and Anna Thomas Bates sampling Anabasque, Petit Nuage, Pecora Nocciola, Tallgrass Reserve & Pipit
- Lone Grazer Creamery, Minneapolis, Minnesota – Cheesemaker Rueben Nilsson sampling Grazier’s Edge, Hansom Cab & Northeazy
- Marieke Gouda, Thorp, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Marieke Penterman sampling Marieke Gouda Smoked, Marieke Gouda Truffle, Marieke Gouda Cumin, Marieke Golden & Marieke Gouda Young
- Martha’s Pimento Cheese, Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Martha Davis Kipcak sampling Martha’s Pimento Cheese Mild, Martha’s Pimento Cheese with Jalapeno & Martha’s Pimento Cheese with Chile de Arbol
- Olive on Tap, Minnetonka, Minnesota – Owners Rebecca & Don Bouchier sampling Artisan Blended Olive Oils, Balsamic Vinegars, Tapenade, Artichokes in Merlot, Muffaletta, Asiago Parmesan Cheese Dip, Bruschetta Toppings, Honey Mustards, Balsamic Jams, Italiano Antipasto & Bread Dipping Seasonings
- Organic Valley, LaFarge, Wisconsin – Master Cheesemaker Carie Wagner sampling Organic Valley cheeses
- Potter’s Crackers, Madison, Wisconsin – Owner Nancy Potter sampling a variety of Potter’s Crackers, Potter’s Crisps and Potter’s Oyster Crackers
- Quince and Apple, Madison, Wisconsin – Owners Clare & Matt Stoner Fehsenfeld sampling a variety of small-batch preserves, including: Figs and Black Tea, Pear with Honey and Ginger, Peach Chamomile, Raspberry Rose & Tart Cherry and White Tea
- Red Barn Family Farms, Appleton, Wisconsin – Meet Owner Paula Homan and taste a variety of artisan cheeses
- Red Table Meat Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota – Owner & Salumiere Mike Phillips sampling Mortadella, Pancetta, Lonza, and Large Caliber Salami.
- Redhead Creamery, Brooten, Minnesota – Cheesemaker Alise Sjostrom sampling Lucky Linda Clothbound Cheddar, Little Lucy Brie & North Fork Whiskey Washed Munster
- Rochdale Farms, Minneapolis, Minnesota – President Mary Bess Michaletz sampling Hand Rolled Butter, Yogurt, Goat Cheddar & Organic Cheeses
- Roelli Cheese, Shullsburg, Wisconsin – Master Cheesemaker Chris Roelli sampling Dunbarton Blue & Red Rock
- Sartori Company, Plymouth, Wisconsin – Master Cheesemaker Pam Hodgson sampling Extra Aged Goat Cheese, MontAmore, SarVecchio Parmesan, Chipotle BellaVitano, Rosemary & Olive Oil Asiago
- Saxon Creamery, Cleveland, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Eric Steltenpohl sampling Big Ed’s Gourmet Cheese Spread, Asiago Fresca Gourmet Cheese Spread, Pastures English Style Cheddar, Big Ed’s Smokehaus Gouda, Big Ed’s Gouda & Snowfields Aged Butterkase
- Schuman Cheese, Fairfield, New Jersey – Representatives Catherine Thornton, Jim Gregori and Neil Cox sampling Cello Hand Crafted Asiago, Cello Artisan Parmesan, Cello Copper Kettle Parmesan, Cello Traditional Romano, Cello Italian Style Fontal, Cello Whisps & Cello Mascarpone
- Sheep Dairy Association of Wisconsin – sampling a variety of Wisconsin sheep milk cheeses
- Shepherd’s Way Farms, Nerstrand, Minnesota – Cheesemaker Jodi Ohlsen Read and Shepherd Steven Read sampling Friesago, Big Woods Blue, Hidden Falls & Shepherd’s Hope
- Springside Cheese, Oconto Falls, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Nathan Hintz sampling Bandaged Cheddar, Krakow & Pueblo Jack
- Treat Bake Shop, Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Owner Sarah Marx Feldner sampling Spiced & Candied Nuts
- Uplands Cheese, Dodgeville, Wisconsin – Cheesemaker Andy Hatch sampling Pleasant Ridge Reserve
- Vermont Creamery, Websterville, Vermont – Representative Michele Haram sampling St. Albans, Bonne Bouche, Bijou & Cranberry Orange Cinnamon Chevre
- Widmer's Cheese Cellars, Theresa, Wisconsin – Meet Master Cheesemaker Joe Widmer and taste a variety of artisan cheeses
- Yellow River Dairy, Monona, Iowa – Owners Don & Pat Lund sampling goat cheeses