Fat Bottom Girl (Week 30)

Fat Bottom Girl
Surely a nice bottom

Cheese: Fat Bottom Girl

Producer: Bleating Heart Creamery

Where: Tomales, California

So the people at Bleating heart have good distribution in the Southland. I found a piece of their Foursquare at the Wheelhouse in Culver City; a chunk of Buffalo Blue in Claremont at the Cheese Cave and at a Whole Foods in Sherman Oaks they sold this Fat Bottom Girl. It is a sheep’s milk cheese with a dark ivory paste and a very nice textured rind, that is created by hand-rubbing with salt water during the aging process. Apparently the cheese accidentally ended up with a rotund shape which inspired the link to the Queen song Fat Bottomed Girls from their 1978 Jazz album. There were some cheeses taken out of their forms and then left unattended, which caused them to sag a bit under their own weight, creating the shape that linked it to the female anatomy. After some careful testing the cheese maker was able to develop just the right process to recreate the initial accidental fat bottom in the cheeses with standardized precision.The piece I got, alas, was too small to allow me to recognize it as such. Shame on Whole Foods for depriving its customers of the experience by chopping up the cheese in small little bits! The sleeve liner of that infamous Queen album had a picture of dozens of naked women on bicycles, among them one with her bottom (which wasn’t fat at all) turned towards the camera. I was at an age where boys have no sense of humor about naked women on bicycles yet – it took that image very seriously and it occupied a prime spot in my feverish imagination for quite a while.

The cheese on the other hand is pleasant and, as the Bleating Heart people put it, approachable. It lacks the edge a lot of sheep cheeses have. In fact, if you’re a die-hard sheep cheese kind of a person, you may find the Fat Bottom Girl wanting a bit. But chances are, you’ll still find enough to your liking in this one, the flagship cheese of the Bleating Heart enterprise. It is available on a limited basis, because sheep produce milk for only 6-7 months or so, and the cheese ripens for 3 to 4. So the cheese making season runs from March to September and if the cheese sells well, none may be had between December and about late May or so. You can listen to Queen twelve months of the year, if that is any consolation – but I would not recommend that.


Buffalo Blue (Week 26)

Buffalo BlueCheese: Buffalo Blue

Producer: Bleating Heart Creamery

Where: Tomales, California

Ok, I am cheating here, because the Buffalo Blue is a cheese I bought in Claremont, about a month ago. But some weeks, there are just leftover pieces of cheese in my house, and at other times – it’s a party. I have written about the folks at Bleating Heart in this blog before so I will not repeat that here. You can find something on their Four Square cheese that I tried in week 9 of this year. That was a pretty unique cheese, because it is made with the milk of goats, sheep, cows and water buffalo, those of Mozzarella di Bufala Campana fame. Seana Doughty, the cheesemaker and founder of Bleating Heart, decided not to try to recreate her own Mozzarella and created a blue cheese instead. Given that buffalo milk has about double the amount of milkfat of normal cow’s milk, this makes for a very creamy blue.

There is a bit if sweetness in Buffalo Blue that balances the bite of the Penicillium, which makes it a very accessible cheese. That is absolutely not to say that this is not an interesting chees, au contraire: it is an adventure in blue, and one can only hope that the good folk at Bleating Heart will continue to defy convention and, as they say “making seriously good cheeses without taking ourselves too seriously”.

Pug’s Leap Samson – cheese for the dogs? (Week 22)

Pug's Leap II
Clockwise from bottom right: Pug’s Leap Samson, Estero Gold Reserve and Buffalo Blue

Cheese: Pug’s Leap Samson

Producer: White Whale Farm

Where: Petaluma, California

White Whale Farm is in Petaluma, not far from where Christine and I spent a fabulous weekend in the winter of 2014 on Tomales Bay. Had we only known at the time, we would have visited Anna Hancock and her happy goats (admit it, those are some happy looking goats). Alas, we were unaware at the time, so we had to make do with oysters and a selection of cheese from the Cow Girl Creamery.

Samson is the name of one of the two dogs that look after the goats. I don’t know about the dogs, but the cheese is just great. It is definitely a goaty cheese (go figure) but it has had a chance to ripen and develop its flavors which just makes it an all-around wonderful cheese. There is salt, sweetness, a bit of mushroom and a bit of funkiness (just enough). The goats are Saanens and Alpines, with a few other races thrown in for good measure. Both the former are known to be high producers. The dairy, in an 1867 barn, also is home to pigs and chickens – Christine and I will have it on our NoCal list of things to do, because it sounds just wonderful.

The picture at the top also shows the Buffalo Blue from Bleating Heart (see Week 26) and the Estero Gold Reserve from Valley Ford Cheese Company, from Valley Ford in California, not far from Petaluma on Pacific Coast Highway. The latter reminds me of a mature Dutch cheese, what we’d call ouwe kaas. Excellent cheese – I’ll know where to find you folks, next time I am in the neighborhood.

Not really related to the White Whale Farm, but very much on the theme of happy goats is the below video, made at our favorite Dutch goat farm, the Mèkkerstee near Ouddorp in the southwest of the country, where they have mainly Dutch White Goats with some Toggenburgers mixed in. They installed some rotating brushes in the stable (think carwash), which make the animals very, very happy. Fun for goats.


Claremont (week 22)

Donut Man
The Donut Man in Glendora

This week, we traveled. Not very far, but still. The 605 Freeway does not look like an Tuscan country road or a two-lane highway winding over the hills of Burgundy. But our goal was the L.A. version of something you’d look for in those more exotic locales halfway around the world: someone with an idea to make the best food he could think of, and who then turned that into a career. Jim Nakano is such a man. Since 1974, he has been making donuts in a non-descript little place on an absolutely forgettable stretch of Route 66 in Glendora, about half hours’ drive east of Downtown L.A. At some point, he made a deal with a local strawberry farmer and began to produce strawberry donuts: tasty doughballs overstuffed with fresh strawberries. Nakano’s store, the Donut Man by now is a part of local folklore, and was featured in an episode of California Gold, hosted by the late, irrepressible Huell Howser and, more recently, in a little video by our favorite food critic, Jonathan Gold. In fact, he has become so popular that recently, some I-don’t-get-all-the-hype detractors have appeared on the scene. The three of us do get the hype. Not far into the first bite, we agreed that the strawberry donuts alone had been worth the hour-or-so drive out to Glendora. The strawberries were firm and juicy, with light glaze, the donut was fresh and fluffy and the glaze here too was restrained, so that the tastes of fruit and fried dough were not crowded out.

Fresh Strawberry Donuts
Tasty Treats, truly

Our next stop today was Claremont. Christine lived in this town for a while and she loves coming back here, it is easy to understand why. Most houses have a lot of charm, there are old, towering trees that provide shade, and they come in all shapes and sizes, and the colleges lend the place a great amount of flair.

Folk Music Center Claremont
The Folk Music Center in Claremont

We strolled the main drag through town, peeked into a few of the unique stores such as the Folk Music Center and Rhino Records, and finally walked into the Cheese Cave, the second purveyor of delicacies of the day. In my post about cheese shops in LA, there is more about this place – for now it suffices to say that we left after spending 30 minutes and a few bucks north of $80 with cheese and a host of other items, both edible and non-edible, that surely would make our lives better. Yes, it is that kind of a store.

Claremont Cheese Cave
Blue cheeses at the Cheese Cave

After carefully storing our precious purchases in the cooler bag (on the house from the nice Cheese Cave people!) under a seat in the car, we went for a walk through the colleges and we ended up spending a lot of time deciphering the graduation graffiti of every class since 1931 on what has been dubbed Graffiti Wall at Scripps College.

Scripss College Claremont
Graffiti Wall at Scripps College

More food was on the program in El Monte, where we had dined a few years ago in a small hole in the wall restaurant that had spectacular Mexican food. We found the address with only one wrong turn, but alas, it had new owners and we immediately felt guilt for not returning sooner. We were sure we could have kept the restaurant from going out of business, and if they had left for a better location, we would have known where they were. Regrets, bitter regrets. Undaunted, we still sat down at the new placed, Teresia’s Mexican Grill (careful, the website starts playing happy Mexican music) and ordered from the new menu; Christine had Aguachiles (supposed to cure hangovers), a dish made with shrimp sprinkled with lots of lime juice, onions, cucumber, and avocado. We shared some Queso Fundido, melted cheese with Chorizo, I had chicken in mole, Charlie ate shrimp tacos and we all shared a ridiculously large Buñuelo, a fried pancake, in essence, with cinnamon, sugar and topped with chocolate sauce.

Cheese & Chorizo
Queso fundido and chorizo

Even if it wasn’t exactly what we had dreamed of for the last few years, it was fresh, surprising and pleasing and altogether much too much so we left content and in the knowledge that the Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid had just gone into overtime. We watched the final minutes tick away with the chef – the restaurant was empty except for us, so he was able to tend to the important matters in life. By the time we came home we had spent considerable time on the ugly (if efficient, on a Saturday) Southland freeways, but all three of us agreed that we should consider ourselves lucky to live in the ethnic patchwork of LA, where new food adventures are just waiting to be discovered everywhere, as long as you take the right exit.

Tumbleweed (Week 10)

San Joaquin Gold & Tumbleweed
Top: Tumbleweed. Bottom: San Joaquin Gold

Cheese: Tumbleweed

Producer: 5 Spoke Creamery

Where: Goshen, New York

I picked up 2 cheeses at C’est Cheese in Santa Barbara, and while I really did like the San Joaquin Gold, I thought the Tumbleweed was the winner in this match. I got a somewhat strange stubby piece that allowed me to cut it up in very thick slices and it went surprisingly fast. Tumbleweed is made with raw milk from grass-fed Holsteins and your tastebuds have to put in overtime to take it all in: it’s buttery, nutty, a little sweet and it somehow never ends. There is just a lot of flavor to be savored. I am sure it pairs great with a robust red wine (this cheese can easily take on a robust Bordeaux or so), I say leave it. Just have nothing but bread and cheese here – there is enough to keep your senses entertained.

Tumbleweed is made by the people at 5 Spoke Creamery in Goshen, in the county of Orange in the state of New York. Their name and their logo feature spokes in a bicycle wheel. The bicycle in turn is a symbol for taking time to do and to enjoy things. Their cows, Holsteins, are grass-fed and the milk used for cheese is raw. The website extolls the virtues of unpasteurized milk and they point out that 70% of all European cheese is raw. The cheese is aged up to 12 months and that of course helps the taste truly unfold. The creamery is in a farm that is over 110 years old but has been renovated to house a state-of-the-art sustainable operation that cranks out the dairy gold. Alan Glustoff owns 5 Spoke and you can see him at his farm in this video.

By the way, just because in my very informal taste test the San Joaquin Gold from Fiscalini’s came in second, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get some if you can lay your paws on it. They’ve been in the cheesemaking business for over a hundred years – and this particular cheese has a cow stamped into it – what is there not like ?

C'est Cheese
At the Cheese Counter in C’est Cheese

Santa Barbara (Week 10)

Santa Barbara Pier
Santa Barbara’s Sterns Wharf

To us, Santa Barbara is always a treat. We have lots of fond memories (including a splendid little wedding and some heady college years) and we always come away as proud wannabes: one day, we say, we will be able to afford the overpriced real estate here, and the Californian Riviera will be our oyster. Until that day, we are happy to make the trek on a regular basis, and in the cheese year, we obviously had to visit C’est Cheese, the wonderful cheese store and café with an admittedly cheesy name (Eurosnob trivia: c’est, in French, is NOT pronounced ‘say’).

benedict c'est cheese
Breakfast at C’est Cheese

After a glorious breakfast, with great coffee, excellent breakfast potatoes, some of the best eggs Benedict I have ever enjoyed and friendly I-live-in-Santa-Barbara-so-I-really-have-no-reason-to-ever-be-crabby style service, a fine female cheese monger helped me pick not one, but two very nice, creamy cheeses, and we were off wandering the streets. It rained – not so strange in March – but that hardly mattered.

Carrots Santa Barabara Farmer's Market
At the Santa Barbara farmer’s market

We were reminded of the days before our wedding when rainshowers severely cut into the supply of fresh flowers at the farmer’s market. So in a way, through that memory, the rain drove us to the farmer’s market, where we procured an on-demand poem, written by a young woman with a typewriter who offered her services for a modest fee, and a jar of out-of-this-world raw avocado honey, too good to eat in any other way but by the spoonful. We also got some tangerines and then walked on. We stopped in at the Lost Horizon Bookstore, an excellent used bookstore that really requires a lot more time than we had, drove back to our hotel for a short while and went for another walk in the Douglas Family Preserve which affords views over the pacific and the Arroyo Burro Beach, with the restaurant that used to be the Brown Pelican.

Seashore Santa Barbara
At the Douglas Family Preserve

For dinner, we enjoyed the seafood at the Hungry Cat twice in a row. Yes, sometimes it is as simple as that: when the food is that good, why bother going elsewhere? The first night, there was plenty on the menu to choose from and we decided on the encore before we had finished our meal. Of course we ventured out to the waterfront at the harbor and at Stearns Wharf also – it is part of the tradition in Santa Barbara. All in all, we didn’t do an awful lot, but drove home along the Pacific Coast Highway very content and refreshed: Santa Barbara is good for our souls, we find.

Port of Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara Harbor