Beer, Wine, and Booze · Books · Cheese

Learning from DiBruno’s Emilio Mignucci


As mentioned before, we were fortunate enough to attend a class on local cheeses at the Farm and Food Fest on Sunday. Emilio was very patient and informative as he explained different aspects of the cheesemaking process as well as his sensory experience tasting these cheeses. Below are my notes on the cheeses and the local wine I might enjoy with it. In keeping with the DiBruno Brothers theme of this post, I’ve adapted wine pairings suggestions from Tenaya Darlington’s House of Cheese. (Tenaya was also speaking at the Farm and Food Fest on Sunday, by the way.)

First up was Hummingbird from the Farm at Doe Run. This particular cheese is equal parts sheep and cow milk for part of the year. Similar to Robioloa in style, it was both creamy and earthy. This cheese would go well with a glass of Galen Glen Gewurtztraminer, the tropical fruit and floral nose should play nicely off this creamy cheese.

Next, was Willow, also from the Farm at Doe Run. This cheese is equal parts sheep, cow, and goat’s milk. The goat’s milk in this one imparted a greater tanginess. I immediately pictured eating this cheese with a nice, fresh summer salad, so I would pick a glass of Amalthea Rose (my favorite local rose last year).

The third cheese was already a favorite of mine, Birchrun Blue from Birchrun Hills Farm. Emilio told an interesting story of tasting Birchrun cheese years ago and though they were still refining their technique, it was immediately obvious to Emilio that they were working with quality milk. His description of this cheese was particularly lucid: unlike many blue cheeses, this does not overpower you with black pepper; there is an earthy, mushroom component, but also an herbal quality to it. Emilio explained it as feeling the “botanicals” on the sides of his tongue. While Darlington suggests a Sauternes for some blues, I would like to try it with Unionville Chardonnay.

This was followed by another favorite from Birchrun Hills Farm, Red Cat. Emilio used this cheese to explain the difficulties of rind development, by way of complimenting this one. Darlington suggests Pinot Noir or Burgundy, but I would be inclined to try either a Cabernet Franc from Pinnacle Ridge or a Nero D’avola from Turdo Vineyards.


The next two were complete revelations to me. I had never heard of either creamery, much less sampled their cheeses. Johny’s Clothbound Cheddar, from Alpine Heritage Creamery, was very different from other quality American cheddars. Texturally, it the crumbliness and crunch that I have never experienced in local cheddar. The flavor was equally impressive: nutty, but also with a complex sweetness that Emilio described alternately as butterscotch and tropical fruit. While this may sound like something of a contradiction, it was actually a description of the complex flavor of the cheese. Darlington suggests Bordeux for this, so why not a Bordeaux via South Jersey? One of Amalthea’s Europa series would do nicely.

Der Weichen, from Goot Essa, was a Camembert style cheese with a very earthy taste. Emilio explained how Goot Essa is moving towards a Coop model, purchasing milk from nearby, trusted growers while they refined their craft. While it may be overkill, I would love to pair this with Va La’s Mahogany, which is probably the earthiest local wine I know.

We finished the class with the Havilah from Cherry Grove Farm, another favorite. A lovely nutty flavor to this one, Emilio suggested that it would work very well as a grating cheese over pasta. This cheese I would reserve for my favorite local red: Va La’s Cedar.


Crack Open a Book

With Sunday’s Headhouse Market closed due to the Papal Visit, we had stocked up the week before. Then the weekend came, and the blissfully car free streets full of happy residents and visitors made eating out seem so much more appealing than cooking that fridge full of food. I was feeling a little dispirited by the idea of getting through it all, until I decided to take a look at a cookbook or two for some motivation. A few minutes later, having flipped through 100 or so pages of Tender by Nigel Slater, I had three recipes we could easily make with everything we had on hand.


It seems so silly to say “and then I thought of my cookbooks!”, but this time of year I really do tend to forget them. So much of what’s available right now needs little in the way of a recipe to make a delicious dinner. Blogs, newspapers, and magazines all offer recipes perfect for the season. But a cookbook like Tender, as the subtitle “A Cook and His Vegetable Patch” suggests, is perfect for looking up individual vegetables and finding simple, seasonal dishes. I immediately made a broccoli and bacon soup for lunches, the recipe available here, then moved on to baked eggplant with tomato and parmesan for dinner.

Books · Recipes

Four-Minute Squid (or Less)

The River Cottage’s seafood cookbook, titled The River Cottage Fish Book strangely enough, continues to be my favorite on the subject. Not only does it advocate for sustainable, local seafood, it provides an abundance of information regarding species, recipe substitutions, and some general cooking guidelines that are endlessly useful. If you are intent on buying seasonally, locally, and sustainably, this flexibility is crucial.

My latest favorite is a quick squid recipe. As he does elsewhere, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall states that this is more a suggestion than a recipe, but I would call it a technique. The bodies of the cleaned squid, which we purchase from Shore Catch at the Headhouse Market, are butterflied (basically cut open so that they lay flat), scored on each side in a diamond pattern, and then tossed with something for flavor. The original recipe calls for olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and finely chopped garlic, but this is infinitely adaptable. To cook, set to maximum heat under your cast-iron pan, griddle, or grill and cook one minute or so per side, turning them twice. Two cautions here, though: one, make sure the pan or grill is thoroughly preheated; two, if you go beyond four minutes, you will have overcooked them. They will curl up, which is good, and they will also char, which is even better.



Book Recommendation: Samuel Fromartz’s In Search of the Perfect Loaf

If there is one aspect of cooking where I feel my results are not proportional to my efforts, it would be bread baking. It isn’t for lack of trying: I’ve worked my way through the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Whole Grain Breads, the Metropolitan Bakery Cookbook, and My Bread to name just the bread-centric cookbooks I’ve tried. Too often, my loaves would be flavorless, overly dense, underfermented, and even undercooked.

Granted, I have been handicapping myself by both insisting on locally grown and milled wheat and on incorporating as much whole wheat flour into the bread as possible. Still, this is how I eat, and I want the bread I eat (and bake) to be reflective of that.

Therefore, when I opened Samuel Fromartz’s In Search of the Perfect Loaf, I was skeptical. I didn’t see how this book could succeed where so many others have failed. However, Fromartz did succeed with me – and brilliantly. I suspect the reason for this is that Fromartz approached everything from the vantage point of a home baker, translating the lessons he learned in professional bakeries to the home kitchen. Cookbooks typically follow the opposite trajectory. He discusses at length the variations in flour, temperature, and humidity that affect dough, ultimately concluding that the best baking is done by feel. Far more than a cookbook, Fromartz provides an appealing narrative of his evolving technique and growing knowledge, and I found myself reading the book in its entirety before even attempting a recipe.

My first success was a wild yeast starter made with whole wheat flour, honey, and water. Somehow, Fromartz’s method succeeded where so many others had failed. I used the resulting starter to make a version of Lahey’s no-knead bread, which had an excellent sourdough flavor.

So, on these brutally cold winter days when you are drawn to the warmth of the fire for reading or the warmth of an oven for baking, I’d recommend a copy of In Search of the Perfect Loaf to accompany you.

P.S. Samuel Fromartz also maintains the very cool Chews Wise Blog