When is cheese just cheese and when is it a stroke of genius? Is there even a difference between artisanal cheese and plastic wrapped grocery store cheese?
Of course there is a difference. But does that difference amount to much? Well, yes, and no!
I love the big bold flavor of good ole American Cheddar cheese.
But to be fair, I should say I love the big, bold flavor of good ole American Cheddar style cheese.
And to further define what I mean I am only referring to Farmhouse Cheddar. Because all the other styles (even the much beloved New York style) just do not stand up to the original in my opinion.
Technically, only cheeses produced in 4 counties of the South West of England (Somerset, Devon, Dorset, and Cornwall) may be given the Protected Designation of Origin name "West Country Farmhouse Cheddar"
I am not the only one who believes the Farmhouse style is best. Farmhouse style Cheddar cheese is the most popular cheese in the United Kingdom, accounting for 51% of the country’s cheese market.
Further proof can be found in the fact that despite European Trading Standard’s Protected Designation of Origin status. Good Farmhouse style Cheddars are in demand and are being made all over the world. Including Ireland, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Iceland.
But does that mean I should not buy any other sort of Cheddar cheese? No, of course not. Cheese is one of those foods. It’s all good and it all has its place in my culinary world. However, understanding cheese, and what makes it good will help you define what cheese to use under what circumstance.
Cheese is also one of those foods where quality of production makes a very large difference. Small, handcrafted, artisanal cheeses stand heads and shoulder above the mass-produced, over-pasteurized, color-enhanced oddities that can fill the grocers shelves. Even the very good brands (and there are very good big-name, mass-market brands, don’t get me wrong) can never have the nuance that makes a good cheese great. Pasteurization and a mass-market need for uniformity of product have taken away the cheeses natural terroir elements. Terroir refers to the site-specific differences that effect production and have some sort of link to geography.
I am sure pasteurization has its place in the food world. But the goal of pasteurization is to destroy bacteria. You can’t have good cheese with out bacteria. With out bacteria, cheese would simply not taste like cheese, or at least very good cheese– with that special tang and stink defines it. We need bacteria to achieve this. Besides, we are learning that these bacteria also play an important role in our health and digestion. So come on leave the little buggers alone!
As I said, just as the flavor, body and bouquet of wine depends on the soil in which the grape varietals are grown. The same is true of the milk needed for good cheese. The diet, climate and culture in which the milk-producing animal was raised play large factors in the taste, texture and aroma of the final product.
All that said. Sometimes you simply want the comforting love of cheese, any cheese. For times like that I offer you this recipe Cheddar Cheese Pancakes, with Heirloom Tomato, Avocado and Warm Bacon Vinaigrette. You need not pick an artisanal Cheddar with terroir nuances to make this dish either. Any good ole American Farmhouse style Cheddar will do.
But, if you have any of that nasty, un-pasteurized stuff lying around, feel free to send it to me. I know just how to dispose of it.
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 thick-cut bacon slices, cut crosswise into 1/2 -inch strips
1 small shallot, finely chopped
In a bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar and a pinch each of salt and pepper.
In a large skillet, cook the bacon over moderately high heat until browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the skillet and stir in the vinaigrette, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
Use immediately, or set aside to be reheated.
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, coarsely ground
6 slices or pre-cooked bacon in 1/2 inch chunks (from making the dressing)
2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2-cup sour cream
1 cup of yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 scallions, white and pale-green parts only, thinly sliced
1/4-cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more if necessary
3 or 4 heirloom tomatoes, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds
2 avocados, pitted, sliced and peeled
1 small head baby romaine lettuce leaves, left whole
Warm bacon vinaigrette (recipe above)
Stir together cheese, sour cream, bell pepper, scallions (reserving some for garnish), flour, mustard, 1/2-teaspoon salt, 1/4-teaspoon pepper, cayenne, and egg yolks in a large bowl. Set this aside.
In another large bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold beaten egg whites into reserved batter. Do not mix or stir vigorously. Try and keep the air from deflating too much from the yolk, but do mix thoroughly.
Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in cast-iron or non-stick skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches of 3 or 4, spoon some of the batter into the skillet forming 2 to 3 inch cakes. Use the back of the spoon to achieve a uniform shape about 1/2 inch thick.
Cook, turning once, until they are well-browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. They can be difficult to turn if you attempt to do so too early, so have patience. You may add more oil at any point if skillet seems dry. You should get 6 to 8 pancakes.
Re-heat the vinaigrette, stirring or whisking until quite hot.
Set 1 or 2 of the Cheddar cheese pancakes onto each plate and sprinkle some of the cooked bacon chunks over the top. Season with salt and pepper, then garnish with additional scallions.
Just before serving drizzle some of the hot vinaigrette over everything. It will wilt and cook some of the vegetables slightly, producing a nice variety of textures.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD