“Absolutely the BEST!!!” writes Flickr user Susan Cohen about today’s Photo of the Day, taken at the Villa Verde on the island of Capri in Italy. Judging from the photograph, we’d probably agree. The insalata caprese is one of Italy’s best-known dishes, and it is at its finest in Capri, a small island in the Gulf of Naples, just off the Amalfi Coast. A true insalata caprese uses fresh Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, a version of the creamy cheese that carries Denominazione di Origine Controllata status and is only produced in seven regions of central and southern Italy. When combined with bright red cherry tomatoes, fresh green arugula and a drizzle of high-quality Italian olive oil, the result is, quite simply, the best.
Spring, as they say, has sprung. In farmstead and artisan cheese parlance, that means pastures are currently abound with calves, lambs, and kids (of the goat variety), and the first milk of the season is in. That’s why March is the kickoff month for cheese festivals, especially on the West Coast because of its more mild climate. The following just happen to be some of the nation’s best.
8th Annual Oregon Cheese Festival, March 17
Hosted by the Oregon Cheese Guild and Rogue Creamery, this much-loved event features dozens of cheese, beer, and wine makers. General admission is minimal, the sampling is free, and the vibe is laid-back. The festival is held at Rogue Creamery in Central Point, just outside of Ashland in southern Oregon. It possesses the vibe of a giant farmers market, with all of the vendors gathered beneath a giant tent. Events include a “Meet the Cheesemakers” dinner (held the night before), seminars, and tastings, including chocolate and cider.California Artisan Cheese Festival (CACF), March 24-25
What better place for a California cheese festival than wine country? CACF is held every March in Petaluma (located in Sonoma County, about 40 minutes north of San Francisco) and draws over 2,000 attendees who come to taste cheeses from the West Coast, Pacific Northwest, and Rockies. Sign up now to get in on local creamery tours, special lunches, and educational seminars.
On April 7, the inaugural Washington Artisan Cheesemakers Festival will take place in Seattle. In addition to cheesemakers from across the state, expect Washington food artisans, craft beer and cider producers, and winemakers. The event is a benefit for the Cascade Harvest Coalition, a non-profit dedicated to local food security.
Can’t make the festival circuit? Try taking a class at The Cheese School of San Francisco, which is focused solely on classes and tasting events for professionals and caseophiles alike. With an ongoing curriculum of classes taught by industry professionals, offerings may include everything from “Mozzarella Making” and “Craft Brews & Artisan Beers,” to “Sheep & Syrah” and “Springtime Cheeses and Loire Valley Wines.” This is the place geek out on dairy.
Admittedly, this video isn’t from a cheesemaker in the western U.S.; it comes from renown Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. But it’s an excellent short clip on how cheese goes from cow to cheese case. Should you be fortunate enough to find Harbison at your local cheese shop, I strongly recommend you pounce upon it, because it’s simply dreamy.
One of the frustrations of Madison Avenue in midtown is that there isn’t much to eat. You have to dash down a side street to get a quick bite, which leaves you craning your neck at every intersection to see if it’s worth taking a few steps off your path for a chance to fill your stomach with something you want. After a while, you just give up and walk into the first restaurant you see after your will has been decimated.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
The next time your trudging up Madison from one luxury retailer to the next (and there are many, so many), duck into the Atrium at the IBM building on the corner of E. 56th Street, and skip street food in favor of mozzarella. Obika, a mozzarella bar, is made for cheese fiends, with a wide range of alternatives, not to mention meat tastings and pastas that you can add to your meal if, for some strange reason, mozzarella isn’t enough.
There were three mozzes atop a bed of spinach on the tasting plate. It didn’t look like a lot, sitting there, but wound up being more than enough for the two of us. We agreed, though, that had the cheeses-and us-been joined by a little wine, we probably would have mopped up every dairy-oozing morsel.
If you are addicted to cheese, you can carry the theme straight through dessert, with a ricotta mousse, topped with pine nuts and honey. I can tell you that the taste is unbeatable – and that the dish is incredibly heavy. As small as it looks, share it.
The drawbacks are present but not sufficient to ruin the experience. Writes the Daily News of Obika‘s atrium location:
The ceilings are high and the atmosphere nil. The bathrooms are down an escalator, around the corner from some Trumpean joint or other. And, worst of all worsts-and I can only assume that this is due to its location-Obika doesn’t have a liquor license. Their location in Kuwait City does, but not Manhattan. Cheese without wine? That’s just wrong.
The location’s ideal, though, when you’re hauling full shopping bags to your next credit card-melting store and need a break for a taste of attainable luxury.
The culinary disaster required that the park be shut down until the pool can be drained, sanitized and refilled – sans grub. The deed was done sometime between 10 PM Friday and 8 AM Saturday. Hoping to catch the culprits soon, a reward has been offered for information leading to an arrest.
There’s a cheese scandal brewing in Italy, and it involves buffalo mozzarella, one of the country’s most famous foods. Served on pizzas and pastas, with antipasti, in salads or just enjoyed by the handful (what? I’m the only person that does that?), the cheese is known for its quality and purity. But it seems that much of the cheese passed off as 100% from buffalo milk actually contains trace amounts of cow’s milk. In some cases, it was even as much as 30%.
So what’s the big deal? I’m not sure I could discern the taste difference between pure buffalo mozz and one with cow’s milk. The problem is that Italy’s authentic buffalo mozzarella is produced under the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) seal, meaning that all products bearing that seal need to be produced using certain ingredients and procedures. According to LeaderPost.com, the concern is not about health issues or taste, but rather ” to protect the “Made in Italy” label.”
It seems the scandal even reaches to the highest levels. The president of the consortium of buffalo mozzarella was also found to have watered down his cheese. He was removed from his post by the Italian Minister for Agriculture and replaced with a temporary leadership group.
Until the problem has been solved, visitors to Italy may (unbeknownst to them) wind up eating cheese that isn’t 100% buffalo milk. Of course, it will probably be just as delicious anyways.