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Friday, April 9, 2010

Oh cheese (and prosciutto!), how I adore thee.

As many of you know, I was very excited about going on a "field trip" with my culinary class last night (Chef made up some lame excuse about our kitchen's power not being on full blast this week but secretly I know she wanted someone to eat cheese with!).

So our field trip consisted of visits to two of her favorites: The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills and The Farm of Beverly Hills.  Chef has a 30 year relationship with both places, having bought cheeses from the Cheese store for her catering business and having met Fran Berger, the owner of The Farm when their kids were in preschool together.

Before I hit the Cheese Store, I drove in a few blocks further on Beverly and picked up some french Macarons from Paulette Macarons.  Chef is always talking about how she wishes she could find the "real thing" in the US (as opposed to flying to Paris to find them).  And these were really delicious - crunchy top leading to creamy soft center - I tried pistachio, Italian almond and Madagascar vanilla.  I ended up buying a few for me and a few for Chef.  Needless to say she was very excited to try them at home (and thrilled to find somewhere in LA to buy them in the future!).

Once I got that errand done, I headed over to The Cheese Store.  If I was blind, I would have found this store by sense of smell would have sorely missed the beautiful sights inside.  The second you walk up to the store and open the door you get a very potent whiff of... you guessed it, CHEESE.  Once you are inside for a few minutes the smell dissipates and you can enjoy the not only the amazing array of cheese, but also vinegars, truffled products, dried meats, olive oils, wine and bread, to name just a few of the items for sale.

Chef introduced us to Norbert, who gave us our "cheese tour." And what a tour it was.  We sampled cheeses from across the world (US, Italy, France, Belgium) and from different animals (cow, sheep and goat) and of different textures and strengths (gorgeous, young, mild burrata, all the way to very strong, smooth camembert).  Some of these cheese tastings had toppings (muffeletta with the burrata, sun dried tomato with the parmesan and -- are you sitting down -- truffle honey with one of the goat cheeses - To. Die For.).  Thank GOD I am not lactose intolerant.  Of all of the cheeses we tried in just over an hour, I enjoyed most if not all  I think my favorite was the stilton (blue) cheese with cranberries - meant to be a dessert cheese.  I bought a hunk of that to go.

Along with the tasting, Norbert included some really interesting facts about cheese.  For one, burrata can be filled with cream or ricotta (if you haven't tried Burrata, please do asap).  Parmesan has to age for 18 months in caves before it can be called parmesan.  Normandy is the best place to get butter and camembert.  Brie only has 45% milk fat (as compared to 75% milkfat of triple creme cheese and 60% of cheddar!).  So we dubbed brie - "diet cheese."  We learned about the AOC (The Appelation d'origine de Culinaire) which oversees the regions of France and the products (specifically wine, cheese, butter) which are made in their terroir.  All in all a fun lesson and a tasty one at that.  Below some pics from the tasting:

At the end of the tasting, Norbert told us we would be having a contest!  He asked three questions about the history of cheese (which he had told us over the hour) and guess what!  I answered the first question correctly! AND I won a hunk o' prosciutto worth about $90 (see pic below)!  Craziness!  I asked him for some advice on what to do (aside from eat it) and he recommended treating it like bacon, keeping it chilled and even freezing it if I can't get through it all soon enough.  Facebook friends also gave me some suggestions (melon or fig wrapped with prosciutto, slicing and using on sandwiches, etc).  I can't wait to try - now if I only had a commercial meat slicer!

We had planned on going to The Farm in order to eat a light dinner but most of us were full of cheese.  We did sit down and a few of us had coffee, iced tea or a salad and chatted.  It was a nice time to get to know some of our classmates and also Chef who talked a little more about her life, including some fun stories about traveling in France.

What a fun night - I truly love learning about food.  Have any of you learned something new about food that surprised you?  Please share!

Chow for Now! :)

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