A recent spate of warm weather had me all sorts of fired up for spring and summer foods. I was even sufficiently motivated to whip up a batch of my mango salsa to top off some grilled tilapia and cilantro-lime rice. Who knew we were about to get walloped with a winter storm? One that would send us back to craving warming, winter foods? That's the thing about March, it straddles the seasons and our palates can oscillate with the weather. What should one eat?
This month, I want to share two conversations on this very topic. One I had with a cheesemaker, the other a chef. The two find themselves longing for very different cheeses this time of year.
The cheesemaker's keeping it warm, gooey and rich
Marie-Laure Couët is owner/operator of Couët Farm & Fromagerie in Dudley. I first experienced their cheeses at theWayland Winter Farmers' Market last month, when I was sampling wine and cheese and waxing nerd in support of my book. I was fortunate enough to have several local makers donate products for me to serve, and Marie-Laure’sFranciszka stole my heart. Named for her Polish grandmother, this little cylinder of cow milk cheese starts off tangy and finishes buttery and rich. It’s gorgeous.
I asked Marie-Laure what cheeses she was excited for this time of year and how she was using them. If your idea of comfort food includes pasta, she suggests making macaroni and cheese, "with all kinds of cheese scraps and Evelina and Karolina.” The former is a savory, raw, aged sheep's milk cheese; the latter is a cow's milk tomme with a grassy finish.
Or, she suggests taking it a little retro. "For March, I would recommend fitting in a fondue or any other dish made with melted cheese into your dinner menu before it gets too warm out," she says. The wheels the Fromagerie is selling now were made last July, which means the milks used were summer milks, when the cows and ewes were grazing on sun-filled pastures. The thought alone is enough to lift spirits toward spring!
I find it interesting that while most people are scrambling for any excuse to believe that we're out of the “winter woods” (including me with my mango salsa), Marie-Laure is all about sneaking in one last melty cheese dish. The more I think about it, the more I agree with her. Longer, warmer days are imminent; if you can enjoy one last chilly evening over a pot of molten cheese, I’m all for it!
The chef's looking for lighter, brighter fare.
Then there was my conversation with Mike Thibault, executive chef with Guckenheimer corporate dining. He runs Nourish, the café within Athena Health in Watertown.
Mike is a bit of a genius with food. The kind of chef that makes his own raspberry powder and pickles mustard seed. He looks at edible flowers and giant scallop shells and sees nothing but opportunity. I met Mike four years ago, when we started hosting corporate wine & cheese events together. Since then, whenever I need culinary inspiration past what my feeble brain can concoct, he's my guy.
“I really enjoy fresh goat cheese this time of year," he tells me. "Shaking off the cold, out of hibernation, all the colors starting to come back into view," he says wistfully. He's particularly fond of Vermont Creamery's Crottin, describing it as, "wonderfully vibrant, almost floral."
And I totally agree with him. It really is a fantastic cheese, especially as the weather warms up. It's also a cheese you'll likely find in your local grocery store. I love it with grilled bread and Meyer lemon marmalade from Vermont company Blake Hill Preserves for breakfast. I knew, however, that Mike would have some crazy ideas — mad scientist-level stuff — on how to serve this cheese.
“It pairs beautifully with pistachio butter, duck prosciutto, candied Honeybell orange and thyme blossoms.”
Who talks like that?
All kidding aside, I love this combination because it screams spring. Fresh goat cheese, blossoms, and citrus meld with the delicate flavors of thepistachio butter (Fastachi, the Watertown gourmet nut company, makes a divine version) and duck prosciutto. I envision eating this on my back deck with a glass or three of chilled Sauvignon Blanc. I’m currently hooked on the 2015 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blancfrom Marlborough, New Zealand, which retails for around $27. It’s loaded with guava, passion fruit, and citrus notes. Superb stuff.
Two serious food professionals with two extremely diverse responses to the same question. One pines for the heartier dishes winter lets us enjoy, looking for any opportunity to sneak in one last fondue. The other looks to warmer days for inspiration. Where do you land on this topic? Personally, I’m going to see if I can’t make room for both.
Couët Farm & Fromagerie - 236 Ramshorn Rd., Dudley, couetfarm.com
Vermont Creamery - 20 Pitman Rd., Barre, Vermont,vermontcreamery.com.
Cheese available locally at Whole Foods Market, and independent cheese shops.