Thursday, September 22, 2011

bleu, blue, and more buttermilk

After dark last Saturday I took out the corn husks and cobs wrapped in the Monday’s  Herald that never got here until Tuesday, whose headline read Mean Irene. When I laid that paper down I read the headlines again and a bit of the text, and I wondered if I should save it along with the JFK Shot and Nixon Resigns headlines, and then I went on using them as a wrapper, and when I got to the compost bin I slid the cobs and husks from them like a sailor’s body at sea and then shredded the papers into the compost. I think I’m angry at Irene. I don’t want to remember her and all that suddenly vicious water.

Ironically, we are just back from satisfying a yen for more water and gazing at the abyss that the ocean is to us, that other world, the twin of our land, about whom we know next to nothing.

We stayed in an oldly brilliant contraption of rooms on a glorious beach, with concrete patios and plastic tables and chairs and blue umbrellas. On the North Cape, so much more connected to the city than wild and primitive Cape Cod, a regular urban kind of shambledown Brooklyn.

Who in their right mind would go in search of yet more water after what we have been through with Irene? But that water is anarchic, matriotic, from whence we and all other waters came. Perhaps we needed to go to the source. Yes, I think that’s it.

But now we’re back and the velocity of fall coming onto us is rapid to say the least::: It leaps and bounds, shedding leaves and leaving piles of tomatoes and peppers on the porch, where the houseplants crept to, too, at forecast of frost.

In the meantime, before, during, and after Irene and Cape Ann I was visiting cheese makers. I was doing that for two reasons – firstly because I like to visit farmers and farms and food people, and it’s part of my job description for living on this earth; and #2, because I was trying to fast talk them into donating cheese to RAFFL for the Twilight in the Meadow Dinner that happened on 9/11. Oh, I had called them, but finding cheese makers and other farmers who use a phone and don’t think you're trying to sell them a bill of goods is a full time affair.

So on beautiful late summer days I’d get into the car.  One day I went to a yoga class being held in the living room of the Weston Playhouse, where we did our downward dogs with glimpses of those lovely quaint little falls that would rise up a mere few days later and demolish said living room. Afterward, I saw the sign for Woodcock Farm – it’s a ruffly sheep with a woodcock sitting on its back. So I stopped by and bought some of the last of this season’s ultimately delicious Blue Cheese and asked Mark Fischer if he would donate some cheese to Twilight. He would, he said; yes, he would, but he would not be able to attend in person. And the cheese he would be glad to donate – because RAFFL is so integral an organization to farm and farmer health –  would be their Summer Snow – a soft, bloomy-rinded, melty cheese much like Camembert.

Then I drove over to South Londonderry because I had heard that The Pantry was open again, and there is something about that angular country store in that tiny town that I like very much. When it was being run by various French and perhaps Austrian or Swiss men it was eclectic and packed to the gills and offered a lot of haute cuisine deli items.

The new owners haven’t quite worked up to that fullness and variety, but lots of things are happening there that are very nice. I picked up a container of one of those – broccoli in a buttermilk blue cheese dressing, and the blue cheese was Woodcock Farm’s. I told them that Mark had told me his blue cheese is almost gone, and they said yes, they were getting the last wheel of it. After I tasted the dressing I wanted to know how it was made. I guessed sour cream and mayo and buttermilk. And chopped shallot and...garlic? Maybe a white balsamic vinegar?

They wouldn’t at all mind giving me the recipe, said one of the women. But when I waited, she asked me to call in the morning so they could check with Mark for his permission. Whatever. I called back several times but they were being downright finicky about giving out that recipe. 

So I Googled Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing, and I came up with one from blessed David Lebovitz that calls for sour cream, buttermilk, lemon juice or white wine vinegar and then a few drops of red wine vinegar. He also extols bacon in this piece. What a sweet boy he is. He is going to pour this dressing over iceberg lettuce – a man after my own heart.

I figure I’ll use a few drops of Gordon’s Pond white balsamic vinegar and see if I can stay away from the mayo. Would garlic be overkill? Woodcock’s blue cheese is tender and subtle and sweet and pungent. It marries well with buttermilk, I am imagining. All that delicate fermentation going on in your mouth. Does it need much else?

Okay, come to find out, Blue cheese, buttermilk and sour cream? Say a ¼ cup to ¼ cup to ¾ cup  proportion? Fabulous. You need nothing more. Add two teaspoons of the white balsamic and the whole balance shifts. Now you want some garlic, smashed into a paste, maybe –  a whole, fresh clove. And you want freshly ground pepper – but you want freshly ground pepper anyway.

Last Sunday I made more of that basic dressing and I roasted a Singing Cedars chicken in a clay pot – a story in itself – and  built this salad:

Onto a plate, lay down leaves of romaine lettuce from the farmers’ market that you have found in the fridge. Mine was  from Alchemy Garden or Radical Roots. Then, strew with slices of very soft pears, yellow in color. Then strew with crumbled Woodcock Farm Blue Cheese, or, since it’s rather hard to get right now, with whatever blue cheese you have. Then, slices of red onion. Then take a walk outside into a beautiful fall evening and look at the sunflowers spiking the sky yellowly, so captivating this year. Think about that salad. It needs crunch! Nuts or croutons?  Back in the kitchen throw a couple handfuls of walnuts into a pan with melted butter and brown them very slowly.
To the salad, add a sprinkling of baby basils, so enticing, from Foggy Meadow, and then dollop the buttermilk/sourcream/blue cheese dressing over top, and then warm, melting slices of chicken breast. Scatter the walnuts on top. Hmm, what else does it need? Fruit? No, remember the pear slices. Another scattering of the baby basil. Grind of black pepper! That’s all! Okay, let’s eat!

The cheese board at Twilight in the Meadow turned out to be a glorious thing. As did the whole affair, but I just need to talk about cheese here. First we had a hefty round of Southwind Farm’s buttery Swiss-like cheese. I’ll call it a raclette. This is a new to me cheese and it’s fabulous, made by Jeremy Russo down in the Pawlet/Rupert area. But he makes it at Woodcock Farm’s cheeserie, with Mark’s tutelage. Farmer to farmer generosity, that!

Next to Southwind, Kim Farrar served up some of Crowley’s best and sharpest. I don’t think there’s a better Cheddar/Colby style cheese in Vermont OR the world.  Next came a selection of Consider Bardwell’s Rupert and Pawlet aged cow’s milk cheese and a handsome round of Manchester, an aged raw goat milk tomme – all, of course, stunning!

Leicester’s Blue Ledge was represented by a selection of their delectable fresh chevres, some with a pepper or herb coating, and lovely rounds of their signature, ash-veined Lakes Edge cheese. Next came Woodcock’s Summer snow camembert-style cheese; and finally there was Maplebrook Farm’s fresh burrata, which is mozzarella stuffed with sweet heavy cream and mozzarella shreds. And to show that off exquisitely, Fat Toad Farm sent us a selection of their goats’ milk caramel to drizzle over.

Thank you, you lovely cheesemongers. You really came through!

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