ONCE Cheese: a formidable formaggio feast
JJ's One Night Culinary Events (aka ONCEs) are designed to highlight the best in local, sustainable produce, with an emphasis on quality. To ensure the latter for this dinner, JJ had enlisted the help of Formaggio Kitchen. Expert cheesemonger Vince was on hand to talk us through each of the selections we'd be sampling during the evening.
Note the guy in the blue shirt with the microphone; apparently 'BUR was recording the event.
So — let's eat some cheese!
Course one was a Hillman Farm goat-cheese blintz with a rhubarb compote, the fruit providing a tart, refreshing contrast to the creamy filling.
Next, a fabulous Brie-like cow's milk cheese called Weybridge. It was light and grassy and perfect in a salad with peppery arugula and radishes.
And then a dish at once comforting and complex: Welsh rarebit made with tangy, nutty Pawlet, a raw cow's milk cheese from Consider Bardwell Farm.
But wait; there's more. How about a fluffy frittata made with Riley's Coat, a raw goat's milk cheese from Blue Ledge Farm with bitter greens and tiny pea tendrils?
Or a big bowl of creamy polenta with Landaff, a Caerphilly-like cheese from New Hampshire?
Landaff is one of a number of cheeses aged at the Cellars at Jasper Hill, whose vast underground vaults provide valuable aging space for the cheeses of smaller producers (and are reminiscent of the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark).
Next came the one savory dish that involved meat: a Philly cheesesteak, with beef from Stillman Farms and clothbound Cabot cheddar. Though it wasn't authentic cheesesteak (in that we didn't eat it leaning forward, feet apart, to avoid pepper-and-onion-spattered shoes) it was good enough to make me want to boo Santa.
Next, turnip and cheese. Sounds lame and sad, right? But no. This was warm, sweet, tender, roasted Hakuri turnip — you can also eat them raw — from Hutchins Farm in Concord, paired with a wedge of nutty, Gruyere-like Ascutney.
And then the last savory course, and one without which a cheese-themed dinner would be incomplete: mac & cheese. The star here was the Butterwick, made at Twig Farm in Vermont using cow's milk. The whole creamy mess was topped with potato chips for a crispy crust.
Time for dessert — ish. After the success of the bacon-as-meat-candy tart served at ONCE Beer, JJ turned it up to eleven with (be still my beating heart!) chocolate-cured bacon.
Chocolate. Cured. Bacon.
Turns out there's a place right in Somerville that creates this amazing thing. And salumiere Matthew from Happy Pig Salumi was on hand to tell us more.
And the result? Okay, the photos don't do it justice: imagine a mouthful that combines butter and oats and bacon and caramel and onions and chocolate and Bailey Hazen Blue, a raw cow cheese from Jasper Hill (they of the Cellar).
It's not the prettiest thing, but it is teh awesomest.
Okay, maybe the second-awesomest, because the final dessert was amazing: a light, creamy, ricotta semifreddo served in a fresh strawberry soup.
The fresh cheese was an ideal pairing with the sweet fruit, and was the perfect bookend to the cheese/fruit dish that started the evening.
Did we overdose on cheese? No. Will we be slamming Metamucil shots for the next week? Hardly.
Will I be more likely to look for locally produced dairy delights in future? Most definitely.