Pining Over Paneer

Pining Over Paneer

Learn about this ancient and ubiquitous fresh cheese of South Asia.

From the more than 1,800 cheeses that exist in the world, the oldest and most versatile is arguably the fresh cheese, paneer, that is ubiquitous in Indian cooking. Supposedly mentioned in the Vedas, the ancient Sanskrit scriptures that go back 4,000 years, fresh paneer is surprisingly easy to make at home and amazingly adaptable to different cooking methods.

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Olive Estates of South Africa

Olive  Estates of South Africa

An exceptional and unexpected culinary journey.

Cheese, wine, charcuterie, bread and olive oil, the essentials of a satisfying culinary experience enjoyed with friends—even if the pleasure is shared virtually like it has been for so many this year. Whether it is delivered from a favorite restaurant or house-made, the satisfaction is undeniable. Attention to flavor, provenance and terroir can make the experience exceptional, yet few really consider the impact of a high-quality extra virgin olive oil with its own unique character and substance. Even fewer would have an olive oil from South Africa among their considerations.

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Post-Pandemic Self-Improvement Goal: Become More Knowledgeable About Cheese

Post-Pandemic  Self-Improvement Goal:  Become More Knowledgeable About Cheese

The season of cheese boards and fruit and fromage/wine pairings is here…but the platters may be a lot smaller than usual. After all, with COVID-19 sweeping the nation, many will bunker down alone or with their immediate families at home as they read of hospitals nearing capacity and governors pronounce new restrictions on gathering.

There is, of course, hope ahead. Pfizer and BioNtech, acting jointly, and Moderna, acting alone, have produced what seem to be extraordinarily effective vaccines with initial research showing them to be around 95% effective, with few or no people who receive the vaccines getting COVID-19. There are many other vaccines in testing.

These vaccines rely on a novel technology, called Messenger RNA, which may yet provide an option to inoculate against many other diseases. Of course, these vaccines have great challenges in their distribution, with requirements for extremely low-temperature distribution. Also the vaccines require two doses, and there is some concern that discomfort after the first shot may keep people away from the required second shot. In any case, there is not enough of these vaccines to quickly inoculate everyone.

There is no use sitting home and getting depressed. People should use the time they have to learn and advance. That might mean reading their Cheese Connoisseur magazine more intently! It also can mean trying new recipes, sampling new cheeses and, in general, becoming more knowledgeable about things people enjoy.

After all, we are fortunate to know that, whether through a vaccine or through the pain of developing herd immunity, this too shall pass. What we should all be striving for is to be the best we can be coming out of the situation. So we can teach others and enjoy ourselves more with the knowledge and experience we gain by focusing on self-improvement during this difficult time.

John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abagail, in which he explained his thoughts. He wrote: “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.” Surely, this is another way of saying that we must support and study medicine and so free ourselves of this virus, that our children will one day know the carefree joys of being intent on eating the finest cheese.

Cheese is Forever

In less than a year, a worldwide pandemic has changed the way people live, eat and entertain. While the crisis is now full-blown and cases are surging, there is no way to predict when things will be back to normal or what the new normal will be.

The only certainty is that today is different. While we crave variety, many are getting tired of homecooked meals. With little outside entertainment, including a lack of restaurant options, people must take more personal responsibility in providing relief from day-to-day monotony. 

Food can provide daily treats. Many specialty shops are working on limited hours or closing. Staying at home and reducing the number of shopping trips is also limiting variety. For manufacturers and cheesemakers, it is difficult to get new products approved, especially in large retailers.

There are options, however. Local businesses are struggling, and small cheese and charcuterie producers are hurting. This is the time to look for online options. If you have a favorite cheese, try searching the name and you may be able to buy it directly from the producer, along with appropriate serving ideas or other products that will be great accompaniments.

It’s not necessary to buy a wide assortment; one terrific cheese may be all you need. One large wedge and one pairing can be spectacular. I often feel cheese boards are so cluttered that it makes for confusion. When entertaining for small groups, go for less, not more. There are some wonderful seasonal cheeses available now that should be eaten within weeks, so buy one and enjoy it.

Aged cheeses are another option. There are many great cheeses that are pre-wrapped and have long shelf lives, so nothing will go to waste. I’ve kept unopened cheeses in my refrigerator for months, and they were perfect when opened. If there is a little blue mold on the rind, just cut it off.

Pairings can be added for additional excitement. I often envision raclette with boiled potatoes and an assortment of pickles. Fondue is killer for a relaxed evening. There is nothing better than a large wedge of a fine cheddar accompanied by chutney and crackers. Add a salad, and you have a complete meal.

The great thing about aged cheeses is their exceptionally long shelf life if stored properly. Buying an assortment of cheese in small wedges means you can make platters as small or large as the occasion calls for. And don’t think just about dinner. A simple combination of cheese, charcuterie, fruit or vegetables can be the perfect lunch for two. Use your time to support local companies. Find the cheeses you love online or at your local retailer. They need you to survive, and you need them to keep your sanity in a world that, right now, has all of us committed to staying home. 

An Impressive Journey to Discovery: Parish Hill Creamery’s Peter Dixon

An Impressive Journey to Discovery: Parish Hill Creamery’s Peter Dixon

A quest for tradition leads this notable cheesemaker down
multiple paths over the course of his career.

For some, it can take a big chunk of a lifetime to discover their purpose and passion. That has been the case for Peter Dixon, cheese industry veteran and owner of Westminster West, VT’s Parish Hill Creamery, whose path diverged constantly throughout his career. Yet, each venture was the means to the end, and that result was honoring traditional, centuries old cheesemaking practices.

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An Eye On the Environment

An Eye On the Environment

Sustainable Swiss dairies produce exceptional cheese.

Swiss artisans have been making cheese since the Middle Ages. Isolated in secluded hamlets on mountains and in valleys, they developed cheese unique to their region. This tradition continues to this day. I’m passionate about cheese, so when I heard that Switzerland produced around 450 kinds of cheese (191,000 tons), I knew I had to track down cheese dairies that have been making exceptional cheese for centuries.

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