Welcome summer!

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My current ambition for the summer is to spend as much time as possible enjoying the warm weather with a glass of rose and a little cheese.  I’m just as happy to pick out something simple for us to share, as I am throwing together an assorted cheese platter to enjoy with friends.  What are your favorite summer treats?

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Beaujolais Nouveau Day Celebration

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There’s probably no holiday I look forward to more than Beaujolais Nouveau Day.  It’s my favorite excuse to gather all my friends for a night of cheap wine and expensive cheese, and this year’s celebration was one of the best.  All told, I think we managed to cram fourteen cheeses, eighteen wine bottles, and more than twenty friends into our tiny apartment.  It was a cozy, laughter-filled night, and I still feel so warm and fuzzy from spending a wonderful night with such good people.

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Monday cheese

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Creamy blues and earthy burrata on a chilly afternoon in the Big Meadows at Shenandoah National Park.

Stop and smell the cheeses

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Can we all just pause for a moment to remember how great cheese is?  Especially when it is ripe and oozy, and ready to expire.  Mmmmm.  Okay, back to work.

Rooftop picnic

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Summer’s not quite gone yet and on a recent lazy Saturday afternoon, we decided to take advantage of the remaining warm weather by having a romantic rooftop picnic.  I picked up baguettes, a bottle of rosé, and a couple of cheeses from on my way back from ballet class, and the Mister cut up ripe peaches and heirloom tomatoes from the farmers market.  We toted all of it up to our building’s roof deck, and spent a few hours picnicking and enjoying the breeze and the sunset, and a little quiet time together.

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Adrift on a sea of cheese

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One of the loveliest parts of staying in a house with a bunch of friends is making meals and eating together.  We all took turns making breakfast and dinner, and most importantly of all, cocktail hour.  Being in Vermont, those of us that hosted cocktail hours over the course of the weekend took our responsibilities as providers of cheese very seriously.  We scoured specialty shops, farm stands, and farmers markets, looking for the finest cheeses Vermont had to offer.

The Mister and I hosted on the final evening of our stay, and the weather was fine enough that we could all sit outside.  He made lemon smashes (a lemon, mint and bourbon cocktail) on demand, and we all sat around enjoying the evening light, swatting at black flies, and hoping the night and the cheese would never end.

*Note:  I put this post together for Angie’s Fiesta Friday, which is always a nice way to end the week!  Cheese is my favorite part of any party.

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Early dawning, Sunday morning

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Saturdays are my favorite day to take a nap and Sundays are my favorite day to sleep in late.  Lovelier still is, when you finally roll out of bed, to hop on your bike and head over for brunch made by friends.  We passed a relaxing morning in our friends’ new, light-filled apartment stuffing ourselves with poached eggs, corned-beef hash, fresh fruit, and cheese.  A perfect weekend.

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Shy and tired eyed am I today

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Sometimes the best way to put a brutal week behind you is cheese.  Just cheese.  Maybe a little fruit.  In this case, honeyed chevre with fresh pears, strawberries, and blackberries.  Today, it doesn’t matter if the fruit is out of season.  The blackberries will be bright and sweet, and the pear and chevre together will be so magical you’ll wonder why you ever put cheese on bread.  A few minutes and already your troubles are melting away.

Beaujolais Nouveau Party

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Last Friday, the Mister and I invited our good friends over to celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau Day.  It’s our favorite excuse for a party and this is the fourth year that we’ve hosted.  Over the course of about six hours, we welcomed around twenty friends, shared fourteen bottles of beaujolais nouveau, and devoured ten kinds of cheese, two kinds of charcuterie, and one large block of pate.

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Beaujolais nouveau is a vin primeur, a wine meant to be drunk the same year it’s harvested.  It’s young and fruity, and in France many people have parties to celebrate it’s uncorking.  Beaujolais Nouveau Day, the first day of the year that the wine can be sold, is held on the third Thursday of November.  In years past, we’ve done the traditional Thursday celebration, but we finally admitted to ourselves that it was much too hard to drink so much wine and still make it into the office on Friday.  This year we decided Day-After-Beaujolais-Nouveau-Day was our thing.

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As you may have guessed, we are big fans of cheese and this party has always been the perfect excuse to buy a dozen different kinds.  I typically buy a couple of interesting looking blues for the Mister, then fill the rest of my cart with a variety of soft cheeses, the riper and oozier, the better.  We also like to have a selection of cured meats and a sizable block of pate.  I like to garnish the platters with lots of things to nibble on like marcona almonds, caramelized walnuts, grapes, pomegranate seeds, and melt-in-your-mouth dark chocolates.

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The other great thing about this party is that it typically falls the week before Thanksgiving.  Neither we, nor most of our friends grew up in this city, and over the holidays everyone is so busy traveling to visit family and trying to wrap up the year’s work, that it can be hard to find time to see each other.  Beaujolais Nouveau has always given us a chance to get together–admittedly over lots of cheap wine and expensive cheese–before we scatter across the country until after the new year.  It was so wonderful to spend time with them all, and we even managed to set tentative plans for a few dinner parties in the new year!

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and good night!

…and good night!

Saturday morning frittata

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Saturday, I took advantage of the crisp, sunny weather to go for a long leisurely bicycle ride around town.  The neighborhoods in this city are old and dense, and if I cycle slowly and circle back and look again, I always find details and secret streets that I have never noticed before.

I planned to be out for about four hours, so I wanted a hearty breakfast to keep me until I got back home.  A potato frittata fit the bill perfectly.  I generally followed this recipe, substituting chopped leeks for the onions, and only using three small potatoes instead of two large ones.  With a little toast and tea, this was the perfect little pre-ride brunch.

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A few tips:

When making breakfast potatoes, I prefer to remove the skins and cut them into very small cubes, no bigger than half an inch.  The potatoes cook faster when they are cut smaller and have more surface area, and if you leave the skins on, they tend to stick to the pan when you first start cooking which is annoying.

I like to use a cast iron skillet to make breakfast potatoes.  Once you add the potatoes to your skillet, let them get a good sear on one side.  If you try to stir them too quickly they’ll likely stick to the pan, but if you let them sear for a while, they’ll come away more easily.  Flip and then let the other side sear.  Eventually you get crispy brown potatoes that come away easily from the pan.

The recipe calls for cheddar.  I only had mozzarella, and while that worked just fine, I think goat cheese also would have been nice.  I can think of all kinds of additions and substitutions.  Caramelized onions.  Avocado.  Chives.  Yum.

I’m an early riser and the Mister likes to sleep in on the weekends.  I was ready to head out the door before he woke up, so I left his half out on the table.  When he finally got up for the day, he just popped his half of the frittata, still in the skillet, back in the oven for 10 minutes and it came out perfect and ready to eat.

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Bad Day, Good Cheese

Baguette, pistachios, cheese, road-side honey from Ithaca

Baguette, pistachios, cheese, road-side honey from Ithaca

A drink can take the edge off a bad day, but a good cheese can turn it in the other direction.  Recently, after a rough day at work, I was running errands downtown and stopped in at Cowgirl Creamery.   I told the lady behind that counter I was in the mood for something soft but on the stinkier side.  She smiled, cut a sample and said, “We have a few, but I think this is what you’re looking for.”  It was gooey and ripe, and I grabbed a baguette and headed home, my day already looking a little sunnier.

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A few tips:

Most cheeses are sold chilled, but the flavors and textures are so much better when served at room temperature.  Set cheeses out at least half an hour before eating.

I like my first taste of a cheese to be just the cheese.  I can most appreciate its complexities with a clean palate.  But after that, I like to pull out whatever preserves, honey, nuts or fruit I might have lying around.  You don’t have to have perfectly planned pairings, sometimes trying the different flavor combinations can be half the fun, and they look so nice all set out on your cheese board.

Can’t quite finish it all? Put away the plastic wrap.  Be kind to the bacteria that makes your cheese so delicious and wrap it in parchment or wax paper so that it can breathe without drying out.

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A slight shift: To and Fromage

Saturday night's cheese platter

Saturday night’s cheese platter

Over the cheese course at dinner on Saturday, the mister joked that it was a shame I hadn’t called my blog “to and fro….mage.”  I think my face immediately fell, because, honestly, it was the perfect name.  Why couldn’t he have been so clever twelve days ago?  Most likely we were eating cheese when I mentioned that I was going to try a blog for sharing photos.

Oh well.  In honor of the change, here are a few photos of delightful cheese experiences we have had in recent times.

Digging in to a communal cheese platter in Paris

Digging in to a communal cheese platter in Paris

Cheddar feast on St. Patrick's Day

Cheddar feast on St. Patrick’s Day

Selection from our first Beaujolais Nouveau party

Selection from our first Beaujolais Nouveau party (we’ve now hosted three)

Sampling cheese ripened in a goat stomach on the Asia side of Istanbul

Sampling Tulum cheese,  which is ripened in a goat skin, on the Asia side of Istanbul

Parmesan and 80 year old balsamic vinegar from a friend's family in Italy

Parmesan and 80 year old balsamic vinegar from a friend’s family in Italy

Rainy day picnic in Paris

Rainy day picnic in Paris

Cheese plate in Galata Square, Istanbul

Cheese plate in Galata Square, Istanbul

Cheese, prosciutto, and pesto picnic on the Tiber River in Rome

Cheese, prosciutto, and pesto picnic on the Tiber River in Rome

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