Looking forward to freedom from work for a the next two days - and VittlesVamp too. Signing off until Monday. I'm Philly bound for a quick vacation of sorts. Gonna show my intrepid pal Kristin around the City of Brotherly Love. And, even snagged a coveted reservation at my fave restaurant in the city - Vetri!
According to today's Wall Street Journal, U.S. boutique cheesemakers are finally able to hold their own against their European counterparts. And, to prove it, their editors hosted a cheese smackdown between domestics and imports:
In a turnabout comparable to the one U.S. wines have made during the past 20 years, domestic cheeses are finally achieving the quality, respect and marketability once reserved for European varieties. While the U.S. has been best known for supermarket-variety Cheddar or jack, there has been an influx of artisanal or specialty cheeses -- higher-quality varieties made in small quantities using traditional methods. These can include everything from Cheddar and mozzarella to Brie and Camembert. At the same time, there has also been a rise in farmstead cheese, meaning it is made using the milk of only one herd of cows.
The rise of boutique U.S. cheese makers is a function of more hands-on production, higher-quality milk and careful aging. While the quality of the cheese has improved markedly, the number of cheeses in production domestically has also grown. Domestic cheese makers have been helped by the rise of the euro during the past few years, which has made European cheeses more expensive here.
While Europe continues to be the world leader in cheese making -- with many hundreds of years of experience -- the quality improvements here are beginning to shift perceptions of the American versions. Last month, U.S. cheese makers took home an unprecedented 44 medals at one of the world's most influential cheese contests, the World Cheese Awards in London, England, compared with only 13 medals in 2001.
And, in terms of the blind taste test, Uncle Sam held it's own - even in the blue cheese category. Up against France's grande fromage Roquefort, the majority of the panel voted for Red River Blue from Rogue Creamery in Oregon over the frogs' blue varietal. Go Team USA!
Went on my annual pilgrimage to the DUMBO Arts Festival yesterday with my friends Erica and Joy in tow. After a quick first hit of contemporary art installation at Smack Mellon, we made a bee line to Jacques Torres for the chocolatier's justly famous Wicked Hot Chocolate. The thick, creamy stuff wasn't as "wicked" as we would have liked, lacking in its usual chile, spice zing, but the heat and chocolate more than made up for it.
As we wove in and out of studios and a few galleries, we noticed other art lovers clasping Torres' signature bright orange cups, drinking in the warmth of his hot chocolate.
Then we started to notice a few of them clasping cups of a different sort - Starbucks cups. Where did they come from? Did they travel all the way from Brooklyn Heights' Montague Street with their double-foam, half-caf lattes?
One turn onto Main Street towards Fulton and we knew that there was no turning back from DUMBO's gentrification. There it was. A bonafide Starbucks firmly planted on the corner.
Now all they need is a chain grocery store and pharmacy. Anybody have the numbers for Key Foods and Rite Aid? That should complete the evil trifecta nicely.
My friend Kristen and I felt like treating ourselves well last night. Since we didn't have the bank to head to Masa or Per Se, we settled on a perfect glass of wine in a perfect room - Eleven Madison Park. Bypassing the grandeur of the main room's art deco design, we grabbed two seats at the restaurant's wine bar. Taking in the collection of dapper, well-suited gentlemen lined to our left and the striking gold ceiling above, we knew we'd chosen well.
And then I saw him...Maurizio.
Maurizio is one of those miracles among men - a brilliant bartender who takes pleasure in his craft. Within moments of a brief greeting he sized up the situation and disappeared. He re-emerged with two flutes of fizzy champagne.
He was good. Very good. And, goodness knows, the champagne was just what the doctor ordered. A few sips into the heavenly elixir and Kristen and I were feeling like pampered princesses. All that in a glass? No way. In a flute!
We weren't about to leave. Ordering up a plate of their famous, piping hot, meltingly cheesy Gougeres, we perused the wine board to move our palates on to something rich and red.
And then I saw it...Hyacrabs. Hyacrabs? What the heck kinda STD-inspired wine is that? I had to inquire.
Everywhere I go these days, I'm bombarded with political banter. Even my friend's Maggie and Mark played host to an all-American, anti-Bush BBQ last weekend. (And, yes, a few lesbians were in the mix, wearing their "Good Bush/Bad Bush" tee-shirts proudly.)
Besides the "picturesque" Presidential cake (see above) for dessert, a Dubya pi
I'm pretty handy in the kitchen. But, my collection of cookbooks and Slow Food membership attest to the fact that I'm always up for learning more by way of the culinary arts. So, when The Neighborhood Kitchen Culinary Arts school opened a stone's throw away from my home, I was quick to pick up their course catalog.
What to take? A wine class? Nah - I can swirl and sip on my own time. A Vietnamese cooking class? Maybe.
Then I saw it - Knife Skills. I have a nifty collection of knives in my kitchen, but I've always wanted to slice, dice and mince at lightning speed - just like the pros on The Food Network.
Unfortunately, after tonight's class, I'm still green with envy.
Described as a three-hour class, the hands-on lesson only ended up mounting to a paltry two. And, more than half of the time was spent preparing a rather basic meal based on the few ingredients we'd cut up, rather than focusing on the topic at du jour - KNIFE SKILLS. Would you believe that they only gave us ONE knife to work with? Where were the deboning knives and the paring knives?
C'mon. Don't offer a class dedicated to the artistry of the knife and leave me to only wield one.