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Entries in Cheese (18)


February – A Month in Review

Well, folks another month has come and gone! And I am not sorry to see February go, I must say. My soul has spent the month recoiling from the cold weather. And if you think that's hyperbole, you clearly don't know me. I contemplated purchasing this to help warm the cockles of my heart:

I didn't do it, however, and instead somehow convinced Marmo to take me to Puerto Rico for a girls' weekend. I'm really not sure how I managed this, especially considering I couldn't even coordinate my socks for practice this month.

Despite the cold and mismatched socks, John and I managed to be relatively productive in February. We continued our Slice of the Month series with a Beet Chip and Spinach extravaganza that may indeed warm the cockles of YOUR heart with its iron-packed ingredients.

We also created a ridiculous but loving ode to Di Fara's pizza. John choreographed the whole peel-dancing affair. Please tell him how much you like it. And his hair.

And speaking of pie, I ate some. I travelled to Gowanus to sample Four and Twenty Blackbird's Pie As Big As My Face. Actually, it's official name is Chocolate Bottom Oatmeal Pie. But it was as big as my face. Go get some. You don't want to miss that oaty-topping.

We also featured a Farmer Friday post about creating your own flower arrangements for Valentine's Day. However, we highly recommend repeating this post for Easter table arrangements. Get clippin'!

And speaking of farmers, as you might have noticed from the title image, I visited Terrain this month with the Megs. It was a glorious day of visual overload, impulsive purchases and cheese. Consider these highlights:

The flower arrangements were off the charts and had me eagerly anticipating spring... also noteworthy were the too-cute-for-words packaging of just about anything, including seeds.

With all this sensory stimulation, we became quite hungry, so we plopped down in the Terrain cafe to feast on, what else, CHEESE. This is when I discovered SMOKE BLUE CHEESE.

I happened to love blue cheese. The stinkier, the better. This beauty combined the sharpness of a traditional blue with a smoked flavor. Imagine leaving your blue cheese on a mesquite grill. That kind of amazing. Plus, it was just the proper amount of softness (not too) to spread on sourdough bread that arrived in TINY FLOWER POTS. I was beside myself.

So while I try recreating flower pot bread this weekend, please take the time to recap February for yourselves. March is here, and we'll have more food-focused fun for you!

Oh, and I'll be in Puerto Rico on March 11. So don't bother me. Bother John, he likes it.



Gruyere Soppressata Puff Pastry

I'm here to start your Monday off with CHEESE. I was on a cheese kick this weekend, as I haven't had enough of it lately. One of my very favorite kinds of cheese is Gruyere. I could have just eaten a full 7 course meal, but if I smell Gruyere cheese melting...I immediately become hungry. 

It's some kind of Pavlov's Dairy Dog Response. I'm sure our best scientists are looking into it. 

While we are all on the edge of our seats waiting for those results, let's just eats some dang cheese. In fact, let's put some soppressata in there and wrap the whole thing in puff pastry and call it a day. It's like a fancy pig-in-a-blanket, except it's more like a mattress filled with salty meat and cheesy goodness. And who doesn't want that in their bed? 

So, in light of the above, I think even Pavlov would agree that you should make this as an appetizer for your next grill-a-thon, social gathering, attempt at attracting stray animals.

Puff Pasty with Gruyere and Soppressata
* Brought to you by the Barefoot Contessa

What You Need:

1 package of frozen puff pastry

2 T mustard

12 thick slices of soppressata salami (you could get fun and use some of Charlito's Cocina Charcuterie!)

6 oz gruyere cheese grated

1 egg beaten with 1 T of water for egg wash

What To Do:

Preheat oven to 450 and place a piece of parchment paper on sheet pan.

Lay one sheet of pasty on floured board and lightly roll into a 10 inch square.

Brush with mustard leaving a 1 inch border. 

Arrange soppressata on mustard and sprinkle with grated cheese. 

Brush the border with egg wash.


Lightly roll second piece of puff pastry into 10 in square and lay on top of the first square. 

Brush the top with egg wash and cut three large slits for steam to escape.

Chill for 15 minutes (the pastry, NOT you...)


When the pastry is cold, trim the edges with a sharp knife and bake for 20 minutes. 

Allow to cool, cut into squares and serve.




I Don't Know Where We Are Going, But We Are Going There

The title of this post is in honor of my Full Throttle Endurance teammate Guillaume, who organized my triathlon team's recent cycling trip to France. The team was taking a break from cycling, gawking at some beautiful French scenery, and having our photos taken by obliging tourists ("say, 'frommage!'"), but it was time to get on with the ride. Turning to Guillaume, someone innocently asked, "Hey, Gee, where are we going?" His response, "I don't know, but we are going there."

In much the same spirit, John and I have returned from our European vacation. We have many stories to tell  - food related and otherwise. But the first story is mine. It's an epic tale with action, adventure, 125 km per hour wind gusts, an airborne dog, a nervous breakdown and a champignon omelette with hot chocolate.

So, tuck in, reader, because you are going there.

As I mentioned, the first leg of my vacation was spent cycling in the south of France with my triathlon team. We cycled a challenging terrain, covering anywhere from 50-75 miles a day and riding some segments of the Tour de France course.
I imagined rolling hills peppered with crumbling but cozy stone farmhouses, fields of lavender and wild flowers, medieval towns, and lots of post-ride cheese plates. The trip delivered on all those counts. Headed by Guillaume, our hotels, meals and cheese plates were all lined up like canards in a row.

Two memorable meals for me included the softest, richest nuggets of beef I have yet sampled....something like melted chocolate truffles of the meat variety.

Restaurant Le Parvis, Orange, FranceWhile another finished with an elaborate cheese plate, in which I partook heartily and have no clue as to the identities of the individual cheeses.

Restaurant at the Hotel Clos de la Glycine, Roussillon, FranceOur riding courses were also predetermined. We were all aware before the trip commenced that we would be scaling the intimidating Mont Ventoux. With an elevation of 6,273 feet and an average grade of 7.43%, we were all appropriately intimidated, scared, apprehensive and downright terrified.

The night before, we soothed our terrified bellies at a French gelateria. I chose a salted caramel flavor, but was tempted by the blue "Mont Ventoux" marshmallow gelato (as that is how your legs feel after ascending to the peak).

Régal Tendance, Orange, FranceOur ride began benignly enough. I was quiet during the ride to the mountain, inwardly terrified of what lay ahead.  As Guillaume warned us, "it will be a battle only with yourself."

View 5km from the top. We had to stop to put on extra clothes, as it's very oold up there.Luckily, I had company. My teammate Colleen and I ascended the mountain together. I honestly don't think I could have done it without her, so I must take a moment to thank her (THANKS!). In the two hours it took us to climb to the top, we didn't talk much. Talking was impossible in the face of the effort of climbing, but it was enough to know she was there. She and I climbed for two hours. Sometimes slowly and painfully, sometimes just slowly, and sometimes we threw in a little "weaving action" to give our legs a break.

Colleen and I just before climbing to the very top of the mountain.So what happens when you've been climbing a relentless, switchbacked mountain for 2 hours, finally see the top and are greeted with hurricane force winds? You get blown off your bike, that's what. Or at least I did.

No sooner did I reach the summit area (grunting like a wild boar from the effort) than the full force of the winds that Ventoux is famous for launched me right off my bike and into a cozy snowdrift. I had three consecutive thoughts during this episode:

1. Thank goodness I landed in the snow....those rocks over there look sharp.
2. I should get up, this is going to get cold quickly.
3. I can't get up, I'm pinned to the ground by the wind.

At this point, I made some very dramatic "leave me, save yourself" arm motions at Colleen, which she graciously ignored. When I was finally able to get up, I noticed a stream of my other teammates making their way down the hill, by walking, staying low and hanging on to their bikes for dear life (lest they blow away and take the owners with them).

I made my way across the top, trying to get to the pathway downhill, only to be smacked down again in the middle of the street. So, I sat there, in the street, holding my bike by its back wheel so it wouldn't blow away. As I was using all the strength in my right arm to hold it down,  I had the following thoughts:

1. Well, I could just sit here and wait for the wind to die down.....sometime next month?
2. I should let go of this bike and just let the mountain have it if it wants it so badly.
3. I should really move, I'm in the middle of the street and there are cars.

So, I began pushing my bike to the side of the street, as I still couldn't manage standing, to avoid the cars that refused to stop and help.

Finally, I got up for the second time and began walking downhill, crouching low so I would be less of a flight risk.

At this point, Colleen asked me if I'd like to get on my bike and try riding downhill. I had a hard time conveying the terror in my soul at the very idea, as the winds were still raging full force, so I said meekly, "I think I need to walk for a little while longer."

After a while, I tried riding. I went full white knuckles, clenching the breaks with all my hand strength, one foot clipped into my pedals, the other one out just in case I had to make a quick where I do not know.

This was really not the best way to achieve forward motion. I would have done much better to ride, as the wind was taking advantage of my slowness and messing with me. But I was really, really scared. Really scared.

When I finally made it to the restaurant, where we were meeting the team for lunch, I had a meltdown. I cried about three separate times, on various people's shoulders (thank you Billy, Tommy and Stacy).

I then consumed two hot chocolates and a champignon (mushroom) omelette with fries, without much idea of how it tasted, or if i was even hungry. I also realized I was very cold.

My teammate Billy summed up the adventure accurately, when he told our guide and van driver, "You said it would be hell, but you didn't mention it would be life threatening."

Luckily, our destination village of Mazan was quaint and charming. I found the following diversions, including an ages-old bread oven (can you say pizza?), a man selling white asparagus from his flat window, and a very friendly salumeria (French sausage!).

I did get back on my bike the next day. I had a fantastic morning ride, packed with lovely French bucolic scenery, medieval towns and a pizza lunch!

The pizza was average, but I enjoyed sitting in the restaurant's warm porch, surrounded by carbohydrates and teammates retelling their Mont Ventoux stories, which included other people being knocked sideways by the wind, a small dog being launched straight into the air (subsequently caught by his owner), and bikes lifted into the air like kites.

As I had to leave the group early to make my way to Milan for Iaciofano family madness, I took a car to Aix en Provence the next day with my teammate Nicole. In Aix, we found a plethora of gourmet shops, including one featuring a cookie bar of epic proportions.

We each claimed an empty tin which we loaded with strawberry, orange, anise, and chocolate "biscuits," some filled with jam or chocolate. I have only a few left, which I'm protecting like Golem watches over his ring. My PRECIOUS! Seriously, though, I'm sure this shop is a tourist trap, and I fell for it hook, line and sinker. And I would do it again. The cookies are buttery and soft - not too crunchy or crumbly. The fillings keep the round versions moist, while the oblong versions are perfect for coffee dipping.

For lunch we enjoyed a damp (it was raining) picnic of what Nicole called, "a fancy pig in a blanket." Her description is accurate, as it was essentially a challah-like loaf of bread stuffed with a mild creamy cheese (like a ricotta) and lardons. C'est magnifique!

By the time I arrived in Milan to meet the family, I didn't know where I was going, but I was going there.

I was four trains in, had tried speaking a few different languages of which I know not all that much, and had received a free extra croissant from the Milan train station cafe attendant. I must have looked hungry.

Confused and hungry seems to be a good way to introduce the Italian segment of the trip. John and I will continue to entertain you with our Italian adventures this week and next, giving you all the tips, tastes and triumphs.

Tommy consults the map. We all got lost repeatedly anyway.


Madonia Brothers Bakery in the Bronx – Carbing Me Up Since 1918!

If you read Wednesday's post you know that John, Marmo and I had an all-out food fest last Saturday on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. It was nuts. We left the Bronx with the car packed to the rear-view mounted EZ-Pass with pastas, pastries, wines, cheeses and BREAD.

Between John and I, I am probably the one with the carb fixation. We've discussed this. It's a problem that I don't wish to fix.

So when we walked past Madonia Brothers Bakery and I spotted this in the window, I seized up a little bit:

Prosciutto bread? In a fancy ring that I could potentially wear as a floury bangle bracelet and take occasional (ok, constant) nibbles from all day long, like it was one of those candy necklaces you had in the third grade?

Yes, please! I'll take two - one for each wrist.

In reality the prosciutto bread rings are much larger than bracelet sized. But while they are unwieldy as an accessory, they are excellent for actual eating.

The above photo provides a close-up view of the prosciutto chunks nestled between the crispy, bubbled golden brown crust and the soft salty insides. Cracked pepper speckles the ring and provides a little bite and also a nice contrast to the salty prosciutto.

Dip this in some olive oil, melt some provolone on top – you won't be sorry.

But I didn't stop there. Marmo is often like a little blonde food oracle. And when the food oracle speaks, I listen. Or pretend to, anyway. Marmo's advice at Madonia's was to get the Cheese Bread. "You MUST," said she.

And so I did, and dove in immediately after they handed me the freshly sliced loaf. The cheese is integrated so seamlessly into the bread that it feels and tastes like part of the batter. The result is a soft cloud where flour and cheese intermingle with tiny flecks of pepper.... I should have purchased more than one loaf as it didn't last until the next day.

I then spotted a Cranberry Walnut bread staring me down by the cash register. It laughed in my face. It said, "You think you're going to walk out of there without me? Think again, lady."

Now, I've met some Cranberry Walnut breads in my time. They aren't modest. They pack themselves full of berries and nuts and just let it all hang out, unembarrassed and unashamed. They want you to butter them. They like it.

The above photo demonstrates this well-deserved berry and nut conceit. This is another loaf I should have purchased in bulk. I've been toasting it with some currant jam, plopping poached eggs on top and calling it a night. Or a morning. Or a snack... A little cinnamon cream cheese will do the trick too. To say nothing of butter.

While we were there the FDNY Tower Ladder 58 rolled up and invaded the bakery.

The roof was not on fire, literally speaking anyway. The group of firefighters walked in and purchased 1/3 of the inventory of the place. I'm glad I got mine before the hungry firemen.

Not even a week later and I only have a little prosciutto bread left. I stupidly handed over my other prosciutto bangle to The Box. I'll be headed out for a return trip, as should you! Even if it's for the very first time!

Madonia Brothers Bakery
2348 Arthur Ave
Bronx, NY 10458

(718) 295-5573


A Holiday Cheese Board PEEL, as it were. I was hunting around Marmo's kitchen for a platform for my various fine cheeses purchased at Lucy's Whey at the Chelsea Market. Usually, I place these kinds of things atop my Brooklyn Slate, but not having toted it back to Iaciofano HQ, I was out of luck.

But LO! In the distance, there was a multitude of pizza peels! A Christmas miracle? Nope, just standard operating procedures in Marmo's kitchen. I grabbed one and went to arranging my cheese on it.

Yesterday, we talked about baked ricotta. Today, we are continuing with cheese in the hopes that this might aid you in your search for New Year's Eve/Day party eats.

As mentioned above, I took a stroll to Lucy's Whey in the Chelsea Market. This little nook of a store is a veritable cheese wonderland. I requested of one of the two cheesemongers some help in preparing my holiday cheese plate.

I should note that the other monger was dutifully assembling some kind of fabulous cheese and artichoke aioli sandwich on ciabatta bread. I stared at the sandwiches while I conversed with my helpful monger.

Me (staring at sandwiches): Hi! Would you be so kind as to help me put together a cheese plate for a holiday party? I want three different cheeses....something different, but definitely throw a blue in there.

Monger #1 (nodding in assent and scuttling around the refrigerated case knowingly): Sure.

Monger #2: Do you want a sandwich?

Me (It's 10am and I did have breakfast): No...I mean, yes, I always want a sandwich. But no, thank you.

Monger #1 (Handing me a sliver of a very milky cow/goat cheese blend): Try this!

And so it went on! I tore my eyes and stomach away from the sandwiches and selected three cheeses:

1. A wedge from a soft cow and goat milk blend. Similar to a Mt. Tam in consistency, slightly sweet and not overwhelmingly goaty – it paired well with some Castleton Maple crackers.

2. A beautiful aged cheddar with blue veins. This was sharp, but not powerfully so, with a touch of saltiness to contrast the smooth creaminess of the previous cheese.

3. A blue cheese. I would give this blue a 6 on the stinky scale. Wonderfully speckled with dots of blue, creamy and punchy, I threw this one on some charcoal crackers from The Fine Cheese Co. (incidentally some of my favorite food packaging around). Later on in the evening, I had more blue cheese for dessert paired with this cream sherry (a chocolate covered pretzel like wine and food pairing learned at the Astor Center).

I also threw in some grapes, a tiny canister of chestnut honey, and a sliced baguette.

Leftover cheese? Not a chance.