It's not hard to reason this one but you migh...
"Give me a good sharp knife and a good sharp cheese and I'm a happy man." - George R.R. Martin
James Joyce may have referred to cheese as the 'corpse of milk.' But if that is indeed the case, we're fairly certain that Thomas Zacharias--the enthusiastic, cheese-loving chef from Olive Bar & Kitchen who conducted this workshop--doesn't have a copy of Paradise Lost on his bookshelf. More likely, it's filled with every book that's ever been written about the world's most loved dairy product. Well, after chocolate anyway.
So here's the thing. I consider myself to be a reasonably astute judge of cheese. I've been feasting on the heavenly stuff since I could chew and probably even before it. If my dabba had anything other than a cheese sandwich, it was simply heartbreaking. And as I grew older, the unavailability of a fresh wheel of brie was equally disheartening. That's why Natures Basket's cheese workshop was 100 percent appealing to me. And I'm happy to report that they delivered the equivalent of a home run when it comes to cheese.
This class was conducted in the chain's Juhu branch in Mumbai and I could see only the greatest of cheese lovers had come out to play. Chef Zacharias took us through an enlightening powerpoint which illustrated everything you could possibly ever want to know about cheese. The only difference between this and a college lecture was that this was going to end in a taste fest that included everything hee talked about!
Here's a brief account of what we learned:
-What cheese really is.
-How it's made.
-A classification of cheeses
-Selecting the right cheese.
-The most complementary accompaniments for cheese
-Great wine and cheese pairing tips.
He accompanied the entire classification with a speckling of cheese tastings too, playing with our palates expertly by starting us off with the softest and freshest types like crumbly ricotta, through to the semi-soft varieties like the saltier and stronger Edams and Morbiers, right to the kind that's strictly reserved for those with an acquired taste aka the chef's personal favourite, Blue-veined cheese! In case you're wondering, that's the deadly, overripe, almost acetone-strong blue cheese that only a few can stomach. The overall buildup was perfect and the intrigue in the room was palpable.
Zacharias wrapped up with a performance that was anything but anti-climatic. He whipped up three cheesy delicacies right in front of our eyes and enjoyed watching us drool in anticipation of the tasting that followed. Here's what he tickled our tastebuds with:
Baked Brie With Saffron Honey: Brie is not exactly the most likable of cheeses. Yet the combination of the light and fluffy filo pastry with generous drizzles of saffron honey with the sharpness of that brie was mouth-watering to say the least. Not to mention, easy to make!
Green Apple and Feta Salad: Determined to prove to us that cheese could in fact be healthy, this was Zacharias' five-minute dish. Complete with a wonderful balance of fresh greens (arugula, lettuce and loll roso) sweet green apples, toasted pine nuts, a silky mustard vinaigrette dressing and agorgeous sprinkling of feta, this one was truly divine.
Smoked Salmon and Gruyere Sandwich: The classic ham n' cheese cliche with a twist; incredibly flavorful preserved lemons being the twist in this delicious grilled sandwich. Surprisingly, all three dishes were incredibly easy to prepare despite the fancy sounding names!
All in all, the workshop was incredibly informative and simultaneously fun. But since we can't take you through the entire thing, this is what we came up with... a few of the most interesting things chef Zacharias had to offer us in the form of tips and fun facts (some of them may be cheesy but most of them are wise!):
Fact One: Ripening of cheeses needs to happen in extremely specific conditions. Though this is a highly industrialized process today. Places like Spain still resort to using caves for the ripening process since it has the perfect temperature and conditions for the same.
Fact Two: Parmagiano Reggiano (falling under the category of 'hard cheeses') is one of the oldest cheeses in the world and can only be sourced from Italy as it is illegal to name it the same unless it comes from four specific provinces in Italy. It is aged for 14 months before sale and its recipe has not changed for 700 years!
Fact Three: Brie is the one specific type of cheese that gets cheese purists all worked up. They insist that it must only be eaten alone for true appreciation and enjoyment.
Fact Four: Gewurztraminer is a South African white wine made from an aromatic grape variety that goes incredibly well with virtually any cheese.
Fact Five: Holes in your salad leaves are actually a good sign according to chef Zacharias. Though it marks the presence of insects once, he says that also means there are no pesticides--which definitely makes it a safer option!
Tip One: If you're a blue cheese virgin, it's best to start your palate off on a gorgonzola--the mildest of this variety. Even in gorgonzola though there are two further options of dolce and picante. Go for the former if you prefer starting slow.
Tip Two: When trying to pair wine and cheese dry or semi-dry white wines/champagnes are your safest bet but the real trick is to match the intensity of cheese types with the wine. Thus a strong blue cheese would actually go well with a fortified wine or sherry, and so on and so forth.
Tip Three: Never plastic wrap your cheese and store it in the fridge as it causes condensation which in turn leads to moulding. Instead, opt for a paper wrap or an air-tight box and make sure it isn't placed next to other strong-smelling ingredients like garlic or ginger as it has a tendency to absorb scents and flavors.
Tip Four: Always serve your cheese at room temperature but make sure it's not left at room temperature for too long or stored here.
Tip Five: If you're keen to serve up a cheese platter as a starter at a party, the following are good themes to follow:
-Select cheeses with varied textures and flavors.
-Select cheeses according to their type i.e. all soft cheeses or hard cheeses.
-Select cheeses according to a particular country of origin.
That's all we've got for now, but if you want more, you could always reserve yourself a spot at their next workshop! It's scheduled for 19th July, 2012 with chef Alpesh Patel between 4.30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Call 91-22-24367155 for more details.
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