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Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Tasting Party

Recently I was the hostess at an Extension Homemakers meeting.  Since I wasn’t doing the lesson, I decided to do a ‘tasting party’ since I’ve gotten quite a few comments about how ‘adventurous’ I am trying different foods.

I guess that goes back to my childhood.  There used to be a cafeteria in St. Louis called “Seven Kitchens” where each ‘kitchen’/section was a different cuisine.  Mom used to give me money and I would wander from section to section choosing different things I wanted to try.  Another memory was when Hickory Farms used to have their own stores and they would give samples of their cheeses.  If I behaved while we were shopping, I would get to go to Hickory Farms and pick out a cheese and buy a quarter pound chunk.  Nope… no toys or candy for me… I wanted cheese!

I had a blast planning it out.  After much thought I decided to have them taste three different things:  cheese, balsamic vinegars, and flavored olive oils. 

Then, of course, I needed to make a trip to Nashville so I could hit Whole Foods (wink).  Yep… any excuse to go to Whole Foods! 

I headed straight back to the cheese counter and was soon in a lively discussion on what cheeses would be unusual, yet approachable, for them to try. (BTW, did you know that at Whole Foods you can request a sample of cheese?)  I definitely wanted to have a goat cheese and a sheep cheese.  And I wanted to have a few ‘upgrades’ of familiar grocery store varieties. 

I ended up selecting these:

A nice Parmigiano-Reggiano chunk, which I grated and also had a leading grocery brand grated Parmesan so they could compare. 

I also picked up a container of Mascarpone and set it along side of some American cream cheese.

Some brie made it into my buggy, except this one was an aged brie… soft and a bit more pungent.  Everyone was familiar with the brie from grocery stores and enjoyed trying the ‘upgrade’. 

My final cheese ‘upgrade’ was a block of English Seaside aged cheddar.  It is my absolute favorite sharp cheddar.  It is sharp…yet delicate, with a slightly crumbly texture. 

Then I had two ‘different’ cow cheeses.

First was Wensleydale.  This is an English cheese with a moist sweeter taste.  It’s often blended with fruit.  The one I picked out had cranberries.  It seemed to be everyone’s favorite.

The other was a Spanish cow cheese, a Mahon.  It is an island cheese and the salty sea spray on the grasses seems to become part of the cow’s milk.  It is sweet and salty, mildly sharp.  The rind is rubbed with oil and paprika – which gives it an almost saffron color.  It can be used grated as a topping or eaten in slices.  It is popular with tapas, where it is drizzled with olive oil.

Then there were my ‘strange’ cheeses:

Cabra al Vino/Drunken Goat:  A Spanish goat cheese that is soaked in red wine for two or three days.  It is slightly sweet with a softly sharp finish.  Good tapas selection.

Queso Manchego:  Another Spanish but this time a sheep’s cheese.  It is aged between 2 month and two years.  It has a definite ‘sheep’ cheese flavor but it is not a strong cheese.  Creamy with a slight bite.  The cheese block is actually quite beautiful as it is aged in a woven grass mold that leaves imprints on the rind. 

Now that I had my cheeses, it was time to decide on my vinegars and oils.  Actually, I had most of what I wanted to use in my own pantry.  However I discovered that Nashville now has an olive oil and vinegar store…and it’s only a block from Whole Foods! 

Look at their selections!!  Their address is Village Green Shopping Center, 4117 Hillsboro Pike, Suite 102, Nashville.  It is very much like the shop I have gone to in St. Louis (de Oliva in West County).  Now I can get what I need at home! 

What I love about these shops is that the vinegars and oils are all in urns that you can draw a sample from…taste before you buy.  Ummmmmm….  I picked up two new bottles while I was there.  A Thai Lemongrass balsamic vinegar blend and a black truffle oil (I’ve never been able to try it and was intrigued by the earthy taste). 
I put samples in medicine cups which could be sipped straight or with a bread piece dipped in it.  Personally I sample straight so I can get the true flavor.

All totaled I had the 10 cheeses, 4 oils (an Australia EVOO – very smooth, an herbs de Provence blend, lemon, and the black truffle oil) and 8 balsamic vinegars (Trader Joe’s balsamic – my everyday balsamic, Elva my spendy Modena for drizzling, peach, my new Thai Lemongrass, dark chocolate – great on fruit!, cherry, honey ginger, and pomegranate – great on Caprese salads).

It was a lot of fun sharing and they’ve requested I do another ‘sampling party’ in the future.  I think I will!

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