Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Happy National Cheese Day! Cheesy Recipes below.

     Apparently, today is national cheese day. I didn’t realize this was a thing, but since it is, I’m glad to celebrate one of the most versatile foods in the world. Different types of cheeses are staple foods in so many different cultures. Today, I want to share some of my favorite cheese recipes and my favorite cheeses for antipasti platters.

     In my hometown of Pittsburgh, most people know that the best place to go for a great cheese selection is Pennsylvania Macaroni in the Strip District. Not only does Penn Mac have over a hundred varieties of cheese to choose from, but their cheese counter employees are knowledgeable and helpful. They’ll ask you what some of your favorite cheese are, if you are looking for something soft or firm. Then they will usually suggest something and even give you a taste of it to ensure you like it. I always come home with my top three favorites when I shop at Penn Mac, but I also choose one cheese I’ve never had before. Fair warning, if you happen to shop at Penn Mac during Christmas week, the wait at the cheese counter can be over an hour long. Everybody shops for their holiday cheese platters there, so be prepared.

     My three favorite cheeses for nibbling are Piave, Vlaskas, and Midnight Moon. I slice them and serve them on platters with dried Italian sausage or Soppresata and my daughter’s favorite – Castelvretrano olives. Piave has a nutty, Parmesan-ish flavor to it. It’s a crowd pleaser every time. Vlaskas is a bright yellowy orange cheese that’s a little sweeter and creamier but not soft. Midnight Moon is a firm goat cheese with a bold but not overly strong flavor.

      I, unlike most Italians, do not like strong cheeses. I am not a fan of sharp Provolone. My family in Italy makes this pungent cheese. The first time we visited them, my parents purchased an extra suitcase just to haul cheese back to Pittsburgh. My aunts and uncles here in the States go crazy for it.

     Not me.

     The smell of it reminds me of the weeks after I returned from my first trip to Italy, when I drove from one uncle’s house to the next, delivering wheels of homemade cheese to each of them. My car smelled like stinky feet for a month. I lovingly refer to my family’s homemade provolone as “stinky feet cheese.” 

     Locatelli Romano is my favorite for topping pasta, especially pasta with red sauce. It is also a must-have for meatballs. They just don’t come the same if you use any other cheese. My mother, the meatball expert, can attest to this. Some prefer Parmesan for grating over pasta. I like to use Parm for something else.

Parmesan Crisps with various Tapenades

5 cups or more of finely grated Reggiano Parm

Heat oven to 400 degrees and spray baking sheet with Pam
Measure 1/4 cup Parmesan and place it onto a baking sheet like a drop cookie.
Pat down the cheese so it’s flat on top.
Repeat this, leaving space for the cheese to grow as you would when baking cookies
Bake in the 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes or until they are golden and lacy looking
After the crisps cool, you can use them in salads or as appetizers topped with various tapenades.

Olive Tapenade
In a blender or food processor, pour 1 can drained black olives, 3 cloves garlic, juice from one lemon, a dash of salt, and a tablespoon olive oil. Puree until smooth and spoon onto crisps

Roasted Red Pepper Tapenade
In a blender or food processor, place 1 jar drained roasted red peppers, 3 cloves garlic, 5 or so fresh basil leaves, a dash of salt and a tablespoon olive oil. Puree until smooth and spoon onto crisps.

You really can top the crisps with anything you like! There are even store bought tapenades you could use. They are a fun finger food.

The second cheese recipe I’d like to share is a cheese spread I’ve been making for about 15 years. When my husband and I were first married, we ate at a little Italian BYOB restaurant in Beechview. Some restaurants serve flavored oils and bread on the table before salads or appetizers. This one served bread with a cheese spread that was so delicious I tried to recreate it at home.

Gorg Cheese Spread

1C Gorgonzola cheese
1 8 oz. stick of cream cheese
1 small jar of green olives with pimentos, chopped
1 can pitted black olives, chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
Olive oil for serving

Soften the cream cheese and Gorgonzola together in the microwave.
Blend the two cheeses.
Add in the olives and onions and mix until they are throughout the cheese.
Place the cheese spread in a bowl or on a pretty dish and drizzle with olive oil.
Serve with warm bread or pita crisps.

The last cheese I have to mention because it is so wonderful is Halloumi. Halloumi is a cheese you can put on the grill! It softens a little and gets chewy, but it picks up the grilled flavor perfectly. This cheese should be on every summer meal salad you serve! I grill romaine and red onions, chop them for salad then top with chunks of grilled Halloumi cheese. YUM! You can add any grill vegetable you like.

Try the Halloumi. You will love it!

Most grocery stores carry Halloumi cheese in their specialty cheese section.

Happy eating this week! Be cheesy!


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