How To Do a Cheese Themed Dinner Party

Have you hosted a wine and cheese party before? I have! Honestly, I thought of everything I could cook using cheese – lobster mac n cheese with cheddar, Gougeres (cheese puffs) with gruyere, baked brie en croute, arancini with parmesan, and much more. At the end of it, I felt heavy and couldn’t eat cheese for a while!

So when I got an invitation for a cheese-themed dinner from Tillamook Creamery, I got to check it out.

Tillamookis a farmer-owned cooperative dairy brand from Oregon and #1 natural cheese brand in the west. About 100 families are part of the Tillamook County Creamery Association, that have lived and worked on the farm for generations. They have been making award-winning cheddars since 1909 and their products are now available in grocery stores in Atlanta.

Two top chefs created a collaborative dinner at Better Half, a notable restaurant in downtown Atlanta. Surprisingly, the menu was not very cheesy at all!

We started with a housemaid rum punch and tasting of Tillamook Cheese – 9 months aged sharp white cheddar, mild and creamy pepper jack, complex special reserve extra sharp cheddar, robust vintage extra sharp white cheddar, and slightly sweet cape meares cheddar.

The 5-course Pacific Northwest Meets Southern Flavors themed dinner was created by Chef Doug Adams (Executive Chef/Owner of Portland based Bullard, Finalist on season 12 of Bbravo’s Top Chef), and Zachary Meloy (owner/ chef of Atlanta based Better Half).

Passed appetizers included crisp hush puppies and cheese filled taquitos. The first course was a tomato salad with colorful and sweet Georgia tomatoes served on a bed of dill buttermilk and vintage white cheddar. Paired with 2017 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir Rose, the dish was refreshing and light.

Second was an innovative version of ravioli. A thin sheet filled will pepper jack, set on eggplant puree, and topped with shaved pickled fennel and tomato caramel, it was a great blend of sweet, salt and crunch in every bite. We enjoyed 2015 Poggiobello from Italy with this.

For the meat course, there was slow smoked beef rib melt (which Chef Adams flew with him from Portland), as an open face sandwich on toasted homemade bread with jalapeños and sweet onion jam, and of course extra sharp cheddar. Some of us opted for a vegetarian version, where grilled eggplant was replaced by the beef. With a full bodied Chilean 2015 Lapostolle, it was simply delicious.

Have you tried melted cheddar on apple pie? Playing a twist on this southern tradition, the chefs created a fresh fig and honey tart, and topped it with crumbled medium cheddar and pink pepper ice cream. The cheese and pepper were a bit too savory for me, but the tart was incredible. 2016 Boundary Breaks Riesling was a great alternative to sweeter ports often served with dessert.

Of course we couldn’t leave without Better Half’s signature truffles – coconut and condense milk balls; along with a spiced moonshine made with fresh young coconut. Tillamook generously gave us some coupons to get their cheese from a neighborhood grocery store so I can reinvent my own cheese themed dinner party 🙂

If you are visiting Oregon, head over to Tillamook Creamery, a 2-hour drive from Portland to see how Tillamook Cheese is made. There’s also a Food Hall serving tempura battered cheese curds, fried chicken and cheddar biscuits, and pimento cheeseburgers. The ice-cream menu offers tasty flavors like caramel toffee crunch, Oregon dark cherry, Udderly chocolate, and malted moo shakes.

You may find a deeper appreciation for life on the farm and thank the many farmers that labored to create the delicious cheese sitting in your refrigerator. There are more cattle than humans in Tillamook and a great place to explore the Oregon Coast.

Got any cheese based recipe ideas to share? Post a comment below so we can all enjoy…

The Life of a Macedonian Shepard

56% of Macedonia is made up of hills and mountains. While driving through the countryside, a common citing is herds of sheep blending with the landscapes with an occasional Shepard companion. By luck, I happen to visit the home of a Macedonian Shepard, which was located far out in the middle of nowhere, and was able to speak to him about his life (through a translator of course).

Macedonian shepard

The life of a Shepard is quite hard. He spends months away from his family, away from homely comforts and civilization. From the middle of May to the beginning of November, the Shepard locates his sheep in the mountainous pastures. During the rest of the year, he moves into valleys, to so-called winter pastures.

Often times 15-20 Shepards live together in a one-bedroom shack, that has nothing but basic necessities – beds, coat racks, table, lightbulbs, a wood-fire stove for cooking, and an outdoor shed used as a toilet. The Shepards spend most of the year taking care of sheep and ensuring they are well fed and safe. They use the milk to make cheese, which they sells in the markets and uses for their own consumption. They also makes fresh bread daily, which is a large part of their diet.

sheep3

Dogs are an important part of a Macedonian Shepard’s life. Many Shepards breed and raise a particular breed of dogs known as, Sarplaninacs. Shepard dogs are loyal unpaid workers who keep watchful eyes on their herds. They make sure the sheep don’t wander off or are attacked by prey. In fact, as I was getting close to take pictures of the sheep, some of the dogs started barking and running towards me, warning me to keep away from their property!

shepard dogs

Sheep breeding has remained a longstanding tradition and an important part of the economy in Macedonia. Close to half of the country’s land is used for agriculture. According to official statistical data (Statistical YearBook of Macedonia) the total number of sheep in Macedonia is about 2 300 000 heads (1 600 000 ewes). Two varieties of the Pramenka breed (Zackel, Tzurcana), Ovcepolian (60 percent) and Sarplanian (30 percent) and their crossbreeds with various Merino breeds are popularly found in Macedonia.

sheep2

Meat, milk and wool are the main productions from sheep rearing. Lamb is a staple in food and is also exported across Europe. According to United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database, goat and lamb account for over $22 million worth of exports. However, a significant part of Shepard’s income comes from cheese made from sheep milk, marketed as white cheese in the local markets. It is a fresh, yet sometimes salty homemade cheese, resembling a Feta. Each region of Macedonia imparts its own flavor into the cheese, making the variations interesting and palatable. No meal in Macedonia is complete without white sheep cheese!

sheep cheese

Shells with gorgonzola and pistachios

You might think pasta, pistachios and the strong flavor of gorgonzola make for an odd combination, but it works! It is so easy to make and only takes a few minutes. The dish is quite rich so I recommend serving it as a side to a meat entree.

I served it at our Italian conversation club, Ciancia meeting and everyone asked me for the recipe!

Tip: Do not make ahead of time

shells with gorgonzola

Shells with Gorgonzola and Pistachios (Serves 4)

1/3 cup pistachios, skinned and chopped
3.5 oz diced Gorgonzola cheese
2 tablespoons heavy cream
11 oz shell pasta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt to taste
 
Cook the shells in salt until al dente. Drain and transfer to a serving dish. Melt the Gorgonzola and cream in a pan on low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and keep aside. 
Mix together the shells with all the ingredients. Serve immediately.