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…

Wines of Macedonia

Wine production in Macedonia dates as far back as 13th century BC. From the time of Alexander The Great up until Roman and Turkish rules, wine consumption in this region has remained prominent. During ancient times, wines were produced by monks at Orthodox Church and consumed during religious ceremonies. In the 1980s, Macedonia accounted for around two-thirds of the Yugoslav wine production. Now that Macedonia is a much smaller independent nation, high quality grape growing and wine production still remains an important part of the culture.

Continue reading “Wines of Macedonia”

La Bodega, Barcelona

One of my best dining experiences in Barcelona was at La Bodega Restaurant at Plaza Molina in the Sant Gervasi district. My local friends, Tina and Alex said it was their favorite restaurant in Barcelona so they had to take me there. Open since 1983, the owner, Jose Luis Jimemr Momci still greets every one of his guests and attends to every detail. White table cloths and rose petals create a romantic atmosphere in this wine cellar converted into restaurant; it specializes in classic Mediterranean cuisine with a Catalan twist. Continue reading “La Bodega, Barcelona”

A Tuscan Gastronomic Market

It is no secret that Florence is one of the best cities in Italy to eat. You can find fresh and local Tuscan fare at practically any restaurant or cafe you walk into. But the Biennial Enogastronomica Fiorentina is a food and wine event that is not to be missed. Continue reading “A Tuscan Gastronomic Market”

Atlanta Food and Wine favorites

The second annual Atlanta Food and Wine Festival took place this weekend in Midtown Atlanta. With three days of over 80 demonstrations, private dinners and tastings, the festivals was one of the best experiences foodies could have. Chefs, authors and restaurant  owners from all over the south were showcased, while patrons from around the country came to eat, drink and learn.

One of the biggest attractions of the festival were the Tasting Tents. A $100 ticket would get you into an all-you can-eat-and-drink exhibition created by some of the best culinarians, for three whole hours. The Festival Tasting Tents were designed to lead guests through a culinary exploration of the South, featuring themed tasting “trails” like Bourbon, Craft Beer, Wine and Spirits, Farm Fresh, Seafood, Whole Pig, Fried Chicken, Southern Snacks, Global Inspirations and more. We are talking over 100 tasting tents in one area!

While I did my best to investigate each and every vendor at the festival, it wouldn’t have been humanly possible to eat and drink everything. However, from whatever I managed to taste, here were some of my personal favorites.

One Hot Mama’s – Hilton Head based BBQ restaurant served Asian BBQ chicken skewers with your choice of a spicy or sweet sauce, served on a bed of Israeli couscous salad. The flavor was a good fusion of American, Asian and Middle Eastern, something you wouldn’t find anywhere else. It was also appropriate to eat here being Mother’s Day!

White Oak Kitchen and Cocktails – The best fried chicken I ever had! The server told me that chef Vaughn makes his own caramel sauce and lets the chicken soak in it over night. Then he drizzles it with salt and flour and deep fry’s it to perfection. The restaurant is scheduled to open soon in Atlanta.

French Board Chocolates – Artfully created, dense dark chocolate truffles made with caramel, salt and flavors that will satisfy your sweet cravings. They even have an Indian kulfi truffle that is milk chocolate ganache infused with rose, cardamom and toasted pistachios. The chocolates are not too sweet and come closest to what you will find in Europe. Yes, you can purchase them online.

Little Savannah – I give them credit for the most creativity. Being under the Farm Fresh banner, they were able to present something unique and delicious. Almond bread pudding with poached Georgia grown peaches, a hint of blueberry sauce, cream sabayon and drizzle of candied pecans – now that’s a burst of flavors in your mouth. Little Savannah is actually located in Birmingham, Alabama and serves community farm tables every Wednesday.

Cookie Underground – Who would have thought dessert can be good for you? Chef Kim has made it happen with her hand crafted organic veggie cookies. Rutabaga, carrots, sweet potatoes and parsnip are key ingredients for the cookies. The best part is they taste so good you won’t be able to tell the difference.

Unquenchable

Recently I came across the book “Unquenchable – A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines” by Natalie MacLean. I feel like what I want to do with voluntourism, MacLean has done it with wine. I am not a fan of reading wine guides for entertainment purposes, but this book turned out to be a collection of personal stories with the backdrop of culture and travel, so definitely interesting to me!

Each day of the week, MacLean takes you on a personal journey to a different country, exploring the rich wine regions of the world from Germany to South Africa to Australia. Through her witty narrations, she talks about the history about the wines, the geography of the region and the evolution over the centuries. The book also includes references to wineries (including value producers) and complete dinner pairings. The best part about the book is that it flows in a story-telling fashion, making it as interesting to read as a travel journal.

Reading Unquenchable is like going on a wine tour around the world without ever leaving your couch. Her descriptive writing makes you feel like you are actually there with MacLean on her little adventures. To complete the experience, make sure you pour yourself a glass of your favorite glass while reading Unquenchable. As for me, I have to try Nero d’avola just because it reminded MacLean of Italian actor Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful) which happens to be my favorite movie of all times.

We are giving away a copy of Unquenchable by Natalie MacLean to one lucky follower! Like us on Facebook to enter to win. Drawing on 12/30/2011. 

Tasting at East Andrews

East Andrews Cafe in Buckhead, Atlanta has been a long standing establishment that I find myself coming back to ever so often. Over the years, they have taken over the shopping center and opened two more locations, Andrews Upstairs (a bar with live music) and Cellar 56 (wine bar and casual restaurant).

My past few experiences dining at East Andrews have been less than pleasant, always leaving me with a resolution of not to return. So when I got an invitation to a media only tasting party of their new food and wine menu, I couldn’t resist the temptation to sneak a peek at what they are cooking up lately.

I reached at 6:15 pm and was surprised to find that they were still setting up the party. (The invitation was for 6 pm). The usher handed us a glass of wine and a sample menu card for what we will be having that evening. Each course was carefully paired with a wine selection from a different region of the world. I was already looking forward to it!

The plaza with the water fountain in the middle was dressed up formally with black and white table cloths. There was a station set for different courses and servers were eagerly pouring and plating for our pleasure. We started with glasses of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc served with spinach salad with bacon and egg, nicely tossed, and another strawberry and mixed greens salad drenched in vinaigrette.

Moving on, for the fish course, there was a seared tuna too dry and bland to taste, even with the fiery homemade wasabi and soy. The blackened salmon was cooked perfectly but was over seasoned. I did not try the pork egg rolls but was told they were good. My favorite was the macaroni and cheese paired with Argentinean Malbec. Shells pasta was cooked with adult-tasting cheeses, lots of parmesan and a hint of nutmeg. I wanted seconds of this one!

Lastly, there were two desserts served with champagne, actually a light white wine from the south of France. The first was a bread pudding made with Krispy Kreme doughnuts with caramel sauce. It was smooth, moist and luxurious. I have eaten this creation before somewhere, but East Andrews made it really good. The second dessert was a flourless chocolate torte. It was no comparison to the bread pudding and a second choice if you have to have chocolate.

Overall, I feel East Andrews is a great place to have wine and spirits. Their collection is amazing and the servers actually have a rich knowledge of the wines. The patio boasts a cozy place for gatherings at the bar, for happy hour or after dinner. As far as coming here for a meal, it can be a hit or a miss. They still need to smooth out a few sauces and seasonings in the kitchen.