Think cheese is a cool weather food…best reserved for melting in sandwiches and fondue pots beside a roaring fire…? Well, think again!
First of all, “the girls of summer” are grazing on the most lush grasses and foliage they’ll have all season, so it’s prime time for fresh cheeses – like our local fresh chevre, Cheese Louise, from Paradox Farm in West End.
But beyond that, there simply is NO BETTER or NO EASIER meal during the summer months than cheese, cured meat, pickled or fresh garden veggies, fresh and/or dried fruits, and nuts with some fun condiments, crackers and bread. Some folks refer to this as an antipasto, and my good friend simply calls it “smorgasbord dinner.” Regardless of the name here are the top three reasons why it’s a standout for summer:
1.) It makes for a stunning summer table. All you need are various-sized mix-and-match platters and bowls, and some fresh flowers. Wood, slate, pottery, china, glass and resin all work together – throw in a cake-plate or something with a pedestal to give certain items a little height and add more visual interest. Arrange everything on a kitchen island or a table, and add fresh-cut flowers in various bowls and vases for a finishing touch. I guarantee you already have enough platters and bowls on hand to pull this off! Don’t be afraid to use your cherished crystal vase with a well-worn wooden cutting board, a classic mason jar and a colorful resin bowl – keep life (and your table) interesting.
2.) It’s easy for your guests. It’s summer, typically the time of year when entertaining moves freely between indoors and out. So set up your antipasto meal on a kitchen island or counter and let guests “graze” with small plates in hand. Plan on 3-5 cheeses, 2-3 cured meats, a few pickled veggies and a few fresh ones, same goes for fruit, and some nuts, along with assorted crackers and good bread (my personal favorite is Prairie Bread from Nature’s Own). Be sure to keep everything easy to pick up and eat without too much knife-and-fork action – a good rule of thumb is to pre-cut at least a portion of each cheese if you’re serving more than 8-10 people, and keep your vegetables as close to bite-sized as possible. And while they absolutely don’t have to match, each item should have its own serving implement.
3.) It’s even EASIER for YOU. Let’s face it, it’s summer…and it’s hot. And even when it isn’t hot, it’s a total bummer to be slaving in the kitchen while your guests are whooping it up. This meal can be prepared with no cooking required, and best of all, can be prepped ahead of time – so no rushing around just before your guests arrive. It holds beautifully, so if you’re entertaining a large group folks can eat when they want while mixing and mingling. And it makes for a very social, interactive meal for smaller gatherings, too.
Your creativity is the limit when preparing and serving this meal – there are no hard and fast rules. If you like olives include olives, if not, don’t – and the same goes for everything else you include or omit. You will want a nice, whole-grain mustard, a fruity chutney or jam and even some honey (or honeycomb if you really want to impress folks). If you offer bread, some folks might make a sandwich; and with a big, beautiful bowl of mixed greens with oil and vinegar on the side, others can make a salad. And it works with any beverages – leaded and non – of choice. However you serve it up, this meal is filling, satisfying, can be made ahead and served cold.
Now that’s a summa’ suppa’ I can support! Stop by Southern Whey and let us help you assemble one today.
March 5 is National Cheese Doodle Day! Check out this cool video clip from Food Network’s “Unwrapped” about how these puffs are made. And you gotta love the quote from Kevin Croen (product manager at Wise Foods, Inc.) describing what it’s like without a ready supply of Cheez Doodles: “days that just don’t have sunshine in them.” Now that’s a man who loves his Doodles!
Do you know what today day is – beyond your average Wednesday, of course? Hold on to your britches: today is NATIONAL CHEESE DOODLE DAY!
Honestly, I’m skeptical about whether or not cheese doodles have anything whatsoever to do with cheese, but Wise Foods, Inc. – which owns the Cheez Doodles brand and produces more than 15 million pounds of Cheez Doodles a year – claims they use “real cheddar cheese.” Anyhoo, the definition of a cheese doodle is:
A snack made with cornmeal that has been puffed, baked and coated with cheddar cheese.
They’ve been around since the 1940s and are known by several other names including, cheese puffs, cheese curls and cheese balls. How do you like your doodles — crunchy or puffed? (OMG – do you remember Planter’s cheese balls in a can?! They were the best.)
Turns out there’s a machine that extrudes a water and cornmeal mix which makes it almost pop, like popcorn. You can see it in action on the video from Food Network’s “Unwrapped” on how Cheez Doodles are made. It’s actually pretty cool.
You may be wondering if I feel ever-so-slightly remorseful about essentially promoting what amounts to junk food. And I do…almost as remorseful as when I eat them.
This seemed like the perfect sentiment with which to re-launch my blog on the two-year anniversary* of the opening of Southern Whey.
To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal …
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance …
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to lose and a time to seek;
a time to rend and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.
The most obvious link between the shop and the title of this blog post, is the renewed interest I’m seeing in eating seasonally. Simply stated, this means eating fruits and veggies – AND cheeses, because they, too, come from the land – at certain times of the year when they are at their peak. But modern food processing and worldwide distribution make it easy to forget about seasons when grocery store shelves look nearly the same year-round. Thank goodness for our local Farmer’s Markets and CSAs!
One of the best examples of seasonality when it comes to cheese is fresh goat cheese, or chevre. As I tell our local cheesemaker, Sue Stovall, with dramatic flair each year: “Oh, if I had a dollar for the number of times people ask me for Paradox Farm chevre in December, January and February I could retire…!” Perhaps not retire, but I do disappoint a whole lot of local goat cheese lovers during the winter.
Why is there no fresh goat milk during this time? Because goats (as well as sheep) do not breed year-round – they are seasonal breeders. They naturally come into heat and are bred in the Fall, they kid in late Winter or early Spring, and are milked in late Spring, Summer and early Fall. However, milk can be “put up,” typically by freezing, for Winter use.
But already, adorable, fuzzy little kids are starting to crowd the barn at Paradox Farm – which only means that Sue’s delicious, mild chevre will be back in the case at Southern Whey very, very soon. We’ll be sure to announce its return, along with the date that Sue, Hunter and their “kids” will make their annual appearance on the grass just outside the shop on a Spring Saturday.
In the same way that the seasons form a natural backdrop for eating, it seems that this “adventure called life” follows patterns that can best be described as seasonal as well – don’t you think? The difference, however, may be that in some years we experience the luxury of an extended Spring – full of seemingly limitless growth and expansion; and in other years, Winter takes its time and its toll – devastating what was previously cultivated. Yet, there always remains the promise of Spring. The key, I think, is learning to appreciate whatever season we’re in – the food, the weather, the trials, the achievements and the lessons. I think Zora Neale Hurston says it quite eloquently…
I’m hoping this is a year of both peace and of answers. In the meantime…be mindful, be grateful and eat happy.
*It’s sort of a two-year anniversary…being that the shop opened on Leap Day; we won’t see February 29 until 2016, so that truly will be our FIRST anniversary…four years after opening.