A Taste of Provence

If there’s a cheese that epitomizes decadence, that would be Brillat Savarin. This French delight has a seductively rich and creamy paste that spreads on like butter. The flavor is mild, with a fresh cream taste and hints of sea salt. And if you’re wondering if you can eat the rind, go for it! The thin rind of this cheese imparts an earthy flavor, and is nearly seamless with its decadent interior. A drizzle of lavender honey and a sprinkling of Herbes de Provence (an aromatic blend of dried lavender, basil, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, savory and thyme), will transport your taste buds to the lavender fields of Provence.

 

Cesar’s Oaxacan Style String Cheese

String cheese brings back fond memories of my elementary school days, where I would eagerly await the ring of the lunch bell to tear open its wrapping and enjoy. The act of pulling apart the stretchy strands of mozzarella was a pleasurable experience. Now as an adult, I get that same nostalgic feeling–but with Cesar’s Oaxacan style string cheese. Oaxacan style string cheese has more stretch and is even more fibrous. After a single pull, you’ll find yourself entangled in a deliciously stringy mess.

Cesar Luis learned  cheesemaking as a young child in in Oaxaca, Mexico. He continued his passion moving to Wisconsin, where he received his cheesemaking license. The cheese is completely stretched by hand in 5o foot ropes and submerged in a 100 degree bath. It’s continuously pulled into thinner strings and cut into sticks. This style of cheese is known as Pasta Filata, or “spun paste,” which describes the technique of pulling and stretching of the curd. Other Pasta Filata cheeses include Scamorza, Caciocavallo, and Provolone.

 

Moliterno al Tartufo Pasta with Bacon

Envision this:

Warm fusilli pasta and bacon tossed inside a hollowed out wheel of Moliterno al Tartufo. The heat of the pasta melts the cheese as it’s being gently mixed. The natural starch of the pasta acts as thickening agent, creating a decadent sauce. Where could one go wrong?

Moliterno al Tartufo  is a truffle-veined  Pecorino from Sardinia. The Piquancy of the sheep’s milk married with the aroma of truffles is remarkably well-balanced. The addition of bacon added a touch of smoky flavor and the earth of the truffles softened the salty bite of the cheese.

 

Central Formaggio demonstrating their Moliterno al Tartufo pasta dish at Culture magazine’s (the word on cheese) Counter Culture seminar

Harbison

 

Oh, baby.

Google “cheese porn” and you’ll likely find images of Harbison at the top of the search results (capturing its ooey, gooey magnificence). Harbison is the creation of Jasper Hill, a dairy farm and award-winning creamery in Greensboro, VT. This cheese is downright sexy, with a thick, creamy interior that is simply irresistable . This rustic charmer is wrapped in strips of spruce bark harvested from the woodlands of Jasper Hill. The spruce bark might sound odd, but imparts an incredibly woodsy, piney-lemony aroma and taste. The flavor profile is vegetal- yet satisfyingly savory- with nuances of roasted asparagus. The best way to enjoy Harbison is to slice off its top rind and dig into its delectable paste.

 

Warfare Tavern’s Burrata Mashed Potatoes

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When enriched with butter and cheese, mashed potatoes are transformative. At Wayfare Tavern, Chef Tyler Florence takes mashed potatoes to another level with the addition of Burrata. Why didn’t I think of that?! It’s brilliant, really; and makes perfect sense. Burrata is a stretched curd cheese filled with cream and straciatella (bits of mozzarella). The cheese gave the mash a mega creaminess and almost stretchy, potatoes aligot-like consistency. The chives were not just there for presentation, its slight crunch from the salamander oven lifted up the mash. I could’ve easily ate the whole thing. But, I was nice enough to share.

 

Manchego, Santa Monica

Nestled on busy  main street is a charming and unassuming  Spanish tapas bar called Manchego. Its small size and simple facade could easily be passed when driving by. The quaint interior is welcoming, and rustic textures gives the space a warmth that encourages you to stay for awhile.

The restaurant is named after an exquisite sheep’s milk cheese, which gives me an inkling of the level of cookery that awaits. I begin my night with a glass of Sangria, the perfect starting off point to a great meal.

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Crispy Jamon Tostado

burrata, fig jam, jamon

The gentle sweetness of the fig jam worked harmoniously with the salty pork. The crispy Iberia ham, rich butteriness of the fresh cheese, and the slight crisp edges of the bread gave the tapas dish nice texture.

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Brussels Sprouts

bacon, mushroom, vinagre de jerez

Acid. salt. sweet. crispy. This little vegetable was transformed into something amazing. The contours of each brussel leaf crisped up, the core was tender, absorbing the the sweet yet slight acidic caramelization of the vinegar. Bits of bacon enriched the dish and the mushrooms added a dose of umami and soft texture.

 

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Membrillo Glazed Pork Belly w. Marcona Almonds

Rich, unctuous, and just fantastic. With each bite, I experienced the layers of flavor and textural variety: the sweet cracklin’ skin from the membrillo glaze, glossy pork fat, and richness of the meat.

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Grilled Octopus

lemon, blistered tomatoes, anchoa olives, garlic

This dish was packed with acidity and freshness. I applaud the chef for cooking the octopus to perfection. The exterior had a desirable char, and the center was tender and supple. Lemon, capers, and tomatoes gave it vibrancy and a healthy amount of acid.

*not pictured but also a must-try are the grilled lamb chops with tzatziki and crispy capers (the best dish of the night, but devoured before a picture could be taken).

The food I experienced at Manchego was splendid. It’s a great place to unwind with a few good friends over great food.

Manchego /2518 Main St. Santa Monica, CA 90405 /visit manchego