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New American Cheese: Profiles of America's Great Cheesemakers and Recipes for Cooking with Cheese


Everybody loves cheese. Dripping from the tip of a hot slice of pizza, bubbling atop a rich bowl of broth, or freshly grated over a plate of creamy pasta, cheese flavors our favorite foods. American cheesemakers, spurred on by the country's love affair with cheese, as well as their own artistic passion, are now making some of the world's finest cheeses. The New American Cheese is the first book to explore these extraordinary cheeses and to profile the people who make them.

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Everybody loves cheese. Dripping from the tip of a hot slice of pizza, bubbling atop a rich bowl of broth, or freshly grated over a plate of creamy pasta, cheese flavors our favorite foods. American cheesemakers, spurred on by the country's love affair with cheese, as well as their own artistic passion, are now making some of the world's finest cheeses. The New American Cheese is the first book to explore these extraordinary cheeses and to profile the people who make them.

Ten years ago only a handful of specialty cheesemakers could be found in America. Today, there are more than 200. Like the wine boom of the 1970s, the fascination with domestic, handcrafted cheeses is taking this country by storm. From the full-flavored cheddars of Vermont to the creamy blue cheeses of Iowa to the tangy goat cheese of northern California, these artisanal cheeses are pushing aside manufactured and processed cheeses at supermarkets and gourmet shops across the country.

The New American Cheese takes an in-depth look at the art and craft of cheesemaking in this country. Author Laura Werlin profiles more than 50 of American's top cheesemakers and offers 80 inventive recipes, such and Macaroni and Cheese, Traditional Cobb Salad, and Apple-Cheddar Pie. In addition, the book includes a fascinating history of cheesemaking in the U.S., nutritional facts, information on how to taste, buy, and store cheese, an extensive glossary, and a directory of mail-order sources.

Evocative photos by award-winning photographer Martin Jacobs capture the whole story - from the pastoral dairy farms to the artisanal cheesemakers to the delicious finished dishes. The New American Cheese is an indispensable guide for amateur cheese lovers and experienced epicures alike.

Laura Werlin is a food journalist whose articles have appeared in Saveur, Self, and San Francisco. Prior to food-writing, Werlin spent 16 years working in television news in San Francisco. This is her first book.

Martin Jacobs is a professional photographer based in New York City. His photographs have appeared in Spirit of the Harvest, A Taste of Hawaii, and The Foods of Vietnam, all published by Stewart, Tabori, & Chang.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556709906
  • Publisher: Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/28/2000
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 8.25 (w) x 9.75 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

THE ART OF CHEESE TASTING So how do you taste cheese? First, there's no substitute for putting it in your mouth. A simple glance at a cheese won't help. Nor will taking a whiff. You must taste it. Don't be afraid to ask retailers for a sample. They're usually ecstatic when a customer wants to learn more. But if you're stymied about what to do with the cheese once it's in your hands, here are a few hints:

First, tell the retailer what style of cheese you like. Then ask for one or two recommendations.

Try several cheeses in the same category. Don't try a blue cheese and then a fresh goat cheese. Instead go from mild to strong, soft to hard, within the same category of cheeses.

A cheese should always be at room temperature before sampling. A cold cheese has muted flavors and aromas and cannot be appreciated at its full value.

If the cheese is not at room temperature, take a small piece and rub it between your thumb and index finger. Then smell it. By rubbing it, you're warming it up and you're also helping to release some of its aromas, which will in turn further your evaluation of the cheese. The aroma is just as important as the taste, and this is the simplest way to coax out this essential component in the cheese. Also, by rubbing it between your fingers you will begin to get a visceral understanding of the differences between semi-soft, semi-hard, and hard cheeses. There's nothing like touching a cheese to understand its moisture or dryness.

Take your time. It is important to really pay attention to what you're tasting.

If you can, taste with people who know more than you. They can help educate you and your palate.

Look at the cheese. Its visual appeal is not only an aesthetic consideration but also one of the best indicators of the condition of the cheese. If, for example, a hard cheese is cracking and has some blue mold in the middle of it, it might be over the hill. On the other hand, if a soft-ripened cheese is beginning to sag a little, it's simply in the process of ripening and could very well be at its peak. Ask your cheesemonger to guide you.

Treat cheese tasting a little like wine tasting: What is the color of the cheese? What is its texture? Swish it around in your mouth and see how your different taste receptors respond to the nuances in the cheese.

Try not to sample the cut side of a cheese if it has been exposed to plastic wrap. Sometimes plastic can impart a flavor that will alter the taste of the cheese. (See "How to Buy and Store Cheese.")

Sample cheese from its center to its rind. Even if you're eating a cheese that doesn't have an edible rind, it will taste different at its core, or its paste (or páte) as it is called, than it does closer to the area that is more exposed to air. This is a good way to gain an appreciation for the particular subtleties existent within the same cheese.

"Listen" to what you're tasting. Don't chew rapidly and swallow. Instead, chew slowly and work the cheese through your mouth, from the front of the mouth to the back. What is the first sensation you get? Is it salty? Bitter? Strong? Sweet? Press it against the roof of your mouth. What is its texture? Keep a small amount of the cheese in your mouth and take a breath through the mouth, exhaling through the nose. This will bring the flavor and scent of the cheese through your nasal passages, which will help you to understand and appreciate both the taste and the smell of the cheese.

Try not to talk along the way. Just listen to what your senses are telling you. This will help you get in touch with the intricacies of cheese. Most cheeses are more complex than we give them credit for.

Goat Cheese, Apricot, and Sage-Stuffed Chicken Breasts

The Japanese panko crumbs that are used to coat these chicken breasts are much coarser and lighter than regular bread crumbs. Because of this, they create an extremely crunchy exterior The result is a crackling bite that leads to the soothing, creamy filling. These special crumbs can be found in Japanese markets and at many supermarkets. If you cannot find them, make or buy coarse bread crumbs and lightly toast them. This dish is particularly versatile since you can serve the chicken breasts whole or you can slice them into roulades for a dressier presentation.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup finely chopped yellow onion (about 1/2 large onion)

2 small cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup dried apricots (about 2 ounces), plumped in hot water, drained, and chopped into 1/4 inch pieces

1/2 cup fresh goat cheese (2 to 3 ounces), (or use fromage blanc or softened cream cheese)

2 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds total), each cut in half lengthwise

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup Japanese panko crumbs or use toasted coarse bread crumbs

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons white wine

1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock

Whole fresh sage leaves, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

In a medium-size sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium- high heat. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Don't let the onions and garlic brown. Next, add the chopped sage and salt and pepper to taste, and cook until the onions are translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the apricots and cook until heated through, 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes. Thoroughly mix in the goat cheese and set aside. (This can be made up to 24 hours in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before stuffing the chicken breasts.)

Place each chicken breast between two pieces of plastic wrap. With a kitchen mallet, a cleaver, or a heavy tin can, such as a can of tomatoes, pound the breasts until they are between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. (They will not roll easily if they are too thick.) Season with salt and pepper.

Spread about 1/4 cup of the stuffing down the center of each chicken breast. Fold up the short ends of the chicken breast, and then roll one long side jelly-roll-fashion to the other side. Tie the ends with string to secure them.

Place the egg in a shallow bowl and the panko crumbs in another shallow bowl. Dip the chicken in the egg, and then roll in the panko crumbs until completely coated. In an ovenproof sauté pan, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Place the chicken in the pan and brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Then put the pan in the oven and bake until the chicken is a deep golden color and firm when pressed, 10 to 12 minutes.

After the chicken breasts come out of the oven, remove the strings and put them on a warmed platter; tent with foil. Next, place the pan over high heat and deglaze it with the wine. Boil until reduced to about 1 tablespoon, 1 to 2 minutes, and then add the chicken stock. Boil until reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes, and add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter.

Cut each breast in half crosswise and place one half on its side on the plate. Lean the second half against the first, facing down. Drizzle with the sauce, garnish with sage leaves, and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Note: For a slightly different presentation, cut the chicken breasts into ~12-inch-thick slices and fan them out on each plate. Drizzle with the sauce and garnish with sage leaves before serving.

Chili-Pecan Biscotti with Dry Jack Cheese

Although biscotti are traditionally sweet, meant to be dipped in coffee or dessert wine, I see no reason why they can't be enjoyed in a savory style as well. "Biscotti" means twice-baked, and that's why they usually have to be dipped: otherwise, they are teeth-breakers. But these biscotti, while still twice-baked, remain crumbly and easy to eat. They're also easy to make, though you have to be a little patient when you cut the dough after it has been baked the first time. It tends to crumble a little. Not to worry, though. Their rustic look suits their assertive flavor. Although you don't need a liquid to dip these in, an icy margarita alongside would be a welcome accompaniment.

You can serve these alone, or alongside the Black Beans with Cotija Cheese (page 182).


2 teaspoons canola oil

1/4 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon ground coriander

Freshly ground pepper

3/4 cup pecan halves


1/2 cup boiling water

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed)

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons very hot chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons sugar

2 eggs

2 1/2 cups coarsely grated Vella Dry Jack cheese (or use aged Asiago or domestic Parmesan)

To prepare the pecans: Preheat the oven to 325ºF.

In a small bowl whisk together all the ingredients except the pecans. When blended, add the pecans to the bowl and coat well. (It won't look like much coating, but don't worry. It is enough.) Spread the pecans out in a small baking pan and bake until they start to release a nutty aroma and are beginning to turn a light brown color, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Then chop the pecans and set them aside. (The pecans can be made 3 days in advance and kept in an airtight container at room temperature, or 1 month in advance, and frozen.)

To make the biscotti: Increase the oven temperature to 350ºF.

In a heatproof bowl, pour the boiling water over the tomatoes. Let stand for 10 minutes. Drain well, and chop into pieces about the size of a raisin.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, chili powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, cream the butter at high speed until very smooth. (Alternatively, use a large bowl and a sturdy wooden spoon for the steps in this process.) Add the sugar and mix until well blended and creamy. Add the eggs and mix at high speed for 5 minutes. (They may not thoroughly integrate with the butter and sugar, but don't worry about it.) Set the mixer on low speed and add the flour mixture. When the flour mixture is almost fully incorporated, add 2 cups of the cheese and the chopped tomatoes. Mix for 30 seconds. By now, the dough will have formed a solid ball. (If it's still crumbly, add 1 to 2 tablespoons cold water.) Keeping the mixer at a low speed, add the chopped pecans and mix just until all of the ingredients hold together. (If the pecans end up at the bottom of the mixing bowl, simply remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a work surface. Put the errant pecans on the work surface as well and work them into the dough by hand.)

Remove the dough from the mixer, and on a lightly floured board, shape it into two logs about 3 inches wide and 6 to 7 inches long. Round the tops slightly. Place them about 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining 2 cup cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the logs are brown around the edges and the cheese has melted (the cheese will not brown). Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 to 12 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325ºF.

Place one log on a cutting board. Using a long, sharp knife, cut the log into 1/4-inch-thick slices, slightly on the diagonal. (The slices may crumble a bit, but if you cut the dough with a rapid motion rather than "sawing" it, your slices should remain intact.) Repeat with the other log. Place the slices, cut side down, back onto the baking sheet. They may be placed close together (though not touching), since they will not spread; use two baking sheets if necessary. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn the slices over and bake until the edges are browned, 10 or 15 minutes. Place the biscotti on a cooling rack and cool to room temperature.

Makes 30 to 36

Note: These can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Freshen the frozen biscotti in a preheated 325ºF oven for 5 to 7 minutes.

Do not double this recipe-- even a stand mixer will not be able to handle that much dough. Instead, make the dough in two batches. Form all the logs and bake them on two baking sheets, rotating the baking sheets for even baking.

Quarky Chocolate Cake

Sour cream cakes are a dime a dozen, but using, German-style quark (a low- or nonfat fresh cheese that tastes like a combination of sour cream, yogurt, and cream cheese) takes this ordinary chocolate cake into the realm of the memorable. It's fudgy, yet slightly easier on your conscience. If you can't find quark, which is available in some supermarkets, you can make this cake with sour cream. Since this is a three-layer cake, plan to serve a lot of people or to have a lot of leftovers. This cake is best eaten the day it's made, though it will hold, covered, for twenty-four to forty-eight hours at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.


1 1/4 cups heavy cream

1 2/3 cups sugar

6 1/2 ounces good-quality unsweetened chocolate, such as Scharffenberger or Callebaut, finely chopped

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened, cut into tablespoons

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


1/2 cup boiling water

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process), plus extra for dusting the pans 4 ounces high-quality unsweetened chocolate, such as Scharffenberger or Callebaut, coarsely chopped

1 3/4 cups cake flour

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 1/2 cups sugar

1 whole egg

5 large eggs, separated

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup quark, such as Ellen's Nonfat, stirred until smooth

To make the frosting: In a medium-size saucepan, heat the cream and sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the chocolate and stir until it is thoroughly melted. Remove from the heat, cover, and let cool for about 10 minutes.

Using an electric mixer, mix the butter on medium-high speed until it is smooth and creamy. Turn the mixer to medium-low and add half of the chocolate mixture along with the vanilla. Mix well. Add the remaining chocolate mixture and mix until smooth and creamy. Set aside until it hardens slightly, to become a spreadable consistency, 1 to 2 hours. (Or, you can refrigerate the frosting for about 30 minutes, or until it becomes thickened and spreadable. Bring it to room temperature before frosting.)

To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Generously grease three 9-inch round cake pans. Cut a piece of waxed paper to fit the bottom of each pan and place inside the pans. Grease the waxed paper, and dust the pans with cocoa powder until well coated. Set aside.

In a small heatproof bowl, pour the boiling water over the 1/2 cup cocoa. Stir until the mixture is very smooth, and set aside to cool.

Melt the chocolate in a double-boiler or in a stainless-steel bowl set over a pan of hot, but not boiling, water. Stir occasionally until smooth. Remove from the heat.

Into a medium-size bowl, sift together both flours, the baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add 2 1/4 cups of the sugar and beat until well blended, about 5 minutes. Beat in the whole egg and egg yolks, one at a time. Beat in the cooled cocoa mixture until very smooth, scraping down the sides as you go. Turn the mixer to medium-low and add the melted chocolate, beating until well incorporated. Add the vanilla. Turn the mixer to low and add half the dry ingredients. Then add the quark, mix well, and add the rest of the dry ingredients. Beat until smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes.

In a copper or stainless-steel bowl, and using clean beaters, beat the egg whites at high speed. When frothy, add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue beating until the egg whites form stiff peaks, 5 to 6 minutes.

Using a large rubber spatula, fold about 1 cup of the chocolate mixture into the egg whites. Then gently fold that mixture back into the chocolate mixture, just until the egg whites are well incorporated. Do not overmix.

Distribute the batter evenly among the pans, and bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Do not overbake. Cakes are done when the tops are just beginning to crack and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs clinging to it. Let cool on a rack for about 15 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and let cool completely on a wire rack.

To assemble: Place the first layer on a serving plate and frost the top only. Place the second layer on top of the first and frost the top. Repeat with the top layer. Spread the remaining frosting along the sides until the cake is completely covered with frosting. Cut and enjoy!

Serves 12 to 15

Herbed Sugar Snap Peas with Goat Cheese

Sugar snap peas are one of nature's finest treasures. As the name implies, they are naturally sweet, and their texture is crunchy. Because of that combination, they meld effortlessly with the other ingredients in this dish. The "snap " counters the creamy goat cheese and the earthy tarragon contrasts perfectly with the vegetable's natural sugars.

Snap peas are available in the spring and fall and are especially good when they are just picked. If you can't find them, this dish works equally well and looks just as beautiful with fresh green beans. Simply cook the green beans about a minute or two longer than the snap peas.

2 pounds fresh sugar snap peas, stems and strings removed

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium shallots, finely chopped

3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves, plus additional sprigs for garnish

Salt and freshly ground pepper

12 ounces cherry tomatoes (about 1 1/2 cartons), cut in half lengthwise

1/2 pound fresh goat cheese, such as Redwood Hill, cut into small pieces (if the goat cheese is particularly creamy, spoon it onto the vegetables; or use fromage blanc)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the peas and cook until crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain, and run under cold water. Set aside.

In a large sauté pan, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are limp but not brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil and heat for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and add the tarragon and peas, stirring to coat the peas with the oil, shallots and tarragon. Add plenty of salt and pepper. Let cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

Arrange the pea mixture, tomatoes, and cheese on a serving plate; garnish with additional tarragon. Do not mix.

Serves 8 to 10.

Teleme, Squash, and Onion Galette

If the words "buttery" and "crunchy" conjure up positive food images for you, then this recipe is a can't-miss. A pastry dough rather than a pizza dough, a galette is a thin, free-form pastry that has plenty of butter and does not need to rise. This dough definitely makes for a rich dish, but it also creates a delicate, flaky crust for the cheese and vegetables. The Teleme really makes this dish, and I would highly recommend you go the extra mile to find it. If you can't, then use Monterey Jack, mozzarella, or a young Provolone. This entire recipe can be doubled easily. Or you can double just the dough recipe and keep half of it frozen for later use.


1 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon sugar

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1/4 cup ice water


1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced

1/4 pound yellow squash, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1/4 pound young Teleme cheese, coarsely grated (see Note)

1 tablespoon milk or cream

To make the dough: In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and sugar. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the chilled butter into the flour mixture just until the butter is the size of small gumballs.

Make a well in the middle of the dough. Pour a small amount of ice water into the center, and using a fork, bring some of the flour-butter mixture into the water. Continue until all of the water has been well incorporated. The mixture will be slightly crumbly, but it should hold together. If it doesn't, add more cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Press the dough into a ball and then flatten it into a disk about 5 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 24 hours. The dough can also be frozen.

To make the topping: Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Place a rack in the lower third of the oven. Do not place in the lowest slot or the bottom of the galette will burn before the topping is done.

In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and squash and sauté for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the thyme, salt, and pepper and continue to cook until the onions and squash are translucent but not brown, about 5 minutes. They should be slightly underdone. Remove from the heat and set aside.

To assemble: Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and on a well-floured surface or on a floured piece of parchment, roll it into a circle 8 to 9 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thick. Place the dough in a shallow baking or pizza pan. (Do not use a rimless baking sheet, or you'll likely end up with melted butter on your oven floor.) Spoon the onion-squash mixture onto the center of the dough, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Top with the cheese. Next, fold the 1 1/2 inch border of the galette toward the center to encase part of the filling, crimping the edges a little as you go. You should end up with a "window" of filling about 5 inches in diameter, with the crust overlapping the edges of the filling.

Brush the folded-over edges with the milk or cream. Bake until the border is golden and the cheese is bubbly and golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a first course, or 6 to 8 as an appetizer

Note: If the cheese is ripe and runny, then use spoonfuls of the cheese or instead use grated Monterey Jack, mozzarella, or a young Provolone.

Copyright © 2000 Laura Werlin

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