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Domaine de la Pépière Château-Thébaud Clos des Morines 2009 Muscadet Sur Lie with Valençay Affiné

It’s springtime, and you can just begin to smell it in the air as the damp ground warms up and the bulbs start pushing through. In the cheese world, there is similar rejoicing, because kidding season (when goats have their babies!) has just passed and the best of springtime chèvres are appearing in the cheese case. Paired with a mineral-driven white, these little goat cheeses make a perfect afternoon snack or appetizer to welcome in spring!

My favorite of all of the confection-like shapes in our goat case is the Valençay Affiné. This handsome, grey, truncated pyramid hails from the commune of Valençay, in the eastern part of France’s Loire valley. Valençay has a delicious, thick, ash-ripened rind over its creamy paste, and to top it all off, this cheese has quite a history! Legend has it that Napoleon, after a disappointing campaign in Egypt, took out his sword and whacked the top point of the pyramid off his cheese one evening, to make its shape less mocking.

The flavors are still there, even if the top point is not. The delicate ash coating underneath the rind slightly de-acidifies the cheese, setting up the minerally, chalky undertones in perfect contrast and highlighting a salty-earthy quality that the best chèvres often exhibit. That’s why I like the cheese so much with this standout bottle of Muscadet from Domaine de la Pépière, located at the opposite end of the Loire Valley.

Valençay Affiné

Valençay Affiné

This special cuvée of Muscadet from white wine superstar Marc Olivier is actually named for the town it’s from in the heart of Muscadet country, and for the soil it is grown on: “granite de  Château-Thébaud.” In a region overrun with mass-produced whites that are one-dimensional guzzlers, Marc Olivier is one of a handful of growers determined to showcase the pedigree of their local white grape: Melon de Bourgogne. This particular cuvée comes from a small hectare parcel of granite-rich soil. You can smell and feel all of that clean, stony minerality straight through the finish of this wine, which carries quite a bit of texture due to its extended time left sitting on the lees. Paired with a nibble of salty, creamy Valençay, its quiet apple orchard fruit notes open up beautifully, and its minerally finish clears the way for another tasty bite. Happy spring!

Jessica Smith is the Wine Buyer and a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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Carquinyolis Sant Quintí de Mediona

Carquinyolis Sant Quintí de Mediona

It’s easy to love Barcelona. Whenever Ihsan and I visit, we spend 90% of our time wandering from one tapas place to another. A little glass of cava and some sardines here, a fluffy golden tortilla Española there, clams as tiny as a fingernail smothered in garlic and wine, grilled octopus, fried rabbit ribs, platters of jamón. (more…)

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Xocolates Aynouse l'Artesà - Olive Oil and Candied Orange Peel Bars

Xocolates Aynouse l’Artesà – Olive Oil and Candied Orange Peel Bars

In February 2013, while Ihsan and I were visiting our friend Pere Planagumà (head chef at the restaurant Les Cols in Olot, Catalonia), we stopped in the ancient historic city of Girona for a food show and discovered chocolate maker Francisco Javier “Xavi” Rodriquez Perez. Actually, Xavi recognized us — he used to be the chocolatier for another Catalan chocolate company. It was a nice reunion seeing Xavi and to learn that he decided to open his own company Xocolates Aynouse l’Artesà in the town of Agramunt. (more…)

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Ekiola Sheep in the Pyrenees Mountains

Ekiola Sheep in the Pyrénées Mountains

A trip through the French Basque country is one of distinct sights, scents, and flavors. Rolling hills of green pastures are punctuated by craggy mountain peaks and deep valleys, and sheep are everywhere! When Ihsan, Valerie and I traveled through the area in the fall, we tasted a huge array of sheep milk cheeses and an assortment of intense but beautiful wines. Here, we’re featuring a few of our favorite tastes: Ardi Gasnas from Fromagerie Pardou and Ekiola, and a killer red wine from Domaine Ilarria of Irouléguy. Ardi Gasna (or gazna) is Basque for “sheep cheese,” and these smooth, rich sheep cheeses are a specialty in the Pyrénées mountains.

(more…)

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Flying into Paris

Flying into Paris

One of the great perks of working at Formaggio Kitchen is the opportunity to travel around the world in search of delicious foods. Ihsan and Valerie Gurdal, owners of the Formaggio Kitchen family of shops, feel strongly that being on the ground to meet with farmers, affineurs and food producers is the best way to find the most delicious goodies to stock our shelves and fill our cheese cases. That philosophy has yielded and continues to yield marvelously tasty results! (more…)

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Gilles Berlioz's "La Piquette" with Pantaleo and kumquats

Each winter, I chuckle when I hear myself describing 30 degree weather as “balmy,” while simultaneously shaking my head at the arctic outcrops of snow outside. With all the white snow setting everything in frigid, monochromatic contrast, I find myself craving shades of yellow and orange, and the warm spectrum of flavors that go along with them. A delicate, understated Savoie white from Gilles Berlioz, made of 100% Jacquère, is the perfect complement to one of my favorite aged Sardinian goat milk cheeses, Pantaleo. Coupled with some thin slices of exuberantly tart kumquats, I get all of the sunshine and fresh aromas I need to make it through the deep-freeze of winter. (more…)

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Fancy Food Show with Jamie Montgomery and Jason Hinds

L-R: Kyra, Julia, Jamie Montgomery, Jason Hinds and me

At this year’s Winter Fancy Food show in San Francisco, I and two of my colleagues at Formaggio Kitchen – Kyra and Julia – were treated to a special opportunity: to taste Montgomery’s cheddar guided by an expert from Neal’s Yard Dairy and the cheese maker himself, Jamie Montgomery. The folks from Neal’s Yard, with whom we have a particularly close relationship, visit our shop on a relatively frequent basis but this particular event was a rare opportunity as Jamie only makes it States-side once a decade. In general, he prefers staying down on his Somerset farm with his herd of 200 Friesian cows and aging wheels of clothbound cheddar, to standing in front of an eagerly-attentive audience. But with a characteristic English intonation the 3rd generation cheesemaker did not disappoint. Far from it. (more…)

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Crystallized Honey

Far from it! In fact, honeys that crystallize more easily tend to be the least processed.

Some people (like me) enjoy the texture of crystallized honey – it melts more slowly in the mouth and its more solid structure can make it easier to pair with cheese. I especially like crystallized, creamier honeys, like Lo Brusc Montagne or Ames Farms Buckwheat. In my experience, the crystals in these honeys are small and give their naturally creamy texture a little more body, perfect when spread on toast or just by the spoonful.

Of course, the truth is that not everyone wants sugar crystals in their honey, and the good news is that honey crystallization is easy to reverse. If you want to return your honey to a more liquid state, simply put the jar in a pot, filling the pot with water until it comes about half to three-quarters of the way up the side of the jar. Simmer for a few minutes, and you’ll notice that the crystals start to disappear, and the honey will return to its original, liquid state. (more…)

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5J Jamón Ibérico de Bellota

5J Jamón Ibérico de Bellota

With the whirlwind holiday season behind us, I find myself reflecting on my most delicious moments of 2013. Here at Formaggio Kitchen there are plenty to choose from. As someone who works mostly on the bakery and produce side of our Cambridge store, my highlight of the year was getting out of my usual routine to check out what is arguably the most sought after ham in the world – Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. (more…)

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A Representative Selection of Our Top 10 for 2013

At the end of each year, staff members at all three of our shops – in Cambridge, the South End of Boston and in New York – fill out a staff survey. We reflect on what we have tasted over the course of the past year – moments where we were surprised (both pleasantly and unpleasantly), new and exciting food experiences, as well as the flavors we found ourselves returning to time and again. We pick our favorites and share memorable moments. Some tried-and-true items appear in our survey results year after year – other items are new and exciting finds from the current year – goodies in this instance that distinguished 2013 from all others. Here are our top ten picks culled from this year’s survey results! (more…)

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