cheese plate san francisco

cheesy and loving it

Cella: New from Mozzerella Company

At this year’s Fancy Food Show, I had the pleasure to meet an early cheese pioneer, Paula Lambert founder of Mozzarella Company. When Ms. Lambert first started making fresh mozzarella she wanted her customers to be able to immediately identify what she was making. But as her creamery grew so did the cheese line up and am I happy it did! Cella is worth hunting down.

i can’t keep my hands off this beauty!
Image courtesy of Mozzarella Company

 

Cella is a small format (5 oz rounds) goat and cow milk blend that is wrapped in lemongrass leaves and left to age 2 – 4 weeks and sometimes a few months. I was surprised by the age because the lemony flavor was very fresh and bright that complimented the goat milk’s natural tang. I could swear I was eating lemon curd. Its moist, fluffy texture makes this cheese a delightful addition to any spring tea party.

I’m not the only one that is head over heels in love with this cheese which won 3rd place at the 2012 American Cheese Society.

It’s no surprise that Ms. Lambert hit this one out of the park as she is well practiced in wrapping small format cheeses like her award winning Hoja Santa (another favorite of mine). This little gem is made from goat milk and wrapped in hoja santa leaves that gives the cheese a slightly minty, smokey quality that pairs very nicely with BBQ, potato salad and a beautiful day in the sun!

so seductive and tantalizing!
Image courtesy of Mozzarella Company

 

Mozzarella company is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. So I will be raising a crisp glass of rose with these goaty lovelies and toasting to Ms. Lambert’s continuing success!

 

~ let the goat times roll ~

Boudin Bakery: The Great with Bacon Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Boudin Bakery
Macy’s Union SquareBakery & Cafe
251 Geary St., San Francisco, CA 94102 (Cellar)
415-296-4740

It was ridiculously gorgeous the other day so I went for a city stroll: farmer’s market, union square, etc. when I got snack-y. I stopped by Macy’s food court for a bit of air conditioning and a quick snack at Boudin Bakery.

They are probably best known for their sourdough and more specifically the clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl so I figured that their grilled cheese would be good since they would be using that the same tangy sourdough bread but crusting it up with some parmesan, right?!?!  (note: not parmigiano reggianno… but parmesan. This should have been my first clue but I was so hungry).

 

Boudin’s grilled cheese menu

 

It looks like they take their grilled sandwiches pretty seriously; lots of variations and toppings. I tried The Great with Bacon ($7.99). It sounded straightforward and simple – just how I like my sandwiches.

 

not so great, Great with Bacon

 

Although it looks decent, I was not impressed. The bread was greasy and burnt in places. There was not enough cheese to stand up to the bacon. and it took at least 15 minutes for the kitchen to spit this sucker out. I was expecting a much higher quality sandwich.

The only redeeming things in this sandwich was the bread and bacon. The sourdough had a distinctive chewy, tanginess that complimented the cheddar cheese. Though there was very little cheddar cheese flavor in general. The bacon was cooked very well. Boudin should just replace this sandwich with a simple BLT.

Next time I get a craving for a grilled cheese sandwich in Union Square, I will definitely pass on this one. I sincerely hope that Boudin’s other locations either make this sandwich better or charge waaaay less.

Stick to the clam chowder everyone, stick to the clam chowder.

~ warning: not cheese appropriate ~

Topping Tony’s Big Balls

Coming out of hibernation is no easy thing but I was lured out by SF Weekly’s stunning shot of this gorgeous meatball topped with burratta from Tony’s Pizza Napoletana.

holy balls, batman!

Only 25 of these bad boys are made each day so I made sure to get there early on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. Luckily there was only a short wait that flew by with a couple of prosecco cocktails!

The meatball ($13) had a nice course texture in a lovely marinara that was not too tangy with just a touch of sweetness (I ate all of that sauce with bread afterwards!). I do think that the meatball was under seasoned and begged for a bit more salt.

As advertised, it was topped with burrata.

Burrata (pronounced bur-RAW-tah), it is a thin pouch of mozzarella encasing a creamy mixture. Most often this filling is stracciatella (“little rags” of mozzarella) and cream. But my favorite is a ricotta or mascarpone and mozzarella filling. Often times fresh and light cheeses like this are served too cold but letting this gem come up to full room temperature allows the creaminess to come forward and you can appreciate the milky freshness and delicate decadence. For all of the oozing, burrata is not a heavy cheese and makes a delightful appetizer especially topped with a grassy olive oil and salt (the flakier the better).

Now I don’t know if it’s my cheese headed-ness but I really felt that there was not enough burrata (as if there *could* be enough burrata!) to balance the richness of the meatball and sauce. After 2 – 3 bites the cheese was gone… so sad. The meatball was good but I think more burrata would have made it great.

Good thing I was with a cheese buddy and we ordered another meatball with a mushroom robiola sauce ($15) poured over the gigantic meatball tableside.

robiola magic

I would swim in an ocean of this stuff…

Robiolas are an extremely varied cheese catagory. They can be made with cow, goat or sheep milk or a mixture of all milk. In their young phase, the paste sings with a bright, sour tangy-ness and creamy texture. I prefer mixed milks robiolas as they tend to have more character and hefty body.

I’m not sure what kind of robiola was used in this dish but it was AMAZING! I mean, stop in your tracks wonderful. I feel this is the star of the meatball menu. The mushrooms were the perfect bridge between meat and cheese – accentuating both. Most importantly for me, there was enough of both sauces so each bite got an equal tomato and cheese kick. Ah divine….

With all of the meatball action I had no room to try the pizzas Tony’s is known for but here are a few snapshoots to make you drool…

these pizza makers move so quickly during service – pretty amazing!

~ will work for cheese ~

Tillamook Happy our at The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen is BACK!

Ok I know it’s been forever and a day since I last posted… I was busy trying to burn off those mac ‘n cheese calories!!!!

I do come back bearing some delicious news -  the Tillamook Happy Hour at The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen (1 South Park Street  San Francisco, CA 94107) is BACK in action tomorrow Wednesday August 22 from 5 – 8 pm. I missed it last time and I’m really busy tomorrow but I’m going to try to roll my crazy cheese wheels down to this event!!!

Here are the meltingly gooey details:

  • $3 Tillamook Grilled Cheese – ‘Tillamook Classic Grilled Cheese’ (regularly $6) made with award-winning Tillamook Sharp Cheddar and Monterey Jack
  • Drink specials – Local craft beers ($5, Pitchers $19), California wine ($8), Sangria ($4, Pitchers $15)
  • Toppings - Fresh jalapenos, applewood-smoked bacon, seasoned roasted tomatoes, cured ham, housemade pickles, smoked turkey
  • Once in a lifetime opportunity (sort of!) - The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen is closed in the evenings (unless there is a Giants game) and does not offer happy hour regularly, so take advantage of this delicious opportunity

See you there!

For more info check out my past reviews of the grilled cheese sandwiches and mac ‘n cheese.

~ cheese for life! ~

Quick Bites: Cottage Cheese Brown Rice Kugel

How does a Vietnamese girl end up making a kugel* variant?! Well it all starts with an unnatural binge on cottage cheese and a desperate craving for something sweet.

I’ve been mowing through quarts and quarts of cottage cheese. I normally have cottage cheese with a salt and tons of pepper on potatoes, with crackers, in tuna salad, etc. But I was getting slightly bored with those applications so I went to my food sites to see how other people were spicing up their cottage cheese.

Over and over again I saw people putting sugar/Splenda and cinnamon on their cottage cheese. At first I was a bit repelled but as the idea simmered in the back of my brain… it started to sound… not *too* bad.

And after tasting it, it really reminded me of maple syrup & brown sugar oatmeal! So this has become a great quickie breakfast treat for the winter for me.

*I know this is not a real kugel. I’m pretty sure this is no where close to a real kugel. I realize this is a kugel about 5 times removed from kugels. But I just like saying and writing the word kugel – it’s fun, you should try it!

Cottage Cheese Borwn rice Kugel - weird but pretty damn good!

Brown Rice Kugel

1/2 cup cooked brown rice (I cook min with a little bit of butter and salt)

1/4 cup cottage cheese

1 – 2 tsp sugar (more or less to taste but I like mine sweet)

1 tsp cinnamon (you really can’t use too much of this)

Layer ingredients with brown rice on the bottom, cottage cheese, sugar and fianlly with cinnamon on top. Mix or not – just dig in and enjoy.

In the comments section, let me know how you eat your cottage cheese!

~it’s always good with cheese~

Mac ‘n Cheese Monday: Andalu (SF)

Andalu

3198 16th St San Francisco, CA 94103 (415) 621-2211

Andalu actually was the first stop on our Mac and Cheese Crawl. At 6 pm the restaurant was still pretty empty andit was easy to grab a seat at the bar and enjoy a sparkling rose wine while I waited for our Cheese Crawler group to arrive.

I had heard from my Mr. J that the mac and cheese was quite good. And he was not wrong.

Crispy Mac and Cheese with Herb Tomato Vinaigrette  ($7.50)

crispy creamy

This is a battered, breaded deep fried mac and cheese version. And believe me it is tasty. The cheese is heavily cheddar flavored. Anything lighter would be eclipsed by the heavy breading. It is served with a slightly spicy, thin marinara sauce. I’m not sure if this was really a “vinaigrette” there was a healthy dose of vinegar but I had assumed it was Tabasco. The tomato in the sauce was very apparent and the acidity was a nice counter point to the cheese.

The tender interior was balanced by the heavy crunch from the outside. The salt was just right. I don’t really know what the basil was all about. Though I think some herbs on the inside would have been nice.

This is a nice way to start off any happy hour.

~crispy, crunchy, cheese-y, what is there not to love~

Mac & Cheese Monday: Sauce (SF)

Sauce

131 Gough St San Francisco, CA 94102 (415) 252-1369

Sauce was also part of the mac & cheese crawl i put together for my friends. I was looking forward to to trying Sauce partly because of the innovative cocktails they are known for but also because I heard their mac and cheese was really good.

Sauce Mac & Cheese

This was a very healthy portion in the “Social Plates” portion of the menu. And you better be social and have at least 4 other friends helping you with this sucker. On the menu it is listed as ” Baked Mac & Cheese Four Cheese Sauce, Ham Hock, Herbs with Chunks of Tillamook Cheddar & Gruyere Crust” ($10). On my receipt it says “Mini Mac” – I really don’t want to see a “Big Mac” from these guys – I’d be scared.

The cheese sauce was fantastic. Creamy, rich, not a hint of lumpiness or graininess. According to Chef Ben Paula, the sauce starts with half cream and half milk. He then piles in mozzarella, provolone, P.R., and asiago.  To that sauce, Chef adds fresh pasta shells from The Pasta Shop, ham hock, green onion, and parsley.  Once that comes together the mini casserole dish gets topped with chunks of Tillamook cheddar and a slice of Gruyere and some butter and herb bread crumbs.  Then into the broiler to brown and a quick shot in the oven to melt the Tillamook and give everything a chance to set it. Phew – thanks for all the hard work Chef Ben Paula!

The Gruyere definitely added a slight earthiness which helped to balance the richness and abundance of the sauce. The crunch was nice too. The herbs really lightened up the sauce and added a depth of flavor that is often missing in “classic” mac and cheeses.

the creamy goodness overflows

The noodles were shells – the small kind and cooked just past al dente – perfecto! Again, I love shells because they can hold a tiny pool of delicious sauce that bursts onto your palate as you chew – quite lovely.

There were little bits of ham mixed throughout that gave a nice chew and heft to the dish. This is definitely in my top 3 mac and cheeses in San Francisco.

~cheese, what a sweet temptress you are!

Mac ‘n Cheese Monday: Sacred Wheel (Oakland, CA)

Sacred Wheel Cheese Shop

4935 Shattuck Avenue Oakland, CA 94609 (510) 653-1353

I love this cheese shop; it’s small and still trying to find it’s cheese feet but the passion that owner Jenna Davidson Hood puts into every aspect of the store and food just pulls me all the way across the bridge and into her store.

I’ve been chasing this mac and cheese ($2) for a while now. First time they ran out; second time I came on the one day they were closed. But this time, I Facebook’ed them ahead of time to make sure a piece was available and saved for me. And was it worth the wait.

It comes out all unassuming – see:

Sacred Wheel Seared Mac and Cheese

Oh and that little side thing… it’s an amazing housemade Sweet Cock Sauce. It’s not my name, that’s what they call it. Or maybe I started calling it that maybe it was really “Sweet Rooster Sauce”. Not sure, don’t care – it’s liquid gold; use it on everything!

So this may look a little boring but take a look at what happens after I tip it out of the bowl and finish it to my liking with the Sweet Cock Sauce and a dusting of parm cheese.

ooo la la - looks so good; tastes even better

Oh my goodness. This mac and cheese is incredible. Each noodle was hiding a squirt of cheese sauce. It was the perfect level of creaminess with a very apparent cheese flavor – though mild and smooth. Jena used Tillamook cheddar, Sierra Nevada Cream Cheese, P.R. (Parmigiano-Reggianno)  for sure – I think she also threw in a couple of other cheeses too. The cheese selection for this dish rotates every batch depending  what Jena has on hand and what tickles her fancy! I was too busy licking out the container of sauce to write down the cheese combo for this batch – seriously the sauce is that good.

The noodles were not al dente nor were they mushy – perfectly done mid way between those two points. Their was enough sauce to make things moist but not enough to make the mac and cheese square  fall apart – again perfect. The seared crusts on top and bottom take on a nutty and crisp cracker quality probably due to the hefty amounts of P.R.! Sooooo goooood.

The only downside is that I should have gotten 2 squares. This is a total deal. The ONLY comment I have to make is that a little black pepper mixed in with the cheeses would have made everything pop even more. Ah, screw it put more Sweet Cock sauce on it!!!!! That will be the new answer to everything.

~ah cheese, you feel so good in my tummy~

Mac ‘n Cheese Monday: Luna Park (SF)

Luna Park

694 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 (415) 553-8584

My friends and I visited Luna Park during an epic attempt to have 6 mac & cheeses at 6 different restaurants – we failed; only made it to 3 places. I could have kept going but my compatriots where getting that weird cheese high and they were losing their grip on reality. I guess my cheese tolerance is higher than the average bear.

Luna Park is a very popular spot and was pretty busy by the time we got there on a Friday night at around 7 pm. It got even busier after we were seated in the outside area (no alcohol allowed). We were on a mission and quickly ordered the Oven Baked Mac & Cheese with Broccoli ($14.50) and add Applewood Smoked Ham ($15.50).

This is pretty pricey but once the plate hit the table, we saw why:

look at those creamy shells!

This thing is HUGE! Each shell is the length of my pinky finger and at least an inch thick. The shells were nicely cooked and supported the dish’s heft nicely. The upside of having such a big shell is that it captured a ton of  creamy sauce.

The sauce was super creamy, not too thick and not too thin with a nice pronounced cheese flavor – lots of cheddar and I think there was some Parmigiano-Reggianno too. (****Update: according to Chef  Nick Cobarruvias, he uses Cheddar, Gruyere, Parmesan, Cream Cheese, and Fontina) I was very happy that the sauce did not dry out during the oven baking. It did however take on a slight bit of graininess. I was the only one that noticed it off the bat so it was only very slight.

The biggest downside of this mac & cheese was the add-ons. The broccoli was entirely overcooked and the ham was super salty. Each of us only had about 2 scoops of the mac and cheese and that was enough because of the salt level.

But the big upside was that Luna Park is participating in Scoutmob‘s deal site. There are no coupon’s to print – just show your phone to your server. In this case the offer was for 50% food and drinks. So our $15.50 mac & cheese, arnold palmer, and soda turned out to be $10!!!!! SUPER DEAL! We left a total of $20 and were all happy campers. I guess the bottom line is that I think this mac and cheese is overpriced – I would be very happy to pay around $7 – $9 for it at this level of execution.

~cheese, you taunt me so~

Mac ‘n Cheese Monday: Hotel Utah (SF)

Hotel Utah Saloon

500 4th St San Francisco, CA 94107 (415) 546-630

I have seen the Utah a million times as it’s directly off the 101N freeway Fourth Street exit. But I’ve never gone into it. That changed when I met a regular from the Utah and we started talking about the menu and the wonderful mac and cheese. He warned me though that the dish will vary on who is in the kitchen that day.

Luckily on my visit another regular said that I was in luck and the “good chef” was on duty!  So I ordered the mac and cheese with bacon and a hot dog. I know, I know, “AGH HOT DOGS ARE GROSSS” some of you may say. But there is just something too nostalgic about mac and cheese with cut up weiners for me to swear it off – my inner child wins this one.

back to basics - mac & cheese with hot dogs and bacon

This picture makes the portion size look small but it’s not. There’s a whole lot of mac and cheese in that cup. The basic mac and cheese is $9 and comes with a side salad. My order came out to be $12 but I also ordered a big club soda. So I’m not sure what the up charge for the add ons is. I’m assuming the club soda was $2, so the hot dogs and bacon were $1 extra; which is a pretty good deal considering how much they put in.

I liked the extra touch  the put on the hot dogs by frying them up to create some charred bits around the edges. So good.

The noodles were hefty and perfectly cooked to a hair over al dente. They had a firm but not hard center. The noodles needed the structure to hold up to the cheese sauce.

The sauce was delightful! Creamy, fully loaded with different cheeses, and lots of it covering the noodles and the meats. This is probably one of the first times I could taste and really see the role different cheeses played in the sauce. They use provolone, cheddar, and some Parmigiano-Reggiano. The sauce had a depth of flavor that was really amazing. The provolone gave the sauce an amazing stringing ability (sorry for the blurriness of the picture below, I was doing this one handed and dying to dig in).

this is the string cheese I like :)

The side salad wasn’t anything special and I would have like some more crunch to it. But it’s a nice touch and the acidity of the dressing gave my palate a needed break from the richness of the cream sauce.

This is an excellent mac & cheese and I would definitely come back for it. This is very high on the top of my list and probably is the finest example of a basic mac and cheese that I have tried so far. Oh and as an added bonus, the prices include sales tax; so what you see is what you get! That kind of sums up the Utah in a nutshell.

~ cheese power, it is strong ~