Keepin’ it Wheel

Check that off the bucket list – cracking open a 90lb 2-year old wheel of heavenly Parmigiano Reggiano.

Thanks to the Specialty Team (especially Marketing Director Luke Cavener) at Whole Foods in Boise for making a foodie dream I didn’t even realize I had come true this weekend! The culinary gods were smiling when I got the early-morning call about participating in WFM’s annual Keepin’ It Wheel Annual Parmigiano Reggiano Crack. Heck – there’s even a T-shirt to commemorate the day.

Meet Cheesemonger Scottie (aka guy with quite possibly the coolest job ever.) I’ve met Scottie before when pondering how to put together the best charcuterie and cheese plate ever. Needless to say, there are many ways to accomplish that – and he’s more than happy to guide you to the best goat, sheep or cow’s milk cheese for the occasion. He was my cheese consigliere for the afternoon. See those tools atop the wheel? Those are the only things used to break this bad boy apart. Fittingly, the pointiest one is called a stiletto.

Like with their wine, Italians take their cheese seriously. Very seriously. Learning about the lineage and certification of true Parmigiano Reggiano reminded me of getting schooled on Chianti & Chianti Classico. It’s a protected designation of origin and under Italian law, only cheese produced in the provinces of  Parma, Reggio Emilia, and parts of Bologna, Modena, and Mantova can carry the mark of authenticity and be known as Parmigiano Reggiano. The markings on the side detail where it came from (the caseficio or cheese house) and when it was ‘born’ so to speak. This one had been waiting for its moment for two years. Per the WFM missive on these wheels, “the pin dots guarantee that the cheese was made under regulation of the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano, conforming to its stringent standards of quality.”

(By the way, you may get high-fived to the face if you call this ‘shaker can Parmesan’. Scottie made that clear. The disdain, not the threat of violence.)  While Whole Foods made this a big day of celebration across the country – with dozens (hundreds?) of people getting a crack at cracking the wheel, it’s a common occurrence for the cheesmongers. Scottie said Whole Foods is the biggest global importer of these wheels, and he cracks one a week. He’s been doing this for ten years. Yeah, 520 wheels at least.

This would be my one and only opportunity to use the tools and techniques relied on for 900 years. Why argue with history (or Italians)?  As the photos below show, you start by scoring the rind with the tool with the hooked end. After that, the stiletto comes into play as you plunge it into the scored lines at several key points. It only takes a few insertions and maneuvering of the blade for the crack. And the aroma that comes out is amazing.
(Here’s video of Scottie making it look easy)Cracking the wheel once, twice, and then in half and smaller chunks and wedges, instead of straight cutting it from the start, means that you preserve those craggily crystal-like edges and texture. The longer the cheese ages, the more of that crystal crunch there is. And I won’t be biting into those crystal bits anytime soon without remembering my turn at the wheel.

That’s the thing about the hands-on culinary experience. It brings an appreciation for the heritage and craft behind the food that you may have taken for granted before. It remains with you after the taste of savoring the food has passed.

Thanks to Scottie for making me look like I knew what I was doing, and for sharing his favorite way to serve the delicious Parmigiano Reggiano  - a nice wedge with honey drizzled over it, rustic and ready for guests to dig into.


- The Parm Princess (moniker courtesy Michael Gilbert :)

(Photos of the cracking in action courtesy Whole Foods Market Boise)

Put A Bird On It @ the Bleu’

Gotta love when the official food reviewers give a forks up to one of your new favorites.

The Statesman’s recent Dining Out writeup went off with the alliteration on the buzzworthy Bleubird - and it was not without reason.

This. Place. Is. A. Gem.

And you have to support those gems that take the leap and set up shop in Boise.

I was a tad bit eager to try out Bleubird after weeks of stalking its under-construction locale on 10th & Bannock. So the first night it was open my partner-in-crime & I hussled over for some happy hour charcuterie and cheese.


I’m admittedly a sucker for aesthetics – and the interior was just a quaint and hip and casual as I had hoped. Put a bird on it and give me a board of meat please.


Plus, you gotta love a foodie-loving couple (Sarah Kornfield & Dave Kelly|photo courtesy Bleubird) putting their heart and soul into their enterprise and working side-by-side all day to make it happen. Per their website, Sarah’s favorite cheese is St. Agur, Dave’s is Drunken goat (a man after my own heart!)


Dave was a great host, walking us through the cheese & charcuterie board we picked. For two hungry charcute-fantatics it was more than enough to satisfy.

I returned a few weeks later for a girl’s post-work night and again was enamored with the accoutrements and options (and am now obsessed with this mini-cleaver.)


Once the CCDC upgrades to the sidewalks on 10th are complete it will be a perfect patio-sittin-cheese-nibblin spot. (Two small requests – more local wine on the menu and weekend hours in the future :-)


I haven’t had the chance to make it over for lunch – but I have drooled a bit just staring at the chalkboard of options. Grilled cheese with aged cheedar, provolone, fig jam and garlic butter? Hells yea!

It’s a foodie hole in my life I’ll be filling soon with a jaunt over to Bannock to fight the crowds for a slice of cheesy-delights over the lunch hour. Bring on the Bleu!



Favorite Mangia Moments: Idaho Foodie in Argentina

Two weeks back from a 6-week trip of a lifetime in Argentina, and my stomach is still in recovery. From eating two large meals a day, from spending a minimum of two hours at lunch and three at dinner, from courses that were meals in themselves, from meat and cheese and pasta…oh my!

I have a slew of foodie photos and memories in my tummy and soul – here is a somewhat random collection of favorite plates and mangia  moments and mangia.

First course: First things first, the lovely tradition of pre-eating as I fondly referred to it – the antipasto platters that rivaled what my NYC Italian relatives served. Cured and raw and smoked meats of every shape and size – from both carne & cerdo (favorites included chorizo, chorizo colorado, morcilla and cheese of course




Empanadas: And the half-moon morsels of awesomeness (aka empanadas) So common in every part of Argentina where we visited, but so memorable. Until I return to Argentina, I’ll have to get my fill at Tango’s Empanadas in Boise


Pasta: What many people who haven’t been to Argentina may find surprising is the large Italian influence on the culture – particularly the food. It was my favorite surprise of the trip as I indulged (ahem, binged) on every piece of pasta put before me. The majority of it fresh. And there is nothing like fresh pasta. I had the wonderful opportunity to visit one of the Fabrica de Pastas that are prevalent in every town. A simple, but spectacular, plate of homemade spaghetti at the lovely Gringo Viejo was my favorite pasta moment. Other favorites were raviolis, their bigger cousins sorrentinos, cannelonis and of course – gnocchis. Heck, there is even a Gnocchi day EVERY MONTH in Argentina -  Dia de Ñoquis . << cue sigh of happiness>>





Carrots: Have to admit, we didn’t consume a lot of vegetables while in Argentina. Though by far the most popular vegetables we were served were Argula salad and carrots – shredded carrots to be specific ( Ensalada de Zanahoria) with hard-boiled eggs, with vinegar, with beets, or just plain. I’m now a fan.



Milanesa: Definitely my new obsession. Argentina kick’s America’s butt in the breaded steak category. These baked breadedcuts of meat (veal & otherwise) are the Italianized version of our chicken fried steak. But oh so much more delicious. Most homes we stayed in served it up at lunch at least once, then leftovers in sandwiches were equally mouthwatering. Slathered in cheese, with jamon and tomatoes. Delish





Dulce: The sweets, oh my the sweets. While ‘dulce de leche’ is the official mascot of Argentina – my heart belongs to their helado. Best. Damn. Ice Cream. In. The. World. Creamy and full of flavor, and offering of course 15 different types of dulce-flavored goodness. Every town had helado shops on nearly every block. AND you could get kilos delivered to your house by moto. Heaven. Of course, pastries filled with membrillo (quince paste) and alfajores were amazing as well. Dulce addictions galore.




Build Your Own Grilled Cheese Night


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New Go-To Comfort Food

Pan-fried pumpkin gnocchi sauteed in olive oil with Ballard Farm’s Halloumi Cheese and fresh garden basil.


Sourced: Downtown Boise La Cantina Italian Market, Capital City Farmer’s Market Ballard booth, back patio herb garden.


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10 Things to Do with Mac ‘n’ Cheese Before You Die


No, mac n’ cheese isn’t the new bacon Huffington Post! Mac n cheese was the original bacon. Mac n cheese is the reason why we can share our gluttonous love of the glory of bacon without shame.

I will add the mac n cheese mashups to my foodie bucket list (already checked off Foie Gras tasting, mac n cheese sushi sounds good in comparison)

Say “Cheese” via Boise Weekly


Great to the point writeup on making Farmer’s Cheese. I have rennet tablets for making my homemade mozzarella – but am tempted to try white vinegar this weekend and whip up a batch of this.

Overcoming my fear of souffle

“The only thing that will make a souffl?? fall is if it knows you are afraid of it.”  - James Beard 

Oh James, you insightful chef!

Yes – fear of complicated recipes and the dreadful ‘falling’ has kept me far away from souffl??s until recently. But then, that temptress Alexandra Guarnaschelli had to share her ‘Best-Ever Cheese Souffle‘ in Food & Wine and lure me in.

Plus – I got to buy a new piece of dish-ware (the 1 1/2 quart souffl?? dish) AND whip out the tiny whisk.  
Now typically, I don’t usually screw up and freak out over a recipe until the end. But maybe my fear of the souffl?? somehow was conducted through my tiny whisk during Step 2. Essentially – whisking heavy cream into a roux. Now, I really doubt that this step where I am thickening the base is supposed to look like this. 
Yeah, really looked more like the curd stage of making mozzarella cheese. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why my butter was separating again. Looking back it could be because I used heavy whipping cream instead of heavy cream. But who knows. Instead of ditching it I pushed forward.
For all the kitchen gadgets I purchase I love the fact that I still have this mixer my parents owned. Super 70′s but does the trick. 

This is the stage where Cream of Tartar starts doing it’s magic. Had a long discussion about where Cream of Tartar originates (yet another fantastic byproduct from the fermentation of grapes). After I got over my fear of the freaky curd looking mixture, made some wonderful firm peaks of egg whites and did a lot of mixture folding it was  into the oven with a prayer.
And maybe it is an old wives’ tale – but for the next 35 minutes I tiptoed around the house thinking loud noises would make the souffl??s fall.
But despite jumping dogs, slamming doors and lots of pacing back and forth in front of the double oven…
VOILA! It emerges as a golden delicious mound of goodness!


And I have to say – IT IS FOODGASMIC! 

Seriously, a fantastic dish. If I was in charge of that one Food Network show it would make the list of ‘Best Thing I Ever Ate: Cheese Version’

Maybe it was the gruyere – because that is one heck of a good melted cheese. Or, the combination of cajun pepper and dijon mustard that gave just the right amount of bite.

Either way – don’t fear the souffl?? – embrace its light fluffy deliciousness that makes eating something rich completely acceptable.

Next up for my souffl?? sojourn? Attempting to recreate Red Feather’s fantastic Oatmeal Souffl??

My Enduring Queso Obsession

I recently journeyed back to the Hill Country of Texas for work, and satisfied my 12+year craving for that cheesy-deliciousness known as queso with a foodie pilgrimage to one of my all-time favorite 24-hour pit stops – Austin’s Magnolia Cafe.


And then I proceeded to shun all table manners by inhaling my first Mag Mud queso since I had the awesome ‘Jennifer Friend’s haircut’ in the late 90′s.


While the successful foodie pilgrimage satisfied me for about – oh, 3 hours – the new online search began for a way to satisfy my ongoing queso urge back here in Boise. Despite my searching & craving, I haven’t been able to find any good queso in Idaho. And heck, it’s football season! Football + Fall = Queso.

And Velveeta will not cut it.

Found some hope and inspiration courtesy HomesickTexan Lisa with her post A More Natural Chile con Queso Of course – roux is the answer to anything! (and also is the base to my family’s mac n’ cheese). So that’s on the list for Sunday game day.

And I have hope for the work & hunger leading up to this year’s Thanksgiving meal, thanks to Melissa Clark’s Good Appetite post ‘Dips to Sustain the Holiday Cook till Thanksgiving Dinner.’ It even has a bit of an Idaho angle – with inclusion of delicious chorizo as a key ingredient to this soon-to-be holiday staple Queso Fundido with chorizo, jalapeno & cilantro.


Best mac n cheese in the West

I am going to share a little secret.

Like some anglers who share the location of their favorite fishing holes or dippers who share their secret hot springs spots – when I make an awesome foodie find I like to share the love.

Best mac n cheese in the Western US in my esteemed opinion :-) is at Como’s Corner Bistro on SE 1st and SE Court in downtown Pendleton, Oregon.


Como’s Gourmet Macaroni and Cheese: Cavatappi pasta baked with mozzarella , feta, gorgonzola, and parmesan cheeses, spinach, onions and artichokes. Must be the combo of cheeses or the spiral pasta or the added herbs but this stuff is one of the few meals I dream about days ahead of time.

Now, I eat a LOT of mac n cheese – it’s my thing, so to speak. If restaurants put it on the menu – let alone call it gourmet – I feel it’s my duty to give it a try.

We first stumbled on Como’s 7 years ago en route from Boise to Portland or Seattle or Spokane. In other words – Pendleton is on the way to quite a few places. I also had an Italian great uncle named Como back in Queens so it had the family thing going.

It’s now become a stop for us on every roadtrip we take West of Boise. Besides the fantastical cheesy goodness that is their M&C, the tiny bistro also has some seriously good Italian dishes made from scratch – EVERYTHING is delicious. I only know because Kevin tries out the other entrees like spinach ravioli in cream sauce with spicy Italian sausage, while I enhale M&C.

Make it a stop on your next journey West on I84!

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