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The Allure of Artisan Cheese

The Allure of Artisan Cheese

Did you know that the average American eats more than 30 pounds of cheese annually? With the abundance of locally-produced as well as imported artisan cheeses, is it any wonder?

Luckily for cheese-lovers, the U.S. is experiencing a rising trend in small, family-owned farms producing artisanal cheeses that wow the tastebuds and pique the interests of even the most accomplished cheese connoisseurs.

In fact, many American-made artisanal cheeses rival those imported from France, Italy and Spain and are coveted in restaurants and grocers across the country.

But what makes a cheese artisanal? Simply put, it's any cheese that has been hand-made in small quantities according to long-standing techniques, recipes and traditions. Artisan cheeses are usually marketed as specialty cheeses and they come in a variety of flavors and forms.

Farmstead cheese is another kind of artisan cheese that is produced on a farm using only the milk from the farms' dairy-producing animals.

If you've ever shopped for artisan or specialty cheeses, you may have noticed a wide variety of prices. There's a good reason for this. Just like any handmade product, artisan cheeses require special ingredients, equipment and training.

To the artisans, the cheeses they produce are like artwork. Furthermore, there are a number of expenses associated with the art of cheese making you might not be aware of, including fuel, licensing, equipment maintenance, veterinary care for the animals and so on.

If you're unfamiliar with artisan cheese, you might wonder if it's worth the money. Take our advice: it is! Spend some time exploring the specialty cheese section of your local market or try a cheese plate the next time you go out to eat. Artisanal cheeses are unlike anything you've ever tasted, and you're sure to develop a number of favorites over time.

  • Ingredients:
  • 6 portobello mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 6 ounces crumbled blue cheese
  • 6 soft sandwich rolls

Preparation:
Brush any dirt from the mushroom caps, remove the stems and reserve them for another use.

Place the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the vinegar is reduced by half, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Use about half of the reduction to brush the tops of the mushrooms, then set them aside while you sauté the onions.

Separate the onions into rounds. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar.

Sauté until the onions are soft, translucent and beginning to brown, 5 to 7 minutes.

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to a medium temperature (about 400°F). Oil the grates, add the mushrooms, gill side up, grill for 3 minutes, then turn them over, brush with the rest of the balsamic reduction and grill until tender, about 3 minutes longer. Top each mushroom with a portion of blue cheese and cook just until the cheese begins to melt, 1 minute more.

To serve, place a portion of onions on the bottom of each bun, add a cheese-topped portobello and serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings

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