Friday, November 30, 2007
With its rich soil, rolling hills and temperate climate, northern California has given rise to extraordinary winemakers, organic farmers, ranchers and stellar artisan cheesemakers. In many cases, this abundance extends beyond the boutique groceries of the region to find a welcome place on shelves in metropolitan areas across the nation. But many of our region’s wonderful products do not travel to the far reaches of our world and I fully realize how very lucky I am to have this incredible wealth of talent and dedication available to me just steps away in my neighborhood.
One such local producer is Soyoung Scanlan, cheesemaker extraordinaire of Andante Dairy. I met Soyoung while I was working in the pastry kitchen of a fine dining restaurant a few years ago. She was our cheesemonger and I had the great fortune of being on the receiving end of her finely crafted delectable cheese. She crafts only small batches and every piece is exquisite. Her care and close attention to production and affinage are evident in every bite. Also an accomplished musician, Soyoung names each of her cheeses in keeping with her musical inclinations. If you live in the Bay Area or are ever in the region, please take the time to seek out Andante cheese. Although most of her cheeses go to the region’s finest restaurants, the French Laundry among them, they are available at the Saturday San Francisco Farmer’s Market and at our local Whole Foods.
In contrast to the region's emerging artisans, I pair Soyoung’s amazing cheese with one of the world’s oldest gifts from nature, Medjool dates. Dating back to 5th Century Egypt, dates were transported by the Moors to Spain and thrived throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Medjool plantings originating from Morocco and Jordan are now cultivated in the Coachella Valley of California. Medjools are considered the largest, plumpest and most prized of all the varieties and should be readily available in your area.
Andante’s Minuet is a soft-ripened goat’s milk triple crème made by adding crème fraîche to the curds. Mélange is a fabulous blend of goat’s milk and cow’s milk that results in a beautiful tanginess and richness made in the style of the best brie. It has a light luscious texture combined with a nice acidic bite, which pairs perfectly with all of the wonderful elements found in a recipe for Roasted Dates with Sherry and Spices from The Last Course by Claudia Fleming. It’s an astonishing combination of old world and new world that will leave you happy for having found these abundant pleasures.
If you are unable to locate Andante cheese to serve with these dates, there are so very many other great choices. I would recommend just about anything, from a tangy goat to a gooey brie, a nutty gruyere, a tomme or a grand Parmigiano Reggiano. And of course there’s always ice cream: vanilla, chocolate, caramel, coffee or perhaps a fruit sorbet such as orange or mango, to name a few.
- You may sometimes see a white powdery film forming on the surface of dates. This is due to their high level of natural sugar and is not a cause for alarm. It’s just sugar crystal formation. You can warm them in the oven or steam them and the crystals will dissolve.
- I used a Lustau Amontillado Los Arcos Sherry. I also think a Rainwater Madeira, with its caramel, orange and hazelnut notes, might work very well in place of the sherry.
Roasted Dates with Sherry and Spices
adapted from The Last Course by Claudia Fleming
24 Medjool dates, pitted
1 C Fino or Amontillado Sherry
1/4 C dark brown sugar
4 cardamom pods, crushed
1 cinnamon stick
1 orange peel strip, 1” x 3”
1 C water
2 oz (4 T) butter, diced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place dates, sherry, brown sugar, spices, orange peel and water in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer to dissolve and blend ingredients. Pour in a shallow baking dish and bake @ 350 degrees for 15 minutes, basting every 5 minutes.
Remove the dates from the syrup. Cool and remove skins if you prefer. Strain the syrup back into the saucepan and discard spices. Bring syrup to a simmer and reduce by a third, about 7 minutes. Whisk in butter until the sauce is completely emulsified. Pour over dates and serve.