Sample artisan cheese at The Wedge Saturday
Drop everything and gather all your friends and family. Nobody wants to miss The Wedge. This is the annual cheese tasting extravaganza presented by the Oregon Cheese Guild taking place this Saturday, Oct. 7 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Central Eastside Portland. This is one of my favorite fall festivals. You can meet the cheesemakers, learn what innovative new products they have created and find new ways to use their products. I guarantee you will find new cheeses to become your favorites.
You will be able to sample literally hundreds of artisan cheeses and accoutrements, beer, wines and cider, spirits and mead. It's an outdoor festival featuring the goods of more than 60 artisan producers who are eager to share their products and stories with you.
The Wedge takes place at Alder Block, 100 S.E. Alder in Portland, with the entrance on Alder between the train tracks and Second St. Admission is $15 in advance and $20 at the door. You can also purchase a wine/cider/beer tasting admission for $25 in advance or $30 at the door. This admission comes with a commemorative glass and tastes from all participating adult beverage producers. Both admissions include a $5 voucher to use for buying cheese.
You can get a VIP Early Admission ticket for $50. For that price you get in at 10 a.m. ahead of the crowd and receive a souvenir glass for the adult beverage tastings, a $10 voucher to buy cheese and a bag of cheese and food goodies to take home.
In preparation for The Wedge, let's learn a little about cheese. It's one of the world's oldest foods and can be made from different types of milk — cow, goat, sheep and even water buffalo. Cow's milk gives cheese a sweet, creamy, buttery flavor while goat's milk will produce cheese that is lemony, tangy and earthy in flavor. Sheep's milk produces cheese that is buttery, nutty, oily and gamy and water buffalo's milk will produce cheese that is described as buttery, creamy, rich and tangy in flavor.
Cheeses can be made in a variety of styles as well. Keep in mind that the texture of a cheese provides the best clue to how the cheese will taste. Soft cheeses, like fresh cheese, will be milder than cheeses allowed to age and harden, like Parmesan. Let's break the styles down, courtesy of Laura Werlin's Cheese Essentials:Fresh cheese is mild in flavor; examples are chevre (fresh goat cheese), ricotta and mozzarella. Semi-soft cheeses are mild tasting cheeses, with milky, tangy and sweet flavors. Popular examples are Colby, Havarti and Port-Salut. Soft-ripened cheeses have buttery, creamy and mushroom taste and are mild to medium-strong. Brie and Camembert fall into this category. Surface-ripened cheeses are creamy, earthy and tangy with a mild to medium strong flavor. These are cheese formed in molds with a wrinkly rind. Popular examples would be LaTur, Le Chevrot and St. Marcelin goat cheeses. Semi-hard cheeses have medium-strong buttery, fruity and nutty flavors. Cheddar, Gouda and gruyere fit into this category. Hard cheeses are medium-strong to strong in flavor, with salty, sweet and sharp tastes. Parmigiano-Reggiano, aged asiago and pecorino fit into this category.
Blue cheeses have a medium-strong to very strong pungent flavor. Rogue Creamery blues fit into this category, as does Maytag Blue, gorgonzola and Stilton cheese. Washed-rind cheeses are strong flavored cheeses with big beefy, nutty and salty flavor. Aged brick cheeses like Munster and Taleggio are in this category.
At The Wedge you will be sampling literally hundreds of cheeses. How are you going to keep track of what you like? I recommend you buy the cheeses that appeal to you on the spot, but you can also keep a diary of your cheese sampling.
Take a notebook with you to The Wedge and write down the name of the cheese, the type of milk or milks it is made of, the style, how it was used (sampled on fruit or crackers or cooked), a description of the flavor and texture and your impression of the cheese (did you love it, sort of like it or find it not to your liking?) Try a variety and see if a certain milk or style stands out as a favorite for you.
Take your time and enjoy sampling, taking notes and learning from the cheesemakers, winemakers and artisans. You've got plenty of time since The Wedge runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
While you are in the neighborhood, when you finish at The Wedge go to SE Wine Collective for Harvest Saturday. Each Saturday during harvest the public is invited to experience the behind-the-scenes magic of winemaking with the winemakers from 4 to 5 p.m. Rotating Collective winemakers will share stories from their harvest, including a "show and taste." Learn winemaking techniques as you watch tons of grapes be hand sorted, punched down and pumped over. It's free; SE Wine Collective is located at 2425 SE 35th Place in Portland. Learn more online at sewinecollective.com.
The recipe selected for today showcases Camembert cheese in an elegant yet simple way and is sure to be a favorite fall lunch. Complete the lunch with sliced apples and a glass of crisp pinot blanc.
Bon Appetit! Make eating an adventure!
Camembert, Ham and Caramelized Onion Sandwiches
This sandwich couldn't be easier, yet its elegance betrays its simplicity. The onions take a little bit of time, but if you'd like to prepare them in advance, rewarm them when you're ready to assemble the sandwiches. These make great picnic fare but are good just about any place or time.
¼ cup currants
1/2 cup very hot water
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium red onion, about 8 ounces, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 long baguette cut into 5 to 6-inch pieces, then halved lengthwise (or use 4 individual mini baguettes or long rolls)
8 thin slices Black Forest ham (about ¼ pound)
8 ounces Camembert cut into ¼=inch thick slices (or use brie)
Put the currants and hot water in a small heat-proof bowl. Let sit for at least 15 minutes or as long as an hour, then drain. Set aside.
In a medium-sized sauté pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes, or until soft. Add the vinegar, currants, salt and pepper at taste and cook for 10 more minutes. Let cool.
To assemble place a few onions and some currants on the bottom half of the bread. Top with the ham, cheese, and other bread half. Serve right away.
Note: it is easiest to cut the cheese when it is cold. Bring to room temperature before using.
Recipe courtesy of Laura Werlin's Cheese Essentials, 2007