With the holidays in full swing and parties abounding, there's a good chance you're encountering cheese at every turn. Cheese trays, cheese stuffed in peppers and mushrooms, cheese sticks, cheese on salads, cheese on the seven slices of pizza that comfort you while you watch your college football team lose its bowl game. Cheese and celebrations go hand in hand, and no one knows that better than the head of the best cheese shop in town. The Observer talked to Scardello's Rich Rogers about the role cheese plays in his holiday celebrations and got some recommendations to enhance your holiday meal.
Are you using cheese in any special dishes for the holidays?
I always make my grandfather’s meatballs for Christmas. I use Parmigiano-Reggiano in the actual meatballs, but one of the things that makes the marinara so rich is the addition of lots of grated Fulvi Pecorino Romano. Fulvi is still produced in the Roman countryside and adds a gamey depth to the sauce.
For New Year’s, we traditionally make a three mountain-cheese fondue. I use the same cheeses and recipe we use at Scardello for our fondue night. The cheeses we are using this year are Rolf Beeler Gruyère, “Slow Food” Emmentaler from Gourmino and a funkier cheese called Toggenburger Chueli. Each of these cheeses on their own are amazingly flavorful, but the combination of a nutty/fruity Gruyère with the silky melting quality of the Emmentaler and the slight funkiness of the Toggenburger creates a gooey, messy delight.
Do you have any family traditions involving cheese?
Growing up in a small Texas town, most of my childhood cheese traditions involved sneaking squirts of easy cheese out of the can. Today, we have cheese as a meal a few times a month, but my favorite way to serve cheese is as a formal cheese plate at the end of the meal. When friends come over for dinner they expect and look forward to the cheese course. I love it because cheese extends our time together and leads to lots of great conversations.
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What are popular cheeses your customers buy for the holidays, and what are they using them for?
Most of our guests are looking to use cheese to entertain friends and family. Some look for cheeses that everyone loves, but many look for something more exotic and special this time of year. One of our regulars makes an extraordinary mac and cheese with a mountain cheese and a truffle cheese.
Do you have a favorite seasonal cheese or two at Scardello that cheese lovers should try?
I am a huge fan of Rogue River Blue this time of year. It's wrapped in grape leaves soaked in a pear brandy — the perfect combination of blue and sweet! When I'm cooking, I like to have a small wedge of Rogue River to nibble on. I am also excited to see the first wheels of Winnimere in the case. This cheese from Jasper Hill in Vermont is smelly, gooey, meaty and delicious. It is wrapped in spruce to hold its shape and give an element of woodsy earthiness to the paste.
If people need a last-minute party dish, a cheese board is fast, easy and delicious. Could you name four or five cheeses that are crowd pleasers?
Mt. Tam, a triple crème brie from Cowgirl Creamery, $29.95 /lb
Chabrin, an aged goat cheese from France, $26.95 /lb
Flory’s Truckle, a small production cheddar from Missouri, $28.75 /lb
Arethusa Blue from Connecticut, $28.50 /lb