A little known fact: before James and I decided to become innkeepers we looked into producing and selling goat cheese as a business. So when a little more than a year ago a number of small local dairy farmers and cheesemakers conceived of the WNC Cheese Trail to promote the cheese industry in Western North Carolina, we jumped at the chance to become an Associate Member. Not that the Carolina Bed & Breakfast makes or sells cheese, but here at our Asheville Bed and Breakfast we try to actively support local agriculture, using farm to table ingredients as much as possible. On top of which cheese, especially goat cheese, is one of our favorite things.
A lot of work has gone into the development of the cheese trail since I first contacted Jennifer Perkins, owner of the Looking Glass Creamery and one of the founding members of the Cheese Trail. Most recently we were proud to take delivery of the official Cheese Trail Map which is now available at the Asheville Visitors Center (and our inn!) as well as at stores and other sites around town. The map lists almost a dozen cheesemakers within a short drive of the Carolina. Since we try never to recommend something to our guests which we haven’t already tried, we decided to take a trip out to visit Jenn and tour the Looking Glass Creamery.
In twenty minutes we pulled up to the small shop and factory which is the home of the Looking Glass Creamery. It’s hard to believe that such a small building is the producer of three of the 2010 Williams Sonoma featured Artisanal Cheeses. We were lucky enough to be taken inside the “factory” (if you can call two rooms and a walk-in cold room a factory!) for a tour and a lesson in cheese-making.
Unfortunately Jennifer was called away (something to do with children and school) but Will, her assistant and Ashley were able to fill in admirably. We were outfitted with little blue booties and hairnets and ushered into an immaculately clean room where an enormous 106 gallon vat of milk was being slowly churned into curds. Will explain that
there are five main components in making cheese: culture, brine, wash, pressure and heat. Differences in each of these components will create different flavors, saltiness, tackiness, and texture in your cheese. The role of the cheesemaker is to experiment with these components in order to come up with a great cheese. The cheese is further flavored by the milk which in turn gets its flavor from the cows or goats, their breed and where they have been grazing. It was fascinating to see the various stages of cheesemaking, from the making of the curds, the tools used to cut and mold it, the aging of the cheese and finally watching Ashley deftly wrap and label it for sale.
Finally we moved to the Shop where we were able to taste some of the wonderful cheeses we had seen being made. Even better, we got to taste the amazing caramel sauce, Carmelita, which is made the old fashioned way–boiled for hours in a copper pot and flavoured with bourbon infused vanilla. And of course some of that lovely cheese came home where we combined it with some of the contents of our latest CSA basket for the following appetizer (and don’t forget the “Oh My CSA!” contest starts this week. You can win a one night stay at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast. Follow the link for more information)
Goat Cheese Crostini with Roasted Baby Beets in Orange Vinaigrette
1 lb baby beets (or small beets)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp white vinegar
6 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
A good soft spreadable goat cheese
1/4 cup shelled pistachio nuts
1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim beets and cut into slices or quarters. Place in a shallow baking pan, toss in olive oil then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and roast for about 25 minutes then uncover and roast 5-15 minutes longer (depending on size of beets) until beets are fork tender. Cool and peel if necessary. As a rule baby beets do not need to be peeled.
2) Using a micro-planer or grater, grate 1/2 of the orange then juice the orange. Set aside 1 tbsp of fresh orange juice then drink the rest (just kidding!). Whisk together the vinegar, 1 tbsp of the orange juice, 6 tbsp olive oil, mustard and orange zest.
3) Toss the beets in the vinaigrette and set for at least 30 minutes.
4) Meanwhile prepare the crostini. Preheat the broiler on high. Slice the baguette into 1/2 inch slices and spread on a baking sheet. Brush each piece with a little olive oil and broil for about 2 minutes until lightly browned (watch closely!). Then turn the slices over, brush again and broil for about one minute (the flip side takes less time). Remove from oven and cool.
5) When ready to assemble the crostini, spread a little goat cheese on each crostini, top with a slice of beet and sprinkle with chopped pistachio.