Warner's Wonders | September 2021 curdbox

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Welcome to our latest edition of curdbox, for which we’ve been working with Food Network Star and culinary wonderboy Justin Warner. Known for his unusual, break-the-rules approach to cooking (heck, he literally wrote the book The Laws of Cooking and How to Break Them), Justin worked with us to find cheeses and pairings that were a little bit outside the box, so to speak—maybe some items that were a little gnarly, or a little scary (like funky cheese, for example). What we have are three cheeses that are totally different, and because they are made from three different kinds of milk, we also have what we in the 'biz call a "moo bah mah"—cow, sheep, and goat. The pairings are also unusual, with all three being beloved snacks from other countries that are reimagined as American snack food. But somehow, by channeling the magic and brilliance of Just, these whacky choices meld into something undeniably delicious. So let’s dive right in and take a tour through our September box, Warner’s Wonders.

 September 2021's Warner's Wonders curdbox

Ocooch Mountain Cheese by Hidden Springs Creamery

The Driftless region of southwestern Wisconsin is the part of Wisconsin that evaded the glaciers that flattened the rest of the state, and so it still has a more mountainous topography. Husband-and-wife team Brenda and Dean Jensen recognized that this was the perfect landscape for pasturing animals, and so Hidden Springs was born, with the utmost care being given to the health of the land, the animals, and their community. They don’t use fertilizers and pesticides, and they even use draft horses instead of tractors.

Their Ocooch Mountain Cheese is named for the Ocooch mountains, but also is a little play on words because it’s also a mountain cheese in the sense that it’s based off Gruyère, the alpine classic (in fact, Hidden Springs describes this as being a “sheep’s milk salute to a great Gruyere.” ) Just like the famous alpines, it’s got a natural washed rind and the paste is dense and firm, and just a little grainy. It’s nutty, almost peanut-y, and we encourage you to chew and let it dissolve on your tongue so you can capture all the flavors as they unfold, it's a bit of a wild ride. For those that may be sheep-shy (I sheepishly raise my hand in this category), you'll be happy to know that it's very accessible and a great gateway sheep's cheese. It isn't flashy, but it is stellar, and we’re not the only ones that love it—it has a slew of awards in its wake.

Hidden Springs Ocooch Mountain Cheese with AshaPops Turmeric Garlic Popped Water Lily Seeds

Humboldt Fog by Cypress Grove

If you haven’t yet had Humboldt Fog, then you’re about to taste one of America’s most iconic cheeses. Mary Keehn, one of the original goat ladies that spearheaded the American artisanal cheese movement, famously dreamt of Humboldt fog—literally—when she was on a plane coming back from a trip to France. It’s got a textbook creamline—that gooey layer just beneath the rind, that comes from the surface mold working its way in (for this reason, these cheeses are known as “surface-ripened”, but we call them bloomy (from our bloomy&brainy type). Like all bloomy&brainy cheeses, the rind is edible, and we encourage you to take a bite with and without the rind—you’ll notice the rind is sharper and more acidic, while the paste is creamy and light—on this week's podcast, Justin aptly says it's "like cheesecake". The grey stripe running through pays homage another iconic ash-striped cheese: France’s Morbier.

Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog with Craize's Guava Toasted Corn Crackers 

Willoughby by Jasper Hill

Like any American (and especially northeast) cheesehead, we can’t get enough of Jasper Hill, one of the pillars of the American artisanal cheese movement. If you’ve been with us a while, you’ll be familiar with their line-up of straight aces. We’re delighted to welcome the rascally Willoughby to the curdbox family. Willoughby, named after scenic Lake Willoughby in northern Vermont, has that conspicuous orange-tinted rind: the telltale sign of a washed rind cheese, which puts it firmly in our creamy&funky category, —similar to a Taleggio, with a pretty accessible funk. The actual rind itself will be savory and funky, but inside Willoughby is milky and buttery and gentle, with a delightfully “pudgy” texture (almost sensual, as Julie points out in the podcast). This is another one we encourage you to try with and without the rind. This cheese was originally made by Marisa Mauro at Ploughgate Creamery, but after a fire at the creamery, they had to cease production. Jasper Hill bought the recipe and tweaked it into this. As Justin so eloquently put it "This is why you make cheese, dammit." We couldn't agree more.

 

Jasper Hill's Willoughby with Brooklyn Biltong's Lemon Pepper Biltong

Lemon Pepper Biltong by Brooklyn Biltong

If you’ve never seen this word before, then you can now count yourself as part of the inside of those who know about the next big thing. Biltong is favorite dried meat snack from South Africa. Indigenous people in Southern Africa had been drying meat for eons as a way to preserve it, and when the European settlers came, they took the idea but riffed on it, adding in vinegar and saltpeter (aka potassium nitrate). The result? Biltong—a combination of the Dutch words “bille” (for buttock) and “tonghe” (for strip or tongue). Unlike jerky, which is tough and salty, this biltong is tender and begins with a mild, meaty flavor that that blooms with tang and salt after being chewed for a few seconds. As Jenn says in the podcast, it's the "filet mignon of jerky" or as Justin said, "the rich man's chipped beef." Whichever one you go for, the point is that this is high class stuff. We love the Biltong with the Willoughby—it somehow tempers the funk. With the Humboldt Fog, we were reminded of Beef Stroganoff—the pairing is earthy, creamy, and meaty all at once.

Brooklyn Biltong comes from a another classic story of an immigrant wanting to recreate the foods from their homeland. Ben van den Heever, a South African who had moved to NYC and decided to bring Biltong to America. Brooklyn Biltong uses exclusively grass-fed beef and dry it low and slow the traditional way, without industrial shortcuts.

Guava Toasted Corn Crackers by Craize Crackers

We are so happy to have Craize in the box again. These addictively tasty, impossibly thin and crunchy crackers were meant to approximate the south American arepa, a delicious snack made from maize meal. Craize Founder Leo Cotter is Venezuelan and actually a trained architect, but whose real passion is in the culinary arts. He wanted to make Latin American foods more popular, and so hit on the idea of the ubiquitous arepa, but in cracker form. This guava cracker is such a treat—the sweet and tropical guava flavor takes center stage, while the toasty corn is the chorus—Justin calls it "a self-contained cracker" that comes with its own condiment. We think these crackers are the perfect accompaniment to this month’s cheeses, adding crunch, sweet tropical notes and toasty depth, and with the Humboldt Fog, it's basically like a guava cheesecake. Another fun fact: in Brazil, it's common to pair guava with soft cheeses in a combination called Romeo and Juliet. 

Turmeric Garlic Popped Water Lily Seeds by AshaPops

Our final pairing is yet again a beloved food from elsewhere that has come to enlighten America. AshaPops is from mother-son team Jai and Asha, made in LA. Water Lily Seeds are an ancient Ayurvedic superfood, and Asha roasts them until they pop, and then dusts them in intoxicatingly delicious flavors. We chose Turmeric Garlic, to add an allium and earthy notes to our flavor-packed box. They're like puffed rice, but bigger and heftier, and add the perfect crunch and earthy undertone to all the cheeses, or, can be a palate cleanser in between bites.

So there it is, a box full of culinary wonders, bringing a huge variety of textures and flavors into one whizbang of a box. If you liked the kind of punky spirit behind the box, make sure to go follow Justin Warner in whatever he does. On Instagram he’s @EatFellowHumans, catch his ramen in person at Bokujo Ramen in South Dakota, or welcome him directly into your earbuds with his new podcast Warner’s World of Wonders (yes, it influenced our box theme). His inaugural episode, about aged gouda, even features curdbox founder and CEO Jenn Mason as the aged gouda expert, so tune in!

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Did you take some photos for the 'gram while enjoying this box? Please tag us @curdbox, along with our cheese and pairing partners @cypressgrovers, @jasperhillfarm, @brooklynbiltong, @gocraize, and @ashasuperfoods. We love to see our cheese lovers enjoying their boxes!

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