Thursday, December 23, 2010


By the time I went to "sixth grade camp" - a week away at camp during the school year - I had cultivated enough of a coffee addiction that I brought with me a canister of contraband instant coffee that I ate by the dry spoonful to get my fix. Attempts at adding the right amount of sugar and cream at afterchurch fellowships had failed me, so I had eventually succeeded in being hooked on coffee by that Four Loko of coffee, that mango-bubblegum-flavored cigarette of caffeine: General Foods International Coffee.

This stuff is ridiculous.

If you're over 15 and still drinking it, you should shamefully walk to the kitchen right now and toss that miserable shit out.

As sweet as Swiss Miss hot cocoa, with none of the earthiness or acidity of coffee, General Foods International Coffee and its Rand-McNally flavor assortment was coffee for people who don't know how to like coffee even before Starbucks set up shop - coffee with so much sugar added, so much Other Flavor, that you'd never know you were drinking coffee. It's perfect for a 12 year old trying to like coffee.

Real coffee drinking eventually followed. My first year of college I joined Gevalia Kaffe to get the free coffee maker. The coffee's not great but was probably better than what I could have gotten in supermarkets at the time - remember, twentysomethings reading my blog, I am older than you, I come from an age before Starbucks, which I never even encountered until several years into college, and continued to ignore until they eventually made their way into malls and Targets.

The Pioneer Valley, where I started college, had its own coffee culture long before Starbucks displaced much of it - that was where I first encountered espresso, lattes, soup bowls of cappuccino. (Trips to coffee shops in Denver and Boulder the previous summer had mostly been milkshake-focused. This one place had multiple varieties of coffee milkshakes. Awesome.) Sure, a lot of the coffee drinks were overly sweetened - I was a big fan at 18 of the Milky Way latte at Pioneer Valley Coffee, which if I remember right had a shot of Torani Caramel and a shot of Torani Hazelnut.

Hazelnut coffee was huge in the Pioneer Valley. Seriously, if you had a choice of two kinds of coffee, they were hazelnut and decaf. Unflavored regular was the third option, you know? And this came up a lot, because it was the kind of place where even the bookstores sold coffee - no, not like the big bookstore chains' in-house coffee shops now, I mean that a lot of the bookstores just had thermal carafes set up. Why wouldn't you buy a coffee and a Free Peltier button while flipping through Girl Interrupted, after all? Why wouldn't you?

Hazelnut coffee and tiramisu. Those were the staples of the Pioneer Valley. Maybe they still are, but last time I visited, Pioneer Valley Coffee had become a Starbucks, and so had damn near everything else.

When I moved to New Orleans, naturally there was a strong coffee culture there too. One reason I dodged Starbucks so long is because it opened in Amherst my last year there, and then when I moved from Amherst to New Orleans, it was like setting the Starbucks clock back again - the place hadn't quite caught on there, because while the Pioneer Valley had a local coffee culture, it was - like Starbucks' - a latte-driven coffee culture. New Orleans' was not, and instead of piggybacking on existing popularity, Starbucks had to compete with a different, and cheaper, style of coffee. I don't think Starbucks really caught on down there until it had become a truly national phenomenon - and national phenomena take a few years to trickle down the Mississippi to the Delta anyway.

What you get in New Orleans more often than not is coffee and chicory. This wasn't my first introduction to it: the friends I visited in Colorado that aforementioned visit drank coffee and chicory, and Vietnamese restaurants commonly use it, so I'd been exposed to it in a variety of contexts even before I sat down at Cafe du Monde for cafe au lait and beignets.

Though there's really no beating that.

Chicory is an extender. You replace some of the coffee grounds with chicory, and your coffee lasts longer. That was the idea originally, anyway - these days you can get coffee cheaper than chicory, and a canister of premixed coffee and chicory will cost you near as much in New Hampshire as a bag of higher quality whole bean coffee. But the original idea, the whole reason there is such a thing, is that chicory can substitute for part of the coffee so you can stretch your supply out.

Chicory is much harder to grind than coffee beans, so all coffee and chicory blends come pre-ground, which means they lose flavor and freshness much faster. A better option is to buy chicory separately - New Orleans supermarkets will have it sometimes, and it's easy to find online - and mix it with the beans once you've ground them.

These days I buy most of my coffee from New Hampshire micro-roastery Black Bear, where my cost including shipping is a little more than $8 per pound - considerably cheaper than buying coffee of comparable quality in the store. I get the coffee a couple days after roasting, and bag it in valve bags. I grind it in a burr grinder and steep it in a French press, Bialetti Moka, or Vietnamese coffee filter.

(I've liked every coffee I've had from Black Bear, though I wish they had a lighter roast option. I especially like the Peaberry - I've always liked Peaberry coffee - and the Kenya AA.)

So I've basically got my coffee routines figured out now. The French press is my everyday go-to coffee method. The Moka makes something that isn't espresso but is closer than anything else you'll get at home without spending hundreds of dollars on a decent espresso maker. The Vietnamese coffee filter, which I don't use often because it makes such small amounts, is for Vietnamese style coffee - it drips directly into the cup.

But there's still a lot I'm discovering.

For instance, cascara, which I bought from Sweet Maria's but which they're currently out of (they do have the similar but subtler qishr from Yemen):


Like coffee beans, cascara comes from the fruit of the coffee plant - the coffee cherry. The bean is the seed; cascara is the dried husk of the fruit. Like coffee-leaf tea, it's only commonly drunk in coffee-growing parts of the world where it's more practical to export coffee beans instead of consuming them, and so other parts of the plant are used for cheap domestic consumption. Unlike coffee-leaf tea - which is caffeinated but has little flavor other than "tastes like leaves" - it has a unique flavor of its own, somewhat fruity and hibiscus-like (with less acidity). Add a little sugar, some hibiscus, maybe a little cinnamon, and it makes a good caffeinated fruit punch.

And of course I'm sure it has a crapload of antioxidants and glucowhosawhats and magic fucking pixie dust and what the hell ever, so by all means, let it be the next superfruit, I'd love to be able to pick up some coffee juice in the store.

I'm not done yet - there's more to say about coffee!

For instance, there's aged coffee. This is coffee that, while still green, is aged for 2 or more years, lowering the acidity and boosting the body. Aging coffee - like adding chicory - wrecks a lot of what cuppers look for in "a good cup of coffee," but you know ... so what? I mean, the Japanese hate the toasted crust of rice that can form at the bottom of a pot, while Persian cuisine builds entire meals around it.

There is never a single right way to prepare an ingredient.

I'm drinking a cup of aged coffee at the moment, and it's kind of amazing. I like acidity in coffee, but I still like this low-acid, funky, deep-flavored ... thing. I actually don't know how to describe it: sure, it's still coffee, and if you just down whatever the Denny's waitress has put in front of you, I don't know if you'd notice the difference. But there's definitely something crazy going on in this mug.

Also from Muddy Dog, the Monsooned Malabar I had last night. This is coffee that's really had the shit kicked out of it -

Arabica coffee is spread on the floor of the special monsooning warehouse in Mangalore, raked and turned around by hand to enable them to soak in moisture of the humid winds. The monsooning process takes around 12 to 16 months of duration, where in the beans swell to twice their original size and turn into pale golden color.

The Muddy Dog blog has a whole entry on the monsooning process, which is pretty cool. The coffee's very earthy, pungent, kind-of-like-dirt-in-a-good-way, but it's the aged peaberry I'll be buying again - this stuff is addictive.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Capri pizza from Stromboli's in Billerica

Stromboli's in Billerica maintains its status as the best pizza in the area. Lunch was the Capri pizza: red sauce, mozz, spinach, zucchini, and whole cloves of roasted garlic. You can't see the garlic in this photo - it had rolled off of this slice when I pulled it away from the pizza.

I have to say, pizza is the best possible destination for zucchini or summer squash. I know it looks like pickle slices you'd put on a hamburger, because the brick oven made it so tender.

Definitely going to have to hit Stromboli's a few times next Lent. Even aside from the white pizza, their vegetarian pizzas are at least as good as - and maybe better than - their meat pizzas.

Monday, December 20, 2010

oooh baby

There comes a time in your life when you go from wondering what fermented camel's milk tastes like, to remembering what fermented camel's milk tastes like.

For me that time came this weekend.


Where do I begin talking about Bazaar. Well, I think I have to approach it the same way as the Little Cambodia posts: I'll tell you about the place and what we got, and then as I use things I'll tell you about the results in subsequent posts.

Bazaar is a Russian and Eastern European grocery store with two locations in Boston, at least one of which (Bazaar on Cambridge) has a liquor license. Because of the funky way liquor laws work in Massachusetts, I can't say for certain that the other one does.

There are two, three, or four kinds of ethnic food stores, in my experience - if you break it down to four it's like this:

1: The store for tourists/Americans looking for something interesting.

2: The store for immigrants, expatriates, and exchange students.

3: The convenience store that's 90% standard inventory, 10% Irish bangers and Tayto chips (or other ethnic fare).

4: The supermarket that's 95% standard inventory, with an unusually extensive section for a particular ethnicity.

Obviously there's customer base overlap among these, but an Asian market of type #1, for instance, will have a lot of gummi candies, Pocky, and Poccari Sweat, and - particularly if it carries a significant amount of Japanese stuff - maybe some anime DVDs, Totoro lunchboxes, etc. An Asian market of type #2 will have a lot of non-English signage by the produce and fish - even carrying some of the same things as a normal supermarket, but with non-English labels, can be helpful to the customers - along with dried cuttlefish, fertilized eggs, maybe even a butcher who breaks primals down into the cuts used in various Asian countries instead of European style.

Battambang in Little Cambodia, the place I've posted about several times, is type #2. So is Bazaar. Aside from a couple of Asian girls, we were the only ones there not speaking with Russian or Eastern European accents. The woman at the fish counter greeted Caitlin in Russian, in fact.

We didn't get many photos inside, because I didn't want to look like dorky tourists. The idea was, we'll pick up whatever sounds good, and cook whatever sounds good with it, without worrying about whether we were recreating a specific authentic dish. Buy ingredients that taste good together, and taste them together - that simple. I don't know much about Russian cuisine, after all - I've had caviar and borscht. I did read the Wikipedia entry on it a couple days before shopping, so I'd be more likely to recognize names of things, especially if (as often happened) there were no English labels on something.

The liquor section was about the same size you'd see in a convenience store, but more focused: a number of vodkas, and the flavored vodkas were things like horseradish and honey rye, not bumbleberry bubble gum zip-zip surprise like at your local frat brat liquoreria. There were a few liqueurs from Mathilde, a number of Eastern European and kosher wines, a number of Russian and Czech beers, a lot of brandy. Brandy, vodka, and wine had the most shelf space.

We got birch-flavored vodka and Becherovka, which I've shorthanded in my head for years as "Eastern European Campari," so I'd remember to buy it if I saw it:

Becherovka, birch vodka

I have no idea if that's a good brand of vodka or not, but it made a good cocktail with the Becherovka and satsuma juice, and it's not bad on its own. The Becherovka is terrific. More bitter than Campari, or less sweet, I'm not positive which, but the flavor is very spicy - lots of clove, some cinnamon, anise or licorice, I don't know what else. A lot like the flavor of something like Underberg or Angostura, but in potable bitters form. Loved it.

Small meat section, mostly familiar cuts (we were there after dinner - maybe the selection is greater during the day), except for veal tongue and very cheap lamb ribs:

Cheap lamb ribs

The produce section had a lot of the same things you see at the supermarket, just cheaper in many cases (raspberries, blackberries, satsumas). And in addition to the regular stuff you'd see in a small grocery store (this is a small grocery store - four or five aisles), there were black radishes (the radish of Eastern Europe), sunchokes, persimmons, quince, and huuuge oddly smooth celery roots.

The cashier who checked us out assured us that Russian food is easy to handle - not too weird, not a lot of strong unfamiliar flavors like in Asian food. You hear this a lot, and the produce selection highlighted it - unlike Battambang, there isn't a wall of herbs you don't find in the supermarket. On the other hand, at the back of the produce section, on the way to the fish counter, is a refrigerated case full of pickles made in-house. Not just regular and half-sour pickles, but pickled tomatoes, pickled apples, even pickled watermelon:

Pickled watermelon

That's right - not pickled watermelon rind, but a big wedge of watermelon pickled as-is. (The brine is flavored with cilantro, dill, and celery.) Haven't tried it yet.

Also in the pickle section, dried fruit of various kinds, including kiwi (which must have been dyed):

Dried sweetened kiwi

But wait, let me back up - I forgot, on the way from the meat to the produce, is the deli section - cured meats ranging from the familiar (Italian and Spanish salami, havarti, feta, mousse with foie gras) to the unfamiliar. Here, we had no idea what anything was. There was a cheese with a texture like havarti that was just labeled "Russian cheese." There were endless sausages with little to tell us how they differed. I got one of the cheaper sausages, which turned out to be pleasant but bland, a lot like a kielbasa:


Also Ukrainian farmer cheese:

Ukrainian farmer cheese

This was bland and crumbly, and we weren't crazy about it when we tried it, but then found out it's usually used as an ingredient in things like blintzes and pastries.

Hunter cheese - heavily smoked, tasting a little like a smoky, bland Munster:

Smoked cheese / hunter's cheese

Smoked pork belly:

Pressed smoked pork

Kishka blood sausage, far more interesting than the kielbasa-like sausage:

Kishka blood sausage

I love the way blood sausage varies so much from country to country. This stuff is so good and homey and well-seasoned. I may have some with fried eggs for dinner. Here it is sliced:

Sliced blood sausage

Where was I. The fish counter! Sweet holy Moses, the fish counter. They also sell a bunch of cold cuts there, which I couldn't identify, and several kinds of skewered meat covered in heaps of sliced onion and dill (we got the lamb, it was delicious). But look at the fish counter, keeping in mind that these are all different kinds of smoked fish (along with caviar):

Fish counter at Bazaar

If you don't want to click through to see it up close, here's some of what's on offer:

Both cold- and hot-smoked trout.

A variety of salmon, including salmon bellies. I had heard they had belly lox, at a little more than half the price I've paid in the past, and forgot to ask about it - and didn't stop to think that with salmon bellies I could cure my own at a fraction of the cost.

Herring fillets.

A variety of caviar. I didn't see whitefish caviar, so we went with a Russian brand of salmon roe. I think I've turned Caitlin into a fan.

Smoked sevruga.

Smoked sea bass.

A variety of whole smoked fish: eel, catfish, turbot, whitefish, mackerel (hot or cold smoked).

We got cold-smoked trout which I haven't tried yet, and smoked butterfish bellies, which was some of the best fish I've ever had. Cheap as hell - $3.19 a pound for the bellies, which are tender and boneless. I've never had butterfish before - and because there are a few different fish sometimes called butterfish (that's the nature of fishmongering - in this case candidates include skipjack/sheepshead and pomfret), I'm not even a hundred percent sure what it is we had. But I love it.

Fish counter at Bazaar

Another shot of the fish counter.

You're still wondering about the camel milk, right?

Fermented camel milk, fermented mare milk

Camel milk and mare's milk are both fermented and turned into beverages throughout Central Asia. I don't know about camel's milk, but mare's milk is higher in lactose - milk sugar - than cow's milk is, which makes it well-suited to fermentation. Presumably this stuff originated for the same reason yogurt and cheese did - fermentation is a type of preservation, reducing food waste. There may be nutritive reasons too - maybe the process frees up some nutrients for digestion, or makes a product that is more digestible by the lactose-intolerant, I don't know.

I do know that fermented camel's milk tastes like thin, fizzy, unsweetened yogurt, and smells like milk in an advanced stage of soured spoilage.

The mare's milk I haven't tried yet.

Other dairy stuff. Smetana!

Smetana (Russian sour cream)

Smetana is Russian sour cream, but while the sour cream we're used to in the US is made from cream of between 12-18% butterfat or so, and might be thickened with additives like gelatin or seaweed-derived thickeners, Smetana is - as the label says - 25% fat. The difference is like the difference between ordinary yogurt and thick, rich Greek yogurt.

We actually used the smetana instead of cream cheese, with the smoked fish and caviar.

It's used extensively in cooking because it won't curdle when heated.

Peach yogurt

Peach yogurt, haven't tried it.

Chocolate-covered cheesecake bar

Chocolate-covered cheesecake bar, haven't tried it. Although they sold a LOT of candy, we didn't buy any, except for this. We did buy the Napoleon cake. What I've heard is that most of the cakes are made elsewhere, shipped frozen, and thawed in the store, while the Napoleon cake - stored in the fridge at the bakery section - is made fresh. It was layers and layer of thin crispy cake (cookie? wafer?) with pastry cream. Very good, very rich.


Pelmeni - Russian dumplings. The frozen section also had whole rabbits ($7-8 instead of the $25 I paid the last time I bought them in NH), cow foot, ducks, geese, tongue, and many many fish.

The cashier was very enthusiastic that we bought this jarred "honey nut":

Honey with many nuts

Just what it says - honey with many many kinds of nuts. Really tasty stuff. Oddly, the store also had the most complete assortment of honeys from Airborne that I've seen - "oddly," because Airborne is a New Zealand brand.

Jarred sorrel

Jarred sorrel. This is used in soups.


Tkemali. While Russian cuisine is often good, hearty food without a lot of strong seasonings, Georgian cuisine is strongly influenced by the Middle East, and features a lot of garlic and cilantro. Tkemali is a Georgian condiment used much like ketchup, from what I understand. It's made from sour plums, and has -- at least in this case -- pretty much the same balance of sweet-to-sour that Heinz ketchup has ... which is where the similarity ends. The flavorings used are garlic, cilantro (coriander seed, I think), and dill. Now, I've had dill pickles of course, but I've never had dill in a vinegar-driven condiment before - I don't know how to explain why the difference is so profound, but it is. This is a very good and very startling condiment.

Very good tea

There is no English on this, so I don't know what to say about it except that it's tea, it's very strong, it's very good, and despite being tea bags, it's better than a lot of the considerably more expensive loose tea I've bought.


Lecho, a Hungarian stew base.

Kvass, Pineapple aloe drink

Two beverages: Kvass and pineapple-flavored aloe drink. The Kvass was all right - malty and sweet - but neither of us was thrilled by it. I was happier with the soda I forgot to take a photo of - an orange soda in a glass 2-liter bottle which tasted neither like American orange soda nor Western European orange soda, but instead, exactly like carbonated Hi-C.

Sometimes the only way available to you to try a new fruit is in preserve form:

Sea buckthorn preserve

Such is the case for me with sea buckthorn.

We had two meals made with stuff from Bazaar. One I didn't get a photo of: dark malt coriander rye bread (that's what it says on the label), toasted and cut into squares, smeared with smetana or farmer cheese, with honey nut or smoked butterfish or salmon roe; along with pieces of sausage, cheese, and the skewered lamb. Basically a sampler plate.

The other actually involved cooking:

Buttered coriander dark malt rye bread; lamb, cabbage, onion; blood sausage

I braised the lamb ribs with cabbage and onion for about two hours and then cooked it uncovered for a bit to let the liquid cook off and brown the lamb. Served with sliced cooked blood sausage, buttered bread, and tkemali sauce.

Another shot of same.

And a shot of the lamb ribs after braising, while the liquid was cooking off:

Lamb ribs braised with cabbage and onion

cafe brazil

Friday night, Caitlin and I got dinner from Cafe Brazil in Allston.  I love Brazilian food - one of the first posts of this blog I mentioned that I love the cuisines of the Iberian diaspora - but I've only ever had it when I've made it myself.

So good.

Look at the size of the fried yuca and banana appetizer.  This is a large styrofoam container, the size of a dinner plate:

Fried yuca and banana

Yuca, if I haven't talked about it here before, is a starchy tuber also known as manioc or cassava depending on the country.  In Cuban restaurants it's boiled, fried, and served with mojo (lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic).  Here, it was tougher and starchier than I'm used to, and I don't know if the difference was the yuca or the way it was prepared.


Empanadas.  On the left, the quibe (cf. kibbeh) - ground beef, wheat, spices, and mint.  On the right, risole - chicken, mozzarella cheese, and corn.  Both were terrific.

Brazilian food from Cafe Brasil

A little of everything.  Banana and yuca at 12 o'clock.

Bife rolet at 3 o'clock: "Thin slice of beef rolled up with cheese and bacon, first grilled, then simmered in a fragrant sauce of chunk vegetables and herbs."  This was good, but I think might be better in the restaurant.

At 6 o'clock, feijoada completa along with its sides.  Feijoada is the national dish of Brazil, a stew of black beans with as many cuts of pork and sausage as possible - in this case, pork knuckle, ribs, pig tail, and linguica (a Portuguese sausage that's like a mild chorizo).  Amazingly satisfying, hearty, flavorful ... just so damn good.  Served with extremely good collard greens that I think were sauteed with garlic, and (visible to the bottom right just below the white rice) feijao tropeiro: beans mixed with yuca flour, bacon, eggs, and onions.  I'd never seen that before, and it's terrific - I'd be perfectly happy with a meal of just that.

What I don't have pictures of are the pastries we picked up from a Korean bakery Friday night, a place we just happened to see as we were walking by.  We got two pastries, one sweet and one savory - peanut cream, which was like a delicious donut with more flavor and less overwhelming sweetness than Dunkin Donuts or the like, and one with beef and potatoes, which was like what Hot Pockets should be.  Great little place that we need to go back to during the day when they aren't sold out of most of their offerings.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Caitlin got me ice cream for Christmas.  You may have heard of Jeni's ice cream on the Food Network - that's where I had heard about it, on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, one of the few shows I'll watch on that network.

I have to say ... I consider myself good at coming up with ice cream flavors.  This is the first time I've been outclassed.  Some of the flavors at Jeni's are things you'd never think of - the four here aren't even the most unusual - but they work perfectly:

Ice cream for Christmas

Cherry lambic sorbet.  This tastes so much like Lindemans kriek lambic in frozen form that I'm amazed there are any other ingredients there.  It's the first one I finished.

Lime cardamom yogurt.  You notice two things right away: first, the massive amount of lime flavor exploding in your mouth, and second, that this is frozen yogurt that actually tastes like yogurt.  Now, Pinkberry and its clones haven't made their way here yet, so I know that "frozen yogurt that actually tastes like yogurt" has been a big thing for a couple years now, but all of my previous frozen yogurt experience is still based in the 1980s paradigm of "wow I can't believe this is yogurt, good job hiding that."  Sometimes you want to believe it's yogurt.  Sometimes yogurt is great.  This is great.  I love this stuff.

Goat cheese with Cognac figs.  I can't believe I never thought of goat cheese ice cream before, but there you go.  If you think it's weird, think about cheesecake.  Goat cheese isn't that far from cream cheese - not far enough to warrant that face you made, anyway.  There's enough goat cheese in this that the texture is even slightly granular, and there's a big dose of Cognac-soaked figs in there.

Bangkok Peanut.  My second-favorite.  Formerly called Thai Chile, which tells you what's going on here - you've got peanut butter, toasted coconut, and chile, and it's amazing and complex.  For one thing, it's a perfectly smooth ice cream - the toasted coconut was just steeped in the cream, I'm guessing.  But the peanut butter and coconut still contribute a lot of texture - the mouthfeel is creamy in a different way than other ice creams.  I don't know how else to explain it.  If you've had ice creams with coconut milk in them, you might understand.  It melts on and coats your tongue differently, I suppose.  The spice level is very prominent - enough that I don't think I'd eat a whole bowl of this at once, but there's nothing wrong with making ice cream last longer.

I'm a sucker for cherry and lambic and cherry lambic, that's the only reason the cherry lambic sorbet wins out - Bangkok Peanut is the most complex, most interesting ice cream I've ever had.  Sometimes "complex and interesting sounding" things disappoint - I think Vosges' candy bars, despite ingredients like black sesame and wasabi, or bacon, or curry, are actually pretty forgettable.  This is one of those rare times when you hear about something interesting and it exceeds expectations.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My three favorite cheeses - don't ask me to rank them - are Grafton's four year cheddar, any three year gouda (Beemster was the first I had), and Humboldt Fog. If I were to expand that list, I'd include Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano, more cheddars, Cotswold, cave-aged Gruyere, aged Manchego ... all of which makes Humboldt Fog stand out even more, because unlike all of those, it's a young cheese, and a mold-ripened cheese. Mold-ripened cheeses usually aren't my thing at all, and young cheeses are fine - I like goat cheese - but (with one other notable exception, Vermont Creamery's Bonne Bouche) don't inspire a lot of passion in me.

Humboldt Fog is pretty amazing. It's so amazing that it's become cliche to say so. It was one of the first cheeses I heard of in the slowly growing discussion of "American artisanal cheeses," and won a bunch of awards starting in the late 90s. Even before the current trend of certain restaurants listing the brands and provenance of their ingredients, restaurants were making a point of offering Humboldt Fog stuffed figs, or omelettes, or cheesecakes - not just goat cheese.

It's a goat's milk cheese, with a line of ash running down the middle like (cow's milk) Morbier. The interior is like fresh goat cheese - nice and goaty - with a layer of soft-ripened (Brie-like, if that makes more sense for you) cheese surrounding it. The bloomy mold is tasteless, which is probably why I don't mind it.

All in all, I keep telling people it's like "goat cheese cubed." It's not that there are flavors here you don't associate with goat cheese, as such - but they're stronger, more complex, more nuanced, more powerful. It's a smoker's cheese, I suppose - I'm not anymore, but am aware that a lot of my food loves (rich braised meats, whiskey, spicy food, aged cheddar) come from having smoked moderately to heavily from 18 to 28.

Like any other goat cheese, it goes great with grits - or in an omelette, or with prosciutto, chorizo, or salami.  I've never tried it on pizza, but I really ought to.