Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Blue Cheese and Walnut Crackers

I used to fear blue cheese. Cheese is a process of separating curds from whey and aging milk. So blue cheese, in all its pungent splendor, is (dare I write the word on a food blog? I do…) a very special kind of mold.

When I was little, my parents took my sisters and I to picnic at The Cheese Factory on the weekends. We fed the ducks in the pond, picked blackberries, and “rode” the ancient abandoned tractor. And at some point in the afternoon, those of us brave (or foolish) enough to go with my mama, would tour the factory.

I say “factory,” but it is far more farmhouse than industrial. Visitors step inside the cool dark stone house and are immediately hit with the odor of large quantities of aging milk. The tour guide describes the process, from sourcing the milk to adding the rennet to aging the cheeses and finally wrapping them up for distribution.

The tour always ended with my mama buying discs of breakfast cheese (Sister2’s favorite), brie (Sister1’s preference), and camembert (mine!) and eating them with crackers outside. 

It wasn’t until much later that I embraced the awesomeness that is blue cheese. My palate needed time to mature into the coffee consuming, dark chocolate devouring, strong flavor seeker that I am today. And now I just can’t get enough of blue cheese – sprinkled on salads, grilled into burgers, baked inside tarts, and now…in crackers!

The Newbie made these crackers/shortbread when she visited to run Cherry Blossom. This is an Ina Garten recipe, so clearly it’s going to be awesome! The original recipe makes a lot, so we halved it. Be careful with the salt though! I think it might be best to omit it completely, since blue cheese is pretty salty on its own.

Blue Cheese and Walnut Crackers

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
8 ounces Stilton cheese, crumbled (about 12 ounces with rind), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 extra-large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and Stilton together for 1 minute, or until smooth. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour, salt and pepper and mix until it's in large crumbles, about 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon of water and mix until combined.

Dump the dough onto a floured board, press it into a ball, and roll into a 12-inch long log. Brush the log completely with the egg wash. 

Spread the walnuts in a square on a cutting board and roll the log back and forth in the walnuts, pressing lightly, and distributing them evenly on the outside of the log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or for up to 4 days.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut the log 3/8ths-inch thick with a small, sharp knife and place the crackers on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 22 minutes until very lightly browned. Rotate the pan once during baking. Cool and serve at room temperature.

We spread them with fresh ricotta. Because why not add more cheese to your cheese?