The Fine Cheese Company

17 comments



When I was 18 I had a wise idea; I was going to pack a suitcase, get a student work permit and visit a friend in London for 6 months. I knew the difficulties in working in a foreign country from friends and figured I better jump on the chance to make this cosmopolitan dream a reality. So with passport and a work visa in hand, I hit the UK running.

Like many other 18 year olds, at the time I thought I knew everything and that I could wing it. The phrase "culture shock" wasn't even a part of my vocabulary, and why should it have been? My bravado and wanderlust were going to carry me through my travels, naturally! Boy, was I wrong.

Apparently I forgot to pack my motivation and confidence.

What I discovered was a big, giant, bustling urban sprawl, filled with cars and people living their busy, busy lives. It was quite the opposite of the slow, relaxed Texan pace I knew. I also discovered how to live off of only £3 a day, and most importantly I discovered that I wasn't cut out for a retail job on Bond street. Nothing better than a big giant city to slap a boy into reality!

Of course I wouldn't change my experience for anything. It wasn't until passing through London 13 years later on my way to Spain that I was able to laugh at the experience and see it through a different set of eyes. A set of only slightly more mature eyes – I still have a whole lot of growing up to do and I'm fighting it at every step of the way!

So why am I sharing all this? Because I have regrets. I regret, first and foremost, spending two months in London and never venturing out of my tiny gastronomic comfort zone. I regret having never visited the places I dream about today, from farmer's markets and pubs to places like Neal's Yard Dairy. I regret having gone too young in my life, and I regret biting off more than I could chew. However, I hope to make all these regrets disappear someday, and I hope it's soon.

I've still got a little bit of that wanderlust in me.


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Ok, so I may live on the other side of the planet on the edge of Western civilization, but thanks to importers and modern technology we're all able to enjoy foods from around the world. While I'm talking about England I must include a blurb about The Fine Cheese Company of Bath, England. I was recently given their English Pickles to taste and can I just tell you that my socks have officially been knocked off? As if I wasn't impressed enough by the adorable packaging, man, this stuff is amazing. Meant to be served with various cheeses, these savory and tangy pickles are made with natural ingredients and come in Apple, Plum, Onion and Tomato. A generous dollop of the English Onion on a piece of sharp cheddar (I mean English Cheddar, naturally) sends me out of this galaxy. And their crackers are the perfect accompaniment to cheese. If you can get your hands on the Charcoal crackers, by all means, do!

Now if you'll excuse me I have some almost-empty jars that need licking.


Online at The Fine Cheese Company.


Secret Eating

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It came to my attention as I stood in my kitchen eating an overripe avocado sprinkled with sea salt that surely anyone who caught a glimpse of how barbaric and savage I was acting would surely run away in terror. I mean, I was in my element, I was alone, with nothing more than green debris on my face and a spoon firmly planted in my hand. I'd never show the world how fast I could actually eat an avocado, and I certainly would never admit that had there been two or three I'd have eaten them, too. But I didn't have to worry about that. I was alone, in the privacy of my kitchen, able to let manners and etiquette temporarily disappear.

I was a pig.

Someone once said "We all have something we like to eat in secret." Or something like that. And the more I think about it, I believe that we do all have things we enjoy eating in secret. For whatever reason. Maybe it's an appalling quantity of something we'd never want anyone to see. Maybe it's the most bizarre combination of ingredients. Perhaps it's something so bad-for-you, so trashy, that we dare not give up our food snobbery public image.

To my sisters and female companions that quietly indulge in copious sugar and salt during special times, I salute you.

To my friend who mixes sugar, avocado and sour cream in a dixie cup and eats it when nobody's watching, my hat's off to you.

To my colleage who will eat 2 pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream in one sitting and then claim his lactose intolerance doesn't allow ice cream, I'm down.

To a certain relative that wraps whatever she can get her hands on in a tortilla and devours it, I love you, Mom. (ooops! no names, matt, no names!)

So my dear friends, I ask you: What do you like to eat in secret? I'd love to know. Come on, open up. Oh, and feel free to comment anonymously, lest anyone thinks you are a glutton like me.


Gimme a Beet!

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We never ate beets growing up; they simply never made their way onto my mother's shopping list. However, I've taken the time to quickly correct that situation and am currently making up for lost time. I've got purple-stained fingers for proof.

Beets, also known as beetroot, often take a back seat in the vegetable world, and that saddens me. Beets are often relegated to a strange shelf of a produce department, way in the back. I've heard friends and customers say:

"Well, even if I did buy them, I'd have absolutely no idea what to do with them."

"If I really wanted them I'd buy them canned. It's much easier."

"Do I look Russian to you? Nyet."

"Beets taste like dirt. No thank you."

"Why is this creepy tattooed guy following me around the produce department? I"m calling security."

I'm ok with being on a one-man mission to sing the praises of beets. Because properly done, beets are so utterly satisfying, so unique and flavorful, that they become something of a superstar on the table. No, trust me on this one. There's nothing like them. That nutty, sweet, earthy, iron-y flavor cannot be matched by any other of Mother Nature's vegetables.

Ok, so if I can't sell people on flavor surely I can sell them on nutrition. Beets pack a nutritional punch and contain compounds that protect against heart disease and other maladies. Beets have betacyanin, giving them that deep purple color, and it's also rich in beneficial flavonoids. Include decent amounts of folate, manganese, fiber, potassium, iron and magnesium and you'll see why beets are the way to go.

(However, beets are high in Oxalates, naturally-occurring substances found in the animals, plants, and us. Oxalates can become concentrated in body fluids and crystalize, so you should consult your doctor if you are prone to kidney or gallbladder problems. I am not a doctor, fyi.)

Beets have the highest sugar content of all vegetables, which not only gives them that unique sweetness but also plays a big part in their texture when roasted. The sugars carmelize, giving them a delicious sweet, roasted taste and shiny appearance. But you don't have to fire up the oven to enjoy them–grate beets into salads or on top of soups, sauté the greens on top of the beets as you would mustard greens or chard, juice them, microwave them, steam them, fry them, mash them, etc.

However you prepare them, be gentle. You don't want to bruise or cut the beet's skin when rinsing them before using. They may seem hearty, and to an extent they are, but treat them with kind hands and let them lavish you with taste and good-for-you compounds.

What's your way with beets?




P.S. How do I state this gingerly? Consuming beets can often leave you with Beeturia, a harmless physiological process that turns, um, well, your "output" red. Not to worry, it's just your body's way of ridding itself of excess pigments found in beets.


Hello, Jicama!

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I must sheepishly admit that ever since the first day of Spring a few weeks ago our grill has not seen a day off. It seems that our menus at home have been created, modified, planned and changed in order to accommodate outdoor cooking. It's not as if good weather is fleeting, at least not here in Los Angeles. But I just can't help it. Grilling is one of life's greatest pleasures. It's the culmination of great food, wonderful company, sunshine, flip flops and a few beers. Or several.

No matter what we've thrown on the grill, there's always one constant: Jicama Salad. I wish I could pinpoint when my love affair with this bulbous root began, but suffice it to say that the cool sweet crunch pairs well with just about anything you barbeque. Grilled fish? It's fabulous. Ribs slathered in sauce? Yep. Smoky grilled vegetables hot off the grill? Of course.

Jicama is a root vegetable that's native to Mexico and South America. It's fabulous both raw and cooked, and the best part is that it happily retains the crunch when cooked. Just peel this less-than-attractive knobby bulb and use it to your heart's desire. It's especially delicious in salads and stir fries.

Jicama Slaw
I adore this recipe. It doesn't require exact amounts of anything (my favorite way of cooking) and always comes out just right.

INGREDIENTS
2 cups shredded jicama
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded & shredded
1/2 carrot, finely shredded
1/2 cup thinly sliced yellow bell pepper
1 finely chopped shallot
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

METHOD
Whisk together the vinegar, lime juice and olive oil and set aside. With a cheesecloth or a thin towel, squeeze the excess water from the jicama, cucumber and carrots. In a large bowl, combine the jicama, cucumber and carrots with the bell pepper, shallot and cilantro. Toss with the vinegar mixture and coat well, allowing to sit for 15 minutes. Toss before serving.


A Showdown!

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Can I just tell you how much I love DVRs? You know, those big sleek boxes that sit on top of your television that record hours upon hours of television programming, allowing you to watch things you never really cared to watch before but hey, now you can? I've never watched as much television as I have in the past 2 years, thanks to my little slice of technological heaven.

Having my Digital Video Recorder (yes, like everyone else I seem to refer to it as "TIVO" even though Tivo is a brand but I'll leave the marketing lessons to my brilliant friend Olivier) has let me finally reacquaint myself with the Food Network and every investigative reporting-style show ever broadcast. But that's not always a good thing. I've come to the conclusion that with the exception of Alton Brown the Food Network exists to create and exercise their use of puns. It's food programming taken down to its lowest common denominator, blanched out and pan fried till it's salty, crispy and unidentifiable. All the history, difficulty and mental nutritional value has been removed. To think there's a "Food Network" that doesn't travel the globe, interview the movers and shakers of the food world nor show where food comes from is beyond frustrating to me. I honestly believe they can do better. Sure, they've showed me how twinkies get their injection of frosting and where red vines and m&ms come from, but please people, give me a break. I want some real food, damnit.

(Did I wake up on the wrong side of the bed or something? Geez, Matt!)

I've accepted the fact that I should not expect too much from food television programming now. I've seen a few episodes of Bravo's Top Chef and probably won't be watching it again. Food and Reality don't seem to mix too well in my book, and that's ok. I mean, I want it to work, I really do. It's just sometimes it's a bit lackluster.



However, I must say I am looking forward to NBC's Celebrity Cooking Showdown. Finally, a show that won't pretend to be anything else but what it is: a showdown. God I love that word. Showdown. But here's the premise: celebrities will be paired with famous chefs, have a culinary "boot camp", then prepare a meal under strenuous conditions. How can you not love that? Besides, the show stars Govind Armstrong of LA's Table 8, one of my favorite places in town. And he's one hell of a great guy. What's more, according to my secret source at NBC, the competition heats up and one celebrity ends up needing stitches! INJURY! BLOOD! SHOWDOWN! There are a few other tidbits I'd love to reveal right now, but this is a food blog, not a gossip blog. Some times are better left unsaid.

So needless to say I might just actually skip my DVR and watch, real-time.

If I remember how to do that.


Review: Heineken Premium Light

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My bottle of Heineken Premium Light arrived in quite beautiful packaging, complete with product info and a nice opener. I'm a sucker for nice packaging, but as I opened the silver flight case I thought to myself, as many people do: Light Beer? What do I know about Light Beer? Other than Amstel Light, I couldn't think of a time where I've actually enjoyed sitting down to a beer that attempts to offer flavor while going easy on the alcohol, calories and carb content. But I was going to go into this with an open mind, even if I heard the purist rants of my brother-in-law in the back of my head.

(My brother-in-law, a professional brewmaster, has been making beer for over 20 years. Hello, Jim.)

I devised a very informal blind taste testing with a few friends. I told them they'd be tasting two light beers and one regular beer. We talked about Heineken's "luxury light" category, which I still don't quite understand but I believe it to be an area where people want quality and flavor and want to "socialize without sacrifice." I have yet to understand this marketing concept, I think it might have been easier to just say "Hey, we're Heineken. This is our attempt to get into the premium category with a light beer. Taste it and let us know what you think." Oh wait, I think that's what they said to me. But I digress...

As it turns out, the beers sampled (Heineken, Amstel Light, Heineken Premium Light) were all very easily identifiable, the latter through the process of elimination. The verdict? It's good. Now, you may not enjoy it if you favor giant hearty big dark beers, but I must say that I prefer my sips on the lighter side (which is why I've always been a big Hefeweizen fan). Lighter in color and body than even Amstel Light, the Premium Light has a great flavor, light body, is still very Heineken, and would pair nicely with food. Will I order it and drink it when I'm out? Absolutely. I've got an expanding waistline I'm trying to keep in check.


Product Reviews

5 comments

After a few PR inquiries and emails from companies (as well as clearance from the HR Department of my day job!), mattbites has decided to review products. Now, these reviews are not the same as my regular postings where I go crazy over a piece of cheese or drink a new cocktail and then blog all drunk about it and embarrass myself later with typos and grammatical errors and whatnot. No sir, these are different. I'll always let you know when something was submitted, I'll review it honestly, and I will never accept payment. Ever. Money has a tendency to change things, not always for the better, and this is supposed to be fun, people! Besides, I already gots me a day job, yo.


All Natural

8 comments



A bottle of 7-Up came across my desk today for work. I'm not a big soda drinker so I didn't think anything of it until I looked closely and noticed a small band underneath the familiar 7-Up Logo.

"7-UP. Now 100% Natural."

I remember a time in my early 20s, ringing up customers and stocking shelves at the original Whole Foods in Austin, Texas. Organic and natural foods were from another planet, where brands like Ah Soy and Amy's were staples and you'd never see a mainstream, conventional brand even come through the receiving back door.

How times have changed. Whole Foods is no longer that little hippie grocery store on North Lamar, and retail behemoth Wal-Mart has announced their large-scale effort to court the organic and natural shopper by increasing their natural category.

Is this a good thing? I have mixed feelings.

I believe in food in its most pure, unadulterated state. I get organic. I prefer foods free from additives, foods that have been minimally processed. But I can't help but feel that major food manufactures are simply jumping on a bandwagon for the sake of sales.

Full disclosure: I am still in the grocery business. I do not mean to bite the hand that feeds me. It's just all so interesting to me.

Considering that the organic trade is the fastest growing category of foods in the retail sector I suppose all this makes sense. There was a time when eating natural and organic meant filling your body with pure, balanced, good-for-you foods. You weren't overloading on sugar and hydrogenated fats because that simply wasn't the profile of the category. But now it seems several companies are revamping their ingredients list so that they can be seen in a new, natural light.

Consider this: Silk Soy Milk is from Dean Foods. Cascadian Farms is owned by General Mills, Colgate-Palmolive recently bought Tom's of Maine. Kraft owns Boca Burgers, and Unilever recently introduced organic Ragu. Hormel has a new line called Hormel Natural Choice, and Frito Lay Natural & Organic has been available for some time.

So I ask: Is this a good thing? Is organic less important because it's backed by a large food comglomerate? Is it better because more people are eating natural and organic foods? Or are they just eating the same unbalanced foods but this time they're non-gmo, non-hydrogenated and less processed? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Egg & Potato Chip Tortilla

5 comments



Along with relatively good health and a wonderful loving family, I have been blessed with some of the world's most amazing friends. Not only do they put up with my shenanigans and crazy-loving ways, but they think of me when they travel and bring me fun stuff. Case in point: my friends Paul and Wade.

If I didn't love these guys so much, I'd probably be incredibly bitter and jealous (read: ok, I still am, damnit) that my friend Paul was the only person I know who was able to pick up the phone and easily secure a reservation at El Bulli. Without the wait. Yea yea yea, it's all who you know, I realize, but hey, I'd like to know them too. Is that too much to ask for?

Paul works in the wine business and is my regular wine sage. It's hard to be angry or jealous with someone who gives you hours of advice and lets you raid their wine cellar when you visit. So I'll be nice about this.

Oh, back to the gifts. Sensing my seething envy, these guys were thoughtful enough to schlep back Ferran Adria's El Bulli Cookbook for me along with his book Cocinar En Casa Con Caprabo y Ferran Adria. While apparently nothing can match the experience of dining at El Bulli, just getting these books from them comes pretty damn close, if you ask me. I know I haven't said it enough, but guys, thank you.



Trying to make my way through the cookbook reminds me of my 8th grade science class. Unfortunately I was too busy passing notes to pay much attention. But Adria's book Cocinar En Casa has been such a great read filled with interesting ways of preparing dishes using creativity and everyday grocery store items. (Incidentally, this book was developed in conjuction with the Spanish supermaket chain Caprabo and is available in Spain.) I've discovered a new favorite–his take on the classic Spanish tortilla using potato chips. But I ask: do I really need to find another way to incorporate potato chips into my diet?

Egg & Potato Chip Tortilla
Was I Spanish in a past life? Oh wait, yes. Nevermind. Anyway, the Spanish Tortilla has got to be one of life's most basic pleasures. It's always perfect, any time of day, and always hits the spot. This recipe uses potato chips in place of the regular potatoes and can be prepared in minutes. I must thank Food & Wine magazine for the translation.

Ingredients
4 large eggs
2 cups crushed potato chips
2 tablespoons finely chopped Serrano ham
2 tablespoons finely chopped piquillo peppers
freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

Method
1. Preheat the broiler and position a rack 8 inches from the heat. Beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Transfer half of the beaten eggs to another bowl, stir in the crushed potato chips and let stand until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining beaten eggs, Serrano ham and piquillo peppers and season with pepper.

2. In a small nonstick overproof skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the egg mixture and cook over moderately high heat until the bottom is set and golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the broiler and broil for about 2 minutes, or until the top of the tortilla is golden and the center is slightly jiggly. Slide the tortilla onto a place, cut it quarters and serve.

on the web
Paul Marcus Wines
El Bulli


A Monday Meme

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Ok, so a few of you know I'm relatively new to the food blogging world. As I was telling my food blog idol Melissa at Traveler's Lunchbox this morning, it's definitely a labor of love, but being a part of the great online community makes it all worth every single effort. It's incredible.

After I started blogging I wondered when I'd get tagged for a meme. I waited anxiously, quietly, wanting to be part of this invisible baton-passing that is a meme. Self indulgent? Absolutely. But you also find out things about people you'd never find out otherwise. And then to my surprise 4 came in one week. So without further delay, I'm going to attempt to tackle them here, in no particular order, over the next few weeks. I hope you don't get too bored.

The Recipe Collection Meme

Where do you obtain the recipes you prepare?
Because of my work I am incessantly reading, clipping, jotting and hoarding recipes from just about every source I come in contact with. Magazines, cookbooks, friends, authors and contacts keep my brain full of things to try.

How often do you cook a new recipe?
Several times a week. Sometimes they are nothing more than just tasting a simple recipe, other times they can be rather elaborate. Weekends are generally reserved for those kind of recipes; nothing makes me happier than locking myself in the kitchen and experimenting.

Where do you store your favorite recipes?
My favorite recipes are stored in a few places - I'd hate to lose or misplace them. Printed copies go into a binder in my home office as well as a folder in my work office. They're also stored on my computer in a database for quick and easy reference.

How large is your recipe pile?  Is it organized?  How?
At home I tend to keep 10 to 20 of my most current and new cookbooks close by, and when I run out of space they go into "the library". I am blessed with a large production area & library room at my office for 15 years worth of magazines and cookbooks. I couldn't even count them if I tried.

As far as being organized, let's just say mostly :)

What is the oldest recipe in your to try pile?
The oldest recipe would have to be a traditional mole that I have carried with me for at least 12 years. I have a mental block when it comes to preparing food my grandmother made; I know I will never match nor come close to her expertise and it stops me from trying. But one day, one day...

Are you really ever going to make all those recipes in your to try pile?
But of course! I don't know if you know me and my partner, but heck, we're big boys. We can eat!

But seriously, yes. As a marketer it's my job to promote food and come up with ideas; testing recipes is part of the process.

Do you follow a recipe exactly or modify as you go?
It really all depends. If I bake I never veer from the method - it's crucial to be exact. Otherwise, some modifying occurs, especially if I am substituting certain ingredients for work.

What is one new recipe that you're scared to try?
Hands down it would be Barbacoa de Cabeza. Barbacoa, or slow cooked cow's head, is one of the most tender and amazing things I've ever tasted. It's served with onion and cilantro on tender handmade corn tortillas. I'd love to learn how to do it, yet knowing I'd have to personally remove the eyes, ears and tongue? I'm simply not that brave.

And to those friends I tagged, I apologize. Or say "you're welcome". Depending on your personal views :)


About me

  • I'm Matt Armendariz
  • From Los Angeles, California
  • A man with a passion for good food and a wonderful life with a dash of irreverence. Read at your own risk. Advertising director by day, wino by night. All photos on this site by Matt Armendariz.
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