Saturday, September 19, 2020

Flakey, Salty, Cheesy



This is quite possibly one of the easiest dishes I make and it never arrives on the table without people gushing and acting like I should run out immediately rush out and audition for Top Chef or Chopped or some junk. While I love the praise, (actually, I am one of those super shy people that freaks out when given too much attention) and all the ohs and ahs I am very quick to confess that this particular dish was a full on cheater one.


Now, every chef I know has had to prepare puff pastry in cooking school, but most swear it is a hardly detectable difference between the scratch made and frozen store-bought versions. I am one of those home cooks that does not bake. I am crap at following directions and the very idea of lugging out my measuring cups and spoons gives my undies a right good twist. Before this dish, I loved the idea of things puddling or being planked between layers of buttery pastry that shatter when penetrated, sending a flourish of delicate shrapnel down your blissfully crunching front but, it was deemed as pastry/baking and I wasn’t doing it. Dammit. 




To this day I am not sure what inspired me to just get over it and try working with puff pastry but this dish was the first I made and it has stuck with me and served me, my family and friends, quite well and quite often.


15 Minutes Prep

25 Minutes Cooking Time


1 Package Frozen Puff Pastry Dough (thawed)

12-15 Slices Hobb’s Wine Cured Salami

7 oz Grated Gruyere

2 ½ Tablespoons Good Dijon Mustard Like Moutarde Forte au Vinagre, (seriously the best mustard I have had outside of Beaune in France)

1 Egg (beaten)

Place rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 450 degrees

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until the dough is about 10-12 inches rectangular. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Spread mustard in even layer on dough leaving a 1-inch boarder on every side.

Arrange Hobb’s Wine Cured Salami on top of the mustard, slightly overlapping avoiding the boarder. Sprinkle grated cheese evenly over salami.

Brush boarder with egg wash

Roll out second sheet of puff pastry to same size as the first. Gently place second sheet of puff pastry directly over the first doing your best to line up the edges. Gently press sides to seal and chill for 15-20 minutes.

Using a sharp knife trim edges and make three slits down the center of the pastry. Brush with egg wash and place in the oven to bake for 20-25 minutes, turning baking sheet halfway through to ensure even browning. Use your sniffer! If you can smell the dough getting to dark check. You want a nice deep golden-brown crust.

Let sit for a few minutes to set, slice, and enjoy.

This savory treat can be served hot or at room temp, up to you. We like ours after it has cooled off for about 10 minutes but there are days when we simply cannot wait to slice into it and watch the cheese ooze out. Can be served as an appetizer or a light lunch/dinner with a big, lemony dressed salad. 

Wine Pairing Suggestions

Because of the savory and salty nature of this dish it leaves lots and lots of options for wine.


Dry Lambrusco 



Saumur Blanc

Alsace Pinot Gris




Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Drawer That Is Never Empty


“You know, there is always a little something leftover for cheese” one of the times my mother’s voice would sound fuller than normal. She even looked taller when she could, with all confidence, assure me that no matter how long the phone might be cut off or worse, ringing off the hook with people looking for payment, there was a little savory crumble or smear of utter indulgence and joy tucked away in the skinny flat drawer of our oft sparsely stocked refrigerator.


Those early years my mother struggled being a single mother, and she did the absolute best she could to try and help me find joy in the little things seeing as the “big ones” weren’t available to us at the time. I learned to blow my wishes into a wand saturated with sudsy bubble liquid. Dream big, deep chest filling breath, wish telepathically whispered into the bubble that formed before my wide eyes. I would then stand there watching as those hopes and dreams floated way above my head and down the street, hoping the whole time that they would go as far as they could before bursting spreading my desires to places out of my reach. Never knowing that one day bubbles would play an instrumental role in a career that took me places I could never have dreamed of standing there on the grass, barefooted, a little hungry, bubbles trailing down the street, my attention drifting to a tiny nibble from the special drawer of the refrigerator. 




My adoration and appreciation of great cheese followed me into my adult life and the cheese department at The Wine Country was the very first department I was fully in charge of twenty something years ago. I started by bringing in the standards, Brie, Camembert, New York Cheddar and a smattering of my beloved blue cheeses. The more confident I got watching people grab handfuls of various wrapped wedges, the more I began to explore, but for the most part sticking with the vast world of cheeses from Europe. That began changing, like a lot, about 6 years ago.


When I began as the cheese buyer for The Wine Country the term “American Cheese” held with it a very different connotation. Most of us were immediately picturing those thin, waxy slabs wrapped in, and frankly tasted a little like, plastic. Good for a comforting, old school, grilled cheese or melted over a burger patty at a backyard barbeque, but maybe not one wants to nibble on while enjoying a wine from your local wine merchant. I can assure you that American cheese has been folded into the foodie world. People are not only open to trying artisanal cheeses from The United States, they are devouring them and coming back for more. I for one now believe with all my cheese loving heart, the cheeses from The United States have surpassed, in terms of diversity, many cheeses from the Old World. There. I said it. 




I think, for us anyway, the real awakening came with the cheeses from right here in California. Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog, Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk and Mt. Tam, the mild offerings from Central Coast Creamery and the bold Blue from Point Reyes. We had access to these fine local gooey offerings and the quality, well like I said, pried our palates and minds right open. This led to local purveyors seeking more incredible cheeses from around the U.S. for us to discover and the things they have brought for us, game changing. Period. Now some of the cheeses I am reordering, suggesting, and taking home to feed my inner cheese monster are, you guessed it, “American Cheese”


Still stocking those beloved eye-opening, or palate prying, favorites like Humboldt Fog, Mt. Tam and Red Hawk but we are always bringing in cool new thinks from small U.S. creameries and below are some of my new all-time favorites. Happy snacking from the cheese drawer everyone!

Your Local Wine & Cheese Nerd,

Samantha Dugan




Sweet Grass Dairy Pimento Cheese 6oz, $7.99

Now this cheese has been featured a lot on our social media pages, blogs and my face. We are crazy in love with this spreadable, smokey, mild but immensely addictive cheese. The grated bits offer texture, the pimento gives us a gloriously smokey note and we have eaten it pastas, grilled cheese sandwiches, burgers, as a dip for fresh veggies and I have been known to smear it on a bagel or toast. Limited only by your imagination. 




Milton Creamery Prairie Breeze 6oz, $6.99

This is such a brilliantly intense cow’s milk, Cheddar styled cheese. Just a big blast of almost caramelized milk flavor. Like a cross between great Cheddar, Parmesan and aged Gouda with a rich mouth feel and a super long, almost sweet finish. A favorite for grating over salads, burgers, and simply nibbling on with fresh fruit. Gorgeous cheese.




Milton Creamery 4 Alarm Cheddar 6oz, $4.99

Not for the weak of palate! They aren’t kidding about 4 alarm here, this is wicked fiery cheese that is great grated into a more mild cheese for tacos, burritos, chili or if you are a fire eater, again, just to nibble. 




Jasper Hill Farm Harbison 9oz, $16.99

This is a super sexy, oozing, pungent, silky cheese that has a bloomy rind and is wrapped in a band of spruce bark which imparts a wicked cool herbal flavor. Not the most beautiful on the outside but this stinker is spilling out with sumptuous feral and olive oil flavors. Crusty bread, crackers and fresh fruit, heavenly. 




Boxcarr Rocket’s Robiola No size indicated but it is a thick hunk, $21.99

This is another more pungent, gooey cheese that ranges from being fudgy to being running and silky. Cow’s milk washed with vegetable ash that takes on a wrinkly outer skin. Inside you get mushrooms, grass, creamy milky notes, and it finishes with a bright tang. Lovely spreadable cheese for a cheese plate or dolloped into mushroom dishes, like pizzas.




Beecher’s Smoked Flagship Cheddar. No size indicated but about 4oz, $9.99

Beecher’s was another creamery that started it all in terms of artisanal domestic cheeses and they have a massive following even outside their shop in Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market. The regular Flagship has won awards for years, but fewer people know about this smoked version. Great crumbly texture, like Cheddar but with a powerful smoked flavor. A favorite for grilled ham and cheese, burgers, nibbling with sweet fruit and adds tremendous punch to grilled pizzas.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Quick & Easy, Super Cheesy


So, as most of you know, we have been open during all the Covid-19 closures. We have been incredibly lucky to keep our doors open and have been continuing to go the extra mile in terms of cleaning, sanitizing and such to keep everyone, customers and staff alike, safe and to keep us open for our community. We cannot thank you all for your patience, your respecting distancing, phone and internet ordering and popping in to see us. You  can't know how happy, and slightly normalizing it is to see even half your faces.  


As I am sure you can understand, we have been riding our own CoronaCoaster of ups and downs, stresses, concerns and absolute exhaustion these days. We are so very lucky to still be working, and super busy, (thank you day drinking home schoolers!) but as I am standing at my kitchen sink every night, washing out my face mask in screaming hot water, trying to shake the yucky feeling in my tummy from having upset a customer by asking them to please wear their masks properly, or thinking about how my self-imposed distancing, because of my exposure to the public, has me missing my friends and hanging out, I assure you, the tired is real. 




One of my great joys in these melting after my day moments is when I can cook a meal for my husband, kick my shoes off and scroll through the pages upon pages of posts from friends and foodie groups. Everyone posting food porn photos of what they are making now that they have some extra time on their hands. While takeout is great, (and a huge shoutout to our local restaurants that are doing their best to stay open and feed us!!) many of us are finding comfort flexing our kitchen prowess. Never seen so much sourdough in my life by the way. I look forward to kitchen time all day, most days, but there are always times I just want a quick, easy dish that is super low key but over delivers in the flavor department and just a couple nights ago I threw together a quick, soul satisfying dish that left the husband and I grunting like cave people, elated with the simplicity and utter escapism found at the bottom of our, empty-too-soon bowls.


Take the 20-sih minutes.

Find some excitement and shoulder-lifting pride in creating a moment to step out of the new normal into a new favorite. 







As always, I don’t follow directions so there is/are no exact measurements here so get your inner chef on and, as always, adapt to the size of your table and flavor preferences. Here is, sort of what I did.


4 Ears of Corn- simply grilled, cooled and cut off the cob. If fresh is not looking good, a couple bags of frozen is totally fine.

½ Pound of Your Favorite Bacon- I used Hobb’s, chopped

1 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 Large Bunch Scallions- diced

Splash of White Wine or Stock, about ¼ cup- room temp

¼ Cup, (or more if you are like me) Fresh Basil, finely diced

8 Ounces dried Pasta, Spiral if Possible

1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan

1 Tub Sweet Grass Pimento Cheese $7.99 at The Wine Country


This is a wonderfully easy and flexible recipe so do as you wish here but for us, I did the following.


Grill corn and let cool enough to handle, cut off the cob. If you are using frozen. Let it thaw before cooking.


Fill a large pot of water and put it on to boil, salt when tiny bubbles form.


Heat large skillet over medium high heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Add bacon and cook until crisp, remove and drain on paper towels.

Now, most recipes would tell you to drain some of the bacon fat, (I prefer the term “Bacon Jus”) but I am not fooling anyone. Drain if too fatty but you do want some fat and pan nubbins.

Add corn and sauté until popping and your kitchen smells like sheer indulgence. Splash in stock or wine and cook until liquid is nearly gone.


Cook pasta and reserve some of the pasta water to help thicken the sauce if needed, it will be needed I assure you, but a couple ladles ought to do you.


Toss chopped scallions into corn sauté until just warmed through, add drained pasta, the Parm and Sweet Grass Pimento Cheese, salt and pepper, toss, a lot, adding reserved pasta water for desired texture. Take off heat and finish with bacon, torn basil and a more grated Parm if you desire.




Does not heat up the kitchen much and it feeds the needing soul. 


Wines to go with!