Monday, October 20, 2008

One Weird Ingredient, A Delicious New Twist on Breakfast

If you're from Wisconsin, cheese curds are all too familiar. But, in San Diego? Well, not so much. You can find them now through Spring Hill Jersey Cheese's Rachel Peter. I was at the Little Italy farmers market last Saturday, where she has a stall, and bought a container of the garlic curds (she also sells plain and "Mike's Firehouse," a blend of jalapenos, red peppers, cilantro and parsley).

Cheese curds, of course, are small chunks of cheese solids, separated from the whey. Usually, they're salted, pressed into molds, aged and eventually become cheese. But, curds can be eaten in youth on their own. They're an unusual texture sensation, though. As people who have eaten them will tell you, they tend to squeak when you bite into them.

There are a host of ways you can use cheese curds. They can be fried, they can be sprinkled fresh on top of a salad. You could simply put them in a bowl and just nosh on them. But, as I discovered, they also melt beautifully.

I had one of those moments of staring into the refrigerator this morning in search of inspiration for breakfast and when I saw the container sitting on the bottom shelf, it occurred to me that I could melt them on slices of sourdough bread from Bread & Cie. I had some beautiful tomatoes, too. So, I brushed two slices of the bread with olive oil and toasted them briefly in the toaster oven so they wouldn't get soggy from the tomato slices. I added the sliced tomatoes, then cut up little pieces of the garlic curds and topped the tomatoes and bread. They went back into the toaster oven on the highest "toaster" temperature. Here's what I got.


The cheese didn't lose its flavor in the cooking, although it obviously lost its squeak. It melts like mozzarella, so it would, of course, be perfect as a pizza topping. I enjoyed this for breakfast, but it would be a great match with a salad or bowl of soup for lunch or dinner. One of those great, easy discoveries when you don't want to fuss much.

Another item to try from Spring Hill is the quark, an unripened cheese originally found in Central Eastern Europe, but with a texture similar to cream cheese or ricotta. Eat it straight up, spread it on bread, use it as a topping on banana bread or a slice of lemon cake. I have a small container of their vanilla bean quark, which I've found is simply wonderful as a dip for sliced apples or pears. It's very tangy and smooth. Rachel also sells lemon and garlic flavors.

Garlic? Well, why not. And, here's a recipe for a savory Quark Spatzle with Cheese I found on epicurious.com. It comes originally from East of Paris: The New Cuisines of Austria and the Danube by David Bouley, Mario Lohninger and Melissa Clark. The spatzle itself is made with quark. It calls for plain, but I would think garlic or even lemon would add a wonderful layer of flavor.

Want to make your own quark? It looks pretty easy, according to a recipe on Sally's Place.

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