Sue Style is into food, wine and travel and writes about all three – sometimes separately, often in combination. She comes originally from Yorkshire and has migrated over the years to London, Madrid, Fontainebleau, Mexico City and Basel. She’s now happily ensconced in southern Alsace, within spitting distance of that region’s vineyards and conveniently placed for cross-border raids into Switzerland and across the Rhine to Baden/Germany, both of whose wines and food she explores at every opportunity. Lately, she’s discovered Catalunya, where both her children have had the good taste to settle. she's the author of nine books on subjects ranging from Mexican food through the food and wines of Alsace and of Switzerland to creative vegetable cookery. The most recent, published October 2011, is Cheese: Slices of Swiss Culture, devoted to the finest Swiss farmhouse cheeses and the talented people who make them. Her articles appear in Decanter, France Magazine, Culture Cheese Magazine, FT Weekend, and on her website suestyle.com.She gives sporadic cooking workshops in her Alsace kitchen and leads bespoke vineyard tours in the region.

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Why Lipstick-Pink Is Rhubarb’s Hot Color Image

Rhubarb excites mixed emotions. Ambrose Bierce, dyspeptic satirist and author of “The Devil’s Dictionary,” described it as “the vegetable essence of stomach ache.” John Thorne, the pen behind the cult culinary newsletter Simple Cooking, is clearly a fan, fantasizing about those two ideal mates, rhubarb and strawberries, “whose tastes and textures meld into a sort of subtle transcendental oneness.”

You may — like Bierce — despise this curious vegetable (into which botanical category it more accurately falls). Or perhaps you share Thorne’s fondness for it and are currently celebrating its reappearance in markets, shops and gardens after the seemingly endless winter. Either way, you can hardly miss it if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, for its moment is now.

Rhubarb’s color comes from light, or lack thereof

Broadly speaking, rhubarb falls into two categories. Firstly, there is the so-called “forced” kind, which appears in late winter and early spring. It is cultivated in warm sheds in total darkness and in some places is still traditionally picked by candlelight.

Because the plant is never exposed to light, photosynthesis does not occur. The stalks take on a brilliant, lipstick-pink color while the (inedible) leaves are a rather anemic yellow. Rhubarb treated in this way is also the tenderest and most flavorsome. Some of the most celebrated is grown in the Rhubarb Triangle in west Yorkshire, England, which in 2010 received Protected Designation of Origin, or PDO, status under the name Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb.

The second type is field rhubarb, which appears from late spring through summer, depending on the local climate. Because this kind is grown outdoors in full daylight, the stalks are pale green in color and tinged with only a suspicion of pink, and the texture is noticeably coarser and the foliage deep green.

You can use either sort for this delicious, meringue-topped tart, which has its roots in Alsace, France, but it’s undeniably prettier if you use forced rhubarb. If using field rhubarb, you may need to peel away the outer, fibrous layer before chopping it in pieces.

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Field rhubarb. Credit: Sue Style

To avoid the risk of a soggy bottom to your tart (ever-present with rhubarb because of its high water content), dredge the fruit with sugar and leave it in a bowl for several hours, or better still overnight. This way it will render much of its juice.

The baking then falls into three steps. First, bake the sugared fruit “dry” in its pastry case, then mix some of the juice with cornstarch, egg and cream, pour it over the fruit and bake again. Finally, daub it with the meringue and return the tart to the oven for its final baking. The ground nuts act as extra waterproofing between fruit and pastry, as well as adding an agreeably nutty crunch.

Rhubarb Tart with Meringue Topping

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

1¾ pounds (800 grams) rhubarb

10 ounces (300 grams) sugar, divided

8 ounces (250 grams) piecrust or puff pastry

2 to 3 tablespoons ground almonds or hazelnuts

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 egg

½ cup (150 milliliters) crème fraîche or light cream

3 egg whites, plus a pinch of salt

Directions

1. Trim the rhubarb, cut in 1-inch (2-centimeter) chunks and put them in a bowl.

2. Sprinkle with 5 ounces (150 grams) of the sugar, mix up well and leave to macerate for several hours or overnight until the rhubarb releases most of its juice. Stir occasionally to make sure the sugar is well distributed.

3. Tip the rhubarb into a colander set over a bowl. Reserve the juice.

4. Heat the oven to 400 F (200 C).

5. Roll out the pastry and settle it into a 12-inch (30-centimeter) quiche pan with a removable base. Prick the pastry with a fork and scatter a thin layer of ground nuts in the bottom.

6. Arrange the rhubarb on top of the nuts.

7. Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry is beginning to color and the rhubarb is lightly cooked.

8. Measure out half a cup of the reserved juice and mix in the cornstarch, stirring till smooth. Add this to the egg and crème fraîche, whisking well together till smooth.

9. Remove the tart from oven and pour the mixture over the fruit.

10. Return the tart to the oven and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes or until the custard is lightly set.

11. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff, add the remaining 5 ounces (150 grams) of the sugar and continue beating till stiff and glossy and you could turn the bowl upside down without the whites falling out.

12. Remove the tart from oven and reduce the temperature to 325 F (170 C).

13. Spoon the meringue mixture over the top, fluff it up with a fork and return the tart to the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes or until the meringue is firm and very lightly colored.

14. Cool the tart on a rack. Serve at room temperature for maximum flavor.

Main photo: Forced rhubarb is bright pink in color. Credit: Sue Style

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Kohlrabi Kicks It In Salad, Quiche And Curry Image

“There are better vegetables than kohlrabi,” Jane Grigson wrote in her classic “Vegetable Book.” “And worse,” she added as an afterthought.

Faint praise can be so damning, and kohlrabi suffers more than most from this kind of lukewarm billing. This is a shame, and I’ve never fully understood the reasons. Raw, this curious bulbous vegetable makes a toothsome, crunchy salad that’s fairly bursting with goodness; cooked — stir-fried or gently steamed and lavishly buttered — its natural sweetness comes to the fore. And because it’s fairly neutral in flavor, it also lends itself to a bit of Indian or Mexican saucery.

The name, which elides Kohl (cabbage) with Rübe (turnip), gives a clue to what to expect. It belongs to the brassica family — think cabbage, sprouts, broccoli and today’s recently (re)discovered superfood, kale. As for the turnip part of the name, this refers to its size and shape rather than its flavor, which leans more toward the fresh sweetness of peeled broccoli stalks than the ripe barnyard aroma of turnips.

The fruiting body or edible part looks like a root but grows above rather than below ground. Slender stalks and leaves (also edible) sprout directly from its smooth outer skin, which can be either pale green or a rather fetching shade of purple.

According to the late Alan Davidson in his masterly “Oxford Companion to Food,” kohlrabi’s origins are shrouded in mystery, though the earliest records of its cultivation in Europe seem to place it in 14th-century France. It’s possible that medieval French cooks loved kohlrabi, but the love affair has long since faded: My (French) seed catalog describes it as an excellent vegetable that is “not yet well enough known or appreciated in France.” Jean Bardet, one of the first French chefs to take vegetable cookery seriously, observes wistfully in his book “A La Découverte des Saveurs du Potager that this great little bulb deserves to be far better known.

Kohlrabi’s true heartland is Germany and neighboring countries. Of late I’ve spotted it in all three countries here on my doorstep, whether in the superb farmers market in Freiburg, Germany, which gathers Saturday mornings around the city’s grand sandstone cathedral, or at my local farm shop in Switzerland, or in our friendly neighborhood supermarket here in Alsace, France. It’s less well-known in the United Kingdom and the United States, though it’s increasingly found in farmers markets, and it crops up regularly in community supported agriculture, or CSA, vegetable boxes.

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Kohlrabi. Credit: Sue Style

Elsewhere, kohlrabi is a familiar sight piled high in markets throughout the Middle East — Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israel-born chef and best-selling food writer, describes Jerusalemites’ love affair with this vegetable, which they particularly value in fresh, crunchy salads. It’s also popular in India, where its gentle flavor and firm texture make it a fine candidate for a mixed vegetable curry (see recipe).

If you’re lucky enough to be able to buy kohlrabi, make sure the bulbs look fresh and sprightly, not tired and wrinkled. Look for ones that have greenery still attached (also edible; chop and cook it briefly in butter) as that’s a clue to their freshness. Above all, think small: The best kohlrabi are barely as big as a tennis ball.

Kohlrabi and Apple Salad With Lime Dressing

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

For the dressing:

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Juice of 1 or 2 limes

1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

A pinch of sugar

6 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

For the salad:

3 kohlrabi

2 well-flavored dessert apples

Plenty of cilantro to garnish

Directions

1. Start the dressing by mixing together salt, pepper, juice of 1 lime, mustard and sugar in a bowl or jam jar, stirring or shaking until the salt and sugar dissolve.

2. Add the oil and mayonnaise and whisk or shake well to emulsify. Taste to see if it needs more lime juice and add more if necessary.

3. Trim away the thick root ends from the kohlrabi, peel (as if for an apple) and cut in thin strips or grate coarsely. Place in a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave for about 30 minutes — the salt will tenderize the kohlrabi and draw out any bitterness. Rinse under cold water, pat dry and put kohlrabi in a bowl.

4. Quarter and core the apples but do not peel, then cut in thin slices and add to the kohlrabi. Pour on the dressing.

5. Mix well and refrigerate till serving time.

6. Shower with chopped cilantro before serving.

Kohlrabi and Broccoli Quiche With Smoked Ham or Salami

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 kohlrabi

8 ounces (250 grams) broccoli

1 ounce (25 grams) butter

½ cup water

Salt and pepper

1 cup (250 milliliters) whipping cream

¾ cup (150 milliliters) milk

4 eggs

A ready-rolled round of puff pastry (8 ounces or 230 grams)

2 ounces (50 grams) smoked ham or salami, finely sliced

4 ounces (100 grams) semi-hard cheese, cut in cubes

Directions

1. Peel the kohlrabi, cut it in half, slice thickly and then cut the slices in half.

2. Peel the broccoli stems and cut in manageable pieces. Separate the florets.

3. Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the trimmed kohlrabi, broccoli and water and season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Cook over lively heat, shaking the pan from time to time until the water has evaporated and the vegetables are just tender and lightly browned — about 10 minutes.

5. Set them aside to cool.

6. Heat the oven to 400 F (200 C).

7. Unroll the pastry and settle it snugly into a lightly buttered 10-inch (26cm) quiche pan.

8. Scatter the kohlrabi and broccoli over the pastry with the ham or salami.

9. Combine the whipping cream, milk and eggs and whisk until blended.

10. Pour on the eggy mixture and tuck the cheese cubes into the custard.

11. Bake in the lower part of the preheated oven for about 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the pastry cooked through.

Kohlrabi, Carrot, Zucchini and Broccoli Curry With Coconut Milk

Serves 2

Ingredients

For the vegetables:

3 kohlrabi

2 carrots

2 zucchini

About 8 ounces (225 grams) of broccoli romanesco

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

For the curry:

2 onions, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, mashed

A walnut-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 10-ounce (400 grams) can chopped tomatoes

½ to 1 teaspoon crushed dried chilies

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (sunflower or peanut)

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, smashed in a mortar or roughly chopped

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 cups (500 milliliters) coconut milk

1 cup (250 milliliters) water or stock

Chopped cilantro or rucola to garnish

Directions

1. Peel the kohlrabi, cut in quarters and cut each quarter in half crosswise to give wedge-shaped pieces. Peel the carrots and cut in thick, slanting slices. Cut the (unpeeled) zucchini in similar-sized pieces. Separate the broccoli into small florets.

2. Put all vegetables in a shallow dish, sprinkle with salt and turmeric and mix the salt and spices in well. Cover with cling film and set aside.

3. For the curry, put the chopped onions, mashed garlic, grated ginger, chopped tomatoes and crushed chilies in a blender or food processor with 1 teaspoon salt and blend/process till smooth.

4. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the crushed coriander and cumin seeds briefly until fragrant — be careful they don’t burn.

5. Tip in the blended onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and chilies and fry, stirring, until it creates a thick paste – about 10 minutes

6. Stir in the coconut milk and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until reduced and well-flavored.

7. Tip in all the vegetables, adding a little stock or water if necessary to give the consistency of pouring cream, bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for about 25 minutes. Taste the carrots (which take the longest to cook) to see if they are tender. Give the curry a few minutes more to cook if necessary.

8. Sprinkle with cilantro or rucola and serve over Basmati rice.

Top photo: Kohlrabi and other vegetables for a vegetable curry. Credit: Sue Style

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Polar Vortex Got You Down? Ice Cider Will Lift Your Spirits Image

My heart goes out to anyone living in the northern United States and Canada this winter, as the 2014 North American cold snap refuses to release its vise-like grip. But I have to admit to a slightly sneaky delight that these same terrifyingly low temperatures may be helping ensure this year’s harvest of one of Quebec’s finest products: ice cider.

Apples and cider have been part of Canada’s history since the first French explorers arrived in the 16th century. Many of the settlers came from Normandy and Brittany, regions of France with rich apple-growing and cider-making traditions of their own. It’s tempting to suppose that cultivars of the fruit from back home were among the products stowed in the holds of their sailing ships. Some of the resulting apples certainly ended up as rough ciders meant for home consumption.

When Quebec first framed its alcohol laws in the 1920s, cider somehow got left off the list, with the result that it could continue to be made only on a domestic scale and not for resale. Only in the 1970s was this corrected, and cider was once again produced commercially.

C’était pas fameux! [It was pretty horrible],” grimaces Benoit Bilodeau, an artisan cider producer on the Ile d’Orleans, a small island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River and just a short ferry ride from Quebec City. Badly made from unripe fruit, full of chemicals and high in alcohol, these early ciders carried the guarantee of a sore head the next morning. “It was an uphill job recovering from that image,” Bilodeau acknowledges.

Ice cider depends on long, cold winter

Nowadays, several different types of cider are produced in La Belle Province (as Quebec is known locally), both still and sparkling and with varying degrees of alcohol content and residual sweetness. But the most prized drop, introduced in the early 1990s, is ice cider, a deep golden elixir with a tight balance of sweetness and acidity and intensely concentrated fruit.

More ice cider information:

Cidrerie Verger Bilodeau, 2200 Chemin Royal, St-Pierre, Ile d’Orleans, Quebec, Canada, www.cidreriebilodeau.qc.ca

You can find ice cider available for purchase online at www.wine-searcher.com


More from Zester Daily:

» Ice wine: Risky business

» Terroir and the colonial roots of craft apple cider

» The fight to save Sonoma’s Gravenstein apple

» Apple cider gets dressed up for holiday parties

If you know a little about Eiswein, the naturally sweet wine made from late-harvested, frozen grapes that was originally pioneered in Germany, you’ll have a handle on how ice cider is arrived at. In the same way that grapes destined for ice wine are left hanging on the vine till the temperature drops well below zero, so also are perfectly ripe apples with high sugar content left to freeze on the tree (or picked and stored in wooden crates), awaiting just the correct conditions of intense, prolonged cold. It’s not something that happens every year, hence my furtive rejoicing at this year’s extreme temperatures.

In this process, known as cryoextraction, the still-frozen fruit is pressed to extract a super-concentrated juice, which then ferments gently for several months in stainless steel vats in a cool cellar or outhouse.

Ice cider is generally a blend of juice from several different apple varieties, each chosen for their distinctive qualities — aroma, sweetness and high juice content. Bilodeau grows more than a dozen varieties of apple from which he selects three for his ice cider, which he has christened Nectar de Glace. McIntosh (Canada’s favorite indigenous sweet-sour dessert apple, discovered in Ontario in 1811), Cortland (“wonderfully sweet and juicy”) and Spartan (“great aroma”) all flavor his ice cider.

Yields for this highly concentrated product are a fraction of those for regular cider: From 20 kilograms of apples, Bilodeau gets about 12 liters of ordinary cider, compared with a mere 3 liters of the precious cidre de glace, or ice cider. This fact, together with the inherently risky nature of the exercise — a sudden rise in temperatures, say, or hungry birds in search of sweet apples — as well as the skill required to make such nectar, is reflected in its elevated price: A 375-milliter bottle will set you back about $20 Canadian.

Benoit Bilodeau's ice cider. Credit: Sue Style

Benoit Bilodeau’s ice cider. Credit: Sue Style

The Association des Cidriculteurs Artisans du Québec has framed strict standards for this premium product, which prides itself on its quality and authenticity. These include minimum sugar levels in the juice as well as in the finished product and no added sugar or alcohol or synthetic colorings. Most important, the apples must be frozen naturally outdoors — not in an industrial freezer — and at temperatures between 8 degrees below zero and 15 degrees below zero Celsius. No juice concentrates may be used, all apples must be grown on the property and every stage of the process must be executed in-house. The finished ice cider must have a minimum alcohol level of 7 percent and a maximum of 13% and be tasted and judged by a professional tasting panel.

If you are currently shivering your way through one of the coldest winters in living memory, console yourself with the thought of Bilodeau up on a ladder in his snowy orchard, plucking burnished red apples from bare branches at 15 degrees below zero, and all for the sake of those tiny bottles of golden nectar.

Top photo: Benoit Bilodeau’s line of ciders includes ice cider (third from left). Credit: Sue Style

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Butter Is Back, And Julia Child Would Be Delighted Image

Of all the people who would have exulted — and permitted themselves a wry smile — at the recent rehabilitation of butter, Julia Child would surely have been the first.

Child was my hero. I was living in the wrong part of the world when her television series aired, so I missed all those apocryphal episodes featuring chickens crashing to the kitchen floor to be scooped up, restored to the serving plate and served up with a flourish. But I learned to cook with her at my side, not on the screen but through the pages of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (both volumes). When my first book “A Taste of Alsace” was published, I took my courage in both hands and sent her a copy.

A month or two later, in January 1991, I received a most charming letter thanking me for the book – I still treasure it. “How wonderful,” she wrote, “that you have recipes for good hearty food like choucroute, snail ravioli etc. with all of those wonderful ingredients of the old cuisine. We hardly see that kind of cooking in this country any more (sic) because people are so terrified of food and fat.”

Butter makes everything better

Child was famously unafraid of food — or fat. Butter is the warp and woof of all her books, a golden thread that runs through them from start to finish. Here she is on “Enrichments for White Sauces”: “Fresh butter stirred into a sauce just before serving is the simplest of the enrichments. It smooths out the sauce, gives it a slight liaison, and imparts that certain French taste which seems to be present in no other type of cooking.”

How could her pastry crusts — five parts flour to four parts butter — be anything other than “tender, crunchy and buttery”? Sauces don’t skimp on this glorious fat either, whether roux-based and further enriched, of the hollandaise family or whisked vigorously and with abandon into a reduction of shallots, white wine and vinegar for a classic beurre blanc. Even her crêpe batter has 4 tablespoons of melted butter blended in, to give the richest, tenderest, lightest crêpes imaginable.

When she gives a recipe for hamburgers (while cheerfully anticipating the shocked reaction of her audience on finding a hamburger recipe in a French cookbook), she first softens onions in a goodly quantity of butter, adds a little more to the ground meat for tenderness and moisture, and finally recommends serving the burgers with butters flavored variously with parsley, herbs, mustard, shallots or garlic.

Vegetables almost invariably get the treatment, whether it’s buttered artichoke hearts (to be filled with poached eggs and/or béarnaise sauce), asparagus with hollandaise or plain buttered French beans, “which go with almost anything,” but which are so good in their own right she suggests offering them as a separate course. One of my favorite potato recipes is her Gratin Savoyard, where meat stock replaces the customary milk or cream of the Gratin Dauphinois (plus an extra dollop of butter).

And when did anyone last see or hear of butter cream, that wondrously rich, smooth-as-silk filling or icing based on egg yolks, sugar butter and flavorings, which fell out of fashion alongside things like Baked Alaska and Black Forest Gateau?

I have a special place in my heart (and kitchen) for Child’s Pouding Alsacien, a homely Alsatian dessert which I suspect draws on a recipe known here in its home country as Bettelmann (“beggar man”). Child’s version consists of apples tossed in butter, mixed with plum jam and rum, topped with whipped butter, sugar and eggs with some breadcrumbs mixed in and baked till golden. I like to think she would rejoice to see this buttery, golden pudding rejoin the ranks of permitted foods.

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Apple peelings. Credit: Sue Style

Pouding Alsacien (Gratin of sautéed apples)

This dish, which should be served cold, is inspired by a similar recipe from Julia Child.

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

2½ pounds (seven or eight) well-flavored eating apples

4½ ounces (125 grams) butter

4 tablespoons plum jam, pushed through a sieve

2 tablespoons rum (I use an Alsatian eau-de-vie de quetsche or plum liqueur.)

3 ounces (75 grams) sugar

3 egg yolks

2 teaspoons flour

A pinch of cinnamon

2 ounces (50 grams) fresh breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons milk (optional)

3 egg whites

A pinch of salt

2 teaspoons of sugar

Icing sugar in a shaker

Directions

1. Quarter, peel and core the apples and cut in thick slices.

2. Heat half the butter till sizzling in a large frying pan, toss in the apples and fry over lively heat till lightly browned, tossing the pan from time to time so they brown evenly — they should be tender but still hold their shape (This is why you need to use eating, not cooking apples, which may disintegrate into a fluff.)

3. Tip the apples into an ovenproof dish or pan about 9 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep (23 centimeters by 5 centimeters).

4. Melt the sieved plum jam in a small pan and stir in the rum or eau-de-vie.

5. Mix the jam mixture into the cooked apples and smooth the top.

6. Heat the oven to 325 F (170 C).

7. Using a hand-held mixer, cream together the remaining butter and sugar till light and fluffy.

8. Beat in the egg yolks, then the flour and cinnamon, and finally the breadcrumbs. (If the mixture is very stiff, you may need to stir in a couple of tablespoons of milk.)

9. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks are formed, then beat in the sugar and continue beating till stiff.

10. Fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture and spread it evenly over the apples.

11. Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until the top is nicely risen and lightly colored.

12. Dredge with icing sugar and return the gratin to the oven for a further 15 to 20 minutes until the top is golden brown.

13. Allow to cool on a rack, then refrigerate for 24 hours.

Top photo: Pouding alsacien with crème fraîche. Credit: Sue Style

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A Bit of Cheese Heaven That You Don’t Have to Share Image

Sometimes during the holidays, you experience a pressing need for a little peace and quiet and a very private kind of feast. Vacherin Mont d’Or, a wondrous washed-rind cheese from the Jura Mountains, fits the bill beautifully.

If you haven’t yet plunged into one of these beauties, now could be the moment. The cheeses come in various sizes, ranging in diameter from about 5 inches to about 12 inches — picture a DVD and an old-fashioned vinyl — with a depth of some 2 inches. The smallest weigh in at about 1 pound, perfect for a private feast. (The larger versions, weighing more than 6 pounds, would be fine for a Christmas crowd. But we’re talking private feasts here.)

A cheese with history and tradition

Vacherin Mont d’Or comes from both sides of the French-Swiss border. French Mont d’Or (also known as Vacherin du Haut Doubs) must by law be made only with raw milk; Swiss Vacherin Mont d’Or uses thermalized milk, which is heated briefly to 145 F (62 C) and briskly chilled. Whether French or Swiss, the cheese is always sold in a spruce wood box, often proudly stamped with the dairy’s name. The boxes are purposely made slightly smaller than the finished product, so that when the infant cheese is deftly coaxed into its container, the upper crust erupts into a sort of ecstatic, voluptuous wave.

Why the box? The reason is obvious once you dig in. If the cheese were not firmly corseted in this way, it would simply run away with the spoon. Attempts to release it from its corset or  broach it with anything other than a spoon will certainly end in tears, for inside it’s nothing but a pool of liquid gold.

Take a piece into your mouth, roll it slowly, tentatively over your tongue, closing your eyes and allowing yourself to be transported up into the Jura. The first snows of the season have fallen, the mountain air is crisp and sweet and the spruce wood, deciduous forests and manicured hill farm pastures, until lately grazed by speckled brown cows, are dusted with white. The small village dairy is warm and humid, full of soothing bovine aromas. Outside, the snowflakes drift silently down, visible through steamed-up windows.

You can, of course, simply remove the lid, let the cheese stand at room temperature for an hour or two, arm yourself with your best silver spoon and your best cheese-loving friend and commence the feast. The crumpled crust will vary in color from soft ivory to pinkish-gold. The flesh is primrose yellow, luscious and silky like heavy cream that’s come of age, and the flavor deliciously forward. The spruce bark gives it a gentle but not overly pungent aroma.

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Vacherin Mont d'Or ready for the oven. Credit: Sue Style

Another, possibly even better, idea is to bake Vacherin Mont d’Or in its box in the oven. The result is a kind of instant, intimate fondue for two. Here’s how:

Vacherin Mont d’Or Baked in Its Box

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 Vacherin Mont d’Or in its box, weighing about 1 pound

Tiny slivers cut from a clove of garlic

3 to 4 tablespoons Jura wine or Swiss Chasselas

Freshly ground black pepper

For serving:

6 to 8 small, firm potatoes boiled in their skins

A selection of pickles (gherkins, pearl onions, etc.)

Thin slices of air-dried or smoked ham

Directions

1. Remove the lid and any cellophane or plastic from the box.

2. Place the lid underneath the box to provide a base and prevent any leakage.

3. Set the cheese in its box on a piece of heavy-duty foil and bring the foil up snugly against the sides of the box (but not over the top).

4. Stick a small, sharp knife into the crust in a few places and insert slivers of garlic at strategic intervals.

5. Drizzle white wine over the crust.

6. About 25 minutes before serving, heat the oven to 350 F (180 C).

7. Bake the Vacherin for about 20 minutes or until it yields plumply and invitingly when pressed in the center.

8. Remove the box from the oven, set it on a plate and serve straight from the box, spooned over boiled potatoes, with accompanying pickles and ham.

Wine suggestion

Wink Lorch, founder of Wine Travel Guides and author of a soon-to-be-published book on the wines and food of the Jura region, recommends seeking out a Savagnin ouillé, a Jura wine made in a non-oxidative, fresh style, where the barrels have been topped up during the aging process — very food-friendly with bright lemony flavors that would go perfectly with the unctuous cheese.

Top photo: Raw Vacherin Mont d’Or in its box before baking. Credit: Sue Style

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Leftover Turkey Staring You Down? Make Aztec Pie Image

Leftover turkey from the Thanksgiving feast can be dreadfully dry and dull.

Here’s a great idea for bringing it back to life: a Mexican layered pie of corn tortillas, shredded turkey (the leg meat is particularly good for this), poblanos fried with onions (called “rajas“), spicy tomato sauce, corn, sour cream and cheese. The whole thing can be assembled ahead of time and ready to go in the oven. Serve with a sharply dressed salad of mixed greens (lettuce, arugula, corn salad, etc.), endive and radicchio.

Aztec Pie

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

15 freshly made corn tortillas, 6 inches (15 centimeters) in diameter

For the rajas:

6 canned, roasted and peeled chiles poblanos to equal 1-pound drained weight

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 onions, finely sliced

Salt to taste

For the tomato sauce:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, mashed

2 jalapeños, seeded and finely chopped

1 large can (¾ pound or 800 grams) peeled tomatoes

For the fillings and toppings:

1 pound (about 4 cups) cooked turkey meat, shredded

10 ounces (300 grams) corn kernels, fresh, frozen or canned

2 cups (1 pound or 500 grams) sour cream or fresh curd cheese (fromage blanc)

3 ounces (75 grams) grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack

Directions

The layers of the Aztec pie. Credit: Sue Style

The layers of the Aztec pie. Credit: Sue Style

1. Lay the tortillas out on a working surface for a few hours to get a little stale. If they’re too fresh, they will absorb too much sauce and will disintegrate to a mush when the pie is baked.

2. For the rajas, rinse the poblanos to get rid of any burnt bits. Then remove the stalks and seeds and cut the flesh into thin strips.

3. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large, heavy skillet and fry the onions fairly briskly for about 10 minutes, stirring, until lightly golden.

4. Reduce the heat, stir in the poblano strips and cook for a few minutes more.

5. Season with salt and set aside.

6. For the sauce, put the onions in a food processor and chop finely. Add tomatoes, crushed garlic, chopped jalapeños and salt to taste and process till smooth.

7. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large, heavy saucepan — keep a lid handy to prevent the sauce splattering.

8. Pour in the tomato mixture, clamp on the lid, reduce the heat and simmer the sauce for about 15 minutes until well-flavored and somewhat thickened, stirring from time to time.

9. Check the seasoning, adding more salt if needed.

10. Spread a little sauce in the bottom of a large, ovenproof dish about 12 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep (30 by 6 centimeters).

11. Lay 3 tortillas in the bottom like the petals of a flower, overlapping them slightly to cover the bottom.

12. Add one quarter of the rajas, turkey and corn, daub with blobs of sour cream or fresh curd cheese and sprinkle with a little more sauce.

13. Repeat with three more layers of tortillas, sauce and fillings.

14. Top with the last 3 tortillas, a final daub of sauce, blobs of sour cream or curd cheese and the grated cheese.

15. The pie can be prepared ahead up to this point. Cover with cling film (plastic wrap) and refrigerate till ready to go into the oven.

16. Heat the pie in an oven warmed to 350 F (180 C) for 30 to 35 minutes or until thoroughly hot. Stick a skewer in the middle to test the temperature, and if necessary, prolong the cooking time.

Top photo: Aztec Pie ready for the oven. Credit: Sue Style

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