Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cheesophile in the City of Orange

Maybe I’m the only one, but I didn’t know that downtown Orange has much the same feel and look of Main Street DisneyLand mixed with Andy Griffith’s Mayberry. Its old town American charm is increased by the profusion of antique stores, at least two tea shops and cozy restaurants hiding in the depths of brick buildings. I’m looking forward to spending a few more weekends exploring Orange, as well as revisiting my new favorite place in Orange County: Frog’s Breath Cheese Store.

Frog’s Breath is divided into a large boutique wine section, offering a wide selection for decent prices, and an excellent assortment of cheeses. I found almost all of my favorites: English Cotswald, Old Amsterdam, Leyden, and Red Dragon, but unfortunately, they didn’t have Pittig Gouda, which I find to be richer and crunchier than Old Amsterdam. Even though they missed one cheese, they made up for it by introducing me to another: Speziato al Tartufo. Speziato al Tartufo is a hard Italian cow’s milk cheese with a rind dusted with black truffles and cinnamon. The cheese itself is very mild, and the sweet flavor of nutmeg-truffle (it tastes more like nutmeg than cinnamon to me) is the main attraction. Don’t bother me with crackers for this cheese; just take it as is--and enjoy.

The cheese-counter staff were very helpful to myself and my fellow wide-eyed drooling cheesophile placing her order next to me. A kindred spirit. I read an article somewhere that claimed cheese was addictive and had the same effect as morphine to those susceptible to it, and they could have used me as a case study. This is the place to get your fix in Orange County. And, like all great cheese stores, they are happy to tempt you with free samples of anything in their well-stocked case. A feature that sets this store apart from others is that they pre-order fresh Italian cheeses for in store pickup—as in, you can order the freshest cheese straight from Italy.

Wine and cheese go together like a wink and a smile, or like tea and crumpets, but don’t overlook their specialty sauces, dips, and other gourmet goodies. Upon entry I was greeted with free samples of creamy wine-filled chocolate truffles, some filled with Port, Cabernets or other reds. These chocolates make Frog’s breath a one-stop shop for Valentine’s Day--Wine, cheese and chocolates are all I require for absolute epicurean bliss.

Frog’s Breath offers wine tastings Thursday through Saturday, with individual cheese trays crafted to complement the wines. They also have wine and cheese pairing classes once a month. For example, in their Pairing Cheeses with Pinot class, you can learn which cheeses can stand up to the acidity and alcohol content of a Pinot, as well as which cheeses to stay away from. And, even though my method of putting together a cheese party platter is to pick out *MY* favorites and eat it all before the guests have a chance—their “How to put together a Christmas Party Cheese Tray with Paired Wine” class, looks very fun.

Store hours are Tuesday and Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Thursday - Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Visit their website for more details: Frog's Breath Cheese Store.
And here is the slightly ridiculous and very alarmist rendition of how
Cheese is a Highly Addictive Drug.
Also, check out MY article for Peter Greenberg on
Destinations for Cheese Lovers.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Anglophile in Wine Country Part II

Roblar Winery
3010 Roblar Ave. Santa Ynez
CA 93460

Roblar winery and tasting room is beautiful and rustic, with a huge stone fireplace (the opening must be at least six feet high) with a roaring fire. The interior of the tasting room has the feeling of a country lodge, built of natural wood and stone. The tasting staff are friendly, knowledgeable, and most importantly, generous pourers, and we were even permitted to “split” a tasting (which we made worth their while by buying two bottles of wine). Part of the joy of going wine tasting is to see what wine accessories, gadgets, and decorative items are for sale in the tasting rooms, and Roblar Winery has a very good buyer. You’ll find colorful Italian-inspired table linens, and a selection of cookbooks mostly aimed at cooking for company (one of which I own, “Cooking for Friends”), as well as ready-made picnic lunches in their small deli section.

Cookbooks are appropriate since Roblar Winery also hosts cooking classes on most Saturdays. Each class is limited to 24 students, and fill up very quickly. Students get to sit around the counter with their chef (many of whom come from the Vally, LA, or Santa Barbara), and observe their four course meal being prepared (accompanied by freely poured Roblar wines). Class themes vary each time, like Hungarian food, Italian, French and California fusion cuisine, among others. $125 per person.

Food is taken seriously at Roblar, and if you join their wine club (free, but you are commited to accepting 3,6 or 12 bottle shipments per month), you’ll be treated to a gourmet buffet at the winery when you pick up your wine every month.
The grapes are all grown in the Santa Ynez valley and gathered from multiple vineyards.

2007 Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($22) is aged in metal barrels, making this wine comes clean and crisp. With pear, honeydew, citrus and honeysuckle, this does everything a good sauvignon blanc should do, but it’s definitely young.

2004 Merlot ($28) is earthy and very smooth. There are barely any tannins, with hints of chocolate. Bright raspberry color.

2004 Santa Ynez Valley Syrah ($28) is low on tannins for a Syrah, light and lively, but could be overpowered by rich food.

2004 Santa Barbara Syrah ($32) tastes like tobacco and is more of a traditional syrah than the Santa Ynez bottle. It’s still light and tart. This was among our favorites, though I thought it could use more body.

2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) was The Favorite because of its intense raspberry aroma, with hints of black tea (this is a wine you could just inhale all evening). I’m going to drink this when I make my raspberry-balsamic chicken recipe (see below).

Raspberry-Balsamic Chicken Recipe (best served with 2004 Roblar Winery Cabernet Sauvignon)

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Serving size: Makes 4 servings.


1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
Fresh thyme
4 chicken breast fillets
2 to 3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup raspberry preserves salt and pepper to taste


Preheat olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add red onion and sauté for 4-5 minutes. Season chicken breast filets with a little salt, pepper, and thyme, and cook for 6 to 7 minutes on each side in skillet with the onions. Remove chicken from skillet and keep warm. Reduce heat to medium. Add raspberry preserves and balsamic vinegar. Stir constantly until well blended and bubbly. Drizzle over chicken and serve immediately.

Serve over white rice with side salad of spinach with grapefruit and raspberries.

Did you know it can be a felony to ship wine to some places? Find out more on Peter Greenberg's site: Wine Shipping 101: Sorry, that's a felony.