Viva la Vella
Therese Nugent dishes up three ways to enjoy your favorite Valley cheese
It’s summer. We want our food simple yet delicious, lighter but still satisfying. Lucky for us, we have Vella, a world-renowned artisan cheese company right off the bike path.
We begin with quick and easy Italian Nachos made with Fontinella cheese. An earthy, full-bodied Barolo, a varietal grown in the Piedmont region of Italy, provides excellent accompaniment to the Mediterranean flavors of this fun appetizer.
A nearly effortless supper or lunch is found in a “grown-up” grilled cheese sandwich. This classic Croque-Monsieur, featuring Vella’s Monterey Jack, is delicious with a rosé wine. Sancerre, a light and fruity red named after a growing region in the Loire Valley of France, pairs perfectly with such casual fare.
Real Mac & Cheese— made with Vella’s Toma and Asiago cheeses—makes a great “make ahead” meal. A merlot lends a nice counterpoint: hearty enough to stand up to the rich cheeses but mellow enough not to overpower them.
Serves 4 to 6
A delicious adaptation of the Mexican favorite. Flavors of the Mediterranean are combined with Vella’s Fontinella, a semi-firm cheese with nutty flavor, perfect for melting.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large baguette, sliced on the diagonal in ¼-inch slices
8 ounces Vella Cheese Company Fontinella cheese, shredded
3 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
4 ounces sliced pepperoncini
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
Salt, to taste
1. In a small saucepan, combine the butter and oil and heat until the butter is melted. Brush both sides of the sliced bread with the butter and oil mixture. Preheat the broiler; arrange the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast until golden brown, approximately one minute on each side.
2. Arrange the toasts on an oven-safe serving platter. Sprinkle the cheese over the toasts and top with tomatoes and pepperoncini. Season with the oregano and salt. Broil in a preheated oven until the cheese is melted, approximately three to four minutes. Serve immediately.
Vella’s Mezzo Secco Dry Monterey Jack (right) adds just the right amount of tangy flavor to this classic grilled sandwich. With Mezzo Secco translating to “half-dry,” this Jack cheese offers deep, mellow flavors and a slightly sharp kick.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
8 slices white bread, crusts removed
½ cup whole-grain mustard
8 ounces cooked honey ham, very thinly sliced
8 ounces Vella Cheese Company Mezzo Secco Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1. On one side of each bread slice, spread the softened butter. On the other sides of the slices, spread the mustard evenly. On four slices, evenly layer the ham over the mustard and sprinkle the cheese over each. Press the remaining slices of bread on top, mustard-side down, to make four sandwiches.
2. Arrange the sandwiches on a sandwich grill and toast according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Or, place on a preheated gas grill and weigh down the sandwiches with a cooking brick. Cook until heated through and the cheese is melted, approximately three minutes each side. Transfer the sandwiches to a cutting board, slice in half diagonally and serve immediately.
Serves 6 to 8
Toss the boxed stuff. This dish is “comfort gourmet.” The high moisture content of Vella’s young, slightly ripened Toma makes this cheese melt beautifully. The Asiago, an aged grana-type cheese, infuses rich, nutty flavor.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, then 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (for onion)
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
6 ounces Vella Cheese Company Toma cheese, shredded
4 ounces Vella Cheese Company Asiago cheese, shredded
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 pound large elbow macaroni, cooked al dente
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
1. In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt four tablespoons butter until foamy. Add the flour and whisk together, working out all of the lumps. Add the milk and continue to whisk until the sauce comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, whisking, until the sauce thickens, approximately five minutes.
2. Stir in the mustard and cheeses and continue to stir until the cheeses melt and the sauce is smooth. Season with nutmeg, salt and white pepper to taste.
3. In a skillet over medium-high heat, melt one tablespoon butter and sauté the onion until tender, approximately five minutes.
4. In a large bowl, combine the cooked pasta with the sauce and onion. Transfer the pasta to a shallow baking dish and sprinkle the bread crumbs on top. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven until the bread crumbs are browned and the sauce is bubbling, approximately 30 minutes. Serve hot.
From the Summer 2008 issue of SONOMA