Beyond the Basics

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Beyond the Basics

By Anna Wolfe - 04/01/2013

Two new cheese books – by specialty food retailer Di Bruno Bros. and James Beard Award-winning food writer Janet Fletcher – go beyond wine-and-cheese pairings.

"Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese" includes a comprehensive reference to today's artisan cheeses. In addition to the cheese-centric recipes, the book covers the basics on how to buy, serve and store cheese. There are also detailed descriptions and tasting notes on 170 of the best-selling artisan cheeses at Di Bruno Bros., menus for cheese boards, and hundreds of ideas for pairings.

What makes this cheese reference book a standout are the 30 recipes for cheese-y creations, such as Scharfe Maxx Cheese S'mores made with washed-rind cheese, dark chocolate and almond torrone, and Rogue River Sushi that pairs Rogue River Smokey Blue cheese with membrillo (a doppelganger for tuna) and thinly sliced ham.

Many of the recipes were created by the staff, stemming from the specialty food retailer's "After Hours" events. "We're very geeky with our cheeses here at Di Bruno's," says Emilio Mignucci of the Philadelphia-based stalwart, which has four locations. "We pair cheese with wine, whiskey, beer. We do all that, but after hours, we take it to another level."

Held at the Italian Market location, Di Bruno's "After Hours" is a private noshing event where eight to 20 people eat pairings dreamed up by cheesemongers. Wildly popular, After Hours is held six nights a week and booked three months advance, Mignucci says.

"Calling them pairings does not do them justice," notes Mignucci of the cheesemongers' creations. "They're more in the line of cheese-centric samples."

Reprinted with permission from Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese © 2013 by Tenaya Darlington, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Photographs © 2013 by Jason Varney.
"Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese" includes 30 cheese-y riffs, such as Rogue River Sushi, made with Rogue's Smokey Blue, mebrillo and thinly sliced ham. Scharfe Maxx S'mores, pictured, are made with Scharfe Maxx, torrone and chocolate.

To write the book, Di Bruno's teamed up with cheese blogger and customer Tenaya Darlington.

"Everything she wanted to do really fit in with our culture," says Mignucci, who describes himself as "not the organized, writing kind of guy." Darlington, Mignucci and Di Bruno's 23 cheesemongers held regular meetings to discuss all things cheese.

Cheese Personified
The book, which maintains a hip yet approachable tone throughout, categorizes and personifies its subjects: Vixens are rich and decadent, Mountain Men are bold, and Stinkers are pungent. Each cheese profile includes food-and-beverage pairings.

"When it comes to cheeses, we understand how to use them," observes Mignucci. "You can create an evening event without having to cook. Our stores are full of products that complement cheese."

The book is also a tribute to Joe and Danny Di Bruno, Mignucci's grandfather and great-uncle, and the business they began 74 years ago. "Our family, our mongers – it's about the people who make Di Bruno Bros. what it is," Mignucci affirms.

Published by Running Press, the 256-page hardcover book is scheduled for a May release. Mignucci hasn't ruled out a follow-up book. "We have so many recipes that did not make it into the book, and we're creating more every day. We must have 100 different cheese recipes," he says.

For now, however, Di Bruno Bros. is promoting the upcoming release in its stores, online and with events at other retailers.

Cheese & Beer
Fletcher's latest book, "Cheese & Beer," published by Chronicle Books, is in its second printing – before its official release date of April 16, thanks to pre-orders. Fletcher, who also wrote "Cheese & Wine" and "The Cheese Plate," attributes the heightened interest to the new book's popular subject matter.

For decades, the craft beer movement has been on the upswing, notes Fletcher, who credits President Jimmy Carter for making it all possible. In 1979, he signed a bill into law that decriminalized home brewing. "That really jump-started the craft brewing movement in the United States," she explains. "These home brewers learned a lot, started opening brew pubs, and that led to breweries."

With the growing number of microbreweries have come an increasing awareness of craft beers and the proliferation of lesser-known beer styles. According to the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association, the number of craft breweries skyrocketed to 2,360, as of March, up from 1,970 in 2011.

A Reference Guide
Fletcher describes "Cheese & Beer" as "a guide to beer styles. I wanted the book to be useful to people everywhere." She acknowledges that many craft beers – and artisan cheeses, for that matter – don't go beyond a small geographic area. "It can be frustrating to the reader who says, ‘I can't get any of those.'"

Within each beer style, Fletcher lists specific "Beers to Try," followed by recommended cheese pairings. For the cheeses mentioned in the book, Fletcher focused on specialty cheeses and styles that are widely distributed.

"Cheese & Beer" defines some guiding principles for pairings. For cheese-and-beer pairings, Fletcher suggests complements, where the flavors and aromas echo each other, or textural contrasts such as a silky triple crème with a highly effervescent pilsner. "There's a richness of palate with the cheese – and the cleansing carbonation of pilsner," making for an ideal match, she explains. Nutty alpine cheeses, Fletcher says, pair well with the roasted grain aromas of porters.

"You have to look at matching intensities: the lighter cheeses with the fresher beers such as kolsh and pilsners, and the richer aged cheese with heavier beers," she adds.

In the back of the book, there's a chart, "Which Beer with That Cheese?" a pairing guide at-a-glance. "The idea is, you've gone to the store and bought a brown ale," explains Fletcher. "What cheese pairs well?"

She goes on to note that many American craft breweries are creating new styles of beer that "don't quite fit into existing categories.

"The research continues," adds Fletcher. "I'm still out there. It's a lifetime of learning ahead."

Retailers that want to inquire about book signings and events can contact Fletcher through her website,