It's starting to heat up again around these parts, and by that I mean it was already 95 degrees by 9:30 am yesterday morning and I wanted to throw myself in a freezer. Yes, the Los Angeles summer is already beginning to pour its treacherous sun rays over the roof of my little abode, turning it into a large and impractical oven. To keep myself from using my actual oven thus making the internal temperature of my bungalow even more terribly unpleasant, I decided to try a little no-heat-required experiment I've been wanting to attempt for a long time now, and that meant marinating some cheese.
Traditionally, to marinate a cheese you place it in a jar, add herbs and spices, cover it with oil, and give it a bit of a gentle shake. You can let it sit at room temperature for 1 hour, or pop it in the refrigerator and let it marinate like that for up to 1 week. I decided to go halfway between the two and left mine in the fridge for 3 days, which ended up being the perfect amount of time to infuse a strong but not overpowering amount of the herbal flavor into the cheeses.
When you break it down, there's three essentially flavor components to this recipe: 1. Cheese 2. Oil and 3. Spices-Herbs. For the cheese, I decided to do 1 log of goat cheese, 1 brick of feta, and 1 chunk of manchego. For the oil, I paired the goat cheese and feta with olive oil since they go so well with its fruity and slightly acidic flavor profile. But for the manchego, I used Mountain Rose Herbs' macadamia oil, since manchego is a firmer, more supple cheese with a much milder flavor and the macadamia oil has a buttery and almost sweet flavor to it. That way, the macadamia oil wouldn't be overpowered by the manchego the way it would with a strong cheese like feta, and the manchego wouldn't be overpowered by the macadamia oil the way it would with olive oil.
For the herbs & spices, I used Mountain Rose Herbs again because they sell in bulk so everything is much more affordable, and the vast majority of their products are organic, too, so that no chemical flavors are imparted onto the marinating cheese. For the goat cheese, I used their thyme, rubbed sage, celery salt, and peppercorns to give a lightly spiced but fresh and herbal flavor to the cheese. For the feta, I used their shiitake mushroom powder, dill, and their kiawe smoked sea salt, which gave the feta a realllly delicious smokey, earthy, warm flavor. Something about the almost meaty taste of mushrooms paired with feta cheese and a smokey salt creates a pretty magical flavor combination, one that I plan on recreating with some feta & mushroom filo pockets on another summer day.
For the manchego, I kept it simple and just used dried bay leaves as the herb since again, manchego is pretty mild, and I didn't want to mask the flavor of it too much. That and the fact that the slightly sweet bay leaves paired wonderfully with the subtle sweet butteriness of the macadamia oil. Although truth be told, I'd be hard-pressed to find something that didn't taste good with the macadamia oil, since it's pretty much macadamia nuts in liquid form. I am sensing a delicious salad dressing in my near future...
Also, just a reminder that registration for my Summer 2014 Online Food Styling & Photography Course will be open until May 31st. I'd love to have you join me as we go through DSLR photography, food styling, and post-processing in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email at the address in the right sidebar. In the meantime, you should definitely get started on making these little cheeses! They require very minimal hands-on time to make and the presentation and flavor is amazing...Sneakily elegant appetizers are kind of the best.
Note: When refrigerated, olive oil will turn into a thick gel-like state, so if you are refrigerating it allow yourself a few hours for the refrigerated cheese marinade to become liquid again at room temperature before serving.
Thyme, Sage, & Peppercorn Goat Cheese
10.5 oz log of goat cheese, cut into 1" thick slices
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon rainbow peppercorns
olive oil (enough to cover)
Smoked Mushroom & Dill Feta
1/2 lb feta, cut into 2" x 1" x 1" rectangles
1/2 teaspoon shiitake mushroom powder
1/4 teaspoon dill
1/2 teaspoon smoked sea salt
olive oil (enough to cover)
Bay & Macadamia Nut Manchego
1/3 lb manchego cheese, cut into wedges roughly 3" across at the widest part
8 bay leaves
macadamia nut oil (enough to cover)
To prepare the marinated cheese, place the cheese slices or wedges in a roughly 16-ounce mason jar, arranging them so that there is room for the oil and herbs to flow around them. Add the herbs and spices to the jar, then pour in the oil until the cheese is just covered completely. Screw on the cap of the jar and shake it gently from side to side a couple times to help spread the herbs, spices, and oil around the cheese slices. Allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour for a mild infusion, or allow to sit in the refrigerator for up to 1 week for a strong infusion. Remove from oil and serve alongside bread or crackers, the leftover oil can also be served alongside the bread with some balsamic vinegar.