The berries have arrived at long last and they are better this year than well, in forever. It has been at least two long years since they were that perfect. But, oh my – how sweet they are.
We watch the strawberries show up at the Farmer’s Market ridiculously early (March) and the fates are tempted – but we have a rule that serves us well. To buy them, we have to first smell the perfume a mile away. It isn’t enough to walk up to the berry table and stick you head in the boxes and then sniff. They have to actually perfume the air so that it smacks you upside the olfactory as you walk by.
The good strawberries have a short growing season here, and it is almost over, but they are abundant and we are indulging. The small choice berries are the ones to look for, not the ones on steroids made to withstand long travel and shelf time. Local is best.
The recent blueberries are like popping little tidbits of sunshine into your mouth. They are plentiful and beautiful. Even the color is more vibrant or perhaps I just am happy they are so sweet. All of us love the blueberry, even Lulu and Phoebe who would eat an entire flat if we let them.
For the first time ever I know what Cap’n Awesome has been yakking about when he gets that faraway look in his eyes talking about blackberries. Previous to this year, blackberries were like giant sour bugs. I hated them. But this year, I am eating the whole container before we get home because they are just that delicious. They’re small and look awfully delicate, but they have a big flavor. Not sour at all, but not as sweet as the blueberries. Gentle sweet.
In their honor, we made a huge batch of fromage blanc. It is our warm weather treat that reminds us of our summer in Paris where the fromage blanc is as common as yogurt is here. It is absurdly easy (and so much cheaper) to make and about the only difficult thing is the waiting time. But if you make it over the weekend, it will last through the week and only get better with age.
A small bowl with an avalanche of fresh berries is about the best summer dessert there is. And it can be yours.
You will want to order the starter from here. And while you are at it, order up the butter muslin because it is less coarse than ordinary cheesecloth. We usually buy the larger group of starter packets and pop it into the freezer where it will last almost two years without a problem. Then whenever the mood strikes – we make some fromage blanc.
All you need is the starter, some really good cheesecloth and the best whole milk you can find – local is even better.
The flavor is a lot like the creaminess of Greek Yogurt, but it is less tangy and more like a very mellow ricotta (think artisanal or homemade). Once you have some you will want more.
And if you are ever in France and have a chance to step into an ordinary Monoprix (which is like Safeway with attitude) visit the dairy aisle where the fromage blanc and its various cousins reside. There you will find so many wonderful little treats your head will spin. Everything from 40 billion types of yogurt to floating islands, to creme caramel can be yours and there was not one that was awful.
Summer begins today and we intend to make every berry count.
|Fromage Blanc & Summer Berries||
- 1 gallon of high quality whole milk (organic preferred)
- 1 packet of fromage blanc starter (see link above)
- In a large stockpot, heat the milk to about 86 degrees. Whisk in the starter and keep stirring until fully dissolved. Stir some more – it takes a lot to dissolve it thoroughly.
- Turn off heat, cover and leave out in a fairly warm place for about 12-15 hours (we leave it overnight).
- Prepare a large colander or (huge) mesh strainer by lining it with a generous piece of butter muslin or cheesecloth (double the cheesecloth if it is coarse). Scoop the magical fromage blanc into the muslin and place the whole thing into a large bowl or back into the stock pot to drain. Cover and refrigerate for at minimum 6 hours. Eight to ten hours is even better. The longer you let it drain, the firmer it will be. Some places instruct you to leave it out to drain, but we always put it in the refrigerator at this point. Don’t hang the cloth and let it drain unless you want very solid (as in you can slice the stuff) fromage blanc. Discard the whey or if you are clever and want it for another project, save it (and let us know what you do with it).
- Remove the fromage blanc from the cheescloth and place in a container with a lid. Refrigerate.
- Serve with berries and a drizzle of honey if you want.