Perhaps one of the longest, continuous love affairs in gastronomy is that between humans and cheese. For more than 7,000 years we’ve been creating wheels and blocks and logs and balls of this dairy product. Old or young, hard or soft, ripened or fresh; any way you melt, slice, dice, shred, or crumble it, the varieties available and the uses for cheese are limited only by imagination.
This time of year, we’re all about comfort foods – the cheesier the better. We asked Alberta chefs for their fromage-forward faves, and we’re excited to share them with you this month, from smooth burrata and stone fruits, to a familiar Italian dish with some down-under flair.
The menu at Edmonton’s Dalla Tavola Zenari is rooted in approachable Italian comfort food, something that inspires Chef Elisa Zenari. “Food in my mind is about sharing love and it doesn't have to be complicated,” she adds. It’s a concept that goes back to the Italian tradition of cucina povera – peasant cooking. “Uplifting inexpensive cuts of meat or using simple ingredients and making them shine is everything to me.”
And of all the ingredients a chef can use in a dish, for Chef Elisa there is one that stands out from the rest: “Cheese is gold!” Whether you’re adding to a dish to elevate it, or making it the star of the show, she encourages exploration, and notes that the possibilities are endless.
To help you get started, Chef Elisa shares her recipe for Gorgonzola Cream Sauce, perfectly suited to enrobe tender bites of gnocchi. “It’s an easy dish that any home cook can handle, and the base can be used so many applications.” The rice flour makes this sauce gluten-free, but it can be substituted for all-purpose flour if one prefers – be sure to cook it with the butter in step one for 2 to 3 minutes.
Find Chef Elisa's recipe for Gorgonzola Cream Sauce here.
For Chef Eugene Hicks of Calgary’s Shoe and Canoe, inspiration comes from a childhood spent cooking with his mother. Having a vegetable garden at home meant Chef Hicks became accustomed to using fresh produce, and when the family moved to the Okanagan, his passion for food grew.
“Good food takes time and patience,” says Chef Hicks, and some of his favourites are cassoulet and braised dishes, “ones that create aroma, and warm the kitchen. Not only do you taste but you enjoy the dish with all the senses.”
When using cheese in his dishes, Chef Hicks is all about trying new things: “Different flavours come out whether it is melted into a sauce or crumbled on top to finish.” The simple act of letting cheese come to room temperature can result in different flavours and textures too.
The recipe he shares here is infused with his past experiences, from his aunt who would bring loaves of sourdough all the way from San Francisco, to eating stone fruits warmed by the Okanagan sun.
Find Chef Hicks' recipe for Burrata with Roasted Stone Fruit and Dukkah here.
As Executive Chef at Lina’s Cucina in Calgary, Christopher Hyde’s inspiration comes from his travels and experiences abroad, and it’s his love for all things Italian that challenges him. “It drives me to be more creative, but stay humble in the history of a dish and its traditions.”
A self-proclaimed lover of all things pasta, Chef Hyde takes pride in the handmade varieties available at Lina’s, and is in pursuit of perfection when it comes to the process. “After years of practice I still find myself learning about new pastas and new and different techniques in making it.”
Chef Hyde’s Cacio e Pepe – literally cheese and pepper – is taken to another level with his addition of Vegemite, a nod to his childhood in Australia. If you think you know vegemite (and you’re not sure if you want to get reacquainted), Chef Hyde says, “If it's balanced out with the right amount of cheese and butter, it can add a wonderful umami flavour to the dish.”
“Never cheap out on good quality cheese,” he adds. Starting with the best ingredients helps set your dish apart. And, keep things simple. “Often the simplest of dishes are the best - they’re showcasing the ingredients.”
Find Chef Hyde's recipe for Vegemite Cacio e Pepe here.