Meet The Cheese Experts at Whole Foods Market

The first item on my list for our simple but elegant New Years Eve celebration this year is the cheese board. I love the way certain cheeses pair with sparkling wines and fruit. While I have developed a few favorites over the years, I recently was invited to try out a few more, in a cheese sampling / demo at our local Whole Foods Market, where, In my opinion, you'll find the best cheese selection in Jacksonville. 

It's not hard to understand why they excel in this area - Whole Foods Market has 147 Certified Cheese Professionals™ in stores throughout the country, who have mastered the art of cheese - from making to aging to handling it. There is always someone on hand to share their wisdom, including suggested accompaniments to complement your selection.

On the first of what I understand will be a series of cheese themed events, Jacksonville based experts Stephanie and Alice shared tips for assembling and presenting the perfect cheese board for holiday gatherings. 

Some of the crowd favorites:

Melkbus Truffle Gouda
·         Raw cow’s milk gouda from a single-source herd featuring pronounced aromatics. Deep, rich flavors of Italian truffles and cream.  -  Goes with dry sparkling wine, pancetta, rustic breads.

Mitica Pecorino Toscano Stagionato
·         Hints of nuts and butterscotch in this densely textured Italian cheese. Sweet sheep’s milk creaminess. - Goes with Chianti, fig spread, Marcona almonds, crisp pears.

Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue
·         Blue cheese smoked over hazelnut shells. Savory caramel, array of sweet earthy complexity from raw cow’s milk. -  Goes with zinfandel, bourbon, walnuts, grapes.

Appleby Family Appleby’s Cheshire
·         Hand-selected raw milk cheese. Cows graze on mineral-rich grasses, creating savory, clean, tangy flavors. - Goes with pale ales, soft red wines, dried apricots, fresh apples, chutney.

Vermont Creamery Bonne Bouche Ash-Ripened Goat Cheese
·         Soft-ripened goat cheese, hand ladled, aged more than a month.  Appealing notes of fresh earth and subtle hazelnut. - Goes with sauvignon blanc, apples, pears, walnuts, artisan honey.

More wisdom from the Whole Foods Market pros:

How to Create a Cheese Plate

  • Pick cheeses of contrasting textures and flavors: creamy, firm, sweet, pungent.
  • Contrast Old World cheeses with New World selections.
  • On a budget? Buy one or two fantastic cheeses, rather than five or six so-so options.
  • Two ounces of cheese per person is a good rule of thumb.
  • Let sit at room temperature for 30-45 minutes before serving for optimal flavor.
  • Serve with bread and crackers for different textures and flavors to accent the cheese.
  • Talk to your cheesemonger. They can offer suggestions on which cheeses pair well with others. 

Giveaway - We've Saved the Best For Last

It's our last giveaway for 2013! Whole Foods Market, who sponsored my visit to their Cheese Night event, want to share the love - so thanks to them, one lucky reader will start 2014 off with a $75 Whole Foods Market Gift Card - good at any WFM in the USA. That's a lotta cheddar! 

To enter the drawing, please leave a comment on this post answering the question "What's your "must have" item on a cheese board?" Mine is Marcona Almonds. MAD about them. Use the RaffleCopter widget to record your entries - including extras for likes and sharing on Twitter!


Christmas Eve Traditions

Last year, our family created a new Christmas Eve tradition. It started when my sister Maureen requested (and we created) a Mexican meal for her birthday, which falls on December 24.

Tacos, Taquitos, Enchiladas, Chile Verde, Tamales, Spanish Rice, Beans, Guacamole, etc. are in the standard rotation for family get-togethers at our house. We love making AND eating them throughout the year. Last year, when we were enjoying that special meal on Christmas Eve, we decided we liked it enough for it to become tradition. Today we'll celebrate my sister - and the season - with some home-made Chicken Enchiladas Suizas. I'm learning how to use my new Nikon, so you can expect more pics as the recipe progresses. 

Roughly equal numbers of Poblanos, Jalapenos, and Tomatillos were roasted for a salsa verde that I'll use for the enchiladas. This makes a HOT sauce. If you like it milder, change the ratio to include more tomatillos, or just make it with all tomatillos and add one or two peppers for a milder sauce. 

Roast or broil until they are wilted and skins are starting to peel.
Use whole washed peppers and tomatillos (stems removed). Slit with a paring knife, coat with olive oil, and roast in a glass baking dish or foil lined pan in a 450 degree oven until they soften and their skins start pulling away. (You can broil them  but you'll have to watch them closely and turn frequently.) 

Toss the tomatillos into the blender, cool, seed and peel the peppers, then add them to the blender with a squeeze of fresh lime juice, a small handful of fresh cilantro leaves, and two peeled cloves of garlic. Blend until smooth. Salt to taste, but don't over-season as there will be cheese and sour cream added when the enchiladas are being filled and topped. I made this one a day ahead and refrigerated it, but you can make it on the fly and use it same day. 

Feliz CumpleaƱos, Maureen!


Heritage for the Holidays

Merry Christmas, Beasties!

Are you looking for a last minute holiday gift for the foodie or history buff on your list?  Gotcha covered! 

My friend Jeffrey Spear from Studio Spear wrote this fun and informative cookbook. It retails for under $20 and would make a great gift! 

The First Coast Heritage Cookbook is a collection of recipes influenced by the ingredients and food ways of the Indigenous Indians as well as the Spanish, French, British and African settlers who inhabited the First Coast from 14,000 BC (the time archaeologists tell us evidence of human habitation first appeared) to 1821 (when Florida became a U.S. Territory). The recipes have been modernized to accommodate today's available ingredients, so no need to search the WD meat case for Bears' Head or roam the aisles of Fresh Market in search of Giant Land Tortoise. 

Smoked Fish Dip - Page 54
You'll find Jeffrey's drool-inducing cookbook at our fave indy bookseller, The Bookmark in Neptune Beach, the Beaches Museum and History Park, or in Jax at Chamblin's, the Cummer Museum Gift Shop. 

In St. Augustine, it's available at the Castillo de San Marcos and St Augustine Visitor Center. If you prefer online shopping, there's always Amazon!

No need to pick one up for me, I've got my copy, signed by the author. Thanks, Jeffrey!


Taverna San Marco Expands, Adds Craft Cocktails, Private Dining and Quick Casual Lunch Options

“The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who you are, what you are about, and what you value.” ~ Stephen R. Covey

Taverna San Marco has launched a new full liquor handcrafted cocktail program, along with an updated quick casual lunch service, lunch delivery and a private dining room available for special events and occasions.  

Southside - lemony, minty, lovely.
The restaurant added artisan and handcrafted cocktails to its award-winning wine and beer offerings, featuring all fresh, house-made ingredients and new twists on classics like the Ramos Fizz, Southside, and Sidecar. 

The new cocktail menu was designed by Brian Binniker, managing partner and bartender, who trained at Morimoto in New York. Binniker sites prohibition style recipes as one of his influences for the new menu. 

At a recent media event I sampled a complimentary cocktail called the Southside, a lemony-minty concoction that claims to have been invented at New York's famed 21 Club, and found it to be charmingly refreshing and light. 

Italian Grilled Cheese - housemade mozz, tomato, pesto, ciabatta - $8
Taverna lunch options now include quick casual (order at the counter, they bring to the table) and delivery service. 

If you prefer full-service that's still available as well, with the same quality menu and some new menu items, including seasonal sandwiches. Some of the restaurant's former special features have also returned. 

Recent Daily Lunch Special - Scallops with root veg puree and risotto - $15
Taverna arrived on Jacksonville's restaurant scene four years ago with the promise of high quality, fresh, handcrafted food, served in a sophisticated setting, at an affordable price. They've been delivering on that promise since day one. 

The culinary team makes everything from scratch - breads, pasta, cheese, sauces, etc., exhibiting a level of craftsmanship rare to come by in today's pre-fab, flash-frozen, mass-produced food world. Their traditional Neapolitan style pizza is a personal favorite, perfect to share at the bar with a Bold City Dukes Brown Ale on draft, or grab one to go, add a salad and you've got a light meal for two, no cooking required.

Butternut Squash Soup, with apples, bacon,
pomegranate molasses, creme fraiche, sage  -  $6
Jacksonville born Chef/Proprietor Sam Efron's seasonal menu features ingredients primarily sourced from local producers, who employ sustainable and humane farming methods.

The chef 
looks to our friends at Twinn Bridges Farm for herbs and a variety of seasonal vegetables, and uses all natural Angus beef, (with no antibiotics, no hormones, certified humane, and all vegetarian diet). The seafood is sourced from a local fish monger, and fish is caught locally according to the season. Efron's devotion to his craft and local, sustainable sourcing of ingredients have earned Taverna the Slow Food First Coast Snail of Approval.

Wine Director / Proprietor Kiley Wynne Efron brings an artist's sensibility and a firm passion for food and wine to the front of house operations at Taverna. A First Level Sommelier, she manages a 120+ bottle wine list (including 19 by-the-glass options) featuring Italian, Spanish, and California selections. Kiley can always be counted on to lend insight to your selection, resulting in the perfect pairing for your taste and price point.

Expansion at Taverna includes a counter for
ordering quick casual lunches, and a private dining room.
Expanding the space and increasing seating by 30% has been a plan a year in the making. The interior design includes a remodel of the existing restaurant, honoring their original farm-to-table theme. Reclaimed barn wood, live plantings and shimmering candles lend warm, rustic notes. The private dining room seats 40 in a dramatic yet intimate space.

Architect and interior design group DCOOP was employed for the expansion and remodel. The Jacksonville firm is noted for their award winning designs of Black Sheep, The Grape and Grain Exchange, and Ovinte’ at the Town Center. 

A grand re-opening celebration will be held at Taverna this Friday, December 20, 2013 from 5 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Guests at this open house happy hour will be treated to a selection of new lunch items as well as one complimentary handcrafted cocktail.

:: Stepping Onto Her Soap Box ::
When I was researching this post, I was stunned to note how many of my friends had either never been, or hadn't been to Taverna in some time. Many sited the trek to and construction (now complete at the Square) in San Marco, and the parking issues which plague so many local neighborhoods. It called into focus one of the emerging truths about our restaurant scene here in Jax. We're an expansive city, and we have more options for spending our time and money than ever before. But that's a good thing! What I urge you to do, is to consciously choose places (like Taverna) with engaged, involved proprietors (like Sam and Kiley) who are focused on local sourcing and creating real food, without pretense, in a beautiful space, at an affordable price. If these things aren't important to you, they should be. Don't MAKE me preach, now.

I suggest, if you've never been, or haven't visited Taverna in a while, that you make the trek (ok, San Marco is pretty centrally located, so let's get past that excuse) brave the traffic circles, find a parking spot (I've had no trouble finding rock-star parking since the construction added several spaces, but don't forget to check side streets and that lot behind the square) and enjoy a meal at Taverna. They are open seven days a week, lunch and dinner M-F, brunch and dinner on weekends. Happy Hour Tuesday through Saturday, 5PM-7PM. Seriously. Find the time. 

:: WIN THIS ::
To sweeten the deal, we're giving away a Gift Certificate - good for Lunch for Two at Taverna ($30 value), courtesy of Kiley and Sam!  Enter using the rafflecopter widget below - be sure to pick up extra entries for commenting / liking / following / sharing the news. I'll announce the winner December 26.

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Taverna on Urbanspoon
1986 San Marco Blvd 
JacksonvilleFL 32207 


I will always disclose (as in the case of the cocktail, above) when I receive free food or swag, but I will not allow said gift to color my opinion or reporting of the food and experience. I will always share in plain terms what I do and don't like, and if I like it, I will urge you to try a place for yourself and form your own opinions. I'm not a trained chef or food expert, I simply appreciate the social and cultural aspects of good food and dining experiences, and I enjoy sharing them with you through my blog. Thanks for reading!


A Holiday Giveaway - First Coast Magazine!

Our friends at the BEAUTIFUL
new First Coast Magazine are helping us
celebrate the holidays with a giveaway -

A FREE One Year Subscription for
THREE lucky Nourish The Beast readers!

Enter below - and like
First Coast Magazine on Facebook
for another chance to win!
We'll announce the three winners
December 22.

And keep watching for more
Nourish The Beast Holiday Giveaways!

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