Saturday, June 27, 2009

Panini de Chocolat et Brie

My panini made the Foodbuzz Top 9!

While combing through my favorite food blogs for inspiration, I stumbled upon some interesting articles that provided me with the idea for my first food post: raw milk cheese. I thought it was appropriate to use a French cheese on my first posting, but I didn't think it was possible to come across any noteworthy cheeses in the small town I live in. After a little research, I discovered there was a specialty shop downtown that sells imported foods. Interesting. Maybe I had luck on my side.

When I first stepped into the shop, it felt like my journey had taken me overseas. Crooked rows of unknown foods surrounded me, bursting with goodies. I didn't even know where to start. I just stood there mesmerized. A nice gentleman came over and asked if he could help me. I suppose he had seen a newcomer's face before and knew I needed guidance. Without hesitation, I asked if they carried any young, French cheeses - specifically any brie. He said sadly they were all out and began naming alternatives that would suit my needs. However, the shop owner had heard me and quietly walked over. In a hushed voice, he said they did indeed have one wheel of brie - Brie de Meaux.

My heart skipped a beat. Could this be true? Did I just hear him correctly? In a drawer in the cheese case, he pulled out the most beautiful wooden disc I've ever seen - it was indeed the world renowned Brie de Meaux. I asked for a modest slice and watched as he cut into the unscathed wheel. The smile on my face, as the shop owner handed over my piece, must have said it all. He chuckled to himself as he walked away.

Now all I needed was some chocolate. The assistant eagerly lead me through shelves of imported chocolates and I settled on an Italian milk chocolate, infused with olive oil and sea salt. Ah, c'est la vie.

On my way home, I had a crazy idea. I needed a fancy camera for my fancy food. Alas, I was missing the former element. After carefully tucking away my brie in the refrigerator, I called my friend Kylene. She's a local photographer - a very good one. Thankfully, she was in town and picked up the phone. I shared with her my master plan and she happily agreed to photograph my first endeavor, generously offering up her kitchen. Thank you, Kylene!

As soon as I arrived, we tore into a bottle of wine we'd been waiting months to try. She had picked it up on one of her many business trips and kindly brought one back for us to share. The wine is from Viansa Winery, called Imbianco. It is a rose and was mildly sweet, which went with our panini perfectly.

The brie and chocolate had become soft on the hot car ride over, which was beneficial as we didn't have to wait on it to reach room temperature to indulge.

We silently cut into the brie and then slid a small piece into our mouths.

The complexity was unlike any cheese I have had before. It tastes like the French countryside after a light Spring rain, when you walk out onto the porch, just as the sun begins to peak through the clouds, and take a deep breath. In that breath you can taste the fresh dew on the grass and feel the energy of the earth renewing itself. I realized what I've been missing from not having raw milk products before. The mildness of this brie causes you to awaken your senses so you can enjoy all the flavors it has to offer. It's so delicate, it melts on your tongue. Brie can be eaten with or without the rind, which is very thin. I preferred eating with the rind on, as I enjoyed the earthy flavor.

Next came the chocolate taste test. The flavors were so pure and creamy. The sea salt made a noticeable difference as the chocolate popped with sweetness. I might just start adding a pinch to my other chocolates. The olive oil wasn't detectable as far as flavor, but it stood out slightly once melted. I would love to use this chocolate again for enjoying alone or cooking.

Finally, we were tasked with putting the panini together. The combination might seem unusual at first, but how could you go wrong with cheese, chocolate, and bread? It's the trifecta of the food world. We dove right into the sandwich and it was love at first bite. Each bite had a perfect balance of flavors. The chocolate was most predominate, and by toasting the bread, it mellowed the taste to match the other ingredients. The warm brie just melts your soul. This panini is divine - and like all good things, didn't last very long. The memory of it, however, will.

Although I sought out higher quality ingredients, which was well worth the effort, this panini tastes delicious no matter what brand you're using. The combination of all the delectable elements is what your taste buds really care about. The panini comes together in only a few minutes since there is no cooking involved. The heat of the stove simply melds the ingredients together. I found the recipe here and decided to try it due to its uniqueness and rave reviews. Below I've described the method in which I made the panini. The wonderful thing is this panini is so versatile. It can be individualized based on your palate's preferences. It could even support more elements. I'd suggest thin slices of fresh tomatoes or mushrooms, raw or cooked. The panini is very mild and would be great to enjoy on a lazy mid-morning day with your favorite glass of wine.

Panini de Chocolat et Brie
Sourdough bread
Olive Oil

Place a large pan on the stove and warm on low to medium heat. Take two slices of sourdough bread and drizzle olive oil over one side of both pieces. Heat the bread, olive oil side up, on the stove, about 2 minutes. Once toasted, flip and toast the other side. Then place 2 slices of brie, 4 pieces of chocolate, and 2 diced basil leaves on one side and top with the other slice of bread. Place a bacon press on top of the sandwich and allow the ingredients to melt, 1-2 minutes. Remove from the pan and cut into diagonal pieces.