Pacific Northwest Blues
Last spring I saw a fabulous performance by King Louis and Sweet Baby James along with Linda Hornbuckle and Janice Scroggins at the Joyce Garver Theater in Camas. It was a great experience. I was reminded of the fact that we are blessed with a wealth of talented blues artists here in the Pacific Northwest.
It is not only performing artists that express the blues with award winning talent in this part of the country. We also have artists and photographers with a gift for expressing the blue notes of our experience with soulful skill and enthusiasm. Our experience of life’s more pungent notes is something that can be conveyed at a creamery too, and even in the kitchen.
At Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Oregon they have a gift for focusing flavor notes from around the world with naturally occurring molds that reflect the unique terroir of the Pacific Northwest. Add to that the innovative touch of smoking the blue cheese over hazelnut shells and you have a beautifully complex cheese that plays a sharp tang against a hint of darkly sweet nuttiness. This cure imparts a sultry smokiness to the rich voicing of Rogue's Smokey Blue.
This season Camas's Joyce Garver Theater has been closed and the Performing Arts Series that brought us King Louis and Sweet Baby James last season has lost its long standing venue. The school district that tore down an elementary school this year and replaced it with a newer, more modern building and is preparing to update its existing stadium with one that is bigger and better, does not want to spend the money to update this well-loved community asset. It's too bad. Yet standing in the shadow of sweet notes remembered and hope denied, when life deals us a taste of its sharper edge, what can we do? Try singing the blues!
Smokey Blue Improvisation
This composition came from the recipe collection at Rogue Creamery's Cheese Shop just off I-5 in Central Point, Oregon. They offer quite a variety of recipes but the most intriguing was for this Blue Cheese Cheesecake.
On the drive home I found myself trying to work out the chords and pair it with just the right topping to enhance the impact. The recipe itself suggests pairing it with a Fig Rum Raisin Dessert Sauce or with a Port Wine Sauce. Both sound interesting but I couldn't find the dessert sauce or fresh figs and I wanted to try a fruit topping rather than the port wine reduction. Finally I decided to bend it in another direction by combining the earthy complexity of this unusual dessert with the drama of a Hazelnut Pear Flambé topping.
The result was rather unusual but interesting and worthwhile. Some bites of cheesecake have more of a blue cheese bite than others, offering a sharp salty flavor that contrasts the smooth creaminess of the more traditional cheesecake on top. The pear sauce provides a lovely sweet-spicy counterpoint and the hazelnuts add a touch of resistant crunch.
Smokey Blue Cheesecake
adapted from a recipe distributed at Rogue Creamery
¾ cup graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup finely ground hazelnuts
2 Tablespoons melted butter
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1½ 8-oz pkg’s cream cheese (12 oz total)
4 oz Greek style plain nonfat yogurt
3 medium eggs
¼ cup sugar
½ Tablespoon lemon juice
2-3 oz Smokey Blue or Crater Lake Blue cheese, crumbled
Let cream cheese, yogurt, eggs and blue cheese come to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease the bottom of a 6" springform pan. Combine graham cracker crumbs, ground hazelnuts and 2 Tablespoons of sugar in a small bowl. Stir with a fork until well blended. Add the 2 Tablespoons of melted butter until combined.
Press the crumb mixture evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake 5-10 minutes or until golden brown.
Crumble 2-3 oz of blue cheese evenly over the bottom of the warm crust.
Beat cream cheese until soft; add sugar, yogurt, slowly add eggs one at a time. Beat until combined. Add lemon juice. Pour mixture into the pan. Bake for approximately 45 to 50 minutes, or until cheesecake is just set, and beginning to get slightly golden around the edge.
Let cool for 2-4 hours, or refrigerate overnight before serving for best results.
Top with Hazelnut Pear Flambé.
Serve and enjoy!