Friday, April 3, 2009

The Cheese Course: Black River Blue & Zelniky

Black River Blue is a medium-sharp, soft and buttery, altogether enjoyable cheese from the North Hendren Co-op Dairy in Willard, Wisconsin (just a little southeast of Eau Claire). It's a cheese to keep around for crumbling on a salad or a pizza, or eating on its own. It's less than $6 a pound at Bolen Vale Cheese where we buy it. Twin Cities co-ops and cheese shops carry it, too. While I appreciate the costs and labor that go into making expensive farmstead cheeses, I appreciate a bargain, too; this is surely that. I would wager that this modestly priced cheese would beat out cheeses costing three times as much in a blind tasting.

Zelniky are Czech sauerkraut crackers. First place I had them was at
The Craftsman Restaurant in south Minneapolis, where chef Mike Phillips serves them with his awe-inspiring charcuterie platter. No mere meat grinder or pork belly briner, Mike is turning out dry-cured hams (in the prosciutto style), aged salami, the real stuff. Here's Mike whipping up something delicious during a cooking demo at our market, the Midtown Farmers' Market, a couple summers back.

Mike also makes his own pickles, paprika, and various fermented vegetables, including the 'kraut that goes into the crackers. These rich and toothsome crackers, with underlying sauerkraut tang and funkiness, are great with cured meats, with cheese, or on their own, washed down with a beer or a glass of hard cider.

This isn't Mike's recipe, but an adaptation of one I found online. Really it's just a savory short dough with 'kraut mixed in, rolled out thin, cut up and baked. They'll keep a long time. This recipe calls for butter as the shortening; I actually used 2/3 butter and 1/3 chicken fat (schmaltz), which I had on hand from skimming a bowl of chilled stock. Good lard, on its own or in combination, would be tasty, too.

I used a food processor; if you're skilled with handmade pie doughs, you could make it by hand. As I mentioned, this is basically just a savory, short pie dough with 'kraut mixed in.

Zelniky (Sauerkraut Crackers)

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
6 Tbsp (3 ounces) butter
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 packed cup sauerkraut (6 ounces by weight), drained but not rinsed
a little water if needed

Preheat your oven to 425. In a food processor fitted with the regular blade combine the flour, salt, pepper, and butter, and pulse until the butter is incorporated and the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Add the sauerkraut and pulse until the dough starts to form a ball. If this isn't happening, add water a tablespoon at a time until the dough just starts to come together. It will still be pretty crumbly.

Dump the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead it briefly to bring it together. Then use a rolling pin to roll the dough out to a roughly rectangular sheet about 1/4-inch thick. If it's anything like mine, your rectangle will be pretty irregular and rough-edged.

With a pastry scraper, cut the rectangle of dough into four pieces, and lift the pieces gently onto a baking sheet--the dough will cover a 14" by 16" sheet. Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, till the crackers are lightly browned. Let them cool a few minutes on the pan, then move them to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw


kim said...

I made my own sauerkraut for the first time last fall. I'm going to try making these yummy looking crackers and work on getting my charcuterie-making friend to give me something to put on top. :)

Trout Caviar said...

You know, kim, I almost feel a little silly sometimes, by how pleased I am looking at my jars of smelly fermented cabbage! But homemade 'kraut really is a delicacy, as you've found. Good for you, and do try the crackers. They're as easy as rolling out a pie crust.

"Charcuterie-making friend": What sorts of things does this friend make? I'm always interested in what folks are doing with cured meats in their home kitchens.

Best~ Brett