Each year in late June or early July the County Fair comes to Marin. In addition to the requisite cotton candy and gut-wrenching thrill rides, this five-day event which culminates on Independence Day showcases the best of our county's local artisans and agriculture.
The variety of exhibits on display for fair-goers to see is truly impressive. Quilters, photographers, and artists bring visual feasts for the eyes, while Future Farmers and 4-Hers parade their prize livestock around the arena hoping to take home a blue ribbon.
It's also the place where local foodies bring their best homemade breads, pies, cakes, and preserves to pit their culinary skills against their neighbor's in an array of cooking competitions.
I admit I'm a sucker for a baking contest, particularly one that lets me flex my farm to table muscles using ingredients sourced from local producers. That's probably why the new "Just Say Cheese" competition caught my eye as I perused this year's exhibitors' booklet. Contestants were asked to submit an appetizer, entree, or dessert recipe using one or more Marin-produced cheeses as an ingredient.
I knew instantly that my entry would be a cheesecake made with Foggy Morning, my favorite organic fresh cow's milk cheese from Nicasio Valley Cheese Company in West Marin. This creamy, tangy round would be the perfect base for making what I hoped would be an award-winning dessert.
My love affair with cheesecake actually dates back to 1995. At that time my passion for baking led me to start a business making artisan low-fat cheesecakes which I sold to local restaurants and markets. When my husband and I decided to start our family, I chose to set aside the baking business to focus on the relentless and rewarding job of being a full-time mom. Although I was no longer immersed in daily production, I remained confident in my ability to render a killer cheesecake.
I dug out my favorite classic recipe for New York style cheesecake, adjusted the quantities a bit, and voila: Foggy Morning Cheesecake was born. The finished dessert is rich and dense with a firm texture and clean taste that allows the characteristics of the cheese to shine through.
My recipe also calls for Strauss Family Creamery organic sour cream, another local producer from Petaluma whose version of this ingredient makes others pale in comparison. The crust combines chopped pecans with a hint of citrus and vanilla — a nice departure from the standard graham cracker base. This cheesecake is delicious served as is or accompanied by a fresh fruit sauce of your choice.
When all was said and done, I walked away with second place in the “Just Say Cheese” contest this year — edged out of the blue by a woman who entered her recipe for Cheesecake Ice Cream with Roasted Cherry Sauce. Although it would have been nice to take the top prize, my competitive nature will rise to the challenge again next year knowing there is always room for improvement.
Meanwhile, enjoy my prize-winning recipe for Foggy Morning Cheesecake—and “say cheese” — because the taste will make you smile.
FOGGY MORNING CHEESECAKE
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
6 tablespoons cold butter
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 rounds Nicasio Valley Cheese Company “Foggy Morning” cheese
½ cup Strauss Creamery sour cream
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 cup Strauss Creamery whipping cream
Preheat oven to 400.
1. To make crust, combine flour, sugar, pecans, and lemon peel in a food processor and pulse until pecans are finely ground. Add cold butter, 1
tablespoon at a time, and pulse until mixture is crumbly. Combine egg yolk and
vanilla. Pulse into flour mixture until just combined. Mixture should still be crumbly, but hold together if pressed.
2. Press into the bottom and up the sides of a lightly buttered 8” springform pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 8-11 minutes until edges are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.
3. Make a water bath by filling a 9 x 13 inch pan half way with water. Place on the lowest oven rack and reduce heat to 325 degrees.
4. To make filling, place Foggy Morning cheese and sour cream in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in sugar. Add flour, vanilla, eggs, and cream, beating until just combined. Pour over cooled crust.
5. Bake on middle rack of oven at 325 degrees for 55 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake inside for an additional 60 minutes. DO NOT open the oven. Remove and cool to room temperature on a wire rack. Refrigerate and enjoy!
* For more farm to table in the North Bay, visit Karen's Food For Thought blog at: www.karenpavonesfoodforthought.com