My adventures recreating Alinea Restaurant’s food at home

MAYTAG BLUE, Grape, Walnut, Port

Maytag Blue, Grape, Walnut, Port – Alinea Restaurant cookbook recipe, pages 166-167.

MAYTAG BLUE, Grape, Walnut, Port

It’s Alinea’s whimsical take on the all-American party favorite: an inside-out cheese ball with nuts, wine and celery!

Day One

Walnut Milk
I toasted some walnuts in the oven until they were fragrant and had released their oils. In a medium saucepan, I combined the whole milk, sugar and a touch of salt, and brought to a boil to dissolve the solids. I let this cool a bit then transferred to a bowl with the walnuts, then let them steep, refrigerated, overnight.

Walnuts, shelled and halved
Alta-Dena whole milk
C&H cane sugar
Morton’s kosher salt

Grape Juice
I juiced the green grapes in my Breville Juicer, then strained into a container.

fresh grape juice

I combined the grape juice, sugar, citric acid and salt to taste in a medium saucepan, and brought to a boil to dissolve the solids.

Thompson green seedless grapes
C&H cane sugar
Morton’s kosher salt, to taste
Citric acid

Day Two

Walnut Milk (Continued)
I removed the walnut milk from the fridge and strained into a clean container, reserving it for later…

Straining the walnut milk

Grape Sponge
I re-hydrated the gelatin sheets in cold water, and squeezed out the excess. Then I brought some of the grape juice to almost a simmer, and added the gelatin sheets, whisking to dissolve. Then whisked some more, placing my bowl in an icebath to speed up the process.

Mise en place for grape sponge

Then whisked the juice on high with my KitchenAid mixer.

Enough until it turned white, thickened, and formed stiff peaks. Then I put it into a pastry bag, so I could fill some hemispheric molds….

Whip the grape juice-gelatin mix till it forms stiff peaks

Speaking of hemispheric molds, I found the perfectly sized one right in front of my nose — the plastic egg basket in my fridge — check it out!

Egg crate

I piped the juice-sponge-foam into the molds (over-filling them so I could later top them off cleanly ) and popped into the freezer.

Filling the mold with a pastry bag

After they’d set up, I heated a metal spatula with a brulée torch and sliced off their tops, flush with the mold.

Then used a small Parisienne scoop to hollow out the insides.

Scooping out the hemispheres

Now to assemble the spheres. I melted the “equator” edges of one, and pressed another hemisphere to the first, holding for a minute until the edges bonded. You have to make sure there are no gaps. This ball has to hold liquid, so the more complete the seal, the better.

Assembling the hollow grape sponge balls

Grape juice mixture, reserved from above
Rousselot ‘silver-grade’ gelatin sheets< Port Gelatin
Two ingredients: wine and gelatin. That should be easy. I used a bottle of Sandemann’s Ruby Porto, which I like — you could use any that you prefer. Especially because you’ll only be using a portion of the bottle — and you don’t want to let the rest go bad. So drink it while you cook!

I rehydrated the gelatin sheets in cold water and measured out the Port. Next, I reduced the wine in a saucepan. Reducing (evaporating) the wine intensifies the flavors, increases the its natural sweetness and thickens it. I gently tipped the pot to ignite the alcohol, and burned it off. Fun for pyros!

reducing porto wine

Removed it from the heat and whisked in the gelatin. I transferred the port gel mix to a small stainless bowl set over an ice water bath to cool.

cooling port wine gel over ice

After It had set up, I used a spoon to loosen it up into rough pieces, then reserved to the fridge.

port wine gel

Ruby Port wine
Rousselot ‘silver-grade’ gelatin sheets

Celery Slices and Leaves
There are two kinds of celery slices in this dish: the regular, and long, shaved strips. For the first, I used a new mandolin to slice the celery as thinly as possible.

slicing celery

For the shavings, I used a vegetable peeler and sliced long strips off the stalks. I reserved these in ice water, which curls up the strips (not unlike wood shavings).

shaving celery

I also reserved some yellow and green celery leaves in ice water.

Celery stalks
Ice water

Celery Seed Salt
The recipe says to make your own by toasting celery seeds and grinding them up with kosher salt. But I already had a package or ready-made celery salt, so I used it instead.

celery salt

Celery seeds
Morton’s kosher salt, or
Tampico celery salt

Frozen Maytag Powder
I had previously put a wedge of Maytag Blue cheese in the freezer to harden up so I could grate it into a powder.

This component recipe uses an Antigriddle from PolyScience to freeze the grated cheese (US$1235.00, available directly from their website, or US$1,199.00 from JB Prince). It’s a wonderful product you may have seen on TV, that freezes things put on its super-chilled griddle top. I don’t have one. But I MacGyvered a substitute together with a frozen sheet pan placed over a slab of dry ice.

I removed the cheese and sheet tray from the freezer, placed the tray on a flat slab of dry ice, and quickly grated the cheese in a fine layer onto the frozen surface. I had to work very quickly, as the heat from my hands melted the cheese as I held it. Then quickly replaced the tray into the freezer.

Maytag Blue Cheese

What’s all the fuss about Maytag Blue Cheese?
There are many types of soft cheese with ribbons of blueish penicillium mold running through them. But when you talk about cheese, bleu cheese from the Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, France immediately comes to mind. The word “Roquefort” is a PDO-controlled name, just like “Champagne” — meaning you can’t call your product Roquefort or Champagne unless it really comes from there.

Maytag recipe bookThe United States has their own blue cheeses, and that from the Maytag Dairy Farms in Newton, Iowa has recently become a frontrunner, due not only to their aggressive marketing efforts, but to its popularity with chefs desiring a home-grown favorite. You’ve probably seen it on a menu in the last couple of years.

And yes, its that Maytag. Frederick and Robert Maytag, grandsons of the founder of the Maytag appliance company started making blue cheese in 1941. They perfected a technique using homogenized milk from their dairy cows, making the manufacture of the blue cheese more consistent than previously possible. More info…

Grape Syrup
I took some of the fresh grape juice I had previously made, and brought it to a simmer in a small saucepan. I reduced it until it coated the back of a spoon, then removed from the heat to cool.

grape syrup

Grape juice, reserved from above

Walnut Crumbs
I toasted the walnuts on a sheet pan in the oven until they’d browned and released their aromatic oils. The recipe says to use walnut halves. I hammered mine in a bag with the kitchen mallet to make it more of a course powder. Then mixed in the grape syrup in a stainless bowl, and salted to taste. This is very yummy and should be used to top all things…

walnut crumbs

Shelled fresh walnuts
Grape syrup, reserved from above
Morton’s kosher salt, to taste

To Assemble and Serve
Mise en place:
Mise-en-place for Maytag Blue, Grape, Walnut, Port - Alineaphile
I used the Alinea ‘Craters’ plate, designed by Crucial Detail, for this dish. No matter what plates you choose, it’s important to chill them before service. A warm plate will only melt the blue cheese, and we don’t want that. I started with a trail of grated blue cheese long the length of the plate. I spooned some more in the center of the plate, to serve as a foundation for the grape sponge. And added a line of celery salt. Then I added random dollops of port gelatin and walnut crumbs, followed by celery ribbons, slices and leaves.

Prepping the plates for the Alinea Restaurant recipe Maytag Blue, Grape, Walnut, Port - Alineaphile

I tossed the hollow walnut sponges in some walnut oil, took the sheet pan of Maytag Blue out of the freezer, then rolled my balls in grated cheese.

Taking a turkey basting syringe, I injected the spheres with the walnut milk. It was a bit hard to judge when to stop, and there was some spillage. But not too bad. I filled the needle marks with blue cheese. Then put them in the freezer for a few minutes to harden the grated cheese up again.

Assembling the walnut-grape-cheeseballs

Walnut oil
Green and yellow celery leaves

Alinea Restaurant recipe for Maytag Blue, Grape, Walnut, Port

It was a delicious combination that everyone loved. The unexpected pleasure comes in eating the dish. Everyone was surprised when digging into the grape sponge — an explosion of walnut milk squirts out!

Walnut milk explosion

Cutting board and kitchen knife
Salter digital scale
Breville juicer or wine press
Cheesecloth and strainer or sieve
Cast iron skillet
Kitchenaid mixer with wire whisk attachment
Oster bar blender
Offset and rubber spatulas
Stainless bowls
Wire whisk
Creme brulée torch
Hemispheric mold
Parisienne scoop
Mandolin (and perhaps a fiddle)
Spice grinder
Large turkey basting syringe
PolyScience Antigriddle, from JB Prince, or
sheet pan and dry ice
Measuring bowls, paper towels, tweezers

Maytag Blue, Grape, Walnut, Port

Alinea ‘Craters’ plate by Crucial Detail, from JB Prince

Yields: Enough for about 16 servings

What to do with the leftovers?
We didn’t have too much left over this time. The grape sponges didn’t keep very long, but I did not freeze them. The walnut crumbs were good on waffles the next weekend. And the blue cheese? Great in an arugula salad with bacon!

Maytag Blue and arugula salad

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