Established in 2003, the Wisconsin Cheese Chef Ambassador program taps the culinary creativity of talented chefs across the nation to develop exciting new recipes with Wisconsin Cheese. Chef ambassadors also spend the year spreading the word about Wisconsin Cheese through events in their restaurants, making media appearances and appearing at food events and conferences.
One of the 11 newest Wisconsin Cheese chef ambassadors for 2010 is Chef Jorge de la Torre, Dean of Culinary Education at Johnson and Wales University, the College of Culinary Arts in Denver, Colorado. Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Chef Jorge graduated from the University of New Mexico, Dean’s List, with a B.B.A. in Finance. He then went to the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Chef Jorge also has a Tour Manager Certification from the International Tour Guide Academy, Denver, Colorado.
Chef Jorge’s recent work with Wisconsin Cheese has included Denver’s Taste of the Nation event in July. Coming up, Chef Jorge will present Wisconsin Cheese recipes at the Denver Food & Wine Classic on September 11 and The Great American Beer Festival from September 16 – 18.
Chef Jorge was excited to discuss his new position as a Wisconsin Cheese chef ambassador with Wisconsin Cheese Talk.
How he got started cooking: I always liked cooking, ever since I was a kid. Both my parents were very good cooks. My dad really enjoyed it. My parents are from Bolivia and my dad owned a restaurant and hotel. So for me cooking was a passion from day one.
When I graduated from high school, in 1986, cooking American cuisine was really getting hot and having a career as a chef was becoming more accepted. But my parents insisted that I get a business degree. So I did. Then right after, I bolted to culinary school.
Cooking style: I love simple cooking techniques. I love Asian food. Asian cooking is really about blending tastes. You’ve got the sweet and the sour, the spicy, the salty. I love how Asian food can bring that all together in one plate.
I also love Italian food because it is, again, really simple. You use maybe three or four ingredients, and the cheeses in Italian cooking – delicious.
Cheeses are a good example of simple cooking.When cooking with cheese there are so many flavors in the cheese, that you don’t need much else. When cooking, I am very big on complementary and contrasting foods. Cheeses are a great way to do this.
Favorite style of Wisconsin Cheese: I love cheese – all sorts of cheese. I enjoy everything from a Mascarpone – sweet, with a nice texture – to things that are super pungent, and anything in between. The different textures of cheeses – hard, soft, fresh – play well with sweet, spicy, salty and bitter tastes.
Favorite Wisconsin Cheeses: Pleasant Ridge Reserve by Upland’s Cheese – that cheese was an “ah ha” for me. Fresh hand-stretched string Oaxaca-style cheese from Cesar’s Cheese, Queso Oaxaca – the other “ah ha” moment that I have had with Wisconsin Cheese. I’ve never had string cheese like that before in my life. It was a revelation of anything else in the string cheese industry. If I had to take only two Wisconsin Cheeses home with me today, they would be Tilston Point Blue from Hook’s Cheese and the Chalet Cheese Cooperative Limburger.
On using Wisconsin Cheeses: Now that I’ve gone to Wisconsin, toured the cheese making facilities, and I’ve personally seen the time, effort and passion that go into the cheese, I know the quality of this cheese – If I were the cheesemaker, I wouldn’t sell these cheeses for $1,000 a pound. I’d be like no way, this is my baby – We use Wisconsin Cheese in our recipes in our school and we talk about the classic uses of cheese in cooking. We know it is important to teach our students about the amazing artisan cheeses made right here in America.
On Trends in Cheese: More restaurants are using cheese plates as a dessert option. Our students are out there working and seeing cheese used more often. They want to learn more about cheese and how to serve cheese, store it, and age it.
Cheese Tips: If you go to a good cheese place you can try anything. You don’t have to buy a big brick of cheese not knowing what it tastes like. Buy a small cut and try new things out.
Also, anything I do or cook with has to be complementary or contrast. If the cheese is fatty, maybe add something acidic to balance it out. It is important to learn all about the cheese. Is it going to cook well? Is it going to separate? You have to know the basics. This one melts easily. This one is never going to melt. With cheese it’s more than just flavor. It’s the texture. It has its nuances.
On Cheese Pairings: I’m a big beer fan, so I like to pair beers and cheeses. I think they have a lot of the same components. Mix fruit beers with lighter cheeses and dark porters with Blue cheese.
Cheese Recipes: Blue cheese goes well with dark chocolate. It’s that sweet and savory again. Figs are in season right now – Blue cheese, honey and figs. Delicious. Hook’s Tilston Point Blue – I’d pair it with a big honeycomb and grilled figs – the sugars would caramelize then the earthy figs and rich Blue cheese would produce that savory and sweet combination perfectly.
Also, I’ve been using a lot of Crave Brothers Mascarpone cheese. I whip it into pasta and use it as a dessert later – with chocolate and jam.
I like taking the cheeses that many people would think were really pungent and strong and making them into dessert options. Likewise, I take a light cheese, maybe a Fontina and mix