Sona Creamery & Wine Bar

January 20, 2015 – Tuesday was National Cheese Lover’s Day.  I was in Sona Creamery & Wine Bar on Capitol Hill.  To my left scores of cheese wheels were on display.  A world of cheese.

I knew it was National Cheese Lover’s Day because Genevieve O’Sullivan had just told me so.  Gen and her husband, Conan, own Sona.  They know something about cheese.

Sona is an old Irish word meaning “happy.”  O’Sullivan.  Yes, they’re Irish.  And they’re happy with their cheeses.

Gen and Conan spent their early years together in Washington state.  It was on the west coast that they experimented and perfected their cheese making skills.    Eventually they decided to move to the east coast to be closer to family.  Impressed with the vibrant food culture in the nation’s capital, they decided to open Washington, D.C.’s first creamery.

They offer more than 100 cheeses on the retail side of the room, including the chevre they make themselves.  Their wine menu offers an impressive selection, with an emphasis on Washington state wines.  Gen and Conan know a lot about Washington wines.  And they’ve put together a “Cheese Board” of local foodies to advise them on pairings.  Which wine goes best with which cheese.

I wanted to try the house made chevre.  Michael, the young man tending my table, said he’d check the cheese vault to see if their latest production was ready for sampling.

Gen asked if I’d like to try a new cheese they were experimenting with.  Absolutely!

She said they were working on producing the creamiest, most buttery cheese ever.  They start with a mix of cow’s milk and goat’s milk.  That mixture alone will make a creamy, buttery cheese.  But then they push it a little farther at one point in the process by adding a little crème fraiche.

The three small circles of cheese Michael brought me were beyond creamy.  Beyond buttery.  All that and more.  Just a hint of lemon adding personality.  Such a pleasant taste to linger on the palate.

It was National Cheese Lover’s Day and I was in Sona.  Seemed foolish to order anything other than a grilled cheese sandwich.

Sona’s grilled cheese comes on sourdough bread from Lyon Bakery, an artisanal bakery just a few blocks from Capitol Hill in Southwest D.C.  A very tasty bread all by itself.

The menu said the grilled cheese sandwich contains five different cheeses.  I asked Michael which cheeses were included.  He said the base is a Cabot cloth bound cheddar.  Other than that they never know.  He said when the cheesemongers trim the wheels that go into the retail display they toss the trimmings into the mix.  One day there might be a hint of bleu cheese; another day it might be a Gruyere.

The one thing I knew for sure was the sandwich was good.  Very good.  The Cabot cloth bound cheddar is produced at George Kempton’s farm in Peacham, Vermont, a member of the Cabot farm cooperative prevalent in New York and New England.  The cloth bound wheels are aged in the cellars at Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont.

I couldn’t identify the other four cheeses.  But the characteristic tanginess of the Cabot cheddar stood out prominently, turning the simple sandwich into a bright, sparkling dining experience.  A terrific embellishment on American comfort food.

It was National Cheese Lover’s Day.  I was in the right place.  A world of happy cheese.

 

 

Rakott Krumpli

Every country on Earth has its own version of comfort food.  In the western cultures of Europe and North America comfort food often involves potatoes, cheese and some sort of sausage, bacon or ham.  I recently discovered that Hungary has its version of such a comfort food.  It’s called rakott krumpli.  It has all the above ingredients plus a bonus of sliced boiled eggs.

I was still calling it Hungarian scalloped potatoes because I had no idea how to pronounce rakott krumpli.  I reached out to my Hungarian friend Agi Dover.  She says it’s pronounced as “ruck-oat croom-plee,” with the emphasis always on the first syllable.   Thanks, Agi!  Rakott krumpli.  Pleasant to the ears.

Traditionally rakott krumpli uses trappista, a semi-hard cheese that originated in the 18th century with French monks, some of whom brought it to Hungary.  There’s no trappista available here so I used a combination of grated provolone, mozzarella and cheddar.  Cheeses that melt nicely.

The Hungarian sausage csabai is another traditional ingredient.  Csabai is a smoked sausage heavily spiced with paprika.  it is made in the Hungarian town of Bekescsaba and has Protected Geographical Status.  If it’s not made in Bekescsaba it’s not csabai.

No csabai around here either.  Most of the sources I read when researching suggested using a good kielbasa as a substitute.

The recipes I found for rakott krumpli were all similar.  Only minor differences.  Here’s the one I came up with.

Rakott Krumpli

(Layered Potatoes, eggs & sausage)

4 large potatoes, peeled, boiled & sliced thinly                  2 pints sour cream

Salt & pepper to taste                                                        1 egg yolk

4 boiled eggs, peeled & sliced                                           8 oz sausage, sliced in rounds

1 stick melted butter                                                           2 cups grated cheese

4 pieces crisp bacon, crumbled                                         Paprika to taste

Preheat the oven to 350.

Brush an oven proof dish with melted butter.  I used a 9″ x 6″ dish that’s about four inches deep.

Layer the bottom of the dish with about a third of the boiled sliced potatoes.  Sprinkle half the crumbled bacon over the potatoes.  Make another layer on top of the potatoes and bacon with half the sliced, boiled eggs.  Sprinkle with half the melted butter.

Mix the egg yolk into the sour cream until it’s fully combined.  Spread half the sour cream gently over the eggs.  Spread about half the sliced sausage over the sour cream.  Season with salt and pepper to taste as you form each layer.

Repeat the process making a second layer with another third of the sliced potatoes, the remainder of the crumbled bacon, melted butter, sliced boiled eggs and sausage.

Top the dish with a layer of the last of the sliced potatoes.  Spread the remainder of the sour cream over the potatoes.  Cover generously with the grated cheese.

Bake in the oven, uncovered, for about 30 minutes until the top is slightly golden.  Sprinkle the dish with paprika to taste before serving.

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Comfort food at its finest.  Can’t get a better endorsement than that!

Bon temps!