Cooking with Barb
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By BARB FORD

On a trip to Chicago, I discovered a gem of a hotel two blocks from the John Hancock building-the Sofitel on Chestnut, which feels like a smaller, more intimate European style hotel than many of the big

On a trip to Chicago, I discovered a gem of a hotel two blocks from the John Hancock building-the Sofitel on Chestnut, which feels like a smaller, more intimate European style hotel than many of the big brand name hotels around it. More important than the hotel itself, is the foodie attraction here. Within a stone's throw of beef meccas like Mike Ditka's is a mecca of another kind-the one Chicago restaurant innovative enough to make their own cheeses and cured meats as well as preserving their own jams, jellies and canned vegetables. The Café Des Architectes is part of the Sofitel and supports an amazing program called Chestnut Provisions. Chef Greg Biggers and his teams have taken the idea of farm to table and house made artisanal products to a whole new, delicious level. Four years ago, when Sofitel encouraged all of their hotels to get special sanitation certifications, Chef Biggers gathered his crew and divided them into teams. One team, headed by the pastry chef, would learn all about cheese making (including goat and cow's milk soft and hard cheeses) and start a cheese making operation which today is the only artisanal cheese making operation in any restaurant. One would learn all about curing meats and making charcuterie (including salamis, smoked sausages and specialty hams.) One would learn about canning and preserves (including jams,

Four years ago, when Sofitel encouraged all of their hotels to get special sanitation certifications, Chef Biggers gathered his crew and divided them into teams. One team, headed by the pastry chef, would learn all about cheese making (including goat and cow's milk soft and hard cheeses) and start a cheese making operation which today is the only artisanal cheese making operation in any restaurant. One would learn all about curing meats and making charcuterie (including salamis, smoked sausages and specialty hams.) One would learn about canning and preserves (including jams, chutneys and pickles as well as regular canned vegetables.) Each team found experts in their areas and went out to learn from experts how to create really great products. The program has required that the kitchen staff learn all kinds of new techniques, develop procedures that

The program has required that the kitchen staff learn all kinds of new techniques, develop procedures that insure food safety and find farmers that can serve the hotel's high quality needs. It has resulted in Chef Biggers creating special relationships with four small dairy farms who will take care with their milk to insure great results for cheese making. He has also developed relationships with the experts each team learned from. It seems that after four years Chef Bigger and his team are giving back by helping other chefs around the city learn the skills they have perfected. The result of all this is an excellent, inventive menu featuring cave aged cheeses, charcuterie, jams and preserves that are made in house literally yards from the tables where they are served. The menu in the Café Des Architects highlights fresh seasonal produce, Chestnut Provisions

The menu in the Café Des Architects highlights fresh seasonal produce, Chestnut Provisions products and specially sourced foods from around the world. They have cheeses from France, seafood from Japan and fresh vegetables from the Green City Market. But the products made in house are those that make this a unique and wonderful place to dine. Take for example, the cheeses offered on their menu last week. I tried a Tomme made from gently pasteurized cow's milk that rivaled any I have tried before. It was a semi-firm cheese with a creamy nutty flavor, rich and grassy at the same time. They also had house made brie and chevre, two favorite soft cheeses made from cow and goat milk respectively. Tasted alongside cheeses made by masters in France and Spain, the "Chicago" made cheeses were world class. Chef Bigger's team uses an old walk-in refrigerator as their cheese cave,

Chef Bigger's team uses an old walk-in refrigerator as their cheese cave, insuring the temperature is ideal for aging the cheeses and complying with the stringent regulations that insure Chestnut Provision's products are safe and healthy. But the chef assured me that one can make a great soft goat cheese at home, too, and has shared the recipe with me so you can try it at home yourself. My advice is to visit Chicago for an amazing dining experience at the Sofitel soon. But if you can't, here is a recipe for homemade goat cheese that you can enjoy at home.

Herbed Goat Cheese
(For this recipe, set up a colander over a large bowl with four to five layers of cheesecloth draped over the inside of the colander before you begin. This will make the whole process much simpler.)
1 quart fresh goats' milk
¼ cup freshly squeexed lemon juice
1 clove freshly grated garlic
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher salt works well)
2-3 Tablespoons herbs (whatever flavors you like. I use Herbs de Provence)

Using a medium saucepan, heat the milk gradually up to 180oF as read on a instant read thermometer. Once it reaches 180oF, remove it from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Let the mixture stand until it starts to curdle, about 20 to 30 seconds. You will see a little bit of curdling occur, slightly changing the texture of the mixture. Once that begins, get your colander lined with four to five layers of cheesecloth set into a deep bowl ready and ladle the milk mixture into the colander slowly and carefully. Once you have all the milk poured into the colander, tie the corners of the cheesecloth together and hang the whole package up above the colander. I do this using a wooden spoon across the top of the colander. Let the whey drip through the cheesecloth for about an hour and a half. At this point, the cheese inside the cloth should be ricotta like in consistency. Transfer the cheese to a bowl, add the garlic, the salt and the herbs and fold the mixture together. Cover tightly and chill in the refrigerator for an hour or so, then serve it up on crackers, bread or even in salads.

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