October is here and so are the cool crisp days and the traditions of my maternal grandfather's family.
Each October, the Confers gather at Brotherhood Park in Marsh Creek, Centre County, to make a few kettles of apple butter with a closely guarded recipe that only a few of them know.
Luckily, this time-honored tradition has been passed on to my mother, and when my dairy duties keep us from this family gathering, we can make it at home.
October also is a month-long celebration dedicated to the versatility of the dairy industry. We begin with National Cheese Month - and what a wonderful way to discover a new favorite fromage than to try a different type of cheese every day.
Chocolate milk has been proclaimed the official drink of Halloween. With its nine essential nutrients, it's the perfect treat for the children who stop by from your neighborhood and you'll know you did your part in helping the princesses, ghosts and superheroes get their "3 Every Day" of dairy.
Cheese is one of the most delicious and versatile dairy foods. It can be melted on a burger or in a fondue, shredded or grated over a salad or spaghetti, prepared in a recipe or simply have a Ritz cracker slipped under it.
However you like your cheese, you don't have to look any farther than your local grocery store for some of the finest domestic cheeses available, and this month I'm going to give you some tips on purchasing, storing and serving cheese.
Patronize retailers that have a high turnover of cheese. Look for dated packages to ensure you'll get the product at its peak.
Look to see if the cheese appears fresh and appealing. Ask your grocer for a sample of a new cheese before you buy.
Look for packaging that is tightly sealed and clean.
All cheeses should be refrigerated between 34 F and 38 F. The key to freshness is keeping your cheese sealed and wrapped tightly. Fresh cheeses, such as cottage and cream, should be kept cold, tightly sealed and used within two weeks of purchase. Semi soft, firm and hard cheese that are wrapped and stored properly will stay fresh for four to eight weeks. Hard cheeses - like Romano, Parmesan and Asiago - should be grated, sealed and stored in the refrigerator for two weeks or frozen for up to three months. Special care should be taken with aromatic cheeses such as Limburger or Blue. If they are not stored properly, they can impart their aromas and flavors to surrounding foods.
Most cheese tastes its best served at room temperature. Fresh cheeses should only sit out for short periods of time. Cheese will deteriorate quickly with repeated temperature changes.
With larger blocks of cheese, you should cut off only what you think you will eat in one sitting. When entertaining, select several varieties with contrasting flavors and textures.
For a more personal touch, make tent cards to identify the cheese you are serving. For small groups, allow your guests to cut directly from the cheese wedge. For larger groups, serve cubes or sticks that have been cut ahead of time.
Cheese should be cut while it is cold and with a sharp, clean knife. Complement your selections with fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, crackers or breads.
Are you lactose intolerant? Chances are you can eat most natural cheeses. During the process of making natural cheese, the whey is separated from the curd. Most of the lactose remains in the whey.
As a result, ripened cheese such as cheddar and Swiss contain about 95 percent less lactose than whole milk. Aged cheese like Parmesan and sharp cheddar contain almost no lactose and processed cheese only a slight amount.
Before introducing cheese products back into your diet, seek the advice of your doctor if you have been diagnosed with lactose intolerance.
This month's recipe is a tribute to none other than cheese. The chowder is a family favorite and was introduced to us by Chelynn Bingaman several years ago when our 4-H club put together a cookbook.
There is nothing like coming into the house after working outside and having a bowl of this chowder to warm you up.
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
2cups potatoes, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup orange American cheese
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups milk
1 cup ham, cubed
Combine water, onion, salt, potatoes, carrots and pepper in a kettle and boil for 10 to 15 minutes. In a small saucepan, make a white sauce by melting the butter then adding the flour.
Stir until smooth. Slowly add milk (if you want a thinner soup, add more milk). Cook until thickened.
Add cheddar and American cheese. Stir until melted. Add white sauce mixture and cubed ham to vegetables that have NOT been drained. Heat thoroughly.
Makes 6 servings.
The next recipe is a great side dish to take for family get togethers this holiday season.
Make some extra to have when you get home because you will come home with an empty dish every time!
Hash brown casserole
1 bag of frozen hash browns
16 ounces sour cream
2 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1 medium onion, shredded
1 can of cream of chicken soup
Dash of salt and pepper
2 cups bread crumbs or crushed corn flakes
1/2 cups butter, melted
Mix hash browns, sour cream, cheddar cheese, onion, soup, salt and pepper together.
Place on greased baking pan.
Top with bread crumbs or corn flakes and butter mixture. Bake at 350 F for about 45 minutes until golden brown.
What meal is complete without dessert? Well, there is a cheese for that too!
Chocolate peanut butter cheese cake bars
2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
4 eggs, large
1 package Nestle's Toll House Swirled Milk Chocolate and Peanut Butter Morsels, divided (10 ounces each)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325 F. Combine crumbs, butter and 1/4 cup of sugar in a medium bowl.
Remove 1 cup of mixture and reserve for topping. Press remaining mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
Sprinkle 3/4 cups of morsels over the crust. Beat cream cheese, remaining sugar, flour and vanilla extract into a large mixing bowl until smooth.
Pour over crust and morsels in pan. Sprinkle with reserved crumb topping and remaining morsels.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until set.
Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Refrigerate until firm. Cut into bars.
Franck, 17, is a junior at Mifflinburg Area High School and the SUN Area Dairy Princess serving Montour, Snyder, Union and Northumberland counties.
She may be reached at life@ sungazette.com.
Her column is published on the first Wednesday of each month.