For the last month, I've been on a beet salad bender. It's easy to make, it keeps well, and it's easy to pack in a lunch if you don't mind purple fingerprints around the office. For variety, I add scallions or caramelized leeks, along with walnuts and a crumbly cheese -- feta, chevre, mascarpone (with a dash of lemon zest), or a creamy blue all work well.
Lately, I've been loving beets with gorgonzola -- Black River Gorgonzola. This award-winning blue from North Hendren Co-op Dairy in the tiny berg of Willard, Wis., has been a favorite of mine for years. I first discovered it on a road trip to the Christine Center, a wonderful place to write and relax (amid nuns who enjoy nothing more than a good wood-fire sauna), and recently, a good friend shipped me a whole box of the luscious stuff for old time's sake.
North Hendren Co-op Dairy is a wonderful place. Used to be you could stop in for a sample, and you'd leave with a hunk as a big as your hand. Yes, that was the sample. The co-op uses high-quality local milk from cows you can see grazing along the tiny two-lane highway leading to Marshfield, all of it rBGH-free, and that freshness is evident in the taste of the cheese. This gorgonzola is wonderfully sweet and grassy, and the texture is something fierce-creamy.
I don't get to Willard very often anymore, but Black River Gorgonzola keeps popping up around me. Most recently, on my doorstep, but also in restaurants along the East Coast, including one in Manhattan. At the end of last summer, I ordered a beet salad at a street café in Morningside Heights, and wouldn't you know, it was served with a sprinkling of Black River Gorgonzola. When I told the waiter I'd been to the dairy, he raised his eyebrows. "No kidding?" he laughed, "I thought maybe it was a made-up place."
I assured him it was not a figment of a marketing campaign but, in fact, a wonderful place -- I described lush hillsides and Amish buggies, but I could tell that he didn't really believe me. Which was fine. I don't mind letting people think that Black River Gorgonzola comes from a mythical realm.
Beet Salad With Black River Gorgonzola
6 medium-sized beets
2 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
sea salt and black pepper
Black River Gorgonzola
Boil beets whole, skin and all. When they're fork tender, rinse them under cool water and scrape the skins off with a spoon (or a paper towel). While they're cooking, prepare the dressing by mixing mustard, olive oil, and vinegar in a small bowl. Slice beets into rounds, toss with dressing, and chill for at least 20 minutes. Serve on a bed of greens, with a sprinkling of scallions, toasted walnuts, and Gorgonzola. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Tenaya Darlington blogs about cheese at Madame Fromage.