Grilled Juusto and Brioche Sandwich with Roasted Tomato Air

We’ve gotten some new cheeses from Ashe County Cheese in West Jefferson, North Carolina and I’ve been featuring them on our Chefs Table this past week. Ashe County has a large variety of cheeses, including the Juusto that’s sandwiched between two slices of brioche in the picture.

Juusto is short for “Juustoleipa”, which means “bread cheese” in some language or another. Juusto is a buttery flavored “squeaky” cheese that has been produced in Finland and Sweden for a couple hundred years. The process of producing this cheese includes baking, which gives it a dark crust and is the source of its name.

For all of the nuances of this cheese to be fully appreciated it has to be served warm. While it could easily be sautéed in a hot pan with no fat, I’ve decided here to make a nice little grilled cheese sandwich with it. The bake shop had some great brioche that I utilized, making sure to slice from the bottom of the brioche so the pockets of air would be smaller. The sandwich itself is pretty small, only two or three bites total.

I wanted to serve this with tomato, simply because the flavor combination takes me back to my childhood, having my favorite breakfast of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich before school. Unfortunately tomato soup would be a little heavy in this context since this plate was the eighth course going to the table, so I needed something lighter while still packing a lot of flavor in. What could be lighter than air?

For the tomato “air” I reduced a tomato stock to heavily concentrate the flavor and I seasoned it liberally. The difficulty in producing airs and foams is that they are very transient…here one second and gone the next. To make it stick around a while longer I turned to soy lecithin. Lecithin is a lipid that is found in all organisms in varying amounts. It is commonly found in cooking, sometimes as an emulsifier and sometimes in non-stick sprays. My interest in it for this recipe is for its ability to isolate proteins to allow for aeration. Think whipped cream or meringue. After using the lecithin and whipping my stock I ended up with an air that would hang around for about ten minutes. Powdered egg whites could also be used, but egg white usually has to be added at 7% vs. soy lecithin at .5%. If I had Versawhip I would have used it…I need to get some on the chemical shelf.

I enjoyed this dish immensely, but it still has some room for improvement. For one, I intended for the air bubbles to be larger. I’ll need to figure out whether my ratio for the lecithin needs adjustment, or maybe I need to whip the stock with a different tool. Or maybe the viscosity of the stock is too low…or maybe all of the above. The second thing that bothers me is the need for more color. I don’t like adding components for the sake of having color, it needs to be functional and contribute to the overall dish. Maybe some kind of basil, or two airs…one basil and one tomato? To be continued.

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