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David Lissner
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Eat this! Valdeon, a bold blue cheese from Spain

Nia's grilled asparagus with tomato-basil relish and Valdeon

Nia's grilled asparagus with tomato-basil relish and Valdeon.

Antonia Asimis

Antonia Asimis

What it is: Valdeon is a densely veined, creamy blue cheese made from blended milk of goats and cows. The sharp and salty cave-aged cheese features a powdery white natural rind and a protective wrapping of sycamore or oak leaves.

Where it comes from: Valdeon is made in Posada de Valdeon, in the Picos de Europa mountains in northeastern Castilla y Leon, Spain.

What to do with it: Valdeon pairs well with bold, red wines and red meats. At Nia in the West Loop, Chef Antonia Asimis also likes to use it with vegetables, as in her recipe below.

Nia’s grilled asparagus with tomato-basil relish and Valdeon
Chef Antonia Asimis

24 baby asparagus spears (locally sourced if possible)
6 to 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
2 large heirloom or vine-ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 medium red onion, peeled and diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh sweet basil
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 pound Valdeon cheese
6 ounces pancetta, chopped and cooked crisp
10-year aged balsamic vinegar (or as old as you can afford)

Preheat a grill.

Trim off the tough bottom of each asparagus spear by grasping each end and bending it gently until it snaps at its natural point of tenderness, usually 2/3 of the way down the spear. If the spear is less than 6 inches long, chances are it has already been trimmed for you. Peel off the outer skin of the lower half of the remaining stalk.

Place the asparagus on a plate. Drizzle some olive oil over the asparagus and turn the spears until they are coated. Sprinkle with salt and turn again.

Grill the asparagus for 5 minutes over a hot grill, crosswise to the grate. Each minute or so, roll each spear 1/4 turn. The asparagus should begin to brown in spots (indicating that the natural sugars are caramelizing) but should it not be allowed to char. Dripping oil may cause flare-ups so keep a glass, or spray bottle of water handy to spritz on coals, if necessary.

Combine the tomato with the onion and basil. Pour 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar into the mixture and lightly toss.

Fan 6 spears of asparagus on each plate. On the stalk end spread the tomato basil relish. On the head end of each plate, sprinkle equal portions of Valdeon and crisp pancetta. Finish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and aged balsamic. 4 servings.

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