Amanda Parker is Cowgirl Creamery's Managing Director, joining us over 2 years ago with a background in business development and specialty cheese. Amanda began her journey working in cheese working at the vaunted Murray's Cheese in New York City, where she grew their beloved Manhattan cheese counter into a national business. She stands by the idea of dairy being used as a force for good, and is committed to maintaining the role that Cowgirl Creamery plays as a community hub and supporter of a local, regenerative, organic food systems.
During an unusual holiday season, Amanda reflects on her family traditions, small gatherings, romcoms, Christmas cheese, and shares a precious family recipe:
In one sense, this year of small family gatherings is hardly new for me. I am an only child, so most Christmases growing up consisted of just me and my parents (and the dog, of course). Over these years, we’ve developed our own food traditions, mostly a combination of “traditional” and the kinds of food we just love to eat. Cheese, of course, to start!
I’ve worked in the cheese industry for over twelve years now. My very first week as a young cheesemonger in New York was the week before Thanksgiving in November 2008—talk about a crazy time to start in retail! And of course this has meant that for every holiday, we have a cheese plate. While I usually celebrate American cheeses for Thanksgiving, Christmas has become my opportunity to look to Europe and its classics—the wrinkly, ashed goat cheeses from France’s Loire Valley. Craggy Italian pecorinos, rubbed in olive oil or studded with peppercorns, covered in juniper berries. Extra-aged wheels of Comté, which we mongers used to hold triumphantly above our heads when they would arrive in December. The grand-dame of the British cheese canon, in my humble opinion, great truckles of Colston Bassett Stilton, veined through with blue. Needless to say, my small nuclear family has benefitted from a dozen years of cheese plates.
So that kicks us off, perhaps to whet the appetite while, in a normal year, we three might read by a fire, or enjoy another holiday tradition: the annual viewing of Love, Actually, one of my dad’s all-time favorite movies.
Dinner is where things get interesting, holiday tradition-wise. We often go for that quintessential holiday centerpiece, a small-family-sized ham, usually a sourced from a smokehouse in the Adirondacks where my mom’s family has been going for over fifty years, since my grandfather owned a Dairy Queen that the whole family worked at. But that’s a story for another day. There’s that ham, and often a potato gratin, now upgraded with our own Crème Fraîche and a hefty dose of a melting cheese like our Wagon Wheel. Some kind of vegetable, yes, of course.
But the real star of the traditional table? Jello Salad, of course.
My mother grew up one of ten children in 1950s Ohio, her mother relying on huge portions of food from that era to feed her ever-expanding clan. Somehow, over those years, her mother Gloria, known to her three dozen grandchildren as Grandma Glo, immortalized what we now think of as our Christmas classic: Grandma Glo’s Cherry Jello Salad.
I share with you our family recipe, as recounted rather casually by my own mother. I’ve often been tempted to “gussy up” the ingredient list, substitute my favorite cocktail-ready Amarena cherries for canned, fresh pineapple, and so on. But it’s just such a perfectly retro encapsulation of the 1950s and my grandmother—I resist. My only recommendation? Whip a hefty dollop of Crème Fraîche into the whipped cream for a tiny 2020 upgrade!
Grandma Glo's Cherry Jello Salad (as recounted by Amanda's mom Mary)
1 package cherry Jello, black cherry if you can find it (but it’s hard to come by these days, Mary says!)
1 can dark sweet pitted cherries in syrup (Oregon is brand Mary likes best)
1 small can crushed pineapples (the size of tuna fish can so it’s only about an inch high)
Drain cherries but save the syrup.
Make Jello — do what the package says for the boiling water but instead of cold water, use the juice from the can of cherries. If there isn’t enough, top off with cold water.
Dump pineapple into strainer to drain as best possible. Don’t save the juice.
Combine the Jello liquid and the drained cherries along with the crushed pineapple and put into mold. Mary says, “I don’t have and never have had a Jello mold. I use my Bundt pan and it’s just fine.” Amanda asks, “what even is a Jello mold!?”). Add the pecans. They will float to the top. Refrigerate until set.
Unmold onto plate, which is always tricky. I take a warm wet cloth and drape it over the inverted mold so it releases. Ideally it releases and keeps the shape of the pan but sometimes it begins to lose its shape because you have to get it warm to release and it melts some. Oh well. Get it back into the refrigerator ASAP. Whip the cream (Amanda: “add a bunch of crème fraiche!”) and serve with the cream in the middle for good old fashioned yum.
Do you have a family recipe or holiday tradition to share? Let us know in the comments below.