Friday, September 30, 2011

Squeeeeeky Loaf!

We hear ad nauseam that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Even though it’s overused, it perfectly describes how I feel after Matt’s been away for a whole week. I guess I’ve taken for granted just how much I count on him to help me keep this place from falling apart. So far this week, with him away on a work trip, I’ve broken the patio umbrella by not folding it down as a windstorm rolled in, had the grass grow way too far up my calf with the rain/sun/rain/sun roller coaster, clogged the sink, and forgot to feed the cats at least once. Suffice to say I’m anxiously waiting for him to get home tonight, and like any anticipated occasion, I had to cook something special to celebrate. 

As mentioned before, one of Matt’s favorite foods is meatloaf. I spent quite a few years of cooking-learning not crazy about it, mostly because I didn’t utilize the most important trick: mixing your meat. Going with straight ground beef has a flat, one-note flavor that feels like having to mow through a giant hamburger without the delicious fixings. Combine the ground beef staple with another meat; I use ground pork most of the time, but ground bulk sausage tastes nice and spicy. Make a Greekloaf with ground beef, ground lamb and feta! But I’m getting ahead of myself.  

I wanted to make this a Welcome Back to Oregon meatloaf, since the nasty humidity and roaming lizards of North Carolina have made Matt feel the fondness for our state. I’ve been lucky enough to have some unique state staples in my fridge tonight, including a pack of Olympic Provisions bacon and Tillamook Cheese Curds. Olympic Provisions makes the best bacon you can buy in Portland. Plus it comes in these provincial butcher-paper packs with their elegant logo sticker that’s oh-so fun to carry around in your farmer’s market basket.  

Tillamook Cheese curds are the best part of the Tillamook Cheese Factory. Which is saying a LOT, since it’s a CHEESE FACTORY. There’s watching giant blocks of cheddar whittled down into baby loaves, the vast ice cream counter, little stuffed cows in the gift shop. But nothing compares to the addictive little bites of mild, salty young cheddar cheese that you get to pop with abandon at the end of the tour. They’re delicious eaten right there, where the cheesemakers are hard at work. They’re basically the beginnings of the cheddaring process, when the milk is just beginning to solidify and hasn’t been formed into loaves yet. Mixed up and full of little air bubbles, the curds make a hilarious “squeeeek!” against your teeth while you chew. They were always my favorite part of any childhood trip to the Oregon Coast, right up there with Pig ‘n Pancake. 
I thought the combination of coastal Tillamook cheese curds and Portland bacon would be perfect on a cool, clear last night of September in Oregon. So with pumpkin candles burning and ghost lights twinkling, I mixed up my newly beloved Bacon and Cheese Curd-Studded Meatloaf. I mixed all meatloaf ingredients together by hand (you can’t use a spoon; you need fingers to mush all that goodness together!). I’ve seen other cheesy meatloaves that put half of the meat mix in the pan, then layer on the cheese, then put the rest of the meat on top, making a molten center of fabulous fromage. I like secret surprises in each bite, so I like to mix it all in. Be sure to dice the bacon pretty small for the same reason—you don’t want a giant mouthful of bacon, just little hints of it that add to the meatloaf’s flavor without stealing it away.  

I’ve got to always top with a ketchup-mustard glaze… tradition and all. Tonight I added a little squeeze of Oregon’s own Secret Aardvark Sauce, the stuff that usurped sriracha as our favorite spicy condiment. Couldn't stop taking tastes of this sweet and spicy sauce... you know, to make sure it was okay and all. When I opened up the oven after the loaf had been in for an hour, squeeky cheese was poking out from crevices, while other bits remained hidden deep within. So cheesy! And hidden bacon craters! Not so much a bacon bite as much as its smoky essence, making you just say, hmmm. This is insanely delicious and I can't quite put my finger on how. A bite lends all of the players a little piece of the stage: creamy, melting cheese, crisp bacon, and that sauce! Go for the end pieces. They retain the most of it (and get crispier bits, if you're a bark fan like me). Served with fresh green beans and mashed red potatoes. It reheats well for leftovers, too. Or as it will when Matt eventually get home, since his flight was delayed like five times. 

Home sweet home! And yay for unclogged sinks!

Oregon Fall Bacon and Cheese-Studded Meatloaf
1 lb lean ground beef, (85/15 or 90/10)
1 lb ground pork
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup Tillamook Cheddar cheese curds
5 strips heritage bacon (Olympic Provisions, if you're in Portland!), cooked and diced into small bits
2 tbsp fresh parsley, diced
1/2 teaspoon mix dried herbs, like Penzey's Mural of Flavor (or just use dried basil)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup onion, finely diced
Vegetable oil, for pan

For the sauce:
1/3 cup ketchup
1 1/2 tsp dried mustard
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 squirt (1/2 tsp) Secret Aardvark Sauce or other hot sauce (optional)

Remove ground meat from refrigerator and allow to rest for about 15 minutes at room temperature. Add all non-sauce ingredients to a large mixing bowl and mix by hand until just incorporated. Do not overmix. Transfer to a loaf pan that has been greased with vegetable oil. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes or until interior of meatloaf has reached 160 degrees. The top should be developing a brown crust, and juices should be pooling and bubbling around the loaf. 

While meatloaf bakes, combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until fully combined. Set aside.

Remove from oven, top evenly with sauce, and bake another 10-15 minutes. Allow the meatloaf to rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.


  1. Where oh where can we purchase this so-called 'squeeky cheese'? Trader Joes used to carry cheese curds, but discontinued it. We live in the California Bay Area.

  2. Sorry, non-Oregonians. To get real Tillamook Squeaky Cheese, you will have to take a road trip. They are only sold at the Tillamook Cheese Factory. But they are worth the trip to our fine state! Seriously.

  3. I don't know if there is a Haggens down there, but I know they used to carry cheese curds, just not Tillamook ones. However, beware the quality. One of the reasons cheese curd is only sold at the factory is because, they can really only be called that for a very short amount of time. Once the curds start to age the flavor and texture drastically change. If they shipped them to stores they would probably have to sell in a day to still be considered curds.