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Amanda De Jager Friedman: San Joaquin cheese bread

At a time when our state's dairy industry is peaking in volatility and uncertainty, it seems more than appropriate to share a fun recipe that celebrates the versatility of dairy products.

Milk is the No. 1 commodity produced in Merced County. In case you've been living under a giant slab of margarine, here's a quick dairy industry update: Because of the downturn in our national and global markets, international dairy product exports have decreased, and restaurants and other organizations have sought dairy product alternatives (processed cheeses, margarine, etc.) to cut costs. These and several other factors have led to an oversupply crisis in the industry. Translation: too much milk, no way to sell it. Because milk products are perishable, this oversupply creates panic for dairy farmers as they have no way to get rid of the milk that their dairies are producing. This cycle will eventually correct itself, but no one knows how long it will take, or how many farms will perish in the process. The dairy industry is such an integral part of the agricultural backbone of this county and this valley, and it should be protected by those of us who care to see our city thrive. The effect is widespread. Consider the many crop farmers that grow feed for dairy cows, those who drive trucks to haul milk, and the local creameries who pasteurize, process, and ship the milk and dairy products.

As a consumer, your daily purchasing decisions are paramount. Look for the "Real California" seal on your nutrient-packed gallon of milk. Buy cheeses that are made close to home.

There are countless options: Fiscalini, Bravo Farms, Gallo Cheese, Oakdale and Hilmar Cheese, just to name a few. Always choose real butter over margarine or other unhealthy, artificial products. Butter is all natural, delicious, versatile and is likely to be produced locally. When you dine out, request real butter for your pancakes and bread, drink milk with breakfast, or order a chock-full-o-milk latte instead of just coffee. Did you know that 75 percent of Americans do not get enough calcium in their daily diet? Beyond doing something good for your body, you are also contributing to sustenance of countless local jobs. Small choices make a crucial difference.

And now, your reward for reading this far into the article ... this yummy cheese bread! The recipe showcases dairy products with style, and the colorful array of complimenting ingredients can be found in ample supply across the Valley. It's a local classic! Serve it as an appetizer, or with grilled fish and a green salad. This is the perfect symphony of crusty bread, spicy cheese, fresh herbs and tangy olives -- it could be a meal in itself.

INGREDIENTS

1 loaf of french bread

1 stick of butter, room temperature

3/4 cup sliced green olives

3/4 cup sliced black olives

1/2 cup of real mayonnaise

1 pound of pepperjack cheese, grated

1/4 cup of sundried tomatoes, packed in oil, chopped

3 stalks of green onions, thinly sliced

1/2 cup of fresh basil, cut in chiffonade

*To chiffonade basil: take about 4 basil leaves of similar size and stack them together. Roll the stack of leaves up tightly from the long end. Hold the rolled basil with your fingers and slice across the roll carefully, slicing about 1/4 inch each time. This creates lovely ribbons of basil, known in French technique as a chiffonade.

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix the soft butter, the mayo, pepperjack, sundried tomatoes, olives, green onions, and basil until the mixture is consistent.

Slice the French bread in half length-wise. Place on a greased sheet pan.

Spread the cheese mixture on the French bread. It will pile high, but it will melt down as it cooks.

Bake the cheese bread for 20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown.

Remove from the oven, and let it cool enough to handle before slicing. Enjoy while warm. Your local farmer thanks you!

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