Straight Outta Comte has me dreaming about a cheese you just cant find this far West. Mouth-watering cheese writing at it’s finest! Maybe I’ll have to move to D.C.
Straight Outta Comte has me dreaming about a cheese you just cant find this far West. Mouth-watering cheese writing at it’s finest! Maybe I’ll have to move to D.C.
Hold up — is it really 80 degrees and sunny here in San Francisco? It is…and it has been for the past few days. What? Suddenly it feels like we skipped right over spring and in to high summer, and all this direct heat is making me…groggy. Seriously, I’m nearly asleep on my feet, dazed, and I’m daydreaming of Spain. Have I ever been there? No, which makes it that much easier to imagine it as romantically as possible, all sunshine, siestas, sangria and, por supuesto, queso.*
When I say that, I bet you think of Manchego, no? Not I. While the sheep’s milk wheel from La Mancha might be even more well known than Don Quixote, I’m not sure it has quite as much to offer. Don’t get me wrong: Spain’s most popular cheese is a great and simple staple, one which is particularly good at complementing and enhancing the flavors of its accompaniments. But Spain is a big place — covering an area of over 195,000 square miles — with a cheesemaking history that dates back to the second century. As such, it’s safe to assume that the Spanish have a slightly larger selection to offer. So, when looking for a slice of Espana, try some of these instead.
Mahon Reserva – Raw Cow’s Milk from Minorca, Spain
This Spanish cow’s milk cheese is almost as popular as Manchego and only slightly stronger in flavor. If you want to branch out, but not go too far, Mahon is the cheese for you. Is it fairly mild? Yes. Is it also beautiful and delicious? Yes and Yes. Hailing from the island of Minorca, a jewel of the Mediterranean, how could it be anything but? Seriously, look at this photo. This is a cheese that is made in paradise.
Mahon is the capital and port of Minorca and, as you may have surmised, also the name of the island’s most famous export. All of the cow’s milk cheeses produced on the island are actually called Mahon, all of which are built tough to withstand long-term storage and transportation by sea. This reminds me of Madeira, the second most delicious beverage in the world (after Dr. Pepper, of course), but that’s subject matter for a different post. On Minorca, the dairy industry is second only to the tourism industry, and the final product is undoubtedly a result of the local terroir (or whatever that word is in Spanish). The island has a mild climate and gets lots of rainfall which, in combination with sea winds and humidity, give the milk — and later the cheese — high acidity and saltiness.
The Mahon most common here in the states is Mahon Reserva, a firm, square, orange block. To protect the cheese, the rind is rubbed with paprika and oil, then aged for 10 to 12 months. The spicy bite of the paprika certainly makes its way into the taste the of the cheese, preparing the palate for what’s to come. With a dense, hard texture that breaks down almost instantly when popped in your mouth, Mahon Reserva is all slowly unfolding and lingering flavor. Equal parts sweet and sharp, this cheese is beautifully balanced and consistently good. I sometimes get a smoky, caramel flavor (almost like a muted aged Gouda), but I’m most partial to the wheels that read as a little bit sour. Every now and then, a bite will remind me of my favorite cocktail, an Old Fashioned, bursting with the taste of bourbon and bitter orange peel, and I instantly get a little buzz.
Ombra – Pasteurized Sheep’s Milk from Catalonia, Spain
Oh Ombra, one of my favorite cheeses to share with customers. Not only does this cheese bring me joy by reminding me of Joey’s duel with the Hombre Cowboy on Friends but, when sampled, it can always be trusted to sell itself. It’s that good. As fellow cheese blogger Kirstin Jackson says, Ombra is a cheese “that helps to explain why people fall in love with sheep’s milk.” Like many ewe-phoric delights (get it?), Ombra is at once both mild and full-flavored, with a firm texture that melts beautifully in your mouth. Much like Pringles, once you start popping Ombra, you just can’t stop.
Produced in the Catalonia region of Spain — right next to some other makers of lovely cheese, The French — Ombra is aged for 6-8 months, resulting in a cheese that is firm but still soft, dense but still porous, sweet and buttery, yet sharp like dry grass. I prefer the more aged rounds, when the paste gets really firm and flaky, chunking off the wheel in shards that remind me of pale stained glass. These old wheels are peppered throughout with crunchy tyrosine crystals, giving the illusion that there are actual nuts hidden in this nutty-tasting treat. I dream of Ombra paired with a spicy red wine and some hearty, crunchy, fruit & nut crostini.
Oh, and did I mention that it tastes like chocolate? Nutty, sharp, grassy, sheepy, melty chocolate. Like I said, it sells itself.
Veigadarte -Pasteurized Goat’s Milk from Castilla-Leon, Spain
Veigadarte: Hard to pronounce (say vague-uh-dart-ay), easy to eat. This is a relatively new cheese in my life, but it has made a very strong first impression. Anyone who has recently come in to the shop looking for a soft goat cheese — especially those particular enough to ask for a French Bucheron — has been met with a sample of Veigadarte. And you know what? They leave with some, too. Every. Single. Time. It’s so delicious, I think I sample it out frequently just so I can sneak a taste, as well.
Made from the fatty milk of Spain’s scrappy Murciano-Granadina goats, Veigadarte is a goat cheese log on butterfat steroids. Cheesemaker Joaquin Villanueva Casado, who operates in the small and picturesque town of Ambasmestas, dusts each 1-pound log with vegetable ash then allows an edible, bloomy rind to form while the cheese ages for one month. The bloomy rind on Veigadarte helps to create this cheese’s treasured texture: Because it ripens from the outside in, the layer of cheese directly under the rind becomes extra ripe and creamy (and a little bit beige), while the inner paste remains bone white, fluffy, and freshly tangy. When tasting Veigadarte, really let it sit and form a paste in your mouth. The smooth texture is divine, but the flavor is even better. I taste salt (my favorite!), garlic, peppery greens, fresh lemon juice, and a delightful dash of beety dirt.
It’s been many years since I enjoyed a good salami sandwich (there’s no soy product that quite compares, is there?), but I imagine a thick smear of Veigadarte would pair insanely well with the fat peppery taste of that particular meat. However, veggies like me can let the cheese wow on it’s own: Spread on some bread with a side of salty, oily Marcona almonds, tart fresh berries, and a glass of fruity, floral, white wine (think Riesling, Viognier, or Albarino). I may have to treat myself to this very feast later tonight. It is the weekend, after all.
Torta de Trujillo (Mini) – Raw Sheep’s Milk from Extremadura, Spain
Torta de Trujillo reminds me of that scene in There’s Something About Mary where, just before being violently attacked, Ben Stiller coos to Mary’s terrier, “Are you the little guy making all that big noise?” Not that this cheese will attempt to kill you, by any means, but it packs a serious punch for something that looks so cute and perfectly packaged.
The makers of this petite powerhouse are Finca Pascualete, a cheesemaking operation in the Extremadura region of Spain. I don’t know much about this area, other than the fact that it sounds magical and it looks even more magical than it sounds.
Back to it: Just like the lovely gentlemen at Quattro Portoni, the team at Finca Pascualete are focused on honoring traditional cheesemaking practices while, at the same time, creating new and marketable cheeses. A big part of their strategy is the use of thistle (i.e. cardoon) rennet as a coagulant (as opposed to an animal-based or microbial rennet), which is a time-honored tradition in Iberian cheesemaking.
This little Torta is a washed-rind squishy puck of 2-month old sheep’s milk. While the cheese is covered in a slightly sandpaper-y and sticky orange rind, the pale pink paste contained within is silky, unctuous, and so creamy that it’s basically a liquid. The idea is to cut the top rind off , let it get to room temperature, and then dip in to the sweet, wooly, funky goop within. This is strong cheese, but it’s not harsh or offensive. Where other washed rind cheeses can bring salt and bitterness to the table, Torta de Trujillo is completely round (i.e. not sharp) in flavor: the yeastyness of fresh baked bread, the sweet & savory comfort of Honeybaked Ham (again, if I’m remembering correctly), and the cozy Nutella-meets-wool-sweater taste of all good sheep’s milk cheeses. If there’s a heaven, I’m pretty sure it’s full of Nutella and wool sweaters.
Want more? Here are some that I didn’t have the space to include:
*I’m really getting a kick out of revisiting high school Spanish right now. Lo siento.
My roller-coaster of a relationship with blue cheese has been well-documented on this blog, but that love/hate dynamic has recently reached new heights. I have found my cheese crack…and it comes from a very unexpected place.
Have you guys heard of Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.? If you’re reading this from California, my guess is that you have. Throughout the country, really, these guys are a big deal. The creamery was founded in 2000 by Bob Giacomini, his wife, and their four daughters, on the family dairy farm in beautiful Marin County, California. There’s a lot to like about Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.: A true family-run operation, the Giacominis are dedicated to preserving the area’s natural environment, serving as stewards of the land (check out this great write-up about their compost company & super-cool methane converter) and very active members of Marin Agricultural Land Trust. Plus, they raise hella-cuta (that’s Northern Californian for ‘very’) pasture-based cows! With all this going for them, and considering their popularity here in San Francisco, you can imagine the weight of my secret shame: I don’t like their flagship cheese. There! I said it!
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. filled a huge gap in the market when they popped on the scene in 2000 with the first-ever California-made blue cheese. Point Reyes Original Blue is famous, in-demand, and highly regarded…just not by me. I’m picky with blues! You already know that. The sharp, metallic, and persistent push of Original Blue is just too much for me. Amazing and mysterious cheese-blogger J ( Straight Outta Comte) perfectly described this flavor as ‘steely‘, an apt characterization that I recall every time we receive a new case of crinkly, pre-wrapped silver wedges. While that guy likes this cheese, I don’t. I’ve tried, and I’ve tried, and I’ve tried (often unintentionally, that cheese is so ubiquitous around here), and I just can’t get into it.
Sidenote: For those of you who love Point Reyes Original Blue, please don’t feel bad. By all accounts, I seem to be in the minority here, even in my own household. A certain boyfriend of mine maintains that this is the PERFECT cheese for a bacon burger, but we’ve managed to make things work despite our differences.
Suffice it to say, I’ve been looking for another California blue alternative and, in the meantime, put on my best poker face while talking with customers. So, you can imagine my mixed feelings upon learning that there was another local blue about to hit the market…from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. I heard rumblings and rumors about Bay Blue for months before I ever encountered it in the wild. It was on it’s way…and then it wasn’t. It was out, but impossible to find. And then one day I was out shopping, putting together a cheese plate for a friend’s visit. I had everything I needed, minus a nice, taste-ending blue. I asked one of the cheesemongers at my local little grocery for a suggestion and she pointed to a few small pieces of something tucked away in the corner of the case. And there it was: Bay Blue.
I have to admit, I felt chills. At the time, I thought I was nervous, but in retrospect I recognize that feeling as love-at-first-sight. I told her of my apprehensions and confessed my opinion of Bay Blue’s precursor, but she assured me that this cheese is almost that cheese’s opposite. If I was looking for a dessert cheese, this was IT, and she wouldn’t let me walk away without it. What a saint. That night, I ate Bay Blue for the first time…and I haven’t stopped eating it since.
Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.’s Bay Blue (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk from Marin County, CA)
The love that I have for Bay Blue is without parallel. It’s crazy to imagine the old me, ardently declaring myself anti-blue, when you see me now, happily spooning Bay Blue into my mouth (small, taster spoons, mind you). I have found my blue and, like I said, from an entirely unexpected source.
Where Point Reyes Original Blue is creamy, tangy, and intense, Bay Blue is dense, fudgy, crumbly, sweet, and mellow. This natural-rinded wheel is slightly yellow and jam-packed with little bits of crunchy blue mold. It looks killer, but it only kills you with kindness. Bay Blue is modeled after Stilton, but its salted caramel taste and slightly chocolatey finish remind me more of warped aged Gouda…gone buttery and blue. SF Gate cheese expert Janet Fletcher calls the flavor “a blend of toasted walnut, praline, caramel, brown butter, and saltine cracker.” Yes! That saltine bit is spot on and something I never could have pinpointed myself. Ms. Fletcher and I aren’t this cheese’s only fans. Only months after its debut, Bay Blue was named a 2013 Good Food Awards winner. I like to say that I knew it before it was famous.
Now go get yourselves some Bay Blue! I’ve been fantasizing about turning this cheese into a flavor of ice cream or gelato (especially if sandwiched between two gingersnap cookies) but, until that dream becomes a reality, simply smear some on a cracker (Effies Oatcakes, if you can find ‘em) and drizzle with a little bit of honey. Feeling savory? A few weeks ago, I put some Bay Blue in a salad of Romaine, Arugula, cherry tomatoes and red onion with a simple dressing of balsamic vinaigrette. Delicious!
Greetings! Happy 2013! As my sister said to me when I first made the transition into cheese official, “It’s going to brie an exciting year!” My response? “It cheddar be!” Kaufman family comedic genius aside, we were right. I’ve been so busy working with cheese that I haven’t had any time to write about it. Well, that’s going to change. There’s so much I want to tell you. Things are going wonderfully for me at work — I’m learning tons, tasting pounds, making amazing new curd-nerd friends, and I’ve recently been put in charge of ordering shop supplies! Glamorous? Not quite, but I now know the praise and appreciation one receives upon the arrival of a much-needed case of paper towels. Still, my love for cheese has not been replaced by a passion for latex gloves, so this blog will remain focused on what’s important. And, right now, I’m living and loving the Dolce Vida….surrounded by ooey, gooey and amazing formaggio.
The shop where I work carries about 80% domestic cheeses. So, with an inventory that includes only about 20% imports, you know those long distance travelers have to be good. Sure, a solid Parmiggiano Reggiano or a peppery Pecorino is a perennial fave, but I’m currently all about the stuff that’s soft, salty, spreadable…and a little bit stinky.
When it comes to stinky Italian cheese, Taleggio is like the Godfather. No offense to my Italian readers. I’m sure you’re kind of over all the mafia stuff but, this time, it fits. You do not tell Taleggio what to do — it tells you. As a cheesemonger, there are some cheeses you can push around…but not this one. If Taleggio wants to ooze, it’ll ooze. If Taleggio wants to stick, it’ll stick. You get the idea. There’s just no arguing with Taleggio…and there’s no denying its greatness, either.
Taleggio is an old cheese — an iconic stinker with a long history. Made in the caves of Lombardy’s Val Taleggio since the 9th century, there is evidence that this cheese was once used as currency. Delicious, pungent currency. Taleggio is a washed rind and smear-ripened cow’s milk cheese, meaning that the young slabs are covered in brine, as well as a secret solution that most likely contains bacteria, fungi, and the leftovers of Taleggios past. It sounds gross, but the results are anything but: A thin, firm, flavorful and sticky orange rind with a pudding-like, moist, and hopefully oozy paste hidden underneath. Like most washed rind cheeses, the taste of Taleggio is mild in comparison to its funky aroma. Still, this isn’t necessarily a bite for beginners. Our Taleggio is organic, soft, and scrumptious. The flavor is rich, beefy, dirty, and delightfully salty. The paste is pliable and one bite will coat your mouth with a velvety sensation that is nothing like Velveeta. Pair some with crusty bread, an Old World Pinot, and a willingness to indulge. Evviva!
Nuvola di Pecora
If Taleggio is the Godfather of stinky Italian Cheeses, then Nuvola di Pecora is like Michael Corleone — a classy & reluctant heir to the throne. However, Nuvola di Pecora can be a little bit like Fredo, as well — bold, charismatic, and entertaining. Or maybe I just don’t know The Godfather well enough to make references? I’ll stick to talking about cheese and I promise not to put any cow, sheep, goat or water buffalo heads in anyone’s bed.
The point is: Nuvola di Pecora doesn’t seem quite sure what it wants to be, and therein lies its beauty. The name Nuvola di Pecora literally translates into “sheep clouds”, and I can’t imagine a more fitting description. A beautiful, bumpy bloomy-rinded square wheel of fluffy, velvety aged sheep’s milk made by the River Po in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, the older (and, in my opinion, better) wheels of Nuvola come decorated with splotches of beautiful neon yellow and aquamarine mold. This looks like a cheese that’s going to blast your sense of smell and taste (a la Fredo), but it’s much more mellow and refined (just like Michael). The paste is not quite creamy and not quite hard. Really, this is sheep’s milk custard, with added hints of root vegetables, steamed milk, and a pinch of toast-dipped-in-egg. Every now and then, we get a wheel that’s a little bit strong and a lot bit salty — and those are my favorite days. Either way, pair a thick slice of Nuvola with some thick fruity jam…or just a lush, fruity wine. No matter the pairing, you’ll go to bed dreaming of sheep clouds no matter what.
The Brothers di Bufala – Quadrello & Casatica
Running the mafia isn’t the only way to get into a family business. Just ask Alfio & Bruno Gritti of Caseificio Quattro Portoni, the makers of two of my new favorite cheeses: Quadrello di Bufala and Casatica di Bufala. The Quattro Portoni farm was founded in Bergamo, Italy in 1968 by Renato Gritti, father of Alfio & Bruno. Dairy farming started in 1970, but with one big different from the way they do it today: They were milking cows. In 1982 the operation was taken over by Alfio (who had received a degree in Veterinary Farming) and Bruno (a specialist in agronomic land management) and, in 2000, they made the decision to try their luck farming and milking Mediterranean water buffalo. How’d it go? Well, by 2003 they had decided they would only work with water buffalo and, in 2005, they began making and selling rich, delicious, water buffalo’s milk cheeses. I love these brothers, and not just because their products make my taste buds sing. These guys have some good ideas, and they describe their mission like this (roughly translated from Italian to English): “To combine the ancient Lombardy tradition of cheesemaking with the exceptional characteristics of buffalo milk…to suggest a novelty capable of stimulating the interests of experts in high quality products.” I like the way the Gritti brothers mix old-world tradition with innovation and I admire the way they boldly aim to please. It’s true that water buffalo’s milk is exceptionally rich and wonderful, and there’s no better place to see it at work than in these two cheeses.
Quadrello di Bufala
Remember Taleggio? Well, this is its buffalo’s milk counterpart (don’t worry, I’m done with the Godfather comparisons). Raw milk is formed into square slabs, washed in brine, and then aged for 2-3 months. The thin, slightly sticky rind varies in color: some wheels are light and pink like the one shown above, and some are dark and tough, an almost-gray or brown brick. No matter the exterior, the paste is always a treat: soft, fudgy, and crisply white, Quadrello di Bufala is a mild, milky, sweet, and sometimes fruity play on the classic Taleggio recipe. Want an Italian cheese that looks awesome and will appeal to every palate? Go for Quadrello….or Casatica.
Casatica di Bufala
Oh Casatica di Bufala, my newest creamy obsession. While Quadrello is inspired by Taleggio, Casatica di Bufala is a more traditional stracchino (or ‘stretched curd’) style of cheese. Water buffalo’s milk contains about twice the fat content of cow’s milk, and this luscious decadence is on full display in Casatica. The intact wheel looks like a squat, fat, snow-covered log, due to its thick and bloomy rind. Cut this cheese into chunky slices and let the paste take center stage. Soft-ripened and aged for only a few weeks, Casatica is much creamier than Quadrello, extremely spreadable and delicately sweet, salty, and a little bit savory. I’m not usually a fan of bloomy rinds (yep, I’m that person who tunnels into the Brie), but for Casatica I make an exception. Instead of something limp and bitter, you get a nice crunch and roasted garlic-y bite from Casatica’s rind, the perfect complement to its sweet and creamy paste. Put this on some toasted foccacia and it’s the most buttery garlic bread you’ve ever had. Or just eat it off the knife. No judgment here.
“Go West. Paradise is there. You’ll have all that you can eat, milk and honey over there.”
As a cheesemonger-in-training, part of my job at Cowgirl Creamery is to familiarize myself with cheese. Cheese in general and, in particular, the cheeses that we sell. To do this, I look, feel, listen (to coworkers & customers…I’m not yet doing any direct cheese whispering), and taste. Taste, taste, taste. On my own, with the other cheesemongers, and with the people to whom I’m selling. The best way to talk to a customer about what they’re trying is to try it right there with them. And the way to sell what’s best is to know what’s best — for any and every occasion. While I have a list of favorites about a mile long (we sell a lot of cheeses!), the current apple of my eye is a native Californian — just like me!
Bellwether Farms San Andreas (Raw Sheep’s Milk from Valley Ford, CA)
One bite of San Andreas puts a song in my heart…and one in my head! I don’t think my love of this cheese is entirely due to the fact that it reminds me of a favorite Natalie Merchant song, but it doesn’t hurt.
Seriously though, this cheese stands on its own. Bellwether Farms makes a number of great cheeses (check out their lovely website), many of which we sell at the shop. Family owned & operated by the Callahan family, this mostly-sheep farm is located in picturesque Sonoma County, a few short miles from the tang & fog of the Pacific Ocean. The sheep at Bellwether Farm are mostly East Friesian Ewes, the most Lambchop-looking cuties that you’ve ever seen. The ewes graze freely year round (yay! run free!) and, in addition, are given grain and alfalfa as necessary.
This might seem like a lot of sheep-related info, but it’s not for nothing. I firmly believe that good cheese comes from good milk and, as you may have heard, good milk comes from happy cows — or sheep (in this case), goats, and water buffalo. What the sheep eat will also come through in the taste of the cheese, so knowing about their dietary habits can shed some light when it comes to talking about flavor. Let’s do that!
San Andreas is made from raw milk. Though it’s made in the style of a Tuscan Pecorino, it’s a true Bellwether original. The interior paste is smooth, pale and straw-like in color, and dotted with some nice eyes (little holes) throughout. And that taste! The flavors of this cheese are rich and, like any good and oily sheep’s milk cheese, they linger in your mouth. I get notes of butterscotch, lots of nuts, and some hay — or maybe that’s alfalfa! — with a delightfully sour finish. This is a semi-firm cheese, but with enough moisture that it really melts in your mouth. A little bite goes a long way.
San Andreas might be named for the famous California fault line that runs past the Bellwether property, but I can’t find any fault with this cheese. I’m recommending it to all of my customers!
Wouldn’t you like to travel the world, discovering and tasting the best wines that each region has to offer? While some people can only dream of an adventure like that (for example, yours truly), others are able to make that dream a reality. You could do this on your own, of course, or with the help of expert and experienced guides. Like, say, for example, the ones at Wine World Tours. They are, as they say on their website, “dedicated to providing the extraordinary “life experience” one finds tasting, discovering and adventuring with wine,” which they do through “customized and personalized wine country adventures in the world’s most prestigious wine regions of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.” Amazing, right?
Don’t worry, this isn’t a sponsored post. I wish. I’m not quite that big-time…yet. Here’s a little bit of back-story: At a dinner party a few months ago, my father met a man named David Marchese, who happens to be the CEO of Wine World Tours. My dad mentioned my brand-new career and, upon discovering that Mr. Marchese is a cheese-lover himself, gave him a link to my blog as well as my contact information. Before too long I was having a lovely conversation with David Marchese. We talked about our shared passion for both curds and words and discussed the possibility of doing some work together. Like most savvy businessmen who know what’s up on the web (that’s some serious tech lingo), the people of Wine World Tours are looking to update and diversify their online content. In the minds of most, cheese & wine go together like peas & carrots, so this made perfect sense. Was I interested? Of course! I may not be very knowledgeable about wine, but I’m certainly a fan of the stuff (I’m enjoying a glass of Pinot Grigio right now, in fact — can you tell?) and, more than that, I’d love to get more people to read what I’m writing. There was only one thing: I’d need to write more about wine. No need to change my focus or anything like that, but simply add a pairing suggestion or two for each cheese that I featured. No biggie, right?
Wrong. In truth, this condition gave me more pause than you’d expect, because it came just at a time when I was already dedicating a lot of thought to wine…and not necessarily in a favorable light. I enjoy wine just as much as the next guy (who enjoys wine), but…I’m not sure how I feel about having it with cheese. Over the past few months, I’ve dedicated a LOT of time to learning about cheese. Through my work at The Cheese School, my own research and writing, and now at Cowgirl Creamery. And I’ve discovered a theme. While almost every notable expert in the field dedicates a chunk of time, energy, or writing to the pairing of wine and cheese, they always do so with a disclaimer. And this disclaimer explains, in essence, that cheese and wine don’t really pair well together! They tend to get in each others way, overpower one another, or simply clash. I’m not kidding. Everyone I’ve read or talked to says that, as a rule, cheeses are more easily and harmoniously paired with beer, liquor, or other accompaniments…and then they go on to talk more about wine.
WHY? WHY?? WHYYYY???
That all-caps level of emotion is no joke and I can remember the exact moment in which I reached peak frustration. During a brief moment of downtime while working a class at The Cheese School, I grabbed a copy of Max McCalman’s beautifully authoritative Cheese: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best and began to flip through the pages. Sure enough, at the very beginning of the section titled ‘Cheese & Wine’, I found the all-too-familiar refrain: cheese and wine are, in fact, not a marriage made in heaven. Right now, I’m looking at my notebook, and under the date of that class (8/5/12), there’s a massive, angry scrawling: “Cheese & Wine…BUT WHY? Why force the need to marry the two?”
Since then, I’ve been on a quest to find answers of any kind. The origin of this marriage, an impassioned defense of the tradition, or even just the proof of one pairing so good that it justifies the entire pursuit. So far? Not much luck. The closest I’ve come to discovering ‘the answer’ is from the introduction of Janet Fletcher’s book, Cheese & Wine: A Guide to Selecting, Pairing, and Enjoying. As Fletcher explains, both cheese and wine became everyday dietary staples in Europe during a time when preservation was the name of the game.
“Over the centuries, humans have learned to preserve nature’s seasonal bounty for the times when nature is not so generous. The abundant milk that a cow gives in summer becomes cheese for the winter months. Fresh grapes, which last only days, become wine for future enjoyment. In the temperate climates that nurture both grapevines and dairy animals, it is not surprising that cheese and wine are savored together. Both have long been the daily sustenance of farmers in Spain, France, Greece, and Italy, who think of wine and cheese not as fancy foods for entertaining, but as the wholesome heart of an everyday meal.”
Hmm. Sure, the section in question, titled ‘Cheese and Wine: A Time – Tested Marriage’, sheds light on the history of the pairing, but does little to justify (at least in my eyes) why it persists as the standard. Fletcher suggests pairings based on complements and contrasts (in texture, intensity, acidity, and region of origin)…but, again, with a disclaimer.
“Whether you are choosing wine to accompany a platter of cheeses, or selecting cheeses to enjoy with a favorite wine, the objective is the same: to ‘do no harm’ to the taste of the wine. When we talk about a successful wine and cheese match, we mean that the cheese or cheeses do not diminish our pleasure in the wine. The wine tastes just as good with the cheese as it does on its own. Occasionally, but not often, a cheese may even enhance a wine.”
Okay, am I seriously the only one who thinks this sounds just a little bit crazy? Still, the passion with which Fletcher, and so many others just as intelligent and accomplished as she, pursue this particular pairing, gives me hope. I’m entering an entirely new field, but it’s only new to me. Cheese — its making, its selling, its enjoying — has existed for centuries, a history longer and richer than anything my mind can even really fathom. And you know what’s been there right along side of it? Yep, wine. With that in mind, I’ll continue to try and ‘get it.’ I’ll do more reading, more eating, more drinking (ugh, what a tortured existence!), and I promise to share with you what I learn.
But I won’t be sharing, at least not officially, with Wine World Tours. As much as I admire what they’re doing, and as much as I would love the extra attention (just being honest), catering to that audience, right now, simply wouldn’t feel right. I’m busier these days than I have been in a long time. I’m working at The Cheese School (where I’ve been hired to do some extra work beyond my internship) and Cowgirl Creamery, getting some amazing hands-on cheese time. I’ve also received my first freelance writing assignment, doing some short profiles of ACS award-winners for Culture magazine. This is all great – so great! – but I’m quickly realizing that the moments I’ll be able to dedicate to working on my own blog will be few and far between. And when I do have that time, I just want to write about cheese. Or maybe I’ll want to write about beer. Or maybe I’ll want to write about bread or fig jam or pickles or… Justin Bieber. I don’t know, and that last one seems unlikely, but the point is that I want to write about what I want to write about and, often, I don’t think that will be wine.
Which is ironic, since I spent a lot of time on it just now.
While the old ‘Thank God It’s Friday!’ mantra currently holds less meaning for yours truly (one side effect of being only partially employed: I have no idea what day it is), I’m more than familiar with celebrating a few days off. As such, this photo that The Cheese School just posted to their facebook page makes a lot of sense.
Still, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy some cheese and wine any day of the week. As my father so beautifully put it in an email this morning: “Thought for the day: Unwind with the rind!” Don’t mind if I do.
I bet everyone has their idea of a dream vacation. Around the world by hot air balloon (whimsical), Alaskan cruise (nautical), stilted hut in Bora Bora (tropical), and so on and so forth. While I’d take any of those options (air balloon ride from Alaska to Bora Bora?), I must admit that my current dream vacation just passed me by: The 2012 American Cheese Society Conference in North Carolina. To be fair, North Carolina has long been on my list of places-to-go (Asheville, one day we’ll be together), but really I’d follow the ACS conference anywhere. Awards ceremonies, classes, panels, and a legitimate Festival of Cheese? Sign me up. Well, don’t actually try to sign me up, because the 2012 conference just ended and 2013 registration isn’t open yet. But, when it does open, you better believe I’ll find a way (and the wallet) to get there.
Until then, I suppose I’ll sate myself with the stories (and mouth-watering photos) of those who were able to attend. Lucky for me, and for you, there are no shortage of either of those things. So, without further ado, my 2012 ACS Reading Round-Up.
Oh man. If that doesn’t convince you to go to next year’s ACS (with me, hopefully!), I don’t know what will. Also – any accounts you read that you recommend? If so, do tell. I just can’t get enough!
Do I seem a little bit country to you? That might be because I’m officially a cowgirl. I got word today that soon I’ll be slingin’ cheese (and other goodies) Cowgirl Creamery’s Ferry Building outpost. And I’m pumped! I went in last Friday and had a trial shift that went really well, but I didn’t want to say anything and risk jinxing myself. Well, can’t jinx myself now! Once I get back from vacation, we’ll sort out starting date and schedule, and then they’ll fit me for my very own Cowgirl Creamery cap! Not really but, with a head so big, they might actually have to!
So, that’s my good news! I’m so excited and for so many reasons. I had a great time working there last week, and I’m already looking forward to seeing my new coworkers again. I’ll learn tons, have lots of fun, and get to commute to and from the beautiful San Francisco waterfront. Get ready to learn right along with me, as always, via Bon Bouche!