Bon Bouche

A Good Mouthful…of Cheese

Yeehaw!

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!

The counter at Cowgirl Creamery in SF’s Ferry Building. I’m ready!

I Don’t Always Eat Dairy…

Sometimes I read about it! I’m currently on vacation and, while I do plan to knock out some long-planned blog posts, my main goal is to do lots of reading. I’ll be finishing up The United States of Arugula (review to come) and continuing to work my way through The Cheese Primer, but I’m also checking out articles online. Here’s one that really caught my eye: The Surprising History of the Milk Carton chronicles the role that changing technology has played in the design of, you guessed it, the milk carton.

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And I’m not the only one interested in cheese readings. Check out this post from It’s Not You, It’s Brie: Cheese Lit. Kristin Jackson, cheese blogger extraordinaire (and sometimes Cheese School instructor), picks her recent non-fiction fromage favorites. I’ve only read ONE of her recommended readings, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the others. In case you were wondering, I just had a birthday (7/27) so, if you didn’t get me a gift….well, hint hint.

You Can’t Write on an Empty Stomach

Or, at least, I can’t. And definitely not when I’m writing about cheese! As such, while I wrote yesterday about the blues, I snacked on a few pieces of a Pacific Northwest classic!

Beecher’s Flagship Handmade Cheese (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk, Seatlle WA)

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese really is a part of the Seattle scene. Located right in the historic and tourist-attracting Pike Place Market, Beecher’s is the only artisanal cheesemaker in the entire city. I have a coworker who’s a Seattle transplant (yep, the same guy that loves the brie and hates the goat’s milk), and he has been raving about Beecher’s Flagship ever since my turophilia became public knowledge. His love for this cheese is so strong, that we actually considered ordering some and having it shipped to the office…until we realized that would cost close to $100. Publishers don’t make that kind of money! Since then, I’ve been keeping an eye out for it locally, and I was finally able to track some down with the help of cheesemonger Mike at Little Vine in North Beach. And, let me tell you…it is worth the hype!

Beecher’s Flagship is a unique cheese. I would definitely say that it’s a ‘Cheddar’, but…it doesn’t taste like your average cheddar. It’s a semi-hard pasteurized cow’s milk cheese (with a vegetarian rennet!) that’s been aged for 18 months. And boy, when you finally get your hands on a piece, you can tell that it’s been aged…and lovingly! Unlike a really firm cheddar, Beecher’s walks the line between semi-firm and crumbly. That’s great for snacking (perfect little small pieces), but we had a hell of a time trying to grate some for a mac n’ cheese. This cheese melts slowly in your mouth, unfolding an incredible and lingering flavor. “Flavor of what?,” you might ask. Well, Beecher’s starts out with a smooth sweet taste – fruit and caramel. After a bit, you start to notice bursts of acidity, which keep your mouth watering (something about histamine-triggering, if I remember correctly…but don’t quote me on that). The finish is long and mellow, creamy and yeasty (like buttered toast), and it stays in your mouth even after all the cheese is gone.

Now that I’ve had Beecher’s, I can’t wait to tell my coworker, and I’m really looking forward to a TBD Seattle trip. I have some great friends who live up there, but now there’s an added incentive: a visit to Beecher’s! Situated amongst the various food stalls of the Pike Place Market, Beecher’s makes cheese production a spectator sport. Visitors can look into the windowed cheesemaking kitchen and see milk being turned into curds and, after that, whole wheels of delicious cows milk cheese! Now that’s what I call dinner and a show.

Bonnie Blue?

Let’s take a minute to talk about soup, shall we? It may sound crazy to you, but until 2012 (yep, this year), I didn’t like soup. “What?,” you’re probably saying. “Who doesn’t like soup?” Now, don’t get me wrong: Like all sane humans, I enjoy a grilled cheese dunked in tomato soup from time to time and, before I went veg, I frequently fed a cold with some chicken noodle (I have tendency to get sick). But…that’s about it. To me, soup was always just an excuse to eat something else: a delicious bread bowl or croutons and cheese. I would proudly proclaim that “I like to chew” and end any discussion. That makes it sound like I lead an exciting life full of soup discourse but, really, it’s only come up from time to time. Anyhow, this year, something changed. I don’t know what prompted the decision but, at a local salad and sandwich spot, I ordered the soup. It was carrot dill, and it changed my life. Dramatic language aside, it was so delicious, I can’t even tell you. The ingredients tasted so wonderfully fresh and the soup was so flavorful, I didn’t dunk anything in it! Since then, my eyes have been opened to the world of soup. Potato leek, lentil, minestrone, corn chowder, and on and on and on. My point is: There’s a whole world of soup out there, and to think that I didn’t like all soup, just because I didn’t like some soup, was crazy! And, if you think there’s a wide variety of soup out there, just wait until you start to learn about cheese.

Ah, yes, cheese. Back to the point. I have a coworker who is a self-professed cheese lover. There’s only one problem: According to him, he doesn’t like goat’s milk cheese. He insists and, still, I refuse to believe it. “I didn’t like soup,” I say. “Now, I love it.” Is this making sense? What I’m trying to say is that there are literally thousands of different kinds of goat’s milk cheese. My coworker has had some he doesn’t like, that’s all. One day, with my help, he’ll find the ones that he does! It’s not like he’s lactose intolerant. This guy eats brie almost every day. And if you think that I don’t know what I’m talking about, let my own story be a lesson.

Before about, oh, 6 months ago, I would have sworn to you that I don’t like blue cheese. If I saw anything on the menu that came with blue cheese, I automatically passed. If I saw blue cheese at the grocery, I grimaced. Just the thought of “blue cheese” offended me. Now, I realize that I was wrong. I didn’t like some blue cheeses, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like any of them. My limited experiences with French Roquefort and salads decorated with Gorgonzola had misinformed me! While I appreciate these cheeses and what they (pun intended) bring to the table, I’m still not a fan of that peppery cheese taste and I prefer not to have rich goop weighing down my lettuce (unless, of course, that goop is Ranch dressing). The difference is that now I know there’s a whole world of blue cheese out there, and I’m basically determined to try every one. In fact, my past ‘distaste’ makes each new delicious discovery even more amazing, and it’s taken less than a year to realize that I’ve been a blue lover this whole time!

First, I found the delightfully sweet and sour Bohemian Blue. Then, I became quite fond of the rich and tangy Colston Bassett Stilton. I realized I’d been converted when I tried the smooth & savory Fourme d’Ambert and, when I had that washed rind Tilston Point, I briefly considered never eating anything else. Well, there’s another breathtaking blue to add to that list.

Strachitunt Val Taleggio (raw cow’s milk from Lombardy, Italy)

The first class I worked at The Cheese School last week was ‘Cheese & Wine of Lombardy’ with Italian cheese expert Andy Lax and wine aficionado Naomi Smith. We tasted an incredible variety of Lombardy’s delicacies (one ticket to Italy, please!*), but nothing stunned the crowd (or my senses) like the Strachitunt. This cheese is often called “The Jewel of the Val Taleggio” and it’s not hard to see why.

Where to start? Well, Italy! And the alpine valley of Val Taleggio, to be exact. Strachitunt has been made in this part of Lombardy since the late 1800’s using raw local milk taken only from the Bruna Alpina cows that live at an altitude of nearly 3,000ft. (or, as they say there, 900 meters).

This guy’s just chillin.

Strachitunt is the product of a unique making process: The cheese is made with the combining of two different curds, worked (i.e. produced) 12 hours apart. Meaning, una Bruna Alpina is milked once in the morning and then again that night. The curds from these two milkings are then combined to make this treat. But, first, it’s aged in limestone caves for over two months. Trust me, it’s worth the wait!

As you can maybe see in the picture above, the Strachitunt doesn’t even look that blue. There are some eyes and clustered pockets, but not too many. The piece that I had was completely cream colored! If it weren’t for the appearance of the rind, I wouldn’t have known that it was a blue…until I tasted it. Oh, that taste! This is an aromatic cheese, and you get a good informative whiff right before you pop it in your mouth. The texture is a delightfully confusing mesh of soft and firm (perhaps as a result of the mixed curds?) with an insanely wonderful creaminess on the palate. Known as a ‘dolce-amaro’ (sweet & sour), I found it to be more of a sweet & salty cheese, but in a very delicate and balanced way. Does that make sense? This cheese is hard to describe, it’s magic is so elusive. Here’s an idea: Get some for yourself and let me know what you think. I bet it would be great for dessert, paired with port or some fruit and honey.

*I’m sure my father is ready to kill me at this point. We took a family trip to Italy in 2005 or 2006, which marked my last summer as a meat-eater. I spent the whole trip downing steaks. Now, I’m a vegetarian cheese enthusiast – I should have been eating formaggio instead!

Daphne Zepos

This past Tuesday, July 3rd, an important member of the cheese community passed away. Daphne Zepos was founder of the Essex Street Cheese Company and, closer to home, co-owner of The Cheese School of San Francisco. More than that, she was a cheese enthusiast, advocate, and educator. She was a teacher, a writer, an importer, a cheesemonger, and – from what I’ve heard – a wonderful and passionate friend. There’s no way I could write anything about her that would add to what has already been said.

Daphne died at home, in my neighborhood of The Mission, at the age of 52. Lung cancer. I only met her once, maybe 5 months ago, at a Cheese School master class. I stood, talking to two other attendees, when she approached to welcome us and, specifically, to congratulate me on my upcoming internship. A fleeting, but genuine, interaction. Later, she introduced the instructor, Cowgirl Creamery’s Peggy Smith, and simply glowed as she spoke about her friend. That was it. I can remember her face, a little bit of her voice, her hair pulled back. That’s it.

On Tuesday, when I read the Cheese School’s facebook announcement  (accompanied by a beautiful photo of Daphne & co-owner Kiri Fisher), it hit me like a hard blow to the chest. I had to catch my breath, steady myself. I felt dizzy. I couldn’t explain why. I hardly knew this woman, beyond what I had read and heard of her. And still, I felt the loss. The loss of Daphne’s family, the loss of The Cheese School, the loss of the community. I felt sadness, and anger, and regret. Regret that this great teacher, this potential mentor, was gone so soon. And then I realized – that’s a familiar feeling.

2 months ago, Mike’s father Mark died of esophageal cancer. He was 58. I knew him for a year and a half, let’s say. Time spent knowing someone is certainly hard to calculate. He was in my life briefly when he was well, longer when he was sick, and then…he was just gone. It’s awful, and a cheese blog is not really the right place to get into it. But, more than I’m capable of missing him, I regret not getting to know him. I’m sad and I’m angry for many reasons, but mostly because I won’t get that chance. In losing a person you barely know, you find yourself grasping at memories. The best jokes that person made, your brief conversations. What their hand felt like in yours, the first time you shared a knowing smile. That’s what I did Tuesday, too, replaying and replaying Daphne’s welcome in my head. Remembering the feel of the hand she placed on my shoulder, attempting to recall her height, her smell. Holding on to the slip of a relationship, no matter how small.

Now, I love when Mike shares a story about his dad. He’ll mention how he would have said or done something, he’ll teach me something Mark taught him, and I listen more attentively than I’ve ever listened before. That, after all, is the legacy he leaves. And in that same way, I’ll devour what I can from those who knew Daphne. I won’t learn directly from her, but from those whom she taught. I’ll make my place in a community she did so much to support and enrich, in the same way I now make a place for myself in Mike’s family. Mark carries on in Mike, in this incredibly special person he helped form, and I get to know him that way. I’ll do the same with Daphne, through The Cheese School, the ACS, and her friends and colleagues. I only wish I had more of an opportunity, to thank them both, for enriching my life in such profound ways.

Oh Wow.

Oh Wow.

Culture Magazine just posted this photo from the Cheesemonger Invitational to their facebook page. Now that is a lot of cheese.

“When I started the Chee…

“When I started the Cheesemonger Invitational, no event in the U.S. honored or celebrated the cheesemonger’s contribution,” he said. “Nobody was giving the monger the mic!”

Capital New York has a great profile of Adam Moskowitz, ‘New York’s Prince of Cheese’

 

Bought Right at Bi-Rite

I bet nobody’s ever said that before, right?

Moving on: Early last week I attended another delightful class at The Cheese School, Old World vs. New World with Juliana Uruburu. I’ll write more about that later (there is so much to say!), but one of the highlights of the class was my introduction to an incredible ‘New World’ Parmesan, Sartori SarVecchio. As soon as I had a taste of this cheese, I knew that I wanted more! But…that’s not quite where this post is going. The following evening I was riding the 33 bus back home from my pilates class in the Inner Richmond and, not having had any dinner, I was growing quite hungry.  I fondly recalled the taste of SarVecchio and remembered Juliana telling the class that many long-distance runners and cyclists carry a hunk of parmesan or other hard, protein-packed cheese in their pocket for an on-the-go energizing snack. Now, I’m no long-distance runner or cyclist, but anyone familiar with the 33 bus knows that it can be just as trying. Anyone familiar with the 33 bus also knows that it goes right past Bi-Rite Market on my way home, and these facts all resulted in me getting off the bus two stops early in search of some SarVecchio!

Well…Bi-Rite didn’t have any SarVecchio. So, I went home empty-handed. Pshaw! No way. Bi-Rite did have some impressive looking Parms, but I figured that since I had covered that territory in class the night before (again, more to come on that soon), I should strike out in search of something new. I had something my heart set on something hard and salty, and one of Bi-Rite’s friendly cheese specialists suggested Spanish Roncal. A name-controlled classic that I’d never tried? Sold! Of course, once I’d spent about 5 seconds in the cheese section I just knew I’d have to go home with a few treats, so I let this same lovely lady give me two more recommendations, and I went home with the Roncal, a Dutch Remeker, and an Italian Toma Della Rocca — around the world, and only two blocks from home!

Roncal – Raw Sheep’s Milk from Valle de Roncal, Navarra, Spain


 

This traditional Spanish cheese is produced in the Navarra province from the milk of Latxa and Aragonesa breeds of sheep. Roncal gets it’s name from the Roncal Valley in the Pyrenees mountains, which is home to seven villages that work cooperatively to make the cheese. Roncal is an uncooked, pressed, natural rind cheese, aged between 4 and 8 months. The aging process creates a cheeses with firm beige or  brown rinds that are sometimes covered with spots of gray mold. The paste is light yellow and has small holes and the appearance of little cracks. When cut and allowed to stand for a bit, the cheese can start to look sweaty. This isn’t bad, though! It’s a sign of the butterfat weeping out, which indicates the richness of the cheese (George Harrison should have written about that)! How does it taste? Great! I had what I’m assuming was a younger Roncal. It had a decent amount of moisture (which I’m into) with a somewhat nutty but more citrus & olive-y flavor. As the cheese ages, it gets drier, darker, and that nutty flavor will get meatier. Maybe if I had let mine sit around for awhile I’d experience some of that, but polished it off pretty quickly for lunch the next day. Yum!

 

Remeker – Raw Cow’s Milk from Lunteren, Holland

It was decidedly easy to eat this delicious cheese, but I had a hell of a time trying to learn about it! I’ve got some stuff, but my resources were limited AND questionable, so take all of this information with a grain of salt. According to my research, Remeker cheese is made in Lunteren, Holland by the Van de Voort family, using raw Jersey cow’s milk. The cheese is sold at two ages — Young and Old. The more aged cheese is Old Remeker and the younger is just…Remeker. Or, at least, that’s what it said on the label of the one I purchased! The (Young) Remeker is aged for 6 months, while Old Remeker is aged for 16 months! I can’t speak to the taste of  Old Remeker (which I’ve read is ‘deep and complex’), but the Remeker we had (Mike had his fair share) was a delight! Dense & moist for a firm cheese, it was rich and creamy with some nice hints of fruit and hay. With the Remeker, I was again confronted by a cheese that I would describe as ‘fudge-y’, which is just…lots of fun!

 

Toma della Rocca – Pasteurized Cow, Sheep, and Goat’s Milk from Piedmont, Italy

Oh, Toma della Rocca. Just one taste of this bad boy and I was ready to run away to Italy forever. He might look all nice and neat in this portrait, but once you get your hands on him it gets messy real fast. Even this picture doesn’t do him justice (I don’t know why I’ve turned this cheese into a man — very weird, me), but this experience is worth the mess!  Toma della Rocca hails from the Alta Langa region of  Italy (right on the border of Piedmont & Lombardy), where soft mixed-milk cheeses are the norm. The cheese is ripened for about 10 days, and tastes and acts more like a goat’s milk than a mixed-milk cheese (based on my experience, at least). It has a nice bit of salt & runniness under it’s thin Geotrichum rind (that’s the brainy kind), but the majority of the paste is thick, chalky, and slightly sour. Because of the goat’s milk, you get a lot of tang and lemony flavor, but the cow’s milk contributes a lot in terms of thickness and a hint of sour cream. The sheep’s milk? That just makes the flavor linger in your mouth, which was a-okay by me. I enjoyed this cheese for a few days in various ways, but my favorite was actually as a breakfast to-go. One day I went to the gym before work (which, wow, never happens) and by the time I was heading out the door I was both running late and very hungry. I sliced off a thick piece of sweet batard, grabbed some Toma della Rocca from the fridge, slapped it together, and walked out the door. And it was amazing! Because the cheese was so cold, it was very firm and the tang was really pronounced. Paired with the sweetness and density of the bread, it was just an amazing (and amazingly filling) treat. I felt like I was eating a very classy version of a bagel and cream cheese!

Lovely Way to Name Cheese

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From Cheesenotes:

If you’ve ever wondered how cheeses get their names…Jasper Hill posted this photo on their Facebook wall, of a memorial near their farm which contains the inspiration for three of their amazing cheeses: Bayley Hazen Blue, Constant Bliss and Moses Sleeper.

 

This gives me some lovely chills and an even greater sense of admiration for everyone at Jasper Hill Farm & Cellars. Not only is the cheese quite delicious (I can’t believe I turned down a chance to try some Moses Sleeper the other day!), but you can sense a real respect for the environment (yes, the terroir) and the history of the area. Beautiful!

 

 

 

“Go Milk a Goat!”

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Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to enjoy a whirlwind of a phone call with esteemed chef Frank Pace. Pace is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy who was formerly a line cook at Aqua and then chef de cuisine at Carnelian Room, both SF fine dining establishments that are now closed. These days, Frank lives in Burlington, Vermont, where he’s recently taken on the role of in-house butcher for Catamount Hospitality and where he runs his own catering business. On top of these noteworthy credentials, Frank also happens to be a relative of my dear friend Jay, which makes him all the more impressive (and, most importantly, all the more accessible). Once Jay and his mom heard about my new cheese course (I can’t believe I haven’t used that before now), they insisted I talk to Frank, and I was delighted that he agreed!

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He may look calm in that picture (perhaps he loses himself in the meat?), but on the phone he was a big, enthusiastic, and inspiring ball of energy. His advice? Get to it. That quote up there — “Go milk a goat!” — that was his. And while I may not be able to get my hands on a hoofed creature as soon as I’d like, some of his other advice might be easier to follow.

  • Really, the #1 theme of the conversation was that I need to get busy and get my hands dirty. First up: Get a job! Get behind the counter somewhere, and start (literally) cutting some cheese. This one, Frank, I’m already working on! I’ve been in talks with various members of the Bay Area cheese-selling community, and I continue to try to ‘network’ my butt off (which is a good way to counteract the butt-padding all this cheese is doing). I can’t wait to start my internship at The Cheese School and, hopefully, at some point, get a job.
  • Next step: Make some cheese! Now this, this is good advice. And doable!  I’ll be at The Cheese School for two cheesemaking classes, but there are other curd-creating opportunities in this delightful city of mine. I recently learned of the SF Milk Maid, a well-trained and well-traveled cheese-maker who teaches private and public courses in the city. And, thanks to SF Milk Maid’s facebook page, I discovered the wonderfully intimidating blog Milk’s Leap, which chronicles the amazing at-home cheese creations of another SF local. With these resources at my disposal, how could I go wrong? (I’m sure there are many ways, all of which I promise to document)
  • Another piece of advice? “Go to Europe. Go to Italy, go to France, go wherever cheese is made and learn how it’s made there, why it’s made that way, and how it tastes.” (I’m paraphrasing) Oh Frank! Oh life! If only it were this easy. But, I assure you, one day (and hopefully not one too far away), I plan to do just this. I’d be lying if I said that the thought of traveling the world in pursuit of cheesy bliss wasn’t one of the many reasons a curd nerd life called to me. Neal’s Yard Dairy? Yes, please. Fruitiere de Saint-Antoine? Yes! Fromagerie L’amuse? Yes, yes, yes! One day, you guys. One day.

Speaking of traveling: How about a trip back East?  Frank may have started his career out here in San Francisco, but he’s now a serious Vermont enthusiast. While he mentioned a few connections he has here in California, he made it clear that his real hook-ups are with dairies in Vermont. Luckily, this assertion was followed by a welcome invitation to visit any time. Not only has Frank offered to show me around Vermont, but he said he’ll take me up in to Canada, too. Awesome! I’ve already corresponded with Jay (currently far away in Buenos Aires), and we’ll probably spend the next few months conspiring to actually make this happen.

So, that’s what I learned from Mr. Frank Pace. In all sincerity, I’m really grateful that he took the time to speak with me, and I’m really looking forward to keeping in touch and learning from him in the future. Thanks, Frank!

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