Bon Bouche

A Good Mouthful…of Cheese

Archive for the tag “cowgirl creamery”

No Fault in San Andreas

“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.

Just standing around, being cute.

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!

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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!

Back to School 2: Cheese Masters

That’s going to be the name of the screwball cheese comedy that I eventually pen. Not bad, right? Now, I just need to pick my perfect cast.

Annnyyyyyways. As previously mentioned, I attended my second course at The Cheese School on March 13th (over a month ago now! what a blog slacker I am). However, this was a different class of experience (yuk yuk), as it was a Master Class (aimed at cheese professionals, not just enthusiasts) on Identifying Cheese Flavors and taught by a Bay Area cheese legend, Cowgirl Creamery’s Peggy Smith (take a minute to read that bio — it’s worth it). Not only do I love me some Cowgirl Creamery cheeses (just the thought of some Mt. Tam makes my stomach grumble), but I’m also a huge fan and regular user of their online cheese library. That library has been an incredible resource in my dairy discovery, and that made me even more excited about the opportunity to learn from this lady. But, in addition to being excited, I was also a little bit scared. Me? At a Master Class? While I’d like to believe that I’ve surpassed the ‘enthusiast’ level (and even that just barely), I’m certainly no master nor am I, technically, yet a professional. I furiously studied my Cheese Primer in anticipation of the course but, when the time came, I still wasn’t sure that I was ready. Well, there would be only one way to find out!

As I climbed the entry stairway up to The Cheese School, I was immediately hit by the buzz and energy in the building. It was more lively — and more crowded — than the previous class that I had attended, which I attribute to the celebrity and credibility of the teacher. At this point, I had already been offered (and, of course, accepted) the Cheese School summer internship position, and as I entered I received an especially warm welcome from co-owners Kiri Fisher & Daphne Zepos, which served to alleviate some of my anxiety. After I grabbed a complimentary glass of white wine (since I’m saving up for the cheese change, I’ll take just about anything that comes free), I spotted two familiar faces: cheesemongers from Mission Cheese, my favorite next-door neighbor and one of my employment dreams. I’d received tons of information (and cheese samples) from both of these two people, but I’d always been too nervous and embarrassed (are you seeing a pattern here?) to admit to my aspirations. Well, not this time! I sidled up and introduced myself to these two, who I then learned were Steve Hall and Liz Rubin, two of Mission Cheese’s O.G. opening crew. And you know what? They are awesome and lovely!  I spent the next 10-15 minutes detailing my upcoming career change (and excitedly bragging about the internship) and they, in turn, treated me to adorable sheep pictures from a recent Mission Cheese dairy farm field trip. Interacting with animals on farm field trips? Yeah, I think I’ve made the right decision.

At that moment we were asked to find our seats in the classroom, and so we did. I found myself seated across the room from Steve and Liz (allowing us to exchange silly looks and knowing smiles) and next to a chatty woman who promptly informed me that she had been to over 20 such classes. When I asked her what she did for a living, I was surprised at her response: She’s a cardiologist! She laughed as she told me that she actually warns her patients against the dangers of eating too much cheese, and then she proceeded to clean her plate!

I have to admit that the rest of the class is somewhat of a blur in my memory. It might be because a month has passed since the occasion, or it might be because I’m a lightweight and I had two glasses of wine. Probably both. I do remember that Peggy got right down to business welcoming the students (many of whom appeared to be old friends and colleagues, the faces of whom I have seen on various cheese & dairy websites and in cheese industry event pictures posted on Facebook) and letting us know what she in store for the next two hours. I immediately felt welcomed and at ease, and I was so enthralled by Peggy’s words and the friendly chatter in the room that I barely even glanced at my cheese plate!

Peggy explained her cheese tasting process: Look, Touch, Smell, Taste. For each cheese we ate, we went through each step. First, we LOOKED at each cheese: What color is the rind? What color is the paste? Where does the color change? Is the cheese more transparent or opaque? Are there bubbles, eyes, mold, etc.? Then, we’d TOUCH: How soft is the cheese? How hard? Is it grainy, smooth, or oily? Not only is it good to know how the cheese feels, but this is also a helpful trick for bringing the cheese up to temperature! Then, we’d SMELL: We’d smell the cheese first while whole, then break the cheese down the middle and immediately give it another sniff. Wow! That second smell, while similar to the first, is about a thousand times more intense (that’s a rough estimation) and provides an amazing preview for what you’re about to taste. Ah, TASTE! We put a small piece of cheese in our mouths and let it rest a moment on the tongue. Then, we were actually instructed to smack our gums, as it helps to turn the cheese into a paste and spread it across the tongue and the roof of the mouth. Fun! A room full of grownups all playing with their food and having a great time with it. I learned to pay attention to flavor waves, letting the cheese linger in my mouth long enough to experience a few. So great.

While I had definitely tasted cheese before, I had never tasted cheese in this way. Not only did we examine and savor every piece, but we also discussed and explored The Cheese Aroma Wheel with the use of some incredible “flavor aids” — white mushrooms, raw peanuts, wet and dry hay, stones, truffle salt, onion confit (mmmm), bittersweet chocolate, roasted pineapple, and toasted almonds. While obviously these aren’t all things you can eat, they all have flavors and/or aromas that can be cound in cheese. As we touched, smelled, and tasted each, we were encouraged to also smell and taste the flavor aids we thought might help to enhance and coax out cheese flavors. It was both enlightening and so enjoyable to mix and match cheeses and flavor aids and the challenge (and the wine) definitely added to some teamwork around the room.

Well, I bet you’re wondering what we ate, huh? I’d encourage you to use the list below, as long as the flavor aids mentioned, to put together a tasting of your own!

While I now have a hard time making heads or tails of my notes, one thing is clear: I had an incredible time. As I boarded the bus back south to my neighborhood, I texted Mike (still home in Massachusetts) that it had been one of the best nights of my life. Why? While eating cheese was great, it was so much more than that. That master class was, really, my first experience as an industry ‘insider’ and I was overjoyed to finally be part of this new community. This cheese thing is no longer just a dream, it’s a reality, and it’s a reality in which I’ll be surrounded by inspiring, intelligent, and kind, caring people. I can’t wait to start my work at the cheese school, to be responsible for putting together the classroom and the plates, to get to welcome cheese professionals and enthusiasts and to help them further their education. I’m even looking forward to washing the dishes!

Sorry I’ve Been A-Whey…

Hi readers. As you may have noticed, there’s been a serious lack of action on this blog recently. 2 weeks back I went out of town for a week and, since my return, I’ve been catching up with work, friends, and cheese! I just haven’t had much time to actually write and, when I did find myself with some free time, I was too tired to do anything but turn on The Food Network or HGTV (both almost as addicted as L’Amuse Aged Gouda).

Now, I plan to turn that around from here on out, but I wanted to spend a little time getting everyone up to speed. So, some brief words (I toyed with the idea of calling this post ‘Curds of Wisdom’ but it didn’t feel quite right) on recent happenings, and then we can get back to normal blogging.

First: I am thrilled to report that, this summer, I will be an intern at The Cheese School of San Francisco. Not too familiar? Check out their awesome website, which features information about the school, the courses, and even the internship program. One big plus? It’s paid! Starting in July, I’ll be spending roughly 15 hours per week in the beautiful building at Powell and Francisco in Nob Hill, SF. I’ll be setting & cleaning up before and after classes, helping out during the classes and, I believe, doing some light administrative work. Last week I sat down for a drink with one of the school’s current interns, Devon Foster, who is also a cheesemonger at Cowgirl Creamery in The Ferry Building. Devon and I had a delightful conversation about all things cheese. She told me a little bit about the CA cheese community and did a lot to reassure me that it’s a really welcoming circle. Lately I’ve been nervous about jumping into the unknown and starting out as a newbie, so her stories of acceptance did a lot to lessen my fears. Devon also praised The Cheese School internship experience, which left me very excited. I’ll get to learn a ton about different cheeses, how to cut, plate, and serve, and I’ll be introduced to so many inspiring and experienced cheese professionals. I’m starting to sense that I may have a future in cheese-related catering and event-planning (we’ll see), so all of this really appeals to me. I can’t wait!

Speaking of The Cheese School and inspiring cheese professionals: On March 13th I took my first Master Class at the school, Identifying Cheese Flavors with Peggy Smith of Cowgirl Creamery. Yep, THE Peggy Smith of THE Cowgirl Creamery. For me, it was a big deal. It was such an incredible experience that I spent the next week gushing about it to anyone who would listen. As such, I want to write real blog entry about the class, the cheeses, and Peggy, so this is just a brief mention and placeholder until that time. The big take-away from the evening is that I left completely at peace with my decision to leave publishing for cheese. While I was a novice compared to almost all the attendees (mongers, farmers, cheesemakers, chefs, etc.), I felt able and understanding of almost all of the concepts covered and excited to embrace and conquer those that I didn’t. Every single person there was friendly and wonderfully weird (just like me!), and I had some great conversations with two mongers from Mission Cheese (my nextdoor neighbor/dream employer) and even with Peggy, herself. I felt like I was floating on my way home that night, filled with a relief that I can’t fully explain. So, keep a lookout for a full post on that class, it’s coming soon.

What else? Oh, well, it had to happen eventually: I had my first semi-embarrassing cheese celebrity awkward encounter. I thought for sure it would happen sometime with Gordon Edgar, but the world likes to keep us on our toes. A few weeks ago I went to the Winter Artisan Cheese Fair kick-off event at Cheese Plus in Nob Hill. It was a great little ‘party’, just some cheesemakers giving out samples around the store, and then a small ‘buffet’ of samples out front. I was just getting started in the buffet line, testing out a delightful Alpine fondue, and slightly eavesdropping on the girl in line in front of me. I could see out of the corner of my eye that she was tasting a Vermont Butter & Cheese Coupole for the first time, and I was happy to hear her exclaim the deliciousness of the cheese and to ask more about it. It was at that point that I heard the not-yet-seen person behind the counter explain that it was a cheese made at her creamery in Vermont. Without thinking, and with a mouth slightly full of bread and cheese, I blurted out “Oh my gosh are you Allison Hooper?” It was not a smooth, casual, cool moment for me. It was dorky and borderline creepy. “Yes” she responded, “Who are you?” At that point, I explained that I wasn’t really anybody (yet), just an aspiring cheese professional and a major fan of her cheeses. She was flattered and friendly but busy and those in line behind me were growing inpatient, so I simply thanked her and moved on. When I got home and told Mike what had happened, he made fun of me for being a spaz and not telling her just HOW much of a fan I was, and said that I should at least send a follow-up email with a link to my blog (which is, after all, named in honor of one of her cheeses). Soooo… I think I’ll probably do that, so that something more than embarrassment can come of that encounter. To be fair, I did share that story with Peggy Smith, and she got a little chuckle out of it, so…it’s not for nothing.

Okay, that seems like enough for now! I’m slowly making my way though Steven Jenkins’ classic Cheese Primer. After Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge, it is quite a change in attitude and approach, but there’s a ton of information in there and I’m learning a lot. I’m even taking notes and doing some color-coded highlighting, so I feel like a student again! On the radar: Tomorrow evening I’m meeting with Anthea Stolz, the buyer for Bi-Rite who also taught the Desert Island Cheeses course that I took, and I’m really looking forward to that.  I’d like to solidify the relationship and, of course, talk about future employment options, but I’m also thinking of doing small profiles/interviews of local cheese professionals and posting them on this blog. I have no journalism experience, so they wouldn’t be anything amazing, but I just like the idea of spotlighting those who inspire me. What do you think?

 

Back to School

This past Thursday, I went back to school for the first time in more than four years! I have to say, it was much yummier this time around. But, that isn’t too surprising, given the educational institution: The Cheese School of San Francisco.

The Cheese School of San Francisco is an independent institution dedicated entirely to helping people maximize their enjoyment and appreciation of cheese through tasting and education. They offer tasting classes for cheese enthusiasts, master classes for cheese and other food industry professionals, and a 3-day intensive Cheesemonger’s Program (on my wish-list for the future). I wasn’t sure if I had enough knowledge to take a Master Class, so I signed up for one of the tasting courses: Desert Island Cheeses, taught by Anthea Stolz.

Anthea Stolz is the cheese buyer at Bi-Rite Market, the amazing-but-fancy grocery store around the corner from my apartment where I like to go and spend too much money on cheese. Considering that Anthea’s buying choices have been the basis for much of my previous cheese consumption, I figured I could trust her picks. She’s also been friendly and helpful whenever I’ve had a cheese-related question, so I knew she would be a great instructor — informative and insightful, but also totally approachable. The concept behind the course is pretty simple: You’re stuck on a desert island, and all you can take with you are 9 different cheeses. What would you pick? Anthea took the challenge pretty seriously, picking a variety of cheeses based not only on taste, but also considering what would last and sustain her the longest. I think this made for a fun and extra informative lesson, and I admire her dedication to survival!

Overall, the class was great. The space at The Cheese School is really beautiful, and the classroom contained a lovely and large horseshoe-shaped table with a place set for each of the approximately 15 students. Each place setting had a glass of wine, a glass of sparkling wine, a glass of water, a paper handout with a list of the cheeses and space for notes and, of course, an enticing plate containing 9 generous bites of mouthwatering cheeses and an assortment of dried fruit & marcona almonds (my new favorite snack).

Once all of the students were seated, Anthea took a moment to introduce herself , and then we went right into the tasting! For each cheese, Anthea discussed why she chose it, spoke about where the cheese comes from, the cheese-maker and the specific cheese-making process, and walked/talked us through the flavors and textures of what we were tasting. Maybe it was just the wine kicking in, but I found the class really starting to come together around the third cheese (I’ll get to all that in a minute), when Anthea seemed to get more comfortable being in the spotlight and the students started speaking up with opinions (lots of ooh’s and aah’s) and asking more questions.

While I learned A LOT and had a really wonderful time, I did find the class to be more of a social event/setting (and less like a classroom) than I had anticipated. (Note to Bay Area Romantics: If your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/partner of any kind is even remotely into cheese, you could score major points doing date night at The Cheese School.) I mentioned this impression to one of The Cheese School employees on my way out, and she suggested that I try a master class for a more ‘serious’ session. So, I am now signed up to take the ‘Identifying Cheese Flavors Master Class’ on March 13th, and I will be seriously studying  my Cheese Primer (aka Cheese Bible) until then!

Okay, okay, I won’t make you wait any longer. I now present to you what we ate in class, i.e. ‘Anthea’s Desert Island Cheeses.’

Cowgirl Creamery – Clabbered Cottage Cheese (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk, Pt. Reyes Station, CA)

I have to admit, I was quite surprised to look at the plate and see a Cottage Cheese, but once I had a taste I could understand what it was doing there. The Cowgirl Creamery Clabbered Cottage Cheese is made with organic non-fat milk from the Straus Family Creamery and is dressed with additional clabbered (i.e. curdled) cream. This is, without a doubt, more rich and creamy than any cottage cheese you’ve had in the past, but what surprised me the most was the tangy, sour taste (which makes sense when you consider the clabbered cream). To be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this cheese, but that’s not surprising consider that I HATE yogurt. The tang of this cheese was very much like the taste of a high-quality yogurt so, if that’s your thing, you’ll probably fall head over heels for the Cowgirl Creamery Clabbered Cottage Cheese. Anthea made this her first choice because, for her, it’s just that: her first choice. This is her comfort cheese, what she wants to eat whenever she first gets home from vacation or a rough day.

Andante Dairy – Crottin (Pasteurized Goat’s Milk, Petaluma, CA)

Soyoung Scanlan is the cheesemaker at Andante Dairy, and Anthea could not stop talking about how incredible she is. After studying life & dairy science and working as a biochemist, Soyoung decided to become a cheesemaker. Soyoung exclusively uses Jersey Cow’s milk, which is known as the best cow’s milk for cheese making, and she uses goat milk from the dairy farm on which her plant is operated. The Crottin is one of those goat milk cheeses, and is the only cheese that Andante makes that is a direct replica of a traditional variety. Crottin is a french-style, Loire Valley goat’s milk cheese. When the Crottin is young, it is soft and simple, moist and milky. As it ages, it becomes a little bit more complex — it gets firmer, more tangy, and finishes with a nutty taste. I liked this cheese a lot, and it’s one I that I think new cheese-eaters would really enjoy, especially as a introduction to goat cheeses. I’ll definitely buy this cheese, and I’d like to taste it when it’s very young, moist, and room temperature!

Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery – Double Cream Cremont (Pasteurized cow & goat’s milk, Websterville VT)

Well, well, well, if it isn’t my old friend the Double Cream Cremont! When I saw this little guy on the plate, I recognized it immediately, and I couldn’t help but feel so excited for any of my fellow students who were about to try this cheese for the first time. As I knew would happen, just about everyone fawned over the deliciousness of this cheese after they put it into their mouth. I’ve already written about the Double Cream Cremont multiple times, so I won’t go back into detail, but I will say that it just never gets old. I did learn that the difference between a double cream and a triple cream cheese has to do with the butterfat content. Double cream cheese has to have a butterfat content of 60% and triple cream cheese has to have a butterfat content of at least 75%. Considering that actual butter has a butterfat content of 80-85%, a triple cream (which the cremont is NOT) is pretty close to the real deal. So, my previous comment about the Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam tasting like delicious butter makes perfect sense!

Ardi Gasna – Imported by Andante Dairy (Raw Sheep’s Milk, Pyrenees, France)

Anthea first fell in love with cheese when she studied abroad in Provence, France. She says that eating this cheese is like being transported to that amazing place, and I really don’t doubt that that’s true. I have a confession: Before I tasted this cheese, I thought that I wasn’t really a fan of sheep’s milk cheeses. While I did enjoy the Bohemian Blue, all the other sheep cheeses that I’ve eaten have been too hard or too sour, and I just figured that they just weren’t for me. Well, consider me a changed woman. If I can eat sheep’s milk cheeses as delicious as the Ardi Gasna, then I’m going to become a sheep’s milk devotee! Ardi Gasna means “sheep’s cheese” in Basque, and it is a traditional hard sheep’s milk cheese. The Ardi Gasna may have a hard texture, but it’s soft and rich once it’s in your mouth. The flavor is clean, and you can really taste what the animal has eaten: Grass and flowers, nuts, and a sharp finish. I was really blown away by how quickly this cheese grew on me; I loved it more with every bite. Based on what I know of his tastes, I think this is a cheese that Mike would love, and I look forward to buying some for him to taste soon. Also: If you know anyone who lives for Pecorino Romano or other sharp/salty and hard cheeses, they should try this. It’s different, but similar, and just amazingly edible.

Keen’s Cheddar (Raw Cow’s Milk, Somerset UK)

Wow. Forget what you think you know about Cheddar. THIS is cheddar, and it’s better than what you (and I) have been buying at the supermarket. Keen’s Cheddar is a farmstead raw milk cheddar (meaning the cheese is made on site, where the cows graze and are milked) which has been artisanally made since 1899.  It’s cloth bound and matured for 12 months in a cave. Keen’s looks like your average cheddar, but the taste is anything but average. The texture is as you would expect — firm, but not hard — but the aging leaves the cheese with were some surprising and delicious crystals. The taste was mouth-wateringly sharp, but really complex and savory at the same time. An added bonus: Anthea told us all about the cheddaring process, which is quite interesting!

L’Amuse Aged Gouda (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk, Cono Cheesemaking Plant, Holland)

Oh, dear goodness. Just thinking of this cheese is making me nostalgic for the one time I was lucky enough to put it in my mouth. Seriously, you guys, it’s that good. There were many standouts that evening, but I have to say that the L’Amuse was my number one favorite. In an earlier post (Cheese Brunch With My Parents), I mentioned that we had some Noord Hollander Aged Gouda, which really knocked my socks off. Well, all due respect to the Noord Hollander (and I mean that), this L’Amuse Aged Gouda blows that cheese right out of the water (of course, this one is significantly harder to find and more expensive). Unlike most Dutch Goudas, L’Amuse signature Gouda is not matured in cooler temperatures. The mid-temperature affinage (cheese maturing) in the cheese cellar allows the cheese to develop a more rounded flavor. The cheeses are matured for 2 years. The paste of the cheese (and yes, it’s called paste even when it’s anything but pasty) is a dark amber color, and there are insanely flavorful protein crystals throughout. The taste is nutty, meaty, and a mix of sweet/salty. It really is like salted caramel, but…cheesy. This cheese really melts in your mouth, and the taste lingers for a long time. I wish it lingered there forever!

Adelegger (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk, Bavaria, Germany)

Dear Mom: I have a cheese for you! The Adelegger is a traditional Bavarian Mountain-style Cheese, and I’m pretty sure that my mother would love this more than anyone else I know. The Adelegger is named after the the alpine area on which the cows graze in Bavaria, Germany. Using organic methods of production, a cooperative of seven farmers have been supplying the milk since 1998 to master cheese maker Evelyn Wild. At the small dairy of Käskuche Isny she crafts this firm-textured cheese, which is washed multiple times in white wine infused with herbs. The cheese is then aged from fourteen to eighteen months, when it develops a fudgy texture (seriously there’s no other way to describe it) and a meaty, nutty and buttery flavor. Anthea also noted that this is a great melting cheese, which immediately made me think of a delicious grilled cheese sandwich with some mustard and arugula. I won’t rest easy until I make that dream a reality.

Parmigiano-Reggiano (Raw Cow’s Milk, Emilia-Romagna Italy)

Anthea put some Parmigiano-Reggiano on our plates to prove that it’s more than just a grating cheese. Well, that, and because a giant 80 lb. wheel of this stuff could last a long time on a desert island! And, both reasons seem sound to me. I’m going to be honest with you: I am tired of typing and I have somewhere to be, so I’m going to let you do your own research on this famous food. I will say that this, the real deal, is different than you think it’s going to be. When you grate it on pasta, you’re only getting a fraction of the flavor. The chunk of this that I put on my tongue was so intense, with a really salty and citrus-y taste. Yum!

Fourme d’Ambert (Raw Cow’s Milk Blue, Auvergne, France)

Alright everyone, the moment of truth: The Blue Cheese on the plate. As you may know, I’m not really a fan of blue cheese. Or, let me rephrase that: I was not previously a fan of blue cheese. This one cheese, the Fourme d’Ambert, has changed all of that. In the past, even when I’ve “liked” a blue cheese, that really just means that I can stand it, and that I’d rather be eating blue cheese than no cheese at all. But this: This I liked. This I would be eating right now if I had some in the house. The Fourme d’Ambert is a rich and creamy cow’s milk blue cheese from the Auvergne region of France. It has a thin, yellowish rind, spotted with sandy molds. The paste inside is very white with distinctive bluing (see picture). Although the scent is very earthy, the Fourme d’Ambert has a creamy and mild, almost mushroom-y flavor, with a slightly nutty finish. The paste is soft and smooth, and reminded me a little bit of cream cheese (in texture, not taste). I liked that this was very savory, and really had an outdoor flavor. I think Mike and I could have a pound of this and a few loaves of crusty bread and consider it one of the best meal’s we’d ever shared together. Not that we would do that, but….we might.

Cheese Tastings: Brunch With My Parents

(Clockwise from Top Left:  Neal’s Yard Colston Basset Stilton; Meadow Creek Dairy Appalachian; Cowgirl Creamy Mt. Tam; Vermont Butter & Cheese Company Double-Cream Cremont; Noord Hollander Gouda)

Mmm. Look at all that cheese. Wouldn’t you like to try that cheese? Well, if you were lucky enough to be me, my parents, or Mike this past Sunday, you would have!

My parents were in San Francisco this weekend, and before hitting the road back down to L.A. on Sunday afternoon, Mike and I had them over for what I am now and forever going to call ‘Cheese Brunch’.  I want to have so many of these! Before my parents showed up, I (lovingly) ordered Mike around so that everything would be ready to go. We were slicing bread, plating crackers, making fruit salad and, of course, cutting cheese (everyone’s favorite joke). I actually put all of the cheeses out with a little card next to each one that had the cheese name, where it comes from, what it’s made of, and what it should taste like. Of course, I forgot to take a picture of that. Mike commented that I should be a party planner and, I have to admit, I kind of agree. I’m not big on cooking, but I love plating and preparing. Think there’s a business in bring-to-your-home Cheese Brunch? One day.

Anyhow, I digress. Like I said, I set it all out: cheeses, sliced baguette,  crackers, fig compote, sliced pears, insanely sweet Cara Cara orange slices, strawberry and blueberry fruit salad, and an assortment of delicious (and nutritious) pastries brought by Mr. & Mrs. Kaufman. I am more than happy to start any day with a healthy dose of cheese, but this brunch was extra special because it was the first time I was able to share my new passion with my parents. It was a lot of fun to flex my (limited) knowledge and even more fun to hear what everyone else had to say. One of the things that excites me most about working in cheese is the prospect of sharing something wonderful and delicious with others and helping them to get a better sense of what their taste buds like best. On Sunday I was able to do that with my family.

I added four options to our familiar fromage (see this post for in-depth Double-Cream Cremont coverage). Read about each of them below and scroll to the bottom to see what we each picked as favorite!

Cowgirl Creamery – Mt. Tam

You may recognize Mt. Tam as one of the cheeses served at my Super Bowl gathering, but since I didn’t do a real write-up then, I’ll do it now. Mt. Tam is a triple-cream cheese made with pasteurized cow’s milk from the Straus Family Dairy. It is deliciously bloomy, with a really smooth and creamy, earthy taste. I like to let it sit for about an hour before serving, because it gets perfectly spreadable and really messy. I love messy. However, the next day, I came home from work starving, pulled the leftover Mt. Tam out of the fridge, and popped a chunk into my mouth. The experience was amazing! Eating this cold and hard was like eating the world’s most delicious piece of butter. It tasted incredible. One of my new favorite things is trying one cheese at many different temperatures.

Noord Hollander Gouda

Back in the “old days” (before I started learning about cheese), I thought that all Gouda was Smoked Gouda. Luckily, I was wrong, and I’m not the only one to make that mistake! Turns out that smoked Gouda is basically just a cheap version of the real deal. No offense to smoked Gouda fans (I am one), but if you don’t look into aged Gouda (not smoked), you are seriously missing out. Noord Hollander is a 4-year aged gourmet cheese, made from high quality pasteurized cow’s milk in Northern Holland (hence the name). The milk from this region is sweeter and richer than other Dutch milk, and you can taste that in the cheese. Noord Hollander has a really deep caramel/butterscotch flavor, and the aging process leaves it riddled with salty-sweet crystals. Basically, this is the candy of cheese, which is perfect for me, because I’d rather eat cheese than candy.

Meadow Creek Dairy – Appalachian

I’ve been hearing/reading a lot of good things about the ‘unexpected’ pleasures (?) of Southern Cheeses, so I wanted to try one for myself! Meadow Creek is a family-owned grazing farm in Galax, Virginia and, let me tell you, they make a good cheese. The Appalachian is a raw cow’s milk cheese with a speckled white rind and a slightly yellow firm-but-silky paste. The yellow is fitting, I think, because the cheese has just a slight taste of lemony sweetness and some grassiness, too. They say that with cheeses like this, you can really taste what the cow is eating. Assuming that’s true, those are some lucky cows.

Neal’s Yard Dairy – Colston Bassett Stilton

Oh Blue! We are getting to know one another. As regular readers know, I don’t have a long loving history with Blue Cheese. In fact, I never really liked it, but I’m learning to give it a chance. And, after I had such a good experience with the Bohemian Blue, I knew I couldn’t give up. Still, I know absolutely nothing about blues, and I trust myself to pick them even less. As such, you can imagine my delight to see Anthea Stolz, the cheese buyer for Bi-Rite, standing right next to me in the cheese aisle. I explained to her my blue cheese aversion (I’m not into anything too runny or drippy, and I like a lot of not-blue with my blue), but also mentioned that there would be some big blue fans in attendance (namely Mike and my mom), and asked for a recommendation. She let me sample the Neal’s Yard CBS (I’m shortening for speed) — which I had already heard and read about — and it tasted too amazing to pass up. This pasteurized cows milk blue (wow, guess I went almost all cow this tasting) has a rich flavor and somewhat basic tang (in the basic vs. acidic way, not in the not-special way), with a more-buttery and less-crumbly texture. I love buttery, and I liked the strong flavor of this. It was a big hit with the blue lovers, and that’s all that matters.

Note: Tomorrow I will be taking my first class at The Cheese School of SF, and it’s being taught by the aforementioned Anthea! It’s called ‘Desert Island Cheeses’ and she’ll be introducing the class to the cheeses she couldn’t live without. I’m pumped!

Okay, so, that’s the wrap-up. Now, for personal MVC’s (most valuable cheeses, duh):

Bonnie: I still have to go with the Double-Cream Cremont, but of the new cheeses sampled, I really got a kick out of that Noord Hollander Gouda.

Mike: A blue boy through and through, Mike mostly stuck with the Neal’s Yard Colston Bassett Stilton.

Mom: As a lemon-lover, it makes sense that Mom’s favorite was the Appalachian (though she had a hard time picking just one).

Dad: We learned that, like me, Dad’s a fan of the creamy cheeses. His favorite, by a long shot, was the Double-Cream Cremont.

Okay, all this cheese talk is making me hungry. Time to go eat!

Let’s Go Sports Fans

Had a few boys over for the big game yesterday. While we were all sad to see New England lose, we couldn’t help but happily enjoy the cheese and other goodies on display.

What you see: Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery Bonne Bouche; Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam; Tumalo Farms Classico.

The Bonne Bouche is, at this point, an old favorite. Despite being a Cowgirl Creamery fan, it had been a VERY long time since I’d had any Mt. Tam. My best friend and her mom visited the Cowgirl Creamery outpost in the Ferry Building on Saturday morning, and presented me with this round as a gift. Words cannot describe how delicious it is and I think, at the party, it was the fan favorite. Once I had the Bonne Bouche and the Mt. Tam, I knew I needed something hard and crowd-pleasing. My friends at Mission Cheese recommended The Classico, and they were right on the money.

Rounding out the party platter: Some salami that Mike had in the fridge, curry mustard from Hop Kiln Winery in Healdsburg CA, and a little bit of fig compote.

Not pictured: The make-your-own Bloody Mary bar I put together in the kitchen. Hey, maybe if this cheese career doesn’t pan out, I can pursue event-planning. I’m not the greatest cook, but I sure do like to put a platter together.

On Books & Libraries

“Books and libraries? But Bonnie, I thought you were moving AWAY from publishing!!”

— You Guys

 

While it’s true that I’m leaving publishing (at least for now), I could never really leave books behind. And, really, I don’t think I could shake my editorial bent, even if  wanted to (which I do not). I’ll always love reading and analyzing what’s been written, so I’m lucky that there is no shortage of books on food and, specifically, cheese. As you already know (or at least you already know if you’ve read my earlier blog entries), my first foray into reading cheese (as opposed to eating cheese), was with Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge by Gordon Edgar, and we all know how that worked out. While I’ve already given that book my clear endorsement, I can’t get rid of my compulsion to ‘make something’ out of the rows upon rows of margin notes with which I sullied the book’s pages. See, my nature can’t be tamed! I’m like the ‘Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken’ girl (okay Sonora Webster, I’m not going to pretend I don’t know her name), but instead of blind horse diving I’m just commenting on books. Similar.

In my job at Berrett-Koehler, I am often asked to write manuscript reviews on projects we have signed but not yet published. This usually results in about four page of comments on the work, broken down in to two tried & true categories: ‘Things I Liked’ and ‘Things In Need of Improvement/Suggestions.’ (Tip: Never tell an author that there’s something about their work that you “don’t like.” After putting their heart, soul, and money into what’s on paper, they are sensitive beings and rightly so.) In the case of Edgar’s book, there really wasn’t anything that I felt “needed improvement” (okay, maybe there was one story about a toothpick and a lot of blood that I could have, um, cleaned up a little bit), although I certainly wouldn’t argue against an illustrated second edition or, better yet, a video & image-enhanced e-book (think about it, Chelsea Green).

So, that just leaves us with what I DID like. Now, because none of you are paying me (yet), I’m not going to give you four pages. But, I will touch on the things I found most important.

TONE: Now, this may seem like a weird place to start, but given what I know about non-fiction writing on somewhat-daunting subjects, I cannot stress the importance of tone enough. Cheese is actually very complex subject matter (after all, science is involved) and one rife with cultural and socioeconomic implications. Basically, it can be easy to get snobby, but getting snobby doesn’t add anything for anyone. Gordon Edgar never gets snobby, and actually makes a point of deriding that tendency in others. Instead, he infuses his personality and his passion into all aspects of the book (both the more traditional memoir accounts of person experiences and the hard and fast detailed cheese info), making it as accessible and enjoyable as it is informative. If it hadn’t been done this way — if the book had been intimidating or even annoying — I might not have made the decision to try my hand at this whole endeavor.

INFORMATION: For a memoir, this puppy is jam-packed with serious and seriously helpful information. From cheese consumption statistics to the historical significance of American and other cheeses, the cheese-making and aging processes, and even the rough costs of particular cheeses, I learned more from this book than from anything else I’ve read in recent history (and that’s saying something). If you are interested or intrigued by cheese, at all, this book will be a revelation.

INSPIRATION: Like I said in the tone section, if this book had been handled differently, I might not be writing this at all. But, instead of being scared off or intimidated by the book and by Edgar’s experience, I was inspired. If a no-nonsense punk-rock dude with more of an interest in co-op work than a career in cheese can become this much of an expert, then a cheese-loving word nerd with a desire to get her hand’s on the food system can at least give it a shot, too. Learning that, like me, Edgar sucks at geography (semi-important in the world of cheese), was only icing on the cake.

So, while I could go on and on, I won’t. The point is that I loved this book, and I’m so relieved that I can pair my passion for reading with this new career path. That being said: What should I read next? Please share recommendations, if you have any, in the comments section.

 

Now, moving on from books to libraries. But, probably not the kind of library you’re thinking of. Before I carry on with this blog, I have to give credit where it is and will continue to be due — to the Cowgirl Creamery Library of Cheese. While I was already pretty familiar with Cowgirl Creamery (after all, I do follow them on Facebook), I discovered their incredible online cheese library completely by accident. Every time I tasted or read about a new cheese, I did a Google search to learn more. It wasn’t until I had done this 5 or 6 times that I realized the 1st or 2nd listing was almost always a link to Cowgirl Creamery. “But this isn’t a Cowgirl cheese!!” I exclaimed (dramatized for illustrative purposes), while clicking the link. Well, whoops! The Cowgirl Creamery Library of Cheese isn’t just a library of their cheese, but a library of all the world’s great artisan cheeses, searchable by Farm/Maker, milk type, country, and milk treatment (raw, pasteurized, etc.). The information provided on each listing is informative without being overwhelming, and is usually accompanied by a picture. As I do more writing about particular cheeses (i.e. hopefully in my next post), I have no doubt that I will continue to use this as a resource. Just wanted to put that out there.

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