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.