Bon Bouche

A Good Mouthful…of Cheese

Archive for the tag “mission cheese”

Long Time No Cheese

Writing my first blog post in a really long time feels a little bit like showing up to a party empty-handed. I’m excited, and certainly happy to be here, but also feeling a bit sheepish. And, as when I show up to a party without anything to offer, I know that guests aren’t interested in excuses. What do you really want? Cheese. So, I won’t bother with justifications or explanations. Instead, I’ll get to the good stuff: A long & detailed history of what I’ve been up to since last I wrote. Ha! Kidding.

But, briefly: About one year ago, I left my job at Cowgirl Creamery’s Ferry Building shop. In my time there I learned so much about cheese, how best to serve and care for it, made a handful of incredibly inspiring friends,  and grew my passion for education and customer service. If I could live in San Francisco on that wage (and maybe get a Saturday off every now and again), I might still be there. But, in May of 2014, it was time to move on. I jumped to the wholesale & distribution side of things, briefly working for a small company that imports and sells Italian and other European delicacies before settling in comfortably at GreenLeaf, a powerhouse in the world of Bay Area Food Distribution. Best known for our amazing produce, GreenLeaf recognizes the innovation and excitement happening in the world of cheese, and hired me to join a team of smart and enthusiastic curd nerds to grow the line and the program. These days, I spend my time helping to source and sell high quality cheeses from all kinds of producers, sharing my knowledge and recommendations with chefs, caterers, and really anyone who will listen. It is challenging and enlightening and rewarding and it keeps me very busy!

So busy, in fact, that I have little time for actual cheese eating. Sure, I do tastings with customers for work and quite regularly I’ll get to sample something we’re thinking of bringing in to sell, but it’s been a long time since I sat down to eat cheese like the consumer I am at heart. Or, it had been a long time, until last night.

Mission Cheese, my favorite neighbor, is celebrating their 4th Birthday this week with a string of events and offers that are hard to resist. Tomorrow there will be goats! Last night they had $4 beers, which was enough to get The Noodle off the couch and out into the daunting world of a Valencia Friday Night. Me? I was looking for cheese, and specifically some that I’d never had before. I found three. These are their stories.

(DUN DUN)

Aged Chelsea – Pasteurized Goat’s Milk,  Zingerman’s Creamery, Michigan

AgedChelsea

This cheese could, quite literally, be the icing on a cake. Inspired by the classic cheeses of France’s Loire River Valley, the straight-up geniuses at Zingerman’s Creamery created Aged Chelsea, a bloomy-rinded goat log coated in edible vegetable ash. Oh, ash-ripening, you are one of my favorite things! This centuries-old tradition comes with a number of benefits. Want to keep the surface of your aging cheese free from microbes and mold spores? Add some ash! Worried your lactic beauty will become overly acidic? Add some ash! (When it comes to cheese, it’s not always bad to be basic). Ash-ripening also brings a lot to the table, aesthetically-speaking. Usually utilized with a bright white goat cheese, the stark contrast between rind and paste is strikingly lovely, and Aged Chelsea is no exception. The round discs presented on our cheese board looked like fat, snowy coins, and the taste was money also. This cheese is light and luscious, letting the subtle flavor of the goat’s milk do all the talking. It’s tangy, bright, and yeasty, calling out for a sweet supplement. I like to play with my food, so I crushed up a few dried cranberries and smushed them right in there. Just as I suspected, it was a perfect pairing.

Battenkill Brebis – Raw Sheep’s Milk, 3 Corner Field Farm, New York

3-Corner Field Farm, Shushan, NY

Mike thinks that all sheep’s milk cheese “tastes like an eraser” and, for this reason, I force him to try new ones whenever they present themselves. I wish I could say that this one changed his mind (honestly, I wish I could say anything had changed his mind), but what I can say is that I happily ate both of our portions. While I had not previously heard of 3 Corner Field Farm, I now know that it is a sheep dairy and farmstead creamery in the Battenkill Valley of New York (which is basically New Hampshire). Former Manhattanites Karen Weinberg and Paul Borghard bought the farm in 1990, and they’ve been doing some serious sheep work since then. Their East Friesian tenants are grazed on fresh pasture every 24 hours, exposing the sheep (and, hence, the milk) to a wide variety of forage like clover, trefoil, and wild oregano. These flavors are then reflected in the finished product, especially considering that the cheese is made from raw milk. Battenkill Brebis is a tomme-style aged cheese with stunning complexity. The milk’s savory vegetal flavors are paired with a damp stone quality imparted by 4 to 6 months of cave-aging. Despite what others may think, this delight will not soon be erased from my memory.

Vermilion River Blue – Raw Cow’s Milk, Ludwig Farmstead Creamery, Illinois

VermillionBlue

Remember when I said that I sat down to eat cheese “like the consumer I am at heart”? Well, you can take the girl out from behind the cheese counter, but you can’t take the ‘monger out of the girl. One taste of Vermilion Blue, and I was overcome by the urge to just sell the hell out of it. Memorable name? Check. Semi-soft kid-friendly texture? Check. Little-to-no evident blue veining and a flavor mild enough to trick unsuspecting blue-phobics? Check and check! Damn, I want to throw on that apron and sling this stuff all day. The cheesemakers at Ludwig Farmstead Creamery have a money-maker on their hands with this raw Holstein cow’s milk “triple creme” but…do I like it? That is, quite honestly, hard to say. At the risk of sounding like a total jerk, the qualities that make this cheese so easy to sell are the same qualities that give me pause. Shouldn’t a self-described triple creme actually be creamy? Shouldn’t a raw milk blue be absolutely bursting with flavor? I didn’t get any of that with this cheese, but I did get to try a new (to me) crowd-pleaser. And, for the record, Mikey liked it.

Eat This: Tilston Point

Uh oh. Move over, Mike, because I have a new love: Hook’s Cheese Tilston Point Blue.

No, no. Luckily, my man is a blue lover too, so this is a friend that we can share. Okay, this is coming out creepier than I’d imagined. Let’s get to the cheese!

Hook’s Cheese – Tilston Point Blue (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk Blue from Mineral Point, WI)

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Last night, I had the extreme pleasure of working a two hour “trial shift” at Mission Cheese, a delightful cheese shop/restaurant/bar that also happens to be my neighbor.  Everything was great: The staff, the customers, and especially the cheese. As I “studied” the menu the night before, I kept getting stuck on the Midwest Cheese Flight, which featured (at that time, the cheese flights are always changing): Zingerman’s Detroit St. Brick, Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative’s Dante, and Hook’s Tilston Point Blue. I had never tried any of these 3 cheeses, and they all sounded amazing.

Well, now that I have tried these 3 cheeses, I can confirm that they all taste amazing, too.  So why the extra love for Tilston Point? If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I’m not, traditionally, a blue fan. But you guys? I think I might not be able to say that anymore. That’s how much this cheese rocked my world.

Hook’s Cheese Company’s Tony Hook and wife Julie have been handcrafting cheese like cheddar, Colby and Monterey Jack for more than 30 years. In 1997, they began perfecting a series of blue cheeses and in 2004 created Tilston Point, their sole washed-rind cow’s milk blue, which is super-aged for 10 months to a year.  Tilston Point is made in the style of an English blue (the name is, in fact, an anagram of Stilton), but there are many ways in which this cheese differs from its namesake. This cheese is denser, and it’s washed with B. linens, surface bacteria created by whatever is used to wash the cheese (Hook’s keeps their recipe secret). Bacteria? Yum! That bacteria is also responsible for orange coloring on and around the rind, as well as Tilston’s somewhat stinky aroma (to me, the smell is mild, but I could see someone more sensitive feeling differently).

So how does it taste? I guess if I just said “incredible” that wouldn’t really be helpful. Tilston Point has the complex and luscious texture of French Roquefort, but tastes different. It’s rich & earthy, like Stilton, with some sweetness and minerality that lingers on your tongue. Spicy? Not at all, and that’s why I like it!

Added bonus: At approximately $12/lb., it’s very affordable! A little goes a long way…if you can find it.

Cheese Tastings

One of the main reasons I started this blog was so that, in addition to keeping friends and family up to date, I could also use it as a way to keep track of what I’ve learned…and what I’ve eaten. So, every now and then (frequency depending on how much my tummy can handle), I’m just going to list the cheeses I’ve tried, some information about them, and what I thought. This is probably the best way to live vicariously through me while still maintaining your own trim figures. Enjoy?

Hidden Springs – Bohemian Blue

Hidden Springs Bohemian Blue is a pasteurized sheep’s milk blue cheese that is actually made in collaboration with the neighboring Hook’s Cheese Company in Westby, Wisconsin. Named after cheesemaker Brenda Jensen’s grandparents, who were Bohemian in origin, this blue is dry and crumbly with a sweet and sour finish. For me, this is perfect. I’m usually not a big fan of wet or drippy blue cheeses, and when I told that to the friendly man behind the counter at Mission Cheese (which is where I do nearly all of my cheese ‘studying’), he recommended Bohemian Blue. When I first tried Viognier wine, I was told it was the red wine drinker’s white wine. I kind of feel that way about Bohemian Blue: It’s the blue cheese for people who don’t love blue cheese. I will be going back for more.

Jasper Hill  Farm – Constant Bliss

Constant Bliss is a hand-ladled pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont with a flavor all it’s own. Constant Bliss is soft and creamy, with an oozy layer right under the bloomy rind. I have to be honest: In this cheese, I didn’t find bliss. I was expecting a strong flavor, but I found that the texture overwhelmed the cheese and the rind was somewhat inescapable. However, the ayrshire cows at Jasper Hill are pasture-fed, so the taste of the cheese can really change from season to season. Basically, I will try this again. Also: The Cowgirl Creamery library notes that Mateo and Andy Kehler of Jasper Hill have worked hard to run a sustainable dairy and business and that they treat their cows wonderfully. Obviously, I am a big fan of theirs.

Nicasio Valley Cheese Company – Nicasio Square

Nicasio Square is a pasteurized washed-rind cow’s milk cheese which has a really rich flavor, similar to Taleggio. From the Nicasio Family Cheese Company in Nicasio California, the cheese takes the name and shape (when it’s full) of the town square at the center of Nicasio. Awesome! I loved this cheese as soon as I tried it, and immediately bought some to bring home. It was a little bit too ‘stinky’ for Mike, who admitted that the really liked the first bite, but wasn’t a big fan of the full and lingering flavor. For me, eating Nicasio Square at home was a great experiment/lesson in the importance of cheese temperature. When I let the cheese sit for about 40 minutes before eating, it was creamy and oozy, much like the picture above. The next time I ate some I was too hungry to wait, so I pulled it out of the fridge and went to town right away. It was a completely different experience! Not only was the the texture much more firm (not oozy at all), but the taste was much more subtle. Mike would have enjoyed it that time, but…I ate it all.

Uplands Cheese Company – Rush Creek Reserve

Rush Creek Reserve is a washed-rind raw cow’s milk from the Upland’s Cheese Company in Dodgeville Wisconsin. Not only is the rind washed, but it is then wrapped in spruce bark and aged for sixty days. The paste inside is luscious and silky and the spruce gives it an earthiness that you can really taste. The flavor is smokey, almost like bacon, or at least as far as I can remember (it’s been over 6 years since I’ve had any). This cheese is so good that I was licking the rind and my fingers after I ate it. I didn’t buy any to bring home, because I didn’t trust myself to make wise decisions around it. Note: Rush Creek Reserve is a seasonal cheese which is only sold November-March. So, try to get your hands on some now or you’ll have to wait until next year!

Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery – Double Cream Cremont

Much like Vanessa Williams, I too prefer to save the best for last, which is what I’ve done with this list and the Double-Cream Cremont. Oh man, you guys, this cheese is so delicious. I’m having a hard time using words. Like the Bonne Bouche from which this blog gets its name, the Double Cream Cremont is from the Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery. Double Cream Cremont is a mixed-milk cheese combining local cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and even Vermont cream. This cheese is smooth and extremely creamy. When I had this cheese as part of a sampling plate, they actually had to serve the Cremont in it’s own little dish because it was too creamy to stand on its own. You could eat this with a spoon, and I have no doubt that someday I will do just that. The rind is beyond edible with a nutty taste, and the paste/cream inside is yeasty. It tastes like a super creamy version of a nutty bread or something. I know I sound insane, but just go ahead and try it for yourself. I want to buy this cheese for everyone I love.

Cheese, Please: What’s This All About?

I’m leaving a life in publishing for a career in cheese and documenting here for posterity, purpose, and proof.

So, yes. I am now an aspiring cheese-seller and specialist. Gordon Edgar, in his book Cheesemonger, strictly warns that you should not call yourself a cheesemonger until you’ve really earned your stripes. Since I basically have this guy’s book to credit for solidifying my decision, I don’t want to overstep my/his bounds. (Though, if we’re being totally honest, I am an aspiring cheesemonger).

I am writing this after 4+ years in book publishing. Those years have been good, but they haven’t been great. When they have been especially not-great, I’ve always rewarded my efforts or soothed my frustrations with some nice cheese and some decent wine (I have lower standards for the wine than I do the cheese). And, while I’ve always passionately eaten and explored cheese, I never really thought that I could make a career out of it. I am now so happy (really, I can’t emphasize the ‘so’ enough) to see that I was wrong. I can make a life out of selling cheese, and that’s exactly what I hope to do.

While San Francisco isn’t the best location for a life in book publishing, it certainly seems to be the place for cheese. In the past months I’ve gotten more and more serious about making this career change, and I’ve been genuinely amazed at the opportunities and resources I’ve discovered in that time. First, The Cheese School of San Francisco. How could I take the presence of such a one-of-a-kind institution as anything but a sign that I’m on the right path? Just learning of this community and of the classes offered (I’ve already signed up!) has filled me with added drive, encouragement, and confidence. I’m also very lucky to live in the mission, where I have access to the friendly and informative cheese-sellers and experts at Mission Cheese, Bi-Rite Market, and Rainbow Grocery. All of these cheese professionals have been so encouraging and helpful, even further steeling my determination and inflating my excitement. One Bi-Rite employee kindly recommended the aforementioned Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge by Gordon Edgar, and I haven’t been the same since.

Now, like I said, I’ve always loved eating and learning about cheese. I love tasting new flavors, experiencing new textures, and experimenting with wine, beer, and condiment pairings. The idea of spending my life doing something so fun — and bringing such fun into the lives of others — is what first attracted me to a career in cheese. It wasn’t until I read Edgar’s book that I realized how some of my other great passions are directly involved in cheese-making and selling. A longtime vegetarian (shhh — I try to pretend there’s no such thing as rennet), I’m passionate about animal rights & humane treatment, especially as relates to farming. For a long time, I thought I’d one day be editing and publishing books on humane and sustainable farming and eating practices. You can, and perhaps should, call me naive, but I had never directly connected this interest to cheese and dairy farming. How foolish! Once Edgar’s book brought to light the ‘politics’ of cheese (forage vs. feed, animal health, land use and suburban sprawl, climate change, etc.), I became even more convinced that I’d made the right decision. What first brought me to publishing — the idea of making a difference in the world — can also be directly applied to cheese-selling. I’m sold!

Now, I just need help in making the switch. My amazing colleagues at Berrett-Koehler publishers have worked with me to create an ‘exit strategy’, whereby I will be leaving the company sometime this summer (exact date TBD). In the time between now and then, I plan to learn as much as possible about cheese and the SF cheese community, meet as many people as I can, and suck up gloriously to those people in the hopes of a job or an apprenticeship. This change is as exciting and invigorating as it is terrifying. I’m starting this blog for me as much as for anyone else, to keep track of my efforts and education. Enjoy!

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