Bon Bouche

A Good Mouthful…of Cheese

Archive for the tag “the cheese school”

TGIF!

While the old ‘Thank God It’s Friday!’ mantra currently holds less meaning for yours truly (one side effect of being only partially employed: I have no idea what day it is), I’m more than familiar with celebrating a few days off. As such, this photo that The Cheese School just posted to their facebook page makes a lot of sense.

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I was there earlier today but, sadly, I guess I left too early!

Still, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy some cheese and wine any day of the week. As my father so beautifully put it in an email this morning: “Thought for the day: Unwind with the rind!” Don’t mind if I do.

 

 

I 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.

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.

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.

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