Monday, April 26, 2010

My Spring Fever Picks

I love, love, love the spring in Northern California. The weather's almost perfect, everything looks fresh and clean, and there's a general feeling of excitement in the air. And although I can find something good to say about every season since I'm basically a positive person, when spring rolls around I'm almost jumping out of my skin with joy! I've been told I have spring fever, so I decided to Google it to see if maybe there's some truth to that diagnosis. Wikipedia defines spring fever as "a term applied to several sets of physical and psychological symptoms associated with the arrival of spring. In general it refers to an increase in energy, vitality and particularly sexual appetite..." Yep. I definitely have spring fever.

What does this have to do with cheese? Well, I'll tell you. When I'm feeling this freakin' good, I want to celebrate the world and all its beauty. To me, one of the most beautiful things in the universe is a great piece of cheese. This might sound crazy to some, but I'm guessing that if you're reading this blog, you know what I'm talking about! So what cheeses are my picks for rejoicing in the splendor that is spring time in Northern Cali? Here they are in no particular order:

1. Coolea: A smooth, caramelly, aged Gouda style cheese (cow's milk), made in County Cork. This unique cheese blends Dutch tradition with Irish terroir beautifully which is why it's one of the few imported cheeses in our store. (Pictured above)
2. Sunset Bay: Edible vegetable ash on its rind, and a line of Spanish Pimeton Paprika through its center merge to give this creamy, bloomy-rind goat's milk cheese a flavor that's out of this world!
3. St. Pat: The stinging nettle leaves wrapped around the rind of this soft-ripened Jersey cow's milk cheese not only give it its deliciously earthy, smoky flavor, but also commemorate the arrival of spring in Marin county. Perfection.

With the weather warming up, the flowers blooming, and all this beautiful cheese to eat it's no wonder I'm feverish! Life Is Good!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Athens, Ohio home of some delicious cheese. Who knew?

Last week Noah and I left our store for a 5 day vacation. Considering the fact that we typically work at least 6 days a week and rarely leave the store for more than a day or two, you'd think we'd go somewhere exotic for our big vacation. And we did: Athens, Ohio. I mean it's not Hawaii or Paris, but it's home to my sister and her family, and truth be told this little town way exceeded my expectations. It was sunny and 80 degrees the whole time we were there (meanwhile it was cold and rainy here in the bay area), and the landscape is lush and green with rolling hills. It's down right pastoral!

My brother in-law, Craig, owns a company called Frog Ranch which happens to make the best salsa and pickles I've ever had - and I'm not just saying that - I actually liked his food before he became my relative. And because we're all foodies, the first activity we did in Athens was to attend the Athens Farmer's Market where I was delighted to meet a couple very talented Cheesemakers. The first booth I hit was Laurel Valley Creamery who makes a variety of cheeses, but my favorite is a table cheese they call Cora. Rich and buttery, this cheese was perfect on a spelt cracker with a little PawPaw preserve.

And if you don't know what the heck PawPaw is, you should stop by the Integration Acres booth and try some! Apparently PawPaw is a type of fruit grown in the Athens area, and all I can say is that it's delicious and pairs beautifully with cheese. But as much as liked the PawPaw preserve, I absolutely adored the Smokey Goat cheese developed by Chris at Integration Acres. It's a little disk of fresh chevre infused with hickory smoke and black pepper. I bought a piece to share, but in the end I ate most of it. In fact at one point, my little niece was looking at the cheese and I started to panic thinking she might eat the rest of it. I thought "she's only 3, I could probably take her in a fight if I have to." I've got issues, I know.

So here's the deal: some of the best cheese you will ever taste is probably hiding some place you might never think to visit, so keep your mind (and your eyes) open!

Monday, March 29, 2010

4th Annual CA Artisan Cheese Festival

I'm basically one of the luckiest people on the planet, and here's why: I worked this weekend (as I do every weekend), but "work" consisted of eating some of the best cheese in the world while rubbing elbows with some of the biggest names in the cheese business. On Saturday morning I headed up to Petaluma for the 4th Annual California Artisan Cheese Festival. Seriously, a festival dedicated entirely to cheese exists and it's practically in my backyard! This, folks, is why I say I'm one of the luckiest people on earth.

Saturday, seminar day, opened with a general session followed by 3 seminars of our choice and a delicious lunch. My morning seminar was "California Cheese & their European Ancestors" led by Juliana Uruburu. The panel members included a fairly new Cheesemaker, Marcia Barinaga of Barinaga Ranch who makes a beautiful Basque style sheep's milk cheese inspired by her ancestors (pictured above). Marcia delighted us with a slide show chronicling her excursion through the Basque region on a trip she and her husband took just prior to launching their own cheese-making journey. The panel discussion was followed by a tasting of each of the panel member's cheese along side its European counter-part. Lovely.

After lunch, I had two seminars back to back. First up was a session led by Sue Conley & Peggy Smith of Cowgirl Creamery where we learned a little about their history, ate some of their fabulous cheese (I'm actually eating some Red Hawk as I write, you know, for inspiration and to keep my energy levels up), and they talked quite a bit about their process when developing a new cheese. Not only was this class fascinating, educational, and delicious, but Peggy and Sue are like rock-stars to me so I was in heaven (fortunately I avoided rushing the stage or throwing under-garments at them as people often do to actual rock-stars)!

My last seminar of the day was "Traveling the Washington Cheese Trail" where we lucky enough to try several small production farmstead cheeses from the Pacific Northwest - and by small production I mean tiny - some of these Cheesemakers have a "herd" of like 2 or 3 cows! The course was led by Laura Werlin (another one of my idols), and Kurt Dammeier of Beecher's Handmade Cheese. Not only did we get to try Beecher's Flagship Reserve, an award-winning mature clothbound cheddar, but we got to try a new cheese they're developing called "Flagsheep" which is a cow-sheep milk blend, and I have to say one of my favorite cheeses of the day! Although Flagsheep isn't currently in distribution, Kurt assures me I can get some for my counter by calling him directly (which I plan to do ASAP). I'll let you know when it arrives...

Life Is Good!