Friday, July 31, 2009

Trip to America's Dairyland

I spent the majority of my first 8 years on this planet living in Wisconsin, aka America's Dairyland. I'm pretty sure this is where I crossed the "invisible line" from heavy cheese-eater to cheese junkie. They say once you've crossed the line into full-blown addiction, you can never return to being a moderate user. Where cheese is concerned, this is true for me. Although I became a Californian at age 8 and immediately fell in love with the cheese produced here by "Happy Cows," I still return to my old haunt (namely Door County, WI) ostensibly to visit my family, but mostly to eat cheese. Specifically fresh cheddar cheese curds. There is no place on earth I know of where you can get curds like the ones in Wisconsin.

This year Noah accompanied me for the first time ever, and I was so excited for him to try the curds I've been telling him about for years, that I made my mom pull off the highway at Renard's cheese shop on our way home from the airport. When I spotted the bags of curds, I was as giddy and excited as, well, as an addict about to get her fix. Of course Noah wanted to look around the store and make price comparisons between their store and ours, but I was like "who cares? I got the goods, lets go find a quiet corner somewhere and devour this bag!" I'm not sure I can accurately describe the special experience imparted by these curds, but here goes: they have the smell of fresh milk, and by "fresh" I mean just came out of the cow seconds ago. They are slightly damp with a springy consistency to them, and they squeak when you chew them. Most importantly they have a fresh, slightly grassy, lactic flavor. And all of this is rolled into a small, light orange squiggly shaped piece of wonderfulness. Deee-licious!

In Door County where my family has a home, it's popular to cover the curds in batter and deep fry them. While this is quite tasty - naturally, since even a deep-fried running shoe would taste good in my book - I personally prefer the simple flavor of cheddar curds made fresh that morning.

One last note: even though I just went on a rant about how wonderful Wisconsin cheese curds are, and it's true, I don't want to sound as though we don't make great curds here in California. They're just different. At my store, I carry 3 varieties of white cheddar curds from local northern California dairy Spring Hill (plain curds, garlic curds, and Mike's Firehouse curds). If you are so inclined, stop by and we'll give you a sample. You won't be disappointed!

Monday, July 20, 2009

SF Cheese School 3-Day Intensive

In late spring of this year, I was fortunate enough to attend The Cheese School of San Francisco's 3-Day Intensive Education Seminar lead by Daphne Zappos, founder of Essex Street Cheese Company. The curriculum covered everything including the history of cheese and cheesemaking techniques, pairing, quality control and service, and most importantly the American cheese movement. We had two "field trips" during the seminar; the first to Rose Pistola restaurant where we had a group dinner including cheese service. For our second off-site visit we went to Cheese Plus in Russian Hill where we toured the store and listened to an extremely informative lecture by owner Ray Bair on the ins and outs of running a successful cheese shop.

The seminar was really well put together in terms of the educational aspect, and I felt I gained important knowledge in every area of the cheese world that would be important to someone in my position. On top of that it afforded me the opportunity to meet some important (and very interesting) people in the industry, some of whom I've since done business with.

However, great educational and business opportunity aside, my absolutely favorite part about cheese school was the chance to try approximately 80 different cheeses in 3 days. That's truly heaven for a cheese junkie like me! What were my favorite cheeses, you ask? Here are my top 3:

1. L'Amuse Gouda: A wonderfully nutty, caramel flavored aged Gouda that would pair nicely with espresso. This special cheese starts out as a 2-month old wheel from Beemster and is lovingly nurtured and matured to perfection over a 2 year period by Betty Koster of Framagerie l'Amuse.

2. Cone de Port Aubry: The attack on this semi-hard goat's milk cheese is reminiscent of sea-salt, followed by a milky, mushroomy flavor. The rind provides a peppery note at the end. Absolute perfection, we're looking forward to adding this one to our case in the fall of 2009!

3. Cabbot Clothbound Cheddar: The first thing I noticed about this cheddar is its delightful aroma which brings to mind freshly cut grass and pineapple. The skillful maturation of this cheese at Jasper Hill Farm gives it its parmesan-like texture and the bursting flavor crystals which are enough to send any cheese junkie over the edge. This is a delicious cheese with a great story (see my upcoming post - an interview with Jack Deen of Jasper Hill). Cabot Clothbound made its debut at our store in June at our 50th anniversary party and was a huge success!

All in all, my 3 days at cheese school were some of the most memorable in my career to-date...