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!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

March Wine & Cheese Social!

Ever tried Syrah with your Humboldt Fog, Zinfandel with Peppercorn Dry Jack or maybe Pinot with O'Bannon, or get Barely Buzzed with your Petite Sirah? If not, join us for a fun mix of amazing artisan cheese selections from Village Cheese House paired with the award-winning, boutique wines from Jazz Cellars in an evening designed to tantalize your taste buds...

When: Thursday, March 25th, 6pm - 8pm
Where: Village Cheese House, Town & Country Shopping Center, Palo Alto
Cost: $20
RSVP: events@thevch.com

Space is limited so pre-registration is strongly encouraged.

Questions? Call Sarah at 650.326.9251

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Landaff: A European Inspired American Marvel

In 2008, having recently become the new owners of Village Cheese House, we were still working with the former owner's vision for the business (a selection heavily slanted toward all things European), and we'd not fully developed the vision we have today which is focused almost entirely on the American cheese movement and specialty foods produced locally. At that time one of my buddies, a Welsh woman named Angela, asked if I could bring Caerphilly cheese into our store. It's her favorite and she hadn't been able to find it anywhere on the Peninsula. Because we were still ordering a significant amount of European cheeses, I didn't see any reason not to give it a try. Unfortunately for me, I wasn't familiar with the cheese so when my distributor brought me a snow-white, semi-soft, rind-less wheel I accepted delivery and promptly called Angela to let her know the cheese was in. She graciously bought a fairly large piece and ultimately I sold about half of the wheel. But it was clearly not a popular one with our customers, and personally I thought it was freakin' horrible! I never said a word to Angela about my thoughts on the cheese, and she never said anything to me when I failed to re-order it.

Fast forward to spring of 2009. I'm attending the 3-day intensive at the SF cheese school and Daphne introduces me to Caerphilly from Neal's Yard (can't remember if it was Gorwydd or Duckett's), and I'm blown away - not to mention completely embarrassed by the utterly pathetic excuse for cheese I offered Angela one year previously. Ugh. The problem is that by the time I realized my mistake, we had already begun to shift our counter to be more in-line with our American cheese vision, which means Duckett's Caerphilly would no longer be a good fit for us. Shoot!

Fast forward again to March, 2010 and the Sonoma Cheese Conference. Jack Dean hands me a big hunk of a cheese being aged at The Cellars at Jasper Hill called Landaff that he's been wanting me to try. That night at home when I took my first nibble of Landaff, I was transported back to the day I tried real Caerphilly. And once again I'm blown away. I've said this before, and I'll probably say it a thousand times more: as far as cheese is concerned, Europe's got nothing on us! Landaff, made in New Hampshire at Landaff Creamery is a raw cow's milk cheese inspired by Duckett's Caerphilly. In fact Landaff's creator, Doug Erb, based his recipe off of one he learned from Chris Duckett & Jemima Cordle (makers of Duckett's Caerphilly).

From the fresh, tangy flavor to the buttery texture and cave-aged rind, Landaff delivers the type of awesome cheese experience I'm sure my friend Angela was hoping for (but didn't have) two years ago. I can't wait for her to come into the store so I can redeem myself! Thank you Landaff Creamery for once again reaffirming what I know to be true: American Cheese-makers rock!