Monthly Archives: August 2010

American Cheese Society Conference

Mt. Townsend Cirrus

Mt. Townsend Cirrus

I felt like I was prepping for a new school year when I was packing for my first American Cheese Society conference. Cheese notebook? Check. Favorite pens? Check. Achadinha Capricious aged goat and Roth Private Reserve cheeses to say thank you for a host? Check. I politely explained to my stomach its need to respect my educational quest, packed sneakers to wear to farms and cheesemaking sessions, then boarded the plane ready four days of cheese fever.

The first night I stayed with friends of friends outside downtown Seattle. I decided I liked them after they showed no fear of the strong, earthy scent wafting from the slightly warm Capricious I carried with me on the plane. They cooked wild mushroom and eggplant fresh pasta and poured Andrew Will Sangiovese to help fortify me for the days ahead while a cat the size of cocker spaniel watched and wondered when it would get fed. Wild blackberries grew outside.

I woke up early in the morning ready for an Olympic Peninsula cheese conference tour. Due to a cheesemaker injuring his arm after falling off a roof (I only could hope the building had low ceilings) and a traffic jam that kept us at least an hour and a half behind schedule, we only visited one cheesemaker. I was happy the aforementioned was Mt. Townsend, who makes some of the best soft-set lactic acid creamy cheeses in the country. Before heading back, we stopped at a Finn River Farm to taste their organic pear and apple ciders.


The next day kicked off with a session about terroir in America, lead by Ivan Larcher and Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Creamery, and cultural anthropology professor Amy Trubeck of University of Vermont. They discussed whether and how creating appellations for cheese and artisan food products in the United States, starting off in Vermont, might might be beneficial to producers and the land’s inhabitants. Terroir is the expression of the environment- geography, landscape, culture and history of a place- in a food or wine. To say that something that has terroir is to say that you can taste the flavor and nature of a place in the product- the wild juniper in the hills or the clover the animals are eating in a wheel of cheese, the effects of rocky soils in a Languedoc wine.

This was an awesome session. Larcher insisted that unless made from raw-milk, a cheese cannot reflect terroir because the microorganisms and bacteria that are inherit to the area (what he calls “positive contamination” ) are killed by pasteurization. Panelists asked how to market, protect and establish value to the term and how giving terroir value through labeling might might help to keep people in rural landscapes and prevent more rural exodus. Many, like New York City Fromager and dairy activist Tia Keenan sitting to my right, wondered how people could create or maintain appellations without government support.

The best sessions, like this one, were interactive, asked questions about cheese and its place in the world, and helped attendees understand the depth of their field.

I will detail two or three of my other favorite sessions in a future post, but I hope you enjoyed the taste of the first part of the conference. I’ll also reveal some of my favorite new cheeses later in posts too.

As a side note, one of the coolest things about the conference was meeting or hanging out with cheesemakers that I highly respect and cheese people that rock. I hung out with Gordon Edgar of Rainbow Grocery, Jeanne Carpenter of Cheese Underground, and many more who help to elevate cheese’s presence in the nation. Bonus- they’re also very funny. I met and talked to cheesemakers from Nicasio, Barinaga Ranch, Bleating Heart, Delice de la Vallée, Jasper Hill, Shelburne Farms, and even had a riveting conversation with Andy Hatch of Pleasant Ridge Reserve about how they brought cow semen from the Jura region to start breeding Montbeliard cows in Wisconsin.

See? I learned a lot.

More to come.

Wisconsin Cheesemaker Calendar: A Good Cheese Cause

Portrait of a Wisconsin Artisan Cheesemaker

Portrait of a Wisconsin Artisan Cheesemaker

Before I head off for a week of dairy epiphanies at the American Cheese Society Conference in Seattle, I thought I would share a little something that celebrates our country’s dairy artisans. Say hello to your new calendar.

Jeanne Carpenter of Cheese Underground and photographer Becca Dilley have crafted a calendar that celebrates twelve of the best cheeesmakers in Wisconsin. Each artisan gets a month to themselves, accompanied by a picture of them with their cheese at their farm, or with their animals.

It is a gorgeous calendar, with beautiful pictures of the makers in their element. Fourth generation cheesemaker Chris Roelli is pictured in front of his Dunbarton Blue, the first female Wisconsin Master Goat Milk Cheesemaker Katie Hedrich is featured with nearly the cutest baby goat possible, and Andy Hatch of Uplands cheese is shown holding a wheel in his green pasture.

There are two other benefits to owning this calendar besides having cheese wheels and baby goats grace your walls.

1. It may certify you as a cheese geek. I’m not promising that the calendar comes with a certificate, but, hanging a Portrait of a Wisconsin Artisan Cheesemaker calendar up in your bedroom will be a fine conversation starter and will certainly separate the cheese meek from the cheese geeks right at the get-go.

2. A portion of the proceeds will support dairy. Jeanne Carpenter hosts a yearly Wisconsin Licensed Cheesemaker Scholarship, and $2,500 of the profits from the calendar go towards helping a new cheesemaker certify themselves. This is not an inexpensive or easy endeavor, and the scholarship goes a long way towards helping someone realize their dairy dreams.

The calendars will be available in September, at cheese shops, at the Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival, and most likely through Cheese Underground.

Leaves me wondering……. where’s Cali’s calendar? Might have to get on top of that!

Cheese Events: Fromage Hits the Town


Solano Cellars class photo taken by Stephanie at Wasabimon.

You hear that summer is the slow time of the year, when everyone is lounging on porches and taking their time sipping mint juleps or sweet tea, but so not so with cheese events. Summer is when the big whammies are taking place, being announced, or crafted for fall or winter.

Cheese is painting the town red.

Holding the fullest bucket of scarlet paint is cheese in Seattle. Next week I’ll be heading to the large and magical American Cheese Society Conference in Washington’s fair capital, and join thousands of cheeseheads in eating pounds and pounds of fermented milk. If you don’t hear from me in a while after that, blame a lactose daze.

But the cheese events don’t stop there. The wheels keep rolling into November and beyond.

Here are some upcoming events that caught my eye.

Vermont Beer and Cheese Tasting: Against the Grain. Jasper Hill and Hill Farmstead Brewery team up in New York City on August 21st to taste through Greensboro artisan goods. Some rare, all delicious

The American Cheese Society Conference in Seattle, Washington, August 25th-29th. Learn about everything from blue cheesemaking to transhumance to beer and cheese paring. Expect a happy lactose coma. See you there!

Home Cheesemaking with Sheana Davis of Delice de la Vallée on September 1st. C’est le Cheese in Sacramento brings in some of the region’s best cheese instructors. This time, the powerhouse Davis who owns Epicurean Connection, makes Delice de la Vallée, and runs the inspiring Sonoma Cheese Festival teaches home cooks how to harness the power of fromage in their own kitchens.

Star Provisions in Atlanta, Georgia holds cheese tasting the first Thursday of every month. September 2nd rings in the next one with harvest beers and cheddars. Navigating the website is a little difficult, so call 404-365-0410 x132 for reservations. Plus, it’s Cheese Week at Star September 16 through 18th, made happy and shiny with tastings from Jasper Hill, Sweet Grass Dairy and more.

Cheese Politics Class with Carlos Yescas at Murray’s Cheese, September 11th. Cheese is more than just milk and rennet- it is history, culture, family, and politics in edible form. This tasting pits red states against blue states and takes a fresh look at cheese anthropology and politics.

A Whey a Day Cheese Tour . Thee uber- knowledgable cheesemonger and educator Anne Saxelby, September 11-12th, takes you to Washington County, New York. There, you’ll visit and taste at small cheese farms, go to a harvest festival, attend a Farm to Fork Dinner, and stay in a small in overnight. A fabulous deal.

Fromager’s Favorites at Artisanal Cheese, September 14th in New York. Maitre Fromager Max McCalman takes you through his favorites. Get your tummy ready to taste classics and cheeses you’ve never heard of before.

The Cheese School of San Francisco kicks off their Three-Day Intensive Cheese Curriculum on September 26th, and it runs through the 28th. It is a serious cheese program taught by instructor, writer, importer, and all-around cheese muse, Daphne Zepos. Also, don’t miss the school’s Harvest Beer & Cheese Fest on October 28th, with from 8-10 cheesemakers, 2 brewers, and other local culinary artisans. All proceeds benefit the California Cheese Guild.

The Riverbank Cheese and Wine Expo, in Riverbank California on October 9th and 10th has wine in the title, but the cheese is where it’s at. With top awards handed to queso fresco and Oaxaca string cheese makers, this is one festival not to be missed if you’re in SoCal.

The Wisconsin Cheese Festival: Tickets go on sale in September for this November 5- 7 th event, and like last year, they will sell out. Taste cheese from 35 artisan dairies like Uplands and Carr Valley, go on a “Green cheese” day tour, and hit up seminars Rise of the Woman Farmstead Cheesemaker.

You may have noticed that most events are from my neck of the woods. Please, expand my cheese event geography in the comment section, or email me at [email protected] for me to add your events to the list!

Cheese is a Social Animal: Its Circle of Friends

Sage honey

Sage honey

Sure, cheese will go to movies alone, taking pleasure in having the box of Reeses Pieces to itself. It’s happy to sit solo at a lunch counter with a slice of bread and revel in the simplicity. But at the end of the day, it likes conversation, an exchange of ideas and flavors, and maybe a drink or two. It craves company.

Cheese is a social animal.

Of course, people debate cheese’s social nature. Many have mixed feelings about whether cheese should be served with friends at all (or in other words, with accompaniments).

A great cheese is perfect on its own. Plus, a  jam or sweet thing slathered on without consideration to pairing or flavor can muddle an experience. If you’re serving cheese with wine, a too tart or too sweet accouterment can knock the pairing out of balance.

My preference? If the point is wine and cheese pairing, go light on the sides or serve none at all. Wine can get anxious when forced to mingle with cheese’s more vibrant friends.

But when the point of tasting cheese is to have a layered, rich experience, don’t limit yourself. If the wine or drink you’re serving with the cheese clashes with the cheese’s buddies, mix it up. Alternate between tasting the beverage and the accoutrements. And relax, the party doesn’t need to happen on your tongue all at once.

Though I like many  types of cheese accompaniments, this week I’m focusing on two: honey and preserved walnuts.

Marcelli Family chestnut honey

Marcelli Family chestnut honey

Honey is basic. But so is bacon and no one ever complains that it’s not enough.

Although delicious enough to serve with nearly everything, honey likes certain flavors best: salty and funky. Think of it as the yin to your yang, the peanut butter to your chocolate.

Not surprisingly, I love a little dab of honey with blue cheese. Blue cheese’s salty, tangy, meaty, and sometimes sharp flavors can benefit from a little subtle sugar.

I also like honey with funky cheese, like a super sheepy cheese or a fierce washed-rind. One of my favorite pairings is the Marcelli Family Pecorino Parco with chestnut honey from the same area in Abruzzo. The pecorino is meaty, nutty, and sheepy as hell. The honey highlights the chestnuts flavors in the cheese and coaxes out a little more of the wheel’s sweetness.

Pairing with preserved walnuts is not so different. Preserved walnuts are an Armenian delicacy that requires the nut be picked when very young, then cooked in a spiced sugar syrup, shell intact. The first time I tried one was at a class I taught at the San Francisco Cheese School, and I fell in love.

Armenian preserved walnuts

Armenian preserved walnuts

Like honey, preserved walnuts like to shake it up a bit. They would be fine with a nutty cheese like Comté, but they like it a bit funky.


Harvest Song walnuts

Last month I paired preserved walnuts to Montagne de Jura, a washed-rind mountain cheese from western France. I had two different wheels of the cheese. The youngest was fresh and funky, and the older was a little sweeter and nuttier. Both were amazing with slices of the preserved nut. I also tried nut slices with Point Reyes blue, Jasper Hill Bayley Hazen and Roquefort. Score again and again.

What do you like to pair with stronger cheeses? Do you like to make your own accompaniments?

Cheese Education: Cheese Books that Rock

In a Cheesemaker's Kitchen

I work in a wine bar, cook for winemaker events, and cater on occasion, so I am no stranger to people asking about my favorite wine or cookbooks. After all, writers have penned so much on the topics that one could build a stack of books at least as high as a a hundred Empire State buildings. Recommendations are also especially helpful when some wine books out there have the power to kick start a sleep session faster than a bottle of NyQuil.

But only recently have people started to ask me about my favorite cheese books. This could be because there have been a smattering of volumes released within a year or two that have caught the public eye, or it could be because the cheese bounty in the United States is growing and people can’t help but  rejoice and notice. Either way, this is good.

Here are seven books about or related to cheese that I love. While this doesn’t begin to cover all of my favorites, it does divulge some books that have recently caught or have always kept my attention. I hope you enjoy them too.

Cheese Books Galore

Mastering Cheese

Mastering Cheese is the big daddy. It has the basics, and much, more more. It’s one to which I refer back when I need a reminder why triple-creme cheese has less fat than their labels say (bonus!) or to find out which milking animal has more of which vitamins in their milk. Or to read about Capriole or Jasper Hill or…  Here’s an interview with author Max McCalman from “It’s Not You, it’s Brie.”

CheeseChroniclesJPGThe Cheese Chronicles trails Murray’s cheesemonger, buyer and educator Liz Thorpe’s visits to some of the best cheesemakers in the United States. It says a lot about American cheese and the devotion of its cheesmakers to perfecting their craft, as it does about Thorpe’s expertise and love for the subject. It’s lively and inspired, and also a fantastic culinary memoir.


Cheesemonger, by Gordon Edgar, is one of my favorite books, period. Using humor as a guiding force, Edgar links his love for cheese to social activism and explains how what many see as nothing more than fermented milk can inspire a full and aware life. And it’s flippin funny.

Home Cheese Making

An oldie but a goodie, Home Cheese Making is a great guide to making cheese in your own kitchen. I’ve tried to make cheese with other books and have found a wrong temperature in a recipe or two that has thrown off my efforts. Then I end up frustrated. This one is exact. And has abundant recipes inside for the gorgeous cheeses on the cover.

River CottageI know, it’s kind of cheating. The River Cottage Preserves Handbook is not about cheese. But it loves cheese. The recipes within it, like Melissa’s chestnut jam and apple-flower jellies want to be paired with Sierra Mountain Tomme and Garrotxa, for example. So does the ale chutney. Expect to see some trial recipes from this book on the blog in the future.

TheCheeseEssentialsLaura Werlin’s The Cheese Essentials covers, well the cheese essentials. It breaks down why a washed-rind is called a washed-rind and how to find other varieties like Époisses if you are hooked. It also has some great recipes for cheese accouterments, like pan forte. It is simple, friendly, easy to use, and Werlin does a great job in explaining why certain cheeses are how they are (nature vs. nurture?).

goatSongGoat Song tells the story of novelist Brad Kessler’s move from the city to the Vermont countryside to make cheese and raise goats, in vivid detail. Seriously, goat mating is described down the italicized T. It’s real, honest, and a great book. Kessler’s a skilled writer who explains his devotion to husbandry, why he and his wife moved from Manhattan to make goat cheese, and the profound impact the decision and the animals have had on his life.

Some local book stores that I like to buy these beauties from are: OmnivoreWalden PondDieselPegasus books. Please share your favorites shops, especially if culinary-themed!

What are your favorite cheese books?