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Andante Dairy: A Case of Cheese Reverence

Andante Quatro Stargioni

Fervent cheese lovers know that if one spots an Andante creation at their local shop and leaves without buying it, their copy of the “Cheese Bible” will be revoked without question and that, suddenly, the well-worn Fromage Forever T-shirt they made with puff paints will mysteriously disappear. Why? Because the cheese gods are watching and missing such a rare and delicious opportunity would severely offend them.

Andante is sort of a waiting list cheese. Except that there is no official list that I know of, and waiting isn’t sensical. It would be much more efficient to: a) pounce, b) befriend a local cheesemonger who will call you as soon as it lands, or c) make a reservation at one of the best restaurants in the country in which the rare piece of Soyong Scanlan’s creations are served.

Andante cheeses are noted for their balance, their harmony, and like the tempo mark after which her dairy is named, the slower speed they inspire in those engaging them. They demand full, close-your-eyes and put-your-knife-down attention. It takes time to consider their beauty just as it requires time to make good cheese.

Former scientist Soyoung Scanlan makes all of her cheeses by hand in an old facility used by Laura Chenel before she went big (and many years before Soyoung’s chevre replaced Chenel’s at Chez Panisse). From cutting the curds to cleaning the milk vats, Scanlan does it all on her own.

The results of such devotion are often telling. Scanlan has an exacting eye and her cheeses are prettier than a lady bug in a field of wildflowers. And the flavors, well in this case, the demand speaks for itself. Scanlan sources organic sheep, cow and goat’s milk from neighboring farms to make her cheeses, and sacrifices little to nothing in her cheesemaking. If she doesn’t have time to make her usual assortment of cheeses to her high standards (and very often she doesn’t), a restaurant might not get their triple-crème from her that week.

Each and every cheese that makes it out the door, she feels, should express the flavors of the milk and land from which it came. Because it takes time to craft such delicious expressions of fermented milk, and there is only one Scanlan, there are very few of her cheeses to go around. Hence why they are harder to find than a burger at a zen center.

At any given time, Scanlan makes her “standard” creations from each milk, makes a couple mixed milk cheeses, and creates a seasonal morsel or two that celebrates the varying flavors of the surrounding landscape. Some of my favorites Scanlan classics are the Picolo, triple-creme Jersey cow’s milk and the Acapella, an ashed goat’s milk pryamid.

The cheese pictured above is a seasonal mixed-milk cheese named Quatro Stargioni that I was lucky enough to find at Market Hall in Oakland. It was the last of the winter versions, and is topped with bourbon-soaked golden raisins, which lent the cheese a lightly spicy flavor and a touch of acidity to the already sweet milk. The Quatro Stargioni is a blend of cow, goat and sheep’s milk, the mixing of which is more frequently seen in Italy than the United States. The spring version of this is out now, and topped with mustard flowers.

Further reading:

At the San Francisco Ferry Building’s Farmer’s Market.

In Cheese by Hand.

With Janet Fletcher in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Have you had a chance to taste Andante’s creations?

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