by Lassa Skinner
There's a lot of new and interesting cheesemakers in Oregon, and there's no better place to meet and greet them and taste their handiwork than the Oregon Cheese Festival, which just celebrated its 9th anniversary on Saturday, March 16, 2013, which is put on by the Oregon Cheese Guild and Rogue Creamery.
There hasn't been a Christmas yet when I haven't eaten far more than my fair share of cheese. Even when working the cheese counter right up to the moment and sleeping far too late on Christmas Day, then getting back behind the counter the day after...I am still eager for cheese itself on December 25th. Why? Because I love it. It's my favorite food. And working day in & day out with it doesn't make that go away. Strange, but true.
And I am asked repeatedly what that 'must have' cheese is, the cheese that I can't resist eating even when my partner has wandered under the mistletoe and is waiting, patiently but very clearly, for a passionate kiss. What is it that I'll still need to pop in my mouth regardless of breath and residue? Well...
It's got to be oozy and semi-fluid. Must be full-flavored and not overly buttery. Nothing but sheer cheesy goodness with a hint of yeast, nuts, meat. Something that is bulging out of its rind and literally showing off its glorious innards.
One of my favorite visits in my recent trip to Wisconsin was our tour and tasting at Chalet Cheese Cooperative led by Master Cheesemaker Myron Olson, who is the only certified Limburger maker in the US (Myron is also certified in Baby Swiss, Brick and "German Brick," or bierekase). He is a tome of information, and a jolly, contented, white-mustached soul who is both proud and practical.
There’s a cheese that took me a while to fall for, and it’s only made in the autumn and winter, from milk that’s suited for just this recipe. The cheese? Vacherin. It has a long history and comes from both France and Switzerland—though some American cheesemakers have adopted the idea and are making excellent domestic versions of the style.
Stephanie (our publisher) and I went to Cleveland this past weekend to work with Heinen's, a fantastic supermarket chain that's recently opened its first store outside of Ohio, in Chicago. We were there for a massive cheese & beer event for Cleveland Beer Week on Sunday, which Heinen's coordinated with Culture, 15 U.S. brewers, and 20 cheeses. It was an astounding success...more to come on that. This blog is about HEINEN'S.
While at the Provvista open house on Sunday, I met up with Matt Day, owner/monger of Mt Townsend Creamery in Port Townsend, WA. Great guy, great product, great everything. Like most cheesemakers, they are experimenting with different cheeses for future production. We chatted, and somehow I scored a couple of wheels of their current "Cheer Trial" cheese, a small surface-ripened cow's milk round that's washed in local Finn River (hard) cider. He wanted my feedback. So I thought I'd give it here, for all to see. The two wheels were labeled "A5" and "A6," and the A6 was my favorite. After each cider wash, it was allowed to completely open-air dry (the other wasn't) and the texture was firmer and more fudgy. It was less salty than A5, and the cider flavor was slightly stronger--which I liked. I did manage to share them with friends after my own evaluation, and most agreed with me. Honestly, I was surprised: I normally like the softer, oozier cheeses.
I am going to Oregon this weekend for the bi-annual Wedge festival, hosted by the Oregon Cheese Guild. This follows on the heels of my fantastic trek around Oregon with Gianaclis Caldwell (Pholia Farm). I continue to pine for Oregon since that visit just over a month ago, because of the friendliness of the people I met, the deliciousness of the cheeses I tasted, and the state in general. Oh, and the beer and wine. Going to Portland (my first time!) for this event is going to be FUN. Can’t wait to see those skilled cheesemakers again so soon. Maybe the forces are trying to tell me something….
If you’re able and willing, see you at The Wedge cheese (and beer!) festival this Saturday, October 6 at the Green Dragon Bistro & Brewpub. Culture will have a table there, and I'll be behind it! Here's the website to see details: http://oregoncheeseguild.org/oregon-cheese-guild-upcoming-events/
USE YOUR TONGUE!
That was the message that was first given by Valerie Henbest, cheese importer (or “Fromage Air”) for Smelly Cheese, in Adelaide, South Australia. Valerie is also a passionate cheese educator and eater, originally from Normandy, France and now an Aussie-Franco mix. With a great accent, I might add, and a life pulse that’s infectious.
Last week, I attended a Bubbles & Cheese Master Class taught by my friend Natalie Fryar, who makes Jansz Australia (Tasmanian sparkling wine) and Valerie Henbest at the Smelly Cheese headquarters in Adelaide. After a tour of the aging room, 20+ of us sat down to bubbles and cheese…but the first order of business was to think about what we were tasting, an exercise that never, ever gets old.
For the past 10 months, Laurel Miller (culture contributing editor) and I have been working on the "Cheese For Dummies" book for Culture. Yes, THAT For Dummies title. You know, the yellow & black series that attempts to distill all kinds of topics down to their most basic, most understandable form. It was quite the experience, I can assure you, even with the Culture crew supporting us. And although it may not be how other books or cheese experts classify cheese, we decided on very simple designations for a pretty confusing subject that we feel speaks to those of us who aren't experts nor care to be. Because we just want you to love cheese even more without having to feel like you're tackling a science project. I can't let the cat outta the bag yet (sorry!) but if you're interested, the book will be out in June. Or you can contact me directly for more info: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have a rough, tough life. Aline Baly, whose family owns and operates Chateau Coutet, a 1er Grand Cru Classé Sauternes vineyards in Barsac, Bordeaux, France, dropped into the shop and opened up full bottles of their 1989, 1997, 2002 and 2003 vintages with the hopes of finding good pairings to accompany them. I was joined by cheese & food writer Janet Fletcher (who lives nearby in downtown Napa), Master Sommelier Peter Granoff, and my partner in cheeses & monger extraordinaire at our Oxbow cheese shop, Ricardo Huijon. Needless to say, it wasn't one of our hardest days on the job...