To Discover My Inner Cheesemonger: Parte Deux
The other day, a good friend of mine presented me with a copy of Ratatouille and said I remind him of Remy, the epicurean mouse character in the film. If you can recall part one of this series, you’ll understand how much I admire the little guy and his inherent food genius. My first thought was: I must be doing something right. And then: This is a sign from the cheese deities to keep going. So, it was with straightened shoulders and a teeny bit more self-confidence that I went on to my next location:
Taylor’s Market in Sacramento, with resident cheesemonger Felicia Johnson.
Felicia is a victim of lovely circumstance. She was asked to temporarily take care of the cheese counter when the then-cheesemonger was away on maternity leave, but she soon found herself in a permanent position. But she didn’t begin her relationship with cheese there, she says. Like Lise Smidt from the Davis Co-op, cheese has a distinct and fond place in her childhood memories.
“It’s one of those things where I started reading The Cheese Primer at age 15. I’ve always been kind of interested in cheese. I grew up hanging around the store, and [the cheese counter] was the position I hung out near the most as a kid.”
When I asked her about her favorite childhood cheese, Felicia grinned and told me a story about how upsetting it was to both her mother and confused strangers that her favorite cheese was Drunken Goat. It’s pretty, purple, weird, and tastes nothing like the cheese that kids normally know. And, as Felicia puts it, “I liked being weird. I still like being weird.”
So at first, it was a love of the taste that drew her to cheese, and I’m sure that’s a common thread among all of us. But it grew into a something bigger, a look at the product on a broader scale that brought Felicia to consider it as something rather grand and inspiring.
“[Cheese is] probably the most basic food we have as humans, just concentrated; because all cheese is, really, is concentrated milk. So to look at something like that and think about how it can be turned into a thousand different thing is pretty fascinating.”
And then, as if to prove her point, we moved on to a generous tasting.
Chabichou du Poitu: Goat cheese with an interesting, grainy-looking rind. The taste was salty, the texture was hard, and milder than any other chevre I’ve tasted.
Saint-Marcellin: Soft-ripened cowsmilk cheese that comes into a charming clay crock. Oh my word. The crock was sweet, the cheese was magnificent. I even went so far as to write about it in my journal a few days later, describing it as, “Something like butter and cream of mushroom soup and fondue all softened together. Yum. Yum yum yum.”
Cypress Grove Lamb Chopper: Cheese imported by Cypress Grove that Felicia describes as “sheep milk gouda.” This one was another soft, mild cheese and it became my favorite for all of two seconds, until I remembered how much I loved the Saint-Marcellin.
Piacentino Ennese: A striking sheep's milk cheese. It was the prettiest of the bunch, all orange and mustard from the saffron, and dotted with flecks of black peppercorns. As far as taste goes, saffron lovers would melt over it but Felicia and I weren’t as enthusiastic.
Teahive: Bergamot and black tea-rubbed sweet cheese from the Beehive Cheese Company. The tea was noticeable, in a lovely sort of way. I mean really, I pictured a pastry picnic on a lawn.
Cusie di Tobacco: Cow-goat cheese blend out of Italy. It’s aged in tobacco leaves and the tang it left was strange and strong for me. My taste buds seem a bit too inexperienced for that kind of flavor, so I’m curious to see if I’ll appreciate it better at the end of this journey.
Affine au Chablis: Goat cheese matured in Chablis, a dry white wine from eastern France. The kind Felicia and I tasted hadn’t been aged for very long so it wasn’t as pungent as it usually is.
Rogue River Blue: Raw cow's milk blue cheese. It was delicious and flavorful, but a bit too strong for my taste.
Like Felicia said earlier, cheese is strange and wonderful because of how limitless it is. I’ve only “officially” tasted eleven and my head is spinning with how different they all were. What I have settled on, however, is the following:
• My favorite cheese in Saint-Marcellin.
• I’m not partial toward pungent cheese (yet).
• I prefer mild, creamy cheese.
Join me for part three of my adventure, coming up soon.
“Never forget that you’re entitled to your opinion and your taste buds.” – Felicia Johnson