Meeting the Staff: Lassa Skinner
In this blog series intern Kate E. interviews the staff here at culture: the word on cheese to give you an inside look at a day in the life of this goofy group of cheese-lovers and their work on the magazine you've come to love. Have specific questions for or about our staff? Be sure to send them to staff@culturecheesemag with the subject line, "Meet the Staff".
Last month, culture's editorial team was wining and dining with the specialty food world at the 38th annual Winter Fancy Food Show. Because everyone loves cheese, we were asked to co-host an event to meet, greet, and thank retailers, food producers, and friends from all over the world. And offer a menu bolstered by speciality cheese. Think fondue, arancini, pizzas, cheese-stuffed peppers, and wine pairings. With 2 1/2 hours before the party's start, Lassa Skinner (one of our co-founders and a cheesemonger in Napa, CA) gathered the hosts together and went out in search of a cab, boxes of cheese and magazines in tow. However, taxis were few and far between. The team rolled into DistrictSF, the location of the event, with ninety minutes to spare. They had to hit the ground running--cutting and arranging cheeses, making signs, instructing servers, and going over last-minute details with the owner. They might have still been polishings things when the guests arrived, but no one was concerned: It's amazing what a glass of good wine or beer can do to calm folks after a long day.
Then again, with Lassa as the director of this party, of course it would go well. This woman knows her cheese. The summer after her freshman year in college, Lassa worked for a start-up cheese shop in Boston. The woman who oversaw the cheese counter had experience in making cheese and took it upon herself to teach Lassa the ropes: "We tried many cheeses--including a wrinkled disc of goat cheese that boggled my mind. Goat milk? What is THAT? I tasted it...wham! I was in love. It was, literally, just like that." Lassa continued to learn about cheese, backpacking through Europe, earning her Gastronomy degree at Boston University, and working in Formaggio Kitchen. And then, as so often happens in New England, there was a blizzard. And then another and another. Lassa packed her bags and wound up in northern California's wine country, where she started a cheese program with Tra Vigne. The popularity of cheese and wine pairings was just beginning, allowing her to build the tradition from the beginning.
Lassa's love for cheese also took her to the other side of the world, specifically Australia, where she managed the first farmers' market in Barossa Valley, South Australia. "With that role, I got to know the local cheesemakers well, and I gave them a hand when I was able." With this constant interaction with the creators, she got an amazing insight into the smaller-scale cheesemaking. She carried this passion with her when she moved back to Napa and opened her own cheese shop in the town's new Oxbow Public Market. Having officially cemented herself in the cheese world, Lassa was enjoying her profession when her sister, Stephanie, approached her with the idea of culture. Granted, they didn't have the title pinned down yet. The hardest part, in retrospect, was to decided on the name--and to convince people that this was not a trade publication.
Thankfully, they were able to overcome that hurdle, and now Lassa spends her days as the retailer's liaison to culture, both for those who wish to carry the magazine, and the new cheese shops featured in its pages. "Makers, mongers, and distributors all need a megaphone to the world at large, especially the general consumer." Culture aims to be that megaphone. Acting as the voice for the cheese folk helps Lassa to connect with cheese lovers everywhere, from South Australia to The Winter Fancy Food Show, where she acted as the greeter and one of the hosts for "The Thing To Do on Sunday Night". The result of her effort was obvious, "Success, in every way. We worked hard to make it comfortable, relaxing, and a communal gathering spot for all our food producing and purchasing friends, despite the vast number of bodies in a small space. I do think we may have created a monster, though‚ we've already been asked if this will be an annual tradition!"