Hola from Spain! I landed this morning in Barcelona and was then taxied to the town of Vic, an hour northwest of Barcelona for Lactium 2011—a gathering of Spanish cheesemakers and street cheese fare. As one of the fortunate invitees of this event, I get be to part of the “Super Jury,” a group of 34 international judges who will name The Best Catalan Cheese on Saturday. The festival begins tomorrow, May 6, when market stalls on the wide boulevard, Rambla del Carme fill up with cheesemakers and the contest ensues. Eyewitness reports on that to come. . .
When spring starts, I always get a sense of relief and surprise that it really is happening again. Now it’s May, that initial disbelief is replaced by complete amazement at how much life, growth, wild energy suffuses everything I can see.
Every hedgerow has gone crazy, sending out the cow parsley that grows visibly day to day, suddenly the lanes are too narrow for cars to go down without the delicate flowers stroking the sides. The thorn hedge that I laid, worried it would kill the blackthorn and hawthorn, is flowering for England on its side. Pairs of birds fly flirtatiously together, absorbed in each other, oblivious of predators for the only time in the year. The dazzling succession of greens in the woodland deepens and starts becoming one great motor of growth as all the leaves have unfurled from their delicate winter protection and open themselves, like photovoltaic cells, to harvest the sun’s energy.
San Simon is a tasty, not so well-known cow’s milk cheese from the region of Galicia, in Northeastern Spain. While curating a selection of smoked cheeses for a feature in our Summer 2011 issue, I got to learn more about this unusual cheese from Michele Buster, owner of Forever Cheese, who imports a wonderful traditional version into the United States. Here is a description and some photos taken by Michele on a visit to San Simon producer, Javier Pineiro.
The origins of San Simon are not wholly known; while some believe the cheese dates back to Roman times, others say it was developed at the beginning of the 20th century.
Either way, San Simon increased in popularity over the last seventy years. Until the 1980’s, cheeses were most often produced by housewives, using the milk from their own cows, frequently the Galician Blonde breed. The production process is very labor intensive, often with an output per person of only two or three cheeses each day.
I spent my entire senior year at Emerson College in a turmoil of stomach pain before it dawned on me that I might have an allergy to something. As a rabid consumer of coffee, mostly in (iced) latte form, there were zero minutes in the day when milk was not in my system. Therefore, lactose intolerance never crossed my mind. Finally, a friend recommended I avoid dairy for a day. This was excruciating (hello, my COFFEE!), but I went with a black americano and voila! It was the most amazing feeling. Peace in my stomach!
Clearly, foregoing dairy was not a long term option for someone like me. I despised the chalky aftertaste of soy, and had absolutely no interest in venturing into the world of rice or almond milk. I NEEDED a way to get back to eating cheese, ice cream, and drinking iced lattes (believe it or not, I’m not obese).
So, a few days ago, I took it on myself as director of nonsense to post a graphic from "illustrator and wise-ass" Dyna Moe's hipster animal tumblr. I thought the artisanal charcuterie pig captured something about the eerie way sausage makers are suddenly a lot cooler than they used to be, with a nod towards the rather hipsterish meme of mascots who eat themselves.
Along with the blog post, I sent out a tweet asking why there wasn't an artisan cheesemaker version. This got picked up by somepigseattle (don't know why he chimed in-- he already had his pig), and our collective badgering prompted a reply:
Inside each of us is a grilled-cheese-loving kid lost in a land of worldly spin on such pedestrian cravings. In case you have been living in a cave for the past ten years, Americans have a reputation for unhealthy eating and obesity associated with our comfort and fast foods, compared to those foods enjoyed for centuries by our healthier brothers and sisters nestled alongside the Mediterranean Sea. But who can deny the not-only want, but NEED for a grilled cheese every so often? I can’t, and today’s lunch was no exception as I got my “old world” on. Fueled by a trip to Trader Joes, I have unearthed a most delicious cheese and created an unforgettable sandwich: Mediterranean-Inspired Grilled Asiago.
I would like to give a sarcastic thank you to Will, my boss of this Culture Magazine Internship, for my recent debt. Since I began my internship with Culture, I have been sampling many different cheeses on numerous occasions. So far, I have tasted fine cheese at two events with Culture, Cochon 555 and California’s Artisan Cheese Festival, and other samplings have occurred during my personal explorations.
I have recently noticed myself loitering around cheese sections of supermarkets for longer periods of time than usual. I have also noticed my pockets feel a little lighter… and my fridge is filling up with artisan cheeses and interesting accompaniments (latest purchase: Ficoco, a fig and cocoa jam).
It turns out that I have been spending up to $20 a week on cheese! This is not good for my bank account or my waistline. I better cut back on this absurd expenditure before I become obese and poor… or perhaps you could give me free samples whilst I work, Will? Just an idea…
During my study abroad year at UC Davis, I have made many American friends as well as international. Two of my closest friends here in Davis are from Spain. They are particularly proud of their food traditions. I have enjoyed a fair amount of Jamon Serrano, Rioja and many, many Spanish omelettes (some with the addition of chips… not the healthiest of student meals!). As much as I have enjoyed these Spanish products, I have taken a particular liking for the almighty Manchego.
By Chance, by Choice, by Design… they all make the Grade!
Tomorrow I turn 30. This time last year I was crossing my fingers we'd be using the new milking parlor by my birthday. Well, we were a week late, but it was close. Here's hoping my birthday wish for this year, starting construction on the creamery, follows the same pattern. In the interim, how about a little history about the herd. Its not quite a "How To" for starting a goat dairy, but gives insight into how some of us get here!