Despite the myriad challenges of 2021, it can be uplifting to take a look back at the good times we managed to have. For the curd nerds at culture, many of those good times naturally involved cheese. Here are our cheese-centric highlights of the year—raclette seems to be the clear favorite!
My top cheese experience this year is a simple one. This year was the first time I experienced the very first piece of parm cut from a freshly cracked wheel of Parmigiano Cravero. It was like a sweet and savory morsel of cake, so moist and crumbly. The flavor was familiar but the texture was truly unexpected, a treat only a monger can provide!
—Jackie Botto, contributor
The Raclette Picnic last winter at Tops’l Farm in Maine. There were fire pits and each table had their own grill for melting the cheese with gorgeous house-made pickles, bread, local oysters, cocktails and freezing cold snowy fields and sunshine. A covid safe cheese extravaganza.
Touring The Gray Barn and Farm on Martha’s Vineyard and learning about their gorgeous cheese, in particular their award-winning Prufrock. Story for Culture to come in 2022!!
I was lucky enough to take a quick trip to Italy this fall. In Bologna we were talking to our waiter about cheese and he suddenly arrived at the table with the most perfectly ripe oozing gooey Taleggio as a treat for us. It was unexpected, unordered and utterly perfect. We ate it with a spoon.
—Kathy Gunst, contributor
I was originally introduced to raclette by my wife’s family who brought the tradition home to Maine from their European ski trips. It must have been 30 years ago and I’ve been a convert ever since. My mother—the person who introduced me to more food experiences than anyone—had NEVER had it before. We finally did a proper raclette for her at our house a couple months ago. For once, I got to introduce my mom to something and she, too, loved it.
—Matt Thomas, publisher
As a cheese writer I should say, drizzling spicy honey over a snow-white Vermont Creamery Coupole or serving Rush Creek Reserve at Friendsgiving…but the real answer is having Stephanie Izard’s Cheez-It Crunch Cake mailed to New York for a friend’s birthday. Hard to top a cheddar caramel buttercream!
—Linni Kral, contributor
2021 was the year we moved from our native state to a southern state over 750 miles away. The day the movers showed up and were loading the truck with all our belongings, a delivery came from Marin French Cheese Co. with their new Golden Gate cheese. It was perfect timing to celebrate the move and shine positive vibes on an emotional day.
Ending the year with a gift from my husband, of what I like to call my countertop cheese arena, ( a small domed cake plate) to have cheese ready tonibble all day long, paired with the 100 Cheeses Scratch-Off Bucket list. A great way to go into 2022!
—Natalie Herman, national brand manager
My favorite cheesy memory of 2021 was a visit to Vermont Creamery with Susan! It’s been SO LONG since I properly traveled, and visiting their property tucked in a quaint Vermont landscape, learning all about their products and process, connecting with their team IN PERSON, and of course enjoying all of their delicious dairy (sour cream—yum!) sparked major wanderlust. Definitely not an experience you can have in a zoom call 🙂
—Mallory Scyphers, creative director
Visiting Vermont Creamery with Mallory—for all the reasons she mentions above—and going home with a stockpile of some of my very favorite cheeses.
Judging the first-ever Maine Cheese Awards for the Maine Cheese Guild. Tasting 100+ cheeses was a bit daunting, but the variety and quality of the cheeses produced in culture’s home state is truly impressive.
Traveling to Spain to judge the World Cheese Awards and visit cheesemakers was hands down the top experience of the year—a true privilege. Tasting Spanish cheeses such as Leonora a Fuego (left), Lingote Cremoso, and Moncedillo with the makers was simply extraordinary.
—Susan Sherrill Axelrod, editor-in-chief
My experience with food has always been connected with the people I share it with: It’s all about the environment and the company. Being French I grew up with the cheese course tradition that can expand into a cheese board situation where there are a lot of people at the table. With COVID we were limited to a cheese board for two. Then spring came with vaccination and outdoor gatherings. We were able to have a couple of small gatherings—in May for my birthday and in September for my becoming an American citizen—where a cheese board was in order. I love being able to have my traditional French cheeses: Epoisses, Comté, Roquefort; and then mix in all the wonderful New England cheeses available to us from Vermont Creamery, Silvery Moon Creamery, Pineland Farms, Jasper Hill Farm … Adding nuts, local jams and fresh fruits is a must! All my friends know that the way to my heart is cheese. Being able to share it with friends on both occasions with great local breads and wine was a gift. I am looking forward to 2022 and more cheese boards in my future.
—Catrine Kelty, contributor
In 2021, I went to my very first outdoor Raclette Party. I am an adventurous eater and avid traveler—but somehow I had never tried raclette before this year. Everything from the pickled veggies, to the toasted bread, cured ham, and melty, gooey cheese, was wonderful and sumptuous.
It was all made even better by being outside in winter on a Bluebird day in Maine with my beautiful family. We enjoyed the roaring fire, music, and the socially distant fun of partying with new and old friends. I can’t wait to do it again!
—Kristin Fuhrmann-Simmons, digital projects coordinator