Kendall Antonelli's Bests | culture: the word on cheese
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Kendall Antonelli’s Bests

Sofia, Capriole Goat Cheese; photographed by Adam DeTour; styled by Catrine Kelty

When asked about a memorable cheese experience or bite this year, I have to quiet and still my mind from overwhelming recollections of hustling to keep a business alive, team members employed, and cheese moving. In an odd time of relative stillness (home isolation, social distancing, quarantining), retailers like us are constantly moving to stay in the game. And it’s exhausting. Cheese bite? What cheese bite? Then, talking it over with my husband, I’m reminded of why we’re hustling. For the cheese! For the makers! And so many great memories spring forth from 2020.

Our eight-year-old son, Everett, has loved Capriole’s Sofia since he could first say the word. Knowing he couldn’t have a traditional birthday party in May, I’d asked him what he’d wanted for his birthday and he’d responded, ‘Sofia.’ I was so disheartened knowing I couldn’t get him the one thing he wanted. (Production was temporarily halted early in the pandemic.) Then lo and behold, what arrives on our doorstep, straight from Judy Schad herself—a box of Sofia and Capriole cheeses for the birthday boy. To see the look on that kiddo’s face! “I love when it’s creamy on the outside and is the best taste of what cheese should taste like,” Everett said. And much to my heart’s content, our six-year-old daughter, Elia, had her first bite of and fell in love with Von Trapp Farmstead’s Oma, “because whenever I eat it, it just has that stinkiness. Then flavor comes and when you chew it, it comes out more and more. The texture is soft and fills my mouth with happiness.”

One of my personal fave bites of the year arrived literally as that—a bite! Texas cheesemaker Amelia Sweethardt of Pure Luck Farm and Dairy sent carefully wrapped bites to our business—one specifically for our buyer Andrea (who has her own dwarf goats and is making her own cheeses)—and one for me. It was her Sainte Maure, inspired by Sainte Maure de Touraine AOC, which she made almost a decade ago, and stopped for various reasons. Last fall, I was leading a tasting of Loire Valley cheeses and wines but wanted her cheese. I asked if she could make a special batch, which reminded her of how much she loved the cheese, and now, Sainte Maure is back in production! This mini-log-shaped, bloomy, goat’s milk cheese develops a thin, delicate geo rind over a dusting of ash. Using milk from Amelia’s own herd of Alpine and Nubian goats, Pure Luck cheeses truly do rival those of the Loire Valley. So why the one bite? This beautiful little log was her favorite bite yet, and being the amazing woman that she is, Amelia wanted to share a bite of that exact log with me. It felt special. It was delicious. And it reminded me that this industry is all about relationships, and the little things, and the perfect bites.

There’s inadvertently a theme here, but another bite that knocked our socks off is from the new Blakesville Creamery in Wisconsin, which opened in summer 2020 with seasoned cheesemaker Veronica Pedraza at the helm (or vat). They’re growing 100-percent of their feed, milking their own herd of Saanen and Alpine goats, hand-ladling and making lactic-set beauties, and are almost entirely run by women in leadership positions; their owner, business manager, head cheesemaker, sales director, and assistant farm manager are all women. We were thrilled to receive samples and honestly, our team was split on the best bite. For me, it was Afterglow, a washed-rind goat’s milk cheese styled after Langres. Each cheese is lovingly washed in New Glarus Brewing’s Belgian Red, a fruit beer made with Door County cherries.

It’s amazing that cheesemakers were able to spend any R&D on new cheeses this year amidst a pandemic, and we’re thrilled that Texas cheesemaker Susan Rigg of River Whey Creamery launched a raw milk, double-cream blue called Whey Blue. Our Director of Wholesale Alex Palomo, CCP, followed Susan’s process and progress bringing this cheese to market: “Released mid-pandemic, this is an inspirational story and a huge win—for cheesemakers, mongers, and consumers. Having watched the rollout, we’re super happy about it. What I love about Whey Blue is its fudginess. It just melts in my mouth. It’s funky, it’s salty, and I want to eat it with a steak.” Loosely inspired by Fourme d’Ambert, Whey Blue is one of River Whey’s five cheeses, each taking inspiration from a different European country; Susan then adds her own Texas terroir and flair.

Kendall Antonelli and her husband John own Antonelli’s Cheese Shop in Austin, Texas.

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