Kickstart it: The Cheeseletes!

The cheese industry is one that you need more information than just the basic “how-to’s” of doing your job. Once you get the knack of cutting and wrapping cheese, you start getting hit with questions about flavor profiles, how a cheese is made, or what components are in the milk itself. This doesn’t even include the basic understandings of how farms work. It’s a lot of information. It’s not all easy to find either. Google searches can produce a wealth of information but there are many things that, with the newness of the artisan cheese industry in the US, are just not available. In all fairness, information is so much more readily available than it was when I started 15 years ago but that doesn’t mean that we don’t still have a long way to go.

There is no lack of people trying to share information in the industry. From coordinated trips to visit producers to cheese 101 classes, people are doing their best to educate. As with most efforts to educate these days, money is a hurdle that is difficult to surmount. This is where The Cheeseletes (think cheese athletes!) come in! Last year, Rachel Juhl and Jess Perrie combined their forces to pull off a 5k run to benefit continuing cheese education. It went so well that they are creating a non-profit organization to use as a platform to raise money for organizations committed to the access of cheese education.

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Juhl and Jess

The Daphne Zepos Teaching Award is a scholarship that allows its recipients to take time away from work and travel to far off destinations in search of answers to some pretty big questions. Questions like: How can we begin using native cultures in cheesemaking in the US so we can truly cultivate our own true terroir? How does affinage affect cheese and how are different countries doing it? What makes Spain’s tradition of shepherding so special and different? These aren’t easy questions but they are necessary and a fresh eye needs to be placed on these things so we can all learn and grow from them.

 The American Cheese Education Foundation is a foundation centered around cheese education and scholarships for individuals trying to attend their first American Cheese Society Conference. From cheesemakers to retail workers, the ACE Foundation has scholarships to cover the immense costs of attending the conference. They have also conducted a survey of the industry to get a snapshot of the American artisan cheese industry. Data like this has never been done in such a major scale and the repercussions of the findings and data could lead to better practices and a better understanding of our industry as a whole.

So, you may be thinking to yourself, “Well, this is all great but what’s that got to do with me?”. The fact of the matter is, we need your help. Juhl and Jess are trying to create The Cheeseletes to continue fundraising for these very important organizations and to create a more sustainable community of education. They have created a Kickstarter to get things off the ground and the end is drawing near. The thing is, IT IS SO CLOSE TO BEING FUNDED! The major part of the hurdle has been cleared so now it’s time for the final push across the finish line! I’m asking you to take a look at the Kickstarter and see what they have to say about what they are doing, look at the rewards of donating, and see if this is something you feel you can back.

The Cheeseletes Kickstarter

As the official photographer for the Run4Cheese5k, I appreciate you taking the time to check out something that is so dear to my heart. Our industry needs the continued education and consumers benefit from having knowledgable mongers and staff at their favorite stores.

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San Francisco Days: Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese

Have you ever been to a place that really made you feel connected to your surroundings and the earth below you? Now, I’m not a religious person but there are those places that just really make you think about spirituality and why the heck are we even on this big, ‘ol planet. One of those places for me is Point Reyes, California. Specifically on the farm that makes Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese. It’s rolling, green hills and fantastic views just moves something in me. It could be the beautiful surroundings or it could be the delicious cheese, we may never know.

Bob Giacomini is a third generation farmer that bought a slice of heaven in the Tomales Bay in 1959 to start a dairy farm. He raised his four daughters on the farm and none had any intention of carrying on the family tradition of farming, each with their own careers. In the mid 90’s the herd had gotten too large for the land and for the small workforce that Bob employed, so he asked the daughters come home and help adjust the herd size and strategize on how to add value to their high quality milk. Bob felt like he never had a finished product and just watched the trucks roll away with all of his hard work. They took this opportunity and created California’s first blue cheese in 2000.

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Bob “The Big Cheese” Giacomini

Now, 16 years after their first cheese was introduced, they have a line up of 3 cheeses with a slow and strategic fourth in production. The farm has garnished awards for it’s sustainability and commitment to the land itself. It has been certified organic, they rotationally graze the cows on the lush farmland, and they have added a methane digester to alleviate the inevitable waste. Their cheeses are still stockpiling awards with the Original Blue winning a Good Food Award this year.

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Pt Reyes Original Blue

There are other factors besides the lush, green grass that make Pt. Reyes Cheese special. The ocean air gently salts the earth lending a freshness that is incomparable. The same recipe could be used to make cheese elsewhere and it wouldn’t taste the same. Terroir is the word used to describe this phenomenon and while usually reserved to conversations about wine, it is reflected in the cheese industry also. (sometimes even moreso, in my opinion)

Pt Reyes currently makes two different kinds of blue cheese. The Original Blue, that is rindless and is a bit more of a punchy blue, and the Bay Blue which is allowed to create it’s own rind making it process a bit faster and leading to a softer and creamier flavor. They also make the Toma which is a mellow table cheese thats creaminess really lends itself to melting (and snacking!). I also had the opportunity to try their up and coming cheese, a gouda, that was perfectly creamy and caramely. Their head cheesemaker, Kuba Hemmerling, has an extensive background making goudas so this really is a no brainer for them though they don’t have the ability to fully release that until their new facility is done. The production is so small right now that if you live in California and you happen to see it ANYWHERE, you had better snatch it up because it’s not likely to get a full release for another couple years.

Well, we’ve talked about the history and the cheese. I’ve continued to yammer on about it’s beauty so I should probably leave you with a few shots I took while out there. Pictures can only do it so much justice though. You should go out there if you ever get the chance. They have a cooking education school, called The Fork, on the property and they do farm tours. Do your yourself a favor and go breathe in that fresh Bay air.

San Francisco Days: Chevoo

When I tell you that I really did the most in San Francisco, I’m not exaggerating. From working the Fancy Food Show and the Cheesemonger Invitational to sitting on a rooftop hanging with some Cheesemonger friends, I did it all. One thing that I was very excited about was being able to visit a couple of my favorite producers. If you follow me on Instagram maybe you’ve seen the pictures of me promoting a company by the name of Chevoo come across your feed more than once. I’ve been actively apart of their street team since October and I’ve been trying to get Seattle really excited about this new product. In that vein, I went to the production facility and got to see how it all gets put together and to hear the story of its creation.

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Gerard Tuck used to work in finance. Maybe you’ve heard a similar story and have wondered “How does someone working in finance end up in the cheese world?”. In Gerard’s case, he had a bit of luck on his side. Gerard had Will Studd as a close connection and had done some financial advising for Will’s Australian import/export business that tied Gerard directly to the cheese world. When Gerard was ready to leave the world of finance, he found himself with an opportunity to work with Will in that business. It was a steep learning curve but he maneuvered through the years of bumpy roads to become very successful and knowledgable. Through this time, he noticed some keys trends that were happening in AU. Marinated cheeses were dominating in a way that demanded a closer look. They were used as a food to bring people together and nearly everyone always had them in their fridge most of the time. The American market, on the other hand, had no concept of marinated cheese so Gerard saw an opportunity to share something new. He took his family to California so he could study business at Stanford and as the time on his visa quickly ran out, he knew it was time to get to work.

Within the past year and a half, Chevoo has grown quickly. While this is great for any business, it also comes with its fair share of difficulties. They out grew their space rather quickly so money was needed to invest in a more long term facility that could supply their rapid growth. The conveyor machinery had to be custom made for the hand packing of each jar and made to accommodate the future needs of up to 16 hand packers at a time. The area in Healdsburg is also home to wineries, breweries, bakeries, and even a pickle production plant (which is actually right next door to Chevoo so in certain rooms you get the sweet smell of pickles being made!). The support for artisan producers in Sonoma is really like no other place so it makes good business sense to set up in a community of other products being made with the same attention and care.

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OK, so we have discussed how Chevoo got started but WHAT IS IT? Well, it’s a delicious marinated goat cheese. So, I don’t know the history of marinated cheeses and a quick google search didn’t reveal anything outstanding but I DO know that pickling and marinating foods has been a sure fire way of preserving foods for eons. Once we as humanity figured out that if you keep something drenched in oil it stays better longer, we also started figuring out that if you add flavor to the oil it will impart itself on the cheese. This is exactly what Chevoo does. They infuse the oil with a flavor for 4-8 weeks and they mix another flavor in to the actual curd of the cheese so each component has flavor. The way that they mix in your mouth is what makes it so heavenly. Often you will get a strong flavor up front and it will end on a completely different note. I think the Aleppo-Urfa Chili and Lemon shows that the most. It starts with a bright, lemon flavor and it ends with a warm heat that builds on the back. It’s a long process but that’s what makes it so delicious. It’s unique and there is really nothing else quite like it on the market.

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That being said, Chevoo has hired me to do demos in the Seattle metro so I’ve had a constant stream of product in my house at almost all times. The joy of the work that I do now is that I get to decide which products I support and so while Chevoo has supported me, I support them. I love their products and am happy to have a working relationship with them.

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Hopefully, you are now hungry and want to find some in your local stores. Whole Foods, Metropolitan Market, and PCC should have at least a couple flavors on their shelf in Seattle. The distribution is growing in other markets around the country so be sure to check the website for an updated list in your area. A new smaller size 4 oz “Picnic pack” should be starting to make it’s way on to the shelves soon but the 7oz “Party pack” should be more readily available.

Now go get you some!

 

San Francisco Days: Good Food Awards

Let’s just get something out of the way before I delve in to the Good Food Awards. We all understand that where we put our money says a lot about what we are willing to support, right? Now, I understand that my audience is likely comprised of people that have the ability to at least, on occasion, buy higher priced items that fit an ideal of sustainability. This isn’t a blanket statement that I think everyone can afford to eat this way nor is this a judgement on those that can’t and while I feel that good food should be more affordable, my experience also lets me know that producers are working hard without much to take care of their own families.That being said, I understand the need for survival and for not feeling guilty about just living.

Ok, let’s move on.

I was extremely fortunate to be hired by a company (Quince and Apple) that was a finalist and ultimately a winner of a Good Food Award this year so I got to be a part of a movement of retailers and producers committed to selling and creating foods that are Tasty, Authentic, and Responsible. These are the main criteria for entry in to judging. Things like seasonality, fair compensation within the production line, and growing practices that promote healthy soils are the basis of the standards.

Let’s start from the beginning.

The Good Food Foundation is the non-profit, organizing force behind the Good Food Awards. This foundation uses a collaborative approach to support the sustainable food movement. By using different experiences and knowledge bases, they are able to look at new ways of engaging people and finding better ways of feeding our communities. Using focused events and strategic models, they aim to achieve their base goals of promoting collaboration within the food movement, building public demand for Good Food, and creating new leaders in the food movement.

From there they have built a Good Food Merchants Guild that bridges the gap between producers and buyers. It was established 2012 and has specific criteria for producers to be involved. Producers often have a hard time finding the right avenues to get their products on to the shelf so being a part of the Guild helps connect the dots between producers and buyers. This is linked to the Good Food Retailers Collaborative, a group of independent retailers that have made the commitment to support American craft producers. Being able to put your product in front of the right buyer helps take a lot of the foot work out of being a small producer. They are the basis of the financial support for the Good Food Awards and they co-host the three Good Food Mercantiles each year. They also have an annual retreat where they convene and use each others experiences to further strengthen business operations.

The Good Food Awards is the culmination of all that effort. It’s the time to celebrate the hard work of the producers and retailers. It is not your typical awards ceremony though. The food is outstanding since everything being served is made using the winners of awards and it is not uncommon to hear an uplifting speech from a farmer from Georgia. It also means that “black tie” could very well be a bolo tie and a new pair of Wranglers.

This was my first time going to the awards ceremony and I’m glad I did. The speeches this year really touched on how we can better ourselves in the food industry and even though we may be doing a lot of things right, we can and HAVE to do better. I also got to see a lot of producers that I really care about get the recognition for doing business in sustainable ways that their hard work so desperately deserves.

The Saturday after the Good Food Awards was the Good Food Mercantile which is basically a trade show for the products being represented. It’s a chance for buyers to walk around to taste the products and to make the connections with the producers. The Fancy Food Show can be super overwhelming for a lot of people so this smaller more concentrated event can help weed through the vendors that buyers really want to connect with. There is also the added value of the represented vendors already being vetted by the Good Food Foundation so fewer questions about business practices need to be made. Sunday held the Good Food Marketplace where producers were actually selling their products. We were already at the Fancy Food Show so I didn’t participate in that.

Got it? Ok, so now we know that there is a coordinated effort in place to help bring good food to the people who want it and need it. Obviously, this isn’t the only effort out there but at this point I feel like the more avenues we have to get good food on the shelf, the better we all are and the more we can use that knowledge to make more educated buying decisions. You can look for the little gold medal sticker on products that have won an award this year. You can also look at the websites linked throughout this blog post to find winners in your area.

In an effort to hone my photography skills, I decided to do a little photo shoot with some of my favorite products that won a Good Food Award this year. These products can be found in a lot of your local markets around the country. Keep an eye out for them when you are out shopping, you’ll be supporting businesses that are working hard to create a culture of good food and great business practices!

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(Working for Quince and Apple has many perks! One of which is getting free product. Everything else was bought and paid for by me.)

San Francisco Days: WFFS & CMI

Phew. I’m tired y’all. Like the kind of tired that makes you go to bed before dinner but I’m also inspired. The kind of inspired that has me planning trips to see producers and tell their stories. I’ve got some fun stuff lined up but first we should delve in to the world of Food Shows.

Last year was my first experience at the Winter Fancy Food show and I feel like I wandered around looking scared. It’s HUGE. Thousands of foodstuffs in multiple halls competing for your attention. It was so overwhelming that after a short walk around, I just stayed in the cheese area because that’s where all my friends were and the only place I felt I belonged.

This year I got to work with one of my favorite producers, Quince and Apple. It’s a different world working behind the scenes in something like this. Thousands of people looking at what you have and talking non stop. It’s fun and invigorating though the hours on your feet are long. It starts to feel a bit like summer camp because you get to see all of your friends every day and make a ton of new ones. Walking down the aisles, saying good morning to everyone as they busily prep for the day is one of my favorite things about the show. It becomes a mini city of food and like any good neighborhood, you get to know your neighbors well. The sense of community that permeates the show is why I continue to be involved.

This week entailed more than just that though. There was also the Cheesemonger Invitational which is a duel to the death between cheesemongers. Ok, ok, nobody dies but these kids get to show off their stuff in a series of tests that challenge their knowledge and creativity. It’s a big cheese party and everyone is invited! Since I was busy working upstairs I didn’t get to take many pictures but I was able to capture this little video of the perfect bites before they were devoured.

 

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Thank goodness they were projecting the competition behind me so I could see Alex from Mission Cheese take second place!

This is really the tiniest snapshot of what my week looked like. I spent three days working the Fancy Food Show and CMI was on Sunday night but soooooo much more happened this last week.

You’ll have to stay tuned for more updates and producer profiles! I promise it will be worth the wait!

Schnebelhorn

Honestly, one of my favorite things about this time of year is that it’s socially acceptable to melt cheese on everything! Maybe you’ve seen all those glorious videos of Raclette oozing off the plate? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. While there are few things as satisfying, there are plenty of cheeses out there that can pull double duty. Ones that taste fantastic right off the wheel and also melt well in your grilled cheese.

I’ll admit that Alpine style cheeses are usually some of my personal favorite. They just hit a sweet spot in my brain that is immensely comforting. Now, maybe you heard the NPR story on the popularity of fondue and that it was due to a Swiss Cheese Cartel. It’s hard to believe that something so strange could be true! There were other repercussions to the Schweizer Kasseunion (Swiss Cheese Union). Swiss Cheese makers were not allowed to make cheeses outside of the cheese they were commissioned to make. For example, if a cheesemaker made Emmental, they were not allowed to make any other type of cheese. While good for consistency of Switzerland’s top selling products, this stifled innovation and progress while sending lots of traditional cheeses to the underground markets of Switzerland. It was impossible to differentiate between cheeses made by different cheesemakers because the marketing was controlled by this government agency. ( Here’s an extended take on the whole situation.) Even though there are strict regulations involved in most name controlled cheeses, there is an art in creation and affinage that each cheesemaker deserves credit for. Well, the Schweizer Kasseunion was disbanded in the late 1990’s and now cheesemakers are able to keep their day jobs with making Gruyere and Emmental while also making other cheese, new and old. Schnebelhorn is one such cheese.

Made by a third generation cheesemaker whose family makes Appenzeller, Schnebelhorn has the tradition of the past while having the freedom and flavor of innovation. The addition of cream to the raw milk is not usually seen in this style of cheese but it adds a depth of flavor unmatched by many cheeses of it’s age range at 8-9 months old. The creaminess is evident in its texture but it also carries a bit of pleasing grittiness. It’s perfect for snacking and it would be a killer addition to any melting recipe!

I paired it with Quince and Apple’s Raspberry Rose preserves and it was divine. The cream in the cheese balances some of the tartness in the raspberry while the rose is enhanced by the sweet, floral notes in the cheese.

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This could be a deserted island pairing. It’s that good.

What’s your favorite Alpine cheese? What do you pair with it?

Are you going to the Winter Fancy Food show in San Fransisco next week? Well, I’ll be there working with Quince and Apple so please come and taste some goodies and lets talk pairing! They were so generous to send me their full line up so I could really delve in and conjure up some combinations! Hope to see you there!

Can’t make it to California? Be sure to follow my adventures on Instagram and Facebook where I will be posting photos and stories from my cheesy travels!

New Year Ruminations

It happens every new year. Lists upon lists of things from the year prior that we want to take with us, or leave far, far behind. I haven’t personally been feeling like 2016 was a completely terrible year, but I know that it was pretty terrible for a lot of people. Things changed drastically for me in 2016 and I’m still seeing the repercussions of that change. Not all bad, not all good.

The last couple weeks have been pretty hard for me because coming out of 14 years of retail holiday hell is weird to see from the comforts of the couch. I watched on social media as a whole lot of my friends were stressed with customers and heavy cheese production while also seeing the joys of helping people find the perfect cheese for their party or some fantastic seasonal goodie that was just received. I tend to be the type that likes to stay busy and this was my first year in a long, long time that I was not busy at all. It’s a change that I’m sure I’ll be able to find a way to get used to.

Plenty of good things happened for me last year. I competed in the Cheesemonger Invitational and while I didn’t place, I made lasting connections with some supremely talented people that I won’t take for granted. I quit my job at Whole Foods which has been the catalyst for other things that have happened for the rest of the year. I started this blog. I bought a DSLR and have been trying to learn more about photography so I can make the products I’m focusing on here look as beautiful as they are. I took a Business Bootcamp class where I learned a lot about how to start a business but I also learned a lot about myself. I hopped around to a few jobs but starting my own business happened to fall in my lap. I’ve been able to travel. San Fransisco, Des Moines, LA, Portland, and to farms around my area to see where the products I love are being made. I still got to eat wonderful cheeses along the way and learned more about brands that I didn’t know about and was able to really search out some new stuff that I’ve never had access to.

I’ve watched this last year as new mongers have come on to the scene with a fiery passion and as beloved cheeses die a terrible death due to unsustainable market we currently have. I’ve seen so many new cheese makers trying to eek their way in. I’ve seen so much love for these products and I’ve also heard the complaints from consumers about prices being too high or not understanding the cost of doing business where we are now. I’ve talked to shop owners about the reality of keeping quality employees when the ability to pay them what they are worth is nearly impossible in small business. I’ve talked to cheese makers that are doing everything themselves because they can’t afford another person on the payroll so they have to be the ones to work their fingers to the bone. I’ve seen the look in someone’s eye when they taste something so supremely wonderful that they were able to fully immerse themselves in the moment and forget all the things around them that might be causing them pain.

This is life. The ebb and flow of things. I guess it’s more noticeable for me this year because I’m looking at it from a new angle. I’m seeing it without the corporate backing and stability. I’m seeing it on my own terms.I’m asking different questions. I’m using my prior structure to help inform me, but I’m looking at it in an entirely new way. It’s not easy but neither is staying somewhere you don’t belong anymore. I don’t know what 2017 is going to bring for me. I know that I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and if the right opportunity is presented then I will jump on it. I do know of a few things though.

  1. I will continue to learn and grow in all the ways I think I can. I want to continue learning about cheese. I want to learn to take better pictures and how to fully utilize my camera. The education never ends.
  2. I will continue to tell the stories of the farms and the places that inspire me. I want to boost the signal for the places that are important to me.
  3. I will continue to support the Artisan Cheese community in any way that I can. Documenting, photographing, or volunteering, I’ll be there.
  4. Somehow I’ll find a way to do all these things while still supporting myself.

This is doable. This is what my life has already been. I try not to make grand proclamations about my plans and intentions because, quite often, what happens doesn’t look like what you originally thought it might be. Maybe you aren’t the type to make resolutions? Maybe you are like me and don’t want to pin yourself to anything hard and fast? I’d still suggest determining some open ended intentions to keep in mind. It can make the path a little easier to travel.