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!

 

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!

Cherry Valley Dairy

The morning after the election was a dreary one. The rain poured down and a heavy feeling sat in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t sleep well due to staying up late to watch as the results came in, but I had scheduled this visit a while before and honestly, there were few places I could think of that I would rather be than out on the farm.

Tucked away in the Snoqualmie Valley, Duvall is not so far from where I live. A 40 minute drive out of the city will get you right in the heart of Washington farmland. It was dark and rainy drive but not at all hard to find.

Cherry Valley Dairy is a sustainable, Jersey cow farm that produces butter, cheese, buttermilk and other dairy delights. They keep a small herd that they rotationally graze on the pasture to allow for the flavors of the land to truly come through. When the pastures flood in the winter, which they do, sometimes up to 10 feet, they use a haylage from local farms around the area. This fermented hay keeps the flavor of the land present while allowing for the natural ebbs and flows of the pastures. There is a creek that runs through the land that has been certified salmon safe since 2013. The Snoqualmie tribe has restored the creek bed, ridding it of invasive plants, replanting native grasses, and replacing boulders with logs to ease the path for salmon spawning.

Early mornings at the farm are an everyday thing even if I’m not used to waking up before dawn. I rolled in around 6am and Blain, the head cheesemaker, and Emily, head of marketing and sales, were already busy getting orders prepped and preparing the milk for it’s new life. Ann-Marie, their herd manager, was already busy milking and awaiting a delivery of a newborn calf from her cow that she keeps with the herd. Meghan, the assistant cheesemaker, came in a bit later to help with some of the new projects they have making their way on to stores’ shelves very soon. They had warned me that butter making days aren’t necessarily the most action packed days on the farm but there was plenty being done and I was more than happy to be there. The fact that they weren’t as pressed for time made it easier for them to give me a tour of the land.

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I’ve always loved butter but my obsession has really grown over the last couple of years. I honestly think it’s one of the truest expressions of quality milk because so little is done to make it happen. I love that with cheese you get to see how milk changes through time and proper care but butter, it’s really all about the simplicity. Cherry Valley Dairy won big this last year at the American Cheese Society conference in Des Moines, IA with three of their butters taking a ribbon in their category.

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It really is just as simple as that. (As simple as taking care of animals day and night, milking them twice a day, ensuring that the animals live in an environment that keeps them healthy and safe so they can produce high quality milk, and to have the equipment and testing abilities to make healthy and safe food for the masses. You know, simple.This is why I just write about it!)

They also make a delicious cheese that is aged right there on the farm. The Dairy Reserve is rubbed with cocoa, black pepper, and cinnamon. It has won it’s fair share of awards at ACS also.

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I suggest that if you come across some of this butter (or cheese!)while out shopping, buy some. Try the herbed rose butter on your next piece of toast. (I did this morning and man, what a wonderful treat!) Not only will you be getting something tasty, you will be putting money back in to the community. Now, more than ever, it’s important to bridge the gap between cities and rural communities. If you have the ability to make the choice to spend a bit more on your monthly food budget, use it. Your tongue will thank you.

Now, it wouldn’t be me without some cute animal photos. Here ya go.

One of the main things I walked away with was the fact that life continues no matter what political mess may be happening. A new life came to be at the farm that morning and it was the perfect reminder that the work continues. It continues in ways that help benefit people, the land, and the animals. We just have to find it.

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Eat Your Beliefs.

I started writing this post a few days ago and for some reason the words just weren’t there. Yeah, it was going to be about this fantastic cheese and how I paired it with other fantastic things but today, today I have different feelings. Last night came as a blow to me though I did entertain the thought that I might be being too optimistic about the situation. I called the second Bush presidency even though everyone around me in Portland said otherwise. Maybe I don’t have faith in people? I can’t say that’s true because I’m privileged enough to see and know some of the most amazing visionaries of our time. THAT is what I’m going to write about. People on the ground making things, doing things, creating things, changing things.

That makes this post an easy beginning.

I’ve had the pleasure of selling Vermont Creamery’s cheese and butter for many years. I knew that they were a great company and made delicious product but it really took competing in The Cheesemonger Invitational last year for me to really understand just what they do. It’s rare that any Monger has the opportunity to sit down with the Co-Founder (Allison Hooper) and current President (Adeline Druart) to discuss the company and their philosophy on making cheese and running a business. It’s a moment in time that I will cherish forever. (If you are a Cheesemonger, consider competing because this is the kind of experience that comes from it.)

Allison and her partner Bob stated making cheese as a demand for locally produced products started coming from chefs that wanted a specific flavor and texture for their foods. Alison had studied in France to make cheese so when a chef needed a French style fresh chèvre to complete a locally sourced dinner, she was the one to call. From there, Allison and Bob pooled their meager savings together to begin a business that was nearly unheard of at the time. People didn’t really eat much goat cheese and goat cheese was not in every grocery store like it is today. Fast forward to today, Vermont Creamery is an industry leader in goat cheese and butter products but also in progressive business and environmental practices.

Vermont Creamery is a certified B Corp. I didn’t know about this certification but now I am making an aim to make sure that I am supporting these businesses that are willing to work for the greater good. They often offer fantastic long term benefits for their workers and are finding ways of being successful while still giving back to the community and working towards environmental stewardship. This is important as a consumer because the way we spend our money says a lot about us as people. If we have the ability to be mindful of how we are spending, we should be. This is an easy way to affect change while enjoying great products.

Recently, Vermont Creamery introduced a new product. This isn’t something that happens often because they are the type of company to make delicious products and not necessarily be concerned with fads or feel the need to create an extensive line up. They do what they do well, I mean, REALLY WELL. The buzz was swirling about their new product on social media and I was fortunate enough to try some at the Peterson’s Holiday show in August. I knew I was going to need to get my hands on some when it was officially released too.stalbans

St. Albans is named after the town where they source their cow’s milk from and it is made in the style of a classic French cheese named St. Marcellin. It’s always been a favorite of mine and since we have been having importing issues with many French cheeses, it was nice to see something being made right here in the U.S. with the same attention to detail and quality down to even a similar terra cotta crock packaging. I had it in my fridge for a couple of weeks before I was able to actually get down to the business of deliciousness I had in mind for it but that really only made everything even better.

Geotricum is the mold that forms the paper thin rind and gives this cheese a delightful, yeasty flavor. The crock is necessary because the interior of this cheese is essentially a puddle. Put it in the oven like I did and it just ooooozes it’s way in to your heart. wrinkle1

This baby deserved the top shelf pairings so I went with Quince & Apples Orange Marmalade with Lemons. Clare and Matt make every batch by hand, from coring and peeling the fruit, to hand ladling each jar. It’s a commitment they have made to themselves, their team, and to consumers. They sent me samples of their line up because I will be partnering with them to do some demos here in the Seattle area and I will be with them in San Fransisco for the Fancy Food Show. I’m proud to work with them because their care and attention to detail is evident in everything they do. None of their flavors are too sweet so they are more than perfect for every pairing you can think up. I knew that the Marmalade would be perfect for the St. Albans and it was. Tart and creamy with such a nice hint of citrus sweetness.cookiespreader

Knowing that the Marmalade wasn’t going to be too sweet I was able to also pair them with Walker’s Scottish Shortbreads. These butter biscuits have been made since the late 1800’s and the Walker company has committed to long standing relationships with their employees and the town in which they are made. They never use any hydrogenated fats and they rely on palm oil that is certified sustainable by the Rainforest Foundation.melty1

This was such a delicious treat and one that made me feel good about what I was eating. Feel good flavors with real world passion and care. This is the hope and inspiration I see in this world and when things feel so out of whack, it can be helpful to be reminded that the world is changing and people care. People care enough to create businesses that not only garnish a profit but create a solid base in an area and protect the employees and the land. This is not business as usual, this is business as BETTER.

What are some of your handcrafted favorite food companies? I’d love to know so my arsenal of inspiration can constantly be refilled!

OH YEAH, try not to cry watching this amazing video.

Quince and Manchego Crostata

If you have gotten this far in life (this far meaning you clearly like reading about and eating cheese) and you haven’t yet eaten Manchego, well, you really aren’t living. From behind the counter, Manchego has always been one of my go-to cheeses for those that want to expand beyond cow’s milk. It’s nutty and approachable demeanor is rarely disliked and it’s granular texture adds body to any cheese plate. When I found myself with a large chunk of Essex Manchego 1605 given to me by one of the esteemed #EssexSistas, I knew I had to do more with it than just eat it. Trust me, the temptation to just devour the whole chunk was there, I just thought better of doing it and lucky for me,  Culture Cheese Magazine had an entire spread with Manchego recipes.

Quince and Manchego Crostata

Quince is often only seen in a paste or jam form because the sweet flavor doesn’t present itself until it has been cooked and their high level of pectin makes producing jams a no brainer. At once acerbic and sour, chomping in to a Quince is not very appealing. Spain is a top 10 producer of Quince for good reason as it pairs perfectly with their vast assortment of sheep’s milk cheese. The fattiness of the cheese cuts through the tartness of the Quince, bringing out it’s sweetness. It’s not often that we see fresh Quince in stores but since apple season is upon us, I got lucky to find some at my local PCC.

Manchego is a PDO cheese, meaning it has strict guidelines that need to be adhered to if the name Manchego is to be used. From the type of sheep that the milk can come from to the texture of the rind, these are all important tools for consumers to be able to trust that the Manchego they are buying is exactly what it says it is. All Manchegos must follow these guidelines but not all Manchegos are the same. Essex Manchego 1605 is very different then many on the market today. It is a farmstead production with only around 500 ewes on the production line. The fact that it uses raw milk is becoming unique because a lot of importers are leary of dealing with importation issues concerning products made with raw milk. I also have found that taste wise, 1605 is much more smooth and less reactive than some I’ve tasted. Histamine reactions can be common in some cheese, it’s the way it makes your mouth tingle. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, just one of those things that happens, but I find that with the 1605, I don’t get the same reaction as I have from other raw Manchegos. It’s just smooth and creamy with delightful toasted nut notes that make me want more.

Manchego comes in multiple ages. 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, or 12 months. It’s rare to see a cheese on the shelf with as many different age profiles and it really makes you take note of the difference between just a few months age. The 3 months keeps a sweetness to it, 12 months is more sharp and granular. I usually prefer a 6 month age because I feel it encapsulates everything I love about sheep milk cheese. Caramel, nutty flavors with a sweet lanolin touch. The 1605 is aged for 6 months. It also does not have a waxed rind which a lot of Manchegos on the market tend to have. This gives the cheese a more structured flavor profile because natural rinded cheeses can take on the flavors of the cave which can produce a slight earthiness. I’m one of those people that really loves a cheese with some depth that changes as it warms in your mouth, and the 1605 really does that for me. I could easily eat this stuff all the time.

Ok, now on to the pictures

And just because I’m a sadist, here’s a video of the Cherry Valley Dairy butter slowly melting.

 

Man, I love a good crostata. They are easier than pies and this was a great breakfast for the week. Tart and sweet with a buttery richness. So in short, delicious.

What is your favorite crostata to make? Do you prefer pie? Are you even still reading or just watching that butter melt on repeat?

Catch up.

 

We all have those times in our life where we feel like we are scrambling to constantly catch up on all the things that need to be done. I’ve been feeling a lot of that lately.

We’ve had a couple busy weekends back to back that required trips to Portland so even though we’ve been home for a couple weeks it still feels like I’m behind. A lot has happened in those couple weeks. I’ll give you a run down.

The Washington Artisan Cheesemaker Festival

This is always such a fun event and I’ve volunteered the last two years. It’s cool to have all of your favorite local cheeses under one roof. It’s such a rarity. I’ve worked the area where we sell the cheese that is being tasted throughout the building. The line was long nearly the entire day which is wonderful, that means that people were truly there to support their local cheesemakers.

I didn’t have time to snap too many pictures but here’s a couple I took during setup.

Provvista Open House.

I didn’t take any pictures at this because I was enjoying running around eating and seeing some of my favorite cheese people from across the country. That lil link up there though will take you to the Provvista Facebook page where there are plenty of pictures to see what you may have missed. One of my favorite things that I tried was the Grafton Village Bear Hill. This little cheese made me do a happy cheese dance. It was perfectly sharp but sweet and floral. It’s nice to see them breaking out of the cheddar mold and really pushing their own boundaries. I also got to try the Cellars of Jasper Hill Kinsman Ridge which is a cheese that they have been working on for a few years. I tried it in it’s early inception but they’ve really nailed that perfect French style tomme now. Creamy and luscious with a nice vegetal backbone.

I also got to finally get my hands on some Pip’s donuts and Tastebud Pizza which were both things that my friends in Portland rave about. They were worth all the raving. The donuts weren’t heavily sweet like the ones at VooDoo tend to be (I’m not against that, just sometimes you want something different) and the crust of the pizza was perfect. Not soggy in the middle with a good chewy pizza bone.

After spending a few days at home back in Seattle, it was time to head south again. This time the original intention was for a reunion show of one of my favorite bands in high school, Hazel. We decided to make more of a weekend out of it and my husband was able to get a show booked with his old Portland band. This weekend also cemented my new life as a small business owner. I was able to book a couple of demos with Chevoo, the main client that I am working with to get in to the mouths of people in the PNW. It felt good to start this new venture at my old alma mater, Whole Foods Market Hollywood. Still to this day, one of my favorite stores. It was fun to interact with the customer base on a different level than I ever had before and to connect them to this wonderful new product.

Of course it would be unheard of for me to not include some tasty trips while in the foodie paradise of Portland so here’s where I went.

Cheese Bar

Because, duh. I was also on the lookout for a cheese that had been making it’s rounds on social media and I assumed correctly that Steve had some. Alp Blossom has been popping up all over Instagram because of it’s beautiful rind that has been crusted with herbs and brightly colored edible flowers. I was happy to finally get my hands on some of it. I also snagged some Cottonseed from Boxcarr Farms. I’ve talked about my love for their cheese in previous posts, I was just happy to see it’s presence on the West Coast.

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The Wedge Festival.

This annual cheese festival in Portland always brings out the best and the brightest in the state. This year was no exception and the growth was apparent. Last year was a bit crazy so this year they expanded it to include more streets and more vendors to break up the intense lines that formed. I didn’t get to stay the whole day so I don’t know how it all panned out in the end, but it was nice to have an hour in the morning for just industry and media. Trying to take photos and talk to the makers when there are hoards of people is just impossible.

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This place was recommended by my friend at Essex Cheese because they prominently feature their sheep milk feta. Having gotten the opportunity to try this delicious feta at CMI (The Cheesemonger Invitational), I knew I needed to make this my dinner plans. They feature the feta with the crudite platter and they whip it to perfection. There was also a Tahina dipping sauce that was phenomenal. After a few days of cheese, it was nice to have a dinner that was fresh and light even though cheese was part of the menu. The ambiance was light and airy with a huge picture of Keith Richards lounging in a pool right as you walk in. These iPhone pics I snapped pretty much tell the delightful story though.

 

Well, there it is. Are you feeling caught up? I’m still working on it.