All That’s Cheesy & Good in America
My pilgrimage to Murray’s Cheese Shop in New York City was worth every minute it took to find a parking space in the vicinity. It was the one and only personal trek I made when in the city for two days last week. I can report back that Murray’s is indeed a shrine to smelly goodness.
Besides wanting to see what a huge cheese counter looked like up close, I was mainly interested in learning more about the folks who worked behind this counter. I’m that way. Oftentimes I’m far more interested in the people behind the bar when I go wine tasting than I am in the wines. I tend to make judgments about the wine or the winery based on the knowledge and presentation of those who pour me the wines. Same for cheese counters.
The Murray folks were unbelievably knowledgeable. And why would they not be? I suspect many of those behind the country are there simply to learn as much as they can about cheese, to master their perspective, in advance of moving into a career that is either focused on or centered in the world of cheese.
I’m absolutely convinced that the American consumers is at place in its relationship with cheese today where it was with wine in the early to mid 1980s: ready to fully embrace all the varieties the world offers, to pimp the amazing domestic versions that are emerging from all parts of the country, and set to pay what it takes to fully explore the world of cheese.
While Wisconsin has always been the “home” of American cheesemaking in Americans’ minds for many decades, and though California cheese and dairy folks have made a strong attempt to associate this state with cheese, I think it can be said that no region has been handed the scepter of “THE” cheese region the way Napa held and still holds that designation in the area of wine. This is a very good thing.
The diversely located members of the Artisan cheesemaking community force Americans interested in the products and the craft to look far and wide and not concentrate on dairies and cheesemakers in any one location.
Many of America’s finest artisan cheesemakers and others in the burgeoning cheese industry will be in
Sonoma County March 7-10 for the Artisan Cheese Festival in the town of Petaluma.
The festival is being presented this way:
Friday Night Meet the Artisans Welcome Reception and Tasting
Seminars taught by renowned cheesemakers, experts, chefs and authors
and starting with a special opening session led by Michael Krasny, host
of KQED’s Forum program
Festival Tent – new this year on
Saturday and Sunday, featuring chef demonstrations, cheesemaking
classes, cheese tastings, unique products and books
Night Artisan Gala Dinner – Luscious five-course dinner prepared by top
Wine Country and Bay Area chefs, featuring artisan cheeses and pairings
with specially selected boutique wines
Sunday Artisan Cheese Marketplace and Festival Tent – a day to sample and buy handcrafted products direct from the artisans
Monday Field Trips to artisan creameries
On top of this are a number of seminars to be held on various topics.
My most recent cheese discovery is Bobolink Dairy, a 200 acre New Jersey farm that produced a number of raw milk cheeses from grass fed cows. My good friends Robert and Michelle from New York sent these to me and I’m grateful.
The Amish Frolic is a light to medium intensity, semi-hard cheese produced from raw cows milk. The folks at iGourmetdescribe this cheese as “not for the timid” but I disagree. In fact, I think it’s a perfect cheese for those just beginning to take their palates beyond the normal cheese experiences. Its creamy white center paste delivers an earthy/mushroomy flavor with nice hints of bacon.
is a pungeant white paste, brie-like washed rind cheese that has a slightly sweet character, hints at a piquant element with truffle and earth character. It is a very nice cheese that I’d pair with something on the darker red side of the spectrum.
The Cave Aged Cheddar is crumbly and sweet without any cheddar-harshness yet creamily cheddary. It possesses no crystals. The finish on this pale white cheddar is very long and very satisfying. The kids will eat this but it will give the adults something perfectly interesting to contemplate and something very satisfying to pair with an ale.