Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Those that have talked with me about London, have heard me sing the foodie praises of the Borough market. It was the highlight of my last trip to London & it lived up to every drip of memory. In my opinion, this is what all farmer's markets should aspire to be...the market of all markets, the queen bee, the mother hen...you get the point. You can most anything your foodie heart desires...and then maybe a few things you did not even know you were craving! Friends, meet Raclette, the deliciously creamy & easy to melt cheese traditionally served over roasted potatoes & cornichon (french for gherkin...mini delicious pickles made from gherkin cucumbers). This lovely cheese originated in the southwest corner of Switzerland (Valais) and has become quite popular across the border in France (northern Rhone/southern Franche-Comte), and is nearly impossible to ignore at the Borough Market. The aroma will find you from far corners of the market & draw you in. It can be dangerous to resist, so of course, I did not. Hopefully these pictures do it a slice of justice.
Raclette is certainly not the only star of this show. More pics to torture your buds can be found at http://picasaweb.google.com/sarah.dvorak/BoroughMarket#


Friday, August 14, 2009

London + Neal's Yard Dairy = Heaven

The first time London & I met, t'was a bit rocky. The wind was bustling, the fish & chips were astronomically priced & unimpressive, and the sites were lack luster. My my, how things have changed. After what seemed like a 10 mile hike into the city to the London Bridge Hotel, Mum & I cleaned up & rolled out for an obvious first stop at Neal's Yard Dairy near the Borough Market. The shop was nearly a 5 minute walk from our hotel. Intentional? Absolutely. Needless to say, upon second impression, it was love at first...bite?

Just minutes after tasting some delightful British cheeses & chatting with the monger, I walked out of the shop with a 10 am appointment to check out the Neal's Yard Arches...basically an urban version of cheese caves. This is where the affinage takes place as well as all distribution (local & export). Luckily, I was able to sleep with all the excitement!

The next morning I was up bright & early for a pastry & cup of coffee & then off to the arches (Mum came too), where I would spend the next 3 hours absorbing cheese knowledge from. Chris George, responsible for tasting & events for Neal's Yard and the nice man you see below holding that delicious wheel of raclette (the only British version I do believe), was kind enough to give us a history lesson on Neal's Yard Dairy and walk us through a tasty tour of the arches. It was absolutely fabulous.

The history of this lovely cheese empire goes a little something like like this...in the 70's Nicolas Saunders opened a number of businesses in Neal's Yard, Covent Garden...a run down district of London with inexpensive rent. One of which, was a Diary where Randolf Hodgson was a young cheesemaker producing & selling fresh greek cheeses. Randolf would eventually begin supplementing his cheese with more firm aged styles ordering through a wholesaler & with little knowledge of who the makers were & where it came from. Then, one special day in cheese history, Hilary Charnley, a local cheesemaker, sent Randolf a sample of her cheese with a lovely hand written note inviting him up to the farm. After visting Hilary's dairy & several others in her area, Randolf came back to london with a car load of cheese (heaven?!?). The curd just keeps piling up from there & we now have Neal's Yard Dairy...connecting the world with the cheesemakers of the Bristish Isles through their 2 shops in London & distribution throughout the world. Randolf still remains the owner of the business & is very active in connecting with the famers as well as selecting the cheese. He has notes on every batch of Montgomery Cheddar for the last 30-some-odd-years. A batch is made every day. Oh yes...serious cheese-biz.

Throughout the 3 hours of enjoying the arches, Chris walked us (when I say us, I mean Mum & I...there was 1 other wholesaler there for about 30 mins, but that's it) through the different aging rooms tasting cheeses at different parts of their aging process. Each cheese has it's place in carefully monitored space with specific temperature & humidy settings (see pic at right for the a room filled with washed rind goodness). The best part of this process was really tasting the differences in the different batches of the same cheese. The flavor profile of the cheese can change based on the starter culture used(many times they have to use a different one every day to keep bacteria from taking over...that's a real long story short), the diet of the cows & hence the milk, the weather...you name it The same cheese can vary from day to day, which is why it's always important to have a taste. As if anyone needs a reason.

It was an amazing day in the arches & I am so thankful to Chris for his time & knowledge of these delightful British cheeses. Favorites coming out of the tour that will hopefully be available at a shop near you are...

-Ragstone: unpasturized goat milk
-Colston Basset Stilton: pasturized cow milk
-Stitchelton: unpasturized cow milk
-Cardo: unpasturized goat milk
-Berkswell: unpasturized sheep milk
-Montgomery Cheddar: unpasturized cow milk

Neal's Yard Dairy is a remarkable ambassador, affineur, & maker of British cheese & a gift to all lovers of the curd. Bloody wicked day. Brilliantly wicked cheese.

Yes, we did wear hair nets & full body cheese gear for this portion of the journey. Hot.

Next stop, after some necessary London roaming of course, was La Fromagerie. This shop & cafe came to us highly recommended...even touted as the best cheese shop in London, so I was anxious as all get out to have a look. Mum & I sat down in the cafe to some delicious charcuterie, greens (hallelulah), & a glass of wine. Every bite was superb, but there was a certain warmth missing. Then to the Cheese Room. Some girls dream of a walk in closet stacked with Christian Louboutin, I dream of something much like this (check out the pic below). A walk-in curd closet. Is that bad? It is just beautiful. However, with all of this wonderment, the Fromagerie was a bit of a let down. The first employee we saw treated us like street rats, the monger had the personality of day old baguette, and the only friendly face in the place does not eat pork (most of the lunch/snack menu had something to do with a pig)...no help. All the fancy closets & cheese in the world cannot buy you a happy fomagerie. Let this be a lesson to all of us yearning for the curd closet the size of a small house...money cannot buy you soul. Hopefully I caught them on a bad day, for the cheese's sake.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Westcombe Dairy Visit & Country Cruisin'

For our last full day in the country I was determined to visit a cheese-making dairy farm. The first call was to Manor Farm, home to Montgomery Cheddar (brilliant). Unfortunately Jamie Montgomery (the cheesemaker...not 100% obvious, but pretty close) was not planning to be at the farm that day, but he directed me to a farm not too far away, Westcombe Dairy. After a quick call to the Westcombe we were on our way! The drive was perhaps the most beautiful & scary one I have been a part of...still cannot get over the skinniness of the streets, but we arrived unscathed.

Just to give a little bit of background on Westcombe Dairy...they are one of 3 dairies (the other 2 being Montgomery & Keen) still making a traditional clothbound English cheddar. What does that mean, you ask? It means they are the real deal, controlling the process from the cow to the beautiful aged wheel of hand made cheddar. All 3 use unpasturized milk & animal rennet to make the cheese as well as a frozen starter culture (as opposed to freeze dried, which can be a bit more "sleepy" when added to the milk). All of these old school techniques lead to an amazingly tasty hunk-o-cheddar.

We were lucky enough to catch Tom Calver, the cheesemaker, to walk through their process & taste some of their cheeses straight from the aging room (see pics for cheese press to squeeze out whey & the aging room). There is some serious love & brain work going into this cheese. Every step of the process of this curd is closely monitored for the best end result. Let's just say...I do not think my Mum will be buying many more block cheddar cheese from here forward. It is a remarkable process that these cheesemakers go through & the taste of the cheese is a direct reflection. FYI...this cheddar is white(ish) & should really never be anything but white(ish). The orange cheese phenomenon remains a mystery...if you know the responsible party, please share.

Useful curd: Tom's Westcombe Cheddar is distributed through Neal's Yard Dairy, so you should be able to have a taste in the states. It is certainly worth the extra cheese bucks to get your hands on this tasty tradition.

In addition to all of the cheese info, Tom directed us to a wonderful lunch spot in a small town called Bruton down another skinny-as-the begeezers road, The Chapel. Set in an old monestary, this space was absolutely beautiful, as you can see in the pictures. Mum & I enjoyed a deliciously fresh local meal of truffled cauliflower soup, wood roasted red peppers with tomato, goat cheese, & greens (GORGEOUS greens), and a tasty burger & fries. After a few days of pub food...fresh & tasty meal really rocked our world. I wish I could have enjoyed one of their wood oven pizzas (check out that oven in the pic on the left), but there is only so much time & my belly, while thankful & extremely happy, was at max capacity.

To close out the day, we headed to Glastonbury to hike up to the Tor & visit with some cows (I think he liked me, no? Look at the head tilt!). Not much about cheese going on in this adventure...just some really great views. Perfect end to a delightful day. Mission accomplished. Next stop, London!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hiya Cheddar Heaven!

After arriving in London & meeting up with my Mom...henceforth, Mum, we managed to get our rental car & arrive safely at our cozy destination. To set the stage for Wembdon, Somerset (UK) I provide you with a few visuals. The first is of the Ash-Wembdon Farm. The top right window is ours & it has made for a wonderful resting place. Clarence serves us a breakfast of a fried egg, local bacon AND sausage, tomato, mushrooms, toast, & coffee in the morning before we head out on the day's journey. This journey starts on Hollow Rd (please reference picture #2 below). This is a 2 way street. No joke. Not all streets are quite as special as Hollow Rd, but I would also say it is not as unique as we thought it was when we first arrived at the farm.

Our first excursion through skinny-streetville was to Cheddar. Mum thinks the name of the town came first, I think it was the cheese...conundrum? Moving on...it is where Cheddar the cheese was initially discovered & one cheesemaker remains, the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company. We paid them a visit & watched the milk turn to curd & whey, the curd cheddared, & pressed into what would become delicious traditional clothbound English Cheddar. It was a bit touristy, but worth the trip. The town was nestled in an amazing gorge & the cheese was actually quite enjoyable. The picture on the right is some curd being shoveled into the cooling table before cheddaring & at left we have a view of the gorge. The little silver nugget is our lovely mode of transit. Scary? Very.

After Cheddar we headed to Wells. A beautiful small town without much on the cheese scene, but some remarkable scenery. The drive home will be difficult to ever put into words, but I will say that the pub we finally made it to at 9:30 pm in the middle of the county, opened their kitchen back up to feed us some fish & chips. We must have looked pretty defeated. Life it tough without a decent map, but the cheese keeps me going. haha.

While the roads are extremely narrow & treacherous, the country is absolutely breathtaking. I have high hopes for tomorrow...

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Winner is...

Eh hem...where did I leave off...oh yes...cheesefest, day 3...

Day 3 - The Cheescars:
After pealing myself out of bed, I was lucky enough to find a seat in what was ultimately my favorite session of the conference, Affinage. The definition of the word can be controversial, but refers to the process of caring for & aging cheese to it's optimal state. Traditionally, this is done in caves to provide the most ideal & consistent temperature, humidity & air flow. An amazing panel was on hand to discuss the topic! Herve Mons, world renowned affineur of Meilleur Ouviere de France, Mateo Kehler of the Cellars at Jasper Hill in Vermont, & Ihsan Gurdal of Fromaggio Kitchen. Over lunch, we received an update from the ACS board members and in the afternoon I attend yet another seminar. Though I did grab a few curds of info on the block market of cheese, The Politics of American Cheese was sort of a snore. So, maybe take a nap, and I will save you the reading.

Meanwhile, the Hilton was a tizzy in anticipation of the awards show, or as I like to call it, The Cheescars. First, Second, & Third place awards are given for a variety of categories (soft ripened, washed rind, blue, cheddar...and many more) and the 2009 Best in Show is announced at the end & the crowd goes wild. Like the Oscars for cheesemakers, hence Cheesecars (for those of you that are a little behind schedule). The 2nd place award for best in show, sort of like best supporting cheeser, went to Cowgirl Creamery of California for their Red Hawk (woot woot!) and this years top honor in cheese goes to (are you as nervous as I was?!?)...Rogue Creamery of Oregon for Rogue River Blue! Cue Stevie..."isn't she looovely, isn't she wooondeeerful..." Post ceremony everyone was invited to Stubb's for some famous Texas BBQ & Wisconsin beer. No dairy this meal...probably a good thing.

Day 4 - The Final Final: One last day of sessions with the American Cheese Society & then off to the airport to meet up with me Mum (yes, my mother booked a flight last minute to join the fun...the stories are sure to be quite entertaining) for some cheese in the UK.

My day 4 sessions were on building grass roots momentum (cheesers tweet!) from a wonderful panel of cheese buzz builders & for the final final, I tasted & paired local Texas beer & cheese. YEE HAW! I will remember this as the day I feel in love with Pure Luck Grade A Dairy's Hopelessly Blue. I also had the pleasure of meeting Ben, who lives on & helps run the farm & cheese making outfit with his wife, Amelia, & it's clear that a lot of love goes into making this delightful treat. Unfortunately for me, this beautiful farmstead cheese does not make it far from Austin, but I am hopeful that my dear new friend Greg will be sending me some once I return to SF. Yes? Greg? Are you there? I need it.

After all that American cheese & Texas-style ruckus, I head to the airport...next stop, London...well Dallas first actually, where I will continue to seemingly endless search for a respectable airport meal, then London.

That's Cheese to Me!

New to me American cheeses that you just HAVE to try if you have the chance...

Haystack Peak - Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy (Colorado): Fresh ripened goat cheese. As creamy & smooth as humanly possible.

Hopeful Tomme - Sweet Grass Dairy (Georgia): This aged raw cow & goat milk, dry salted with Atlantic sea salt. This cheese aims to replicate a batch of cheese from 2004 when a storage tank failed to keep temperature & Sweet Grass needed to use all of the milk they had on hand. Thank goodness!

Big Eds - Saxon Homestead Creamery (Wisconsin): Made from raw cow's milk & aged 120 days with subtle strength & perfectly creamy.

What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

HOLY CHEESE what a fest!

After nearly 4 days of non-stop cheese festing, I am fixin' to leave Austin with heaps of invaluable cheese friends & curds of knowledge. I had planned on posting throughout the conference, but the cheesers really kept me busy! There is so much to cover, so I'll try to break it down to the days & hit the high notes. Here's to trying...

Day 1- Meet the Cheesers: The format was slightly different for each day of the conference, but the first day I was able to attend 4 classes or "sessions" of my choosing. I was lucky enough that my first 2 classes were led by Ari Weinzweig, owner/founder of Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, MI. For those that do not know of Zingerman's, they are a wildly successful retailer of the curd. Ari brought a wealth of knowledge regarding the retail world focused on giving stand-out customer service & training spectacular employees. These classes are also given in Ann Arbor & I highly recommend checking them out....

Following lunch, I launched into more intense cheese training, trying to follow some serious cheese chemistry from brilliant cheese experts. One session focusing on ripened cheeses, where we talked about cheese Ph levels & how they change over time in the aging process most of which was way over my amateur cheese brain. The next very tasty seminar focused on identifying flavors led by Ivan Larcher, a cheese consultant from France. Where we tasted 5 delicious American cheeses (see pic to left), all of which were fairly torn to shreds by our French instructor...SURPRISE! It was actually quite entertaining...until he got to Mt. Tam (one of my stand-by CA favorites), where I almost took off my flip flop & chucked it at my friendly frenchman.

The evening was really the highlight where we had an opportunity to meet cheesemakers from across North America & taste their masterful curd. After helping my fellow Cali cheesemakers set up their tasting stations, I had the honor of standing in for Bellwether Farms who's cheesemaker missed his flight & was stuck somewhere in Arizona waiting for his connecting flight. Here is a pic of my beautiful booth...rad.

Day 2 - Cheese Up, Party Down:
My day started a bit later & I was able to do a mini sleep-in, which was very necessary for the day ahead. First up, cheesemonger strategies (YES...I cannot wait for the day when I consider myself a cheesemonger) from retailers of all sizes, followed by lunch, & a session on cheese efforts in sustainability.
The real action started after the sessions, where I was welcomed along with all my fellow new comers with an open bar, and I'm not talking about a cheese bar. After the new member reception we moved straight into the conference opening reception sponsored by the lovely state of Oregon, which of course supplied tasty cheese & Rogue brewery delights. Next thing I know I am being talked into a "final final," which apparently is just another way of saying "one more drink," to close down the hotel bar with my new cheesemaker friend (hailing from Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese...not to mention any names or anything). It was a blast.

Let the fest continue...more curds to come.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Today, I embark on a what is certain to be a remarkable chapter of the CHEESEarch journey. It begins in Austin, Texas where I will attend the 4 day American Cheese Conference. Everyone who is anyone in the American artisan cheese scene is sure to attend, so I just could not resist. Before you hop the first flight down to join me for some delicious exploration of American artisan cheese...this is a member's only conference (yes, I am officially a member...say what you will...haha). Rest assured, I will be your eyes to the inside of this delightful event reporting every morsel of goodness.

After Austin, I am off to the birthplace of our beloved snack. UK & France of course! Details are still working themselves out, but there will surely be a trip to Somerset, UK...more specifically Cheddar. This is no joke. There is a town called Cheddar...obviously I must go. Then London for some Neal's Yard & Borough Market action, before hopping on the Chunnel & taking it to the streets of Paris followed by some fun in Burgundy & Jura regions of France

I am beyond excited & cannot wait to share. Let the CHEESEarch begin!