Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cheesemongers Portland

Back from my Portland cheese experience for five days now, and finally recovered from a wicked eyeball trauma/allergy mess (there's only so much you can do in a day with a cold compress over your ojos, if you know what I mean), I am ready to share a curd or two about my trip north!

First, let me just explain, that by "cheese experience," I mean a 3 day seminar about the Craft & Business of Retailing Artisan Cheese. Yes, thanks to Heidi Yorkshire & Food By Hand Seminars up in Portland, such a lovely thing does exist (they also offer seminars in master distillery & pork curing & butchery, just in case you're interested). I love the pic to the left as it so accurately describes much of the experience & the pure joy of cheesemongering...cut cheese, look at cheese, talk about cheese, taste cheese, and talk more about cheese. Yes please! I debated the trip for a year, but after hearing nothing but great things, I made the trek. You bet your curds it was worth it! Not only did I get to meet 7 other budding cheesers, I spent 2 full days absorbing invaluable information from Steve Jones, veteran cheesemonger of Steve's Cheese & proud owner of the Cheese Bar (shown right). Serving up an insane selection of artisan cheese from around the globe with a beautiful selection of wine & beer, and (it gets better!) delicious charcuterie, sandos, and small plates. Slice. Of. Heaven.

We chatted lots of cheese and what it means to start your own biz (scary...but fun!), visited Provista, a local distributor that spoiled us with the most delicious cheese & accoutrement social, visited the cheese counters at New Seasons, Foster & Dobbs, and Pastaworks, and tasted a ridiculous amount of bud-pleasing artisan cheese delights. Some were old favorites, and others completely new on my radar. For the sake focus & a lil' US cheesemakin' pride, here are the homeland highlights. (there was plenty of British, French, & Italian highlights as well...but they get enough time in the cheeselight, no?)

Valentine - Ancient Heritage Dairy - Scio, OR
A bloomy rind sheep's milk cheese done in a Chaource style (translation...buttery smooth & creamy with crack-like addiction capabilities, but way more elegant, of course). Due to higher fat content of sheep's milk it is fairly rich, so just a bite can turn a grey sky blue. The herby earthy notes provide an amazing contrast to the richness. Happiness in my mouth.

Tilston Point - Hook's Cheese Company - Mineral Point, WI
This crazy blue cheese has a washed rind & a freakishly unique and killer flavor. While the name was inspired by its English cousin, Stilton, the taste and texture are its own. Tasting notes are almost difficult to pin down with ranging from earthy & tangy to sweet and it likes to linger for your taste bud's pleasure. Basically, you have to try it for yourself...and maybe do so with some honey or a glass of Tawny Port. (EEK...I get all warm & fuzzy just thinking about it!)

Wasatch Mountain Gruyere - Rockhill Creamery - Richmond, UT
Step aside Switzerland, Rockhill Creamery is nip nip nipping at your heals. Like a traditional aged gruyere, this cheese is a buttery nutty delight. On a cheese plate, in a mac & cheese, fondue or french onion certainly won't be disappointed with the flavor. Can you say, crowd pleaser?

There you have it, folks! Some homework. Find it. Eat it. Love it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mission Cheese Debut: Raclette to the People!

It's Tuesday, and I am just now getting my wits about me after the bustly class A cheese weekend. The Underground Market , organized by Iso Rabins & forageSF, was a great success! I could not imagine a better debut for Mission Cheese. We melted through two 16 lb wheels of raclette serving up 100+ happy customers with tasty cheesey goodness & in few cases, a touch of nostalgia. Several market goers had indulged in raclette on trips to Europe, and have not seen it melted over an open flame since. Others were just purely amazed by the "cheese waterfall" producing contraption (the OOHs & AHHs were a plenty & just tickled my cheese-loving heart). That familiar cheese-melting-aroma filled the air & captured a wonderfully friendly & determined crowd (some waited up to 40 mins! There's only so fast you can melt-a the cheese...ehh?). Several peeps mentioned that our raclette was the most popular item at the market (blushing...and fist pumping), which has kept a smile on my face ever since. To give a little more color, here are some of my favorite sound bites from the eve...

"Oh my god!!! (eyes bulging out of his you can see at left) Where have you been my whole life?!?" - 12 year old boy...speaking to the cheese of course. He also shared that all he wants for his Bar Mitzvah is a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano. Awesome.

"It's a cheese waterfall!" - An excited customer...that perhaps dreams in cheese. I love it, and I have used this descriptor about a dozen times since.

"Oh S@&$!" - A very friendly & well mannered woman...who just witnessed her very own cheese waterfall.

It was a memorable night & I have so many to thank for really bringing it together. Now PUT YOUR HANDS TOGETHER for some serious curds of gratitude (or fist pump, whichever you prefer). First, I would like to thank my Dad for converting a Euro raclette melter into an American citizen! Your craftiness always amazes me & all of this would not be possible without you. Oliver! Thank you for creating a rad as all get out sign (as seen above made from 2 reclaimed windows. It's beautiful!) and for your unwavering prep & cheese scraping skills. Your support keeps my cup overflowing. You are the best. More curds to my dear friend Stephanie for not only letting my occupy your kitchen all day Friday for Potato Roastfest 2010, but for also helping me out ALL day! You rock. Dawn, another dear friend, deserves many curds for delighting customers & her amazing assistance working the cash box. Now, if I could only have you at every Mission Cheese event going would be a dream come true. Curds to forageSF for putting together such a brilliant event supporting the small local foodie sprouts like Mission Cheese. Amazing. And lastly, thank you to all of my wonderful friends for coming out to say "hello!" Seeing your smiling faces made the night that much better.

The next day Oliver & I took the remaining cheese to Dolores Park to enjoy the sun & bring raclette to the people. The sound bites continue...

So, 48 lbs of cheese, 60 lbs of potatoes, 5 quarts of cornichon, 2 quarts of olive oil & 6 heads of garlic later...I think people like the raclette!

Today, in 2 hours actually, I head to Portland for a 3 day cheesemongering seminar. Am I packed? No. This...should be good.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mission Cheese Debut at the SF Underground Market

I have been writing this blog for over a year now (time sure does fly when you are talking cheese), and while I hope it has been informative & entertaining, the greater purpose about the mission behind the cheese has been...well...on the down low of sorts. In the coming months, the plot will thicken as I get closer to the ultimate goal of opening up shop (fingers, toes, legs & eyes crossed). That said...I am so unbelievably excited to bring a little taste of Mission Cheese to the people this FRIDAY, June 4th! (Yes, I am fist pumping at my computer...and it is 8:40 in the morn.)

Inspired by London's Borough Market, I have tracked down an amazing cheese-melting device. It's rad. So rad that it earned itself a shout out in the last forageSF email regarding the market! If you don't mind, I would like to share that snippet...

We've got some really great stuff lined up for this market. As always, there'll be tons of new vendors, including Mission Cheese with amazing raclette heated with the coolest cheese heating contraption you've ever seen. You've got to see it to believe it.

(Yes! Fist pump fist pump!)

It is sure to be a rousing day for cheese, and a wondrous event in general. There will be tons of vendors serving up tasty local delights along with drinks (duh, it's Friday), and a little bluegrass by The Brothers Comatose. All of this goes down at the SOMArts Cultural Center at 934 Brannan St from 6pm-midnight, and only costs $2. The one very important detail is that you have to sign up for a free membership HERE to enter the market.

I hope to see every face that I know in SF there on Friday, but in the off chance that you cannot make better believe there will be a great story to tell.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go pick up 48 pounds of cheese.