ACS 2015

I almost didn’t go to the American Cheese Society conference this year. I often skip the East coast years of the rotation due to time and expense. Plus, this year my awesome co-worker Megan had won a trip to Vermont and would be there officially repping the store.

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But then I realized two things. One, I have a book coming out in October so it would probably be a good idea to remind people I’m alive, especially since I went blog-absent for about a year and limited my social media while I finished working on it. The second reason was less tangible and more personal: I just miss the conference so much the times I don’t go.

So I worked it out. I flew across county to be there for two days. Unlike years past I have no reports from the judging room, no farm trip stories, and very few pictures. But I am still glad I went. It’s just totally rejuvenating to see so many great people all in one place, in a cheese-rich environment.

Meet the Cheesemakers is a particularly cheese-rich environment. Here’s a beauty from Plymouth Artisan Cheese to whet your appetite:
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It’s also amazing to see so many people putting in so much work to make it happen. I worry about trying to list people because, when you do, you always leave people out. Since this was my first year in a long time that I was just an attendee, I was reminded as an “outsider” how much effort it takes to put on the event that can look seamless if you aren’t in the conference rooms before and after an event. Thanks to everyone involved.

As for the conference, I went to a great panel on “The Science of Artisan Cheese.”* It was so encouraging to see the linkages being created between traditional cheesemakers in different countries and the microbial science community. Most of the actual facts relayed were depressing: the FDA using ridiculously outdated testing, non-pathogenic bacteria being treated as an indicator of pathogenic bacteria, one-size (and that size is BIG)-fits-all rules. But the amount of people in the room, and the quality of knowledge of the presenters AND the audience… we have to acknowledge that we have come a long way in a very short time. Some folks left discouraged, but I left energized.

Let’s talk about non-pathogenic bacteria. (Thanks Michael Kalish for writing this)

Cheese-wise, I didn’t even get a shot at tasting the Best in Show (first time ever!). But I loved the LaClare Cave-Aged Chandoka (aged by Standard Market) which was runner-up and I have raved about the 3rd place Harbison by Jasper Hill Farm many times before.

I had a few other favorite new-to-me cheeses as well. I’ll post about them in the upcoming days.

See you all in Des Moines in 2016.

*In just one of the amazing ways in which the cheese society has grown, I used to feel obligated to sum up all my panels for cheese people and interested folks who couldn’t attend. Back in 2002 or whatever, resources were fewer. Now they are all re-capped on the ACS website. Just awesome.

Gordonzola’s humble suggestions for getting the most out of the cheese conference

(It’s time for the only post here that I recycle every year. ACS is next week!)

I’ve lost track of how many ACS conferences I have attended. I pretty sure I have attended every one not on the East Coast since 1999. Almost universally, they have been awesome experiences that have taught me innumerable things about cheese and introduced me to people I otherwise might never have met.

Back when I first started going, there were only about 300 people attending the conferences but still, I didn’t know anyone except for a handful of California cheesemakers. While I am sometimes good about faking it, I am actually kind of shy by nature, so I am humbly going to attempt to produce a guide that I would have found useful back in the day.

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I’m sure this advice will be weighted to the independent urban retailer, but hopefully others will find it helpful as well. I have never had obligatory parties to attend* or – except when the conference was in Cotati and San Francisco – co-workers to divide the day with so I’ve always had to figure out how to get the most of the events on my own. I’m sure I can’t come up with everything so, Cheese Folks, feel free to add suggestions in the comments.

(Click here to read more…)

Corn Porn

We went out for a fancy meal earlier this week. I wasn’t really thinking cheese when we left the house — I don’t generally order the cheese plate at local restaurants since I get enough cheese at work. However, a side dish we ordered made me realize I had to share this.

This is the roasted corn side dish at The Commissary. Best use of Idiazabal ever.
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I mean just look at that! Roasted corn on the cob, Idiazabal cheese, Marcona almonds… total corn pr0n! (Thanks to Lenny for telling us to order it.)

Purely arbitrary cheese obsession of the week: Buerre de Baratte

One of the recurring posts I’ve often made here is “Gordon’s purely arbitrary cheese obsession of the week.” Now, I guess it’s not really “purely arbitrary.” Usually I have already decided to buy it for the store so of course I think it is really good. I just use that phrase so that folks who make similar cheeses won’t get mad thinking that I am claiming one cheese is the best when they feel they could make an argument for theirs.

And fair enough… some cheeses are more consistent than others, different cheeses appeal to different palates, some cheeses have 1000 years of history while some have a few months. No, I highlight these cheeses because I am personally obsessed with them at the moment. They are what I am buying for home, often multiple days in a row. Usually they are things I also think are a little underrated, though not always.

And this week, as a switcheroo, I am not even choosing a cheese for “Gordon’s purely arbitrary cheese obsession of the week,” I am choosing a butter.

When we did our store remodel last year, the cheese department took over the non-local butters. Part of the reason we wanted to do that, beyond evangelizing for the amazingness of butter, especially cultured butter, was this:

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The Buerre de Baratte by Rodolphe Meunier is amazing butter. It’s churned, cultured, and full of sea salt crystals. It is deep yellow and even has a cow embossed on every wheel. I have been buying extra bread at home just so I can eat more of this butter.

I accidentally bought five tubs of this amazing creation last week for the store because I misread an email and though I was buying cases of the 250g wheels. Oops… not oops. We’ve been wrapping and selling these food-service intended beauties and sampling it out like crazy. Customers are blown away when they try this, partly because they don’t often get offered samples of butter at a cheese counter.

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I’m writing this on my day off, but I am thinking of going to the store just to buy more of this today.

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Cheddar is done

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Hi everyone. Did you miss me?

I had to put a lot of other writing (and other things) aside to finish and edit my new book but now that it’s all in the publisher’s hands, I can return to this blog. There is fun and freedom in writing a couple hundred words unconnected to another 60-70,000.

I plan to post here regularly again so feel free to subscribe to the blog or to my revamped newsletter. I know that looking at the previous few entries doesn’t inspire confidence – is there anything more sad and lonely than a non-updated blog? But you know how it goes… with a full-time job, family, and writing a book, something had to give for awhile.

I am really excited about the book. It started as an idea (thanks Laurie) that to understand cheese in America, you have to understand cheddar. Cheddar was America’s most popular cheese for 150 years, it was the first non-regionally-specific factory cheese, it begat the popularity of processed cheese (and later, cheese food), it affected – and was affected by – America’s food safety fears, and, really, almost everyone loves some form of it.

In fact, you should go pre-order it right now.

I’m working on events, readings, cheddar tastings, and all that stuff but since it doesn’t officially come out until October, I am also looking to just have some good old cheese talk here. It’s good to see you all again.

Alpine Cheese-O-Rama

I bragged the other day on facebook about us having the best Alpine section in the city. Since then people have been asking me about what we have so I thought I would just convert my internal department notes into a blog post. I know most people reading this aren’t close enough to shop here – so this isn’t really a commercial – I am just in love with these cheeses and the holidays are the only time I can buy all this at once and be reasonably sure we can sell it all. In fact some of these are going quick.
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So, Here we go (in alphabetical order):

Almkase 1 yr
This is the best deal in the Alp section. Amazing flavor – a bit more oniony that the Cousin but similar texture – for the price. This is the best cheese I tasted in Austria and it is co-op milk and co-op made.
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Beaufort 18 Month -- Rodolphe Meunier

Better than the one we had last month even though it is not Alpage. This is selected by Rodolphe Meunier and is Summer milk (i.e. grass-fed) just not from the highest elevation of the Alps. About a year and a half old. Complex, buttery, nutty and grassy.

Bergkase
This is from Austria and is mild, grassy, milky and nutty. Mostly it’s a good price. Almost as cheap as our standard 4-6 month Comte but more buttery.

Chiriboga Blue (Blauschimmelkase)
Probably my favorite blue in the whole world. Some disdain this blue as being too mild, but they are just overcompensating for something because this is a perfectly balanced, perfectly textured, sweet, grassy, fruity blue. Seriously, you need to try this unless you think Cabrales is a good blue or something.

Comte 28 Month – Jean D’alos
This is the best Comte we’ve ever had. We tried a 3 year aged Meunier Comte at the Food Show a couple of years back but were never able to get it in. This one is right up there if not quite as aged and is the oldest Comte we have ever sold. All the buttery, nutty, grassy notes with a little more power than the Essex Street. Summer milk.
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Comte -- Essex Street
We are almost out of this Comte for the year and it is usually the best we carry. All Comte has one of the best name-controls in the world: the amount of land for each cow is specified, it is required to be made at village co-ops, etc. Tasting notes like the above but subtract a year in age.
(Technically not Essex St Comte, but you get the idea)
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Le Cousin
This cheese is so underrated. Made in Switzerland, aged in France – thus underlining the meaningless of borders in the Alps – this has all the flavor of a well-aged Gruyere but the texture is semi soft. Oniony, grassy, nutty, and moist!
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Edelweiss Emmental (the only cheese in this section not actually from Alps)
I don’t know how he gets away with calling this Emmental – It’s made in Wisconsin – but Bruce Workman makes this cheese just like they do in Switzerland. 200 lbs wheels… copper vats… yes. There has been no distributor for this cheese in the Bay for years so we haven’t had this in awhile but it is far better than most Emmentals at this price. Oh yeah, Bruce is committed to grass-based dairy, even help for a grass-based co-op in Wisconsin.

Forsterkase
Raw milk, bark-wrapped, like a firmer Vacherin Mont D’or. Firmer so that it can be a legal cheese here in the US. This is the actual inspiration for Winnimere, btw, not Vacherin Mont D’or. If bacon references weren’t so clichéd I would say that we used to refer to this cheese as “a walk through the bacon forest in fall.”
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Hoch Ybrig
This cheese was once so hard to get I had a waiting list to call every time we got it. Aged by Rolf Beeler, it’s only 6 months old but has huge flavor. Beefy, nutty, big and a touch pungent. Very complex and awesome.

L’etivaz Alpage
Remember the L’etivaz story? Fed up with the commercialization of Gruyere this village dropped out of the Gruyere consortium… in the 1930s! This is an Alpage wheel aged about 2.5 years. Holy crap, we have never had one this aged before. This is a little more bitey than the Beufort, Spicherhalde, or extra-aged Comte. (Will be gone by the end of this weekend.) This truly may be the best Alpine cheese we have ever had.
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Spicherhalde
True Alpage production is very rare, really hand-made, and amazing in its complexity of taste. This is an 11 or 12th generation cheese made by one family that is the best example of this we currently can get. Only 80 wheels made all year, how lucky are we to be able to get one 10,000 miles away in San Francisco? This is one of my favorite cheeses of all time.

Sternschnuppe
Name means “Shooting Star.” This is from Evelyn Wild at Kaskuche Isny in the Bavarian Alps this is an unusual cheese with a heavy wash (including local wine and herbs). Big mushroomy flavor, not much of this available in the USA.

Vacherin Fribourgois
Most Vacherin Fribourgois is nasty by the time it gets sold in the states so I special ordered this. More French Tomme (lighly cooked, lightly pressed) than Gruyere, this is super rare, once extinct cheese that should be buttery, grassy, and beef soup-y. This cheese was once extinct, but was brought back by a traditional cheesemaker about 20 years ago.

We also have a few others that are more well-known and that we have year-round: Bodensee, Comte (4-6 month aged), Challerhocker, Gruyere 1655, Krauterschatz, Maxx Extra, and a little Tete de Moine. Plus the American Alp-style cheese: Tarentaise Reserve (ACS 2014 winner! The only wheel in the Bay Area?), Alpha Tolman and Pleasant Ride Extra Reserve (almost out). Oh, and in a week or so we are having Tomme de Abondance on our damn sample table.
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And geez, have you folks tried Kinsman Ridge this year? These batches right now are amazing: the best ever. I’d buy these over the best Tomme de Savoie any day.

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Crackers love cheese

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Still on a blogging break while working on my next book, getting married, traveling to Vienna, and the store does a major remodeling project. However, I needed to break my wordpress silence to post this picture taken by legendary Bay Area DJ Chuy Gomez. I think it illustrates the challenges inherent to advertising cheese to diverse communities. ;)